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April 2008

Windows, How I Love Them ~

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Paula is hosting today's Simply Lovely Fair, and though I don't always get to participate in these fairs, I knew this one was a definite. Windows?? If you've been reading my blog for even a short time, then you know how much I loooove my windows. ;)

Not because they're fancy; they're not. And not because they're brand spankin' new; they're not that either. (In fact, most of them are pretty old.)

Simply put, the reason I find my windows so lovely is because they are a portal to the world around us - most notably the natural world. They keep us in touch with the seasons, the weather, and the nature all around us. You know, there's a whole lot of nature that can be observed without ever leaving the comfort of the couch. :)   

Windows also connect us with the subtle changes of the day. We watch the light move across the room as the morning unfolds. The golden light of late afternoon reminds us it's time to start supper. Through our open windows we hear a spring storm approaching, or the tree frogs deep in the woods. We might smell rain in the air, or maybe the smoke from a distant brush fire. We see frost on the panes some mornings; on others we feel the humidity rising with the sun.

But whatever the world outside hands us - be it wind or rain or worse - we close our windows and we are safe. They warm us in the winter, cool us in the summer, and they lock us up tight when night falls.

Well, I could wax poetic for some time about windows (obviously), but I think at this point I should start sharing pictures. :) It's been rainy here the past few days, but finally we have some nice weather, so as the sun rose, I started snapping my favorite window spots around the house ...

The first thing I like to do in the morning, just as soon as it gets light, is to raise the blinds in all the bedroom windows. This one is Earlybird's:

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The valance was made by my mother-in-law (EB's room has a lighthouse theme). I must say the one thing that stymies me about windows is window treatments. Very few of my windows actually have curtains - I tend to keep them bare and just hang things like vines and little lights along the top. This is mostly because A. I don't like to obstruct the view and B. I have no sense of style whatsoever.

Coming back out into the kitchen for another cup of coffee, I find the morning light spilling in ...

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My kitchen is on the north side of the house, so it can be dark in the morning. We are toying with the idea of putting in solar tubes to let in more light, which as any homekeeper knows is essential in the kitchen - for efficiency as much as atmosphere. Still, I love my view of the woods. :)

And here is the family room, just waking up ~

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These are the biggest windows in the house, and despite my previous statement about our house having old windows, these are relatively new. We put the family room on about three years ago (or is it four?). The one stipulation was lots of windows - I wanted to feel like I was living in my woods. Notice my cup of coffee in the lower right corner. This is where I enjoy my morning cuppa(s).

You might notice these windows still need to be trimmed. It's on the list. ;)

Next we have our French doors, which are not actually French doors, but a slider with extra big sidelights. They offer us plenty of light (that's the sunrise) and a nice view of the backyard.

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Here's that same shot, an hour later:

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I so love the morning light. :)

And last but not least, our learning room windows. These are my most favorite of all:

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Just outside these windows is the huge spruce tree from which hang - at last count - eight birdfeeders. Through these windows we've identified birds of all kinds. We've observed the (sometimes bizarre) behaviors of squirrels - back, red and gray. We've spotted toads and bugs bigger than big. We've saved critters from cats, watched turkeys scale a fence, and we've spied on our nocturnal neighbors as well. (Just to clarify, I mean raccoons and skunks.)

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It's a wonder we get any learning done around here. ;)

The way I see it, through these windows we experience life - the quiet everyday nature of life that passes almost unseen by most of the world. These windows allow us to be privy to that - in a small, but not insignicant way. The world is a big place, and learning all about it takes a long time. It's best to start small. Because that world begins just a step outside the back door - or I should say just beyond the window screen. :)

Well, I thank you very much for stopping by today, and my apologies to Paula for being so late with my Fair entry! Her Fair was just lovely without me though - I hope you'll pop on over to check it out! And ... I hope you all have a good night ~ I'll see you all again sometime soon.


Seasonal Planning ~ How I Do It

I know I've been promising this post for some time now, and my sincere apologies that it's taken me so long! (I have come to realize that I have a very poor grip on time management. I always think I can do so much more than is actually feasible.) Anyhoo, a while back I was kindly asked to share how I put together my monthly Themes & Plans posts and today, as I sat down to work on the May installment, I took a few pictures and jotted down notes as I went ...

And here they are. :)

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Pictured above is my workspace ("Mama's side" of the learning table). This is going to sound kind of nutty, but I always clean the room before starting. I clear off and wipe down the table. I neaten the side tables, countertops and bookshelves around me. I vacuum. I have to feel really free of distractions, and I like to spread out as I work. I don't kid myself and think I'm going to sit down and work for hours at a time on this post. I will do it in bits and pieces as I have time throughout the day, or as the case may be, days. But gathering all my things and setting them up nicely always gets me off to a good start.

So, with everything piled neatly in front of me, I then start working my way through the piles. (Not shown, off to the left, is my laptop parked on a folding table.)

I should start by saying that the first thing I do is to print out a copy of my previous month's Themes & Plans (in this case, April). I jot all my notes for the new post directly on those papers; this way I don't repeat myself and I remember all the lists I need to fill out.

