Nature play 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."

Friends Tea 1

 

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!"

Friends Tea 3

"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!"

 ❤

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 ..."

***

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!


Martinmas Day with My Boys 💛

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Happy Weekend, my friends ... I hope you all had a good week. Or at least, I hope your week was not so bad. Or maybe things got better as the week went on? I know this is a tough time for a lot of us - and I am not going to talk politics here (never have, never will) - but I just want to say, I'm wishing all of my friends peace and hope. I myself am focusing on all the good things in my life that, God willing, will always be here for me and my loved ones no matter what's going on in the world ...

*deep breath*

Ok, on with my post! :)

So today I'd like to share some more November projects - a few of those craft supplies getting used up as we near the middle of the month. This week we had the feast of St. Martin of Tours (aka Martinmas) and if you have read my blog for any length of time you know this is one of our favorite feasts to celebrate with the boys. (You can read more about our traditions, here.) In the past we have baked horseshoe cookies and read stories and made glass lanterns to display in dark windows, but this year ... I baked a cake instead of cookies, we told stories instead of read them AND ... we crafted our lanterns - not out of glass but - balloons!

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(And didn't I buy the stubbornest worst tasting/smelling balloons ever made? Ugh. Oh well!)

I've seen lanterns done this way over the years and have always wanted to try my hand at it. Well, this was finally the year and as you can see I had a very eager little helper!

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Goodness, but does this boy love himself some GLUE!

This craft is a bit messy but very easy to do ... and best to start a day or two ahead of your celebration since the lantern will need time to dry. You simply brush an inflated balloon with layers of glue (thinned with water, about a 50-50 ratio) and overlapping pieces of colorful tissue paper. You might also slip autumn leaves in between layers ...

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... and you might cut some of the tissue into shapes like pretty stars.

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While Little Bear worked diligently on gluing his balloon, I did about five or six layers of tissue paper on mine.

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Once finished, we left them to dry in the dining room. Here's mine hanging over the table.

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Meanwhile, the boys played outside, enjoying the misty autumn weather ...

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(That's a meteor shower suncatcher in Little Bear's hand.)

Next morning ...

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There were some packages on the kitchen table for the boys ... 

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Recalling the story of Martin's kindness, each of my boys received a gift of warmth and comfort - pajamas (Earlybird) and slippers (Crackerjack) - while Little Bear also received a new prayer book in addition to some superhero slipper-socks. :)

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(Bookworm will get his new flannel PJs when he's home for Thanksgiving break.)

Then it was time to check on the lanterns!

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Mine is on the left and Little Bear's is on the right. We kept his balloon intact since it was pretty much all that was holding it together! (For all the glue he used, lol ...)

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The glue seemed to be dry so I popped the balloon and was left with (more or less) a colorful lantern! Really neat to watch that balloon pull away from the lantern interior!

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I trimmed the top and punched holes along the edge for twine.

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Love all the autumn colors and shapes!

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I've read instructions which describe using a real candle inside this lantern but for what I think are obvious reasons we went with something more child-safe.

Side note: Below is a lovely passage from a book I've had for years called, Lifeways. This quote is from a chapter called "A Walk through the Year with the Festivals," something I re-read quite often for seasonal inspiration ...

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How lovely is that?

Now, there are usually special foods tied to feast days and Martinmas is no exception. In the past we've made horseshoe-shaped oat cookies on this day, but this year I decided to try a recipe my grandmother made for years, something called "Poor Man's Cake." Rather fitting for the day, as St. Martin is the patron of the poor ... plus, this cake is full of autumnal flavor.

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My grandmother made this cake quite often - it was a favorite of my grandfather's - and I believe she found the recipe during the Depression. You can read more about the cake (including its recipe) in this post of mine from 2007.

It's quite dense and moist - "a good bake" if I may say so myself! But you know who loved the cake best? Bill - it really is right up his alley. (He hardly cares for chocolate, he's more a ginger-and-spice kind of guy.) The boys however were all ... hmmm. I dunno, Mom ... raisins?

Outside we go boys!

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Another Martinmas tradition (especially in Waldorf schools) is to have the children participate in a lantern walk. In the gathering darkness of a late autumn afternoon, the children set out with their shining lanterns all together, singing special lantern songs. The symbolism here is that we all must tend our own little light, so that we might carry it forth into a world that can often be quite dark and cold ...

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(Page from Festivals, Family and Food, by Diana Carey and Judy Large)

We were a very small band and there was only one working lantern - and we didn't sing of course, because Earlybird has sensory issues - but I did recite the above verse to my sweet little lantern-carrier as we walked through our woods!

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It was SO windy and chilly yesterday and since some of us are fighting a cold, some of us headed in for another piece of that cake and a hot cup of tea. A bit later on, as the darkness surrounded us, Bill and Little Bear came inside at last, all pink-cheeked and bright-eyed. Then I hung the lantern in the dark dining room for the rest of the night ...

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Down with darkness, up with light;

Up with sunshine, down with night.

Each of us is one small light,

But together we shine bright ...

 

(E. Amarin)

Before I go, here's today's page from Little Bear's new daily prayer book ...

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I can't tell you how much I love this book ... we are weaving it into our weekly rhythm. Short and sweet, with a special daily prayer to share, reflecting each day's rhythm and grace. 💛

Well my friends, time to wrap up now, but as always I thank you for reading. Or maybe you just looked at the pictures? Well, that's nice too. I always appreciate your visit! :)

Please enjoy the rest of your weekend and take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I will see you here again very soon!


November Nightfall

It comes so early now ... the night. And some might say too early, but it's all just part of that rhythm. Outside there's a fading of color and a sharpness to the air ... while inside we have our lights burning and there are extra blankets on the beds. At this time of year the comforts of home seem all the more comforting, but the outside is still welcoming too, especially on evenings like these ...

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Sunset, 4:20 p.m. Sunday. Just before the Patriots Game.

:)

How wonderful for a little one to get all rosy-cheeked and leaf-littered on a cool autumn evening ... then to come inside for a warm bath and a good supper before bed. I love teaching my children to appreciate our days in ALL seasons and by "teaching" I mean, sharing my own joy right alongside them. That's the best lesson, I think - what we show them. Because those little eyes watch us so closely! Little Bear might not read his mama's blog yet, but I know he can read my moods ...

You know, I've been working on that book of mine, and trying to figure out just where I'm going with it ... getting distracted sometimes, or maybe even a little defeated ... but when I look back at this post, I can see it. This is what makes me tick, and this is where I zoom in: on the simple, little joys ... the easy, homey comforts. Every week brings something new to learn and share ...

As organic as it seems it should be to just follow the seasons and accept nature's rhythm, I find that Life As We Know It often gets in the way. So I create a little structure - weekly themes and file folders - and hope that by planning ahead we'll make more of the moment. The seasons pass so quickly - not to mention the years! So this week we're watching our world get sleepy and dark and we're feeling grateful for things like light and warmth (and peace) ... in nature we're observing a fallen log and exploring the tart curiosity of cranberries, while baking breads to bring to neighbors across town ... 

