Previous month:
July 2006
Next month:
September 2006

August 2006

Our Learning Room

... otherwise known (occasionally) as the dining room. :)

Helen is hosting the next Loveliness Fair on Monday September 4th ~ a virtual tour of home learning spaces. So here is a peek into ours! Mind you, we learn stuff all over the house, (so our stuff is apt to be found all over the house), but we have dedicated this central area of our home - the dining room/kitchen/family room juncture - as the place to be for our home learning adventures.


This table originally belonged to my grandparents; it is the smaller of the two tables in the room, but it fits the five of us just right. We use this table for meals and the boys do a lot of their seatwork here. I'd like to get (make?) placemats for it since tablecloths tend to get pulled off or spilled upon regularly. Placemats could be removed for lessons and then set back out for meals (theoretically speaking).

Our learning room is lined with windows on two sides; the windows look out at the birdfeeders and, though lovely, the view can be distracting sometimes:

Six times two is ... hey look at that woodpecker!

The Magna Carta was signed on ... omigosh - a hawk!

Above you see Crackerjack watching our old friend Tough Nut, a friendly mother squirrel who visits our feeders regularly. We're considering making her our "school" mascot. :)


This is a basket of school supplies I made up to keep within the boys' reach. Right now it holds pencils, scissors, ruler, pen, hilighter, prayer book and holy cards. Honestly though, I'm on the lookout for something more, shall we say, durable, to hold our supplies. The be-ribboned basket and Ball jars - pretty as they may be - sort of just call out to Earlybird - grab me, pillage me, toss me down!

I'm thinking maybe something made of thick plastic, bolted down with galvanized steel.


We use this room not just for our own learning, but with our weekly co-op as well (12 kids and 4 mums). I once posted a wide shot of the room to show how we set it up for these wonderful Friday afternoons.

Also above you see the unofficial "teacher's shelves" - a bookcase dh bought me this summer. It was a great buy at a local unfinished furniture store, and just needs to be finished to match the rest of the woodwork. (True to form I couldn't wait and filled it up right away.) Top to bottom it holds:

The chair at the end of the table serves, more or less, as my desk, though I hardly ever actually sit there. I'm more apt to stand at mom central - but it's nice to have the space should I need it. :) This table - longer and darker than the first - once belonged to my husband's parents. In fact, he grew up eating around this table! It comfortably seats 8 which comes in very handy at the holidays (when the books and pencils are stowed away and the space is pressed into service as a true dining room). In between those times, we keep it pushed up against the front wall where, being a horizontal space, it attracts all kinds of materials, resources and whatnot:


Front to back:

  • my journal
  • my homekeeping binder (on left with floral cover)
  • my daily clipboard (ironically, blank today)
  • my new favorite pen (a VBS memento)
  • current research: our new science spine Earth Science the Easy Way
  • my fancy-shmancy in-box (white dishpan on left)
  • my reading basket (for the care and feeding of the maternal mind)
  • my yearly file system*
  • on-going reseach: middle ages resources
  • color-coded curriculum binders (alarmingly empty)
  • a box of Saxon Math that arrived today

*A bit more about the yearly file folders. This is a system I Learning_space_filescooked up a few years back.  I use a crate to hold 12 hanging folders. Each hanging folder holds two months worth of weekly file folders. So for instance, inside the September-October hanging folder sit eight weekly letter size folders, one for each week in the 2-month autumn season. Inside the hanging folder also go any general materials for that period of time (a list of apple picking farms, fall craft ideas or pumpkin recipes, for example) and inside each weekly folder go materials specific to each week along with a weekly lesson plan/to-do list. Over the weekend I pull out next week's folder - look through the materials and tweak the list. Throughout the week I pop in e-mails, photocopies, bulletins etc., and at the end of the week I make a few notes and then file it at the back of the crate.

Clear as mud? :)


I also have to show you these piles of old Martha Stewart holiday issues (part of my pre-Christmas planning kick). The index cards in front of the piles were placed there by Bookworm, who generously and efficiently organized the issues by year and month and then set out the cards as labels. "So people will know," he said. (The boy loves to be organized.)


A while back I showed you a picture of our bulletin board, as yet unadorned. It hasn't come too far, but I thought I'd show you there has been some progress  - an atlas themed border (from the teacher's store) and index cards designating what subjects will be present on our board each week: math, reading, writing, poetry, religion, French, art, music, history, geography, current events and early learning. Our formal school year starts next Tuesday so I hope to have it filled out by the end of the weekend.


Finally, here is one more home learning bookcase. This one is out in the family room, sandwiched between the computer desk and the sectional. From top to bottom:

~ For more on our home learning book storage, see my earlier posts, What's the Big (Book) Idea? and Books, Books and More Books!

~ The sectional, fondly known as the mosh pit around here, is another favorite learning spot (prairie dogs notwithstanding), especially for read-alouds, daydreams and that million dollar view. ;)

~ Another corner of the learning space that sees a lot of action is the kitchen island. We use it for messier types of activities - science experiments, baking together, sharing snacks and doing all kinds of crafts.

