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April 2006

Morning at the Farm (Warning: LOTS of Photos!)

This morning, after Mass and coffee with my folks, we took the boys over to a local apple orchard. Here are a few (um, several) pictures from our time there:


The boys and I walking into the orchard ...


About a month ago the farm had a fire, but thankfully all the animals escaped unharmed. This barn got the worst of it.


We peeked inside the damaged barn, but Earlybird (in my arms) got upset at the darkness and smell, so instead we checked over at the turkey coop ...


... but there was nobody home!


Most of the apple trees were starting to bloom like these branches above. The farm itself when observed as a whole was simply blushing beautifully:


In the field in the foreground we spotted a Killdeer; but he blended in too much with the dirt to be visible here. (Plus the closer we got, the faster he ran away!)


We met a llama ...


... and a hissing goose (apparently he didn't care for the dandelions we were tossing in through the links).


Time to go Daddy, we still have to stop at the nursery on our way home!


But we promise we'll come back again soon!

Things to Do While Swinging:


Eat popsicles.

Scream at a bee.

Watch the birds.

Fall off.

Look for airplanes.

Make up songs about swinging.

Count to 300, lose your place, and blame your brother.

Argue over who gets which swing ...


... and listen to your mother read aloud a really, really good book.

I think we have started a new spring tradition! We have spent every morning this past week out on the swings ~ me, standing there pushing Earlybird with one hand, holding a book in the other, while my three boys sail back and forth, absolutely engrossed in our current read-aloud. For no less than an hour each day (I've got the sunburn to prove it)!

And what book has them so spellbound, you might ask? Well that would be Little House by Boston Bay written by none other than Melissa Wiley (Here in the Bonny Glen). We are not quite finished, but when we are I will post more about this wonderful book which we are using for this month's history ... and literature and nature study and it seems P.E.! ;)

Now this is what homeschooling looks like!

Hey, I Found My Other Sock!

Earlybird was consumed with excitement this morning, because today was co-op day ~ when our best friends come over for a few hours of learning and playing together. Since the weather was nice, I casually mentioned to the boys that we would probably end up spending most of the afternoon outside in the yard.

With positive glee, Earlybird sounded the alarm. "'Ocks! Shoes! 'Ocks! Shoes!"

"In a bit, love," I told him. For it was only 7 a.m. and for the most part, except for in matters of wildlife defense, the backyard is off-limits until the more civilized hour of, say, 9:00.

As I went about the morning chores I was vaguely aware my youngest child was independently assembling what, in his mind, were the essentials to getting outside to play ... a pair of pants was left on the table, a shoe appeared on the kitchen counter, then a sock was found on the couch ...

Next thing I knew, from down the hall, I heard a loud wail ~ "Mama! Mamaaaaa!!!"


And here I found Earlybird, halfway dressed and halfway under his bed, in search of that still missing piece to the puzzle, the other sock! (I know, I know, his room's a mess. And please don't ask why we keep socks under the beds.)

And, as you can see from the picture, I wasn't kidding about the marker on his feet!

How I Love This Boy

My 10 year old Bookworm. Not quite a fashion plate, but he does know what he likes. Green_shorts

"I declare it officially summer," he announced, walking into the kitchen this morning. He was dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and an almost too-small baseball cap. I raised my eyebrows and glanced at the thermometer; it was barely 50 degrees. But co-op was coming over and I knew the kids would work up a sweat running around outside so I let the shorts thing slide for the moment.

Later that morning, as I was getting his younger brothers dressed, he disappeared into his bedroom.

He soon stepped back out, his outfit a bit changed around.

"I think the green shorts go better with this green shirt, don't you think? And I like wearing my white socks with my brown shoes because I think they look snazzy!"

I looked at my boy dressed in his greens, his whites and his browns and I smiled.

"Besides," he shrugged. "It's a free world." :)

All About Birdy

In honor of Arbor Day here's a post about trees, and in particular, our favorite tree, Birdy.