November days - are they dark? Yes, they can be. But dull? No, they don't have to be. There's much to be thankful for and so many ways to explore this big, blessed world. It is my hope to highlight these joys in each week of the year ... to work them into my "plans" so they become more than just ideas, but actions ... and then to share them all with my family, and you!

So anyhow ... that's where I'm at right now. I mostly just wanted to share all these happy photos and then I got carried away. (You all know how I get.) And now I'm watching another (early) sunset, lighting a candle on our seasons shelf, and conjuring some good smells in the kitchen ...

And putting the laptop down, for now. But I'll be back here again sometime soon ...

(Good Night!)


Seeds, Snowflakes and a Cake for St. Agnes

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Well, in the midst of all this journal talk, life at home is marching on to a familiar and happy beat. Yesterday was the Feast of St. Agnes as well as National Squirrel Appreciation Day ... representing two sides of our family's seasonal life - liturgical and natural. For the squirrels we made a seed craft, and for St. Agnes, we contemplated the prayer card handed out at last Sunday's Mass and made a snowflake cake in her honor ...

Naturally, I have pictures to share!

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I had some wooden snowflakes leftover from Advent so, when I was thinking about making  "critter treats" with the kids for Squirrel Appreciation Day, I remembered those snowflakes ... and I thought, hmmm. That could work. And, as it happens (according to one legend anyway), snowflakes are known as "St. Agnes Flowers" ...

So, there you go!

To keep the craft kid- and critter-friendly, I made up some homemade paste. Then we smeared those snowflakes with the paste ...

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And stuck those sticky snowflakes in a mix of seeds and dried fruits ...

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 (Messy crafts are always a hit with the boys!) 

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A short while later we had a tray full of rather seedy looking snowflakes ...

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Bundled up, we headed outside with the treats and leftover seed mix.

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Little Bear immediately found a leaf to hold onto - lol, he's done this since he was tiny. If we're outside he's got either a leaf or a stick in his hand!

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Marching over to hang his snowflake in the bush ...

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They kind of blend in, don't they? I suppose we could have tinted the paste with some natural food dye and that would have been pretty. Maybe next time!

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 The birds loved the snowflakes, but the squirrels (including my dear little red shown above) liked the scattered seeds and fruit best!

Back inside it was time to start our Feast Day cake ... my best helper is Earlybird who just LOVES to bake. Someday this boy and I will run a little baking business together!

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I followed a simple online scratch yellow cake mix recipe. We took our time measuring out the ingredients ...

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While my littlest fella clung to my legs, lol. He wanted "Pup!" which is how he asks to be picked up. He wanted to be a baker, too!

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At last we had cakes cooling on the counter ... and just before supper I assembled our cake:

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A glossy layer of apricot jam in the middle, some buttercream on top ...

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And the final touch: a sprinkling of snowflakes - aka St. Agnes's flowers!

Our dinner was yummy and simple - baked ziti ("cheesey-pasta," my boys call it), steamed broccoli with lemon, crescent rolls and then of course, cake. Bill got home a bit late because he was working out of state, but we saved him a plate. :)

These are the quiet, homey days I love best. Not too much "out and about," the bulk of our day spent at home. We got some fresh air, made things, read books, baked stuff, and celebrated our faith ...

And we enjoyed our home, truly. I count that all joy!

Well my friends, I'm off for now, but I will give you an idea of the drafts I have in queue at the moment. Posts I'm working on ...

* binder breakdown

* lesson planning/assignments

* new household chore routine

* magazine love :)

* winter meals

* henkeeping advice

Let me know if there's any topics you'd like to chat about or if you have any more planner/journal issues to discuss. I'm always open to ideas!

Enjoy the rest of your Thursday, my friends ... see you here again very soon!


Leafy Days

"Every leaf speaks bliss to me ... 🍂 ... Fluttering from the autumn tree."

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 * Lines above from "Fall, leaves, fall" by Emily Bronte 

It's a mild and blustery day here, beautiful weather for this time of year! We spent some time in our yard this morning, enjoying the leaves flying above us, and laying in colorful piles at our feet. We gathered some to bring inside to begin an autumn leaf study ...

A little rain shower just passed through - we watched it from our windows as we ate our lunch - and now the sun is back out. Making everything shiny and fresh.

:)

 Well, my friends - I hope your Tuesday's going well ... and thank you for all your apple thoughts yesterday. We sure do love our apples! Today however, Mum and I are making up a small batch of picallili ... green tomatoes are hard to find this year!

Thanks as always for stopping by ... see you here again very soon!


Little Bear Meets the Birds

Longtime readers might remember all the nature toys and bird puppets I used with my boys when they were younger. Well, they've long outgrown those sweet puppets and stories, but of course we kept them all in storage ... and I'm so glad we did, because we now have our Little Bear with whom to enjoy all that imaginative play once again!

And yesterday, as we were working on his nursery, I handed him a few puppets, giving them a little squeeze so he could hear their sounds ...

This was his reaction:

O bird puppets 3

 O bird puppets 1

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Lol, he first looked out the (open) windows as if looking for the "real" birdies making those sounds! And then he just looked puzzled ... yet intrigued ...

And - if I may so - pretty darn cute, too!

:)

Well my friends, I hope you're enjoying your week so far ... this morning I'd like to remind you that soon I'll be starting up my "Garden Gab" series and asking you about what's growing in your yard right now. If you'd like to send me a picture of your yard (or a plant or tree you are fond of) please email it to me at ...

>> bysunandcandlelight AT comcast DOT net <<

I'd be honored to include it in my post!

(And thank you to the ladies who have already sent me their pictures, I am behind on my emails - and everything else it seems - but extremely grateful for your participation!)

Note: I originally said 'Wednesday' for Garden Gab posting, but it might be a bit later in the week ... I'll of course keep you all "posted." ;)

And I'll see you here again very soon!


Baby's Early Spring Wonders

Spring morning

Happy 1st Day of Spring, everyone!

 Well, it will be Spring in just a few hours ... 12:57 p.m. to be exact! The Vernal Equinox is upon us, and despite the chilly temperatures and the patches of snow on the ground, we are at very last, done with Spring proper. Of course, when has Spring every acted properly?

Anyhoo ... I've been writing out some notes about nature "moments" to enjoy through the years with my Little Bear (who'll be 10 months next week!) and I thought you might like to see them. Just some brainstorming here ... nothing too formal yet ... things will take shape as we move along through the seasons. :)

(Note: These ideas are for March and April - aka, Early Spring.)

**

* On the 1st day of March ... lions roar! have fun with roaring sounds, lion pictures/stuffed animals. Read How Loud is a Lion? together.

