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Monday Menu & Moon Talk

Bill's off from work today for the MLK holiday, so our homeschool has the day off too. :) It's going to be bitterly cold here (21 for a high!) so we probably won't spend much time outside. I do plan to run to the grocery store for a few items (and maybe The Paper Store too - I have a gift certificate from my birthday to use), but before I head out I'll be starting a beef & vegetable soup in the crockpot. It will cook all day and we'll have it tonight with crusty bread (made in the breadmaker) and a simple tossed salad. For dessert (yes, we do always have dessert, lol!) I'll make use of the leftover raspberry sauce ~ serving it over cups of peach frozen yogurt. The raspberry-peach combination might make me think of the summer ... so, so far away. 

In nature news, aside from the bitter cold and a messy storm coming on Tuesday, we have the Full Moon rising midweek ...

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Can you guess why there's a wolf puppet on our nature shelf?

The weather chills,

 the night is long,

wolf lifts his head

in lonely song.

His notes float high,

his notes drift low,

mournful in the 

moonlight glow.

~ from When the Moon is Full: A Lunar Year by Penny Pollock

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I hope you all have a great Monday ~ see you again very soon! :)


*v* ~A Late Winter Nature Study ~ Owls~ *v*


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Before I launch into my owl notes, I first wanted to address a more general nature study question. I was recently asked how I go about choosing our nature study subjects - specifically, if am I following a timetable listed in a book or a type of science curriculum. Although I do have countless nature-related resources in my posession, I don't follow any one text to a "T." What I do, generally speaking, is to follow the seasons, because it's so easy to learn when you're excited about the natural year.

I also plan studies around our Homeschool Nature Club schedule, which is one of our favorite monthly activities. So, for instance, in March our group will be visiting a maple farm and we'll learn all about maple sugaring. (So I can't help but think: trees and their gifts, local farms, evaporation, leaf buds ...) In April we'll be spending a night watching for salamanders (amphibians, night noises, the spring woods, vernal pools). In May we're going to learn about New England geology (rock collecting, dirt samples, erosion, stone walls) and in June we'll visit flower gardens (seeds, flower parts, gardening, pollination). 

As you can see, this schedule gives me a whole bunch of great themes around which to plan our ongoing nature study!

Since our current study focus is owls (see our owl pellet post here), I've made lots of notes on owl-related learning activities. I'd like to share them with you all today. (Activities mentioned in blue font are the ones geared toward my littlest learner, Earlybird.)

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*v*First of all, as with anything we do, there are always books - lots and lots of books! Some we own, but many more we borrow from the library. I am already hunting down maple-related resources for next month. I display them in our learning room, and a select few will be featured along the top of the nature shelf. Please see my sidebar book list at left for owl titles.

*v*Earlybird enjoys playing with puppets and it just so happens we have two owl puppets in our basket - a big hand puppet and a small finger puppet. I'll make up a few simple stories for "the owls" to "tell," possibly in conjunction with a few other critters. For example, the mouse puppet could make a narrow escape, and the crow puppet could abandon its nest to the mother owl. I try to take actual facts and weave them into the stories.

*v*Another thing I like to do with Earlybird is act out the animal itself. What does the owl say? Can you hoot like an owl? Can we pretend to be owls, flying silently through the night sky?  

*v*Along the same lines, we might make up "an owl nest" using blankets and pillows. Since owls nest in tree cavities, I will probably clear out the cupboard beneath the china closet and let EB pretend to be an owl in his nest. I might even encourage him to go "hunt" for prey - small puppets hidden around the house (you could use pictures if you don't have puppets) - to bring back to his "nest."

*v*We could listen to and learn an owl poem. A famous one, of course, is "The Owl and The Pussycat." (We have the Jan Brett version somewhere around here ...)

*v*A short simple handmade book about owls can be assembled - with construction paper pages, possibly stored inside a sturdy binder. The pages will hold pictures (colored, drawn or printed out) and owl terms: eyes, ears, feathers, claws, beak, hoot, nest.

*v*We've long subscribed to a wonderful nature magazine, My Big Backyard, and we have serveral years' worth of back issues on our bookshelf. The inside back cover always has a colorful fact page about something "in season." The January 2006 page is all about the Great Horned Owl. I will color-copy the page and hang it as a focal point on our nature board.

*v*The boys can color realistic owl illustrations such as the ones found in the Dover coloring books: A Walk in the Woods and Birds of Prey. I brought home simpler line drawings for EB to color from the owl pellet class last week.

*v*Speaking of owl pellets - you could order a kit online and do an owl pellet dissection at home. We placed the baggies of bones the boys brought home from their class on top of the nature shelf for now.

