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May 2007

Thursday Tea: Crafts and Crumbcakes

Wow, is it Thursday already? This week is flying by!

I admit I was a bit unprepared for our lessons this week, including our weekly tea. This past weekend was so busy with the holiday and all, I didn't do my usual planning ahead. Throw in a short week and a doctor's appointment and I was really off! But, enough excuses ~ between today's feast (The Visitation) and Sunday's (Trinity Sunday), there was much to discuss and celebrate!

Right after lunchtime, I prepared the table for our special craft/snack time - otherwise known as Thursday Tea:

Trinitytea5

I opened our Marian storybook to the pages about the Visitation, and I also opened Bookworm's Magnifikid for Sunday. I grabbed some supplies and showed the boys how to make construction paper shamrocks - symbols of the Holy Trinity.

Trinitytea4

Silly me, I had only set out green paper for the shamrocks. Crackerjack wanted red and Bookworm thought purple was a neat choice. All three boys set about tracing, cutting and taping, as I read aloud.

And before long we were ready to hang our colorful creations:

Trinitytea3

That's a branch I brought in from outside; I livened it up with a silk ivy vine.

We talked about the Visitation, and I asked the boys how it feels when we visit their Damee - more importantly, how they thought those visits make her feel? We thought maybe we could plan to do that more often, say once a month after Mass. We can plan ahead and make something nice to bring her, too - a craft or some goodies.

And speaking of visiting, we have our first house guest arriving this weekend! Bill's sister, fondly known as Aunt Ami around here, will arrive by suppertime tomorrow. The boys are quite excited - so excited they haven't even minded cleaning their room, which will serve as guest room for the weekend.

I was going to print out some of the neat activities I found here, but our printer is not working just now. That's all right, by this point we were ready for snacks:

Trinitytea2

I read in one of my favorite liturgical idea books that coffee cake is a nice treat to enjoy on the Visitation. It so happened we had three small crumb cakes on hand - and placed together on an Irish plate they looked quite like a shamrock themselves. (Not for long, mind you.) Just behind them is the small vase of freshly picked clover from our yard.

As we finished up our crafts and snacks, I thought about the very kind post that Cindy wrote today at Homeschool Blogger's Community blog, in which she linked to my learning displays. I resolved right then to wipe and polish the table, and put it all back in place for the morning. As you can see we're beginning a dinosaur study just now.

Trinitytea1

I'm trying to be better about keeping this table neat looking when not in use (and right after use) because lately we've had to take our meals around the kitchen island due to an overrun dining area. Plus I really like having it all arranged and (hopefully inspiring) with books and simple decorations that reflect the season or holiday hand. Above the dinosaur encyclopedia (a gift from Uncle Matt this past weekend) is our liturgical masterpiece for May (to be replaced tomorrow with June's selection). Off to the left and right along the windowsill stand the books we are using this week (as well as a few dinosaur toys - CJ's contribution). Also hanging up on the window at left are some newspaper clippings - I don't normally hang them up in this way, but they did get the boys attention.

For Sunday, I hope to make an upside-down pineapple cake, an idea I got from the book I mentioned above. I've never made one before, but I found an easy recipe here (we'll nix the cherries and use an organic vanilla cake mix). The three pineapple rings placed together will symbolize the Trinity - and the cake will serve as a delicious after-soccer treat. :)

Well, thanks for stopping by, my friends. I hope you had a wonderful Thursday!


Eight Things about Me

My friend Meredith very kindly tagged me for the 8 Facts Meme! I actually asked to be tagged, because I'd seen this around and it looked fun. I have no idea what I will post though. I chat so much here, I don't think there's all that much left to say, lol!

I will, of course, try. :)

Here are the rules: Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Now for my 8 random facts ...

1. We live 1.7 miles from the house in which I grew up (and where my parents still live). It was my childhood dream to one day live in my hometown.

2. Numbers are not my thing; for instance, Sudoku makes my brain hurt. But I love word games, like crosswords, word jumbles and the like.

3. Up until last year, I had never broken any bones. Then I dropped a glass juice jar on my foot and broke two of my toes! But I think 37 years is a good record!

4. I have every issue of Martha Stewart Living as well as every issue of her Kids magazine and Baby magazine. At one time I had every issue of Victoria, but lately I can only find my spring and summer issues (trying not to fret). Yes, that makes me a magazine junkie. ;)

5. My high school yearbook quote: "Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable. So remember my sentimental friend, a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others." (The Wizard of Oz)

6. My high school yearbook ambition: To give my children a life as good as the life my parents have given me.

7. My career goal was to write for a magazine, like Victoria. I worked at a newspaper right out of college (an internship that turned into a job). I began writing service directory blurbs ("Value Painters offer you value work at a value price!") and eventually worked as assistant features editor. Lots of fun - very little money.

8. I cannot drive a stick shift, though I tried - once. After that Bill's beloved maroon Saab never went in reverse again - yet he still drove it for years!

Well, now I am supposed to tag eight people, but so many have already been tagged for this meme. I think I will borrow a page from Meredith's book, and ask that if anyone wants to be tagged, please leave me a comment and I'll pop over and tag you! :)


Everyday Nature: Life's Little Mysteries

Who doesn't love a good mystery? It's human nature isn't it? People are curious and drawn to discover - and thereby learn more about the world around them. Mysteries present a perfect opportunity to do just that - to expand our understanding and change our perceptions. Best of all, mysteries provide plenty of good mental exercise!