Birdys_faceIf you follow my blog at all, by now you have seen Birdy numerous times. In just about every squirrel or bird picture I post, he is there, his grand green branches outstretched wide, filling our windows and hearts with delight. So you've seen bits and pieces, but take a look at the photo at left ~ Are you thinking what I'm thinking? What a fine looking fellow is Birdy!

We found this funny forest face at Plow & Hearth and couldn't resist adding a bit of personality to our beloved tree. Below is a photo of our Earlybird as he met the new "neighbor" for the very first time. He Meeting_maxhad been napping when dh put up the face, and at first he was quite timid about it. But he mostly got over his shyness and now Earlybird always remembers to greet Birdy when he passes the windows. Close up contact is another matter however. When helping to fill the feeders that hang from Birdy, Earlybird will offer his greeting, but from a distance.

I don't know what we'd ever do if something happened to Birdy. He means so much to our family ~ not to mention all the birds and critters that call his canopy home. I posted recently about some rather strange behavior involving his branches and buds. As I mentioned before the buds on the south side of Birdy appear pnk, while those on the north are brown. A little more research led me to The Nature of Cones where, if I read the information right the variance in color is due to Looking_up_at_birdygender and not position.

So to kick off a botany study this spring and summer we will take a good look at the kinds of trees that grow here in our corner of New England. One resource I'm really looking forward to using is The Big Tree by Bruce Hiscock. (Thank you Cay for the suggestion!) Also on tap is Trees: A Peterson First Guide as well as, I'm sure, lots of hands-on field work ~ beginning tomorrow with a visit to a local farm to observe the apple trees in bloom!

As part of the study we will take a look at the gifts trees offer us ~ fresh air, shade, protection ~ not to mention those more tangible gifts like lumber, paper, fruit and maple syrup (in the Arbor Day spirit, I posted a favorite maple recipe at Harvest Home).

And of course, no nature study would be complete without the guiding hand of an author familiar to many readers here ...

Here's what Anna Botsford Comstock has to say, in the Handbook of Nature Study, about pines:

"None other of our trees is more beautiful than the pine. In the East we have the white pine with its fine-tasselled foliage, growing often one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet in height and reaching an age of two to three hundred years."

I have no idea how old Birdy is, but I do hope he has many more years in him!

The Turkey Trot

Turkey_crossing_1What you see in the photo at left is the resident flock of wild turkeys. We see them around here on occasion; this would be their morning commute through a neighbor's yard one day early last month.

Now, what you don't see in the bottom photo is the turkey I attempted to photograph very early this morning as it fled through the yard and into the woods.

Standing there in my flannel pajamas, stocking feet soaked with the morning dew, I tried in vain to snap a clear picture before the turkey was out of range. All this while the school bus pulled up next door, the dog walkers passed by bemused, and a carpool idled a few driveways down. But I was undeterred and kept snapping away. Ultimately I was unsuccessful, or so I thought ...

As I came back in the house I was greeted by shouts of "Good No_turkeyjob, Mama!"

"I didn't get the shot," I bemoaned, putting the camera away. But my dear husband informed me ~ "You may not have gotten a picture, but you scared off the cat that was after the turkey!"

Unbeknownst to me, the turkey was being stalked by a cat ~ and that would be Sassy, otherwise known as The Mountain Lion ~ the very same cat I spend half my day chasing away from our squirrels and birds. Apparently my presence halted her chase and the turkey was able to make his getaway.

I may not take the best photos, but I'm an ace wildlife defender ... It's nice to be good at something. :)

First Comes Rhubarb ...

Spring brings the warm sun, the gentle rains and, especially here in the northeast, the much longed for produce season! Soon it will be time to put aside those dried apricots, figs and raisins, and make way for strawberries, peaches, raspberries and more!

Please stop by my food blog, Harvest Home, for a great quick bread recipe that makes use of whatever happens to be fresh, ripe and ready for the picking.

Oh This is Such Fun!

It's been one of those wonderful mornings, when the learning seems effortless and the enthusiasm is contagious. We've been having a grand time flitting back and forth between our blog, Melissa's, the 4real forums, and of course the back yard, trying to nail down the identity of our Unidentified Purple Wildflower (see this morning's post for more details). As it turns out, Melissa and her family have been on a mystery plant hunt as well. Theresa's good eye caught the similarities between our plants and narrowed the search for us a bit ...

