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August 2007
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October 2007

September 2007

Comfort in a Cup


At this time of year, as the holidays grow near, it's so lovely to settle down with a hot cuppa something soothing and sweet. Why not find a moment to do just that? Wrap a warm blanket around yourself and lay a new magazine, or a good book, in your lap. Take a few moments just to drink in the glory of the season and relax. Of course, if you look too comfortable, your lap might not remain empty for long! ;)

Now, it goes without saying, as much as we love (and sometimes long for) those quiet moments of solitude, they are, not surprisingly, few and far between. How much better then to create moments like these to share with our children? If we show them how to slow down and relax - to appreciate a warming cup, to take comfort in a cozy spot, and find joy in a good book - we can enjoy these pleasures together.

Speaking of warmth, comfort and joy, Nutmeg is hosting tomorrow's Loveliness Fair, celebrating the pleasure of Comfort Drinks. At the risk of being repetative (but in the interest of time) please let me link you to two archived posts from last autumn. Each features ideas and recipes for special drinks to share with your children:

So as the days grow short and cool, keep your cupboard stocked with all the fixings for your favorite tea (or hot cider, cocoa or milk) and your baskets filled with good books. Drape a fleecy throw on the couch and make time - alone or with company - to sit, sip and savor.

Friday Photos: A Woodland Adventure


Oh, I hope it is as beautiful where you are, as it is here today. It's still relatively mild, but it really feels - looks, sounds, smells - like fall. The skies are an interchanging mix of vivid blue and milky gray, and there's this constant cool, rustling breeze. It was a perfect morning for a little nature walk through the yard. :)

Above you see the basket Earlybird and I carried. We were looking specifically for acorns, and after a while we found some, far off in the northeastern corner. But as we began filling our basket, we noticed closer to the fence, the acorns were not so scattered, but lumped in small piles here and there. Consulting with the older two, we came to the decision that these acorns were actually already claimed - by the crazy gray squirrel we have seen hopping about in this corner of our yard. (It is right behind the playset so he always catches our eye, especially when he - or she for that matter - runs along the top bar and jumps down into the fort).

We kept our acorns for just a short while, admiring them, appreciating their colors and textures - and then returned our plunder to the scrubby little corner that this squirrel obviously calls home. We figured he needs them more than we do.

Next we had a most pleasant surprise! Take a look at this guy:


What an amazing looking caterpillar! Bookworm assured me the "stingers" were not really stinging at all, but soft to the touch. We've never seen one like it, and we're not sure what it is. (If you know, or suspect, please let us know!)


We only handled him long enough to move him off the busy pathway he was entering and into a quieter corner of the yard. He curled up in a ball at our touch, but soon began his slow amble again. He was obviously a caterpillar on a mission!

We wondered at his determination as well as his striking appearance. We thought that perhaps, despite the recent warm weather, he feels old winter creeping through the wood? And this fella knows just what he must do. He must spin his cocoon in some snug secure spot, so that he may be safe until spring. (This was the impromptu story we wove, and it added a fun element to the walk. Now I'm on a mission to make a furry little finger puppet so we can continue the story indoors!)

Just behind our fence, where the deep woods begin, we spied two treasures: this cool capped mushroom:


... and these Michaelmas daisies, just in time for tomorrow!


Now, these are actually New England asters that grow wild all over our state at this time of year. I don't believe they are technically Aster novi-beglii (true Michaelmas daisies) but because they do bloom right around the feast day, I like to point them out the boys and tell them how special they are. (I get so excited when I first spy them - it's like seeing the first goldenrod in August and the first bits of forsythia in spring!)

Later on, as I cleaned the living room, my mind still returned to the woods. I was trying to find something decorative for our front window when I came across some birch logs we had stored downstairs. They provide just the right woodsy perches for our miniature pumpkins!


And here are the three little acorns I saved from the lot. They now sit inside on a sunny windowsill, a reminder of our early fall nature walk.


Well, it's now late afternoon and the shadows are playing on the lawn. It's time to get busy with supper and evening activities, so I'm off till tomorrow - or more likely Monday - it is the weekend after all!

Have a great one, everybody! 

You Make Me Smile!

I was recently honored by two lovely bloggers, Cindy and Michele, with this happy award:


Thank you dear ladies, you have certainly put a smile on my face this morning! :) And so now it is my turn to pass the award on to other bloggers who make me smile. I wish I had more time this morning - my list could go on and on - but I will begin with these five lovely women:

~ Tracy at Seaside Enchantment. I especially love her Around My Home posts. Her cheerful attitude, her love for her family and home, always bring a smile to my face.

~ Clarice at Storybook Woods. I love all her recipes and crafts, but just her banner alone makes me smile! I have especially enjoyed her whole Autumn Bliss series.

~ Nori at A New Springtime. Nori just started her beautiful blog, and I am enjoying it so much! Her Autumn Decorating post is not to be missed!

~ Eileen at Eileen's Place. I just found this blog (wish I could remember how!) and it is filled with beautiful nature crafts like acorn necklaces, and this Guardian Angel doll is so sweet!

~ Amanda at Soule Mama. I know many of you are familiar with her blog ~ and perhaps like me, are waiting with breathless anticipation for her forthcoming book! Every post at Soule Mama is a smiling moment filled with crafts, children and nature ...

Well, thanks again to Cindy and Michele for tagging me with this award! I am so glad to think my little corner brought a smile to someone's face. :)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Cake & Cocktails for the Harvest Moon


The perfect ending to our dinner last night, and not a bad breakfast this morning! ;)

The rich and spicy recipe came from Culinary Cafe. I called it our Pumpkin Moonshine cake, because it was made of pumpkin and we ate it by moonshine ...