And where can mysteries be found, at anytime of year, but perhaps more so in the summer than ever? Why, right in our very own backyards!

My family is always finding little things that we do not understand out there. We strive to recall what we experienced - we take pictures, consult field guides, check the internet - all in an attempt to know more. I've noticed the times my boys pay the most attention to nature study is when there's a mystery to solve. Which is good, because 9 times out of 10 we don't know just what it is we are seeing (or as the case may be, hearing) and really, it's great fun to figure out ... 

Why did six blue jays sit in the spruce tree and coo at each other?

Why is the catbird so antsy this morning, flitting about?

What made that very loud, very odd noise in the woods last night?

Building upon this instinct to wonder and detect, wouldn't it be fun to begin a Nature Detectives Club this summer? This could be done in several ways, depending on level of enthusiasm and number of interested parties. You could do this within your own family; each child seeking out a mystery to share at a family meeting. Or, working together, mother could do this with the children through the week and then make a presentation to father on Saturday.

How about inviting some friends to take part? Assemble a few families together, each one bringing their "evidence" which could be photographs, sketches, or just an experience to describe aloud. Let the children talk it out and share their opinions, offer advice.

Start a notebook just for your detective work. Assemble a kit with magnifying glasses, binoculars, field guides, storage containers and bug inspection devices. You could have your club meet once a month or once a week, or even share things online via email if necessary. Why not publish a newsletter?!

I know some children are hesitant to delve into nature study, but this mystery angle strikes me as a way to appeal to the innate love of a good mystery. I think it might be a particularly boy-friendly activity, as well.

With all that in mind, here are some recent photos we took in our yard, several which have us scratching our heads.

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These wood shavings indicate some drilling - but what drills holes in wood?

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This situation caught my eye quite early this morning. From the kitchen window I noticed our hanging petunia had spider webbing all about it, between the planter and the deck railing. Going out to investigate, and photograph, I noticed a fine white dust all over the plant and the deck. What on earth?

Looking above the plant I noticed the origin of the debris:

Nature4

Something drilled a hole in a board that sticks out from the corner of the house just above the hanging plant. So the question is - what did it? A wasp or a spider?

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Here's what we found beneath the picnic table on Monday. We know it's a wasp nest, but what kind?

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This is some intricate and interesting webbing at the tip of a spruce branch. We only noticed it last evening as the setting sun shone through it. It seems an odd spot for a web; said spider must not realize this area is birdfeeding central.

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Our first dragonfly of the season - ah, but what kind?

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And a beetle of some sort. We'll look him up online.

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A blossoming wildflower - it's all around our back fence, but I have no idea what exactly it is.

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The rhododendron is opening its lovely blossoms. I was surprised to notice the orange speckling inside the petals as I opened the photo - pollen or markings? Also, one whole portion of the shrub has died off, which is a pity as well as a mystery.

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A new weed growing in the backyard - tiny yellow flowers with an interesting shape.

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Last year we had lots of morel mushrooms growing in the shade of our family room addition; this year, just one. We guess it's because it was a drier spring this year.

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Another pretty and so far unidentified wildflower growing in the yard. Interestingly, it grows here in the sunlight as a pale lavender, but the patch that grows in the shade near the chimney is much darker:

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Same plant - according to petal and leaf shape. But what is it, and what accounts for the shade variation? Sunlight perhaps?

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The tip of a fern - gone to seed? Or something else?

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Forget-me-nots in the shade garden - some with white centers, some with yellow! What's the difference, we wonder?

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On this leaf are tiny black seeds (?) that are all over the yard. Obviously dropping from some tree - but which one?

Nature5

And last but not least, last night's almost-full moon. Today we'll check on the exact time for fullness - and just what is meant by the term "blue moon" (as this one will be!).

Well, those are the mysteries for now - plenty to keep us pondering, researching, guessing and, ultimately, learning. A great skill set to bring to all aspects of life!

So what little mysteries have you wondering this week? A perfect post for Field Day, perhaps? :) 


A Little Laundry Line

Mrs_tiggy_winkle1_2 

"And she hung up all sorts and sizes of clothes - small brown coats of mice, and one velvety black moleskin waist-coat; and a red tail-coat with no tail belonging to Squirrel Nutkin; and a very much shrunk blue jacket belonging to Peter Rabbit; and a petticoat, not marked, that had gone lost in the washing - and at last the basket was empty!" (The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle)

This passage came to me as I watched Bill hang my new clothesline this weekend - for it's a rather compact affair, only stretching a scant several feet between the house and the shed. Plus, it's set at the entrance to a corner of the yard fondly known as "critter corner." I could not help but imagine that this line was perfect in size and location for Mrs. Tiggy-winkle herself, and I half considered placing out a small wicker basket to see if any tiny garments might appear overnight. :)

But, enough of the imaginary, on to the sensible! Here's how my brand new clothesline looks in our rather overgrown corner:

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As no laundry is hanging just yet, it might be hard to see, but it is there! :)

I've long admired backyard clotheslines, particularly my neighbor's, whose lines stretch wide across her entire backyard. Mine is quite small, as you see, but that is good for me - for now. I figure I can always expand my line if this new domestic endeavor "sticks." The line Bill put up is a retractible, 40 foot line. I plan, for now, to hang just some pillowslips, perhaps a sheet or two, and a few fine linens, like tea towels and doilies.