*v*We will use our Birdsong Identiflyer to listen to various owl calls. The Raptor card features several owls, including the Barred Owl who paid us a visit the other night. If you don't have an Identiflyer, you can find owl calls readily online. Once the weather warms a bit, and we can open our windows in the evenings, we'll start listening for night sounds in the woods - like spring peepers and possibly, owls.

*v*On a mild day we will take a walk in our woods to look for potential owl nests. Clues would be large cavities and owl pellets on the ground near the base of a tree.

*v*I'm going to pick up a package of feathers at the craft store and make an owl mask with EB. This would have been fun to do today as it is Mardi Gras! I've also bookmarked a couple of cute owl crafts at The Crafty Crow:
*v*The boys can read about owls in folklore and mythology. There is also lots of amazing information here. I'll also ask the older boys to write a short report about an owl species of their choice. For reference, they can use the books we have on hand and/or the information we find online.

*v*I've asked Bill to make a log-sided owl house with the boys. The plans can be found in The Curious Naturalist. We'll set it up at the edge of the woods out back.

*v*For a family movie night, we'll watch Hoot, which is about burrowing owls in the Florida everglades. (It was also a great book!) Two other videos I have on request at the library:
*v*Just for fun, one afternoon I'll put together a little Owl Tea with woodland themed treats such as the Owl Pellet cookies I found in Small Wonders:

Mix together 2 cups white flour and 2 cups chopped pecans. Set aside. Cream 1 cup butter. Add 1/2 cup sugar. Mix in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon water. Gradually add flour/nut mixture to batter. With lightly floured hands, shape dough into small "owl pellet" shapes. Bake at 325 F. for 25-30 minutes. If you like, while still warm, roll cookies in sugar (white or confectioner's). 

*v*On order from Acorn Naturalists, and due to arrive any day is this owl food web poster. I'll put it up in the learning room.

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And goodness me, but I think that's all I can think of - for now! Lots of ideas here - not all will get done of course - but we'll have fun in whatever we do. And in a few weeks we'll know a lot more about owls than we do now!
I'm always on the lookout for more ideas, though ~ so if you have any owl study suggestions - you know I'm all ears! :)

Thanks for stopping by today ~ Have a great evening, my friends!
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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.
:)

A Christmas Corner Tour

Here's a little tour of a spot in our home that makes our afternoons and evenings (even our dark mornings) quite cozy: a Christmas corner in our family room. The boys love to curl up next to the fire, so I planned around it ~ bringing in cushions and baskets of books. I also made our mantel a centerpiece of decoration ...

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First, tucked down in the far right, is the basket of winter-themed books (please see my leftand sidebar for a description of its contents). This bed-rest in Christmasy red has been borrowed from Crackerjack's room for the month of December. :)

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A close up of the winter books ... these will stay out well after Christmas. Winter often overstays its welcome here in New England, but roundabouts February a few early spring titles will appear here.

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And now for a quick tour of the mantel. Our theme this year is a woodland Christmas, a "Heaven and Nature Sing" kind of thing. Front and center we have a prayer card of The Holy Family, glowing in the light of a starry votive candle. Also we find a wooden lion and lamb, together, a universal symbol of peace.

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At the far left and right, are holiday prints that I collected years ago and recently framed. If you are familiar with the Chinaberry catalog, you might remember the lovely covers that used to grace every issue ~ whimsical and sweet with tiny fairies and ladybugs, etc. They were hand-drawn by artist Louise Popoff, and I was quite disappointed when they stopped using her work. (They now use book illustrations which, of course, are lovely too. But I still miss that artwork.) Anyway, this year I finally worked these enchanting prints into the decor ...

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You might notice in a few of these shots, the huge pine cones (there are two, one at each end). I found them at Whole Foods for $1.99. Normally, I wouldn't buy pinecones as they fall rather reliably from our own spruce and pine trees, but I couldn't get over the size of these! The funny thing was, the other day the boys and I read about "Digger Pines" which have cones "as big as softballs" and we think that's what these might be! We've never found any so big around here (in the wild, not the market, that is).

We also have a few little toys nestled in here and there, and that's a holly garland behind it all. I'd love real greenery, but so would my cats (and even at 16, they'd find a way up there), so plastic it had to be ...

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The bears and the apine village ...

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The wise old owl, the fawn and the squirrel ...

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More village buildings, the rabbit and hedgehog ... I also nestled our Advent candles into the scene: plain glass votives with sheer ribbon wrapped around each (three in purple, one in pink).

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The two main Christmas baskets (the one on the left holds our favorites).