I also pull every seasonal and liturgical idea book I own off the shelf (or at least the ones I like best) and set them on the table. You can see them in the top photo, and find them at the links listed throughout this post. (Yep, there's a lot of them. But you know, I've been collecting for years.) :)

I also bring out my past journals from this time of year, and the hanging file that holds my weekly folders for May and June:

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Also at hand, my month-at-a-glance calendar, and a hot cup of tea.

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I begin with the first list of the post: Nature. I jot down things that come to mind right away (apple blossoms, for instance). I look at my calendar for the date of the full moon, and if I can't remember the name of this month's moon, I check here. Then I look through my favorite seasonal/nature books:

I also visit the May archives of this blog and my other blog, The Nature Corner. This has been a neat way to remember what we observed or discovered at each turn of the year.

My next list is Folklore, which generally means the birthstone and flower of the month as well as any old sayings or farmer's wisdom. I find things like this in The New England Butt'ry Shelf Almanac, The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady (which really should have been in my book pile, but somehow got left out) and I also find a lot of lovely nature poems and sayings at this site.

For the Food list, I kind of work off memory (I was once, briefly, a food writer) and my years of experience reading foodie magazines. ;) If I am stumped, I do a quick google for something like: in season food May and find more ideas at sites like this. I can also look through my Martha magazines for meal ideas (like November is the time to start your fruitcake, and baked apples make a perfect breakfast in October), but generally, I just think about what kinds of things are plentiful, flavorful and comforting at this particular time of year.

My post next addresses Faith, and for that list I consult my calendar, as well as the website, Catholic Culture. I list feast days (solemnities and memorials) as well as any other notables (like Sacraments being made or when the Pope visited last month). This is just a (partial) list of what's happening on the Catholic calendar this month - actual ideas for activities and celebrations come further down in the post.

Household (& Garden) is my next list and for that I just think about what needs to be done around the house! I have a general outline of seasonal maintenance that needs to happen ~ culled from years of reading Martha and other housekeeping mags and paying attention to the routines of my mother and grandmother. I might also do another quick google for, say, a spring cleaning checklist, and from there find plenty of sites like this. And of course there is always Martha for great housekeeping tips.

Then we have the list called Life, and by that I mean any kind of holiday or event that takes place this month (other than those liturgical days already listed). Again, I turn to my calendar (and my blog archive from last year) for initial information (things like birthdays, local sports and events). As for all those obscure holidays - National This or That Day - I find them in a couple of different books (Literature for Lively Lessons and China Bayle's Book of Days) as well as a website or two (Web-Holidays and About.com).

And then comes the Book Basket - which is so much fun to fill up! :) I start with my own basket (I organize our books by season), and list all those titles. Then I consider what special themes we're exporing this month (honeybees or rivers for example) and look online for new (sometimes familiar but forgotten) titles, cross-referencing with my library (natch). Most of our books reflect nature themes and holidays. It is very easy to find titles at Amazon - in fact you can get quite carried away. ;) By the way, the aforementioned Literature for Lively Lessons has lots of book suggestions for all the special days of the year (many of which are author or illustrator birthdays).

After the Book Basket, I brainstorm a few ideas for possible Field Trips & Outings. These usually jive with our studies that month, but almost always are seasonal in nature. (Much of what we do as home learners is seasonal in nature.) I list three or four ideas, hoping we'll do at least one or two. I can tell you right now, there will be a field trip to a local orchard to sketch the apple trees in bloom. :)

My final list is usually my biggest - Crafts & Activities - and these ideas I find, literally, everywhere. I bookmark them at blogs and boards and I dog-ear them in magazines like Family Fun, Faith & Family, Wondertime, and Living Crafts (a new favorite). Some things I brainstorm myself (because I so love to dream up nature-inspired activities and crafts for the children) but many of my ideas come from books, and here are some of my favorites (and I've *starred* my very, very favorites):

As a last step, because it's most indulgent, I go through my journals for any other ideas I might have had in the past. I've been keeping journals off and on for years, but devotedly in the last two or three. I know I've posted about my journals before, but they are basically a holding zone for every idea, clipping or article I might come across (as well as my own thoughts, of course). I never expect to get to each and every possibility, but keeping them on file in this way means there's a chance they might be useful to my family someday.

Well, this was a mighty long post, and if you've stayed with me this long, I thank you! And if this is helpful to someone, I am thrilled. (That's the whole point to blogging, isn't it?) Seasons come and go so quickly, and each one is, truly, a gift. Planning and enjoying the seasons has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. Somewhere around here I have the "Autumn Planbook" I made when I was in - oh, I think, 7th grade? A bunch of loose-leaf paper stapled together, decorated with drawings and big bubbly printing. It was all about the "whispy tendrils of woodsmoke," "the golden leaves fluttering by on the crisp breeze" and the "apple crisp baking in the oven." And, because I was 12, it was also all about the Holly Hobbie skirts, penny loafers and the fair isle sweaters for the new school year. :) Yes, I've always been a sap for the seasons, and I guess I'll never change ...

Have a wonderful night, my friends. I'll see you again sometime tomorrow. :)


Aquarium School in April

Oh my goodness, this feels good - sitting down in the warm house, sipping a cup of hot tea - after a long and wet trek in and out of Boston! We've just got in from Aquarium School, and let me tell you - it's really blowing out there! I don't even have my usual Boston skyline shot to share - it was just too wet and cold to take the picture!

