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Creating Seasonal Themes: Corn Week!

Corn 1
(Plus a bit of book news at the end!)

Happy Wednesday, my friends! Sorry I've been a bit out of touch lately ... we've had a lot going on here at the house these days!

We're gearing up for a new year of home learning, and we're getting Bookworm ready for his move back to BC, and we're starting Earlybird on a new, daily, home-based, fairly intensive, behavioral therapy. All very good things, but all things requiring a lot of time, energy and attention. (And did I mention, energy?) Also, as August winds down, we're trying to squeeze the very last drops of goodness out of this fast-fleeing season ... we'll have warm weather here for several more weeks, but for all intents and purposes, Summer pretty much ends after Labor Day.

So I thought I would share some of my notes for this week with you all! As I have mentioned before, I enjoy shaping my family's year by assigning seasonal themes to each week. This helps me weave in all the little comforts and joys of the season I might otherwise overlook. And though I really get into planning these themes out with all kinds of details, I try not to set my expectations too high. Because real life often runs over my plans, and a particular "theme" might not get explored very much ... so some years we might manage something small (a special recipe, perhaps) while other years we might go all out and really work that theme into our homeschooling and home life! Either way, I think it's always good to have a plan. And to be aware ... I think as seasons pass, the beautiful rhythm of the year truly wraps itself around my family however much attention we pay it. That is my end goal! :)

Anyhoo, this current week is devoted to the very timely topic of CORN. In New England (and I suspect, across much of the country) corn is in its peak season these days. Corn-on-the-cob is just heavenly right now - partaking daily is not out of the question - and cornstalks will factor into our home decorations in the coming weeks ...

But enough gabbing on my part! Here are some of my thoughts:

The Full Green Corn Moon will rise on Saturday, August 29th @ 2:35 p.m., and it's a Supermoon this month! We'll have to be sure to look for it after dark and plan a special farmstand supper - starring corn, of course! - for that night. 


We'll visit a local corn field ... we drive by it often and always marvel at its size. This time we'll stop the car and get out - observe the field, its sounds and smells. What wildlife is flying overhead or scurrying underfoot? What do we hear? (Is that the corn making that sound?) What can we smell? (Vegetation, earth?) How does the air feel right now? (Hot, humid?) Now, we won't touch these stalks because we don't have permission, but we might visit a local farm and ask to do just that. I'll see what our schedule allows and how much interest has been piqued. Before we go, we'll take pictures of the cornfield from various angles. 


We'll visit our favorite farmstand and buy plenty of ears of fresh corn. We'll ask where the corn comes from and how many ears they sell each day. We'll buy some to eat and some to use for exploration/activities ...

At home, we'll pile some ears on the table and take out our colored pencils and sketch pad: "Still Life with Corn!"


We''ll enjoy some nice books from the library all about corn:

Corn book 2

The Life and Times of Corn

Corn book 1


Corn book 3

Corn is Maize

Corn book 4

The Popcorn Book

Corn book 5

Raccoons and Ripe Corn

(These might be in a basket or set up as a display on a nature shelf.)


We'll play some pretty lullabies ... and discuss how/why corn was so important to Native Americans

Corn music

Under the Green Corn Moon (Native American Lullabies)

For craft day we'll make a corn husk candle - a small glass votive surrounded by corn husks with a tiny beeswax tealight tucked inside. That will look nice on our table! (We could also try making this or this ...)

Or we could try making a corn husk doll (and research the history behind it) ...

We will pop popcorn for snack ... and we might even make marshmallow popcorn bars for a tasty treat!

We might do a taste test: boiled corn vs. grilled corn. 

On baking day we will make a pan of corn bread, and serve it with honey butter.


We'll learn a poem called "A Green Cornfield" by Christina Georgina Rossetti. We'll add that poem to our nature journal, along with our pictures/sketches.

 The earth was green, the sky was blue:
I saw and heard one sunny morn
A skylark hang between the two,
A singing speck above the corn;

A stage below, in gay accord,
White butterflies danced on the wing,
And still the singing skylark soared,
And silent sank and soared to sing.

The cornfield stretched a tender green
To right and left beside my walks;
I knew he had a nest unseen
Somewhere among the million stalks.

And as I paused to hear his song
While swift the sunny moments slid,
Perhaps his mate sat listening long,
And listened longer than I did.


We'll consider "Kansas Corn Field," a painting by artist John Steuart Curry in 1933:

Corn 2


I also have notes for some Indian Corn activities but I'm not sure if I can get it at the nursery yet. Also, those might wait for a later week in the fall. This week is really more about fresh, or green, corn. :)

So there, in a nutshell (or a kernel!) are my simple ideas for celebrating the goodness of corn during this last week of August. Remember - they're all just possibilities! I can't imagine fitting them all in in any one given year.

How do you enjoy corn at this time of year? Perhaps you grow it yourself or have a favorite recipe ... let me know in the comments below! In the meantime, and before I go, I wanted to mention my book briefly, because I've had a few people ask recently about how my progress is going ...

So, I have been working on it this summer - here and there, not as often as I'd like! - but it took me a while to get going because I wasn't entirely sure WHAT I wanted to write about. I have a few subjects I enjoy very much and there are a few topics people ask about more than others ... well, I finally found my focus! And that enabled me to get rolling ...

I am going to do a book about the file crate system - describing how I do it (and why) and the basics of setting a system up for yourself. That will be the first half of the book ... the second half will focus on seasonal learning (and living) ... and how I use my FCS to manage my family's year. So my hope is to have an outline of 52 (weekly) *seasonal* themes to present  along with activities and books and observations. And tips for using the folders to make it all happen! (Or most of it ... some of it ... well, you get the picture!)

