Monthly Archives: March 2012

Capitol Hill Close Up

At 8:30 am on Wednesday, supporters of Obamacare were already out in force, anticipating the day's arguments in the Supreme Court.

Hill Day.  One of the fundamental reasons Close Up exists is for this epic moment, this controlled collision between students and legislatures.  As it so often goes, this week’s Hill Day was one of the most vindicating experiences for program instructors.  It didn’t hurt that there was an historical case being heard at the Supreme Court, nor that the committee hearings were relatively light for a day so near Congress’s recess.

Senator Al Franken speaks to Close Up Minnesotans outside his office.

I was assigned three meetings on the Senate side of Capitol Hill to attend.  In this phase we program instructors are very much in the background, just facilitating the meetings, providing directions or suggestions, answering logistical questions, helping lost school groups find their way, and occasionally suggesting that a student with a question that cannot be answered take a business card to follow up.  Minnesotans met with Senator Al Franken (D) outside his office following his constituents breakfast.  He then took questions and explained on which committees he served, what Hill responsibilities he had, the national issues he is plugging or fighting, the state issues that he is supporting in Washington, the constituent groups with whom he meets, and bills or amendments his staff is drafting.  Each school got a few moments with him, including one of the schools from my hotel who got hung up in the security lines and arrived late.

Michiganders met with Senator Carl Levin outside the Armed Services Committee, which he chairs.

The next meeting I had was with Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D).  He met with students in person outside the committee room he for which he is chair in the Russell office building.  He, too, discussed the state issues for which he is advocating in Washington–Asian carp in the Great Lakes, for example, is a big concern for both Michigan and Minnesota.  Senator Levin further elaborated on some of the issues related to energy and oil speculation that he has been working on.  He came from the Senate floor to meet with students and rushed off (late) to get to a meeting he was suppose to be leading after his opening remarks and answering a handful of the students’ questions.  His staffer continued the meeting, even handing out his business card to a student who asked a question he could not answer (I did not hear the question, sadly, otherwise I would brag about it).

Alaskan students met with both of their senators, Senator Lisa Murkowski and freshman Senator Mark Begich, on the Senate-side eastern steps of the capitol.

While it was a little breezy and bit loud and busy on the steps, the small contingent of Alaskan students nonetheless had a pretty intimate meeting with both of their senators, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) and Senator Mark Begich (D).  While they waited for them to arrive, a nearby press conference was held by the Democratic leadership regarding the Supreme Court case being argued in the background.  Once the senators arrived the questions began.  It was a slow start, but questions about oil and energy, transportation costs, and the health care law soon followed.  The two senators spoke to students for about 20 minutes, if not longer, and urged students to be ambassadors for the state and its issues that are relevant to the national stage.

Here is the most important take-away:

Each of the senators took the students seriously as constituents; they did not talk down to the students; they did not trivialize their presence with softball, time-sucking questions about the tourist sites in town that they might have visited; they did not expect to lecture, but anticipated good policy questions and answered them without talking down or patronizing them; they fielded questions about the state issues that were relevant on the national stage that they were working on for the benefit of their state and constituents.

Students have been encouraged all week to take agency, to increase their knowledge and to ask questions.  Beyond that, they have been given the opportunity to express themselves, to take the lead, and to influence their peers and decision-makers–especially those working on Capitol Hill.  They have walked the halls of power in America’s democracy and owned them–as is every citizen’s right–sitting in on committee meetings, hearings, Senate and Congressional floor debates, and Supreme Court arguments and asking questions of those who represent them.  If they can do this, surely, the halls of power and authority at home are small potatoes: student councils, school boards, city councils, state governments, etc.  While each school was photographed with their senator, it is to be hoped that it is merely a reminder of their agency and not a mere picture of a brief encounter during their high school days.

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War memorials and mock congress Close Up

The Lincoln Memorial heading up the end of the National Mall with America's war memorials.