~ One more spot I wanted to show you is the new desk and study area in the boys room, but that will have to wait for a future post (in other words, it still needs work). And I'm still working on the early learning areas for Earlybird - more on that project later too!

I hope you enjoyed this look at all our learning spaces! And remember to check in at Helen's on Monday for the Loveliness of Learning Spaces Fair ...

"The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery." ~ Mark Van Doren

He Was a Wonderful Cat ...

... and we'll miss him terribly. Today we had to have our Patty put to sleep.


He was 15 years old and just such a love. Thankfully, he had a long happy life. Instead of talking about how sick he had been lately, I will tell you a cute story about our Patty (short for Patch or sometimes Pattycakes).

Our cats - a mother and 4 kittens - were living under my parents' house when we found them (more on their back story here). Originally we planned to give them away - my folks already had a cat and two dogs of their own - but the only kitten we could manage to find a home for was Patty. Since they were strays they were not easily handled, but Patty was sweet and friendly. So we gave him to a friend of a friend and hoped everything would work out for the best. This was not the case, I'm afraid.

After a month's time, the people who took in Patty informed us that he had not been seen by anyone in their household since the very first night he arrived. He had disappeared somewhere within the basement - taken refuge in the hanging ceiling in fact - and only came down at night to eat and drink.

As you can imagine, when we heard this dire news, we sprung into action. We laid down a have-a-heart trap and went home to wait - while Hurricane Bob blew into town. And wouldn't you know it, a few hours later, as the wind and the rain increased, we got the call - Patty was in the cage! He was found and we could come get him - which my dad did right in the middle of the storm. We were able to bring Patty home to his proper family, at last.

This morning, 15 years later, we had to say goodbye to our beloved cat. Anytime a pet reaches the end of its life, you hope you did the best by him. You hope you gave him as much joy as he gave to you.

We know Patty had a good life - he was happy, friendly, affectionate and loving. I feel so blessed that we had all those years with him.


We miss you already, our dear little cat.

Homeschool Science Today

Wouldn't that be a great name for a magazine? Wouldn't it be neat if such a periodical existed?

Well it doesn't - at least not to my knowledge - but in homeschools across the world, science is taking place everyday. Big science and little science. Gripping science and everyday shrug-of-the-shoulders science. Science from books and science from life.

Homeschool Science Today - emphasis on the word today - because who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Well, the curriculum has a clue and the lesson planner has some idea, but really, so much of what we learn and absorb about the world around us - aka science - is a study in spontaneity and mindfulness.

By now you know I love plans, lists and schedules. I also love nature, and nature knows little of plans, lists and schedules. But what it does know is rhythm. I would suggest there is more to be learned from paying close attention - studying even - the rhythm of nature, than in all the pages of one giant science encyclopedia.

Now don't get me wrong - I love science encyclopedias. We have, and use, a fair few. (And just to be fair, I'll soon post about our favorite science books.) But what sticks with my kids most is what nature shows them - what they notice, and then observe and then come to expect (i.e. learn). We run to our books when we find something new but only to take what we need - a definition, a defense, a name to put to a face.

The spider we found the other day - and continue to observe - has taught us plenty about spiders. We found its name in a field guide, but its story has taught us even more. More importanty it has taught us to look. And to listen, to wait, to watch and to almost know what's coming next. It's all part of the rhythm that we're soaking in every day - and along with it, loads of learning.

Someone wise once said, (and if I were a bit wiser myself I'd remember who) education is not the filling of a bucket - but rather, the lighting of a fire.

I'd like to think our pilot light is always on, whatever the time of year. Case in point - we are not technically "back to school" yet. Our formal nature lessons (i.e. the notebooks and handbooks) have gone untouched for some time. But, happily, we're hardly out of practice. Once you learn to enjoy the looking, you'll find it impossible not to see.

Two days ago I posted about a spider we discovered. This discovery caused quite the excitement in our house. The curious find created a spark - so I threw a little more wood on the fire and the real learning began. We searched our yard and found some more webs - all of them different, all of them interesting; they all had their own story to tell. We looked them up in books and took pictures. We watched them and drew them and talked about them to anyone who's listen. I never thought I'd think spiders were cool. But there they are and here we are watching them, and you know, I just can't think of what else to call them.


A hammock web found on the front yard.


A tube or funnel web found in a crack in a wall ...


And here's the (not so little) fella himself!


It's very hard to see, but we noticed a similar style web strung in the doorway to the log cabin playhouse. We thought it must be the same kind of spider. And sure enough, when we peeked inside - through the side window, with a zoom lens just to be safe - we did indeed find the same type of spider!


Yep, he's another orb weaver - and we knew that because his web and markings matched the first one we've been watching. And speaking of that first one, he's still thriving, and he's on his fourth or fifth web now. Each one looks different from the last. Yesterday we even observed the spider had caught a small bug! (Unfortunately our camera batteries were recharging as that - er, interesting - scene unfolded.)