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The windowsill holds still more books (I change them up each week), and the rectangular basket holds our magazines (mostly mine, but a few of the boys' too).

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We also have our current nature story basket. I pick puppets from our main stash that correspond with the birds and animals we've been observing. Just now there is a cardinal pair, a crow, a hawk and a black squirrel. (Yesterday we added a woodpecker.)

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And, the Christmas tree is done at last! (I finally just let the boys have at it, lol.) I will take pictures today, but here is a glimpse of some ribbon I found this year - isn't it perfect for our woodland-themed tree?

I'll be back later today* with tree pictures and a bit of news from The Chickadee Post ... :)

*Make that first thing tomorrow ~ the day got away from me! See you bright and early, then ...


Book Group this Month ~ My Turn!

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And naturally I chose a book about squirrels.

Yes, it was my turn to lead our Book Group this month! The younger set, that is - Crackerjack and 10 other homeschooled boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 10. In January I'll work with Bookworm and the older kids.

I so love attending Book Group, whether I'm leading a discussion or just hanging out with the mums. When it's my turn, it's a blast to sit and chat with these kids - they are SO enthusiastic and come prepared - no raring - to TALK. And when it's not my turn, I get to sit and chat with my friends for a good hour or so. Usually we're whipping out our calendars - planning things and sharing ideas. Sometimes, if I think of it, I grab a coffee on the way over. ;)

Now, as I've mentioned once or twice, I chose Gooseberry Park a while back because it is a cute, funny story, and a quick read at that. It also happens to revolve around the adventures of a little red squirrel mama. (And if you're a longtime reader of my blog, you know how I feel about squirrels - particularly red ones!)

To supplement our discussion, I brought a few things for the kids to look over and munch on (top photo) ~ our nature puppets and soft tree trunk puppet home, storybooks about squirrels (including Squirrel Nutkin, The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Nuts to You, Chessie the Long Island Squirrel and The Mistmantle Chronicles Book One), a Hanna Hazelnuts game (regrettably, impossible to find online) and some yummies for good measure (acorn-shaped sugar cookies and a basket full of Oreos - the latter which figure prominently in the story).

So we got talking ...

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Here's Crackerjack showing me his favorite picture in the book - when Murray the bat carried three oreos out of the kitchen. (Murray had an insatiable appetite and provided much comic relief in the tale.)

After discussion and some coloring - I made little acorn booklets for them to use for notes and sketches as we talked - I suggested we break for a snack. I didn't have to ask twice. ;)

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Some of the kids really took to the puppets ...

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Some of the kids got right down to the game ...

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And everybody participated in the cookies! I forgot to get a picture before they were gone, so when we got home, I frosted the one lone cookie we had left behind for Bookworm, and snapped a picture before he gobbled it up! (P.S. These would be cute for Thanksgiving - quick and easy, too!)

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A lot of the kids in Book Group are also in our Nature Study Club, so after a lengthy discussion of squirrel dreys (and cozy nests in general), I suggested we look for them during our late autumn walk later this month. This met with general approval.

By the way, this month Bookworm's group read and discussed Around the World in 80 Days. Next month we will be reading Island of the Blue Dolphins (Bookworm) and Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allen Crow (Crackerjack). (And last month it was Harry Potter #7 and I, Houdini, respectively.) I plan to have the boys write book reports about this month's selection, but we'll embark upon that project next week. Tomorrow is a busy day - morning lessons at home and a matinee movie with friends. And then - hurrah! - it's the weekend!

Have a great night, everyone. :)


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!


The First of August: Lammas Day

From Catholic Traditions in the Home and Classroom:Wheat_6_2

In Britain, up to the time of the Middle Ages, this was the day when offerings were made for a good grain harvest. The people came to church and brought offerings of loaves of bread baked from the new wheat. This is how the day got its name - lammas is a shortening of "loaf Mas." Although the day is no longer celebrated, it is a precursor of other special days still very much alive - England's modern harvest festival and America's Thanksgiving.

And more from All Year Round:

This was a harvest festival, celebrating the fruitfulness of the Earth Mother and took the form of a "first fruits" offering. The Anglo-Saxon Christians transformed this into "Hlaf-Maesse" or "Loaf-Mass" which has given us the name Lammas. A loaf was baked with grain reaped at the very beginning of the harvest and not allowed to stand for the customary three Sundays; this loaf was offered at the Mass.

Today, in honor of the "first fruits" of the harvest, I was going to bake peach cornmeal muffins for my family. I say was going to because as it turned out our peaches had worn out their welcome, if you catch my drift. Of peaches we have none, but fruit flies? We've got plenty.