This month's Aquarium School theme was lobsters. We touched upon lobsters earlier in the year when we talked about the perils of overfishing. This time we talked about the Lobster Lab at the Aquarium where they literally grow thousands of lobsters "from scratch."

I took a whole bunch of pictures, but let me start with an early lunch with our friends. The Aquarium has a neat cafeteria, and here's our gang tucking in ...

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After lunch we mosied over to the classroom. (Actually, dashed more like.)

In Crackerjack's class, the kids began with a sizing and coloring activity. They had to use a special tool to measure if their lobster (picture) was legal size; once they found one that was neither too big or too small (and had no eggs) they were allowed to bring it back to the table to color. These are the guidelines fisherman must use when trapping lobsters.

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Here is Crackerjack with his friend Kurt coloring their lobsters: Mr. Rainbow Lobster and Rainbow Lobster, Jr. :)

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(CJ would like to talk about his new hat for a moment: "My hat protected my hair from the rain and it feels good on my head.")

The woman who runs the Lobster Lab brought in a variety of juvenile lobsters to show the kids. These here, housed in yogurt cups, are (top to bottom) 1, 2, 3 and 4 weeks old:

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At this size they are considered larvae or plankton. A female lobster can have up to 100,000 eggs at a time and only TWO of those eggs will become adult lobsters!

And these larger specimens are (clockwise from lower left) 3, 4 and 5 years old:

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As the lobsters grow larger they must be kept in separate containers because, unfortunately, lobsters tend to be cannabalistic! (Note the blue color of the lobster on the right. We learned that lobsters have different colored shells due to genetics and diet.)

Here is a molted exoskeleton of a spiny lobster:

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Lobsters molt their exoskeletons as they grow. As adults, this only happens once a year or perhaps every two years. And by the way, the lobsters found here in the northeast are called American lobsters. They can't exist in waters further south than New York. In warmer waters, you would find an entirely different breed (a Spiny or Rock lobster).

The rest of the class time was filled with a lengthy but interesting slide show. This was the last picture I took before digging out my knitting. :)

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Interesting things we learned today (by the boys):

~ Horseshoe crabs are not actually crabs or even crustaceans. They are more closely related to spiders.

~ It takes about seven years for a lobster to grow to a legal eating size.

~ Lobsters are decapods, which means they have 10 legs.

~ The American lobster has two claws, one for pulling apart the meat so they can swallow it and the other for crushing their food.

~ Lobsters in supermarket tanks have bands on their claws so they won't eat each other.

~ If you like lobster bisque you are most likely eating the meat of a spiny lobster, not a northern lobster.

~ There is such a thing as shell disease and the lobster's shell gets all ugly looking. In captivity it doesn't get very bad, but in the wild it can cause the lobster to die.

~ The oldest lobster in the aquarium is 43 years old; in the wild they might grow to be 100 years old!

We have two more classes to go and we will be done with Aquarium School for the year. It's been a great experience for my boys. As for me, it's been great to get my feet wet getting them in and out of Boston on my own. (I'm usually a ninny when it comes to city driving.) I anticipate as they get older, we'll be taking advantage more often of Boston and all it has to offer a young scholar. :)

Well, as always I thank you for stopping by and sharing in our day. I hope you all had a good Monday, and I'll see you all again sometime soon. :)


Planning the Week ~

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I can hardly believe there are only a few more days left in April!

With May and June our last months of "formal" lessons, at this point I like to look at what we have left on our academic agenda and see if the schedule needs any tweaking - which I've now done, and consequently, I cut out a few things and changed things up a bit. So instead of Ancient Rome we'll be studying Ancient China (with an eye towards the Summer Olympics). No more phonics or spelling workbooks - we'll be keeping simple reading notebooks instead. As for science, I've given up on trying to fit in chemistry - now we'll just concentrate on Aquarium School and our nature studies (which, with the spring, have really blossomed lately). And math - well, math stays the same. ;)

I'm also working on a "summer school" idea for the boys - not because they've fallen behind academically! - more to give us a theme for the season. Some activities to do and a learning path to follow - kind of like camp, only at home. My theme this year for our summer will be "Forest School" and I have a whole notebook filled with ideas. I will share them with you just as soon as I can. :)

But here's how our week shapes up, this week ~

Math ~ Daily lessons, first thing in the morning.

Language arts ~ Work in reading notebooks, completing a small passage after each book (or in CJ's case, after every few chapters or so). With Earlybird, I'm working on a similar notebook - but instead, I'll assemble his (and my) drawings/paintings for books he's sat through. The boys are reading just now:

Bookworm: The Hobbit

Crackerjack: The Panda Puzzle and Spiderwick Book 2: The Seeing Stone (I'm reading this aloud to him at night)

Earlybird: The Ugly Duckling

History ~ Organize Ancient China study (me).

Science ~ Aquarium School class; draw a page for our field guide (re the salamander), spend lots of time outside, as weather allows; visit the swan/duck pond.

Religion ~ Ascension Day (Tea and a Craft).

Habit ~ Pet care.

Other Stuff ~ May Day (Thursday), Kentucky Derby (Saturday), Barnes & Noble Educator Week (through Sunday).