* Maple sugaring - visit the woods in all their late winter glory - patches of snow, bare branches, old leaves - and befriend a sugar maple, feel that rough bark!

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* Melting - slushy spots along the driveway, puddles where ice had been, drip-drip-drip sounds

* Mud - push bits of things (twigs, pebbles, leaves) into the newly formed mud out front ... ooh, it's squishy! Squelchy sounds! Read Mud! 

* Make (paper plate) masks for Mardi Gras - play peekaboo!

* Go for a wind walk on a blustery day. Read When the Wind Blows

* Go for a rain walk on a showery day (brief, just to feel it)

* Look for puddles, throw things in to *splash* (might be too cold yet for piggy dips)

* Watch the forsythia bushes for buds and blossoms ... snip some branches to force indoors

* When the nights get milder, open the window and listen for peepers in the vernal pool out front

* Watch the night sky for the full sap (March) and pink (April) moons.

* Make a pinwheel and/or a kite for windy spring days

 * Visit new lambs at our local farm, and back at home, look for soft things like fleece, yarn, cotton balls. Read Mary Had a Little Lamb.

* Find pussy willows to feel and admire - so silky soft! Like kitty cat paws. :) Might find some near the marsh growing wild ...  if not, bring some home from the market. Cut branches to place in a vase at home. Read Pussy Willow.

* Explore sweet, earthy carrots - steamed and mashed/chunked, baked into mini pancakes or muffins, start seeds for the garden, read The Carrot Seed.

* Look at smooth eggs - so many sizes and colors! - and try some homemade egg custard (Nana's recipe). Visit neighbor's chickens and see eggs in the nest.

* Listen to Celtic music while driving in the car, or dancing at home - Celtic Dreamland

* Sweep, sweep, sweep! This is the way we sweep our house (steps/walk) clean, wonderful activity on bright dry days.

* Wipe and polish, do our part! For family spring cleaning leading up to Easter, little cloth rags and natural beeswax polish, This is the way we clean our house ...

* Make fingerpaint rainbows with natural dyes/watercolors ...

* Look for rainbows on showery/sunny days

* Enjoy clay play - homemade play dough, natural dyes (rainbow shades)  

* What do frogs say? Peep, croak! Where can we find frogs? Read The Tale of Jeremy Fisher.

* Notice where robins appear - and how they hop! Can we hop like a robin? Can we make a tidy warm nest like a robin?

* Check branches for new buds and shoots - where is life resurrecting itself?

* Visit the pond to see ducks! Quack, quack, quack! Read Make Way for Ducklings. Perhaps ... visit the ducklings statues in Boston's Public Garden.

***

There's so much to explore in early spring! What "comforts and joys" do you look for at this time of year? If you have any ideas to add to my list, please leave me a note below. I'm currently working on a list for late spring (May and June) and I'll share that in a future post, too.

Well my friends, I hope you enjoy this first - much-longed-for - day of spring. What's it like where you live? Is it springy? It's a bit showery and gray here this morning, but NOT cold and that's nice for a change! Skies are supposed to clear later and I bet there will be lots of melting. Can't wait to see all this white gone for good! (At least until December ...)

See you all here again very soon ...


Weekend Journal ~ November Joys

Good Monday Morning, my friends! I hope you all had a nice weekend ~ here are a few snapshots from ours!

Little Bear and his Daddy enjoying the crisp autumn air ...

Owen november day 

We're outside as much as possible these days, while the weather is still agreeable!

And speaking of getting outside, I love this interesting "poster" shared by Oak Meadow recently on Facebook:

Playing Outside

Wonderful food for thought ~ a nature-based curriculum right there in the making!

Back inside, here's a cozy autumn table ...

November lunch

On Sunday I hosted a luncheon for several dear college girlfriends - it was wonderful to see everyone and catch up! The "girls" got to meet Little Bear (who was such a little flirt) and see our new home. I served squash soup, calzones and salad, and we enjoyed several delicious desserts brought by my friends: butter-and-whiskey cake, brownies, cookies, and an assortment of Italian pastries. There was spiced cider, wine and lots of tea of course, too! It was such a delightful day ...

And look at these precious little gems! The tiniest little cones from a bank of evergreen trees along our drive way ...

Tiny cones

They look like little brown roses! Such nice crafts I could make with these!

*wheels turning*

:)

Well my friends, I'm off to get my week going ... a mild, windy and wet morning here in New England, the remnants of a savage storm that blew across the midwest this weekend. Thoughts and prayers for the communities and families suffering in its wake.

**

See you all again sometime soon ...


Squirrel Nutkin ~ A Wintertime Nature Study

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But Nutkin was excessively impertinent in his manners. He bobbed up and down like a little red cherry, singing ~ "Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote!"

It was an exciting day in the Riverwood yesterday ~ we were visited by not one, not two - but THREE little red squirrels! I took lots of pictures of the cute and crazy little things -though I couldn't get them all in one shot. While one was eating happily at the top of the cage-feeder, the other two were fighting like crazy, chasing each other all around the rhododendron bushes, lol!

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Grasping a seed in his tiny paws.

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Diving back down for more ...

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The perfect perch for a squirrel of this size.

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And the tray feeder fits even better!

The red squirrels now visit our feeders at least twice a day (not always three at one time, but often, two) and they are such a delight to observe! They are fast and furious little creatures! The boys and I keep our eyes on the windows as we work through the day and if one of us spies a "Red Tail" (as we've named them) we sound the "alarm." Pencils are put down and books are dropped - we dash to the windows to observe. 

Squirrels, red or gray, are a perfect winter-nature study subject; they're active and highly visible at this time of year. Red squirrels are not as common in America as they are in England, but if you are at all familiar with the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, then you know a little about them. They are much smaller than a gray squirrel, with coppery-brown fur and a fiery personality. They move fast and make a lot of noise when agitated (chuck-chuck-chuck-chuuuuck!). Really, they're a riot to watch. If you live near a conifer woodland you most likely have red squirrels living nearby; they are just harder to spot than the plentiful grays.

The following suggestions are geared towards younger children, but more advanced activities could be added for including older kids in the study. Most homeschoolers I know are teaching multi-ages at once - for me, I am tailoring this study to my kindergartener (Earlybird) and 4th grader (Crackerjack). My 8th grader (Bookworm) will tag along just for fun. :)

~Notes for a Squirrel Nutkin Nature Study~

 Read The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, first and foremost.

Look for squirrel tracks in the snow. This book shows the difference between a gray squirrel's tracks and a red's. (It's mostly the size.)

Learn about red squirrels online.
Find lots of information at Wikipedia.
Here's a neat kids' page by the Kluane Red Squirrel Project.

Make up an observation chart to keep track of squirrel visits and behaviors. (If I can figure out how to do it, I will link you the chart I made up for the boys - tracking red or gray, time of day, and behavior.)