Anyhoo. I did ask Bill to stop at the farm stand on the way home tonight and surprise us with a small selection of fresh local produce - a sampling of what's good and ripe right now. (The boys and I were without transportation today so that scuttled our plans for a trip to the farm.) I'll bet there will be corn, but hopefully also some tomatoes, zucchini and - better late than never - juicy ripe peaches! A few items will go in a basket for the table, the rest will end up on our supper plates.

Another fun thing to do on Lammas Day is to honor the agrarian rhythm of the year, and look up your local harvest calendar. Thanks to Lisa at 4Real, I found this site which lists links for each state. I was able to print off the fruit and vegetable schedule for the coming months. I really like buying produce in season whenever possible - better for us, better for the earth and great for local farmers. The chart I printed out should be helpful in planning out meals for each turn of the year.

Today I also cleared off the learning display table, wiped it all down - windows too - and set it all up for the new month. I thought afterwards that I should have snapped a few "before" pictures for Lorri's upcoming Loveliness Fair (Clearing the Clutter). Though, really my "after" still looks pretty cluttered, lol! But this is "controlled clutter," you see. It's meant to be a cozy, colorful little spot with lots of things to look at and choose from. (Not to fear though, Lorri; I have plenty of other "before" spots around here for your Fair!)

As for reading today, Groundhog's Garden would be a nice choice, as would The Little Farm by the Sea, not to mention The Little Red Hen (which we don't own, but whose story we know by heart). I set up the puppet basket with a cast of the characters making headlines in our backyard of late. Earlybird is really into pretend play right now so we'll re-enact a few things, especially some recent near-miss hawk encounters.

Here's the wide shot:

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And now for some close-ups and a brief tour:

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Perched in the window are a few favorite summertime picture books; in the foreground are some of our nature puppets (hawk, blue jay, red squirrel, groundhog, black squirrel, raccoon, golfinch, grackle).

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A bowl of wooden "first fruits" along with a few more books representing themes of the season.

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This is our current prayer candle (made back on St. James Day) and it holds open the August calendar as it appears in Take Out: Family Faith on the Go (a new resource I love).

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Bonfires, corn fields, the grain harvest and raccoons ... all August themes. To the right you see Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep, open to her fabulous August pages.

Now this next picture takes a little explaining. Just file this one under How Much Do I Love My Kids?

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This is a badge my Bookworm made and attached to his shirt the other morning after we spotted and chased off a neighbor's cat, thereby saving the life of some small creature or another. Today, we had another close call with that hawk (a cooper's hawk we now believe him to be) - not just once but three times!! Each time, incredibly, we happened to see him out the windows as he landed and were able to scare him off before he made away with any of our favorite little critters. He seems particularly bent on getting our red squirrels. (And yes, yes, I know a hawk's gotta eat - but he doesn't have to eat my little red squirrels!)

Bookworm has taken this responsibility very seriously and patrols the windows regularly. He has set up noisemakers and squirt guns kept at the ready and of course, he made himself and his brothers these badges. They say: Nature Protection - Elite Force.

:)

He also set up his sentry:

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This would be Pooch, our long haired "wolfie" cat. BW set up this cozy little basket bed, which of course means Pooch mostly just sleeps instead of doing any actual guarding.

Here is the daily news page Bookworm made up; he also updated his blog with news of the attacks.

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Now the next picture has nothing to do with hawks or squirrels or fruit, but it has a lot to do with August for me:

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Do you have movies that you watch again and again at a particular time of the year? For me, in August, it's always Meet Me in St. Louis, which I thought I had lost, but Bill found it last night. Hooray! I know what I'm watching tonight while I fold laundry! I love that first scene when the mother and housemaid are bottling homemade ketchup in the hot steamy kitchen. The family members wander in and out, weighing in on the taste of the ketchup and complaining about the late summer heat. The whole movie is filled with Victorian delights - not to mention a great story. Check it out if you haven't seen it!

And finally, although I think of myself as an autumn kind of gal, I can see from my journals that August is clearly a favorite time of year - it's like we've turned a corner, into the land of promise and plans. Like my friend Jennifer says, I love right now ...

Have a wonderful evening, my friends!


The Nature Study Meeting

Last week, as you all must know by now, (considering how much I've mentioned it!) I hosted a homeschool support group meeting at my house and the theme was nature study. We were a small group of 5, but it was a fruitful and fun evening. I'd like to share a few pictures of the set up with you, as well as some of my notes from the meeting.