Above is the page from our Backyard Nature Coloring Book about garden spiders, this one colored by Bookworm.

We found this useful information in a wonderful book called Usborne Book of the Seasons: Things to Do All Year Round (I can't find a link to this book online anywhere, so perhaps it's out of print):

Orb Webs:

"Garden spiders build orb webs. First, a spider spins a framework. Next, it spins spokes across the framework. It joins the spokes together with spirals of special sticky thread. The spider lies in wait on its web, or hides under leaves, joined to the web by a thread. When an insect flies into the web, the web shakes and the spider rushes out to attack. Spiders often build a new web everyday, as webs are easily broken or damaged. You may find an old web with holes in it, or areas that a spider has repaired."

I read this passage aloud to the boys as they colored their pictures today. No sooner had I uttered the words orb webs, when Crackerjack asked:

"What's an orb?"

Hmmm, I wondered, how best to explain orb? But before I could scratch my brain cells any harder, CJ piped up again and proclaimed:

"Wait! I know what an orb is! It's a round shape with things inside it."

"Wow, that's great CJ!" I said beaming ...

"Yeah, I know that from Mario Party 7!"

As in the video game.

O.K., so not my most noble teaching moment, but I like to think that home learning pries open my children's minds - and keeps them open to all kinds of learning moments.

Even Mario Party 7 moments. 

And then, our Homeschool Science Today continued - with even more excitement. (All our days are not like this - this just happened to be a very good day for science!):


Now just who is this guy, you might be wondering? Well, we're wondering the same thing and we're checking our field guide to be sure! We let this large bird of prey visit long enough to snap a few pictures, scrambling for batteries and a better view the whole time. Then - our allegiance to our small songbirds and critters steadfast - we had to send this magnificent creature packing.

Two days. Two species. This is homeschooling science.

Sure, I'm making plans for science. I always do. And yes, we'll be following those plans. More or less. We have lots of wonderful topics to study this year (meteorology, geology, astronomy, volcanology, seismology) and not everything will - or can - be found in our own backyard.

But wait - we can find some opportunities right under our noses. We can observe, measure and chart the weather. We can collect rocks and learn to differentiate the various kinds. We can dig up a bucket of soil and see what it's made of (loam, clay, sand?) and bring some inside with which to experiment. We can watch and track the stars that grace the dark night sky, observe the changes in the moon and the arc of the sun through the seasons. We probably won't visit a volcano or (thankfully) experience an earthquake - but we can cook up reasonable facsimiles in our lab (otherwise known as the kitchen). Reasonable in the sense that the idea is there to grasp and the connections are clear and present to be made.

There will be, of course, visits to museums, kits to explore, research done online - and sure - noses buried in books. Much important scientific learning is made in this way - people to learn from and theories to investigate.

And still, the excitement of science unfolds right before our eyes ...

Wow, that's a hawk! Calling voices, excited voices, hushed voices - followed by intense discussion and debate. Is it a kestrel or a falcon? Is it male or female, juvenile or adult? What might it eat and where might it live? Well, let's find out!

Oh! And there was one more science topic today which was conveniently (if only partially) illustrated by some water rapidly boiling away on the stove. It's funny what happens to boiling water when you're othewise occupied by hanging out windows taking pictures of hawks. Thankfully I caught the pot in time - just before the pot caught - and then of course was compelled to show the boys what had happened.

Hey, where did all the water go? Boys - who remembers what happens when water is heated?

And so another page is turned in the latest issue of ~ Homeschool Science Today ~ and I'm sure you have your own copy lying around your house right this very minute!

So what's filling up your page today? :)

More on the Middle Ages

Just a week from tomorrow we begin our new learning year! As usual, I am still ironing out all the details. But, at least one subject is now neatly pressed and relatively wrinkle-free, thanks in part to a Sunday spent - by sun and candlelight if you will - working on our history plans! Naturally I am now going to tell you all about them. Hang on - this is a long one ... :)

As I mentioned a while back, I am using the Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History as a spine for our studies this year. I just love this book and highly recommend it for anyone with children interested in history. Every page is filled with great graphics, interesting details, well written text AND internet links to support and expand upon the topic at hand. For instance, when we read about the Anglo-Saxons, we will follow the Usborne link to several interesting webpages, via which we can visit an Anglo Saxon village, see Anglo Saxon artifacts - even talk with an Anglo Saxon villager! All these sites are right there - it would take me hours to research such sites on my own. (And by the way, my new favorite Usborne resource is Donna Marie's Bookshop!)

The following plan may seem way too detail-oriented (or maybe not enough, depending on your style!), but it's convenient for me to have a general outline of topics to follow, especially when requesting library books and planning projects in advance. As always, there is lots of wiggle room. If, say, we are taken up by the story of Robin Hood (which I have a feeling we will) we can certainly stray from the plan and follow that path through the forest primeval for a while. ;)

The History Notebooks: The older two boys and I will each keep a binder in which we'll store our Middle Ages work. Inside we'll keep a timeline, mapwork, narrations, coloring pages, reports, projects and field trip descriptions.