First we eagerly checked out several suggestions online ~ Creeping Charlie and Cow Parsley to start. But nothing was quite right. Finally I remembered a wonderful book that my grandmother gave us several years ago Wild Flowers of North America by Pamela Forey. And there on page 159 was our flower! It is called Henbit, and it is a member of the mint family:

"This plant grows as a weed in waste places, fields, and on roadsides across much of North America, but it is not a native plant, being naturalized from Europe. It is related to deadnettles ..."

What a fun springtime activity, identifying all the bitty blooms thatBlue_wildflower pop up in our gardens! And by sharing our nature studies online we are all getting so nicely acquainted with each other's flora and fauna, you would think our backyards all lined up in a row! (Now wouldn't that be fun?)

Thanks everyone for the help! Now, about this blue flower we found this morning ... :)

Nature Notes: The Director's Cut

One of my favorite parts of this blog are the Nature Notes I keep on the lefthand sidebar. I try to update them every few days as a reflection of all that is happening here in our little backyard habitat.

Because they are notes, though, those items deleted to make room for new information are lost. If I were really on top of things, I would be copying them into my calendar for future reference. Nature study is a huge part of our home education, and I love keeping such detailed notes; in a way they have become our own little field guide to our own little spot on the planet. :)

So I am thinking that, once in a while, I will post an expanded version of Nature Notes - unabridged if you will - with lots of photos of all that's going on in our yard at the moment. The following entries are peppered with questions (and the thumbnails are small so click on them for a bigger view). Enjoy!

Towhee2 Eastern Towhee ~ I caught a glimpse of this bird under the rhododendron bushes this morning and in my haste to get a photo, I unfortunately captured only hazy images. This was the best one I'm afraid. But perhaps you can get a general idea for the bird's coloring at least. For a better look at a Towhee, check here. With this sighting, we get to add a new species to our family's life list. His call was quite distinct, too ~ Toe-wheet! Toe-wheet!

Cherry Blooms ~ This old tree (at right) anchors my favorite spot in the yard ~ a Cherry_treeshady corner smack dab in birdfeeding central, with our St. Francis statue looking on serenely from nearby. As you can see in this picture the buds are getting ready to burst; when they do, the bright pink blooms are breathtaking, and best of all they tempt the Baltimore Orioles passing through!

Chives3Chives ~ My childhood memories of spring are infused with the pungent smell of wild chives; they grew (and still do) all over my parent's property. One recent morning I was filling our bird feeders when a strange odor caught my attention. It was familiar and yet I couldn't quite place it. After looking around for several minutes, this tiny patch at left caught my eye ... sure enough, there they were ~ wild chives! It is the only crop I can find so a bulb must have self sown?

An Unidentified Purple Wildflower ~ Do you recognize this flower (below right)?? I Purple_wildflower2_2think it is a wildflower, but perhaps it is a weed? It grows in a secluded spot in our yard, at the edge of a large evergreen tree. The pale purple blossom poke up in patches, in between the cheerful dandelions and blanket of pine needles. We checked in a few field guides, and nothing seems to come very close. Take a good look and please let me know what you think!

Rhododendron_buds Rhododendron leaves ~ As anyone who has rhodendendrons in their yard knows, they make a perfect child-size tunnel and an excellent hiding space. On our bushes, the new buds have formed and they should be opening soon. But we noticed the leaves look a bit chewed ... What could be doing this damage? In our yard there's a whole cast of characters to choose from ~ insects, small mammals and birds. But what likes rhododendron leaves as a snack?

Spruce Buds ~ Only recently were we able to figure out just what kind Spruce_buds_2of evergreen is Birdy ~ an Eastern White Spruce (thanks to a tip from MacBeth at the 4Real Forums). Some strange behavior has us puzzled though. First of all the Spruce_buds_north_1tree seems to be shedding ~ short lengths of green healthy branches keep dropping from the canopy, littering the ground below. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this, and we can't remember it happening before. And today we noticed the buds forming on the branches are completely different on either side ... those facing south are soft and reddish-purple (right) while those facing north are dry and brown (left). Thoughts?

