Little Nature Stories Feed

Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! Did this week go by REALLY fast or is it just me? Seriously - it feels like we were just finishing up Thanksgiving dinner and now here we are nearing the end of the first week of Advent! 

Well, at any rate - welcome! Thank you so much for stopping by and, goodness - please come on in out of the cold and let me offer you something warm to drink. Or maybe it's raining where you are ... or perhaps it's perfectly sunny and warm? But whatever the weather, please do come in! Let's pause together for some rest and refreshment ... time passes too quickly nowadays. We should sit down and savor the season while we can!

Now, my Tea theme this week, as you've probably gathered from the post title, is reflective of where we are in Advent this week. As described in yesterday's post, our family's Advent is a celebration of God's beautiful creation, because the whole world waits together for the miracle of life (and light) to return! Just as the earth goes quiet and dark at this time of year, we too slow down and turn inward, looking for ways to light the path before us ...

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2:43 p.m. and yes, the sun is going down ...

So this week we are focusing on the beauty of "earth and sky" - stars, stones, shells, sun and soil. We'll be making crafts that utilize and rejoice in these blessings of creation. Because when you take the time to really observe and think about these things - particularly if you look through the eyes of a child - you get such a sense for how wondrous our world truly is.

And for me personally, I really do relish crafting with natural materials ... these kinds of projects, most of which become gifts or tree ornaments, just seem especially meaningful to me. :)

Ok, so I have several things to tell you about, but let's start with my tea mug this week ...

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This mug is an oldie but goodie and some readers might recognize it since I've shared it a few times before! But it's my favorite and most comfortable mug. And though it feels wintry to me, I use it all year round. And today in this mug I'm enjoying another old Advent favorite - Harney & Sons' Holiday Tea. This is a black tea blended with subtle spices with a lovely vanilla-type of taste. (I don't believe there's any vanilla in the tea itself, but it just seems creamy and comforting to me.) It's GREAT with a wee bit of sugar and a healthy dose of whole milk. :)

The shortbread you see on the plate - one piece for me, one for Little Bear - was baked Wednesday in honor of St. Andrew (of Scotland). Maybe it's because I'm part Scottish (my maternal grandmother was born in Edinburgh), but shortbread is my hands-down favorite type of cookie! I just love the simplicity of shortbread - the flavor and texture is perfect to my mind (or I should say, palate). I'm always tempted to dip the ends of the bars in melted dark chocolate or thick caramel but then never do. Maybe I'll try that for Christmas this year.

In these pictures you can see I was sitting in a rather sunny spot ...

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The kitchen table gets such wonderful light all day. Usually I "take tea" in the library, but this is where I spread out yesterday - it was bit of a "working" tea. ;)

Here is a closer picture of our Advent Garden-in-progress ...

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Last year we set up an Advent Garden on the patio and while I enjoyed having it there very much, I decided to do something different this year. (Ok, truth be told I had a much larger scale project in mind originally - turning a small section of the yard into a grotto of sorts - but that was deemed a project better suited to spring!)

So instead, we're bringing our garden indoors. Throughout Advent, each week we will add a new layer of creation to this terrarium bowl. This week we've added stones (and soon to come soil), then next week will be plants (aka moss from the garden). In the third week of Advent, we'll add some small animal figures, and then finally, in the last week before Christmas, we will celebrate our own kingdom of creation, humankind - with tiny peg people and little wooden houses.

I'm really excited for this project and I love how it's being done in stages ... really highlighting the "waiting" aspect of Advent. It's certainly piqued the curiosity of my cats and kids ... and even guests to our home!

Now the candles around the bowl technically number 23 instead of 24 - but you didn't hear that from me. *wink* It's all I could scrape up! I had purchased glittery battery-lit tealights for this project but then they didn't really all fit ... size-wise nor sense-wise. (Glitter is lovely but not necessarily, natural.) Then I remembered my collection of beeswax tealights and thought how much more fitting they would be. Some have already been burned a little but that's ok. We'll light a candle each night throughout Advent (one will be lit twice) and that will be another nice way for us to pace ourselves a bit. To gather around the supper table and talk about the good things that happened that day ...