Sometimes when I describe this it all sounds so straight forward and simple - these are my two favorite topics, after all! It seems like the two sides of the equation should work well together ... I need the folders to make the plans happen! But it's possible I may need to separate the two topics ... goodness knows I can get wordy!

(Case in point, this post.)

I will most likely be self-publishing so I'll need to do a WHOLE lot of research into that. I have my eye on a neat contraption that will allow me to bind things at home ... and I am looking into permission for using things like scrapbook papers and poems, illustrations, etc. 

Much to do, much to do! But I'm excited ... so I wanted to update you all .. and I will of course keep you all posted. For the time being, if you have a prayer to spare, or good energy to send, I would be grateful ... I'm desperately trying to find the time in my new schedule to just ... get 'er done!


Thanks so much for stopping by my friends ... enjoy the rest of your Wednesday and I will see you here again very soon!

Nature Notes, YouTube & Long Lost CDs!

(How's that for a mixed bag?)

Well, good Tuesday morning, my friends! I hope your week's going well ...

First order of business ... Nature Notes! Remember that little log I used to keep on my sidebar over there on the left, just beneath my picture? Well, I'm going to start those back up again, now that Spring is coming and we have a new property to explore. Look for that sidebar list to reappear sometime later today (roundabouts naptime, lol).

Here's a little preview though, a happy sight this morning:

Chipmunk 2


Secondly ... are you all aware that Susan Branch (of blog and books fame) has a YouTube channel? Oh my goodness, what fun!! Bill has a way of playing YouTube videos on our bedroom TV, and we watch together in the evening - after supper when Earlybird has gone to bed and Little Bear is on his way ... I'm cozied up on the bed with my laptop and Bill is rocking LB on his shoulder. Lately we've been watching British realty shows and electric car videos, but tonight he found the SB channel for me and ... I was just ... ENTHRALLED.

O watching susan branch

(So was Little Bear!)

SB has all these short videos posted - little vignettes she narrates, showing us her home and beautiful surroundings. Making sugared pecans, collecting bittersweet, sharing favorite mugs and angel chimes at Christmas ...  and her trip to England!! If you are a fan of Ms. Branch, you will absolutely love watching these videos, I promise. They really bring her books to life. 

I took a picture of this scene just to show you what I mean ... 

Susan branch channel 1

This video was entitled, "Petals." So lovely.

Over the years I've had folks ask if I might consider doing YouTube, but I've never really seen how that would work. Watching these videos last night, though has opened my eyes. Not that I'd have even a fraction of what SB has to offer, but I can see how fun it would be to show "in person" some of the things I try to share through photos and words. I'll have to think on this one a bit more, but with Bill's help I think I could do it ... so stay tuned!

And finally, I am so excited this morning because I just found a long-lost, much beloved CD of baby music and I can't wait to play it for Little Bear! I'm actually listening to it right now on my laptop, as I just uploaded (downloaded?) it to my iTunes ... and oh, the memories! I listened to this disc over and over and OVER with my babies and it is such a sweet reminder of baby-days-bliss. I thought this CD was lost, so just the other day I ordered a new copy - and then this morning I found the original! How funny ... but I bet you know what that means ... I'm going to do a giveaway!! I will post all the details very soon, but it will be such fun!


Ok my friends, that's all I have for now ... Little Bear's morning nap is ending (as the noises from the monitor suggest) and lunchtime is nearing ... but I'll be back again soon! As always, thanks so much for stopping by and have yourselves a great day ...

Blessings to you and your loved ones!

Lullaby Magic

Train candle 1

One of the joys of having a baby again is rediscovering all the lovely little things we've forgotten through the years. So as Little Bear grows, Bill and I find ourselves remembering things like familar facial expressions ("That's Crackerjack's smile!" "That's Bookworm's furrowed brow!") and favorite toys and books ("Oh here's Elmo - or MoMo as Earlybird called him!" "Remember how much they all loved this book?") to long forgotten instincts - what a particular cry means and how to rock a wee one just so ... 

Well the other night, as I rocked a fussy baby all across our bedroom floor, it suddenly came to me - a lullaby I sang to each one of my boys, a beloved song that my own father sang to me when I was a child (often accompanied by his guitar) ... I have not thought of it in years! But with a couple of tries the words all came back to me (click the title to hear it online) ...

Morningtown Ride

Train whistle blowing, makes a sleepy noise,
Underneath their blankets go all the girls and boys. 
Heading from the station, out along the bay, 
All bound for Morningtown, many miles away.

*Sarah's at the engine, Tony rings the bell,
John swings the lantern to show that all is well.
Rocking, rolling, riding, out along the bay,
All bound for Morningtown, many miles away.

Maybe it is raining where our train will ride,
But all the little travelers are snug and warm inside.
Somewhere there is sunshine, somewhere there is day,
Somewhere there is Morningtown, many miles away.

*Sarah, Tony and John became Bookworm, Crackerjack and Earlybird. :)

I sang it over and over to Little Bear, who crooned right along with me. (He absolutely LOVES music we've discovered.) And to be honest, I actually found myself tearing up because I was just flooded with memories of my first babies - so vividly aware of how fast time does fly - and so completely filled with love for this new one ...


My friends, what were/are your favorite songs to sing with your baby? I do love a lullaby but I'm quite partial to Beatles ballads as well. Actually, my go-to sing-a-song is this and it's another I remember fondly from childhood.


Well, enjoy your Friday evening, my friends and Happy Weekend as well!

Sunday ☼ Snippets

Just jotting down a few thoughts from my day ...