Unscheduled additional topics: Arthurian legend, the liturgical year in medieval life, Marian devotion and gardens, saints of the middle ages, bookmaking, heraldry, weaponry, the legends and science of dragons ...

The Living Books: I'm still in the process of finding good living books to include, and figuring out what we'll read, when. Here are the titles I've found so far; some are for Bookworm, some are for Crackerjack and some will be family read-alouds. (Please leave a comment if you can recommend any resources!)

The Outline: Below is the general breakdown of our Middle Ages study as it will unfold this year. Generally, each numbered item (topic) will be covered within a week's time or so. There are 26 topics to cover within the 34 weeks (give or take) we call our "school year" - voila the wiggle room! After each topic I've listed the sub-topics we'll investigate and any books assigned to that week.


1. The Byzantine Empire ~ Constantinople, Emperor Justinian, Byzantine art - mosaics and icons, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Discoveries: Great Buildings

2. Return to Christianity ~ Irish monks, Augustine Came to Kent, Color Your Own Book of Kells, map of Barbarian kingdoms, A Street through Time

3. Anglo-Saxon England ~ village life, the Danes, thanes/churls/slaves, King Alfred

4. Charlemagne's Empire ~ King of the Franks, Charlemagne's 3 kingdoms

    4a. Holy Roman Empire ~ Otto the Great, Emperor Frederick

5. The Norman Conquests ~ Battle of Hastings, King William the Conqueror

    5a. The Hundred Years War ~ The Black Prince, St. Joan: the Girl Soldier, Henry V

6. Kings, Nobles & Peasants ~ medieval calendar, The Duke and the Peasant: Life in the Middle Ages, land, Magna Carta, Peasants' Revolt

7. Knights, Soldiers & War ~ defending a castle, becoming a knight, The Making of a Knight

8. Living in a Castle ~ Castle, hunting, falconry, The Sword in the Stone, pastimes, feasting, A Medieval Feast, tournaments

9. Living in a Village ~ farming system, A Farm through Time, village jobs, fairs, homes, fairs, Children and Games in the Middle Ages

10. Living in a Town ~ craftworkers, merchants, guilds, holy days, Medevial Towns, Trades and Travel

11. Traders & Towns ~ trade fairs, merchants, city-states, the Hanseatic league

12. Building a Cathedral ~ stained glass windows, Rose Windows & How to Make Them, Cathedral: The Story of its Construction


13. Going on a Pilgrimage ~ pilgrim routes and destinations, The Canterbury Tales

14. Monks & Monasteries ~ becoming a monk, layout, herbs and healing, manuscripts, A Medieval Alphabet to Illuminate, The Hidden Treasure of Glaston

15. Art in the Middle Ages ~ gargoyles, Gargolyles and Medieval Monsters Coloring Book, stained glass, statues, tapestries, Medieval Tapestries Coloring Book, altarpieces

16. The Crusades ~ map of Holy Land, the various Crusades, Saladin, Richard the Lion Heart

17. The Black Death ~ the origin and spread of the plague, Flagellant Brothers,

18. Criminals & Outlaws ~ public punishments, forest laws, Robin Hood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, archery, Medieval Law and Punishment

19. Kingdoms of the Celts ~ Prince Llywelyn the Great, Gruffydd, William Wallace, Battle of Bannockburn, Strongbow

20. The Rise of Burgundy ~ Dukes of Burgundy, Jan van Eyck, Flanders, Burgundian court, medieval clothing

21. The Wars of the Roses ~ House of Lancaster and House of York, Henry VI, rose symbols, Richard III, Battle of Bosworth Field, the Tudors

22. The Struggle for Spain ~ the Moors, al-Andalus, Cordoba, kingdom of Portugal, the Reconquista, El Cid

23. Explorers & Sailors ~ Marco Polo, Kublai Khan, China, Cheng Ho, junks

24. Artists of Italy ~ the Renaissance, patrons, Florence and the Medicis, classical architecture, Michelangelo, Botticelli

25. Ideas & Inventions ~ education, da Vinci, alchemists, Gutenberg, Machiavelli

26. Voyages of Discovery ~ Henry the Navigator, Dias, sea monsters, Columbus, Vespucci, Cabot, Vasco da Gama, maps


I'll come back to this post and update our resources and progress as we go, so check back if you'd like! I'll also make up a booklist on the sidebar to keep track of the books we are reading and when. :)

I see we have our work cut out for us ...

Crackerjack: I wish I had seen Robin Hood.

Me: You mean the Disney movie - the one with the fox? We've seen that before.

CJ: No, no. I mean I wish I had seen Robin Hood. You know, in real life? I'm not always talking about cartoons, Mama.

Bookworm: I don't know if you'd have wanted to live back then. There were several dangers.

CJ: Like what?

BW: Well, for instance the plague and ... um, then there was Prince John walking around taking everyone's money.

CJ: Well, sheesh! Don't you know how fast I am at running? Even his knights couldn't catch me!

BW: Well, it would take strategy. You'd need to know which houses he had been to and which ones he still had to collect from so you'd know where was safe.