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Here are a couple of stories we're reading during this week of "stones and stars." Three Pebbles and a Song is actually one of our November books but I kept it aside just for this week. It is such a sweet little tale, perfect for this time of year - all about preparing for the long winter and appreciating that we all have gifts to offer. The illustrations - in grays, blues, browns and beige - perfectly suit these bleak days of early December. And another favorite book is this retelling of the fairy tale The Star Child - with its gorgeous illustrations and heartwarming tale of generosity and selflessness. I love how the little girl in the story is so selfless and never once hesitates to hand over something of her own to help another in need. Little ones might fret a bit over the girl's condition (as she slowly sheds her belongings) but her reward at the end of the story is simple and satisfying. 

Speaking of stories ....

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Another thing I'm doing this year is creating an Advent nature story to share with my younger boys - in particular my Little Bear who loves to snuggle and "hear stories."  I bought a couple of bags of "river" stones at the craft store (they're cleaner and more uniformly shaped than our yard stones!) and each stone is painted with a symbol from nature. The story is very simple (just a few lines a day) but it leads us towards Christmas in a way that meanders through creation ...

So ... we begin with a sleepy sun, a friendly starfish, a lonely rock, and a generous star ... and then next week we'll meet proud trees and humble plants ... later on there will be hungry birds, silly crows, clever bees ... and at last ... a humble home, a friendly barn and a very loving family. :)

I'm storing the stones in the 24 little drawers of that wooden Advent tree seen below, and each day we'll pull out a stone, tell its tale (Earlybird can read the card) and then nestle it in amongst the green branches.

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I'm having a lot of fun with it so far! And the boys seem intrigued. :) And since my artistic talents are somewhat limited, I have enlisted our resident 17 year-old artist, Crackerjack, to help me out with painting the stones ... 

Now I have one more thing to show you ... something that will be part of my "Winter Comforts Basket" giveaway!

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These pretty soaps are made by a company called Hand in Hand, and whether you buy them for yourself or a friend (online or at Target), they are a gift that truly gives back. Because for every purchase, HiH gives a month's worth of soap and clean water to a needy child.  These soaps are so well-crafted, softly-scented, earth-friendly AND gorgeously-wrapped. (I love the subtle colors and natural themes!) I'm giving several people on my gift list a bar of this beautiful soap, and ...

... whoever wins my "Winter Comforts Basket" will receive one as well!

(Remember - to enter my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway, all you have to do is send me a picture of your favorite mug or cup. It can be a special one you use at the holidays, throughout the winter, or any old day. You can send me your picture by attaching it to an email (send to drhanigan AT gmail DOT com). Feel free to tell me as much as you'd like about your mug - we love to talk tea here! (And cocoa, coffee, mulled cider, etc.!) I will share these pictures in my weekly Tea posts and then, on New Year's Eve, I will randomly pick a winner! 

So without further ado, here are this week's Tea Friends ... :)

From Elizabeth: "I'm sending you a picture of my favorite mug that I use all the time. I love to enjoy hot chocolate, herbal tea and spiced apple cider in the evenings. Especially with a good book or favorite episode of a beloved TV show or movie."

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From Lauren: "For your tea post, I wanted to share my favorite tea cup that I use during the winter season."

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From Heather: "I have to share more than one ... They are all perfect for the season! Happy Advent!"

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"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

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"My 'Home is the Nicest Word There is' Mug."

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"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

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"And these little glass mugs in our hot chocolate bar!"

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And from Gill:

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"This is a photo of the corner of my kitchen, where I stand to make tea or coffee, cook and bake, or turn 90' to wash up! I spend many contented hours exactly here working or dreaming or gazing out of my window to the front yard, where the dog, cats, hens and wild birds all interact!

In the summer the troughs against the yard wall are overflowing with flowers, now they are stuffed full of daffodil, crocus and narcissus bulbs, covered over with pine branches. The tree is the one we went into the forest to cut down last weekend. The bird feeders are usually busy. It is the funniest thing that the wild birds throw down seed to the hens beneath, and the hens keep the cats away!

You can just see that I have hung my Christmas curtains and that they are swathed with fairy lights. I have my breakfast ready: Norwegian brown goats cheese on bread and a cafe latte in my favorite Emma Bridgewater JOY mug. The board I have my bread on says " A friendly word can work wonders" which is so very true. I had just poured my coffee when your post pinged in, so I snapped the photo and hope you won't mind an Advent breakfast instead of tea!