To begin with, here is how I set up the learning room, in order to display some of my nature study resources:

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I spread picture books all across the windowsills, favorite stories that inspire or supplement a particular topic (I'll set up a sidebar book list soon). On the chairs I have our nature puppet collection (at left) and all our field guides (at right). On the table I set out favorite nature study resources:

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  • Here's a close up of our nature puppets, which I find to be excellent teaching tools with the younger children:

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    Our favorite puppets are made by Audubon and Folkmanis. A great resource for puppets and all kinds of nature study supplies, is Acorn Naturalists.

    And here are our field guides:

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    Favorites are Peterson First Guides, Golden Guides and Smithsonian Handbooks.

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    Above you see the far right corner of the room and the second display table. More resources here, including our Birdsong Identiflyer, nature magazines and catalogs, and our new squirrel feeder. Here's a close-up:

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    Oops, how did that phone get in there? :)

    I even set up the prayer corner for the night, with a tiny paper mache bird and a postcard showing my all-time favorite nature study subject, a little red squirrel.

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    I must tell you, I had candles lit and classical music playing - it was a very peaceful and contemplative atmostphere, I think . Bill had taken the boys out for the night, and for a few minutes there, before my first guest showed up, I hardly knew what to do with myself, lol! Clean house, coffee brewing, music playing, candles lit - what now?? :)

    Here's a peek at the goodies spread out on the island (not shown are the delicious cinnamon buns brought by my friend Lisa):

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    So, did we talk about nature? Well, yes we did, but we also happened to be a group of good friends and, as any mother knows - when you get together with your mommy friends (without kids), you can hardly stop talking about all manner of things!

    Once we got around to the actual meeting we talked about whether or not our children enjoyed nature study - why they do (a love of bugs) or might not (a fear of bugs). One mom brought a page from her son's nature journal - a wonderful collection of notes and sketches. This particular page was filled with comments on urban nature study, which led us to another aspect of discussion. What can we see where we live, here in the suburbs? Turns out a lot, as we compared notes on who's seen what - coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, deer, woodchucks/groundhogs, bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, and birds of all kinds.

    We talked for quite a while about nature sketching and how for some children (and moms) it can present a real obstacle. One friend shared how her daughter gets quite frustrated when she can't draw things just right. She wondered if she should encourage her child to perservere or back off lest she turn her off sketching completely. We also spoke about the different ways children draw - some press their pencils very hard, some not enough, some prefer to trace and are happy with that. Our talk turned to art programs for a while.

    We discussed how nature study might lead a child to a certain career path - wildlife handler, nature park ranger, photographer, even a (biology) textbook illustrator.

    We talked at great length about what has happened to childhood in general over the past few generations - how we've slowly become an indoor, plugged-in society. Many of us recounted childhoods spent out-of-doors (in the summer anyway) roaming all over, knowing the trees in our neighborhood so well. Today we face many obstacles to such freedom - too much stuff, too much busy-ness, too many distractions, too many stranger dangers. We touched briefly upon the book Last Child in the Woods (which I own but have not yet read).

    We didn't get around to it at this meeting, but later I spoke with one of my friends about the possibility of starting a small nature study group. Perhaps we could get together on a regular basis (once a month or every six weeks?) to do an activity, share journals and recent nature observations with each other. This would be a great way to do some larger group activities and allow the kids to encourage each other and fuel each other's interest in the outside world. We'll see what happens - I have yet to spread the word too far.

    I'd like to say thank you to all the moms who came to my meeting - wish we could all do it again sometime soon. I'd also like to thank everyone who took the time to leave suggestions for me in my earlier post: Nature Study: What are Your Questions?. Like I said before, I do not have the answers myself, but maybe we can work on the questions together! I'm not sure if I'll start those posts here or at The Nature Corner, my other blog. So stay tuned. :)


    Morning on the Farm

    Morning_farm

    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 ...

    β€œThe 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 ...

    Late_winter1

    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 ...

    Late_winter2

    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. :)

    Late_winter3

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

    Late_winter4

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

    Late_winter5

    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!


    The Plan for Today - Evening Update

    Wednesday, January 17th, 2007 (St. Anthony, Benjamin Franklin's birthday):

    (Please see blue notes beneath each section for the updates. I have some pictures from today but I just lost my memory stick inside the hard drive (long story!). I'll try to post them soon.)

    Housekeeping: Kitchen and Meals

    • Clean kitchen. (Neaten, sweep, wipe down surfaces.)
    • Look through fridge and cabinets; take note of what is needed.
    • Begin meal plan for next week.
    • Start grocery list for Saturday.

    Ok, I'm going to be completely honest with you. As of 6:30 this evening, my kitchen was no cleaner than it was this morning! Well, I did sweep the floor and clear the island. Nothing got wiped down as I had hoped and no menu plan or grocery list was begun - not on paper anyway.