And though I've wanted a washing line for some time, it was Nissa's suggestion of a Fair celebrating their loveliness that prompted me to ask Bill to set one up for me to use. He was happy to do so, mindful of the potential energy savings. I can hardly wait to read through Nissa's fair; I'm sure it will be inspiring and informative.

Clotheslines have a special place in my heart - though due more to memory than acquaintance. I grew up knowing a clothesline at my grandparents' house - I can still feel the rough, silvery poles that held it up across their long sloping side yard. I remember standing beneath, and between, the myriad linens - which depending on the season were pale cotton sheets or colorful beach towels - and feeling them whip about in the breeze.

For me, a clothesline might be new and a novelty; for my grandmother it was matter-of-fact - just one element of her housekeeping routine. Her laundry line stood just outside the lower door. If you went in that door, you stepped into the cool, shadowy basement (a refuge on the hottest of summer days). Here was  - and still is - grandmother's laundry room, with its washer and dryer set just beneath a crank-open casement window, just beside the upright freezer, and around the corner from the pantry. To its right stood a tall set of shelves that held all the necessities to good laundry keeping - soaps, detergents, baking soda, brushes, vinegar and shaker bottles.

I'd skip past these corners on my way out to play, never giving a moment's thought to the work that went into my sweet smelling clothes - or the plentiful provisions or the freezer filled with fruit. Even as I grew older, I never really considered Grandma's way of laundering, though the memories of her bedsheets - the softest and finest I've ever felt in my life - linger with me still.

So at long last a clothesline has become more than a symbol of nostalgia for me, for I have one of my own. My plan is to clean up this garden corner and grow some herbs and flowers that will serve as a pretty and practical backdrop. I hope the next warm breezy day sees me out at the clothesline, enjoying the sunshine and the children running about ...

Maybe I'll meet you there? :)


A Grace for Memorial Day

God of peace,

We recall today the words of Jesus,

β€œBlessed are the peacemakers,

they shall be called the sons and daughters of God.”

As we remember all who have died because of war,

Inspire the leaders of all nations

To turn away from war and work for peace.

Help us also to live in peace with one another,

And with peoples of every nation, race and creed.

Bless this food we share

As we celebrate this day with our family and friends.

Amen

(From Let’s Say Grace by Robert Hamma)

However you plan to celebrate - playfully, prayerfully, patriotically - I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day!


A Sunday Hello!

I'm just stopping in really quickly to wish you all a blessed Pentecost Sunday! Dove_cover_2

What a beautiful spring day it is here - sunny and pleasantly cool. Mass was especially interesting today; the local American Legion and Women's Auxiliary were present and processed down the aisle to display the flags at either side of our church. These 25 or so men and women were dressed in their formal attire, with caps and capes. My boys were mightily impressed and intrigued. The red altar linens and banners, embroidered with images of the dove and flames, were quite eye-catching, as was Father's bright red vestments today. We sang the hymn, "Come, Holy Spirit, Come," just before the Alleluia. I love all those little things that make the season, the feast, the moment come to life for us all. You know how Crackerjack feels about red - well, today was his day! Even more so because he made his second Communion this morning - just like a pro. ;)

Later in the morning we set off for a visit at Damee's house. We brought watermelon and a big bouquet of Memorial Day flowers for her. The boys played outside for quite a while, coming in to show me neat things they found in the yard - a tall stalk of "wheat" (grass), some smooth white rocks and best of all, the tiniest pale brown "elf caps" (some kind of papery evergreen cones). I'm not sure which tree they dropped from, but these caps were a bit sticky to the touch. They were all over Damee's yard, and truly, looked just like the perfect sized cap for a tiny woodland sprite. We brought one home for our nature shelf.

This afternoon has been quiet and homey. Bill hung up a clothesline for me and set up the bird bath at long last. (Who will take the first dip, I wonder?) We're a bit behind in our planting schedule (our favorite farm doesn't open till next weekend). Lots to do in the meantime, however - the lawn needs a good mowing, and the raspberry patch needs weeding.

Tomorrow we're having a cookout after Bill and I get back from the movies. You know, I think "cookout" is a regional thing. I almost never say barbecue - it's always a cookout. How about you?

We will also hang our American flag tomorrow morning. I read in a Scouting manual that on Memorial Day, the flag is to be kept at half-mast until noon, at which time it may be raised to full-staff. I think that is very interesting, though our flagpole does not allow for raising or lowering - just hanging at a diagonal. Flag history and protocol would make a wonderful unit study, don't you think? (I'll tuck that away for the fall.)

Well, I hope you're enjoying your weekend! I'm off again until after the holiday. :)

*Artwork is the June Magnificat - Dove and the Holy Ghost, 16th century France.*


This, That and the Other Thing ...

I am sitting here positively parked beneath the living room air-conditioner because it is brutally hot out today. (Ninety-two degrees brutal, my window thermometer says, which by the way, is in the shade.) I have a few things to share with you before I go on a semi-holiday-weekend-blog-break beginning tonight. Just a few notes and pictures, rolled into one rather long and random post ...