We (meaning Bill and I) also tried a special drink, just for the fun of it - Susan Branch's Harvest Moon Cocktails:


Let me sum them up this way ... YUM!!!

You can find the recipe in Autumn from The Heart of the Home and here, in the October issue of Country Living (scroll ahead to picture 7/21). We made ours with the brandy called for in the recipe, but you could make these non-alcoholic by using apricot nectar (I would think).


The above shot is indeed the Harvest Moon, but taken at 6 this morning, as it set slowly in the western sky. Our night pictures came out very blurry - and no, it had nothing to do with that cocktail! ;)

Look again tonight if you can~ start watching just after sunset.

Our Nice Red Rosy Apples ...

Have a secret hid unseen ...


Do you know that sweet old poem? It's a lovely way to introduce the tiny star that hides within each and every apple. What a fun surprise for a child (or adult!) who has never seen it before! I myself was all grown up - a mama in fact - before I found the star hidden within.

Well, in case you haven't heard, today is Johnny Appleseed Day! We read a few books about him while waiting for Earlybird at OT this morning, and then, because it wasn't too hot yet, we headed up to the orchard to pick some apples. Only, as soon as we pulled down the lane I realized we had picked the wrong day - the roadway was lined with schoolbuses! So instead of venturing into the orchard, we quicky popped in the barn and purchased a bag of Macs and some cider; then we headed for home. EB was a bit disappointed not to see his ammals but I assured him we'd be back another day soon. I'd so much rather pick apples when the orchard is less busy, when the only background sounds are the autumn breeze, the bleating sheep and the squeals of my children ...

Back home, we tucked into our apples after lunch. We look for the stars every year now - and only on this special day. They still make us smile with surprise. :)

Oh! And I must remind you that tonight is the Full Harvest Moon! Look for its magnificent rising beginning just around sunset. (Perhaps it will be orange this year!)

We did some watercolor painting on the deck today in honor of tonight's moon (our favorite all year) and we made some fun things with our results. (I'll post pictures later tonight or maybe tomorrow.)

In the meantime let me leave you with another apple poem, one that is sure to become our new favorite Apple Day verse:

All the apples bright and red,

They’re hard as rocks, just like your head!

The stars inside, they shine so bright.

The apples glow from their light.

~ By Crackerjack, age 8

Afternoon Comforts

Just some happy random pictures of my afternoon to share with you all. :) It is a gorgeous day here ... balmy, blustery, golden. Sure, it's a tad hot for late September, but the heat provided the perfect excuse to break my no-caffeine-after-two rule and mix up what could be my last iced coffee for a while ...


The above picture started this post. I loved looking at that glass with its creamy cool concoction inside. I loved the dinosaurs in the background (Earlybird's) and the scattered journaling materials. So everyday, yet so comforting. That glass is old - it belonged to my grandparents before it became my own. The glasses have game birds etched on them (barely noticeable now) and I love them.


Oh yes, and just to the left of my coffee glass is my current pile of goodies - my autumn magazines. I am savoring them slowly, in bits and pieces as I get a chance. I usually leave one open on the island counter, and flip through it as I can. But that Country Living issue has a fabulous article all about author and illustrator Susan Branch (who needs a magazine of her own, I think!), and I halted right there when I got to it, marked my spot and set it aside. I was not going to read such an article standing up at the kitchen counter, without a cup of something soothing and sweet! No, I am going to read it tonight, curled up in bed with a cup of decaf. chai tea. That's how you read an article about Susan Branch. ;)

I am also reading that book at the top, one I ordered sooo long ago from my most favorite book catalog, Chinaberry. Its full title is Under the Chinaberry Tree: Books and Inspirations for Mindful Parenting, and it is just that. Perfect, and that too I'm reading slowly, a few pages at a time (with some underlining and notetaking along the way). 

Another fun little thing this afternoon - I came across a folder jam-packed with stuff I saved from Autumn 2005. Little clipped bits of magazines and things I printed out online. Like a treasure trove of goodies from long ago, just in time for another fall this year. I made up a whole two page spread in my journal:


Let me tell you a bit about what's there, if I may. This is a rare page with no actual writing by me - just visual inspiration. On the far left, a clipping from an herbal magazine about Angelica which I just learned is a traditional herb for Michaelmas (the archangel - hence the name). Also, there are some pictures of a beautiful woodland-themed Halloween party (with berried candy bark, meringue mushrooms, colorful sugared leaves and caramel apple cider). At the bottom is a label from a jar of pear baby food. Oh, the memories in that label! Earlybird was 3 in '05 and he still loved baby food! You see, he couldn't eat applesauce, so he'd have "babysauce" instead. I would make a cinnamon pear bread from 5 jars Of Healthy Times Juicy Golden Pears (yielding two loaves) and we all loved it! I especially loved the little moonlit owl label. I had this whole teatime thing dreamed up - mini pear breads and warmed juice served on a woodland picnic ... Boy, does my imagination get away with me - and that's just what journals are for!

On the right is a quote I liked, more autumnal pictures (a basket of apples and a platter of candy acorns), a strip from a new sheet of scrapbooking paper I love, and a book I am longing to order - Baking Bread with Children, forthcoming in February from Hawthorn Press. The last thing there is, of all things, a Waldorf school newsletter blurb - about a Halloween garden party for young children. I loved their ideas so much, I saved the piece for future reference.