There's a PBS preview here ...with a bit more information on Downton Abbey AS WELL AS a new Martha Stewart Cooking show! As many of you know, the MARTHA show was cancelled this year, and though I must admit I was an infrequent viewer, I will miss that big pretty studio she had! Actually, I still like her original show best - the one set at Turkey Hill, where she just showed you stuff but didn't try to "banter" with celebrity guests. Still, it's nice to know she'll continue to be a presence on TV! (And here's another article about the new Martha show from way back in April. Clearly I've been out of the loop!)


This was a beautiful song sung at Mass this morning. I'm sure I've heard it before, but it really struck me today ...

I just love it. â¤


I have more skls/bnls chicken breasts in the crockpot today - which means more shredded chicken for salad, pizzas, wraps, etc. I'll keep my portion plain, since I'm pretty sure it was Bill's bbq sauce - or rather, the chipolte pepper in Bill's bbq sauce - that set off my crazy reaction.

(Note to self: call an allergist first thing tomorrow.)


And Crackerjack took this picture of Archie ...

Sleeping archie 1

He's holding his own - still sneezing now and again, but also still acting completely normal otherwise (eating/drinking/playing, etc.). Hates the meds of course, but what can you do?

But I love how we all flock to the learning room, whether we're learning or not.

Sunday snippets 4

But really, when are we not?


The older boys are at a "big boy" birthday party this afternoon, so EB and I made crafts and had "Sunday Sundaes" at home. The boy just loves to paint, and he'll paint whatever I give him ... though funnily enough, he absolutely refused to paint rocks today, lol ...

Sunday snippets 5

And I had planned to do this frame craft mid-week, for the Feast of St. James, but we made them up today since the mood was just right. :)

Sunday snippets 6

EB did the painting, I did the pictures. :)

And in another window ...

Sunday snippets 2

I love putting starfish and sand dollars in the windows at this time of year. I'm not sure if this is strictly a New England thing, or more of a coastal thing, but I see them here and there and they always make me smile ... so I hope our "seaworthy" windows make passersby smile, too. :)


Going a bit further with the shell theme - since shells are a symbol of St. James - I'm planning to make lemon madeleines and scallops provençal this week, and we may make this adorable seashell koala craft. Of course, I've been hunting high and low for my madeleine pan without any luck ... but I did find the minifig cake pan! Just in time for CJ's birthday next month! (You're not going to believe this, but he'll be 13!)


Lately, we've been enjoying the goldfinches enjoying our lavender bed ...

Goldfinches in lavender bed 1

I had kind of been kicking myself (as I do every year) for not doing much with our large patch of lavender... but seeing how dearly the birds love it, I feel somewhat less guilty.


Also, I wrote out a rather lengthy post on how I get ready for a new school year, since I've had a few requests for a post of that nature. Alas, I was on Benadryl at the time, so it needs a little polishing before it posts, lol.

(It should be up sometime tomorrow!)


Well, I'm going to sign off now, my friends - I expect my older boys and Bill home any minute, and I'm sure they'll be eager for supper. I hope you all had a nice weekend ... and I wish you a lovely Sunday night. 

I'll see you here again very soon ...


Notes at the End of the Day


Today's weather: The very essence of winter - cold and gray, with steady snow all day long. Really beautiful - though, truth be told - I think I've had my fill of winter at this point. Move along now please, February.

Tonight's dinner plans: Grilled steak and roasted veggies, served over butterfly pasta. For dessert - three mini pies I've had in the freezer since Thanksgiving (they're still good, right?) - pumpkin, apple and rhubarb cream.

In the mail today: The "2009 Summer-Flowering Bulbs" catalogue from Brent & Becky's. This year I'm determined to grow dahlias. My grandpa grew the most gorgeous dinner plate dahlias. They are, to me, the most beautiful late summer flowers. 

Music I listened to: During lessons the boys and I listened to In the Hall of the Mountain King (over and over, lol). As I type now I am listening to Love Story by Taylor Swift - I'm not generally a country fan, but I really like this song. (Fyi, the iTunes store is a downright dangerous place.)

Plan for tonight: I'll read chapter 9 of Midnight Sun to Bill after the boys go to bed and then we'll watch something on our Tivo list. (Possibly Jaws, which, strangely enough is one of my favorite movies of all time.)

Hope you all had a nice day. * See you again sometime soon!

When fall comes to New England ...

This past weekend was so lovely ~ temps in the low 50s, a brilliant sky, and a chilly breeze overall. When fall comes to New England,* it's time to bundle up and get out there to enjoy nature's last dance of glory.

And where does one find fall at its best? Well, everywhere and anywhere, of course - within the deepest of woods, at the peak of the hills, and right inside our own garden gate.

I hope you enjoy these random autumn pictures, taken on family jaunts to the woods, the seaside, the fair and the farm ... and a very happy fall to you all.























It will not always be like this,
The air windless, a few last
Leaves adding their decoration
To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs
Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening

In the lawn’s mirror. Having looked up
From the day’s chores, pause a minute,
Let the mind take its photograph
Of the bright scene, something to wear
Against the heart in the long cold.

           ~ R.S. Thomas

*Please do take a moment to listen to Cheryl Wheeler's amazing song, When Fall Comes to New England. She is one of my favorite folk singers (introduced to me by my parents!), and her song - in a beautiful and sentimental way - captures the essence of autumn where I live. Click and enjoy. :)

October's Moon


Theres a ring around the moon
And a chill in the air
And a fire in the stars that
Hang so near ...
~ Dan Fogelberg*

It was just after the supper dishes were cleared when Earlybird called out from the family room:

"The moon! The moon! Come see the moon, Mama!"

And what a moon it was. We spent a good bit of time out on our deck tonight, a chill in the air, the darkness all aroud us, and that glistening orb suspended above ...

There's nothing quite like an autumn moon ...