Sharing the Cupcake Love

Since my family of five can never eat all the cupcakes I bake in one batch (well, possibly we could, but it might not be wise), we saved some of yesterday's treats to give away to friends. A while back I found some neat cupcake liners and matching boxes at Target, and about a week ago I received the naturally colored sprinkles I ordered for EB. It all matched so nicely I couldn't resist a picture:

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And today we decided to package one up to bring to EB's speech therapist:

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These boxes are such a great idea! Though I'd love them in plain white so we could decorate them in our own way with designs or perhaps stickers for the season. Either way, though, they make a tidy little treat - fun as gifts or even party favors. I'll bet these were thought up by some marketing strategist who noticed the recent popularity of cupcakes at bakeries and bookstores. Personally, I confess cupcakes to be my most favorite food on the planet - my ultimate comfort food. They're just the right size and conjure up all kinds of happy childhood memories. How does that saying go? "Richer than me you'll never be, for I had a mother who baked?" :)

I have to tell you, EB did very well with this "bringing and giving of the cupcake." Six months ago, I probably would have hesitated to have him do this. It would have too likely become an issue - the emotions would run too high. He'd be all excited to give it, then he wouldn't want to give it - he'd hand it over, then he'd want it back. Any number of little problems could have cropped up, and that's not what you want when your child is preparing for therapy. Better to keep things simple.

But EB's made nice progress with language, patience and social skills, so I figured why not give it a whirl. He helped me package it up and he carried it all the way from house to van to waiting room (at which point it was briefly left on a chair). He did try to open the box once or twice but I reminded him that he wanted to keep it closed tight so it would stay fresh. This seemed reasonable to him (in the past, it might have sparked a fit). And when his therapist walked in to get him, he ran over to her, grinning ear to ear, box in hand and said, "Here you go!"

Well done, EB. :)

Easy-Peasy Breakfast Popsicles

Popsicles

Completely obvious idea, but I'm sharing it anyway. Today I froze Tropical Blend Vruit in our popsicles molds so that tomorrow morning we can enjoy our morning juice outside on the deck. (I would have liked to freeze a smoothie, but pressed for time, I grabbed the prepared juice.) Kind of a fun way to kick off the holiday weekend, and celebrate the warmth and ease of mornings these days. :)

Could be a Great Crested Flycatcher?

You knew you couldn't get too far without another new-bird-in-the-shrubs picture from me. We just spied this fellow a few minutes ago and we think he might be a Great Crested Flycatcher! These pictures are so blurry, I apologize, but it's the best I could do. I am posting them mainly to remind myself of what he looked like. (And in case he looks familiar to anyone.)

Flycatcher2

He had a crested grayish head, and was kind of yellowish all over but with brownish wings and a soft red tail. His shape was distinctly different from a cardinal - but his head reminded me of a phoebe, the only other flycatcher with which I'm at all familiar.

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Below you see the bird books opened to the pages we consulted:

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This is quite exciting - so many new species in so few weeks!

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away ...

In case you hadn't heard, today is the 30th anniversary of Star Wars! Wow, that makes me feel ... well, not young, lol Sometime this weekend, we'll make a batch of popcorn and watch the original movie with the boys. (I hesitate to say the first movie, because Bookworm always points out that technically, the first movie is really the fourth movie, and if you're a Star Wars fan, you know what I mean.) I'm sure Crackerjack will dig out all his Star Wars action figures and before the weekend is over we'll see a light saber duel or two.

Speaking of movies, Bill and I will be going to see the new Pirates movie sometime this weekend (can't wait!). And speaking of Crackerjack, he's all excited because I am taking him to Target tomorrow where he will be allowed to buy a toy with some of his First Communion gift money. Goodness - will he pick an action figure or a matchbox car? Pokemon cards or a Lego? Oh, my he can hardly wait!

Well, I must wrap up and let you get on with your wekeend. :) I can hardly believe it's Memorial Day already. I can remember growing up, during the week leading up to the holiday, my grandma always made the rounds of the family cemeteries. I often went with her, and we'd water the plants, add a few new ones, and tidy up the area around the graves. It wasn't sad or spooky to me - on the contrary, I enjoyed the visits because grandma told me all kinds of family stories, and I enjoyed them very much. I especially loved hearing about her life growing up with eight siblings, the Great Depression and what it was like when she was a young mother. I think I'll plan a visit to see Gram this weeked. She doesn't get out much, but at 93, her stories are still as wonderful as ever.

I hope your weekend is just lovely! Happy Friday!


Cupcakes and a Craft for Pentecost

Well, it was just too hot for tea today! Almost 90 degrees, with barely a breeze or a cloud in the sky. It was almost too hot to bake and craft, too - but we found a little energy late in the afternoon to prepare ourselves for this weekend's great feast ~ Pentecost Sunday!

I had seen an idea to make a Pentecost kite in The Big Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions, but I altered the plan a bit to make a windsock with the boys. We've been studying atmosphere and wind in our science studies, so this was timed very well.

Here are the few materials we needed:

Pentecost5

  • Red, orange and white construction paper
  • A dove-shaped template (this is a cookie cutter)
  • Ribbon (or you could use streamers)
  • (Not shown: glue stick, crayons and stapler)

This is a very simple craft! We cut a dove shape out of the white paper and pasted it onto the red. It's hard to see in the pictures but we adorned the dove with golden rays all around. Next we stapled the short ends of the red paper together to form a cylinder shape. Then we cut seven flame shapes out of the orange paper and on each one we wrote a Gift of the Holy Spirit. We attached these to the dove topper with orange ribbons, and voila - a Pentecost windsock!

We hung it off our deck where we will have our cookout this weekend.

Pentecost4

While the older boys played, and EB crashed for his nap, I set to work on our teatime snack. Since this feast is known as the birthday of our Church, I had it in mind to make cupcakes. (When do I not have it in mind to make cupcakes, lol?) And in reminiscense of the Pentecost story, I displayed thirteen cupcakes on our stand, one for each Apostle and one for Our Lady (hers is the blue one at top). I maneuvered the table a bit so the display would sit directly below our descending dove.