Me: Do you think Robin Hood worked that way?

BW: Yeah. Probably. I'm not sure.

Middle Ages here we come!

Out of this World!

Surely by now you've heard all the hubbub about Pluto? (If not - and you're in the mood for a little light weekend reading - you can see the International Astronomical Union's resolutions here.)

But even before all the excitement unfolded, our family had been on a real outer space kick - and with Earlybird leading the charge! His favorite shows of the moment are all on the Science Channel! (I'm sure they had the preschool audience in mind when they created such shows as Passport to Pluto, Complete Cosmos and Last Planet from the Sun. I mean, who needs the Wiggles when you can watch stars forming and space shuttles blasting off, right?)

What a sweet, funny boy. :)

Today I even found him intently drawing his own representation of the solar system!


There was some later debate over whether he was actually practicing drawing people (notice the smile and the legs underneath?) and, feeling creative, added in some planets for good measure. But whatever his intent, I think that's pretty good for a 4yo! :)

Although EB is developmentally delayed in some areas, his fine motor skills are excellent and he absolutely loves to draw. Drawing with EB is a wonderful window to language development. He loves nothing more than having you join him on the floor, crayons spread all around, just drawing and chatting side by side.

What's this planet, EB?


Yeah, that's right, the blue one is Neptune. What about this?

A mee-yore!

A meteor, sure! And what else do we see?


And so the shooting stars join all the other interplanetary scribbles and doodles, adding to EB's immense delight.

And though his favorite planet might have been recently demoted to "dwarf" status, EB couldn't care less; his passion for all things in, out, or around the solar system, endures :) I'd guess it's high time to start up a science notebook of EB's very own!

And in keeping with the planets theme, below I have re-posted that (very silly but kinda fun) Blogthings quiz from last week. I figured it's a timely thing to consider with the universe as we know it seemingly up for grabs.

Happily, my planet is not on the chopping bock. How about yours? ;)

What Planet Should I Rule?

O.K. It had been a long day. I was feeling kind of well, tired, as usual, but not ready for sleep if you kwim. So I went to Blogthings and this is what I came back with.

Though I must admit, this question has been weighing on my mind, what with all the latest planetary discoveries ...

You Should Rule Mars
Mars is a planet that shines brightly and loops wildly around the solar system.

You are perfect to rule Mars, because you are both energetic and independent.
Like Mars, you seems attractive and bright to others - but you're difficult to pin down.

You are a great thinker, but you only think in the present and ignore the future.
Full of enthusiasm and inspiration, you are into your own thing... and rather insensitive to others.
Oh dear ... "into my own thing and insensitive to others?" Well, ruling my own planet should help with that. ;)

Charlotte's Got Nothing on This Guy ...

... or gal or whatever he-she-it might be! Actually we think it (we'll go with it for now) is an orb weaver spider (though please feel free to correct us if we are wrong). :)

Anyhoo, this alleged orb weaver has been very busy building an enormous web for its ginormous self right off the canopy on our deck. We can watch it at a comfortable (safe) distance from inside the kitchen windows, but last night we ventured closer ...

I took lots of pictures, and as with most of nature, the poor thing was more scared of me than I of it. But truly none of these photos do this marvelous creature an iota of justice. Its web alone is a work of art and mind-boggling perfection.


Against the darkening sky its outline shows up clearly ...


But in its web you get a true sense of its appearance.


Zoom is a good thing when it comes to spiders ....


I think this section of its web needs repairing ...

Isn't he-she-it amazing? Here's one more picture. The spider is quite fuzzy in this one, but the web shows up nicely ...


As the boys said, "Cool!"

Now, if only we had a pig, I'd expect to see words appearing any day ...

Here and There in the Blogosphere

Hey, that rhymes! Sort of. Does that count for Poetry Friday?

Probably not. :)

Sorry if I seem a bit punchy - been up since 4 a.m.! Do you know it's still dark (and cold, very cold) at 6 a.m. these days? Yes, fall is on its way ...

Anway, since I had all this lovely (highly caffeinated) time this morning to peruse all my favorite neighborhood blogs, I thought I'd share a few of the neat places I've been ...


~ Donna Marie is throwing a Book party! It's a wonderful time of year to shop for books. (But really, is there ever not a good time?) A new school year is starting up for most of us (homeschooler or not) and as I've mentioned once or twice, Christmas is just around the corner. Stop by Donna's Garden of Roses and Lilies to learn all the details!

~ Jennifer's blog, is just wonderful - beautiful to look at and lovely to read. I need to spend a lot more time there checking it out! Stop by for this amazing photograph, though, and then take a look around!

~ Cay is always such an inspiration to me. She has some awesome photos of her Montessori materials and centers up at her blog. Also, today she mentions a neat writing opportunity that we're definitly going to check into! Thanks, Cay!

~ And thanks to Becky at Farm School, we now have a new American history book to look up as well as another contest to look into. I like the sound of that book, Becky - and that author! :)

~ Kim of Starry Sky Ranch points us in the direction a fabulous resource for high school students. Whether you have high school age students or not (and I don't yet, but you know, time is a-flyin') this site is a tremendous wealth of useful information!