Spring Stew? ~ Now this is just a personal opinion, but children should spend many Spring_stew_1hours in the backyard, making all kinds of interesting things from plants, twigs, rocks and dirt. Mix in some water and what do you have? Well if you are my boys you call it Magical Mosquito Potion. As I drained off most of the water (being sure to leave a good muddy mess) I was reminded of another spring soup made by Alice's children at The Cottage Garden. If I had to choose one to eat - and I must say I'm glad I don't - I would say their recipe looks far more palatable (and pretty) ~ at least it has edibles in it!

Sassy3_1 A Mountain Lion ~ No, no. Just kidding of course. This is our neighbor's cat (ours are all kept indoors), who - though a very nice cat - insists on stalking the birds in our yard. She is completely shameless and yet also, irresistably sweet. When we catch her skulking behind the shrubbery, and we try to chase her off, she just rolls all around, meowing and batting her eyelashes. In this instance she climbed the nearest tree and practically posed for my camera. The brazen thing. :)

Sheepshearing Day!

We had such a fun Earth Day ~ out in the wind and the sun ~ at the Gore Place Sheep_looking_2 Sheepshearing Festival!

We've been to this annual event before, so we knew to get there early before the crowds. But as we pulled onto the bustling field, it seemed everyone had the same bright idea!

Nell_2 We spent the next two hours walking over the grounds ~ perusing craft stalls, petting wildlife, sampling treats and learning all about sheep and shepherding. The Wellscroft Farm sheepdog demonstration was just fascinating to watch; we were in love with half of the dogs before it was over. :)

A most friendly beekeeper entertained us with tales from his 40 "hobby" hives as well asAlpaca_2 his "bee humor" ~ "What's the only bee that lasts only a month? A Maybe!" In the meantime, I found a lovely Celtic Cross candle made out of beeswax to take home.

In one tent, while my boys met a golden alpaca, I met its cheerful owner who hosts educational programs at her farm. I must have HOMESCHOOLER stamped across my forehead, because she had me Sheep_on_the_run1_1 pegged right away; after she described her numerous classes for small groups on cheesemaking, pollination and orienteering, I left with her card and left her with my name.

We chatted with a cheerful woman who was spinning away with what Sheep_on_the_run2_1appeared to be a lovely gray wool ... turned out the wool she was spinning wasn't wool  at all ~ but the hair from the dog at her feet!!

We admired Colonel Bailey's 2nd Massachusetts Regiment in all their Regiment colonial finery, and enjoyed the bluegrass music of the Pine Hill Ramblers ... by lunch we were quite full ~ minds and tummies!

Of course I can't help but plan a follow up lesson next week, once we can tear ourselves away from the squirrels ... Before we start, I'm going to mine a few ideas from a recent post by Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen.

I thought we would read a few picture books ~ Pelle's ShepherdNew Suit, Warm as Wool and Charlie's New Cloak ~ and talk about the steps from sheep to sweater. Afterward, we might purchase some sheep's wool to clean, card and possibly spin and dye. The gorgeous yarn for sale at the fair sparked a renewed interest in my knitting, so I'll be stopping in at Mary's Living Knitting blog for ideas and inspiration.

RoseTo learn more about the sheepdogs we marveled at we'll read Only One Woof by James Herriot and I'm sure we'll find time to watch the movie Babe just for fun.

I hope you've enjoyed a peek at our day at the fair! (Please click on the thumbnails to get a better view). We'll keep you posted on our wool lessons as they unwind ...

Have You Ever Had One of Those Days ...

One of those days when you're popping Tums from the get-go and you crash the computer not once but twice?

One of those days when you're running late - way late - for an appointment, and as you scramble to leave, you realize you are one car seat short, so you spend the next 10 minutes reconfiguring your van's interior so your kids can now ride (sort of) safely and now you are even later - way way later?