And now I have no blogging time left as bedtime is upon us once again. Thanks for letting me share all these afternoon comforts with you. I hope you all have a great night. That evening breeze is just wonderful, isn't it? 

Monday Recap: Ashes, Squid and Clay

An eclectic day of learning, to be sure! :)

First of all, did you know it's International Take a Child Outside Week? My goal is to take the boys outside once every day this week - though tomorrow looks to top 90 degrees, and Thursday promises rain! Yesterday was a cinch though ~ gloriously sunny and warm. We headed out right after breakfast, eschewing pencils and paper for burnt logs and bugs.

First the log:


Remember a while back we had a bonfire to say goodbye to summer? Well, we checked on the ruins and found it an utterly fascinating mess. Loved the smell, not the residue so much. The blackened log had an almost iridescent quality to it, reminding us of crow feathers. Bookworm observed the texture of the charred wood to be like meringue cookies. :)

A stick of ashy wood makes a fine crayon, though, almost like an oil pastel:


Next we watched a spider in the sun for some time. We thought his shadow was cool, but not so much the debris of death he left all over his expansive web. Sure a spider's got to eat, but we were pretty repulsed by the hollowed out wooly bear caterpillar (not shown in the picture).


Circle of life stuff, right in our own backyard.

Next we collected leaves to do rubbings. EB opted to freehand a few planets.


And Bookworm made several colorful panels for his science notebook.


While we were looking at the galls on this leaf, this handsome dragonfly stopped by.


Higher up in the canopy, we spotted some strange fungus growing on the underside of the oak leaves. No idea what this is, but it can't be good. (See all the holes?)


We spied a lot of spider webs, a big dead green grasshopper, songbirds aplenty, and a pale fluttering white moth moving through the piney woods like a fairy or maybe a ghost (depending on who was telling the story, lol).

Inside, we watched a bit of a Discovery Channel show called Giant Squid Caught on Camera. My boys have a thing for large scary sea monsters like the kraken and giant squid. I found this neat online lesson plan about sea creatures, and this book might be worth checking out. I've also placed this on request at our library.

So next we dug out an old ocean-themed floor puzzle - something that appealed to all grade levels.


As you can see, like most puzzles in this house, it's missing a couple of key pieces (belonging to the whale and the squid it's attacking). It was still cool to look over. Did you know that we (meaning People) know more about Mars than we do our own ocean?


At lunchtime, we ate a pile of homegrown raspberries. Our bushes are nearing the end of their season, and we are trying to savor every last berry. This also happens to be Massachusetts Harvest Week, a week when schools across the state will serve local foods to their students. Well, this is right up our alley, so my students will participate!

Yesterday we ate our own (very) locally grown berries, tonight we'll enjoy produce from our local farmstand, and tomorrow we'll take a trip to the town farm. We'll also investigate what foods are grown locally here in our home state. I printed out a seasonal schedule so we can talk about eating with the seasons and why it's important to support our local farmers.


Shortly after lunch, Earlybird headed down the hall for his nap, and we worked on a project for history. We are currently studying Ancient Mesopotamia, and the invention of writing. To make our own writing tablets, we formed a bit of pottery-colored Sculpey into flat shapes and then the boys used sharp pencils to make their own cuneiform script.

Crackerjack really got into it:


And here they are, set to bake:


For follow up, I'm going to show the boys this site today, and have them copy their ancient names in their notebooks.

Well, it was a good day - lots of learning inside and out. Today we'll start off with math and spelling and later this afternoon, we'll kick off our state capital study (with flag-adorned cupcakes, of course). I have some Johnny Appleseed books to read, too (tomorrow being his birthday) and a little apple activity for Earlybird.

The weather report predicts we'll hit 90 degrees today, so I'll have to "take my kids outside" early before it gets just too plain hot. New England is fickle in any season, but it always seems especially fall.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this peek at our Monday - but Tuesday's here now, so I'm off to get things rolling. Have a good one, my friends!

September Sewing

Just a quick note before the day gets underway ...

September is National Sewing Month and today's Martha is all about sewing! It looks to be aVintagewomen4 great show with lots of tips and ideas.

Of course, as a conscientious home educator, I would not even dream of interrupting a busy Monday morning to watch tv - except in the case of Nova perhaps, or an occasional Magic School Bus. ;) But you can bet your bottom dollar, I'll be watching the show later on Tivo!

So by now, you all must know what a sewing wannabe I am, lol. I am particularly interested in learning to do small embroidery projects, pretty little things like this (second photo) and this (first photo). And gracious, how cute are these?!

Well, all right, I'm off to make breakfast. Happy Monday, folks! :)

Autumn is for Family Games

The other day, when it was just cool enough that the fireplace sparked on, and the shadows grew long in the back yard, Bookworm cast a thoughtful glance outside and said, "You know I think it's time we got back to our family games night."

And right he was.

Once upon a time, Friday nights were known as Game Nights in our family. We'd stay up a bit later than usual, and play a game of one child's choice or another's. I'm remembering lots of Star Wars Monopoly and a fair few games of Battleship, too. It's been too long since we've made time for quiet game nights, and with a long cold winter not far off, it's a perfect time to revive that tradition.

A Family Games Night is a swell way to just sit and be with your family. You don't even need to spend time searching for lost playing pieces or missing dice, you can just make one up on the spot (it's amazing what kids will come up with!) or play any number of old-fashioned parlour games like charades and the like. And it goes without saying Family Games Nights are made all the more special when they are proposed alongside a trayful of hot cider and buttered popcorn. :)Haba_halloween_trick_or_treat_gan_2

A few games we love:

But while we get our Game Nights going again, I'm also going to order several of these so the boys can make up their own games this fall. In fact, I'm going to order one for myself and work on a Nature Study game! (I have just the perfect squirrel playing piece, too!)