Tuesday was a busy day!  We started out the morning with an exploration of Capitol Hill (so students would know their way around for Hill Day).  We took a group picture in front of the Capitol before workshops 1-6 headed to a seminar with a speaker from AIPAC–the strongest Israel lobby in the U.S.  (He shared the importance of Israel as an ally, but did not mention the P-word, until a student asked point-blank about Israel’s relations with Palestine.)

A group of students meets to discuss the presentations made by the war memorials. The World War II Memorial is in the distance at the end of the empty reflecting pool.

Then, after lunch, we hit up the War memorials to discuss the theory of just war and the representation of American wars on the Mall.  Students debated the timing of our entry into World War II and reviewed just war theory in the cases of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  (At the Vietnam, one student got a rubbing of his family member’s name who died in that conflict.)

Students explore the iconic and controversial Vietnam War Memorial. Students explore with questions about the artwork and the concepts of just war in their heads.

Then we returned to the hotel for dinner and a student-run mock Congress in further preparation for their Hill Day. Students took on the roles of chairpersons, lobbyists and reps in the House. While the group on the whole is rather conservative, there was a lot of good debate on current issues and bills under consideration, today.

Students are grouped in their mock committee meetings discussing the issues, pros and cons of bills that relevant in today's congressional debates.

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Big government, small government, and citizen action Close Up

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Talking about small government at the Jefferson Memorial

Beautiful day in Washington, DC, today!  A little blustery–most of the cherry blossoms have blown off and collected in petal clusters along the paths–but the sun kept us all warm and the climate was otherwise quite accommodating.  A great day to use historical examples to talk about civics and government!

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FDR Memorial: big government, big memorial... also, a long presidency

I had an awesome day with my students.  Our workshop has students from Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota.  24 strong and mostly self-identifying as conservatives or “depends-on-the-issue” with a few genuine “I-don’t-knows.”  I’ve had to play a little liberal devil’s advocate to represent the “other side.”

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Different backgrounds, different states, evaluating the "depressing facts" of the Great Depression and the government's responses.

We hit the Jefferson, FDR, and MLK memorials, today.  We discussed the merits and demerits of small and big government.  Then we discussed the role of the citizen–naturally, not restricted to government of one size or another.  Particularly, we discussed the methods of King in response to injustices entrenched in government policy, comparing and contrasting those with others, such as Malcolm X.

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Entering the MLK Memorial and his quotes, evaluating citizen-responses to government injustice.

After we hit these memorials, our bus had lunch at the National History Museum.  Students had time to eat and explore before checking out the Hall of Evolution and how the concept is portrayed by public institutions–in other words, should it acknowledge debates–while drawing some parallels with public museums and public education.

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Close Up participants get to be students and tourists while on program.

We finished up our Smithsonian visit and headed up to the Carnegie Institute for a seminar with Politico’s Senior White House Writer, who talked with students about media, driven by their questions.  Subjects covered the viral news stories, finding reliable reporting, following politics in today’s media world versus the pre-internet world, his belief in investigative journalism which he feels is on the decline, and the merits of major news outlets that are clear about the side of the aisle they stand on.  A useful seminar to follow the earlier issues raised in active citizenship as information is key to citizen response.

My workshop had another engagement covering federalism and the criteria students have for whether national or state governments should be in charge of specific responsibilities.  Then I was off for the evening, but  I am looking forward to hearing about the domestic issues debate between DC insiders Barry Piatt (liberal) and Ken Insley (conservative), debating the issues the students introduced, tomorrow morning!

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This week: Blogging from Close Up

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I’ll be in the nation’s capital this week, during a 2nd week of contract teaching with the Close Up Foundation.

Close Up is devoted to helping students realize that they don’t meed to wait for some future nebulous date to be politically active.  Being active citizens–learning about issues, debating policies, influencing decision-makers–is not something they have to anticipate, it is something they can do now.

It offers in an intense “field-trip” all the best of experiential learning and (mini-scaled) project-based learning.  It is one of the most worthwhile high school experiences that exists.

So, this week, I will be sharing stories about students from around the county out of my favorite classroom in the world: Washington D.C.!