~ Another new blog (for me!) is Kristin's Garden of Love and Light (which I found by way of her other blog This Present Moment). Both blogs are lovely - and I enjoyed Kristin's review of books celebrating the beautiful concept of "God Made Me!" What a great idea, Kristin - I look forward to reading more! :)

~ Now, no blog sweep would be complete without a stop at my friend Meredith's Sweetness and Light. In today's post she shares her family's new school year plan. I love to plan too, Meredith! (And I'm still furiously tweaking with only a week or so left till our start-day!) Thanks for sharing all your great ideas and resource recommendations!


O.K. that should keep us busy for a bit! Look to the left; I have lots more blogs on the blogroll. (Not to mention lots more blogs to add to the blogroll!) So stay tuned ...

There will be some tweaking going on here at By Sun and Candlelight over the next week or so ~ sidebars, booklists and templates, oh my! See, that punchiness hasn't worn off just yet - time for more coffee!

In the meantime, enjoy all these wonderful blogs! I certainly did - and do! :)

Overheard in the Shower ...

How to assure lots of conversation and activity in your otherwise quiet household? Step into the shower - and ask your children to hold down the fort for 5 - maybe 10 - minutes.

Bang, bang, bang!

Mama? Is there a cat in there with you? One's missing!

Bang, bang, bang!

Mama! I found a lucky penny!

Bang, bang, bang!

Mama! There's a strange new bird at the feeder! Come see!

Bang, bang, bang!

Mama! Some show we're not allowed to see is coming on tv!

Bang, bang, bang!

Mama? Why is the couch all wet?

You know, hair conditioner is highly overrated.

Late Summer in the Garden

Oh my poor neglected orphan of a garden blog. It has been sadly inactive for some time now ...

I don't have any really good reasons. Too busy. Too hot. Too rainy. Too weed-y. (Who wants to read about weeds?)

Well, at long last, I put up a new post ~ continuing the late summer theme. The sidebars are horribly out of date; I'll get to work on those soon ...

But first, I'm off to take some pictures of the learning room for The Fair ...

(Once I finish cleaning it, of course.)

Scenes from the City

The boys and I had such a fun time "in the big city" yesterday, I could hardly wait to post all about it! As you can imagine, the camera almost never left my hand, so I have many pictures to share with you all ...

First of all, two very exciting things came together to make this such a fun day ~ 1. we got to see Daddy's new office (and meet everyone in his department) and 2. we got to meet up with MacBeth - a 4Real friend - and her family!

But the best way to tell about the day is to just start posting the photos, so without further ado ...


Dh took us on a water shuttle across the harbor ... oh, the cool air and sea spray!


But the boys and I enjoyed the cozy lower cabin too - a very comfortable ride!


Now this is how to spend your lunch hour, Daddy - hot dogs, soda and sunshine!


And then ... we met up with our friends! Now, I have known MacBeth through the 4Real boards for over a year now, but it was wonderful to really get to meet - and talk - in person!


Our kids had a grand time on the dolphin sculpture ...


And all around the fountain - yep, there was some splashing involved! :)

And of course there was time for plenty of urban nature study (a subject I talked about a while ago). On our way into town, we realized we forgot our field guide at home, but Crackerjack piped up ~ "Don't worry Mama! We have MacBeth!" (who is a naturalist) ~ "She'll be our field guide!" :) Here are some of the natural scenes we found in and amongst all the pavement and big buildings ...


Assorted pigeons and sparrows (and that might be a female starling too) ...


Crackerjack spotted some ducks hanging out near the pier ...


Here's a sparrow just waiting for a bit of our lunch.


We thought these were berries, but really they're rose hips!


This huge bumblebee was not moving but appeared to be alive.


This was one of the wilder nature sightings we came across ...


Ooh, and look - here's another! Boy, that must be some milk ...


Before we knew it, it was time to head back and hop on the next shuttle home. Thanks for joining us on our day in the big city! We are grateful to dh and MacBeth and family for helping to make it so fun!

Christmas in July?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


Martha Stewart's Holiday Collection :)

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


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


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



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


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

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

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

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

Field Day: The Late Summer Edition!

I ask you, what has become of our summer? Can Labor Day be just two weeks away?  Field_day_button

"A nip in the air today, and autumn, playing hide and seek with summer ..." from August Ends, Leonard Clark

Late summer is, perhaps, the most beautiful time of year. Of course, I end up saying that several times a year ~ I so enjoy the unfolding charms of every season. But whatever the calendar says, the natural year has its own set of rhthyms. Late summer's is one of languorous pause, stirred only by the gentle touch of September. The heat and haze begin to lift and there's a new freshness in the air. We feel the autumn coming and we know summer is nearing its bittersweet end.

And so it was such an afternoon - filled with the song of the cicada, the warmth of the sun and the earthy smell of the garden - when our Late Summer Field Day group gathered for a picnic. We poured the lemonade and passed around the field journal, each of us adding our own summer memories ...