Well, before I go, please let me link you to Marianne's blog, Learning2Love, where the Loveliness of Family Games will take place tomorrow. She's collecting posts through tonight, so if you have something to share, please do leave her a link. This will be the first of the Fall Fairs, and for the whole Autumn schedule, pop on over to Real Learning where Elizabeth has all the lovely details. :)

Season's Greetings!


Fall arrives bright and early this Sunday morning (5:51 to be exact) so let me be the first to wish you A Very Happy Autumn! My favorite season is here at last!

The above sign is a craft I made today, a little too fussy for my boys, but it really didn't take me too long once I got started. (One good thing about trying all these handcrafts, is how they teach me to slow down and have patience. I can always use a little more of that!)

I had saved this idea in (where else?) an old journal. It first appeared in the November 2005 issue of the now out-of-print Child Magazine. It was proposed as a Thanksgiving craft, but I changed the wording to suit the whole season.

You can see the article pasted there in my open journal below:


Also shown are the main materials:

  • alphabet stencils
  • autumn-hued card stock
  • fine glitter
  • thin golden cord
  • glue

(Not shown: sharp scissors, a hole punch and a small paintbrush)

First step, trace the letters for your message and cut them out with a sharp pair of scissors. (Regular scissors are fine for the bulk of the cutting, but the inside parts of the A and P, for instance, really need a sharp edge.)


Next step, apply a bit of glue (thinned slightly with water) to the edges of the letters (one at a time) and shake on a generous amount of glitter. (I used caramel, copper and burgundy.) Shake off the excess glitter, and spread the letters out to dry.


Now, hole punch the tops of the letters, and weave the gold cord through each word. Hang on your front door, along a mantle, or above a favorite window ...


It's really hard to see the letters in this picture; this window gets so much light it's always hard to get a good shot. I wish you could see how the glitter catches the shimmery leaves in the garland above. (And, you know, I wasn't too sure I wanted the glitter, but I don't think the letters would have stood out as well without it.) Suffice it to say, I am very pleased with the results and I plan to hang this banner here till Thanksgiving Day!

Now, it goes without saying, this craft could be duplicated, in seasonally appropriate colors, for Christmas, New Year's, Easter - any holiday or special day, really!

Well, I wish you all a Happy Weekend, and an Autumn rich with abundant blessings. See you next week!

An Autumn Nature Scavenger Hunt

Today was the first meeting of our new Nature Study Group, and it was fantastic! It was all I'd hoped it would be - great weather, a large turnout, enthusiastic kids, lots to see and discuss. Not surprisingly, I have many, many pictures to share, but for tonight I will post our Scavenger Hunt Checklist. Our theme for the September meeting was "Signs of Fall," and we found plenty on our walk today. :) Here's the list of what we looked for in case you might like to use it with your own family or group this season:


On your nature walk today, try to find the following items. Make notes or sketches if you wish, and bring one or more leaves back to make rubbings.


Flowers still in bloom

What color? Can you identify them?


Changing leaves:

A red leaf

A yellow leaf

An orange leaf

A leaf with three colors


A leaf with holes in it

What do you think happened?


A seed

How did it travel do you suppose?


A tree with no leaves at all (or very few)

Why has it lost its leaves so early?


An insect

Can you identify it?


An insect home (a web, hive, nest, gall)


An autumn sound

Where is it coming from? What is making it? Have you heard it before?


A fungus

          Can you identify it?


A fruit (berries, for example)

          Can you identify them?


A conifer tree

          What species?

          Are there cones to examine?


An example of decomposition


Something living under leaves or a log


Signs of animal activity or presence


An animal home (burrow, nest, shelter etc.)


On the back of this sheet, record the time and any other observations …

          Temperature, light, sounds, smells, activity


Tomorrow I'll post our answers to these queries, some in picture form. I'm really excited this is taking off, it's going to be such a fun group! (And if any NSG members are reading, thanks SO much for making this such a GREAT day!)

A Big Day (and a little craft) for Earlybird!


He got his very own library card yesterday!

Well, September is National Library Card Sign-up Month, don't you know?

I've had it in mind to bring EB to the library one day this month for a card, but I was waiting for just the right day. We're still working on those skills that make library visits do-able: not running (but walking), with mama (not ahead of), using inside voices (whispers, even), handling books gently. Those kinds of things. :)

Well, yesterday was the day. Earlybird had an hour's worth of occupational therapy in the morning, a really good, productive session. He was very relaxed when his therapist brought him out - "organized" as they call it. And it just so happened I had a book on hold at my local branch ... so we headed on over!

At our library a child must be 4 to get a card. At one point they also had to be able to sign their name or some such nonsense, but that rule's no longer enforced. We all walked up to the counter and I said hello to the librarian and explained that my littlest guy was ready for his own card. So she leaned over, smiled at him and said, "And what is your name?"

"I see a book all abowt twains?" came the eager reply.

"Oh, we have lots of books about trains!" the librarian said with a smile. So, card in hand, we started perusing the shelves. We kept it to three books for this first time - two about trains and one about planets. Twenty minutes later we headed home, EB's oversized Space Atlas cradled in his arms, a huge smile on his face.