Housekeeping ~ Put away winter clothes (finish packing storage boxes), shampoo rugs, wash windows and hang rest of screens.

And since Monday morning is already rolling right along, I'd best be up and about! Thanks for stopping by ~ I hope you all have a great week! :)


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Seven

Play

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"So much of the structure that we impose on our children's lives is really intended to make our own lives easier. We don't want to give up our freedom, and so we fail to grant our children theirs. As every mother knows, it's easier to sign up for sports camp than to carve out a week to allow your children to follow their own inclinations at home. But children need time that is utterly their own - time to take up residence in their own lives, time to dream through an afternoon, time to play with the kids next door, time to wake up to their own pleasures. Above all, they need some time when we adults aren't calling the shots."

When I'm asked why we homeschool, I usually respond that there are too many reasons to list. But more often than not, (depending on the nature of the conversation, and the person asking the question), I usually then go on to list out those reasons. :)

One of the reasons at the top of that list is that homeschooling gives my children so much TIME. Time to be children, time to figure out who they are, time to get to know their brothers and the rest of their family. As a family, homeschooling allows us to draw up our own schedule, fillling it in as we see fit - making sure there's lots of blank space on that chart.

Play needs to be part of that blank space. Children can discover so much - about the world, about themselves - through their play. Some discoveries just cannot be taught or arranged by the adults - they must be stumbled upon by the children themselves.

For example, last week we had our Nature Club's April Meeting. We had a lovely time, searching for signs of spring in the woods. The initial plans were drawn up by parents, and the walk itself was led, more or less, by the parents. At the end of our walk, we gathered together to share our findings - drawings, poems, etc. The children had a great time - you could read the excitement in their faces, pink from the fresh air and exercise.

But the moment we were "done," the kids were off - off to the rocks. And before long we had a group of - oh, easily 30 children, of all ages and sizes - climbing the rocks, taking part in some kind of game. Completely child-driven, child-led and child-imagined. It was like they were speaking their own language - I'd hear snippets as they'd run by in packs - something about tribes and some kind of mission. We parents just stood back and let them do what they had to do. They let us have our time - now this was theirs.

My heart soared on this gorgeous spring day, that my children - all these children - all had so much time to PLAY. To just be children. Given a half hour of freedom, they knew just what to do with it.

Of course, this example shows what children can do with all that time, when they are all together. But what about when they are on their own?

"Perhaps we adults have lost the fine art of lollygagging, but at least most of us mastered it as children. We knew what it was to bored and to find something on our own to do; we knew what loneliness felt like; and we discovered the value in being alone sometimes. Left to our own amusements, we found resources we didn't know we had. We learned, as Worsworth wrote, to see through "that inward eye that is the bliss of solitude." These were valuable lessons - and I fear that our own busy, well-entertained children may not ever have the chance to learn them. Inventiveness and self reliance are being scheduled right out of them."

And of course the other question I often get asked re homeschooling is: "Don't your kids get bored?"

And to be perfectly honest, not really. Or if they do get itchy, it's usually not long before they find something to start up (or, ahem, something is suggested for them). I am a huge fan of boredom. I think in today's culture, boredom is quite underrated.

And to be further honest, though we're as busy as the next homeschooler (classes, clubs, field trips, etc.) the reality is we are home a lot. And no matter how much you are home - whether you homeschool or not - you do need to plan ahead for these times.

I'm still working on this myself - I don't mean to sound like I have it all figured out! But here are a few ideas I've been knocking around regarding making home time fulfilling for everyone ~

Explore and cultivate hobbies, give them room to grow. Involve the kids in the everyday running of the household - washing the car, walking the dog, etc. Set up comfortable places to read, convenient spaces to play. Rotate the books on display week by week. Make art supplies accessible, and keep a workspace available nearby. Keep music on inthe background, something different or something familiar - whatever you think will strike the right mood that day. A basket of CD's on a shelf, next to the player invites children to consider the music themselves. Make your child's bedroom a sanctuary - a place to dream, and relax. Set up shelves for things like aquariums, terrariums, rock collections or lego creations.

Well, I've run out of time for today, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this chapter! How do you encourage your children to entertain themselves? What kinds of space (both physical and emotional) do you provide for them?

And ~ I hope you are all enjoying your weekend! See you all again sometime soon. :)

(Next week's chapter: Secret Places)


A Surprise in the Woods!

Look at this little fellow we unearthed today!

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Earlier this afternoon, Bill was cleaning up around the compost pile just behind the fence, when he spied a salamander (newt? eft?) snuggled deep beneath an old log. As it was all covered with pine needles and other woodland debris, it was hard to distinguish his coloring and markings. (Mottled reddish-brown as best we could tell.) We didn't want to handle him too much so we just held him long enough that all the boys could marvel over him and I could snap a few pictures. Then we returned him to his cool shady spot beneath the log.

Isn't he gorgeous?

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If anyone knows how to tell what kind of salamander this is, please let us know in the comments below! :)

As we walked back into the yard, I happened to look up at this birch tree, and noticed (for the first time) these neat mushrooms growing up its side:

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Something else to look up! :)

So many treasures to discover in the woods, especially in the Spring ...