Note: any reference to students will be done anonymously.

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Scaffolding to improve history reading and comprehension

Scaffolding for better history reading comprehension

I am a huge advocate of learning and teaching history through the actual activity of historians.  This means interacting as much as possible with primary sources.  While using primary sources makes the history experience real and genuine, it may be prohibitively difficult for some readers to navigate through English texts that come from a foreign world or translations of foreign language texts.

We have no intention of leaving students behind, but nor can we simply dismiss the use of the texts, so what to do?  I had harbored grand ideas of creating readers with all my primary reading texts including a thorough glossary for my community college classes.  Some day, with a month or two and nothing else to do, maybe I will finally finish the reader; in the meantime…   I assign readings that are typically accompanied with group supports and guiding sheets, while I regularly circulated to check on and assist comprehension, but AdLit.org recently shared a brilliant idea that could be adapted to history and modified for different age groups: Blending Multiple Genres in Theme Baskets | Adolescent Literacy Topics A-Z | AdLit.org.

Instructional scaffolding is the provision of sufficient support to promote learning when concepts and skills are being first introduced to students. These supports may include the following:

  • Resources
  • A compelling task
  • Templates and guides
  • Guidance on the development of cognitive and social skills

These supports are gradually removed as students develop autonomous learning strategies, thus promoting their own cognitiveaffective and psychomotor learning skills and knowledge. Teachers help the students master a task or a concept by providing support. The support can take many forms such as outlines, recommended documents, storyboards, or key questions.

~ Wikipedia, “Instructional scaffolding”

In essence, the idea is that one builds to the more difficult text by providing a “basket” of varied readings that introduce the subject matter by an easier means and building to more complex levels of reading.  This is what the article suggests for build-up to reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (keeping in mind that the context for this reading includes challenged readers, ESL students, and modern students who are unexposed to long sustained reading assignments):

Sample theme basket

Most teachers undertake the task of teaching core literature selections throughout the year. The following is a sample theme basket approach, using multiple genres, to one such selection, John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, beginning with children’s picture books and progressing through the core text and beyond.

Picture books, ages 4-8

  • Ada, Alma Flor. Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1997.
  • Altman, Linda Jacobs. Amelia’s Road. New York: Lee and Low, 1993.
  • Bunting, Eve. A Day’s Work. New York: Clarion, 1994.
  • Bunting, Eve. Going Home. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
  • Herrera, Juan Felipe. Calling the Doves. Emeryville, CA: Children’s Book Press, 1995.
  • Mora, Pat. Tomás and the Library Lady. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
  • Thomas, Jane Resh. Lights on the River. New York: Hyperion, 1994.
  • Williams, Sherley Anne. Working Cotton. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

Fiction and nonfiction chapter books, ages 9-12

  • Ashabranner, Brent. Dark Harvest: Migrant Farmworkers in America. New York: Putnam, 1985.
  • Atkin, Beth. Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.
  • Brimmer, Larry Dane. A Migrant Family. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992.
  • Goodwin, David. Cesar Chavez: Hope for the People. New York: Ballantine, 1991.
  • Hesse, Karen. Out of the Dust. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
  • Jimenez, Francisco. The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child. Albuquerque: New Mexico Press, 1997.
  • Rivera, Tomás. And the Earth Did Not Swallow Him. Dir. Severo Perez. Videocassette. 1994.
  • Rivera, Tomás. Y no se lo Trago la Tierra / … And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Publishers, 1995.
  • Stanley, Jerry. Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp. New York: Crown Publishers, 1992.

High school-Adult

  • Barrio, Raymond. The Plum Plum Pickers. New York: Bilingual Review Publishers, 1984.
  • The Grapes of Wrath. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Henry Fonda and Jane Darnell. Videocassette. Twentieth Century Fox, 1996.
  • Morgan, Dan. Rising in the West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
  • Soto, Gary. “Red Palm.” Who Will Know Us? New Poems. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990.
  • Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Viking, 1967.