Pentecost1

I also set out our reading for teatime - our children's Bible, the weekly Magnifikid and our new religion read-aloud, The First Christians: The Acts of the Apostles for Children. We actually ended up reading from the chapter book as it described most fully and delightfully the Pentecost story. We liked this explanation of Our Lady's presence at this great moment in time:

"I am sure the whole baby Church was as much in our Lady's care as her own Baby had been and that for the twelve years or so she continued to live in Jerusalem, she spent nearly all her time between praying at home and praying in the Temple, and that only when the Apostles got to Heaven did they realize how much her prayers had had to do with their wonderful success."

So, next on the list was to set the candles aflame ...

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think of our wish for the Church ...

Pentecost2

and, like a mighty wind, blow them all out. :)

Well, friends, as always, thanks for stopping by and sharing in our day. I hope you all enjoy a most blessed, safe and beautiful holiday weekend!


Won and Lost

Won!

The National Geography Bee - by a homeschooler! Congratulations to Caitlin Snaring of Washington State for winning this year's competition! I read about her on MSNBC.com, but it said nothing about her being home-educated. But you know ... I just had a hunch. ;) So I googled "homeschool news" and found a site which mentioned that Caitlin is in fact a homeschooler!

So I have to wonder why MSNBC didn't mention this rather, I think, pertinent fact. Is homeschooling so commonplace now - particularly in national competitions - that it doesn't bear mentioning anymore? Maybe so, but I think credit should be given where credit is due - and in this case, to Caitlin and her parents! :)

Anyway, way to go Caitlin! I recorded the Today Show on which she appeared this morning. The boys and I will sit down and watch the interview later today ... and then, I have a feeling, I will vigorously re-work our geography plan for next year.

p.s. The 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee will be aired next week, May 30-31. We'll certainly be tuning in!

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Lost?

How are you feeling about LOST this morning? That was quite a show last night, wasn't it? If you haven't watched yet, please don't read on, as I am spilling some of the beans by wondering ...

  • Is that really it for Charlie? Why couldn't he have swum out that window?
  • Who was on Naomi's phone? Who is coming?
  • Was Ben telling the truth about anything?
  • Just who - or what - is Jacob?
  • Where's this "temple" the Others are heading for?
  • Was that really Walt? And if so, where's Michael?
  • How much do we love Hurley?
  • Whose funeral was it?
  • Will next season be about life off of the island (I hope not)?

Of course we've got loads of time to ponder all these mysteries and more. Nine months to be exact. I cannot believe ABC is making us wait until February to see more of Lost. I, for one, would gladly watch re-runs if it meant having Lost on September through May.

Well, folks, that's all the entertainment news for now. ;) Have a great day ~ I'm off to bake cupcakes!


An Alphabet of Summer Delights

It's that time of year again ~ a new season is upon us! And while Memorial Day is still a few weeks shy of the solstice, I think in most American hearts and minds, it is certainly the unofficial kick-off of the summer season.

Up here in New England we are experiencing a very warm week and everything is green and flower-y. Truly, spring has sprung itself all over, but summer is nipping at its heels! In my book, it's high time to brainstorm a list of all the delights summer can bring, so I will remember to stop and be thankful for life's little joys:

A is for air-conditioning in August (if not before).

B is for baseball games, a day at the beach and blockbuster movies.

C is for cool cotton sheets, cook-outs and clambakes.

D is for daylilies, dragonflies, dandelions and daisies.

E is for eating outside!

F is for fireflies, firecrackers and the Fourth of July.

G is for gardens and ghost stories 'round the campfire.

H is for hazy, hot and humid.

I is for ice cream!

J is for turning July's jewels (berries) into jam.

K is for keeping cool by the pool.

L is for lemonade, lazy days, and lightning storms.

M is for a morning in Maine, muggy and magical.

N is for night creatures like bats, moths and owls.

O is for orb-weaver spiders and Orion's belt at sunrise.

P is for popsicles, poppies, parades and pick-your-own.

Q is for a quiet fan humming, lulling you to sleep at night.

R is for roses, reunions and refreshing raspberry shrub.

S is for shooting stars, seashells, sprinklers and s'mores.

T is for toads in the garden and tea, iced and sweet.

U is for unusually large and prolific zucchini.

V is for verdant pastures, vacations and farm-fresh vegetables.

W is for watermelon and pearly webs glistening with dew.

X is for crossing the days off till September.

Y is for yellow-jackets and yarrow by the roadside.

Z is for zinnias in lollipop colors.

Here's wishing you a season filled with summer delights!


The Critter Corner

Some of these pictures I took yesterday afternoon, peeking through the windows; a few I took this morning on my early walk of the "grounds." And by "grounds" I simply mean the small side yard I like to call the Critter Corner - the place that has the shade, the shelter, the feeders, and all the action. :)

A little tour:

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This is Tough Nut, the female gray squirrel who lost most of her tail last year to a neighborhood cat. As I type this now, she is sitting in our tray feeder helping herself to the black oil seed I put out this morning. I am entirely OK with that. There are plenty of feeders out there (eight in all at last count) and the birds have plenty to choose from while she eats.

Here's a better view of her tail:

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I read that squirrels use their tails to help them jump, but surprisingly Tough Nut does jump pretty well, despite the lack of a full tail. I also read that squirrels in the wild live about 3-5 years. I have no idea how old Tough Nut is, but I hope she is with us for a good while longer. The boys just love her, and exclaim, "Oh, look who it is!" whenever she makes an appearance (which is usually at least once, if not twice a day).

