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May 2006

A (Simple) Craft for the Visitation

While Mama was a bit under the weather, we all took it easy, but luckily, this activity from A Year with God was quick to prepare for the Feast of the Visitation today. First we read from Mary and the Apparitions of Guadalupe, Lourdes and Fatima. A bit of discussion was followed by this "Marian Apparition Match-Up" sheet from AYWG.

Quick and easy activities like this are just our speed on Bookworms_marian_match_upteach-from-the-couch days like these. (Of course I've tucked away Alice's Holy Water necklace for another time!) The boys enjoyed this project, especially dressing up the results a bit with some bright crayons, blue ribbon and a construction paper frame for display.

This was a nice way to wrap up the Marian month of May, but our attentions won't turn from Our Lady; hardly, when there's so much to learn, love and appreciate. We look forward to upcoming feasts like The Assumption, The Queenship and the Nativity of Mary ... happily, the list goes on!

May 31: The Feast of the Visitation

And Mary said:

"My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,

For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."

(Luke 1:46-50)

A tradition on this feast day is to go visiting or perhaps receive guests for supper or tea. Gathering with friends is always a special treat, and so is paying a surprise visit to an elderly relative or friend. Why not bake up a delicious crumb cake to take along? I've posted a favorite recipe at Harvest Home. :)

The Book Report, May 2006

That spare hour I need in order to update our reading lists along the sidebars, just doesn't seem to be materializing (imagine that), so I'm taking a cue from Cay, and listing our current reads here in a post (I will get to those sidebars soon!).

In addition to all the tempting books displayed in our spring and summer book baskets, we are engrossed in several other literary pursuits as well. Here is a rundown of what each of us is reading now and/or will be reading soon ... :)


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ~ Just finished, and a book report is underway. "Pretty good," says Bookworm, and when pressed, his further comment is, "I liked all of it." Fair enough.

The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday was last week so Bookworm chose a story to read from this volume. To be perfectly honest, he didn't finish the selection; he just didn't find it his cup of tea (I find them a bit too dark for my taste too). That's o.k.; it was for extra credit. ;) Bookworm loves mysteries, though, so we're going to check out the many wonderful suggestions made in a recent 4Real thread.

Tucket's Travels: Frances Tucker's Adventures in the West, Tuckets_travels_41847-1849 ~ Bookworm's next classic was going to be Call of the Wild, which has waited on our shelf for some time now, but instead, as our history heads into the Wild West of the mid-and late-1800s, this book seemed a more timely read. He's several chapters in now and enjoying it very much.

Hoot: Bookworm re-read this a couple of weeks ago to prepare for the movie which we will see this week with our Homeschool Book Group. :)

Buffalo Bill: Frontier Daredevil ~ And once we arrive in the wild Over_the_hedge_1west, this biography will be up next on Bookworm's list.

Over the Hedge The Movie Novel ~ O.K. so when you're a reader like Bookworm, a little twaddle now and then can't hurt. ;) We also plan to see this movie and Bookworm wanted to get a feel for the storyline.


Pirates, Ships and Sailors ~ Is there a pirate in your house? Well we have one (and sometimes three) in ours! If Crackerjack's not playing with his Fisher-Price pirates, he's pretending to be one, so when his Damee gave him some special book money he chose to buy this book for himself. And CJ, what an excellent choice! It is a Pirates_ships_and_sailorsreprint of a 1950 Golden Book and filled with wonderful poems, stories and illustrations. Highly recommended. :)

Buffalo Bill ~ This will be requested from the library next week as we journey into our wild west study. All the D'aulaire books are favorites around here!

Whose House? ~ One of our favorite illustrators, Kay Chorao, did the drawings in this book. We have been talking a lot about homes and habitats, and this sweet book shows how different animal homes - a beehive, a bat roost, a toad hole,etc. - would do for a small boy. The results are quite humorous, and the language is rhythmic and lovely!

A House is a House for Me ~ I remember this book from my own childhood.  It's by Mary Ann Hoberman (of The Cozy Book fame). We enjoy all the cheerful busy illustrations and learning more about how we all live: "A hill is a house for an ant, an ant. A hive is a house for a bee. A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse. And a house is a house for me!" Fun!