After lunch, I decided to make a little felt pouch for EB to keep his card in. Mind you, I have very little sewing skill, so I kept the craft as simple as possible. ;)

I began with woolen felt, colorful yarn, embroidery floss and buttons, all things I had on hand (I have a curious amount of fiber art materials in stock for a non-sewer, lol):


Naturally, I got lots of help with measuring and choosing buttons:


While I worked, Earlybird folded his own felt pieces. There's just something about woolen felt, it feels so good in your hands.


I cut the piece of felt and pinned it into a pouch shape.


Once the edges were sewn (please excuse the messy stitches!) EB chose a green button and I sewed that on, too. That was an adventure, lol! :)


Finally we had the pouch done. I attached a length of yarn so EB could "wear" his card when we visit the library.


Even our cat, Penny thought the pouch was great!


And here's my Earlybird sitting by "his" library shelves. The bottom two shelves of this bookcase are reserved for his special books.


Well, I already have orders for two more pouches - both Bookworm and Crackerjack thought it was a spiffy idea! (Isn't it great when the older kids think something the youngest has is really cool?) I'll make theirs without straps though - they can just keep their card pouches inside their backpacks.

So, to continue our fun (and skill practice), I'm going to set up a library-themed dramatic play corner for EB. I'm also thinking about arranging a short library tour with our children's librarian (who is the sweetest lady and who personally welcomed EB to the library yesterday). But of course, the best part of all is that there will be more and more books to read!

As the ALA says, your library card is the most important school supply of all. :)

A Quick & Crafty Apple Tote

Apple picking is such a treasured American tradition; I look forward to it every autumn! Have you been yet this year? We're planning to go next week on Johnny Appleseed Day, and so over the next several days we'll have apple stories to tell, books to read, crafts to make, experiments to try and snacks to eat ... But first, we'll make tote bags to bring to the farm!

This is a fun, kid-friendly project, requiring some quick and easy parent set up. I did a trial run today, and took pictures of each step. Here's what you need:


      • a plain canvas bag
      • red fabric paint
      • a new sponge
      • a laundry detergent cap (clean and dry)
      • hot glue gun
      • sharp scissors
      • a black marker
      • paper towels


Now, there are plenty of apple-shaped stamps and stencils available at the store, and of course you could always just use an apple half itself! But in the September issue of Parents magazine, I saw a neat idea for making a homemade stamp by attaching a sponge to a laundry detergent cap. Well, I just happened to have an empty detergent container sitting in our recycle bin and a new package of sponges beneath the sink. :)

The first thing I did was to draw an apple on the sponge. Not having any apples on hand for an impromptu still life, I looked up stencils online. I found this one which turned out a bit bigger than I needed, so I eyeballed it:


I used very sharp scissors to cut out the shape, trimming any rough edges.


Next I attached the sponge shape to the top of the detergent cap, using my trusty glue gun (marker side down).


After a few minutes the stamp was ready to go, so I poured myself a good size dab of apple-red fabric paint ...


I dipped in my stamp, making sure to coat all the nooks and crannies, and ...voila:


Sorry that's a bit blurry; it was taken at the very moment Earlybird discovered what I was up to! (Remember this was supposed to be a trial run, lol!) I did find I needed to blot the stamped images gently with paper towels to remove excess paint. Then I set the bag aside to dry.

Of course, then EB got into the act:


And here are the two bags I (or we, as it turned out, lol) made today. We'll make a few more before our apple farm visit next week.


These are smaller bags, just the right size for small hands - whether they get filled to the brim with rosy red globes, or tote home just one or two. :)

I also think these bags would make lovely gifts for someone special - perhaps an elderly relative or neighbor who can't get to the farm on their own. Fill them up to the top, and attach a pretty fall ribbon, bring along a jug of cider and plan an autumn afternoon visit.

Well, I'm off now for the night. Tomorrow's a busy one, so I'll catch up with you all again soon!

Our First Day of Aquarium School!


As homeschoolers, we are blessed to live within driving distance of Boston. There are so many resources available to us - historic sites, museums, theater, national parks etc. I like to think that as my boys get older we will tap into the city's attractions more and more.

Tops among places to see (with families and tourists alike) is the New England Aquarium, pictured above. Shamefully we have not been in years (not since Crackerjack was in a stroller!) but this year will change all that! We have signed up for Aquarium School, a series of classes offered exclusively to homeschoolers, and it just kicked off today!

So, you know me, you're not going to get a quick synopsis here, lol. No, I took lots of pictures, and as a parent volunteer I've got the inside skinny to share. :)

First, the picture below shows my two older boys on our way in to class (Earlybird stayed home with Nana). They don't look too thrilled, but honestly they were! I think we were all a little nervous though. We didn't know what to expect, and of course, for me, there was the whole "getting into Boston thing," lol. Happily, we did know two other families (best friends of ours) who would be there, and spotting those familiar faces took the edge off considerably.


There are two classes held at the same time - one for 6-8 year olds and one for 9-12 year olds. Both cover the same content, but obviously at age-appropriate levels.

Here is Crackerjack with his friends, Kurt and Abby. They are working on the first activity together - inventing their own invertebrates.


Crackerjack's creature, the one in the in the middle, was called a "Tom" Jellyfish and those pipe cleaners were really poisonous stingers! In the background is Kurt's "Thunderfish" and in the foreground is Abby's (decidely gentler and friendlier) "Bunnyfish."


Our next activity was really neat - each table received a touch-tank filled with tidepool animals for the kids to explore! Crackerjack was fascinated, but a bit squeamish to pick the creatures up. I'm sure that will change as the classes go along. ;)

Here are two starfish and a spider crab just beneath:


There were also fiddler and hermit crabs, snails, scallops, mussels and sea urchins. Very, very cool.