~  AdLit.org: “Blending Multiple Genres in Theme Baskets”

In this example, it is possible to see a progression with scaffolding supports: easier literature and film provided a context for the complicated and nuanced themes of the Steinbeck novel.  If a teacher used this at the beginning of a high school literature class, it would not be necessary to repeat the same process with the next work.  If the next book was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, then the process good be revised to place emphasis on fewer picture books, introducing different types of reading, until eventually these supports would not be used at all in introduction to core literature assignments.

For history teachers, the process would only slightly resemble this process depending on age and reading levels of students.  But, similar “baskets” could be used at different levels of education.  Consider the following examples for a high school-level American History class:

American History

Goal:  Consider the competing methods of various parties in the Civil Rights era and which was most effective in creating change:

  • Non-violent resistance and awareness (Martin Luther King, Jr., SNCC–Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) –> Read the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Court cases to change unjust laws (Thurgood Marshall, NAACP) –> Read the Supreme Court Case decisions in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
  • Black pride (Malcolm X, Black Panthers) –> Read the speeches of Malcom X
  • Media coverage (covering the civil rights era and individuals being covered in contemporary news who introduced successful images of black citizens despite the times–athletes, musicians, artists, businessmen, and politicians with increasing crossover appeal)

A.  Youth literature dealing with segregation issues

B.  Photographs from the era (some of these are graphic, but the photo quality is not as good as it is today, so it is worth it to show an honest look at the era and the build-up)

C. Newspaper and magazine reports from the era

D. (The final primary source selections referenced above.)

The example allows you to build the context, so that the more difficult texts are not as overwhelming and the vocabulary is not entirely new.

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The Viking: A history twist on your exercise routine!

mascots,men,people,Vikings,warriors,personal appearance

NOTE: I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL TRAINER!  This workout presupposes that you have some knowledge of working out and of your own body.  Do not do this without consulting a professional trainer and your doctor!!  I am not responsible for injuries that occur!  This is a fun, geeky post!!

My family has a gym membership and a personal trainer.  Recently, we were introduced to something called “The Viking”!  The routine was called “The Viking” because it began with a 1000-meter row (from the ships), a 1/2 mile run (up the beach), and then a series of exercises that were completed before “running back down the beach,” and “rowing back to the ships.”  This tickles me!  And, in my earnest geekdom I have decided to create a “historically authentic” set of the Viking exercise that combines strength, whole body, endurance, and speed training!  Yes, I’m just that silly.

859. The Danish pirates having made a long sea-voyage (for they had sailed between Spain and Africa) entered the Rhone, where they pillaged many cities and monasteries and established themselves on the island called Camargue. . . . They devastated everything before them as far as the city of Valence. Then, after ravaging all these regions, they returned to the island where they had fixed their habitation. Thence they went on toward Italy, capturing and plundering Pisa and other cities.

~  The Annals of St. Bertin

The Vikings came from the Scandinavian countries and were skilled seafarers.  Their seacraft were well-designed so that they could travel seas along coastlines and travel deeply into eastern and western Europe via rivers.  They were violent, pagan, and adept at instilling fear and taking what they wanted (i.e. raping and pillaging).  The Vikings also had impeccable timing, arriving on the European scene during the decline of the Carolingians.  Essentially, they were land-raiding pirate-merchants.  We have a number of sources for the Vikings, some detailing the horror of their attacks, others observing their cultural traits, and a few that detail their stories, religion and myths (to see some of these and other Viking resources click on this link to the Fordham Internet History Sourcebook, from which all primary source excerpts in this post come).