And another furry mammal we like to keep a close eye on ...

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Above you see the first chipmunk we've spotted this year! Last year we had an entire family of chipmunks whose tunnels criscrossed underneath our house and emptied (quite ingeniously) into critter corner. We've only seen this one so far this spring. I'm sure there will be more before too long.

Now, onto the birds ...

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This is the male goldfinch, so handsome in his bright yellow coat. I love the squeaky little sounds goldfinches make, so distinctive.

And this little lady peering out from the shadows ...

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is none other than the female cardinal. A few minutes later she met up with her mate on a nearby branch:

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Aren't they dear?

Below you see the failed "jelly experiment." We were hoping to attract an oriole with the orange marmalade. The only critter who went near it was one curious squirrel who dipped in his nose, got it all sticky and spent the next ten minutes frantically cleaning his face.

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Can you guess who this is? Can you make out the bird in this picture?

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It's a well-camouflaged mourning dove!

And finally ...

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The catbird. He sat very still as he serenaded the rising sun, not minding my presence at all.

Well, I'm off now to get the day rolling ... thanks for letting me share these pictures with you! I've started collecting Field Day submissions - hope yours is next! :)


Flowers for the Fairest

The Loveliness of Marian Devotion is up today at my friend Helen's blog, The Castle of theLoveliness_logo_2 Immaculate. A perfect hostess for this fair, Helen has gathered a loving bouquet of blossoms with which to crown Our Lady.

I am honored to be part of Helen's Fair and I just love the sunny daisies she picked on my behalf! :) Thank you Helen for a beautiful post!

What a lovely way to end the Marian month of May, and there are more Loveliness Fairs on the way. Please see this post at Elizabeth's for all the details.


A Late Spring Field Day!

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It's time for a Field Day! And I cordially invite you to join us ...

Let's celebrate these final weeks of late spring, and share the world of nature around us. What's happening in the garden, woods, fields, by the pond or the shore? How about through your windows or just a step or two outside your back door? Nature happens everywhere, in ways big and little. What does late spring look like where you live? I hope you will consider telling us, for our next Field Day will run on Thursday, June 7th, rain or shine!

And just what is a Field Day you might ask? :)

Field Day is a nature-themed blog carnival. A carnival is a blogging event in which a host or hostess collects information about a particular theme (in this case nature) from other bloggers (and sometimes non-bloggers). She then organizes the information - links and photos, etc. - into one big post to share with everyone who stops by her blog on that day. It's a lot of fun - and the more the merrier - so I do hope you'll consider participating!

Your submission can be as simple as a photo, or as lengthy as a detailed post. And if you don't have a blog, you are still more than welcome! Perhaps you have a photo to share, or some thoughts you might like to write up?

Here are some ideas to get you started. You might share:

  • a review of a great gardening book
  • what's in your spring storybook basket
  • photos of spring in your yard
  • your nature study plans for the summer
  • a trip to a farm, a pond or anywhere you've noticed nature
  • a list of birds, bugs or mammals you've seen in recent weeks
  • a spring poem

For more ideas, you could peruse past issues of Field Day:

Also, I will be posting more of my Everyday Nature posts over the next couple of weeks, and some book reviews, too.

Now, the nitty gritty - what I need with your submission:

  • your name
  • your e-mail (not to be published)
  • your blog address
  • your post URL
  • a brief summary of your post or photo/entry

Please send all submissions to me at drhanigan AT verizon DOT net. Leave a comment below, too, if you'd like. I would like to have all entries by the end of the day, Wednesday June 6th.

And I'd love help spreading the word! Please copy the Field Day button at the top of this post and feel free to use it with your post or on your sidebar. (Thanks to my dear husband for designing this latest button!)

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to hear from you soon! Enjoy this beautiful spring day. :)


A Hummingbird!

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My goodness, what excitement!

We were just sitting at the table in the learning room, plugging away at our math, when a movement outside the window caught my eye. At first, I thought it was a huge moth floating up to the window, but then I realized it was in fact a hummingbird!

It flew about for just a few moments, and even paid a brief visit to Our Lady as you can see above. This was the only picture I got and thankfully it came out all right - well, recognizable, anyway! (Please click on the image for a better view.)

She was so very tiny and just exquisite. We think it was a female Ruby-throated hummingbird - but most importantly it was our very first one! Last summer we had a hummingbird moth visit our wildflowers, but to see a real hummingbird was the loveliest gift!

Now. We need to figure out what to do to entice our little beauty back again. Bookworm is already digging through our nature study books to find out all he can. In fact, we just made up a makeshift feeding station - a small purple bowl set on a bright orange plate. The bowl has a sugar-water-orange juice concoction in it. No idea if this will work, but we're giving it a try!

Hang on - Booworm just called out this quote from Hollyhock Days, one of our favorite Sharon Lovejoy books:

"Hummers love sugar from feeders, too. They need to consume one-half their daily body weight to survive. Remember to clean your feeder daily. Only use sugar and water; no color, no honey ..."

OK, then! We just changed the bowl's contents to plain water and sugar. In the meantime, we will ask Daddy if we have a true hummer feeder in the potting shed - one he could set up asap!

If you have any hummingbird tips or tales, please do share!


A BIG Post about CJ's BIG Day!