The last part of our class was spent inside the Aquarium itself. What an amazing place!


Our first stop was the Salt Marsh tank and the kids all worked on a scavenger hunt list: "find an animal that has a shell," and "find and draw an animal that has spines."

CJ chose a snail and an urchin, respectively.

Before leaving the area, we took a minute to marvel at some larger ocean specimens. In the center of the Aquarium is a giant ocean tank that reaches from the bottom floor all the way to the top. At each level you can look inside at the myriad coral reef creatures who call the tank home. (You can watch the live webcam here.)

The kids were utterly transfixed: 


We saw a couple of sharks:


And a manta ray:


And check out this giant sea turtle! We thought he was a rock!


Walking up to the third floor we passed through a hallway with cool glow-in-the dark lighting, but the giant whale skeleton suspended above us was really something to see! 


Our next stop was the "Edge of the Sea, the large tidepool exhibit. Here's our friend Abby sharing her observations with me:


The children were allowed to pick up any creature they wished, but they had to be gentle, and they were asked to hold the animals under water.


Here we saw starfish, crabs of all kinds, (including horseshoe crabs, a recent fascination for us), mussels and sea urchins. The kids continued their scavenger hunt looking for things that "had sticky feet," things that "used camouflage," things that "could climb out of the tank," and an "animal with a long tail."

Crackerjack got right down to work:


Everything was so touchable, but the jellyfish were kept, naturally, under glass:


Lion's mane jellies - these pictures don't do them an iota of justice.

So tomorrow the boys will write about their experience in their science notebooks, and I'll print some of these pictures out for them to add, too. I am really thrilled to be participating in such an amazing educational experience, right alongside my boys. But the best part is, they loved it too, and you should hear them talking their Daddy's ear off right now! :)

Have a great night, everyone!

Science this Week: All Fired Up!


In the other gardens,

And all up the vale,

From the autumn bonfires,

See the smoke trail!

This is a busy week coming up for us, particularly science-wise. We'll begin our homeschool classes at the New England Aquarium and we'll have our first Nature Study Group meeting! But this afternoon we kicked off our study of chemistry with a bonfire, a first step in an exploration of the elements.

Last week we began reading our main science resource, It's Elementary: How Chemistry Rocks Our World. I am so pleased with this book - it is just the right blend of exciting presentation and solid information. We read about "Greek Geeks," and how Empedocles was the first great thinker to come up with the idea of everything being divided into four elements. He used a burning log as an example: the ash is earth, the liquid sap is water, smoke represents air and heat, the fire.

I thought it would be fun to burn a log in our chiminea and then record our observations of the process. This kind of project is decidedly a Daddy-kind of activity, so I waited for the weekend to begin. :)

What follows are the pictures we took of our process, which will end up in our science notebooks. (We are also toying with the idea of keeping a family science blog in addition to notebooks.)

I also read this encouraging passage in From Nature Stories to Natural Science: A Holistic Approach to Science for Families (a Waldorf-inspired science book):

"Fire is always the starting point for the Seventh Grade chemistry, and the place to start would be with a lovely big bonfire in your yard (assuming that is possible for you). Watch how it burns, how it smokes, the colors and qualities of the flame. These observations should be drawn and written up for the Good Book. The next morning examine the undisturbed bonfire site and and note the patterns of ash and charred wood. Record."

So this week we'll begin our notebooks, with drawings and narrations from our bonfire (pictures, too). I will also have the boys write down information we glean from It's Elementary! - dates, names and definitions. Any experiments we do will go in as well, recorded in both words and pictures.

So without further ado, here are pictures from our afternoon bonfire:


Daddy began with kindling and a few wooden blocks.


A harvestman residing inside the chiminea made a narrow escape!


The fire wasn't catching so we added newspaper, and opened the lid to let in air.


The view from above.


Now we were cookin'!


My fellas all gathered around the "bonfire."


After a while things were really blazing (see top picture) so we decided to wrap things up with a bit of help from the hose.


Inside, in our learning corner, I displayed our wooden nesting elements and opened our book to the page we are working on.

Here's that page close up:


The book is very colorful and child-friendly (mother-friendly, too!).

And, it just so happened this weekend we turned our fireplace back on. I'm going to have Bill talk with the boys about how this (gas) fire is different from the (wood) fire we burned outside today.

More notebook material. ;)


Sing a song of seasons,

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!

(Robert Louis Stevenson)

Little Nature Stories: Red's Time of Day

My favorite little critter at his favorite time of day - just before sunset, when all the commotion has died down at the feeders. His only dinner companions are the cardinals who also prefer this quiet hour before dusk.

This cage feeder suits him just perfectly, as he can perch at the top:


Hang down over the edge:


Rappel down inside to find just the right seed:


And pop right back up again to feast:



I tell you, I never tire of watching the red squirrels who visit our feeders. I wouldn't think of shooing them off, or heaven forbid, trapping and moving them as some people do. Sure they eat their fair share of seed (as do their bigger gray cousins) but all God's creatures are welcome at our feeders. Well, I do draw the line at larger (or predatory) animals such as coyotes and bear. We've never had anything like that, though. Just raccoons once in a while and the occasional neighborhood cat. The cats I drive off with some hand clapping and the raccoons we photograph if we can. The coons eat a good bit, and sure they might drag off a suet cage now and again, but really, most of the critters in our little habitat play fair.

We stocked up on birdseed yesterday, and today we will clean up the feeding area and fill up all the feeders. I would like to do a post about the feeders we employ in our yard - what kinds and how many. This is a great time of year to get your feeders going again, so stay tuned!