Dear Peter Rabbit ~ This book appeared in Crackerjack's Easter basket but we're just getting around to reading it now. We love reading all the letters that criss-cross between the Pig One, Peter Rabbit, Goldilocks, Baby Bear and the Big Bad Wolves. Funny and yet, I think, also a nice display of proper letter-writing at its best! We arePippa_mouse_1 going to try writing some letters to friends and family soon!

Pippa Mouse ~ I have saved this book since I was a little girl! The pages are faded and yellow but it is still every bit as charming as it was when I was 6. It was my absolute favorite for many years, and now, as I read it to Crackerjack, I realize I always had an affinity for small woodland critters. :) The adventures of Gray Bird, Ripple Squirrel, Weber Duck and, of course, Pippa Mouse are a delight!

Frog and Toad are Friends ~ This book was a must after our toad encounter the other day (and wait till you hear about his friends we found on Saturday!). What makes a toad a toad and what makes a frog a frog? And how funny are those two characters anyway!? :)

Hot Wheels Explorers ~ After all, what little boy can resist reading about about cars and monster trucks? There's always a Hot Wheels book or two in CJ's Homeschool basket.


Jamberry ~ EB loves this book all the time, but it is perfect to read as we head into  summer berry season! That boy and bear make an irresistably merry pair!

Eating the Alphabet ~ Earlybird loves looking at the bright and colorful fruits and vegetables all throughout this book. Invariably, when we get to W, I am requested to prepare some "froo meyon" (fruit melon ~ a.k.a. watermelon). Usually we have some on hand, as it is a family favorite. Thankfully watermelon appears on the next to last page so we can enjoy most of the book before taking that snack break!

I Spy Little Book ~ The I Spy books continue to be favorites. They are always tucked in Earlybird's Homeschool basket. Good language prompts. :)Backyard_bedtime_1

Backyard Bedtime ~ "It's bedtime for vegetables, carrots and beans. Turnips and pumpkins, potatoes and greens. Curl close to the vine, now my little sweet pea. I'll sing you an earth-song ~ Hush, hush, sleep, deep." The is the perfect bedtime book for those warm summer nights.

Blue's Treasury of Stories ~ This poor book is tattered to shreds now, but Earlybird still keeps it near and dear to his heart. We found an almost as shabby copy in the OT waiting room, but curiously EB doesn't care to look at that one. He's usually too busy playing inside the closet castle!

Family Read Alouds:

For nature study we are reading The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel as well as The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (who endures the rather messy visit of a big old toad, Mr. Jackson). We enjoy monthly subscriptions to both Your Big Backyard and Ranger Rick. When these two magazines come in the mail (and happily they always come together) everything else stops so we can see what is new in nature and science this month On_tide_mill_lane_1outside of our yard. :)

For wonderful living history we are continuing with the Charlotte Years books, which we begun while swinging a month ago. We are currently reading On Tide Mill Lane. This story ties in nicely with our place in American history right now (early to mid 1800s) and it's a story all of the boys are really enjoying (me too).

For religion this month we have been reading stories from Mary, The Mother of Jesus by Tomie de Paola. So much happened in Our Lady's life we are learning! We are also waiting on a library loan of The Twelve Apostles to read in preparation for Pentecost Sunday this weekend.


Catholioc Mosaic ~ I cannot put Cay's new book down, it is so full of wonderful children's literature and ideas for teaching the boys about the liturgical year. Lots of note taking going on!

The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady ~ Always lovely to look at, but very interesting to read as well. Ms. Holden's nature journaling is an inspiration to me.


Berries Rasp- & Black ~ My folks brought back this Storey Country Raspberry_bookletWisdom Bulletin from Vermont for dear husband who just planted 30 raspberry plants in a bed along our front fence. Excellent information and tips.

Mother Earth News ~ Dh enjoys the articles in this magazine, especially those about alternative energy, electric cars, solar power and biodesiel fuel. :)

And there you have it, the family reading wrap-up for now! Keep watching those sidebars, though, I hope to tweak them as soon as I can!