    My plan was (and always is) to start in on the kitchen before we begin our lessons, as really, it's the only hope. After 8 a.m. I'm just putting out too many fires to spend any quality cleaning time in any room, let alone the kitchen. Fires such as the one that broke out in Earlybird's bedroom when an entire bag of potato chips somehow got dumped out all over the floor. All over construction paper that had also somehow found its way to the floor and acted as a perfect catch basin for the chip grease. Mind you, this was all before 10 a.m.

    So after cleaning up that mess, I turned my wary eye toward the older boys' room and decided it too was in need of a good "pruning." (Thankfully nothing so dire as chip crumbs, however.) So I set Crackerjack to picking up cars and Legos, while Bookworm took action figures and trading cards. I stuck to books, bedding and clothes and within 1/2 an hour we had all the bedrooms put to rights. I also got two loads of laundry done - but please don't ask if they're folded.

    So the kitchen work gets bumped to tomorrow - Thursday - the day usually reserved for the living room and family room. That's okay - we're home all day - and tomorrow is a brand new day! Right? :)

    Lessons:

    Pledge of Allegiance and Prayers ...

    • Math
      • Saxon lessons
      • Make graph-paper chart for bird counting

    O.K., so the math didn't get done either, lol. But wait! Before you think I completely slipped gears today, let me assure you we did do math. We did really fun math, in fact! Bookworm became engrossed in Math for Smarty Pants and I let him run with it. He read aloud and worked on problems for a good long while. And Crackerjack just loves the Sir Cumference books so we read Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi which led to circle discussion and some measuring.

    But it's back to Saxon tomorrow, I'm afraid. ;)

    • Language arts:
      • Lingua Mater: Nouns (1 pg.)
      • Language of God A: Capital Letters (2 pgs.)
      • Copywork; choose favorite Franklin quote.
      • Handwriting Can Help practice.

    All done! We even read Eats, Shoots and Leaves as a bonus, a Christmas gift from Uncle Greg. What a funny book!

    • Religion:
      • Read Sunday's Gospel in Magnifikid.
      • Look at church bulletin for BW's CCD assignment.
      • Read A Life of Our Lord for Children: Introduction.
      • Read about St. Anthony. Spend 15 minutes "hermit time" in reflection.
      • St. Anthony is patron saint of domestic animals; groom cats.

    We did all these things except the 15 minutes "hermit time." You know, I was really looking forward to those 15 minutes of quiet ... maybe we'll try again tomorrow.

    History/geography: American

    We did all these things, too, except we didn't finish the d'Aulaire book. We'll read it over the next few days. Both boys voted for the turkey over the eagle. (We're partial to them as they live in our woods.) CJ even insisted on making a turkey flag. Here it is hanging above the boys' colorings and copywork:

    Ben_franklin

    No popcorn (not after the chip fiasco) and no coloring page about red-winged blackbirds. Everything else we did.

    I couldn't find the Olivia Owl book so EB did some math in a workbook and made a page of numbers. I wrote them out and he named and copied each one. He did this right up at the table with us. We didn't do puppet stories (though somehow they ended up strewn all over the family room, anyway). We did spend 10 minutes working diligently together on a solar system floor puzzle. I was very happy with EB's patience and turn-taking.

    We named each planet as we went. And our "X the Owl" came out great! EB colored the picture while I cut out the pieces to make a tree base. Here is X peeking out of his nest:

    X_owl

    (Notice the chip grease near the bottom, lol!)

    To do:

    • Make vet and dentist appointments.
    • Pull next week's folder. Jot down events/feasts/activities.

    As it is just 7:30 a.m., this all seems very do-able. I will report back later today on how it all went! :)

    No phone calls were made. I dug out next week's folder and started looking at the calendar, but no notes were made. All the more for tomorrow!

    And now it is 12 hours later - 7:30 p.m. - and it hardly seems all that time went by. 7:30 a.m. will be here again before it seems I've even shut my eyes. And I'm off to do just that! Good night! :)


    Picture Books in Winter

    How am I to sing your praise,
    Happy chimney-corner days,
    Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
    Reading picture story-books?

      ( Robert Louis Stevenson)

    One of the nicest things about wintertime is the way the world slows itself down and carves out a nice little niche for us to fill in with hours of reading. What can be finer than a cold afternoon curled up hearthside, paging through favorite books?

    With this in mind, I set up our winter book baskets the other day. I thought you might like to see them and hear what we have tucked inside.