*Who could be my all-time favorite musical artist, child of the 80s that I am. I mean, how can you beat The Leader of the Band? :)

Facts in Five

~ FIVE neat little things for today ~

1. My Earlybird slept from 8 p.m. last night until 5:30 a.m. today; that's 9 1/2 hours, people! That was the most normal night's sleep he's ever had in his life. (And, more significantly, that I've had in 6 1/2 years!) What a clever boy; he's been showered with attention this morning and is he ever chipper and chatty. Some of you reading know just how early a riser my EB can be (i.e. 4 is the norm). I think - hope, pray - this new schedule (no naps/time change), has finally worked a little bedtime magic. I could get used to this well-rested feeling ...

2. My blog turned 2 last week! I was thinking that today was the day, but actually it was March 22nd. I posted 3 times the first day, and 7 times the next, lol! I am stunned to think I've had something to say almost every day in those two years. (I think I've missed maybe 5.) I am really very grateful for this blog - especially for the folks I've come to know through it - it's been the most rewarding hobby, I must say. Here's how we celebrated ONE last year ...

3.  SouleMama's book (The Creative Family) is coming out in 6 days! You are probably familiar with her beautiful, crafty, cozy blog (the kind of blog I hope mine grows up to be, lol), but if not, please hop over and check it out. There's a link to her book in the lefthand sidebar; check that out too. I've had it in my Amazon cart ever since she first mentioned it sometime last year, and now shipping's just a few days away! I am downright giddy. :)

4. What we're watching/listening to right now ~ Here Come the 1,2,3's! from They Might Be Giants. Earlybird found this in his Easter basket, and it's a big hit, as I knew it would be. (He's loved the ABC version for a couple of years now.) Very catchy, perky songs - very parent- and older sibling- friendly. And the bonus is, the set includes a DVD to watch, and a CD for the car. EB, as some of you know, has a sensitivity to singing (in that, he yells, "NO SING, MAMA!" if I do so much as hum) so figuring out ways to get a little music into his life is a constant goal.

5. And finally: the Red Sox won the season opener 6-5 in 10 innings! Hooray for spring!

Well, I must be off - the waffles have popped, and the coffeemaker just sounded "last call." I hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday!

A Few Plans for the Day

*Well, it's snowing here this morning! So first thing, the older boys will help Daddy with theCocoa08  shoveling and then we'll all have hot cocoa with breakfast. You simply must drink hot cocoa after shoveling. I'm pretty sure it's a rule. ;)

*And did you know, it's Chinese New Year today? Our plans include making simple crafts with Earlybird this morning: paper lanterns (practicing scissor skills) and firework pictures with glue and glitter (practicing restraint, lol). While I clean up with EB, I'll have the older boys look at this website. A few years back our homeschool group visited this fascinating exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and today we can tour it again online! I'll be curious to see how much they remember.

*Later today, and weather permitting, we'll head over to Book Group. I'm not leading a group this month, so that means I can chat and browse the stacks. :) While I'm there I'll look for a nice picture book or two about China and pick up this CD for dinnertime music. Back at home, I have a couple of paperbacks to suggest for the older two. For Crackerjack, we have Little Pear by Eleanor Frances Lattimore. It might be fun to read aloud a chapter or two and see if the book captures his attention. For Bookworm, I'll suggest Homesick: My Own Story a novel by Jean Fritz, about her childhood in China.

*And late this afternoon, after lessons are put away and the light starts to fade, I'll put on Ratatouille for all the boys to watch. (2008 is the Year of the Rat!) While the movie's showing, I'll bake some Chinese almond cookies and place a call to Bill to remind him to pick up Chinese take-out on the way home from work! :)

Hope you all have a great Thursday, and  新年快乐! :)

~ A Sunday Hello ~

First, and most importantly, Happy Advent!


In celebration of the new season I baked a cake this afternoon ~ a woodland Christmas cake! It's a dark chocolate cake (a box mix, I confess!), drizzled with double-vanilla icing and sprinkled with white chocolate shavings ~ sort of reminscent of our birch Advent log ~ which we lit for the first time tonight. I have to say, candlelight never looks prettier - and chocolate never tastes better - than at Christmas. :)

And, thanks to a tip from Kimberlee at Pondered in my Heart, I found some lovely Christmas music today: Eventide Lullaby by the group (a homeschooling family) called Seasons. You can listen to clips of the CD at their site. Their Eventide150_4music has such a gentle feel to it, like an old-fashioned folksy Christmas ~ I think it's the "hammered dulcimer" that appeals to me, but whatever it is, these songs are beautiful. This soft, soothing music makes me think of the wonderful quiet afternoons that lie ahead ~ there will be snow in the air, good smells in the kitchen, crafts on the table, and lights twinkling on as the western sky turns red ... this music will fit these days perfectly.

Let's see, what else?

Well, I also spent a few hours this weekend outlining a lesson-activity plan for the rest of December. In a nutshell: there will be math, nature study and lots and lots of reading. (History and science - save for Aquarium school later this month - will be on hold till after the New Year.) I pruned our calendar too, because to my mind December is a month for being home as much as possible. For one thing, it's CRAZY out there, and for another, many if not most of the beautiful Advent traditions can and should be experienced right here at home. Trips to church, the farm, or special activites with friends and family will round out our otherwise quiet days. I'll post our plans later this week.

Well, it's getting late now and bedtime is officially underway. In fact, Earlybird is already down for the count. If I can stay up a bit later than usual, Bill and I are going to try to watch Miss Potter tonight. This will be the very first time I've seen it. (I know, I can't believe it either. Where have I been?)

So good night, everyone! Be well and warm, and I'll see you sometime tomorrow. :)

CD of the Month: Play Ball!