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It finally arrived ~ Crackerjack's First Holy Communion! I'd like to share some lots of photos with you from his BIG day ...

How happy those early moments were as the church bells were ringing and the families were filing in ~ faces beaming, exchanging excited hello's and how-have-you-been's. All the children looked splendid in their special day finery. CJ wore the beige suit worn by his big brother just four years ago.

And speaking of his big brother ...

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A few minutes later, my dad snapped a picture of us in the pew:

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The children making their FHC today each were assigned a pew, and at the end of each pew their personal banners were hung - the ones we made a few weeks back. They really looked lovely! Each one was unique and thoughtfully made. I'm happy to report CJ's withstood the storage - nary a sequin or felt shape was misplaced.

Father's homily had the children laughing and quite involved. At one point several children were brought up in front of the altar (CJ included - he never misses an opportunity to participate) and asked to hold various items that one would bring camping. It might sound like a curious homily, but Father made a wonderful and memorable point.

Watching these dear children receive the Blessed Sacrament for the very first time - hands folded, faces upturned - was just so beautiful. This picture was taken at the very end of Mass, when the children performed their special Trinity Song, the one they sang at the beginning of each class throughout the year.

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Before we headed home, CJ got to speak with our Pastor for a few minutes. Don't you just love the panel on the front of his chasuble? Especially chosen for today, I would presume!

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Back at home it was time to celebrate with family and friends! Not surprisingly, the jacket quicky came off.

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Today, CJ has the whole world in his hands!

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Here are my boys with two of their best friends, Curran and Abby. Their mom, Lisa, one of my best friends, helped out immensely today, watching Earlybird for us, and getting that casserole in the oven at 10 a.m. sharp! :)

Here's how the cake and punch table looked (not shown is the banner stretched across the windows):

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A close up of the cake ...

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... which was rather humble and homemade - but yummy!

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CJ requested a "Strawberry Sherbet Punch," so I made something up. Doesn't a punch just make a party? CJ was so surprised by the dove!

The rest of our meal was comprised of glazed kielbasa, Brunch Casserole (eggs-cheese-bread-tomatoes - positively NO calories, lol), fruit salad, angel food cake with whipped cream ...

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... and of course lots of freshly brewed coffee.

After a while, CJ kicked back and relaxed. Here he is with his great-grandmother, Damee:

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And hanging out with his great Uncle George:

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Many of our family members could not make it today, due to a college graduation and a long-planned vacation. CJ missed them all, but knew in his heart how many people were thinking of him, praying for him, and just loving him all up today.   

It is now late afternoon, and Earlybird and Bill are both napping. The older two boys and I are curled up on the couch, enjoying these quiet Sunday afternoon hours. The rain is still steady, but the sun keeps breaking through brightly. (We're on rainbow watch, lol!)

Thank you so much for sharing in our day. I hope you all had a nice weekend, too! See you sometime tomorrow. :)


Can I Share a Few More?

Look who showed up at the feeders today!

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This is a Rose-breasted Grosbeak - the first one we've ever had here. I was sitting (where else, but) by the window this morning, when I spied this distinctive fellow. (And he is a fellow; the female is drab and brown. Isn't that always the way?) In as loud a whisper as I could muster I called out to the boys working on their math in the next room to grab my camera and bring it to me. But the scamps had left the room for some reason or another, so as quickly and quietly as I could I retrieved my trusty Cyber-shot and returned to the window. He flew off right after I took these pictures.

It is really amazing how busy the birding activity is here right now. I guess we're a popular rest stop on the spring migration route! The warblers were back again today. Before Bill left for work I asked him to watch the cherry tree for a few minutes so he might catch a glimpse - and he did! He couldn't get over their tiny size and bright coloring.

I also meant to mention we had a thrush of some sort here yesterday and what we thought was a Northern flicker, till we looked in our bird guide and realized it was in fact the less common and very shy Red-bellied woodpecker! He flew in once or twice as well. He is impossible to photograph - he flees the moment you approach the windows. But he's quite a bird to behold - large, bright red head and black speckles.

And, GOODNESS! We just had a Baltimore Oriole here! I was not fast enough to get his picture, but I'm sure he'll be back. We must get some oranges - and perhaps some grape jelly - out there tomorrow!

Now this may all sound like common sense, but here are few tips for watching birds from your windows:

  • Hang your feeders where you can watch them with regularity. It just worked out that the windows we spend most of our time beside (those in the learning room and adjoining family room) have a clear view of all our feeding stations
  • Have a good selection of feeders available. The wider the variety of food you supply, the wider the variety of birds that will visit.
  • Try to train yourself to pay attention. It just becomes a habit if you do it consistently. You don't have to spend long stretches of time gazing out the windows (though that's fun too). The more you watch, the more you'll see and your eyes will become sensitive to the clues - the stirring leaves, the moving branch, the flash of feathers. (Bill jokes that I'm like Harry Potter with the Snitch when it comes to birds, lol.)
  • If you notice lots of activity, and think you might be able to get pictures, take down your screens for the day. Wash the glass panes, too. I find by doing this we can see better and I am able to get better shots through the windows.
  • Keep your camera near at hand! Your moments might be few when you're trying to photograph a bird.

In somewhat related news, we saw Shrek III today - and, as expected, it was very funny and just a little bit fresh here and there. Now, I don't want to spoil any of the fun for you, but there is a scene with Snow White and the forest critters that is absolutely hysterical. Really, I was in stiches. And once I recovered, I leaned over to the boys and whispered, "Now that's my kind of princess." :)

Have a great weekend, my friends! And watch those windows!