On a blank map of the world, color in the areas that are inhabited by red squirrels. If you are reading The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, locate The Lake District in England.

Older children could research the plight of the red squirrel in the UK.

Read about how Squirrel Nutkin came to be in the pages of The Ultimate Peter Rabbit: A Visual Guide to the World of Beatrix Potter.

Write a little nature story in a letter to a friend. (You could have the children draw pictures and then write in the storylines they dictate.)

See how many squirrel names (like Nutkin, Twinkleberry, etc.) you can come up with.

Make little twig or bark boats to sail across a lake. (Or pond, stream or a good size puddle, even.)

It would be fun to make little sacks with which the children could go "gathering nuts." (These could be simple drawstring bags made of cotton or felt.) Use acorns (real or wooden) to count and sort. Hide them around the house and have the children go on a nut hunt.

Red Squirrels are very fond of spruce cones. See if you can identify - and differentiate - pine trees from spruce trees in your yard, neighborhood or nearby park. Use a good tree field guide to do this, or ask a ranger to help you.

Host a "Squirrel Nutkin" tea for your friends (or family members). Serve treats reminiscent of those mentioned throughout the Potter stories. Ask each guest to name which Potter story is their favorite, and why.

A few great books featuring red squirrels:

(This is a chapter book, a great family read-aloud. I did a Book Group lesson on this last year.)

Read the wonderful tale of "Furry," Anna Comstock's pet red squirrel. You can find it, along with a very informative chapter on red squirrels, in her Handbook of Nature.

If your children are into puppet play, Audubon makes wonderful nature puppets including a red squirrel and owl. They're not technically puppets, but can be used in dramatic play or storytelling. When you squeeze their bellies they "chuck" and "screech" accordingly.

We happen to have the tip of of red squirrel tail on our nature table! (It's not as gruesome as it sounds - read the full story here.)

Nutkin antagonized Old Brown owl with riddles. Check books of riddles out of the library to enjoy together.

The current issue of National Geographic Kids (February) has a wonderful article about Heinz, a baby red squirrel who was rescued after a storm.

I happen to love this dear little poem by Marchette Chute called "Politeness." It would be easy for a young child to memorize.

I met a squirrel the other day
And spoke to him in a friendly way.
I couldn't pat him on the head
But I gave him several nuts instead.
He took them from me one by one
And waved his tail when he was done.
And he was happy, I could tell.
We both behaved extremely well.

***

If you have a neat squirrel story, picture or activity to share, please let me know. I'd love to compile them and share them here at my blog! And of course, I'll be sharing our own Nutkin adventures as this little study unfolds. :)

In the meantime, have a wonderful day. It's just starting to snow here - we're in for several inches by day's end.
A good day to keep our eyes on the feeders!
See you all again soon!

Heralding the Snow

Well, we're in for another big snow here tomorrow! Lol, I should have known - we've only just begun to see our driveway again! But you all know I don't mean to complain. Winter in New England means snow, and some years that means more snow than others. I think it's safe to say, this has been a very snowy winter so far ...

Well, a few days ago I was poking through my craft bins downstairs and I came across some unfinished wooden snowflakes. I decided that the next time we had an impending snowstorm, I would have the boys paint them up and then we'd hang them in the learning room windows - to welcome the snow in our own special way. 

So with the storm on the way for tomorrow, we got started on this craft just after we got home from EB's therapy today. Truth be told, this was all for Earlybird, who loves to paint in any capacity. Nature-related crafts are a big part of his kinder "curriculum." The older boys, good sports that they are, joined him at the table this morning.

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There was a snowflake, a paintbrush and a cup of color for each one.

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Here's our Earlybird, concentrating hard. (I feel compelled to mention, that's not peanut butter smeared around his mouth or anything. He has a terrible winter rash around his lips right now. It's actually much better than it was last week.)

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Here's Crackerjack, also working carefully.

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And our Bookworm, too.

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The snowflakes drying in the sun ...

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... and now hanging in our windows. 
Welcome Snow!

So tomorrow we'll be staying in, watching the snow fly and keeping warm at home. I plan to read a special book with Earlybird in the morning - The Big Snow - a longtime winter favorite. It's the story of Winter on its way (and a "big snow" along with it) and how all the woodland creatures prepare. It's a wonderful story and there's great scientific information to be learned, too. The last part is the best, I think - when a thoughtful family puts out food for the hungry animals. (I plan to have EB toss cracked corn and toast crusts outside our birdfeeder windows.) And the very last page is quite timely - the groundhog wakes up on the 2nd of February (which is next Monday, my friends!), sees his shadow and burrows back into his den for the rest of his winter's nap.

It's not a very long book, but just enough pages that I could see Earlybird getting impatient if he's not really into the story. EB has a hard time sitting still for books, so to make it more interesting for him, I pulled together an assortment of nature puppets to use as we read. As luck would have it, I had a puppet for each on the creatures mentioned in the story! (This is thanks to years and years of collecting.) 

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As I read the book, and mention an animal, I will have Earlybird look for and pull out that particular puppet. When we are done, he can play with all the puppets and make up his own story if he wishes. 
If you don't have nature puppets, you could always use photos or pictures for a similar activity. (Just google each animal online.) I've found enjoying books with EB in this way helps my squirmy listener stay put - and pay closer attention. 

OK, then ...
Birdfeeders filled? Check.
Hot Cocoa on hand? Check.
Cream to whip? Check.
Cookies to bake? Check.

I think we're ready for that snow now.
:)

Our Summer Nature Shelf

I've finally gotten around to spiffing up the nature shelf - sweeping away bits of dirt and crumbled dried petals and grass - and changing it up to reflect the new season ahead. Here's how it looked in the Spring, and below you can see how it's changed for the Summer, which, according to my handy-dandy countdown widget over there on the left is just TWO days away!

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In New England, the summer season is closely tied with the ocean, so I went with a blue and green sea-theme - scattering about shells and starfish along with the rose petals of June.

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Also present is my nature angel, our wooden water element as well as the boys' tiny aquatic figurines (some mythical, others not). As the boys find real bits of nature to add to the shelf this summer, I'll clear away some of these props.

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In the lefthand corner is our book of nature poems, open to June's blessings. Behind the Flower Fairies of the Summer is our storm candle, ready to be lit at the first peal of thunder, a common summer sound in these parts.

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Our nature shelf is always rounded out with lots of books.

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Not shown above the shelf is a grapevine swag; I thought it would look pretty adorned with dried flowers and maybe little seashells, too. Right now I have lavender buds stuck here and there - they don't show up much, but they smell lovely.

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I do have fun setting our nature corner up, but I hardly expect it to stay so tidy and "staged" for long. ;) For instance, today we are headed out on a nature hike with friends. I'm sure the boys will return with a new treasure or two, and I will come home with lots of pictures to share!

Well, I hope you all have a great Thursday ~ see you again sometime soon. :)


~A Raccoon, a Cricket and a Few Book Reviews~

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Look who paid a visit to the feeders early this morning!