So we're going to game seven! And it's all about baseball (Go Sox!), football (Go Pats!) and soccer (Go Crackerjack!) around here today. :)Playball

Speaking of sports (which I rarely do, but in October one can barely escape it) I've been wanting to mention our favorite CD of the moment: Play Ball! (pictured at right). This is a fabulous recording of baseball themed-music and skits, done by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. We first heard a portion of this (possibly the best portion, Casey at the Bat, read by the awesome James Earl Jones) during Kids Hour on WCRB. The boys were in downright hysterics ("Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered "Fraud!" But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed ...) and begged me to find a copy at the library. None to be found there, so I turned to the internet and found a used copy online.

It was worth every penny - a terrific slice of Americana! Some of the selections include: Who's on First (Abbot and Costello), The Star Spangled Banner, Take Me out to The Ballgame, Centerfield and themes from Damn Yankees, Field of Dreams and The Natural.

Of course the question of the day is, will there be joy in Mudville Red Sox Nation tonight? We'll just have to wait and see ... :)

Blessings and Books: What We're Up To ...

Here's our bulletin board for this week:


Notice the letters at the top? :) I used those small flat wooden letters you find at the craft store (I'm a little addicted to them these days), painted them a pale blue and glittered them. Blessed. A nice word for the new year, don't you think? The frosty blue will be nice for the winter. I will change to a new word next season ...



  • "The Whole Duty of Children" by Robert Louis Stevenson (Crackerjack)
  • "The Kraken" by Lord Alfred Tennyson (Bookworm)
  • We'll also pore over this beautiful page of bird poems and illustrations, with particular focus paid to "The Chickadee" by Emerson.


History/Social Studies:


  • Twelfth Night (Bookworm)
  • King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (as above)
  • Little Women (This will be the family read-aloud once King Arthur is finished -  we may not start till next week.)

Science & Nature Study:




Sorry this is a bit dark - it's so hard to capture candlelight. The paper craft was an idea from The Big Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions for Children's Faith Formation. The holy card is a beautiful gift from a beautiful friend - someone I cannot think of without feeling the mantle of Mary wrapped around me. :) The candles are just wrapped with some lace ribbon. (Side note - these would be a really pretty decoration for a First Communion. There was some less-feminine white ribbon I might use for CJ's party this May.) And if we have time, I aim to make cupcakes such as Alice's or Elizabeth's today or tomorrow. 

Art Study:


  • Listen to the Kids Classical Hour on Saturday morning.
  • "We Three Kings" (sing and play)

Waiting with Mary


Crackerjack picked out this "six day" candle the other day at the grocery store. Today there are six days left until Christmas so we lit it for the first time this afternoon. We decided to place our statue of Mary on our Christmas mantel so we might keep her company and remember all she went through in these days leading up to the blessed birth.

Of course we know the answer to this question, (it's in today's Gospel in fact), but listen to this lovely song if you have a minute ...

Mary, Did You Know?

Nature Study & Play: Autumn Leaves

"Come little leaves, said the wind one day,Leaf5_1
Come, over the meadows with me and play:
Put on your dresses of red and gold,
For summer is gone and the days grow cold ...

Is the fall foliage at its peak where you live? Here in New England we only have a week or two left to enjoy the autumn leaves in all their brilliance. Peak or past, who can possibly miss the vibrance of these last days of the season? Who would want to?

Leaf4_1Mid-autumn is a perfect time to add to the nature notebooks before the landscape is barren once more. Our own nature study has been on the back burner of late, but all it took was one great (wonderful, fantastic) book to put us back on track ~ and put us in the mood to explore and celebrate one of the wonders of autumn - the gorgeous falling leaves.

First, a few words about the book that started it all ... Fletcher and the Falling Leaves. Do you know it? It was just published this fall, and already it is an absolute favorite! If ever there was a perfect fall picture book, this just might be it!

I first saw Fletcher in the Chinaberry catalog and, though I wanted it immediately (I Fletcher_1could just tell by the cover and description this book would be a treasure), I held myself in check and requested a copy from the library. But I found the book was already so popular all the copies were checked out! So we requested, we waited, and finally we brought it home last week.

This book is a wonderful fall read - breathtaking illustrations combine with a simple and endearing story. Fletcher is a small fox kit who, as autumn moves in, is worried about his very favorite tree - and specifically all the leaves it is losing:

"The world was changing. Each morning, when Fletcher bounded out of the den, everything seemed just a little bit different. The rich green of the forest was turning to a dusty gold, and the soft, swishing sound of summer was fading to a crinkly whisper. Fletcher's favorite tree looked dull, dry and brown.

Fletcher was beginning to get worried."

Fletcher's mother tells him not to worry. "It's only autumn," she says. But worry Fletcher does. He even tries valiantly to save all the leaves from the wind and the frost - but as it always happens with nature, he simply cannot. He learns in the end however - spoiler alert! - that his tree has its own winter magic to share. Oh, I could just read this book over and over. And I do, even when no little ears are listening. :)

Leaf2_1So, inspired by this book, and Fletcher's abiding love for his special tree, as well as the beautiful leaves all around us ... I brainstormed some autumn leaf nature activities to have fun with over the next few weeks, before our trees must also enter their own winter sleep. Naturally, I first turned to the Handbook of Nature Study to see what Ms. Comstock had to say on the subject. And, naturally, she had a lot to say ... here's a sample:

"During autumn the attention of the children should be attracted to the leaves by their gorgeous colors. It is well to use this interest to cultivate their knowledge of the forms of the leaves of the trees; but the teaching of the tree species should be done quite incidentally and guardedly. If the teacher says to the child bringing a leaf, "This is a white-oak leaf," the child will soon quite unconsciously learn that leaf by name. Thus, tree study may be begun in the kindergarten or primary grades."