Poetry Friday: "Our Tree" by Marchette Chute

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When spring comes round, our apple tree
Is very full of flowers,
And when a bird sits on a branch
The petals fall in showers.

When summer comes, our apple tree
Is very full of green,
And everywhere you look in it
There is a leafy screen.

When autumn comes, our apple tree
Is full of things to eat.
The apples hang from every branch
To tumble at our feet.

When winter comes, our apple tree
Is full of snow and ice
And rabbits come to visit it . . .
We think our tree is nice.

This is a perfect time to begin an apple tree study - one that might last the whole year 'round! Do you live near an apple orchard, one that would be convenient to visit a few, or perhaps several, times a year?

A few Septembers ago, my dear friend Lisa suggested we conduct an apple tree nature study with our children. One fine autumn day we brought our children to a local farm and parked ourselves beneath an apple tree. Not just any tree, mind you - the children spent a good deal of time deciding just which tree would be the one to befriend.

Once we selected our tree, we made ourselves comfortable on blankets spread out underneath, and began sketching. Our idea was to visit "our" tree several times throughout the growing season and observe it in all of its stages - fruited, barren and blossomed. I am sorry to report, we let that project get away from us, but this year I would like to renew it(what do you say, Lisa?). :) We'll start with the flowers of spring.

Possibly the trees are just past bloom time, depending on where you live. But that's all right - anywhere you start in the year is a start. Within a year's time your tree will have covered the entire cycle of life. But if you begin soon, your children will have many months to observe their special tree and by autumn, its fruit will taste all the sweeter.

I'll post more on this idea in the future, but I wanted to mention it along with this week's poem - which I think would serve as a lovely cover page to an apple tree journal.

"Our Tree is by Marchette Chute, whose poems I have come to know through a tiny and beloved gem ~ A Small Child's Book of Cozy Poems. It is illustrated by one of my favorites, Cyndy Szekeres (are you familiar with Pippa Mouse books at all?) Several of her poems are featured in this lovely little book, which I highly recommend for the little ones. It's not a board book, but a real hardcover - and slim as it is, it's just the right size for small hands. Its page are filled with mice and other woodland creatures in all kinds of homey arrangements. My particular favorite is a poem called "Politeness" about a squirrel. Maybe that will be my poem next week! :)

Have a grand day, everyone, and be sure to stop by Kelly's Big A little a for the Poetry Friday Round-Up!


Through the Looking Glass: Spring Birds

The wet weather washed away many of our outdoor plans today, but it certainly didn't keep the birds away. In fact, it was like homecoming week, with all kinds of spring migrants stopping by. Literally, the boys and I could not tear ourselves away from the windows, there was always something to see!

But before I launch into all our photos, I want to show you the window "seat" we set up, my Earlybird and I, early this morning:

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This is a prime bird watching spot - the back corner of our couch, just beside the window looking out at the cherry tree.

Inside the basket is tucked a few small old-fashioned bird guides, given to my boys by my grandmother. I love the illustrations and the way they fit so well in their hands. Also, a pair of binoculars, the current issue of Birdwatcher's Digest and a Thornton Burgess book to read aloud. A couple of puppets can be seen here too, most notably "Chipmunk" and "Squirrel" - to whom EB does not stop talking all day (when they are worn by my hands, that is).

Now on with the photos, and please excuse the graininess; these were all taken through windows.

First a few shots of the Carolina Wren. We've been hearing his call for over a week, and recently we noticed he became they. Yes, a pair - and they are the cutest things. In this first photo, one of the two scored a bit of suet and perched atop the squirrel feeder looking for his mate. He met up with her in the rhododendron bush a moment later, and we watched him feeding her so tenderly!

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A bit later I noticed another wren by the foot of the cherry tree:

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And below is the one picture I did get outside. I went out to fill the feeders and this bold fellow allowed me to get this close before he flew off.

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OK, so you knew I had to include a squirrel shot ... they really love this particular feeder which lost its lid to raccoons last summer. I love the way he's looking at me like, "Yes, may I help you?"

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Here's a finch - a purple finch, I believe. They're a little more timid than the goldfinches, but they seem to be more active now that it's spring.

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Now the following photo is incredibly blurry, but I just had to post it to show you the first of four new bird species we spotted today! (An all-time record for us!)

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This is a Canada Warbler, we're pretty sure. Check the link to see if you agree. Actually the other birds we spotted we did not get to photograph - they were too quick! It's funny how the birds that have been here all winter are somewhat used to us, but the spring migrants passing through (or returning) are very skittish.

Newly spotted birds today (click on links to see an image):

Also returning was the shy catbird - we'd been hearing him in the woods, but today he finally paid us a visit.

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Who else stopped by today?

  • Goldfinches
  • Grackles
  • A European starling
  • A pair of mourning doves
  • Blue jays
  • Cardinals
  • American crow (the first time at the feeder)
  • Chickadees
  • Titmice
  • Downy woodpecker
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • American robins
  • two Canada geese flew overhead!

We're waiting on the Baltimore orioles who usually appear about this time. In fact, we thought the American redstart was a baby oriole, so close was its coloring (though its shape was all wrong). Bookworm found a plan for making an oriole feeder with orange halves and tins full of grape jelly. We hope to make something like that to hang out this weekend.

Thanks for taking a look through our windows with us! Spring is an exciting time at the feeders - have you noticed any new birds recently?