We began with Marcie's beautiful nature photography. Interspersed throughout our journal entries below, you will find her wonderful pictures. Here is the first one, a breathtaking summertime sight:


Hummingbirds at feeder

Late summer means days by the sea ...

Fresh from the beach comes Michelle and her family. They spent a lovely June afternoon tidepooling, and met some absolutely fascinating sea creatures! And even more tidepooling brought a whole new batch of discoveries! Surely the cries of the gulls, the crash of the waves and the spray of the sea will stay with them all winter long.


~ Viceroy butterfly ~

Late summer means hiking, camping, exploring ...

And just what are summer memories made of? More often than not, they include a trek in the woods or a sojourn to the mountains or a day spent exploring nearby trails. Recently, Kristina's family spent a lovely day climbing up the trail just behind their house. How lucky they are to live in such a beautiful spot! (And I bet those blackberries tasted sweet!)

Meanwhile, Meredith's family joined with several others in an amazing experience out west, learning the lessons and blessings of Camping 101! What a gorgeous corner of the world to explore, Meredith!

And Donna's crew spent a wonderfully adventuresome day at a neaby nature preserve. What fun they all had, exploring the wonders of God's Creation.


~ Toad in vegetable garden ~

Late summer means bountiful gardens ...

Very often we need not even step outside our own backyard to experience the fullness of summer. One is nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth, goes the old saying. Well, I do know one thing for sure: when God is in your heart, the beauty of the world will not escape you. Jennifer's garden is bursting with such late summer treasures as plump luscious figs while her table is happily groaning beneath the peach havest!

And how much there is to learn in the other Jennifer's garden! Those pumpkins are a late summer marvel to watch as they grow ... and the autumn treats that will follow should be equally marvelous!

And how about a tour of a neaby farm with lush vegetable gardens and plenty of animals to see? Angela and her family made just such a trip recently. I can almost taste the tomatoes and other heirloom vegetables from Angela's own garden - they sound oh-so-delicious!

Donna Marie shares a beautiful post about how her Mary garden provided bountiful blessings this year - an abundance of awe, creativity and wonder. Sounds like that garden was the greatest of successes to me, Donna Marie!


~ Roseate Spoobills nesting ~

Late summer means birds and birdwatching ...

Every season holds its own special birding joys, though around here we've had a bit of a summer lull ~ but not so at Krisann's! Her family has been watching a family of swallows as their second nesting has produced three baby birds! I spent a recent afternoon watching a flock of swallows dip and dive over the trees - I'm very glad to learn more about them from Krisann!

So much of what we learn in nature is sparked and supported by excellent books. Sherry tells us about one such book, Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. We happen to have a soft spot for pigeons and their country cousin the mourning dove. Thank you for the book suggestion, Sherry - sounds like an inspiring and rich read, indeed!

Now as you all know, we here at By Sun and Candlelight have a real passion for birds. Well, you can just imagine how eager we are to follow Elizabeth's family down their upcoming rabbit trail - it's for the birds! There's so much to consider - the feeders, the books, the blog (and that coffee!) - you can just bet we'll be hot on the Foss family's birding heels (wings?)!


~ Marsh Hen in Cypress tree ~

Late summer means bugs ...

And what would summer be without bugs? (Well, don't get me started ...) All of God's creatures play their part in every season, I suppose! And they are a huge part of the season (sometimes too huge). Several friends have had quite interesting insect encounters ...

For Sarah's family, caterpillars are the bug of choice come August - their very hungry nature study sounds (and looks) like loads of fun!

Meanwhile, Helen's family made their own caterpillar story - and their new nature journals will surely be filled soon with more insect finds ...

And speaking of insects, Cay's family is having quite the time with the bugs of the deep south! Cay, you're holding up admirably well considering all the recent, er, excitement - but such are the days of our natural lives!

Whatever my feelings for bugs, the trilling sound of the cicada is a fond and familiar song by late August. But how about the birth of a cicada, how familiar is that? Not very! We've heard a cicada, seen a live cicada, and found its shed skin, but Rachel has the most amazing step-by-step details of cicada metamorphosis at her blog! What an incredible moment ...

Despite my squeamishness, my boys are serious insect watchers and would-be collectors. So I will pay close attention to Rebecca's bug collecting post. I know my boys would love to compare notes with hers!


~ Walking stick ~

Late summer means sharing nature with our children ...

When we explore nature with children, we first need to share it on their level. Often this begins with a promise to spend time - lots of unstructured time - out there with them. Cheryl is making plans to do just that this year. She may have procrastinated in the past, but her plan for the new year sounds great!

Sharing nature with children also means providing them with simple and useful tools - tools that will bring the nature up close and personal. Theresa always has so much to share with us all when it comes to nature study. How beautiful it is that her daughter JBug is following in her mom's footsteps - and equipped with a magnifying glass, there won't be much she will miss!

You must take a step into The Lord's Garden where Alice is having wonderful fun discovering her local nature right alongside her children! I love reading all about their activities and discoveries!