Squirrelpalooza Continues ...

You knew it had been too long since a squirrel post ... ;)

My parents just returned from a long weekend in Vermont, and they brought home some lovely little gifts for us. By far my favorite was this:


A beautiful red squirrel suncatcher!! (I'd just like to point out that that's pollen and not dust on my window!)

We hung it in the window that looks out at the feeders they visit... And if you can even believe this, as I am typing right now, the red squirrel himself is scampering through the branches as if on cue ...

You know, I think we may have to change our name from The Riverwood School to The Nut House!


But I digress ...

They also brought us a copy of a new Thornton Burgess book ~ The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel. We've enjoyed hearing about the antics of the mischevious Chatterer, though we can't imagine our own Red Tail being nearly as as impudent as he!

So what have our squirrels been up to you might wonder? Well, we'd be very happy to fill you in. :) One recent morning, we were quite pleased to discover all three of our favorite characters ~ Blackie, Tough-Nut and Red Tail ~ had arrived at our feeders, all at the very same time! I kid you not!

And so, as squirrel mania continues around here, here's a recap of the usual suspects (these pictures were all taken just moments apart):


Above you see Blackie, our black Eastern Gray. He appeared to have the upper hand in the squirrel equation this day, though he tolerated the others at a distance.

"Within my own memory, the beautiful black squirrel was as common in our woods as was his red cousin; the shotgun has exterminated this splendid species locally. Well may we rejoice that the red squirrel has, through its lesser size and greater cunning, escaped a like fate." (Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study).

Not so sure about that shotgun theory, but these squirrels are indeed a rarer sight than the ordinary grays. And speaking of grays, though he's certainly not ordinary ...


Here is our Tough Nut, standing up on his back legs, craning his neck as I chattered on to him through the open window; doesn't he look eager for some intelligent conversation? (And I use intelligent here loosely, on my part, not his.)

"A native of North America that has now been introduced in parts of Europe, the Eastern Gray Squirrel is gray on the back and white to gray or pinkish brown on its underparts. Its face, back and forelegs are tinged brown and its tail is white or pale gray. Unlike the Red Squirrel its ears are not tufted. It displays a strong homing tendency, although males are known to travel long distances. A social animal, it warns other squirrels of danger through different sounds, and chatters its teeth when confronted." (Smithsonian Handbooks: Mammals)

Tough Nut and Blackie seem to have a deal loosely worked out; as long as Tough Nut keeps his distance, Blackie lets him be. Sometimes, though, Tough Nut gets a moment of peace and can enjoy the tray feeder all to himself:


And now for the cutest of the bunch, the smart little whip who hung out well above the fracas below:


This is Red Tail, our little red squirrel. Doesn't he look like he just jumped out of the pages of Beatrix Potter? We thought the following poem captured his funny and feisty charms:

The Red Squirrel or Chickaree

Just a teeny glimmer, a dash of red and gray,

Was it a flitting shadow or a sunbeam gone astray!

It glances up a tree trunk, and a pair of bright eyes glow

Where a little spy in ambush is measuring his foe.

I hear a mocking chuckle, then wrathful, he grows bold

And stays his pressing business to scold and scold and scold.

This uncredited poem was found in Ms. Comstock's book, and she goes on to describe her experiences with Furry, a baby red squirrel she raised. But I have yet to read that particular passage aloud to the boys, lest they get any good crazy ideas! Things are nutty enough around here! :)

And before I go, please indulge me one (or three) more pictures of Red Tail ... he spent some time at the feeders yesterday afternoon and allowed me to take several shots ...




O.K. that should do me for a while. :)

It's a Bird, it's a Plane, it's a ...

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth!




We have never seen one of these amazing creatures (nor even heard of one) before! Have you?? He is a member of the sphinx moth family; more information here.

And while I'm at it, below is a photo of the furry white moth that had captured our attention just moments before the Hummer discovery ...


Now this guy we have not yet identifed. Give a holler if you know what we are looking at here! He was clinging to the back of our Playskool shopping cart, barely flinching even when we lightly blew on him or placed our fingers near him. He did finally move and we could see he was indeed alive; maybe he's nocturnal and was just deeply asleep?