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

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Oh my goodness, wasn't that fun? I just love talking "tea" (etc.) with friends. I do so wish we could all sit down in person and chat, but I guess for now this is the next best thing. (Maybe someday I'll figure out that periscope trend, lol ... or maybe host a "seasonal tea" webinar??)

My sincere thanks to Elizabeth Mary, Lauren, Heather and Gill for sharing their beautiful cups! I loved seeing them and hearing their thoughts on this cozy, happy topic!

And thank you all for joining me today ... I hope you enjoyed our teatime and hearing a little more about my family's Advent rituals. I will share Tea again here next Friday, and all are welcome to partake. If you'd like to send me a picture for the post (and giveaway!) please do so at your earliest convenience, by attaching a photo to an email addressed to ...

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope to hear from you! Until then, have a happy and restful weekend and I will see you all here again very soon!


A Nutty Little Nature Story

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I was wishing I still had my "nature notes" column up, because Earlybird and I observed the funniest little nature "story" yesterday!

It was a lovely afternoon, golden and breezy - and we were sitting in the learning room, with a couple of windows cracked open. EB was at the computer, and I was reading in my chair, when the sound of rustling leaves caught my attention. I thought it might be an animal of some sort walking by, but every time I looked outside I saw nothing. I did notice some rambunctious blue jays hopping around, so I dismissed the "ruckus" at that.

But, next thing I know, I start hearing little "pops" and "bangs" on the roof and windows. Now I'm kind of freaking out because I truly can't figure out what is making all this noise! I'm thinking perhaps some early Halloween "tricks" were being played on us!

Finally I figured I'd best take a closer look ... so I walked out front and when I looked back at the house I immediately noticed a flurry of movement at the top of the HUGE spruce tree that stands beside our house. The branches were swaying like crazy!

Glinting in the sun, and weaving in and out of the branches, was a bright ball of reddish-brown fur, and a closer inspection revealed this:

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A tiny red squirrel was perched way up high in the tree (and let me tell you, that is one super tall tree!) and making quite a business out of "harvesting" spruce cones! He'd climb onto a branch and nibble at the cone till it fell ...

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... and THAT was what we were hearing!

Cone after cone being dropped from the tree by the squirrel. They'd hit the ground, the roof, the windows ... like little bombs, lol! This went on for over half an hour - such an industrious fellow!

Archie was quite taken with the whole procedure:

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EB and I walked out to the feeder area to take a closer look and we were amazed by how many cones were covering the ground!

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So we'll be watching these next few days to see how many cones disappear and who all is spiriting them off. (One squirrel or more?) We often find cones half-stripped looking like this ...

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And these have been quite nibbled as you can see.

On the diet of red squirrels ...

"His food is far more varied than many suppose and he will eat almost anything eatable; he is a little pirate and enjoys stealing from others with keenest zest. In spring he eats leaf buds and hunts our orchards for apple seeds. In winter he feeds on nuts, buds, and cones; it is marvelous how he will take a cone apart, tearing off the scales and leaving them in a heap while searching for seeds; he is especially fond of the seeds of Norway spruce and hemlock."

(From the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna B. Comstock) 

So Earlybird and I are starting the "squirrels and other rodents" portion of our animal study this week. We already have lots of great "field observation" to report! Throughout November we'll be covering the general topic of hibernation as well.

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Well, my friends, I hope you're all having a good week. I'm almost caught up with Call the Midwife ... made it about halfway through the show last night, and hope to finish up this evening or next. When I do, I'll pop back into Monday's post to catch up with comments. :)

In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I'll see you here again very soon!



The Chickadee Post, Mid-December

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Dear Earlybird,

Today is a very cold day in the woodland. Most of our food sources are snowed under, so we really appreciate the food your family puts out for us! Many of my feathered friends like the black oil seed the best, but I also like your spruce tree cones! I've sent you one as a small gift ~ I'm not sure if you like to eat spruce cones (I'm guessing probably not since there's always plenty on your tree!), but maybe you could put it on your nature shelf? (Or you could hang it on your Christmas tree. I've seen it through the windows. The lights are very pretty!)

In other woodland news, a Cooper's hawk has made himself quite a nuisance at the feeders. Perhaps you heard about poor Red Belly's close call yesterday? She's one lucky woodpecker, I tell you! Lately I've been keeping to the deeper areas of the woodland, so I've been safe. I'll come visit later in the winter when my food stores run low!