~ Baby bunnies - so sweet! ~

Well, it's getting late ~ the fireflies have come out and the stars are twinkling in the inky sky above. A beautiful summer night is unfolding, but there is a bit of a chill in the air. The dry leaves are rustling in the breeze and the crickets are singing a slower tune. Before we go, let's raise one last glass of lemonade and bid summer adieu ...

I hope you've enjoyed our late summer gathering, as we perused the pages of our collective field journal. I am so grateful to all who accompanied me on this Late Summer Field Day! And many thanks to those of you who stopped by to share in our memories! I surely hope we'll catch up again in the fall! Round about mid-October, look for another Field Day ~ The Autumn Edition. (Now there's a season to love!) ;)

And August bows to September ...

"By all these lovely tokens

September days are here,

With summer's best of weather,

And autumn's best of cheer."

~ Helen Hunt Jackson

Seven Habits of Highly Effective New School Years

Maureen at Trinity Prep very kindly invited me to participate in this project.7_habits_button_1 And speaking of 7, this September begins our 7th year of homeschooling! Every year brings with it a new vision and promise. And every year I hope to be at least a smidgen more effective. :) Here are a few thoughts and ideas I have for this one ...

1. Reflect, envision and pray. These sound like three separate habits, but really they work together as one. I start by reflecting on last year (what worked, what didn't) which leads me to envision next year (new goals and ideas). I then spend time praying for direction and eventually I end up with the plan for the new year. It's all about starting with the big picture and fine-tuning it down to specifics.

2. Research the resources. I try to start this as early as I can because the more time I have, the better decisions I make. Once I determine what subjects we'll be studying I start looking around for the best possible resources. I send for catalogs, I browse online, I ask for advice and I google. Then I compare my findings, consult with dh and finally commit - by pressing that Submit Order button. And sooner, rather than later, because I still haven't ordered that Saxon and here it is 2 weeks to start-day!

3. Meet and mingle. Every summer I have at least one if not two or three coffee nights with my best homeschooling girlfriends. We talk shop, bounce around ideas and pencil in possible field trips. These get-togethers really get our juices flowing! At this time of year, I also check in with my homeschool support group. A planning meeting is scheduled? Great, I'm there! It's a wonderful way to get the educational energy going!

4. Set up the space. As a family we decide on where the sit-down, hands-on, all-together-now learning will happen. Truly it's all over the house, but it makes sense to designate a few well-ordered areas as "school" (for lack of a better word) areas. For us, it's primarily the dining room, and to that end, we added a second table, a bookcase, and hung up a bulletin board. Getting it all set up and organized the way I'd like before the new year starts is an immediate goal. (And with the upcoming Loveliness Fair I've got my deadline!)

5. Secure the supplies. Bookworm and I walked through an enormous office supply store today and I casually mentioned we should pick up a few things for the new year. But what did we need? What could we use? Time to take stock! Perhaps the happiest moments of my school experience were the annual gathering of new school supplies! Homeschooled children look forward to this moment as well. So we'll make up our lists, check them twice, and buy our supplies in one fell swoop. Ahh, there's nothing like the smell of scotch tape! :)

6. Keep good records. With all we home learning families do all year, it's necessary to find a convenient way to keep track of our experiences and progress. There are so many ways to do it, but what's important is that you do it. It might be a blog, a lesson planner, a scrapbook ... choose your method and plan a time to do it every week (or month or semester). For us it's a bit of this and that. We keep everything in storage bins and I try to maintain a lesson planner for weekly notes. But what I have found most helpful in record keeping has been this blog! :)

7. Mark the milestones. (This kind of relates back to number 5.) Start the new year with a bang! Organize the school supplies (perhaps in a shultuete), polish the desks, get haircuts, buy new shoes, clean out the van, order new book bags, make up co-op t-shirts, and of course, take lots of first day pictures. :)

I know I don't have room for one more, but truly each of these habits can only be effective if they are done with much love and prayer. Thanks, Maureen, for including me, and may God bless you all in your new school year!

Missing Posts and Wonky Links

You might wonder where that Blogthings quiz I posted last night went. Well, some of the links were not working right, so I unpublished it this morning. (You didn't miss much; it was a very silly quiz.) A few 4Real bloggers have been having trouble with their Typepad blogs lately and it seems it might be my turn ...

Please let me know if you have, or have had, any trouble with opening links on my blog. It all seems O.K. this morning - the links do open, but not in new windows - but in light of Field Day on Monday, I'd like to pinpoint and address any trouble asap. :)

Sigh. First Typepad and now dh just informed me we're out of coffee.

What is this world coming to?

Last Call for Field Day ...

O.K. this is the last time I'll bug you, I promise! ;)

If you'd like to join us for Field Day: The Late Summer Edition, please send me your post (bloggers) or photos (non-bloggers) sometime today - or by Sunday morning at the latest. Find out all the submission details here and take a look at the first Field Day here!

And be sure to come back on Monday to read the brand new edition! :)