885 AD. The Northmen came to Paris with 700 sailing ships, not counting those of smaller size which are commonly called barques. At one stretch the Seine was lined with the vessels for more than two leagues, so that one might ask in astonishment in what cavern the river had been swallowed up, since it was not to be seen. The second day after the fleet of the Northmen arrived under the walls of the city, Siegfried, who was then king only in name but who was in command of the expedition, came to the dwelling of the illustrious bishop. He bowed his head and said: “Gauzelin, have compassion on yourself and on your flock. We beseech you to listen to us, in order that you may escape death. Allow us only the freedom of the city. We will do no harm and we will see to it that whatever belongs either to you or to Odo shall be strictly respected.” Count Odo, who later became king, was then the defender of the city. The bishop replied to Siegfried, “Paris has been entrusted to us by the Emperor Charles, who, after God, king and lord of the powerful, rules over almost all the world. He has put it in our care, not at all that the kingdom may be ruined by our misconduct, but that he may keep it and be assured of its peace. If, like us, you had been given the duty of defending these walls, and if you should have done that which you ask us to do, what treatment do you think you would deserve?” Siegfried replied. “I should deserve that my head be cut off and thrown to the dogs. Nevertheless, if you do not listen to my demand, on the morrow our war machines will destroy you with poisoned arrows. You will be the prey of famine and of pestilence and these evils will renew themselves perpetually every year.” So saying, he departed and gathered together his comrades.

In the morning the Northmen, boarding their ships, approached the tower and attacked it [the tower blocked access to the city by the so-called “Great Bridge,” which connected the right bank of the Seine with the island on which the city was built. The tower stood on the present site of the Châtelet]. They shook it with their engines and stormed it with arrows. The city resounded with clamor, the people were aroused, the bridges trembled. All came together to defend the tower. There Odo, his brother Robert, and the Count Ragenar distinguished themselves for bravery; likewise the courageous Abbot Ebolus, the nephew of the bishop. A keen arrow wounded the prelate, while at his side the young warrior Frederick was struck by a sword. Frederick died, but the old man, thanks to God, survived.

~  From Abbo’s Wars of Count Odo in the Reign of Charles the Fat

Eventually, many decided that life lived by the mercies of the sea and the winters of their homeland was too unappealing compared with settling in fertile lands amongst a cowed populace.  (Thus, the Normans founded their foothold in northern France, before Viking Rollo’s bastard grandson, William the Conqueror, spread their control to England.  William’s great grandson, Henry II, married Eleanor of Aquitane, while other family members conquerored land from the Byzantine Empire, first in Italy and then in the Levant through the First Crusade.  As settled conquerors, they were incredibly successful.)

The king had at first wished to give to Rollo the province of Flanders, but the Norman rejected it as being too marshy. Rollo refused to kiss the foot of Charles when he received from him the duchy of Normandy. “He who receives such a gift,” said the bishops to him, “ought to kiss the foot of the king.” “Never,” replied he, “will I bend the knee to anyone, or kiss anybody’s foot.” Nevertheless, impelled by the entreaties of the Franks, he ordered one of his warriors to perform the act in his stead. This man seized the foot of the king and lifted it to his lips, kissing it without bending and so causing the king to tumble over backwards.  At that there was a loud burst of laughter and a great commotion in the crowd of onlookers.  King Charles, Robert, Duke of the Franks, the counts and magnates, and the bishops and abbots, bound themselves by the oath of the Catholic faith to Rollo, swearing by their lives and their bodies and by the honor of all the kingdom, that he might hold the land and transmit it to his heirs from generation to generation throughout all time to come. When these things had been satisfactorily performed, the king returned in good spirits into his dominion, and Rollo with Duke Robert set out for Rouen.

In the year of our Lord 912 Rollo was baptized in holy water in the name of the sacred Trinity by Franco, archbishop of Rouen. Duke Robert, who was his godfather, gave to him his name. Rollo devotedly honored God and the Holy Church with his gifts. . . . The pagans, seeing that their chieftain had become a Christian, abandoned their idols, received the name of Christ, and with one accord desired to be baptized. Meanwhile, the Norman duke made ready for a splendid wedding and married the daughter of the king [Gisela] according to Christian rites.

Rollo gave assurance of security to all those who wished to dwell in his country. The land he divided among his followers, and, as it had been a long time unused, he improved it by the construction of new buildings. It was peopled by the Norman warriors and by immigrants from outside regions.