~Nuttiness~

You Are A Peanut
You are popular, even with people who tend to have picky taste.
Kids love you, as do dogs. From rednecks to snobs, most people have a place for you in their hearts.
As popular as you are, there are some people who can't be near you.
Don't take it too personally. There's just a few people you rub the wrong way.
*This quiz has been all over, so I HT everyone!*
On a separate, yet somewhat related note, we are shopping for hazelnut trees this weekend. Why hazelnuts, you ask? Well, I've always had an affinity for hazelnuts. I own a big British jam-making book and every other recipe, it seems, has them in it. Like Hedgerow Jam, for instance - how lovely does that sound? In lieu of hazelnut trees - which may be too big to grow in our yard - we'll be looking for crabapples. Or maybe elderberries (technically shrubs and not trees). I'll let you all know what we decide. :)
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Have a great weekend, my friends. I'm taking a little time off, but will be back before long with the next Mittenstrings post (etc.).
See you all soon!

A Happy Arbor Day to You!

Do you have any special plans for Arbor Day this year? There are all kinds of ideas to Looking_up_at_birdybe found at the Arbor Day Foundation webpage, but here are a few possible activities for your family today ...

~ You could plant a tree, of course! Since that takes some forethought, you could look for a good site on your property, discuss what kind of tree you'd all like (take a vote?) over supper, and maybe plan a trip to the nursery this weekend.

~ You could choose a tree to befriend ~ one in your yard or one along your street. Tie a colored ribbon around the trunk or a branch to remind you which one you picked. Follow it through the seasons with your children ~ take bark rubbings, press fallen leaves, observe any changes or animal life (insects, birds or mammals).

~ Take a Tree Walk today. The woods would be a perfect spot for this, but so too would a city park. Bring along your field guides and sketch books. Keep a list of how many different kinds of trees you can identify. (And sketch or photograph those you can't for further research.)

~ Go on a Tree Scavenger Hunt ~ at the supermarket! Have your kids look around to see how many different things in the store came from trees.

~ If you don't have a tree identification guide, now is the perfect time purchase one. (Barnes & Noble Educator Week begins tomorrow!)

~ Or, begin a field guide of your own! Look up the trees most common in your area, and plan a page for each one (and then some). As you find a tree species, enter your drawings or photographs and any observations you make. (You can supplement your findings with information readily available online.)

~ For tea-time, bake up some leaf-shaped cookies. Acorns, maple leaves, evegreen tree shapes would all work. Depending on your weather, serve them with cinnamon tea or a glass of cold apple cider.

~ Make plans for a tree fort! (Get Dad in on this one.) Let your children draw up plans and formulate their ideas ... then see how you can make it (or a version of it) happen. There's nothing like a tree fort for imaginative play!

~ Make up a tree poem page for your nature journals. A quick google search will lead you to plenty from which to choose. Or maybe you already have a favorite? Let your children copy it out and then add stickers or sketches (depending upon age and interest).

~ Read some favorite tree stories, like ~

~ My boys are always looking for faces in the trees, imagining there might be treefolk living inside - maybe even an ent like in The Lord of the Rings! This would be a fun and magical walk to take today. And if you find one - of course you must sketch it - maybe even name it!

~ Brainstorm ways we can all help protect the forests. Can we use less paper - or find ways to re-use the paper we have? Look for recycled paper products at the grocer's or office supply store. (And if you don't see them, ask why not at the service desk.) Devise a plan for purchasing your household supplies with less packaging.

~ Call your local nature sanctuary and see if they have any tours or classes specifically about trees. Gather some of your friends for a ranger-led walk through the woods and learn all you can about trees!

But however you spend it, I hope your Arbor day is great!

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"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world." ~ John Muir


We Slew the Dragons!

And oh boy, were they ever delicious! ;)

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This afternoon we had our St. George's Day tea. (Minus the tea, though ~ it was too warm!) Actually, I must back up a few hours - we started our day with crumpets in honor of England's National Day (being English ourselves, a wee bit). Then, after math, we headed for the backyard for some informal swordplay. (We meaning the boys and not me, of course. I assumed my usual role of queen, watching her brave knights from yonder kitchen castle window.)

The book shown above is quite beloved in our home and has been for years (notice, if you will, the staples holding it together). The boys love the story - and I do too - but I particularly love the illustrations. Maryan has a neat project going on, identifying the many plants that appear in the beautiful page borders. I'll have to remember this idea next spring when I anticipate we'll be working on a botany unit.

But for today, it was reading, playing and of course, eating. Here are my completely last-minute dragon cupcakes ~

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Honestly, I think they might look more like aliens than dragons, but nobody called me on it. ;) (If you're looking for a really fantastic dragon cake though, do check out Matilda's creation here.) These are just chocolate cupcakes with green-tinted frosting (leftover from our Earth Day Celebration), candy drop eyes, chocolate chip noses and sliced strawberries serving as ears and fire-brandishing tongues. :) Odd-looking, yes - but delicious!

Speaking of dragons, I found a note in my folder from last year, reminding me to plant "Dragon" asters this spring, in preparation for Michaelmas in the fall. (Thank goodness for my folders! I'd never remember a thing without them.) So I'll keep my eye out at the nursery for this particular seedling (too late for seeds, I think).