And so summer begins! :)

Earlybird Made a Yellow Bird!

Late this afternoon, Earlybird joined me on the couch while I flipped through my April issue of Martha Stewart Living. We oohed and ahhed at all the lovely photographs, using several particularly colorful pages to work on his speech.

Numbers and capital letters catch his eye most of all, so a while ago we made up a little game ~ he points to the digit or letter and says it aloud, we both say it together, and then we repeat it as quickly as we can. For example, "Two-two-two-two-two-two-two ..." and "Gee-gee-gee-gee-gee-gee-gee ..." and ... well, you probably get the picture! :) It sounds a bit silly - and it is! - but we have so much fun with it and he gets to practice his sounds ...

Anyway ... :)

We were looking at some beautiful crafts when a photo of a pom-pom Easter chick stopped Earlybird in his tracks.

"Oooh!" he squealed. "A nana bird!" (nana=yellow)

"Yes that's a pretty yellow bird, EB." I replied. Then he turned to me and said hopefully, "I make nana bird?"

Well, let me just tell you, this was a big deal for Earlybird, using a sentence like that! So of course what else could I possibly do but quickly assemble all the necessary materials for making a variation of this yellow bird ...


We started with some yellow construction paper which I hastily cut into shapes ...


And with a little crayon and tape, it started to come together. When his craft was complete, Earlybird moved on to some other designs ...


Spirals are an Earlybird specialty!


And of course, when we were all done, Earlybird's lovely nana bird ~ his own inspiration! ~ took its place of honor on the fridge!

More on Mushrooms

The morels have grown quite large with all the recent rain. Here is a picture of what we (fondly) call "Mushroom Skid Row":


An interesting thing we've noticed in two of the morels ~ a large hole has been drilled in through the top, reaching all the way to the bottom of the stalk!



Who or what is doing this, we wonder? Or is it some kind of natural morel phenomenon?

And here's another new fungus we found growing right in the same area (at least it appears to be a fungus ...)


Growing right up through the gravel, too! They look a little like something I found here. Anyone heard of Peziza repanda?

We also spied a puffball mushroom behind the fence but we don't have a picture of that yet ...

But I'm sure we will soon! :)

Spider under Glass

We had an unexpected dinner guest this evening ...


And like Jennifer at St. Therese Academy, who grappled with her own spider this week, I did what any homeschooling mother worth her salt would do, I first grabbed the camera (o.k. first I grabbed a cup to contain the creature) ...


And then I took as many pictures as my nerves could stand ...


So what do we have here?

He was a good size, black and hairy, appeared to have an orange dot on his behind, striped legs, and would those things up front be his fangs?

You know I'm all for nature and wildlife, but I have a thing about spiders ...

And technically, this guy was found inside, so if you refer to house rules as previously discussed, really he ought to have been squished ... but instead, in a weak moment, I let him loose on the clematis outside the front door.

So you tell me ~ kind-hearted gesture or terrible mistake?

Flags, Dragons and Sudoku: Japan Week 3

After a short coop hiatus for Homeschool Games Day at the library last week, today it was back to Japan! It was great to get back down to business. :)

And speaking of business, the older boys came prepared to discuss and compare the Kids_book_of_sudokuJapanese products they found in their homes. Together they worked on a graph of these items ~ from Toyota (vans), to Sony (cameras), to Mikasa (china) right down to Yu-Gi-Oh (cards), many Japanese industries were represented.

Once the graph had been completed, it was on to that national math craze known as Sudoku. A brief discussion of the game's history (did you know it originated in the U.S.?) was followed by a 6x6 puzzle from The Daily Soduko for Kids. The boys worked on this tricky grid of numbers and logic, and though they did all finish, it was not without some muttering and the occasional outburst of "Madness!" from Bookworm. (This is why I stick to crossword puzzles, boys.)

Meanwhile the younger group was working hard in the neighboring family room, listening to Japanese stories and learning about the national flag. Did you know a few of our middles are older than the Japanese flag? Known as hinomaru ("sun circle") it was not officially adopted till August 1999! This was quite a newsflash for all of us!