The Chronicle of St. Denis Based on Dudo and William of Jumièges

So, below are two sets of exercises: Beginner/Easy in the gym or without (body exercises) and Advanced/Hard in the gym or without it.  Enjoy!

Beginner/Easy (With gym equipment)

  1. Row to shore: 500 meters on the row machine
  2. Run up the beach: run a half-mile on the treadmill
  3. Scale the rocks: step-up onto step blocks or similiar, balancing on one foot 10x each foot (hold weights and/or increase height of step to amp the workout up)
  4. Attack!: Indian Clubs exercises; or, weighted bar exercises
  5. Loot!: Medicine ball exercises–pick 5 and do 10x according to target areas or workout goals
  6. Return over the rocks: plyometrics with step blocks or platforms two-footed jump up and back down (1 rep) 10x
  7. Back down the beach: run 1/2 mile on treadmill
  8. Row back to the boats: 500 meters on the rowing machine

Beginner/Easy (Without gym equipment–body gym exercises)

(The majority of these are taken or adapted from Mark Lauren’s You are Your Own Gym book and website.)

  1. Row to shore: Let-me-ins (wrap a towel around both sides of the door knob, with the door’s edge clasped between your feet–or hold onto each door knob–sit back with bent knees and pull yourself back up to standing) 10-15x
  2. Run up the beach: mountain climbers (start in a push-up position and bring knees to chest one at a time) 20x each leg
  3. Scale the rocks: step-up on stairs or similiar balancing on each foot 10x each foot (hold weights and/or increase height to amp up workout)
  4. Attack!: Indian Clubs exercises (in lieu of Indian Clubs, a sturdy small poster-mailer filled with sand at one end and newspaper at the other, or steel piping can be substituted); or, weighted bar exercises (a broom or large poster-mailer filled with sand can be substituted)
  5. Loot!: Medicine ball exercises–pick 5 and do 10x according to target areas or workout goals (a small packed box or bag can be substituted)
  6. Return over the rocks: plyometrics with step or made platforms/old coffee table/etc. two-footed jump up and back down (1 rep) 10x
  7. Back down the beach: mountain climbers 20x each leg
  8. Row back to the boats: Let-me-ins 10-15x

By building up towards the Advanced/Hard, adding to the above workouts, you can create an appropritate Intermediate workout.

Advanced/Hard (With gym equipment)

  1. Row to shore: 1500 meters on the row machine
  2. Run up the beach: run a mile on the treadmill
  3. Scale the rocks: step-up onto step blocks or similiar, similiar balancing on one foot and pumping other knee up to chest 15x each foot, holding weights and increasing height of step to amp the workout up
  4. Attack!: Indian Clubs exercises, choosing 5x exercises targeting your needs; or, TRX Rip-training exercises, choosing 5x exercises targeting your needs
  5. Loot!: Medicine ball exercises–pick 5 and do 15-20x, choosing exercises targeting your needs
  6. Return over the rocks: plyometrics with step blocks or platforms two-footed jump up and back down (1 rep) 20-30x
  7. Back down the beach: run 1 mile on treadmill
  8. Row back to the boats: 1500 meters on the rowing machine

Advanced/Hard (Without gym equipment–body gyme exercises)

(The majority of these are taken or adapted from Mark Lauren’s You are Your Own Gym book and website.)

  1. Row to shore: Let-me-ins (wrap a towel around both sides of the door knob, with the door’s edge clasped between your feet–or hold onto each door knob–sit back with straight legs and pull yourself back up to standing) 25-35x (optional: add back pack)
  2. Run up the beach: mountain climbers (start in a push-up position and bring knees to chest one at a time) 40x each leg
  3. Scale the rocks: step-up on stairs or similiar balancing on one foot and pumping other knee up to chest, 15x each foot, holding weights (packed box or bag) and increasing height of step to amp the workout up
  4. Attack!: Indian Clubs exercises (in lieu of Indian Clubs, a sturdy small poster-mailer filled with sand at one end and newspaper at the other, or steel piping can be substituted), choosing 5x exercises targeting your needs; or, TRX Rip-training exercises (a broom with a resistance band or large poster-mailer filled with sand can be substituted), choosing 5x exercises targeting your needs
  5. Loot!: Medicine ball exercises–pick 5 and do 15-20x according to target areas or workout goals (a small packed box or bag can be substituted)
  6. Return over the rocks: plyometrics with step or made platforms/old coffee table/etc. two-footed jump up and back down (1 rep) 20-30x
  7. Back down the beach: mountain climbers 40x each leg
  8. Row back to the boats: 25-35x (optional: add back pack)

