Digging in During the Dog Days of Summer

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"Digging in during the dog days of summer" by Jake Frost (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Jake Frost. All rights reserved.

This has been a summer for the history books. And I’m not talking about the heat. (Although: With no AC, we feel every degree. But that’s all right; this year we had snow from October to April, including a giant blizzard in mid-April — I repeat, a blizzard in April! — so I revel in each drip of perspiration as a chance to maximize the summer experience and soak up every bit of July I can manage to squeeze into my soul, or t-shirt, or whatever. Well, “revel” may be a bit strong, but at least I take care to seize any excuse that comes my way for another ice cream cone!)

Maybe I should say instead that this has been the summer “of” the history books, because lately a heightened interest in the mysteries of history has pervaded the atmosphere around here. My little pilgrims through the pages of the past have fallen under the spell of bygone ages, with all their drama and pageantry of adventure and daring deeds: knights on horseback, salty sea spray flung up from the prow of a ship exploring uncharted oceans, wagons rolling across endless prairies of swaying grass. And so on.

I’m not exactly sure where it’s come from, but we have been listening to The Story of Civilization by Phillip Campbell and The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer as audio books. And for our evening reading I’ve been working through some great American history books perfectly pitched to my children’s ages (4 to 9): American History Stories by Mara Pratt, Stories of American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston, Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans by Edward Eggleston, and Poems of American Patriotism edited by Brander Matthews.

We’ve also been reading some of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald, set in the 1890s. And my own audio book for when I’m cooking and cleaning and such has been Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, so maybe the aura of the past has simply permeated the air we breath (or hear).

But whatever it is, my oldest daughter especially has become smitten with the idea of discovering the secrets of ancient civilizations. She even formed her own “Archaeology Club” for herself and her siblings. To recruit members, she composed a brochure which she asked me to print for her. I typed it up, added clip art, and (after obtaining final approval) printed sufficient copies for her membership campaign. Her text read:

Join the Archaeology Club!

At the Archaeology Club we will talk about King Tut and read about Romans!

You will have lots of fun in the Archaeology Club!

You can tell everyone about castles, Egyptians, dinosaurs, and explorers!

Did you know that each knight has as different coat of arms?

Did you know the Vikings discovered America before Columbus?

In the Archaeology Club we will have a lot of fun, and snacks!

We will talk to Dad about getting special snacks, so let me know if you have any requests!

Join the Archaeology Club!

Did you catch that bit about snacks? It was repeated twice, which, in the professional parlance of the advertising industry is known as “marketing genius.”

If the allure of the past wanes, the tug of treats is there to pick up the slack.

"Digging in during the dog days of summer" by Jake Frost (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Jake Frost. All rights reserved.

It’s also a good thing I was enlisted for typesetting and printing, as it apprised me in advance of the culinary requirements I was expected to fulfill — not just any ordinary snacks, mind you, but special snacks! Even requests!

Which turned out to be a boon for me, as it was also my entry into membership. Even though I’m no longer a kid (alas, though young at heart, my hair now betrays my years), honorary membership was nonetheless conferred upon me so that I could head up the snack committee. He who rules the kitchen rules the world!

Then I got an idea for the first meeting of the Archaeology Club that turned out to be a real hit. And when I say “hit,” I mean it both literally and figuratively, as we had our own excavation, with chisels and mallets, and actually dug into the sediment of the past to find dinosaur bones and ancient treasures!

Well, maybe not actual chisels, per se. But we used some old screwdrivers that served the purpose perfectly. And the mallets were actually old wooden dowels re-purposed from other crafts and pressed into service for archaeological exploration. As for the sediment, it can be a chancy proposition to start digging at random in the backyard in hopes of finding prehistoric fossils or lost coin hoards, so I went ahead and pre-arranged some finds in Plaster-of-Paris molds. So it was exactly like real archaeological excavations, only different.

But the only thing that matters is this: the kids loved it!

On the parenting end it was super easy: took very little time, created very little mess, and produced big fun.

First, I ordered some things over the internet to serve as the archaeological finds we would unearth in our diggings: metal coins, little rubbery dinosaur skeletons, jewels, and toy soldiers. I also ordered the Plaster-of-Paris.

Once everything arrived, I poured the Plaster-of-Paris into Tupperware containers and dropped the treasures into the soupy mix, pressing them down until everything was fully covered by plaster. Then I set the Tupperware containers aside to dry.

"Digging in during the dog days of summer" by Jake Frost (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Jake Frost. All rights reserved.

That was it. It was really quick and easy. Making the Plaster-of-Paris was totally painless; all it requires is mixing the plaster powder with water, and it stirs easily and sets in about ten minutes. I let it dry overnight and the next day it worked great. I popped the plaster molds out of the Tupperware like popping ice from an ice cube tray, and it was ready for chiseling.

At the Archaeology Club meeting I put a towel on the table for each child to work on, gave each their own Plaster-of-Paris “excavation site,” and then with a screwdriver-chisel and wooden-dowel-mallet and they were ready to go.

The merry sound of whacking mallets and chipping plaster soon filled the air. They were so excited at each discovery, with lots of “oohs” and “ahs” and happy chatter back and forth over every hidden artifact freed from the confines of plaster by their excavating. The kids just loved it!

And clean-up was a snap. The towels caught most of the mess; the rest was easy to wipe up with a sponge and sweep up with the broom.

It was a very successful project for us and made for a great summer afternoon, so I thought I’d share it as a suggestion for keeping your own troops occupied in the dog days of summer.

And when you add special snacks, it’s a day for the history books!


Copyright 2018 Jake Frost

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About Author

Jake Frost is the author of The Happy Jar (a children’s picture book) and Catholic Dad, (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family and Fatherhood to Encourage and Inspire. He is a lawyer in hiatus, having temporarily traded depositions for diapers and court rooms for kitchens to care for his pre-school aged children. He comes from a large family in a small town of the Midwest, and lives near the Mississippi River with his wife and kids.

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