Well, I hope yours was a happy day ~ see you all again sometime tomorrow!


Bubbles, Swords, Cupcakes and Dirt ...

... on a fine spring day, what more could a little boy wish for? :)

Here are a few pictures from our visit yesterday with my mum and her cousin, her cousin's daughter (my cousin) and her son (my boys' cousin). Actually that makes us all cousins, doesn't it? :) First, second or third, it doesn't matter ~ we had a lovely time!

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The boys and their trucks in the dirt, happy as clams.

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Earth Day Celebration Cupcakes!

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Bubble wands instantly became lightsabers. ;)

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And then the bubbles were slain, of course.

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By sword or 'saber, either one did the trick!

Well, thanks so much for stopping by ~ hope your day's going well. :)


April Smiles from the Boys

These are pictures from the backyard the other morning - taken by me, but choreographed by the boys. :)

Now, fair warning ~ if you're stopping by while having your breakfast (or lunch or supper for that matter), you might want to come back a bit later ... ;)

Ants taking a caterpillar hostage:

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Scat, which belongs to a rabbit:

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A grub:

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A weed:

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A worm. Or, really, half a worm:

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A ladybug ~ perhaps one of ours?

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I'm sure before long we'll have spiders, mushrooms and toads (etc.) to add to the list. As the mother of three boys (and the only female in the family), I've come a long way in what I now find interesting ~ and no longer icky!

Thanks for stopping by ~ have a great Thursday!


April Smiles ~ More Spring Things

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A honeybee with its satchels of pollen ...

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A dandelion with all of its tiny florets ...

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A tent caterpillar nest (or so we suspect) ...

We had such a busy day ~ with our cousins here for lunch and a lovely visit. We spent the whole day outside - literally! And now I have that sun-sleepy feeling you get at the end of such a day. An early-to-bed kind of night sounds awfully good, but I have my Mittenstrings Book Study tonight, so I'm off ~ leaving Bill and the boys to their own devices regarding supper. :)

Tomorrow we'll have our little St. George's Tea, munching on scones and reading Crackerjack's favorite book of all time. I've got the dragon's cave set out on display (complete with brave knight and fierce dragon) and I'm sure there will be a bit of swordplay before the day is over. ;)

Have a great night, everyone! See you all sometime tomorrow ...


Spring Crafting ~ A Little Earth Loom

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This is a really fun way to spend an hour or so in the backyard with the kids. You'll be surprised how much you "discover" as you hunt around for your weaving materials!

The original idea for this craft came from Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children ~ a favorite book for nature crafts, by the way! The book suggests weaving yarn into the loom (which would be lovely in the fall) but we went directly to the backyard for our spring weaving supplies. ;)

First thing to do, have the kids look around for small branches that have a Y-shape. They are quite easy to find, but if you think this might test their patience, scout out some branches yourself beforehand. Then, wind a length of twine across the V-portion of the branch for the warp. (You could use yarn here, but I liked the neutral shade of the twine as well as its sturdiness.) Secure the twine at the bottom, weave it back and forth across the branch to the top, and then tie it off at one side. Voila ~ a little Earth Loom!

Now, have your children start finding bits of Spring to weave into in their looms ...

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We all worked on one loom together, but you might like to give each of your children their own.

Our final results:

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What made this activity especially fun was the way it got the kids down on their knees examining all the things growing around the yard. They also found lots of dried bits of nature leftover from the fall.

Some of things we wove into our loom:

  • blades of grass
  • pine needles
  • small twigs
  • dried helicopter seeds
  • dried hydrangea blossoms
  • dandelions
  • tree buds
  • tiny acorn caps
  • forsythia and lilac branches
  • a bit of birch bark found on the ground
  • a fuzzy herb leaf
  • a feather

When our loom was complete I placed it on our nature shelf. As expected, the living things started to shrivel pretty quickly. (A good lesson there.) The boys pointed out this loom would make a fun plaything for younger children ~ it seemed something like a fairy wand or maybe a royal elven staff. :)

I hope you will try the earth loom with your children sometime ~ and if you do, please let me know! In the meantime ... have a GREAT day, everyone!


Happy Earth Day!

Your Life is 68% Green
You live a very green life, and you're aware of how your actions help the earth.
Of course, it's hard to be totally green. But when you make a tradeoff, you know why you're making it.
Still nursing my coffee this morning, so how about a few thoughts from last year? I'll be back with a "fresh" post before long ... :)
A few ideas for celebrating our lovely, life-giving earth today:
  • If weather permits, open your windows wide and exchange the stale winter air for the freshness of spring.
  • Make up a new spring nest for each of your loved ones (soft cottons sheets, light woven blankets, quilts folded at the foot of the bed).
  • Set up a small nature shelf for the children. Let them add little treasures they find like nests, stones, and blossoms.
  • Make up a basket for your field guides, and keep it handy!
  • Rise early and sit by an open window with a warm cup of tea. Listen to the new sounds and feel the new air - write down your thoughts in a journal.
  • Sit down as a family and discuss how you might be better stewards of the earth.
  • Carry canvas bags to the market instead of bringing home plastic. You can buy plain ones at the craft store and decorate them yourselves.
  • Find out where there will be farm stands this summer; try to buy local as much as possible.
  • Begin a compost pile.
  • Go on a neighborhood walk - bring a trash bin or bag, wear gloves and clean up trash as you go.
  • Plan to grow some food of your own this year.
  • Visit a natural foods store and look for environmentally friendly cleaners. (Even better, make your own.)
  • Look up your town's recycling guidelines; they might have changed! We just found out ours did - and there is much more we can recycle.
  • Read biographies of naturalists with your children.
  • Sit down with your grocery list (I use my store receipt) and consider each item you purchase regularly. How might you make a better choice (less packaging, better nutrition)?
  • Do an energy audit of your household. Where can you decrease your energy consumption?