Bill first spotted the raccoon on our roof, as it was closely inspecting the chimney. (Hmmm.) Next thing we knew it was in the seedtray, feasting away. It was not at all concerned with us, even after I opened the window and clicked and beeped away with my camera. I find it surprising (unsettling maybe) that a raccoon was out and about in the daylight hours. Aren't they supposed to be nocturnal? The other odd thing was that it was alone - when we've spotted racoons before there has always been a small gang of them.

It was damp overnight, and it's quite drizzly still - I think we might head outside in a bit to scout around for tracks in the muddy areas. I love this passage about raccoon prints from the Handbook of Nature Study:

"What country child, wandering by the brook and watching its turbulence in early spring, has not viewed with awe a footprint on the muddy banks looking as if it were made by a very little baby? The first one I saw I promptly concluded was made by the foot of a brook fairy. However the coon is no fairy ..."

(A brook fairy? How sweet!)

So now the small raccoon puppet has taken its place on the nature shelf. Later today, Earlybird and I will make up a small story about our encounter, including the blue jay and the red squirrel puppets as well - the two creatures who were brave enough to challenge the coon for the seedtray this morning.

I have also dug out Raccoons and Ripe Corn by Jim Arnosky, which is such a nice book, and the focus of a wonderful Reading Rainbow episode in which Lavar does some nature study with Mr. Arnosky himself! Don't you just love Reading Rainbow? :)

And, hey! Just as I was about to go to press, so to speak, look what I found in, of all places, the laundry pile!

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A quick internet search has me wondering if this might be a cave cricket. We've found one or two before, only those were dead. Now that we have a live one in our possession, we have made a temporary home for it on our nature shelf (a tall glass jar with a pierced paper towel for a lid). We placed two bottle caps inside - one with a bit of water and the other with a bit of crushed pineapple. We're not sure if this is at all appropriate - or even appetizing - so we'll watch the cricket throughout the day and see what transpires. If he looks at all distressed, we will release him - only not back into my laundry pile, lol!

So where do I go when we have a new nature study subject to consider? Why to Amazon of course! And consequently, I now have Chirping Crickets and Quick as a Cricket in my cart. ;) I usually cross-check titles with my library, but I happen to have a gift certificate to use up, so I think we'll splurge a little. :) 

Good picture books are such a fabulous investment, anyway. I can think of no better way to expand upon nature studies than to follow up with a few (or many!) good books. So while I'm here, I'd like to mention a few other nature-themed picture books we have on display this week:

The Salamander Room ~ This was recommended by a friend after I described our recent woodland surprise. It's the dreamy story of a little boy who finds a salamander and imagines a scheme for keeping him happy and safe in his room. (Or at least we assume he is imagining it - that might be up for debate!) His mother questions him repeatedly (in a kind, not reproachful way), but the boy seemingly has an answer for everything, and a plan to meet his new pet's every need. A sweet and cheerful tale, it invites conversation about what living things need to live well.

The Tree in the Ancient Forest ~ A beautiful story told in the tradition of the Mother Goose verse, "This is the house that Jack built ..." It begins and ends with "This is the three-hundred-year-old tree that grows in the ancient forest ...," and in between it explores the life that thrives beneath, inside and all around this majestic force of nature. It is very much a circle of life story (the owl follows the vole, the marten follows the squirrel), but in a gentle and lyrical way. It's from Dawn Publications which publishes fabulous nature books, both fiction and non (including the well-known Sharing Nature with Children series by Joseph Cornell).

Our Apple Tree ~ I bought this book without even opening the cover - theOurappletree cover itself appealed to me so! (See picture below.) The story, and the illustrations inside, did not disappoint. A pair of tiny apple tree elves describe the seasons of their tree to the reader - beginning with winter's rest, and the various wildlife that frequent it (nuthatches, pheasants and honeybees). By the end of the story, the elves and their tree are quietly sleeping again, and we are left with a happy sense of completion - and a recipe for apple crisp. Apple tree books are generally thought of as autumn stories, but I think May is a perfect time to start talking about apple trees ~ when the branches are laden with their magnificent blooms, and the whole cycle of life has begun. This little book would be perfect to bring along on a picnic at the orchard - and don't forget the sketch pads!

Well, this post has meandered all over the place - from the birdfeeders, to the laundry pile to the bookshelf! And now I must be off to get this day started. Looks to be a rainy one, which is okay ~ we have much to do (and apparently to see!) within the four walls of our home.

Have a good one, my friends!


A Happy Arbor Day to You!

Do you have any special plans for Arbor Day this year? There are all kinds of ideas to Looking_up_at_birdybe found at the Arbor Day Foundation webpage, but here are a few possible activities for your family today ...

~ You could plant a tree, of course! Since that takes some forethought, you could look for a good site on your property, discuss what kind of tree you'd all like (take a vote?) over supper, and maybe plan a trip to the nursery this weekend.

~ You could choose a tree to befriend ~ one in your yard or one along your street. Tie a colored ribbon around the trunk or a branch to remind you which one you picked. Follow it through the seasons with your children ~ take bark rubbings, press fallen leaves, observe any changes or animal life (insects, birds or mammals).

~ Take a Tree Walk today. The woods would be a perfect spot for this, but so too would a city park. Bring along your field guides and sketch books. Keep a list of how many different kinds of trees you can identify. (And sketch or photograph those you can't for further research.)

~ Go on a Tree Scavenger Hunt ~ at the supermarket! Have your kids look around to see how many different things in the store came from trees.

~ If you don't have a tree identification guide, now is the perfect time purchase one. (Barnes & Noble Educator Week begins tomorrow!)

~ Or, begin a field guide of your own! Look up the trees most common in your area, and plan a page for each one (and then some). As you find a tree species, enter your drawings or photographs and any observations you make. (You can supplement your findings with information readily available online.)

~ For tea-time, bake up some leaf-shaped cookies. Acorns, maple leaves, evegreen tree shapes would all work. Depending on your weather, serve them with cinnamon tea or a glass of cold apple cider.

~ Make plans for a tree fort! (Get Dad in on this one.) Let your children draw up plans and formulate their ideas ... then see how you can make it (or a version of it) happen. There's nothing like a tree fort for imaginative play!

~ Make up a tree poem page for your nature journals. A quick google search will lead you to plenty from which to choose. Or maybe you already have a favorite? Let your children copy it out and then add stickers or sketches (depending upon age and interest).

~ Read some favorite tree stories, like ~

~ My boys are always looking for faces in the trees, imagining there might be treefolk living inside - maybe even an ent like in The Lord of the Rings! This would be a fun and magical walk to take today. And if you find one - of course you must sketch it - maybe even name it!