If you find there are days when you just aren’t going to “make it back to the boat,” don’t worry!  There were days the Vikings didn’t either!  Sometimes they spent the winter in a warmer climate (France, Spain, Italy), and sometimes they hung around to enjoy the fat of the land at the expense of the residents:

843 A.D. Pirates of the Northmen’s race came to Nantes, killed the bishop and many of the clergy and laymen, both men and women, and pillaged the city. Thence they set out to plunder the lands of lower Aquitaine. At length they arrived at a certain island [the isle of Rhé, near La Rochelle, north of the mouth of the Garonne], and carried materials thither from the mainland to build themselves houses; and they settled there for the winter, as if that were to be their permanent dwelling-place.

~ The Annals of St. Bertin 

Just be aware that this was a gamble!  It was always possible that the king or a powerful lord or bishop would show up with an army and smack the Vikings around.  (Of course, sometimes they showed up and just paid the Vikings off!)

845. Then the other, came without meeting any resistance to Paris. Charles [the Bald] resolved to hold out against them; but seeing the impossibility of gaining a victory, he made with them a certain agreement and by a gift of 7,000 livres he bought them off from advancing farther and persuaded them to return. Euric, king of the Northmen, advanced, with six hundred vessels, along the course of the River Elbe to attack Louis of Germany. The Saxons prepared to meet him, gave battle, and with the aid of our Lord Jesus Christ won the victory. The Northmen returned down the Seine and coming to the ocean pillaged, destroyed, and burned all the regions along the coast.

~ The Annals of St. Bertin

For the most part, the Vikings were so devastingly effective because they arrived out of thin air with stealth and took what they wanted with speed and ferocity–put some of that in your workout!

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A History Of The Home

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A nice old American Foursquare

NPR interview with author Lucy Worsley:
http://www.npr.org/2012/03/09/148296032/if-walls-could-talk-a-history-of-the-home?device=iphone

NPR recently interviewed Lucy Worsley, author of If Walls could Talk, a history of the home.  In it, she describes the various traditions, habits, and practices in homes.  This reveals many of the social mores of the eras she encounters. 

And, what a useful way to delve into other historical eras!  Via her research on homes–something we all have in one way or another, accepting that home may be less stable or geographically specific for some.  A home, or our ideas of home, often share many things in common culturally, or sub-culturally.  A rural American idea may differ substantially from urban America, but even so many things will be in common.

I think it is also a great lead-in read for initiating a history of one’s own home.  Even in the case of a recently built house, there is plenty history attached to that plot of ground.  Houses come built in certain styles; different families have observed history from the front porch or living room; various improvements reflect changes in wealth and technology; the land on which the plot was shaped was something else before it was your front yard; all of which can be traced and brought to life through research. 

Such searches can be enriching in local history and bring to life elements that were once unknown or relegated to lore.  It trains one in the basics of historical research and often introduces one to unsuspected links in history.

The Smithsonian Museum of American History has an exhibit dedicated to just this inquiry.  An old colonial house in Massachusetts, has been rebuilt in the exhibit space and the different families that lived there over time have links to the Revolution and the Underground Railroad.  It’s a great family activity and voyage of discovery.

Teachers or other educators doing local history or state history programs can make this a longterm project for their classes, enlisting the help of the local historical society, library, preservation groups, and local records officials.  At the end of the project, a public museum / exhibit could be constructed featuring students’ homes and projects. 

But, before then, you may want to learn about other features of the home.  Lucy Worsley can even give you the background on flushing toilets!

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