    Winter_books1

    Here are the bins all gathered beside the fireplace. I actually spread this all out along the window-paned door on the right; I just forgot to take a picture once I did, lol.

    Winter_books3

    Here are a few of our nature puppets close up - the purple finch, the Canada goose and in the background, the groundhog, who (along with his shadow) will figure into our nature stories in the upcoming weeks. The purple finches are flocking to our feeders in record numbers (their rosy coloring is striking) and the geese have been flying over quite a bit. For some reason I equate that honking with spring (or fall) - but of course it's been so mild around here ... I wonder if there's a story there?

    Winter_books4

    Here's the rest of the gang! I only set out those critters that are visible at this time of year in our backyard: the crow, the black squirrel, the red squirrel (the gray should be in there, too), the woodpecker, the sparrow, the goldfinch (though he's still sporting his summer coat), the hawk, the cardinal, the chickadee and lastly, the blue jay.

    Winter_books5

    This smaller tin is filled with bird-related resources:

    Winter_books6

    And here is the main winter books basket. Since you can't really see what's inside, I'm going to list and link it all for you!

    Here's a little idea I gleaned from my town library a few years ago. One January they announced a weekly afternoon gathering "Cocoa Club" - a time when the children would listen to a story (I think it was Harry Potter) while enjoying a cup of cocoa. It sounded heavenly but it was being held downtown, on a late afternoon which as we all know in the winter means two things - darkness and traffic. Well, my next thought was to try this idea out at our weekly homeschool co-op, which worked out lovely. At the end of a long co-op day, the 5 and unders (fondly known as Little Sprouts and Seedlings) gathered in a room for cups of warm cocoa and books. (I think the marshmallows were the biggest hit!) I also decided with a bit of tweaking, this plan could work out at home.

    The general idea is this - a weekly (or daily) time when you sit down, cocoa in hand, to share in a good story together. You could choose a chapter book, or if your children are younger, a beautiful picture book or two. While they sip, you read, and watch the darkness fall outside the windows. It might be fun to invite another family to join you!

    Now to make it more interesting, you could do one of a a couple of things. You could make up a chart and using small stickers (such as stars or hearts) keep track of who "attends" your Cocoa club and/or how many books are read. Perhaps the final week (just before Lent begins), there might be a special treat in store for all who participated? A trip to the book store to purchase a new book or a stop at the bakery for some tea and goodies?

    You could also make a reading tree, similar to the ones quite popular in the fall. Make a paper tree or bring in a real branch to hang, or just use a window pane. Hang little construction paper cut-outs - each one bearing the name of a book you have read.

    I started making the materials this afternoon ...

    Winter_books11

    I'm using wintry shades of blue, white and a touch of red (for valentines). If you enlarge the picture you can see the bird and heart template I drew on a piece of tagboard. I cut out several birds and hearts, and over the next few days will have the boys make up white snowflakes. Instead of using a tree or a branch, I will place our decorations in the windowpanes facing the backyard. Though we have not yet begun our Cocoa Club, I hung up a few to give you an idea of the effect.

    Winter_books12_1

    This will work nicely with Earlybird, especially. This winter we are working on increasing his attention span, and the length of time he will sit for books. He will really be working hard to earn his birds and hearts!

    Here's wishing you many happy, chimney-corner days this long winter season!


    Quick and Crafty Puppet Curtains

    Do you know a little person (or 2 or 3 or 4) who enjoys puppet shows, storytelling or just plain old make-believe? Well, then have I got a craft for you! :)

    As I've posted before, my boys really enjoy our nature puppet collection. (Notice I say, our puppet collection, LOL!) Well, we've been collecting various critters for years and have amassed quite an array! A few years back, my mum noticed how much Crackerjack, in particular, loved making up stories with his finger puppets, so for his birthday that year she made him several pairs of homemade puppet curtains! I helped pick out the material, relating to themes we usually pretended - snowy woods, starry night, magical kingdom, sunshiney days, etc. A simple tension rod was all we needed for the boys' bedroom door and voila - we had our own puppet theatre!

    Recently we decided to add an autumn leaves theme to our collection. I picked up the fabric a few weeks ago and today I took advantage of my mum's visit and asked her to show me how to make the curtains. I am happy to report, it was very easy and it only took about 2 hours. (I can tell you that because we worked on them right after Earlybird went down for his nap, and we finished just before he woke up!) 

    I have included many photos in this post - big surprise, right? :) I don't know about you, but I do much better with visuals. Let me confess right away, I am no seamstress at all. My mum - now, she can do anything - knit, sew, crochet, paint, etc.  Me, well, I can glue pretty well. :) I can also fold and iron - and basically that is all this craft requires - folding and ironing.