And since I know many of you enjoy nature study and play, I'm going to share my thoughts with you here!


  • Collect and press various leaf types for your nature notebooks.
  • Make leaf crowns.
  • Make leaf prints: With vibrant shades, paint the underside of a leaf and press it onto paper for a image. Or lay down a leaf and, using an old toothbrush, spatter paint around its edges.Leaf3
  • Preserve your autumn leaves (different methods described here).
  • Make beautiful stained glass leaves as found at Bountiful Blessings (hat tip Lissa).
  • Make a leaf mobile: Seal leaves between two sheets of clear contact paper. Trim the edges, punch a hole in one end and thread on a length of autumn-hued yarn. Attach yarn ends to a long branch and then hang from your ceiling, perhaps over your dining table or nature corner.
  • Make a nature print t-shirt using differently shaped leaves. (We made these for Bookworm's birthday; directions can be found here.)

Out and About:

  • Visit a local sanctuary and take a walk around the wooded property. Sign up for a class or a naturalist-guided walk. (Even if there is nothing scheduled, you could call ahead and ask the sanctuary if this is something you could organize for a small group of families or homeschooled children.)
  • Plan a trip to the park and take along a field guide for a leaf-type scavenger hunt. Work together to check off a "leaf list" prepared ahead of time.
  • How about scaled down leaf-peeping? For this trip, you don't have to make reservations or travel a distance. Plan a fun mini-jaunt on a Saturday afternoon. Pack up the kids and take along sippy cups or travel cups filled with apple cider and a bag full of snacks. (I'm thinking gingersnaps, homemade trail mix or granola bars, perhaps.) Tour the back roads and enjoy all the autumn beauty right in your own neighborhood! Be sure to pick some lovely background music for your ride. :)

Leaf1 Learn:

  • Why do the leaves change color in fall? I'm still surprised by the answer!
  • How do leaves help us (air), the earth (compost) and its critters (nests, shelter)? Take an afternoon and peak under the leaf litter - who's under there anyway? Late fall is a perfect time to look for squirrel dreys or start a compost pile.
  • Learn all your local leaf types. Consult a reliable and regional field guide - or alternatively, (or even in addition), a really fun project would be to work on a field guide of your very own. The children could sketch leaves they find or paste pressed leaves onto the pages. Add notes about the parent tree, where and when the leaves were found, etc.
  • Learn that a leaf's death is not what causes it to fall from its stem: I found this experiment in Janice VanCleave's Science around the Year (where there is an even more detailed explanation for this phenomenon).: "Procedure: Break a sprig with 4 or more green leaves attached off a bush or a tree. Stand the sprig in a vase. Set the vase where the sprig can be observed but not disturbed for 4 weeks or more. Observe the leaves as often as possible, but do not touch them. Results: The leaves die and turn brown but do not fall off the stem. Why? Chemicals have not digested the walls of the cells in the abscission layer. So the cells in the abscission layer, as well as the tubes in the petiole, remain attached to the stem after the leaf dies." Hmmm ... I'd better get out the science encyclopedia for that one!
  • Autumn is the perfect time to begin a year-long tree study as suggested and detailed in (where else?) the Handbook of Nature Study. Please let me share another of Ms. Comstock's inspiring quotes: "In the fourth grade, begin with the study of a tree which grows near the schoolhouse. In selecting this tree, and in speaking of it, impress upon the children that it is a living being, with a life and with needs of its own." Autumn would be a great time to look at leaves and tree wildlife. Winter would be perfect for examining tree shape and the wood itself. Spring of course warrants a look at the very lifeblood of trees, sap, as well as a study of what trees give to us (healthy air and products such as lumber, paper, maple syrup, fruit, nuts, etc.).
  • Learn leaf-themed poems like the fond and familiar "Come little leaves" with which I framed this post. (Full text here.) More poems may be found in Leaf by Leaf: Autumn Poems. A poem page with pressed or sketched leaves all around would be a lovely addition to your nature notebooks. :)


  • Let children crumble dried leaves into a pot to make "autumn soup" (complete withLeaf4_2 acorns, seeds, dried grasses and spent blossoms, of course).
  • Turn on Vivaldi's Four Seasons and let the kids dance to the music, waving leaves or bright autumn play silks. Maybe wearing their leaf crowns! (Idea from Little Saints: A Catholic Preschool Program.)
  • Rake up the leaves and jump right in! Or, offer to rake an elderly neighbor or relative's leaves. A child-size rake is an inexpensive and helpful investment - find them at For Small Hands.
  • Tell a woodland puppet story, with falling leaves as your central theme. Use the knowledge you gleaned about who in the animal kingdom uses leaves to weave a fun tale for your children. Or let them do the imagining! I've shown you our nature puppet collection before, but I haven't yet described the puppet curtains we use! A few years ago, my mother made Crackerjack several pairs of simple puppet curtains, using patterned fabric and iron-on fabric tape. She made several themes to inspire all kinds of stories - snowflake, sunshine, glittering silver, starry night sky, etc. We hang them in a doorway using a simple tension rod. A leafy pattern would be a perfect backdrop for an autumnal story about squirrels, beetles and snakes. Or how about a story about a small seed and a little leaf, both afraid of the cold and the changes, till at last they meet up and keep each other company all winter long ... Just thinking! I'll try to post pictures of our curtains sometime soon. :)
  • Finally, just simply lay back in the leaves and stare up the trees - and thank God for all of our world's natural beauty!