~ Brainstorm ways we can all help protect the forests. Can we use less paper - or find ways to re-use the paper we have? Look for recycled paper products at the grocer's or office supply store. (And if you don't see them, ask why not at the service desk.) Devise a plan for purchasing your household supplies with less packaging.

~ Call your local nature sanctuary and see if they have any tours or classes specifically about trees. Gather some of your friends for a ranger-led walk through the woods and learn all you can about trees!

But however you spend it, I hope your Arbor day is great!

Ebstree

"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world." ~ John Muir


Spring Crafting ~ A Little Earth Loom

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This is a really fun way to spend an hour or so in the backyard with the kids. You'll be surprised how much you "discover" as you hunt around for your weaving materials!

The original idea for this craft came from Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children ~ a favorite book for nature crafts, by the way! The book suggests weaving yarn into the loom (which would be lovely in the fall) but we went directly to the backyard for our spring weaving supplies. ;)

First thing to do, have the kids look around for small branches that have a Y-shape. They are quite easy to find, but if you think this might test their patience, scout out some branches yourself beforehand. Then, wind a length of twine across the V-portion of the branch for the warp. (You could use yarn here, but I liked the neutral shade of the twine as well as its sturdiness.) Secure the twine at the bottom, weave it back and forth across the branch to the top, and then tie it off at one side. Voila ~ a little Earth Loom!

Now, have your children start finding bits of Spring to weave into in their looms ...

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We all worked on one loom together, but you might like to give each of your children their own.

Our final results:

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What made this activity especially fun was the way it got the kids down on their knees examining all the things growing around the yard. They also found lots of dried bits of nature leftover from the fall.

Some of things we wove into our loom:

  • blades of grass
  • pine needles
  • small twigs
  • dried helicopter seeds
  • dried hydrangea blossoms
  • dandelions
  • tree buds
  • tiny acorn caps
  • forsythia and lilac branches
  • a bit of birch bark found on the ground
  • a fuzzy herb leaf
  • a feather

When our loom was complete I placed it on our nature shelf. As expected, the living things started to shrivel pretty quickly. (A good lesson there.) The boys pointed out this loom would make a fun plaything for younger children ~ it seemed something like a fairy wand or maybe a royal elven staff. :)

I hope you will try the earth loom with your children sometime ~ and if you do, please let me know! In the meantime ... have a GREAT day, everyone!


Toys of Wood and Wonder

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I've posted before about my little love affair with wooden toys. I think (no, I am sure) I love them more than the boys do! They are so lovely and warm; they inspire such wonder and creativity. Now, don't get me wrong - we have our fair share of plastic toys - and then some! (Just last night the Toys 'R Us flyer was dissected and discussed at great length.) But I so treasure our earthy, open-ended toys. They seem to go hand-in-hand with our nature study and stories, and best of all, they have yet to appear on any recall lists. :)

Well, this post is for Katherine and Laura, who asked about our wooden nesting elements (shown above). ... at long last I found them! They can be found right here at the beautiful Three Sisters Toys.

And for Lori who asked about our tree fort (shown below), it's there too! And at a good price, if my memory serves. (And by the way, Lori, most of our soft nature toys are Audubon birds (this site has a GREAT selection) and Folkmanis finger puppets. (Many can be found here. Do request their catalog - it's amazing!)

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Admittedly these toys can be expensive - but they are very well made, and they really last. In our family, they have mostly been delivered over the years by Santa ... and his generous assistants, the grandparents. :)

Of course the trick with any toys (plastic, wooden or otherwise) is finding a balance: keeping track of how many we own, and limiting how many are kept out at one time. It's hard to take care of "too many toys," and yet all too easy to take them for granted ...

Ah, but that's a post for another time! The coffee just beeped and it's time to start my day. :)

Hope yours is a good one!


Science this Week: All Fired Up!

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In the other gardens,

And all up the vale,

From the autumn bonfires,

See the smoke trail!

This is a busy week coming up for us, particularly science-wise. We'll begin our homeschool classes at the New England Aquarium and we'll have our first Nature Study Group meeting! But this afternoon we kicked off our study of chemistry with a bonfire, a first step in an exploration of the elements.

Last week we began reading our main science resource, It's Elementary: How Chemistry Rocks Our World. I am so pleased with this book - it is just the right blend of exciting presentation and solid information. We read about "Greek Geeks," and how Empedocles was the first great thinker to come up with the idea of everything being divided into four elements. He used a burning log as an example: the ash is earth, the liquid sap is water, smoke represents air and heat, the fire.

I thought it would be fun to burn a log in our chiminea and then record our observations of the process. This kind of project is decidedly a Daddy-kind of activity, so I waited for the weekend to begin. :)

What follows are the pictures we took of our process, which will end up in our science notebooks. (We are also toying with the idea of keeping a family science blog in addition to notebooks.)

I also read this encouraging passage in From Nature Stories to Natural Science: A Holistic Approach to Science for Families (a Waldorf-inspired science book):

"Fire is always the starting point for the Seventh Grade chemistry, and the place to start would be with a lovely big bonfire in your yard (assuming that is possible for you). Watch how it burns, how it smokes, the colors and qualities of the flame. These observations should be drawn and written up for the Good Book. The next morning examine the undisturbed bonfire site and and note the patterns of ash and charred wood. Record."

So this week we'll begin our notebooks, with drawings and narrations from our bonfire (pictures, too). I will also have the boys write down information we glean from It's Elementary! - dates, names and definitions. Any experiments we do will go in as well, recorded in both words and pictures.

So without further ado, here are pictures from our afternoon bonfire:

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Daddy began with kindling and a few wooden blocks.

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A harvestman residing inside the chiminea made a narrow escape!

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The fire wasn't catching so we added newspaper, and opened the lid to let in air.

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The view from above.

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Now we were cookin'!

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My fellas all gathered around the "bonfire."

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After a while things were really blazing (see top picture) so we decided to wrap things up with a bit of help from the hose.

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Inside, in our learning corner, I displayed our wooden nesting elements and opened our book to the page we are working on.

Here's that page close up:

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The book is very colorful and child-friendly (mother-friendly, too!).

And, it just so happened this weekend we turned our fireplace back on. I'm going to have Bill talk with the boys about how this (gas) fire is different from the (wood) fire we burned outside today.

More notebook material. ;)

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Sing a song of seasons,

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!

(Robert Louis Stevenson)


Q & A Round-Up

First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone who stops by and kindly leaves aDaisiesmug comment or question. I'm sorry I can't always get back to each one - or that sometimes it takes me a while to do so - but I hope these little round-ups help a bit. Here are a few random questions from recent posts ...

Lindsey asked:

Dawn, do you have a favorite resource for finding prayer cards?

I buy all my prayer cards at our local Catholic gift shop. They have a wonderful display and most of the cards are .75 cents or $1. I have seen beautiful ones in the Trademark Catholic Stationary catalog; you can also order them at Catholic Heritage Curricula, Totally Catholic as well as Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

If any readers have a favorite source for prayer cards (or holy cards as they are also called), please leave a link in the comments below. :)

Paula wondered:

Where do you get your nature puppets?