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Have a BEAUTIFUL Earth Day, my friends!


Rhubarb, the First Fruit of the Year

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Though technically rhubarb is a vegetable, when it's baked up all tender and sweet, and smothered in crust and whipped cream, it really doesn't matter what you call it. :) Famously paired up with the next fruit on the seasonal timetable - the strawberry of June - rhubarb is really very good on its own. In fact, I'd almost be willing to say I prefer it on its own.

My grandfather grew rhubarb in his backyard and I remember sitting on the back step, dipping stalks of freshly cut rhubarb in a dixie cup of sugar. Oh goodness, that was a treat! I also remember the rhubarb he'd stew and tuck between layers of impossibly perfect pie crust, the top lightly dusted with cinnamon and sugar. I've never been very good at making pastry, so it is my summer goal to learn how to make his crust. To my mind, there's no better way to keep up with the delicious summer produce than with a parade of pies and turnovers. And how great it would be to stock the freezer with a supply of homemade pastry? What a great way to get a head start on your Thanksgiving pies!

But let me get to the point of this post which is to share the recipe for the scrumptious rhubarb dessert pictured above. It is actually called a grunt (which made my boys giggle), and I found it in How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson. It seemed too impossibly easy, but it came out so, so good. A keeper for sure.

Rhubarb Grunt

  • For the filling:
    • About 1 1/2 pounds fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
    • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar depending upon preference and sourness of fruit
    • scant 4 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing dish
  • For the topping:
    • 1 cup cake flour
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, whipped

Preheat the oven to 375 F. and place a baking sheet inside. Spread chopped rhubarb over bottom of an 8 x 12, buttered baking dish - sprinkle with sugar, coating evenly and dot with butter. For the topping, sift the flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Gently stir in the cream, making a sticky dough. Spread this mixture over the fruit in handfuls, covering the top evenly. Place dish on sheet and bake for 45 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling.

I served it with whipped cream; it would also be great with vanilla ice cream. (Especially, this kind.)

So don't forget to check the produce section at your local grocer's for those long red stalks. Even better if you can get them from a local farmer - or your own backyard!


The First Bike Ride of the Year!

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The weather was simply so fine today, we decided it was time for a family bike ride ~ the first one of the year!

This is a trail that runs behind our house. We are so excited that the town is grooming it into an official bike path! It leads through some beautiful "wilderness" ~ a meandering river, conservation woods, fields, streams and such.

Surprisingly, despite not having ridden my bike in over a year, I had no trouble getting back in the groove, so to speak. Unfortunately though, Crackerjack had a lot of trouble with grooves - and bumps and divots and pits - and the generally rough and muddy terrain.  He just could not ride his bike easily along here and he got very frustrated and sad ~ so he and I walked our bikes back home while Bill, Earlybird and Bookworm went ahead. I reminded him it won't be long before the pathway is paved, and then we will have no problem zipping along here!

To make the return trip a little more fun for my crestfallen (and cranky) fella, we took our time looking for interesting bits of nature. And of course, we took pictures as we walked. :)

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Spring really has a knack for colors. She is one color-coordinated gal, I must say. Everything is so subdued and soft, ~ it's all blushes and buffs and the palest of spring greens ... before long everything will just be GREEN! It's good to appreciate the subtlety of this time of year.

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Here's a quiet field we passed. I have never been back here in the summer, so I am looking forward to the next month or two when this area should be buzzing with life.

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Here are some cattail seedheads along the riverbank. I hear-tell they are edible, but better left to the muskrats, I think ...

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And here is a stretch of the riverbank. Do you see the nest at the left?

Here it is up close (or as close as we could get) ...

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We think this handsome fellow was protecting the nest:

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He let us get exceptionally close to him, and then flew off a-ways, seemingly injured. We watched him fly in short spurts, squawking at one point as if fighting with something. I've heard of other birds doing this (killdeer I think?) but never a robin. Of course we might have been reading too much into this situation - or perhaps he really was hurt!

Here is a bit of a creek, with swift water cascading downhill:

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(We think this might be just the place to race bark boats this summer.)

Also by the river we found pussywillows in all stages of growth:

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(I made a note of their location for next year's Palm Sunday!)

And here is some kind of young tree (or shrub) sporting a striking combination of yellow and green:

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Those shades are right out of the Crayola Box! We have no idea what it is, but we'd like to find out. We'll keep an eye on it through the seasons to see if it becomes more readily identifiable.

Here's a wider and quieter stretch of the river ...

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And an old stone wall we found in the woods ...