In other nature news, I have organized a little nature study club for my homeschool group and our first meeting is coming up! We are meeting at a local nature preserve to walk and explore and discuss ... I am planning to hand out a scavenger list of "signs of fall" for the kids to use as they walk about the place (with sketchbooks or cameras in hand).

Our plan is to meet once a month at the same place and do some nature study all together. I have wanted to organize a club like this for some time now, and was gratified so many families were interested - 25 at last count! You can be sure I'll be posting all about our first meeting later this week. :)

Have a beautiful Sunday, everyone!

Two Crafts and a Cake for Today's Feast

This morning, on the Feast of the Holy Cross, the boys awoke to a new and shining symbol of our faith:


This started out as an entirely different and more complicated craft, lol. I had thought the boys could make stained glass panels to place in each pane of glass, forming a cross shape as shown above. This would be done by sandwiching (many) bits of torn tissue paper between (several) sheets of clear contact paper, cut to fit this multi-paned door. But then, early this morning, as I was guestimating just how long it would take to make enough panels, I discovered that we were completely out of contact paper!

So that changed everything. Instead, I surprised the boys by taping full sheets of tissue in each pane (in a few autumn shades) and as they woke up the morning sun was just flooding through ...

What day is it? Crackerjack asked, sensing something was afoot.

I sprung it upon them that today was the Feast of the Holy Cross and then they knew one thing for sure: there would be cake. ;)

But next, we worked on a new family handprint cross. We made one last year on this day, but I thought it would be nice to update it with fresh paper and current hand sizes.

Last year we chose construction paper in signature colors; this year I chose scrapbooking paper in shades and themes that fit personalities:


From left to right: white posterboard for the cross base, an evergreen print for Bill, yellow gingham for me, a science theme for Bookworm, navy blue stars for Earlybird and a "cool" tie-dye pattern for Crackerjack (he chose this over fireworks).

Next I cut out a new cross base, and taped it together:


And then each of us had our hands traced on our select papers. Here the prints are all cut out and ready to apply to the cross:


You might notice EB found it hard to keep his hands still.

And here is our family handprint cross for the new year!


I like how it looks with all the patterns and, for good measure, I added a red gingham heart to the center. I also like the overall message: all hands to heaven or perhaps, many hands, one heart!

So naturally, there had to be cake. Here is the cross-shaped cake pan and the variety of sprinkles all ready to go:


And finally, here we have, freshly baked and cooled, our frosted and decorated cake. (Duncan Hines cake mix, homemade buttercream frosting, India tree sprinkles):


(That's supposed to be a heart in the center!)

Well, I hope you all have a happy weekend! Enjoy the September weather wherever you are, and hold those dear little hands (and hearts) closely!

From the Autumn Kitchen: Brown Bread


There's just something about September. I feel an irresistable urge to clean, to plan and to bake. For instance, yesterday I scrubbed the kitchen counters, assembled my holiday planner and baked a double batch of brown bread.

My husband just loves September. ;)

Well, one cannot grow up in New England and miss sampling that stalwart of picnics from Boston to Stockbridge: brown bread. My family enjoyed it - right out of the B&M can in fact! - warmed up and slathered with butter. Let me tell you, nothing tastes better with baked beans, piccalilli and ham.

It's fairly nutritious to boot - rich with molasses and cornmeal - and it has kid-appeal, too. My boys call it "chocolate bread" because of its rich brown color and sweet cakey taste. I've always wanted to try making homemade brown bread, but I was waiting for just the right (easy) recipe to come along. And then as it happened, Earlybird positively loved brown bread from the first taste, but since he can't have the commercially made variety (due to dietary restrictions), I started looking again for that recipe ...

And I found one in the King Arthur Flour Cookbook. At first glance it looked kind of complicated, but really it was very easy. I adapted it a bit to my liking and convenience.

Here are some of the ingredients:


  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raisins (I omitted these)
  • 2 cups buttermilk, yogurt or sour milk (I used yogurt)
  • 3/4 dark, unsulphured molasses

And, following are the directions:


Mix the cornmeal, flours, baking soda, salt (and raisins, if using) together. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk and molasses and add them to the dry ingredients.

Place the mixture in 2 greased one-pound coffee cans or 1 two quart pudding mold, filling them about two-thirds full. Cover these loosely with foil that has been greased on the inside and secure with rubber bands.

(I used coffee cans because I wanted that (to my mind) traditional shape. Since we don't buy canned coffee, I bought two cans of French Market coffee especially for this, which was the only variety that came in 16 oz. cans.)


Place the cans or mold in a kettle or saucepan on top of something (crinkled aluminum foil wll do) to keep the cans off the bottom of the pan. The kettle should be deep enough so its lid can cover the pudding containers.

Fill the kettle with boiling water two-thirds of the way up the cans. Cover, bring the water back to a boil, and lower the heat to a simmer. Steam your pudding for about 2 hours, adding water if necessary.

Here's how they looked after two hours of steaming:


It worked! The grooves were even there on the side:


It tasted soooo good with last night's supper (chicken pot pie and roasted vegetables), and it will taste even better this morning warmed up and buttered for breakfast. (Wrap bread in paper towel and microwave briefly to warm.)

I would make this again - now that I have the cans, the recipe and confidence to "steam." These might even make nice holiday gifts, wrapped up and added to a basket of "Yankee" goodies. Hmmm, I must make a note in my holiday planner! :)

Well, have a great day everyone! It is the Feast of the Holy Cross, and we will be making a craft (or two) later today. Be back soon to share!