We have been collecting nature puppets since Bookworm (now 12) was a baby, so we have quite a large collection! I began buying them at Wild Birds Unlimited, so I would suggest starting there if you have a local store. Since then I have been able to pick up the Audubon puppets (the bird ones with the call inside) at Wild Oats food store. (By the way, the birds aren't technically puppets - you can't put them on a finger or hand) but we still use them right alongside the puppets. Audubon Birds are also available here (I've ordered from this company before). I have also purchased nature puppets from Acorn Naturalists (which is a fabulous science and nature catalog). I particularly like Folkmanis puppets which you can purchase online and find in many independent toy stores.

Melissa asked:

Have you ever blogged about your favorite kitchen/baking items (tools, gadgets, gear, etc.)? I'd love to hear what you can't live without and/or love. Thanks!

Well, that would be a very fun post, Melissa! Last summer about this time I did do some posts on my kitchen, a few of them were for Meredith's Loveliness of Kitchens Fair:

Looking back over those posts I am more than a little shocked to see how clean my kitchen was then - and to realize how far it's come since! (Not in a good way, lol.) I feel shamed into inspired to do some scrubbing and de-cluttering, I have to say!

And, a last question from Kelly:

Just wondering what your favorite magazines were...

Well, magazines are where I spend my "pin" money. ;) I find them relaxing and inspiring, and I keep them in a special basket, all arranged in a particular order (the best on the bottom, the quick-reads up top). I read them in bits through the day (a magazine is always open on my workspace) and I clip and save anything of interest in my journal. Right now I am looking back over and clipping through last year's holiday special issues (the ones about cookies and entertaining and such). I keep a batch for a year at a time so I can look them back over before the new crop comes out in the fall.

All right, then, my favorites include:

I could name a few more, but I'll stop there. :)

I still have a few more questions to answer that are in regards to my planner and journals. I'll try to work on a post addressing those tomorrow (or very soon).

Have a great day, everyone, and thanks for stopping by!


Field Day: The Early Spring Edition!

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"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." (Anne Bradstreet)

It's been an awfully long winter, has it not? And - I fear for many of us (me included) - winter has not quite let loose its grip. But it can't be much longer, my friends. It simply can't.

So let's bundle up (just a bit - leave the parka - grab the fleece instead!) and head out for an Early Spring Field Day! I have many friends joining me on this nature carnival, and we all have spring in our hearts ... if not yet in our yards. :)

We have photos a-plenty to share this time out! Marcie, Robyn and Heather (whose flowers grace the top of my post) have all contributed the most beautiful pictures today! For lovelier artwork, I could not have hoped. Thank you, ladies!

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Beautiful Lake Martin, by Marcie

Let's begin up north, where Margaret captures the whims of the season with eloquence and lovely contentment. Snow in the morning, sunshine at dusk? Minnesota sounds a lot like Massachusetts these days!

Our next stop is down south, where Dana is reveling in the beauty of Texas wildflowers. Such warm and vibrant colors! Matilda has similarly beautiful scenes to share, as she waltzes through a spring daze of flora and fauna.

One of my favorite young ladies had a grand time recently looking for invertebrates! In Post One (the checklist) and Two (the results), Marianna shares some terrific scientific discoveries! Excellent lesson, Jennifer!

Spring, of course, means new life ...

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Aren't these pictures precious? Please read on for Robyn's story ...

"We rescued a baby bunny from our dog, who found a nest of bunnies in our yard. We aren’t sure how many babies were in the nest but this baby was the last one left, so we found a nice cozy box filled with tissue paper and went to the feed store to get a bottle and food for him. The bunny was so young, his eyes and ears had not yet opened. We were torn between putting him back into his nest in the hopes that his mom would relocate him, and keeping him safe from the dog inside the house. He didn’t know yet he was supposed to be afraid of humans, and he let us gently hold him in our hands--- he was so small (about the size of a mouse). He nuzzled in our hands, drank a little milk and seemed happy enough in the box. The next morning, we searched online to find out more about baby bunnies. This site has a lot of information about wild bunnies: http://www.rabbit.org/faq/sections/orphan.html.

We discovered he was actually a hare, not a rabbit. We found out that babies this tiny do not usually survive in captivity and that the mama would come back to the nest up to a week checking for her young if a nest is disturbed.  We decided to put him back in his hole for his mama to find him, knowing that it was his best shot at survival. So we said our goodbyes to our tiny houseguest and put him back on Saturday afternoon. We kept the dog on a leash, knowing that the first thing he would do is to go back to the nest so we protected the baby hare by making sure the dogs could not have access to him. On Easter morning, we checked the nest, and sure enough—the baby was gone, and we are assuming, reunited with his mama and in a new place."

As Robyn's family discovered, we often need look no further than our own backyards to experience the supreme joy of nature. Happily, Meredith's family has rediscovered the breathtaking wilderness in their midst. Oh, to be on that swing - viewing those views!

All about her lovely home, Cay shows us how beautifully spring has sprung in Louisiana. Oh my, I can almost smell those sweet blooms and taste that fresh lemonade!

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A turtle sunning himself, by Marcie ...

Angela's family always has lots of interesting things going on in their backyard - and how neat that they tapped their own maple trees this year! What a wonderful learning experience for her gang (whom we had the pleasure of meeting recently)! They also kept a close eye on their feeders (love the chipmunk!) while inside, they worked together on a seed starting project. Wonderful!

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Seedlings growing, by Heather ...

Spring's a great season for ducks, don't you think? These fine feathered creatures have certainly caught the attention of a few of my friends. After reading a perennial spring favorite, Michaela and her children made their way outdoors for some sketching by the lake.

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Sunny daffodils, by Robyn ...

Lorri's crew also found time to stop and enjoy the ducks - in their own backyard! (Actually the ducks found them  - what a treat!) And, in pursuit of a scouting badge, Lorri's family has been keeping a close eye on the songbirds in their surroundings. Now's the time of year to see lots of new faces, as well as old favorites.

Speaking of birds, Dani shares some gorgeous photos of an egret and heron - white and blue, respectively - from her pier. What a blessing to live by the water - I can only imagine how varied and interesting the nature must be!

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A Great Egret, by Marcie ...

Divina and her family have been out to the beach already this year. They've seen a wide range of sea birds - from mallards to a loon, and plenty of other examples of seashore life. But perhaps there's no better nature study than one so hands-on as sand play

Playing in the sand is an excellent form of earth science for youngsters, and I'm taking notes for my own little boys. We'll also be studying volcanoes, and we'll need to look no further than Susan's great list of books on that very subject. I always know to turn to Susan for wonderful children's book suggestions.

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Flowering tree, by Heather ...