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Speaking of stone walls, have you ever read Stone Wall Secrets? Oh, that's a good one. I have the teacher's guide to go with it, too. I think we'll do something with stone walls (which ramble all over New England), and rocks in general, this fall. (A geology walk would make a fantastic Nature Club meeting, I think.)

We spied this interesting tree:

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Most definitely a nest of some kind. But whose? Owl? Squirrels? Wood ducks?

And how about this tree (or portion of one)?

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Crackerjack and I thought this looked rather like a hand reaching out of the hill!

I'm happy to report, by the time we got back home, Crackerjack was in a much better mood. While he soaked in a warm bath, I started lunch and then before long it was off to soccer for the boys. Now here I am getting things done around the house (sort of) while they're out. And speaking of, I'd best get going because I have a whole pound of rhubarb in the fridge and I plan to turn it into a crumble before day's end. :)

Well, it might not have gone exactly as planned, but today's jaunt was good fun in the end. You know, I've had a little idea for the boys' summer, something I've been tossing around in my mind ... and spending all this time exploring our woods this morning has really firmed things up for me. I will tell you all about it before long ~ I just have a few more details to iron out before I do. :)

I hope your weekend's been happy. See you all again sometime soon!


April Smiles ~ Spring Violets

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I popped over to my mum and dad's today to get some help with my knitting. (The scarf is done! And I'm onto something new! More on all that later ...) And on my way in, I was so delighted to see a patch of vibrant violets growing by their front door ... Of course, I had to bring some home for our nature table, and there they will sit as long as the water keeps them fresh. (That's a votive candle holder wrapped with a little lace ribbon, btw.) For this picture, however, I moved the tiny bouquet off the shelf, and onto a sunny spot which showed them to their best, and most cheerful, advantage. :)

I'm sending Bill over tomorrow to dig up a clump or two to bring home to our own yard. I hope they transplant well!


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Six (TV)

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"In our house, eliminating television cleared a space for the things we really care about. In fact, I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that turning off the TV was the greatest single thing my husband and I have done to foster creativity, imaginative play and independent thinking in our children."

I must say, this chapter lined up rather neatly, because as it turns out, next week is National Turn off Your TV Week. Susan has a great post about it here, and she links to an interesting blog here.

This No-TV Week thing always gives me pause to consider ~ Could we live without TV? Would we want to? (It first came to my attention, ironically enough, on Arthur years ago.) We've never actually done it, though - turned the TV off entirely, as Ms. Kenison's family has done. I love that quote at the top of my post because I can only imagine how rich and lively their home life must be without the interference of the Tube. And that's how I kind of see TV in our life at this point. Mostly benign, mostly in the background. We are very selective/protective about what we turn on (for ourselves and or kids), and in the scope of family life, as long as TV remains a condiment and not the main meal, we'll be OK.

But, let me be frank. I LOVE the idea of no TV. Or I should say, I LOVE the idea of less TV. I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who have no interaction with media at all. But, call me a child of the 70s ~ I simply can't imagine having no access to TV at all. How would we watch our Patriots games in the fall? How would we watch the presidential debates? How would I watch Jane Austen on Masterpiece or John Adams on HBO?

And more to the point ~

How would I get supper on the table at night?

Here are my general feelings on this topic: I think we (meaning, my family) watch a fair amount of tv, but not too much. Bill and I watch one primetime series, Lost, and an occasional miniseries such as the aforementioned John Adams. We also watch a local newsmagazine, Chronicle, and the Martha show when we find time. (Yes, you read that right ladies, he watches Martha with me.) And then of course there are those Sox games and Pats games. :) At night, after the boys have gone to bed, mostly I like to read (and now knit), and ahem, blog. Bill likes to relax on the couch next to me, and he is in charge of the clicker ~ he pauses very kindly when I find I have something to say. ;)

The boys watch PBS shows (Fetch is a favorite) and a select few other kid shows like VeggieTales and Pokemon. Earlybird loves videos, especially the There Goes a ... series and he also enjoys How it's Made. Oh, yes, and Tiger Woods. He loves Tiger Woods. :)

(And while we're talking kids's shows, I must mention my personal favorite, which I would watch on my own if necessary ~ Little Bear. Is there a sweeter show? I think not.)

With the PBS shows an exception, we watch things we've Tivo'd so there is very little commercial viewing (if any).

I don't think we would ever go NO TV, but I do think we can stand to survey our viewing habits now and again. I have always said to the boys re their video game playing and television viewing that as long as we detect no difference in the amount of time they read or in the way they play and imagine, they may continue to watch and play (in the electronic sense) as they do. (To this I've also added, as long as they can still "be" (happily), outside - as long as they can connect easily with nature - then I'll know our viewing habits are still under control.)

So, right this very minute (5:52 p.m.) supper is underway, and where are my boys? Well, Bookworm is swinging, Earlybird is playing in the dirt and Crackerjack has strapped on a swashbuckling sword and announced fair warning to all ~ "I'm a pirate," says he.

So we're good. :)

Now, let me open the floor. I welcome any and all thoughts on this chapter, but I'd also like to to know if you plan to participate in the Turnoff next week. (And why or why not?)

And, just for fun, please tell me what SHOW you could not live without? :)

Thanks for joining me here. I hope you all have a good weekend!

"When it comes to TV, less is more."