Well, Earlybird, I'd best get this note off to you as I'm expecting my cousin Gray Tail for tea at any moment. (I bet you'd like to know what I'm serving: fresh juniper juice and thistle seed cake!)

And here's Little Chickadee now, ready to deliver my note to you today! I'm so glad your Nana made you that special mailbox ~ now we can share all kinds of news with each other!

Keep warm and be well, my dear little boy ...

Your Friend,

Red Tail the Squirrel

There was some excitement here yesterday afternoon ~ Earlybird received his very first piece of Chickadee Post! How did he know? Well, for starters, the flag was up on his special nature mailbox!

Inside the box, EB found (top photo) a small note card and a real spruce cone ...

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Now, the note card is just a piece of oatmeal-hued cardstock, folded over and adhered with a sticker. I used a rubber stamp for the chickadee image (and thankfully, my mum happened to be here, so she drew the little branch he's sitting on) ...

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EB opened it up as fast as fingers would fly, and inside he found a special note ...

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He was a bit over-excited to sit and listen at first, so I had him go and get his little red squirrel puppet and I read the note to him through the puppet's "voice." :) He enjoyed the story very much, and asked for it to be read again a few times over! Right after we finished reading, we set about decorating the spruce cone for our tree.

Of course, we began with a good spackling of glue ...

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... followed by a liberal sprinkling of glitter, and then a jingle bell tied on with a bit of twine. Once dry, it was ready to hang:

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Stay tuned for more tales from the woodland ~ brought to you (and EB!) by Chickadee Post! :)


Little Nature Stories: Red's Time of Day

My favorite little critter at his favorite time of day - just before sunset, when all the commotion has died down at the feeders. His only dinner companions are the cardinals who also prefer this quiet hour before dusk.

This cage feeder suits him just perfectly, as he can perch at the top:

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Hang down over the edge:

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Rappel down inside to find just the right seed:

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And pop right back up again to feast:

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I tell you, I never tire of watching the red squirrels who visit our feeders. I wouldn't think of shooing them off, or heaven forbid, trapping and moving them as some people do. Sure they eat their fair share of seed (as do their bigger gray cousins) but all God's creatures are welcome at our feeders. Well, I do draw the line at larger (or predatory) animals such as coyotes and bear. We've never had anything like that, though. Just raccoons once in a while and the occasional neighborhood cat. The cats I drive off with some hand clapping and the raccoons we photograph if we can. The coons eat a good bit, and sure they might drag off a suet cage now and again, but really, most of the critters in our little habitat play fair.

We stocked up on birdseed yesterday, and today we will clean up the feeding area and fill up all the feeders. I would like to do a post about the feeders we employ in our yard - what kinds and how many. This is a great time of year to get your feeders going again, so stay tuned!

In other nature news, I have organized a little nature study club for my homeschool group and our first meeting is coming up! We are meeting at a local nature preserve to walk and explore and discuss ... I am planning to hand out a scavenger list of "signs of fall" for the kids to use as they walk about the place (with sketchbooks or cameras in hand).

Our plan is to meet once a month at the same place and do some nature study all together. I have wanted to organize a club like this for some time now, and was gratified so many families were interested - 25 at last count! You can be sure I'll be posting all about our first meeting later this week. :)

Have a beautiful Sunday, everyone!


Little Nature Stories: Dexter, the Blue Jay

My friend Marcie from Louisiana has kindly been sharing pictures with my boys and me of a blue jay who has been calling her yard home. I asked for her permission to share them here with you all, because they are truly amazing!

Back in June, Marcie's family rescued 3-week old "Dexter" (as he came to be known) from the mouth of a cat! They cared for him, fed him (mealworms are a favorite you can see) and he continued to come to them, becoming quite tame. Here he is on Marcie's arm (having just vacated the top of her head):

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Even more recently Marcie sent me pictures of Dexter molting and I gasped with surprise when I saw these:

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What a look! Have you ever seen a blue jay looking like this?

The funny thing is, we have a blue jay in our yard these days that has the exact kind of oddly-shaped head. We didn't know what was going on with the poor fellow! We were afraid he might be ill or had been attacked. We got to calling him Turkey Head because we thought he looked (in shape) somewhat like a turkey vulture, lol. We were glad to learn he is only molting! How extraordinary that we both have unusually molting jays in our yards this summer, a thousand miles apart!