One of those days when you lock yourself - and your three charges - out of the house in the middle of a rainstorm, and as you go to call for help you discover your cell phone is dead? Gone, kaput, no dice.

One of those days when there are no neighbors to help (they all work), no husband to save you (he's in a meeting), no mother to race over (she's gone out for the day). Your youngest needs his nap, your middle needs the toilet, and all the kids (and you) need their lunch ...

The moral of the story? Well, what can you do in situations like these but pray for strength (and a smidgen of grace) ... which is what I did, fervently, all day.

(Of course it wouldn't hurt to make up a few more keys!)

And in the midst of all this craziness, from the back of the van, a small cheerful voice rang out "You're going to blog about this aren't you?" :)

I Just Can't Help It!

I can't stop posting about squirrels! I can't stop taking pictures of those furry little critters. I'm like the squirrel paparazzi for goodness sakes. The woods must be all abuzz about the nutty lady with the shiny silver thing who pops out of shrubbery and hangs out the windows ...

Athough I have to say, the two squirrels pictured here (yes that's Tough Nut and Red Tail once again) were perfectly at ease whilst I snapped away like crazy. And they barely flinched when my boys went crashing through the room behind me (this time I was hanging out the windows) ~ I would guess by now they must be quite used to the noises that emanate from this household between the dawn and the dark.


Tough Nut, above, although engrossed in his cracked corn, would stop and look and listen to me as I talked nicely to him. Red Tail, below, was also quite accomodating, turning my way when I clucked my tongue, trying to get his attention. The little ham. It was pouring rain all afternoon but the wide evergreen canopy kept all our little visitors and feeders dry.


So we continue with our squirrel study this week with more time spent admiring the pages of Chessie: The Long Island Squirrel; I'll also introduce two other squirrel-themed favorites ~ Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and Squirrels by Brian Wildsmith.

Now I realize we are not all on the same page when it comes to squirrels at our feeders. I know some of you consider squirrels a nuisance and in many cases that moniker is deserved. Somehow the wildlife in our yard has worked out a balance of some sort ~ and everyone seems to get his piece of the pie.

Here is a list of some squirrel treats you might consider placing out in a tray or on the ground, just in case you are moved by my post ... ;)

Squirrel Feeder Foods:

  • acorns
  • amelanchier berries
  • blackberries, raspberries and other small fruits
  • bread and other baked goods
  • buckeyes
  • cereal
  • chestnuts
  • corn, any kind
  • crackers
  • dried peas and beans
  • eggs, hard boiled or scrambled
  • leftovers
  • leftover "trail mix" snacks
  • meat scraps
  • nuts, any kind
  • peanut butter
  • peanuts
  • pine nuts
  • suet
  • sunflower seeds

(From The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible: The A-Z Guide to Feeders, Seed Mixes, Projects and Treats by Sally Roth)

The Song of the Heart's-Ease Fairy

One of my favorite moments in spring is when I discover a newly sprung crop of Johnny Jump-ups in the yard. Wildflowers like these - that arrive unannounced - are my favorite flowers of all. Johnny Jump-ups have a few pretty names; the more practical is Wild Pansy, the more romantic would be Heart's-Ease.


We were so pleased one recent morning, to find some of these little fancy faces in our garden and then later to find this sweet little poem (below). It is one of the songs of the Flower Fairies of the Spring, by Cicely Mary Barker.

The Song of the Heart's-Ease Fairy

Like the richest velvet

(I've heard the fairies tell)

Grow the handsome pansies

within the garden wall;

When you praise their beauty,

remember me as well ~

Think of little Heart's-Ease,

the brother of them all!

Come away and seek me

when the year is young,

Through the open ploughlands

beyond the garden wall;

Many names are pretty

and many songs are sung:

Mine ~ because I'm Heart's-ease ~

are prettiest of all!

As the mother of boys, I have a special fondness for the male fairies scattered throughout Barker's books ~ those most charming little imps, such as the one described above. We also enjoy listening to the fairies' words set to music in the CD A Flower Fairy Alphabet ~ it is lovely music for little ones, and perfect for springtime parties.