You just knew I was going to find a way to fit a "tea and a craft" day in here, didn't you? ;) Well, any time's perfect for afternoon tea, but especially after a morning outside enjoying God's loving handiwork - the beautiful autumn canopy. How nice would a cup of cinnamon decaf tea be with a plate of autumn linzer cookies? A little talk about tea leaves would be a perfect touch too!

Leaf2_2 Any of the leaf crafts mentioned earlier would be a perfect project for your leafy tea day, but so would making up a small autumn leaf tea set, especially if you happen to know anyone with a birthday this fall ... I haven't made any of these things yet, but I'm thinking of that leafy fabric I mentioned above, cut and hemmed into a set of cute cloth napkins. Wooden napkin rings can be found at any craft store and painted in an array of autumnal colors. A small terracotta pot may be decorated with paints, stickers or even tiny decoupaged leaves, and a thin colorful ribbon could be tied just under the rim. Tuck a votive sized candle inside ~ wouldn't Yankee Candle Autumn Leaves be perfect here? Add a box of favorite tea and homebaked cookies and this would be a truly memorable autumn birthday gift!


Of course, there are many wonderful leaf-themed books to read. Here are a few to get you started:

Wherever you live, I hope you are enjoying the changes fall brings to your corner of the world. I had planned to add some photos of the colorful leaves in our own yard, but today is damp and overcast, so we'll have to wait a day or two for things to dry out!

In the meantime, please share what you like to do with, or how you celebrate, the changing autumn leaves. Any good books to recommend? Any pictures you've snapped? Crafts, science lessons or playtime ideas? I'd love to hear about them and add them to my list! Drop me a comment below or share your ideas at your blog ...Leaf5_4

As with so much in nature, the autumn leaves are fleeting ~ let's enjoy them while we can!

Dancing and whirling, the little leaves went;
Winter had called them and they were content;
Soon, fast asleep in their earthy beds,
The snow laid a coverlid over their heads."

~ George Cooper

Christmas in July?

Well, I've already missed that boat, but would you join me for Christmas in August? :)

Sure, I just finished rhapsodizing over the delights of late summer, and certainly autumn is no season to disregard, but here I am with snowflakes and sleighbells on the brain ...

Now some of you have your Christmas shopping all bought, wrapped and ready - and you'd be the ones shaking your heads at me, reading this post! :) And some of you haven't given the holidays two minutes thought since last January - and I would guess you all are shaking your heads at me too, LOL! But some of you (I hope) are thinking along the same lines as me: Hey! It's almost fall! Wouldn't it be nice to have a more relaxed and meaningful Christmas with my family this year? I'd better start now if I want that to happen! If you're saying these things (or maybe nodding in semi-agreement), then this post is for you! :) Because ...

... do you realize Christmas is only 125 days away?! That might not seem like a cause for alarm, but since my grand plan this year is to make it as homemade a holiday as possible, time is of the essence. And now that I've signed up to host the Loveliness of Homemade Gifts Fair on November 13th (see the full Fair schedule here) I have even more reason to get my holiday plans in order. And besides, autumn is a beautiful season for time spent at home, making and baking homemade gifts with our children!

So join me - or at least bear with me! - while I pull out a few of my favorite Christmas planning resources. Before I roll out one cookie or decpoupage one piece of wood, I need to get myself in the proper holiday mood ...

The first thing I'll pull out is the Christmas tote, which, it turns out, is still jam-packed Christmas_tote2 with last year's paraphernalia - mostly the remnants of greetings received and sent. Before I store away that correspondence though - and really this should have been done last January, but, hey, that's how the Christmas cookie crumbles - I'll sort through them and write up a checklist for this year's Christmas greetings - making note of any new addresses.

Next, I'll need a place to put this handy bit of information, so out comes the Christmas notebook. If I was really organized, I would have it all outfitted with checklists and planning sheets etc., but I'm starting out small and simple in hopes of actually making this work. And once I really get going with my lists (did I mention I love lists?), I'll fill it up soon enough. :)

Now come a few favorite resources to get my creative juices flowing. Here are some of the things that will find their way into my Christmas bag:

Books ~ Now is a good time, before the holiday rush, to request those books that will help you get a jump start on the season. I especially look for books about homemade gifts and goodies - these will help me define just what we'll be making and baking ...


A Gift for Giving: Making the Most of the Present ~ I picked this up at the library last week. Wonderfully creative wrapping methods - lots of glossy photos.


Merry Mixes ~ I love making up food mixes as holiday gifts; it's great to combine several items in a theme basket (ice cream, popcorn, coffee, pets etc.). And I loooove The Gooseberry Patch catalog for wonderful inexpensive booklets like this one. A few others in the series - Handmade from the Heart, Merry Mixes II and Wrap it Up.


Home for the Holidays: Festive Baking with Whole Grains ~  We like to give lots of food gifts, and this is a wonderful (though OOP) book (check your library), filled with delicious and wholesome holiday recipes.


Forever Christmas ~ If you need any inspiration to slow down and make time for an old-fashioned, handmade Christmas, this book will do it. In particular, I love this quote:

"Tasha still continues her tradition of handmade gifts. No last minute shopping sprees exist in Tasha's world. Christmas gifts are made early, whenever possible. If the proposed gift is a lengthy project, it must be started early enough to allow unhurried anticipation of the finished piece and pleasant expectations of how surprised the recipient must be."

Catalogs ~ Now is also the time to send for those preferred catalogs because, though a thoroughly handmade Christmas is a wonderful dream, the reality is I will be shopping for some of our gifts (because I don't think I can handcraft Legos). If you're hoping to give food gifts this year, consider ordering these catalogs too - each one has lots of ideas and products for making and packaging homemade goodies:

Websites ~ Of course these won't fit in the bag, but I wanted to mention them just the same - great spots to get ideas and concrete instruction:

Music ~ Just to set the right mood, while I'm filling out my Christmas notebook, I'll be playing some selections from ...