More spring science ideas can be found at Theresa's. Stop by to learn how to make three different kinds of nets for a stream study - the first two posts are here and here, and the third will be coming later today!

Now, on to one of my most favorite nature blogs - Marjorie's Letters de Moulin. She shares three lovely posts with us today. The first takes us on a tour of birds' nests - which are a welcome sight anytime of year, but especially so in spring. Next, it's up the mountain to explore the joys of the butterfly, another sweet harbinger of spring. And finally we look down from the heavens, and specifically under some rocks, to take delight in spring salamanders! Ooh, how I'd love to find one of those shiny little fellas.

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A mockingbird - just after a bath! by Marcie ...

Brooke and her boys have a fun and educational spring ritual - birdwatching! They spent an amazing day at a national wildlife refuge - looking for eagles! She shares great tips for spring birding in her post.

And on with the hunt for spring! Joann and her kids spent some time looking for signs of life ... and what did they find? Tune in here to see. Sherry, too, took her gang out in search of spring - and a little patch of nature did the trick. Crisanne takes us on a tour of flowering trees - spring beauties that bring thoughts of God's love.

And speaking of love, what more joyous feeling can there be than a walk in the spring rain with our dear ones? Beth shares beautiful images and feelings from her day.

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A Nutria at Lake Martin, by Marcie ...

Spring brings its own mysteries. What will this seedling be? Where did we plant the tulips? What was that flash of orange in the trees? Helen's daughter has made a mysterious treetop discovery - please stop by and check it out!

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Yellow Iris, by Marcie ...

Spring sneaks up on us, in fond and familiar ways we must not overlook. From petals to pollen to screen doors wide open, MaryBeth has noticed all those subtle signs, the ones that tug at our heartstrings, and assure us that really, spring has returned home after all.

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Robyn's front yard is the pinnacle of early spring beauty.

Thank you for joining us on this Early Spring Field Day! I would like to thank each and every person who contributed in some way - whether by post, by photo or plug. :) I appreciate your participation and I hope you will consider joining me again in another month or so for the Mid-Spring Edition!

For now, let me leave you with these timely words by Robert Frost:

The sun was warm but the wind was chill. Early_spring_07
You know how it is with an April Day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off the frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

How true!


Morning on the Farm

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Today is National Agriculture Day!

It would be a fine day to visit our local farm and check in on the animals we have not seen in so many months ~ except that it's only 21 degrees! We could make a quick trip to the market and look for locally grown or raised products. I've been meaning to ask the store manager about this ~ supporting our local farms is ever more important these days!

Or, we may just stay in out of the cold and explore farm life at home! We've always wanted to have a little pocket farm, and even though our yard is not nearly big enough for even "pocket" status, we can pretend ... how fun would it be to brainstorm a name for an imaginary farm? Have you ever done that with your children? Even sketched out on paper what you would grow and raise?

We can talk about what farmers do in the early spring. Well, we just learned about how they tap their sugar maples. (Notice our tree above has a small tin bucket hanging from a limb.) They also start seedlings indoors (we can do that) and repair machinery (we've got some toy tractors around here, including a large antique tractor my grandfather painted for Bookworm when he was just a wee one). Lambing is just around the corner, too. Time to start thinking about wool crafts, perhaps?

We can also talk about what we eat today. How many things came from the farm? It would be a fun and educational activity to brainstorm all the things we use in our everyday life - food, wool, candles, honey - that come from our national farms! Do you know what agricultural products are produced in your state?

Here's a short list to get you started. What do we get from:

  • dairy cows
  • beef cattle
  • sheep
  • pigs
  • goats
  • chickens
  • horses
  • turkey
  • ducks/geese
  • rabbits
  • bees
  • gardens
  • orchards

Am I forgetting anything? :)

Here at home we will be reading our farm books today and most likely playing with our farm set (pictured at top). We have a wonderful book called A Farm through Time, which shows the history of an English farm from medieval times through present day. That would be a very fine history lesson today all on its own! I also have a coloring book of the middle ages that shows many scenes from feudal life. Gee, I love it when our lessons plan themselves! :)

A few other favorite farm picture books:

Farm machinery is big with my boys as well. Earlybird is particularly obsessed with fond of tractors right now. We have a show on our Tivo list recorded off The RFD Network that is literally just a parade of old-fashioned tractors. He could watch it for hours! Instead of that, though, for quiet time today we might watch Babe, an old farm favorite. :)

Finally, I put up an old photo album from last year's first farm trip of the season! It was fun to look through it and see how the boys have grown (and my hair, lol!).

Have a grand day, my friends ... and Happy First Day of Spring!


Still Winter Here ...

“The stormy March has come at last,
With wind, and cloud, and changing skies;
I hear the rushing of the blast,
That through the snowy valley flies.”

          (William Cullen Bryant)

With all my talk of early spring lately, you'd think we were out of Old Man Winter's grasp at last! Not so, I'm afraid. Not here in the northeast, anyway. Why, just yesterday we had the second coldest day of the season! The wind chill will be less bitter today, but the temps. will barely budge out of the 20's. As New Englanders know, this is true March ~ a month which may appear dull in its mousy brownish-gray appearance, but never lacks for excitment in the weather department! March keeps Winter close by his hearth, but surely by now a polite invitation has been sent out to old Mrs. Thaw?

As you can tell, the boys and I have been inspired by the weather of late. We're setting up a nature shelf this week, and the seasonal stories have been popping up left and right. The other day we had an *arctic blast* blow into town, and we watched in amazement as it advanced from the west ... the skies grew dark, the wind picked up ... and for an hour or so we had what seemed like blizzard conditions!

Here are some photos we snapped ...

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This is a robin on our front lawn that Bookworm noticed earlier in the day. We were all excited to see this welcome harbinger of spring, and immediately noted his appearance on our nature calendar. The robin puppet was placed on the nature shelf, but within a few hours all thoughts of spring flew from our imaginations ...

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Here is how the backyard looked as the snow began to fall. I used a setting on my camera (not sure what its technical term is - its symbol is a flower - I use it when photographing bugs) that enabled the camera to catch a few flakes in motion. :)

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The woods out back always look so dramatical (as Crackerjack would say) in a storm.

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Just a half-hour later, Bookworm was out exploring and, as you can see, the sun was breaking out.

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Ah yes, March is a fickle one - he might even be called a tease. Just how long will he allow Winter to rule the land? Perhaps a few weeks more, but before too long, that clever housekeeper Mrs. Thaw will sweep in with her broom and turn the Old Man out on his frosty heels. There's just so much to keep our imaginations alive at this time of year! Many nature stories just seem to jump from the pages of our minds.

Now for some true spring inspiration, I'm going to pop over to Jennifer's where it is always as cozy as spring. :) Her photographs today are a stark contrast to mine - lovely images I will have to wait weeks more to see.

Winter or spring, wherever you are, I pray you keep warm and well! Have an imaginative day!