Themes and Plans for November

I've had this post in my draft folder since oh, August or so, but only recently have I thoroughlyChrysanthemumbasket warmed up to the idea of November! :) We've had some cool cloudy days up here in the northeast, so finally my thoughts are migrating to the holiday season ahead. It's now time to add November to the autumn themes and plans we've gathered so far (please see the new typelist on the righthand sidebar) ...

In the month of November the natural world slows down, but inside we are lighting our our candles, stoking the hearth and bustling about our kitchens preparing. It's our own last hurrah before the cold and quiet of winter sets in.

And so, here are some Themes and Plans for November ...


  • sad, sunken pumpkins on the doorstep
  • crunchy, frost-bitten grass
  • milky, gray skies
  • ice on the pond
  • the first flakes of snow
  • honking geese
  • the Full Beaver Moon (24)
  • mice making their way inside
  • squirrel dreys visible in the bare trees
  • wild turkeys on the move
  • deer in the yard on silent, misty mornings
  • birds at the feeders
  • slick moss and wet leaves underfoot
  • nature's hibernation underway ...
  • the Leonid meteor showers


  • brussels sprouts
  • beets
  • apples
  • winter squash
  • pears
  • oatmeal
  • hot cider
  • Indian pudding
  • soul cakes
  • pies of all kinds
  • turkey and all the trimmings
  • homemade cranberry relish
  • Scotch broth
  • buttery shortbread
  • popcorn by the fire
  • make ahead: Christmas fruitcake
  • eggnog!


  • All Saints Day (1)
  • All Souls Day (2)
  • Martinmas (11)
  • St. Elizabeth (17)
  • Christ the King (25)
  • St. Andrew (30)


  • lay in winter storm supplies
  • ready the car for winter roads and holiday travel
  • inspect/replace holiday decorations
  • place candles in the windows
  • stock the pantry (and root cellar if you have one)
  • stack the firewood
  • finish Christmas shopping
  • clean carpets
  • begin writing and assembling Christmas cards
  • clean dining room: china, crystal, silver, table linens
  • clean jewelry
  • organize holiday outfits


  • Daylight Savings Time ends (4)
  • pie contest at the Farm
  • Bonfire Night (5, UK)
  • Election Day (6)
  • Veteran's Day (11)
  • National Homemade Bread Day (17)
  • Thanksgiving Day (22)
  • Mum's (26)
  • Stir-it-Up Sunday (25)
  • Christmas magazines at the newsstands!
  • holiday decorations out and about
  • the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Rockefeller Tree lighting
  • hometown football game
  • The Bee Movie 


Field Trips:


  • fingerknitting
  • paper quilts
  • cocoa club*
  • pinecone people
  • a nest walk
  • indoor terrarium
  • putting the garden to bed
  • woodworking
  • stacking wood
  • a lantern walk at Martinmas
  • Thanksgiving potpourri
  • a grateful tree

You know, I always think I'm not going to have much to say, and then I just go right on and fill up that post box, lol! Sorry this got kind of long, but I hope some of these ideas are helpful to you. As always, I would love to hear about your favorite November things!

Food for Thought: Alphabet Soup!

It's raining cats and dogs here today, and it's downright chilly too. Just the perfect kind of day to make soup - alphabet soup, so to speak!

Actually, this is an early learning activity I remembered from a few years ago. The boys and I played it today with Earlybird who is just learning to recognize and pronounce his name. I believe the idea originally came from an old issue of Nick Jr. Magazine.

Here is the set up:


In the background is a small (play) soup pot. Just in front of that are manila tagboard name cards. Of course, when we play, we use our real names. ;)

In the foreground are more brightly colored tagboard flash cards. On these I've written the alphabet, in both upper and lower case. I cut the letters into individual pieces, and placed them in the pot.


How it works is very simple. When it's your turn, you draw a letter and if it matches a letter in your name, you keep it. If it does not, it goes back in the pot which gets a good stir and the game continues.

(Now, how we actually played this today was, when someone drew a letter he looked to see if it matched any one of our names. If it did, it got placed down in front of that spot. If it did not - instead of going back in the pot, it became the property of Earlybird. He became keeper of the "unusable" letters, lol.)

The game is over when either A. everyone's name has been spelled or B. Earlybird decides he's sat still long enough. We're working on that attention span thing! ;)

We're also hoping simple games like this will help EB practice turn-taking, a skill that will be helpful as he begins a weekly social skills group next month. (This will be an extension of his current speech therapy, but in a group setting with other young children with spectrum disorders).

Now, as a fun, follow-up activity later this week I will have Earlybird help me prepare a homemade (edible!) alphabet soup. We will visit the farmstand for fresh vegetables. We will stop at the grocery store to buy ground meat for the meatballs, alphabet-shaped pasta and good stock for the base. (We'll keep an eye peeled for the letter A while we're at it - his OM letter of the week.) Then we'll bring our "harvest" home and cook up a big ole pot of alphabet soup. (I may follow this recipe, or I may just wing it!)

Helping mama in the kitchen will be a big new step for Earlybird this year, and I think kicking it off by making a special "September" soup, rich with veggies and letters will be fun. He'll have produce to wash and peels to compost, and maybe even, with mama's help, a pot to stir once or twice.

Homemade soup is so delicious and comforting, and it's a great child-friendly meal - to make and to eat. Especially when you consider this quote:

"Only the pure of heart can make soup." (Beethoven)

I love this quote! I have no idea why Beethoven said it, but we obviously must play some of his music while we cook. :)