Martha Stewart's Holiday Collection :)

Food ~ How better to set the proper holiday mood than with a cup of Gingerbread Spice tea? (O.K. the tea's not in the bag either, but I did save the label!)


DVDs ~ Just call me one of Martha's minions - ;) - but I have to say, watching Martha's Homemade Holidays (and her Classic Thanksgiving) is truly inspiring! (And my library has them, so yours probably does too!) But if I'm looking for something more sentimental and less how-to, I like Little Women, You've Got Mail and Meet Me in St. Louis. Don't ask me why these are holiday movies for me - they just are. :)


Magazines ~ I have saved lots (lots) of Christmas-themed magazines, and my favorites by far are - no surprise here - the Martha Stewart Living annual special holiday issues! They're loaded with gift ideas and instructions. Look for a new issue this fall; check your library or online for back issues - they're worth the search! I also love The Baker's Sheet published by King Arthur Flour ~ every issue is filled with recipes that would make lovely holiday food gifts ...



Journals ~ Lastly, I dragged out a few old journals of mine - specifically, the ones I kept at this time last year. It's fun to poke through the pages and remember the ideas and inspiration I felt last year ...


I'm a bit of a hodgepodge journaller - and that's putting it mildly - but I do it (usually) pretty faithfully. In these faded college-ruled pages are snippets from life at that time - articles, notes, reminders, recipes etc. On the above pages I found the date when green tomatoes were plentiful followed by my grandmother's picalilli recipe (which makes a wonderful food gift by the way). I also noted the night and time when the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting would be shown. (We like to make a night of it and drink cocoa while watching the show.) And thanks to a stuck-on label (I love saving labels), I remembered those Tiny Trapeze marshmallows that Earlybird was crazy for last year - delicious and Feingold friendly! This year's journal is not nearly as fat and interesting (blogging has elbowed in on journalling time somewhat!) but looking through my old journals really makes the memories - and creativity - flow!

Now lest you think I've completely lost my head to the holidays, don't worry. My mind (i.e. my blog) won't stay in December-mode for too long. For those who are interested, and to keep myself on target here at By Sun and Candlelight, I have begun a whole separate blog for holiday planning!  It won't be officially off and running till September (I still have lots of tweaking to do) but here's a sneak peek! Remember, it's still under construction - check back again come Labor Day and there will be more to see!

Since I love to talk about the holidays, I figured it would be a good idea to have a special place to do it - otherwise this blog would get distracted from all the fun things going on these days! I've got a nature post to finish and more lesson plans to discuss and later this week ~ a look at how we set up our learning room! I'll be participating in Helen's Loveliness of Learning Spaces Fair next Monday, so stay tuned! :)

"Christmas is not a date. It is a state of mind." Mary Ellen Chase

Japan Week 4: Sayounara!

Though as I understand it, the Japanese usually just say, "Bye!"

However we say it, our coop wrapped up our unit study of Japan today. For our fourth and final installment, we took it easy, and brightened up a dark and rainy day with fun crafts and a special tea party (please see Harvest Home for all the food details) ...


Usually the kids are allowed to start the day off with some free play time - running around and reconnecting - but after a sudden downturn in the weather dashed any hopes of time spent outside, we got right down to work. :) First up - some coloring pages (fans, kimonos and traditional Japanese scenes) and making colorful origami. I think the scented markers were the biggest hit!



Today our focus was on the cherry blossom, the much beloved and (unofficial) national flower, called sakura in Japan. We created paper blossoms following instructions in Martha Stewart Kids (above, Beth is illustrating the technique). Another activity that we did not do as a group, but that I plan to have my boys work on today, is drawing the Japanese kanji for sakura. We also used a cherry blossom rubber stamp to create colorful bookmarks.


The kids next decorated their own paper fans that Lisa brought. Vibrant markers and rubber stamps of Japanese kanji were used to embellish the plain simple fans ...



The kids were really proud of their efforts! Here are a few of the finished products:


So we ate, we crafted and a few of us engaged in some Samurai swordsplay (remember it was raining out, and there were 10 boys under 1 roof!). I had intended to play a CD of beautiful Japanese music I found (Sakura: A Musical Celebration of the Cherry Blossoms) but we ended up listening to the sound of the drenching rains on the roof instead. And so we ended our day - and our time in Japan - on a high note. And what did we all think of our study? A resounding "sugoi!" (cool!)


For a recap of our study of Japan, please see my earlier posts: week 1, week 2 and week 3. This summer our coop will be taking a break from "serious" study, to meet instead at the movies, the park or the pool - but we plan to pick up again the fall!

Ah, but this is not the end of the road for world culture appreciation in our house! For it's onwards to France with the ladies at 4Real! Helen has organized a wonderful Tour de France study group (see details in this thread). Here at By Sun and Candlelight, we'll be hosting Stage 8 on July 9th ...

So until then it's Vive la France! Or is it le France? (I guess I'd better find out!) ;)

Au Revoir!

Homeschool Mornings

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the way we get to spend our mornings, taking Morning_time_2our time, waking up slowly, doing a bit of this and a bit of that ...

Here, Bookworm and Earlybird are soaking up some sun while reading together ...

Sweet sunny mornings like these bring to mind the words from a song I love:

The 52nd Street Bridge Song

Slow down, you move too fast!

You've got to make the morning last,

Just, kickin' down the cobblestones,

Lookin' for fun and feeling groovy ...

I've got no place to go, no promises to keep,

I'm dappled and drowsy and ready for sleep,

But the morning sun drops all her petals on me ...

Life, I love you ~ all is groovy!

Simon & Garfunkle