The next item on our educational agenda was making dragon puppets together. This project was for the big ...


as well as the small not as big ...


Everyone was just so pleased with their results, we took to the yard en masse for an impromptu dragon puppet parade! And here are the revelers just after completing the promenade ...


They're quite a lively bunch, aren't they?

Once we wrapped up Japan for the day, it was time for some outdoor play. And of course we were able to sneak a little nature study in ... Crackerjack found both a slug:


... and an inchworm:


But remembered to share a smile and some soccer with friends (that's my New England Patriots fan in the middle) ...


It's sayonara for now, but stay tuned for more soon from our gang. :)

A Million Dollar View

It might never fetch that on the market, but it's worth that, and more, to us. I'm referring to the view from our favorite family reading spot ~ stretched out on the couch, underneath the big family room window. But what I am really referring to is much deeper than that.

For as we read under this window, on this breezy spring afternoon, I happened to look up and it hit me - once again - how very blessed we are to learn at home and spend these glorious days together. Never mind a million dollars; that gift is priceless.

I wanted to share my gratitude ~ for this way of life, and this day in life ~ with those stopping by here, and along with it our favorite view ...


Living books + nature study, all rolled into one happy package! :)

And the best part of all, in our classroom, no one ever gets in trouble for daydreaming out the windows! ;)

A Toad in the Hand ...

... is better than one underfoot! And this lucky little guy would have to agree ...


We found him under the spruce tree moments away from being squashed by Earlybird's sneaker ... when Bookworm caught him up just in time! As you can see he is very hard to notice in this shady corner of the yard.

We are pretty sure he's a toad (as opposed to a frog), but just what kind of toad we don't know (an American toad perhaps?). He was small and brown and quite jumpy at first, but after a while he got used to us. (Or maybe he was just in complete shock!)

It was but a few days ago we read with great interest all about a recent frog encounter at Alice's Cottage Garden, and now here we had an amphibian meeting of our own! Of course we have a few photos for your toad viewing pleasure:


Above you see our toad just seconds after we scooped him up. We promptly made a makeshift toad habitat in order to keep him in one place while we observed him ...


This above shot shows his markings quite nicely. But he soon grew alarmed in this container, so we set him free to roam about our hands for a while ...



Please excuse the dirty fingernails; nature study is purely hands-on work! (And never fear, we washed our hands well soon after!)

And speaking of nature study, once inside we went directly to Ms. Comstock to learn more about toads, when my eyes fell on the following thoughtful quote. It has nothing to do with our little toad friend (at least not directly) but I loved it so much I had to share it here:

"In the early years we are not to teach nature as science, we are not to teach it primarily for method or drill: we are to teach it for loving ~ and this is nature study. On these points I make no compromise." ~ L. H. Bailey

Well said Mr. (or Ms.) Bailey!

So before we said goodbye to our new friend "Jumper" we promised to make him a nice toad abode a.s.a.p. (probably something simpler than the lovely ones here); in the meantime, we made sure to leave him well hidden and safe, under the rhododendron bushes ...


... away from hungry birds and marauding preschooler feet!

In the Mood for a Mystery?

"It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books that are yourSherlock_holmes_1 own."

The above quote is by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose birthday happens to be today!

And Since Bookworm is between books right now (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Call of the Wild to be precise), he has been assigned a story or two in The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Puffin Classics). ;)

HT: Google

Mother's Day ~ at Last!

Well, our colds are gone, my toe's on the mend, and the rains have let up for theCupcakes_8 moment, so we were finally able to celebrate Mother's Day (today!) with a wonderful family brunch. The casserole, fruit salad, kielbasa, and muffins (not to mention the mimosas) were all lovely ~ but perhaps the most fun and delicious of all were the cupcakes!

You might remember last month, we hosted another happy brunch on Palm Sunday, when my Crackerjack was hoping for watermelon cake. Well, today he finally got his wish because the cupakes you see above are filled with watermelon jello! They were very pretty to look at ~ and they tasted pretty good too!

Now, notice the ladybug liners? Well, they were all part of a theme ...