    Now, as I sit down to write this post, most of the facts and figures have flown right out of my head so let me start by saying this craft is completely adaptable. There really are no "set" measurements - you can make your curtains in any size or shape that suits your fancy. I hope this post gives you an idea of one possible final product.

    Our curtains are a set of panels, which fit on a tension rod that can be easily placed in a regular door frame. Spectators sit on one side (usually the bedroom side) while the performers sit (or lay) in the hall, and reach through between the panels with their puppets. It's really fun!

    (Note: Another idea is to turn a small child's wooden table into a portable theatre. Simply attach velcro (dots or strips) around the edges. Cut material into two pieces to fit around the base of the table (leaving the back open). Then, the children can lay under the table and poke their puppets through the front, where the two pieces meet.)

    But I digress - my aim is to show you the curtains we made today!

    Start with a fabric to your liking. When choosing prints, consider themes your children like to play out - princess, knights, safari, etc. You might start with the puppets they own. And puppet shows can be performed by all kinds of toys, believe me - Bionicles, dinosaurs, Toy Story characters. You name it, if it's a toy they love, it belongs on stage!

    I was even thinking our saint spoons might make wonderful "puppet shows!" We could re-enact the stories of the saints we've come to know. I'm sure we could find some celestial-looking fabric. Ooh - and a dark desert night fabric would be a wonderful backdrop for a set of Nativity-themed spoons (the Holy Family, three wise men, angels, shepherds, etc.). Hmmm ... the wheels are turning ....

    Good grief, enough of my chatting, on to the project!

    Curtains0_1

    You will want to buy your fabric (approximately 2 yards), a tension rod (we use 32"; check your door frame size) and a package of Stitch Witchery.

    The snowflake print above is already a curtain, we used it as a template to cut our autumn leaves fabric to the right size. This picture also shows the snowflake curtain's bottom hem.

    Curtains1

    Above you see the first panel we worked on. (Instead of using an ironing board, which I, er, couldn't locate at the time - funny, that - we worked on the dining room table with a couple of towels laid out underneath.)

    A note on the fabric- it should be pre-washed before you begin. Once it's cut into shape, press it lightly to smooth out any wrinkles. As I mentioned above, your curtains can be any size or shape. Our panels measured 44 inches long by 22 inches wide before hemming.

    Curtains2

    The above photo shows the right side hem on one of the panels (and the package of Stitch Witchery). We folded each side of the panel in about an inch. (You want enough material to cover the Stitch Witchery.) We pressed the fold first, and then ...

    Curtains3

    ... tucked in a length of Stitch Witchery (which by the way is a fusible bonding web - and I LOVE it). Following the package directions we pressed the hem twice (front and back) for 10 seconds each turn. We had a little bit of trouble with this but realized it was probably because I forgot to wash the fabric first. (Such a rookie mistake.)

    Curtains4

    Above you see the first panel with side hems complete.

    Curtains5

    And here is the bottom hem finished. (Turned in about an inch and a half.) My mum had an excellent point - you could finish the bottom hem in different (and perhaps easier) ways - for instance, cutting the bottom with pinking shears or adding a lace trim.

    Curtains6

    The above photo shows the top hem (folded down about 2-3 inches). Remember this does not have to be exact - just as long as the two panels match in length. We actually made two folds. The first was about an inch; we pressed this (using no Stitch Witchery) to keep the inside edge neat. We then turned the hem down another length - allowing space for the tension rod to run through. This edge we adhered with the SW once again.

    Curtains7

    Working on the second panel, we first made the side and bottom hems. We then lined it up with the first panel to check for accurate length. In the above photo you see the unfinished second panel on the bottom; the completed first panel on top. We used the finished hem of the first to guide where we folded the hem for the second. (I know that probably sounds very confusing, sorry! It will make sense when you do it, though.)

    Curtains75

    And finally here are the two completed puppet curtain panels (undersides up)! I am really very happy how they came out - nice neat edges and perfectly sized to each other! (Thank you, Thank you, Mum!!!) We will have so much fun acting out our late autumn stories with these!

    Curtains8

    Above you see our current curtain collection (left), a basket of nature puppets (right) and the folded new curtains in front.

    I have a few other ideas for this puppet project, but once again it is getting late and I really should wrap up. I would like to post again more about all this, hopefully this weekend - including photos of the curtains in action! Because I bought 2 yards of fabric, I had a good bit of it left over ... but I have a really fun idea how to use it  up, and after a trip to the craft store this weekend, I will post about that too!

    Curtains9

    Thanks for sticking with me on another loooong post, LOL! Good night and God Bless! :)