Of course Marcie's family is on much more familiar terms with their jay than we are with ours! We do enjoy watching the ones who visit our yard, though, and recently several of them saved a red squirrel from an enormous hawk! Bookworm watched it happen - the jays mobbed the descending raptor, squawking and rushing at him relentlessly. He finally gave up and the little red squirrel was able to make a safe escape. The birds kept up their alarm for almost a half an hour!

I now have a soft spot in my heart for blue jays - in light of their recent heroics, and especially now that I've had the pleasure of getting to know Dexter.

Marcie tells me these days Dexter is more wild than tame, visiting their feeders less and less, though he does call to them when he arrives.

Here he is with his new feathers coming in:

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And a final picture of Dexter, looking dapper at last:

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Marcie's photographs are amazing, arent' they? You might remember that her photos are the ones that bring my Field Days alive. Which reminds me ... it's been a long while since I've run a Field Day, hasn't it? Hmmm, stay tuned for an announcement before (hopefully) too long. :)

In the meantime, thanks to Marcie for sharing these awesome photos and such a great story with us! And thanks, as always, to you all for stopping by. And if you pass a blue jay in your travels today, tip your hat to this delightful - and dapper - songbird!


Whatsthatbug???

We need help in identifying this beetle, the biggest we have EVER seen:

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(Please click image for a bigger, better view.)

Well, it's been quite an afternoon for nature study! This bug was spotted just minutes after the toad sighting we described earlier today. There we were, back at the windows, finishing our lunch and watching the birds and squirrels beneath the spruce tree, when Bookworm exclaimed: "Hey what's that big beetle out there?"

Now, my first thought was: How on earth can he see a beetle from way up here? My second thought was - upon spying said enormous beetle, from which, mind you, the squirrels and chipmunks fled: What on earth is that bug and should I grab the camera or call animal control?

No, no, I'm kidding. Really. I did in fact grab my camera and, as the specimen was trucking though the bark mulch, I started snapping pictures. It was hard to focus in on a moving target so finally I got him onto a piece of paper and barricaded him in with a few bricks (humanely of course; I never touched him). I placed a quarter next to him for size comparison, because let me tell you - he was BIG. Never seen a bug so big - other than a butterfly or moth.

So, any ideas on what we have here? We spent a bunch of time poring through field guides and came up with some kind of long-horned beetle - a prionus like this one seems to match, but we can't make a firm i.d. Any advice would be great!

Oh, and just so you know, we let him loose after his photo shoot, and, just like the toad did earlier today, he ran straight under the family room addition. Heaven only knows which species would be the worse for wear at that meeting!


Hey, Big Fella!

We were eating our lunch just now when Bookworm spied a huge toad beneath one of our birdfeeders. He sent me outside with the camera to get a shot, and naturally, I was happy to oblige:

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This was as close as I wanted to get as he was rather larger and bumpier than any toad I've handled before. (Thank goodness for zoom lenses!) He hopped away from me slowly and then, spying an ant on the foundation wall, paused for just a moment - then ZAP! - he ate the ant in half a second or less! Quite nonchalantly, he then continued on his way, disappearing beneath our family room addition which is where we suspect most of our toad population resides. A "knot" of toads they would be called, though my favorite nature author would call them a "blessing." All bumpiness aside, I would tend to agree. :)

"In the early years we are not to teach nature as science, we are not to teach it primarily for method or for drill: we are to teach it for loving - and this is nature study." L. H. Bailey

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Thank you to everyone who left such nice comments after my planner post last night. I am working on a follow-up post with the autumnal ideas I mined from those books and my journals. I will also try to answer a few of the questions you have. Until then, have a lovely afternoon ... :)


The Earlybird ... Spots the Deer!

Just now Earlybird ran up to the glass doors looking out at the backyard and called over to me:

"Wook, wook! A deeah!"

Now, I first thought he was saying "a geese" - which just goes to show I hadn't had enough coffee yet - but when I joined him at the windowpanes, sure enough he had seen a deeah, and right in our neighbor's backyard:

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EB looked up at me, eyes wide and said, "Oh My Dearness!"

What a nice way to start this quiet, misty morning. I hope your day is starting off nicely, too. Thunderstorms moving in around here .. I'm off to get that second cup of coffee. :)