Heart's-Ease also happens to be the name of a magazine column I enjoy, written by my all-time favorite garden writer, Sharon Lovejoy. I just ordered a book of hers called The Little Green Island with a Little Red House: A Book of Colors and Critters. I had no idea she had written a book for children, but it looks right up our alley ...

I'll let you know what I think once we get it! :)

Happy Earth Day!

I'm glad the sky is painted blue,Earth_day1

And the earth is painted green,

With such a lot of nice fresh air

All sandwiched in between.

        ~ Anonymous

A few things to check out on this lovely Earth Day 2006:

  1. a wonderful website on Catholic conservation
  2. a thoughtful post by Theresa at Lapaz Farm Home Learning (I couldn't have said it better!)
  3. an inspiring thread on environmental stewardship at the 4Real Forums
  4. an enlightening Ecological Footprint quiz ~ thanks to Jennifer at the Forums
  5. some yummy recipes for homemade herbal cleaners here, here and here.

St. Francis, a well-known and much beloved saint, is our family patron as well as the patron saint of the environment, and so I turn to his words today ...

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men." ~ St. Francis of Assisi

* illustration by Mary Engelbreit from the Oh-So-Breit 2006 page-a-day calendar

Two Worms, a Bird and a Bug ...

... or was it an insect?

In the past few days there's been a significant increase in the interaction between my boys and the natural world. A sure sign of the season, and generally speaking, a very good thing. I say that now, but in my previous life (i.e. before kids) I used to be what you'd call squeamish.

While I've always loved nature, it was the furry and feathery kind, I appreciated most. The slimy and scaly kind? Not so much. Over the years, however, I've mellowed and learned to go with the flow. Originally these were going to be three separate posts, but instead I have lumped them all together.

And now for a few snippets from our lastest animal adventures ...


Wormy and Squirmy


"These are my friends," insisted Crackerjack, holding out a hand of worms for me to meet.

"Yes, love," I replied, "But, you know, they really don't belong inside our house. They like it better outside ... where there's dirt and sun and air and other worms to play with ..."

(Crackerjack and I have ongoing insect issues, as referenced here in a previous post.)

But before I knew it, I found myself saying, "Hey, wait a minute, honey! Let me first just grab my camera ..."

The picture above is of Crackerjack holding out the aforementioned worms, and yes, that's my family room carpet they are dangling over.

But such is the world of blogging; the rules just keep changing!


At Least it Wasn't Strong Wings


It began with a loud, sickening thud. We were playing in the family room this morning when we heard it, and our eyes all swung to the sliders. We really hated to look. I love those glass doors for the wide view of the yard, but they're a dangerous magnet for songbirds.

Sure enough, a small bird had hit the glass door and was lying, stunned, on the deck. His left wing was splayed out, his head was at an angle, and his breathing was fast and furious. Four pairs of eyes became glued to the sight ...


When we realized he was a Junco we nervously counted his legs (we are rather attached to a one-legged Junco called Strong Wings; read more about him here). After a few minutes, he hopped up on his feet (and there were two) and he opened his beak, as if gasping for air.

It was quite fascinating to observe this bird at such a close range. We tried not to bump the glass so as not to startle him before he was ready to move. The boys remarked on his beauty ~ the shading of his feathers and his little glowing eyes. Yet those eyes seem to be shut more than open, and his breathing was becoming quite labored and slow.

I found myself wondering ~ what kind of lesson will this turn out to be? A simple bird observation or something more complex (like the circle of life)?

But hang on ~ there's a happy ending! The Junco must have been just catching his breath, because after ten minutes more, he finally flew off towards the woods.

And a collective phew was made by all.


What on Earth?

The bug you see below, captured in rather amateur fashion, is a mystery to us. We see them quite often, even in the winter, when a mild day comes along and the windows are opened. Invariably one of these critters will find its way in, moving slowly, sometimes flying, always looking this ugly. This guy was tossed outside, but not until after I was able to get a clear picture ...

Do you know what it is? If so, please leave a comment!