Recently we found out the cheerful ladybug (sometimes called ladybird) is named for OurLadybug_greeting Lady herself ~ and this only endeared the little creature to us all the more! It was The Ladybird's Prayer in The Creatures Choir which first tipped us off, and of course a notebook page was in order ... but we also thought it made a lovely Mother's Day card! (click the image at right to read the prayer).

So with ladybugs and watermelon all falling in place, it was time to work on the gifts!

A while back I mentioned a craft we were working on, that we hoped to finish before Mother's Day. Well, today - one week late (but still just in time) - our rosary boxes were finished and ready to present. Thanks to lots of help, of course. :) We took plain wooden boxes from the craft store ~ painted them, embellished them with rub-on rose images, and lined them with felt ... And here are the results:

Closed ...


and open!


For our mothers and Our Mother ~ a special day at long last! Below is our annual Mother's Day photo ... We love you Nana, Grandma and Damee!


And a belated Happy Mother's Day to all my mother friends, both online and off!

What Kind of Mother are You?

According to this Mothering quiz (already taken by Maureen, Elizabeth, Alice, Rebecca, Lissa, Helen and Jenn!) ...

I am The “Know Thyself” Mother:

“I believe the joy of motherhood is self-discovery—for them and for me.”

  • Sensitive and family-focused, the INFJ mother looks for and encourages the unique potential of each child. Self-knowledge may be her byword. Her aim is to help each child develop a sense of identity and cultivate personal growth. In fact, she may value the mothering experience as a catalyst to her own personal growth and self-knowledge.
  • The INFJ mother spends time observing and understanding each child. She is drawn to intimate conversations and seeks a free exchange of feelings and thoughts.
  • Sympathetic and accommodating, the INFJ mother strives to meet the important yet sometimes conflicting needs of each family member in harmonious and creative ways
  • She is conscientious and intense as well. Probably no one takes life and child-raising more seriously than the INFJ. She approaches mothering as a profession requiring her best self.

The Books of Summer

A recent post by Mary G. on the joys of summer reading brought back my own fond memories of long hot days spent with those wonderful friends found in good books ~ by the pool, under a tree, or parked in front of a fan ...

Mary remembers a favorite librarian whose summer program awarded children simple gold stickers for reading and reporting on books. There were no movies or prizes or tickets to earn, just a well-deserved certificate and a healthy dose of self esteem. But today it seems reading habits - in the young and the old - have changed, and not for the better ...

Where is the joy in reading, just for reading? Where is the time made for reading? And where are the classics ~ the Toms, the Rebeccas, the Nats ~ at the bottom of the stack or left behind on the library shelf? It seems so many of today's popular books - in order to grab kids' attention - tie in to a movie or a toy or a trend of some kind. If it doesn't have a website, it's probably not a hit.

Oh, I know I am over-generalizing (and from way up here on my soapbox, too). But still, I feel such nostalgia for those lazy summer days when Anne or Nancy or Jo and I would spend a few hours together, with nothing more to do than dream and dawdle till we were called in for supper. Oh how I wished to be as clever and funny as Anne, as brave and composed as Nancy, and as loving and talented as Jo! Those books came to feel like old friends and these are the tales that shaped me, the ones I remember and treasure best of all. No movie or video game would have held my attention in the same satisfying way.

Of course, summer hasn't changed, even if times have. For many children there is still time for a cool drink and a good book, and a chance to turn an ordinary day into an adventure abroad. I love Mary's idea of creating her own summer reading program; I'm with you Mary, and if you don't mind, I'll lift a page from your blog - and set up a program for my own crew. :)

In the meantime, while I decide which old friends we'll visit this summer, here are two of the picture book baskets I've just assembled. (You might remember I have a thing about baskets and books.) Every month or two I like to gather books with a seasonal flavor ~ arrange them in a basket, add a pretty ribbon, and place the basket somewhere on display in hopes of tempting curious and eager minds ...



The basket on top contains our spring garden reads (some which were reviewed here); for more on this theme please check in at Elizabeth's Real Learning and Jenn's Family in Feast and Feria.

The smaller basket below holds books I've assembled with a summery theme, including:

Here's to a lovely and literary summer ...