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April 2009

Boys' Club at Monsters vs. Aliens


Here we have Crackerjack (second from left) and his friends at the movies this week ...

These four friends, all 9 year-old home learners, see each other regularly at the myriad homeschool activities and social gatherings we attend, but once a month they get together on their own for official "Boys' Club." Two of the boys are the youngest of three and the other two are middle children. These monthly "meetings" (mostly casual playdates) allow the boys time to socialize outside of their older siblings' shadows. Because it was SO hot last Tuesday (the date of our April meeting) we decided to take the boys to the movies. 

We saw Monsters vs. Aliens, a funny, action-packed, beautifully animated movie. Chock-a-bloc full of "boy" humor - aka wedgies, snot and random bathroom humor, lol. As we left the theater I asked the boys to give it a rating; their scores: 10, 10, 8 and 4. 

Average score: 8. Well deserved, I'd say. :)

A Morning Moment

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;

The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his heaven ~
All's right with the world!
~ Robert Browning

I took this picture around 7 a.m., crouched beside the daylilies, looking up the eastern hill beside our house. It was the dewdrops that first caught my attention, glittering in those soft rays of light. And it was then, nestled down in the driveway, that I noticed the sun rising in the woods. It's moments like these that I'm grateful to be alive, and for this earth in all its heavenly glory.

If you're looking for a way to connect with nature - to see the little things that you always seem to miss - take a sunrise stroll around the outside of your home. I carry my coffee cup with me and poke around the edges of our yard. I'm always amazed by something - and sometimes many things. In the quiet of dawn, when the world is still cool and sleepy, it's the perfect time to catch nature unawares.

On a fine spring morning ~ a look around the yard

What a fun weekend! The weather, for lack of a better word, was absolutely pristine. Hot, though - crazy hot for April. The one time I checked the temperature was late afternoon on Saturday and it read 87. According to the forecast, we'll be at 90 tomorrow. Crazy!

Crackerjack played soccer in all that heat, and, please allow me to brag for a moment - he scored his first ever goal! His team went on to win the game 7-2 and almost as exciting, he spotted a beaver in the woods on the walk back to the car. :)

So here we are at Monday again, and our week looks to be busy (again). The plan had been to dive right back into work this morning, but as soon as we'd finished math we couldn't help but gravitate outside. So I called it Nature Study in the backyard because a day like this is too good to pass up.

As I filled the birdfeeders, I noticed the cherry tree had buds and they look ready to pop.


The bleeding heart blossomed seemingly overnight:


The spruce tree sprouted purple-red coneberries all over its south-facing side. Crackerjack held a grown cone up for comparison.


Close-up of a coneberry (left) and coneflower (right).
 (Note: I'm totally making those terms up - they just sound pretty):

The kids were digging in the dirt, noticing the difference in color. We have a lot of clay in our soil.


Bookworm found a sprouting maple seed way down inside the earth. We surmised it fell to the ground last fall, started to sprout recently and then got covered in soil at some point.


Lovely little fairy flowers in the sideyard.


The huge maple out front is blushing green and red:


Walking back from getting the mail I noticed a spider's web glistening in the sun. I gently tapped the edge of the web with a pine needle and was rewarded with a brief appearance by the spider itself. If you click open this picture you can see him heading back inside the boxwood bush.


A blue jay under the feeders. Something's up with the jays today - they are making some kind of racket. Screeches, calls, gurlges, clicks, etc. They're really fun to watch.


Before I go, let me share a few plans and goals for the week ahead:

Find time to write and outline for May-June, the last two months of our academic year.
April is ending, May Day is upon us. Make jam-jar lanterns for cherry tree. 
Catch up on questions left by readers and make good on promised posts.
Install remaining window screens; clean windowsills.
Take down Easter garland; put up ivy and twine ball lights instead.
Go see Monsters vs. Aliens with CJ's Boys' Club.
Wash out and refill hummingbird feeders
Blueberry smoothies for an alfresco breakfast on Friday (May Day).

Well, thanks for joining me here today. I hope your day's been as lovely as ours. :)

Thoughtful Friday ~ on Arbor Day


It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Happy Arbor Day, my friends! Now go hug a tree! 

Do you have a favorite kind of tree? Mine is the sugar maple (because nothing beats its fall color), though I am also quite partial to oaks too (who can resist acorns?).
I'm not sure what kind of tree is in the picture above - I took it last April at a nearby park - but I think it might be a witch hazel. The leaf buds are so pretty, they would make the loveliest yarn don't you think? :)

 This weekend the boys and I will begin our Tree Journal. In this book we will chronicle the "lives" of the significant trees in our midst. We'll take bark rubbings and gather seedlings and press leaves in the fall. We'll collect poems and thoughts about trees and record our general observations. This will, of course, mean lots of time spent in the woods ~ so much the better for us. :) I'll be back later to tell you more about that project - it should be lots of fun!

Well, I hope you all have a nice Friday ~ Be back again sometime soon!

For St. George's Day ...

"In the circle of the year, the Day of St. George and the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (September 29th) stand opposite one another. In many ways we can see how George's reputation as a courageous knight and champion of the oppressed, steadfast in truth, holds up an earthly mirror to the warrior Archangel who fought the great dragon in heaven (Revelations 12)." (All Year Round)


To do today ~ make up a pot of (decaffeinated) English Breakfast tea (George is the patron saint of England). Toast up some crumpets, and read our favorite St. George story. 

I'll add a few dragon books to the April book basket, too:


Kenny and the Dragon


Herb the Vegetarian Dragon


Eric Carle's Dragons, Dragons


Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons

I plan to pick up some Michaelmas daisy (or purple aster) seeds today to start in potting cups. Hopefully they'll see full bloom in our late September (Michaelmas) garden.

We'll line up our dragon toys (we have a considerable amount, lol) and I'll set up our castles and cave toys in the play areas.


Dinner tonight will be roast chicken, new potatoes and asparagus, buttered popovers and for dessert ~ cupcakes with white frosting and little red candy roses on top. :)


"Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." ~ G.K. Chesterton

However you spend it, I hope your day is a happy one!

Early Morning Magic ~ Fairies at our Door?

Every morning the boys (the ones who are awake anyways) and I stand at the front door and wave to Bill as he drives off to work. Me clutching my coffee mug, the boys with their sleepy eyes, and all of us in our pajamas. We also take this moment to make note of the day unfolding before us - is it sunny and warm? cold and brittle? dark and wet?

On this particular morning - which was soft and springlike, btw - we noticed strange impressions all over the exterior of the storm door - tiny markings that looked, curiously enough, just like wings! The boys immediately thought something magical was afoot ...

These pictures did not come out very clear but I thought I'd post them anyway. (And please, if you can offer a scientific explanation for these pictures, don't share it with us. It's more fun to let our imaginations get carried away ...)





Neat, don't you think? :)

It's easy to believe in magic when you're young.  Anything you couldn't explain was magic then.  It didn't matter if it was science or a fairy tale.  Electricity and elves were both infinitely mysterious and equally possible - elves probably more so.  ~ Charles de Lint

Earth Day Poem by Jane Yolen


I am the Earth and the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass, each honey tree,
Each bit of mud, and stick and stone
Is blood and muscle, skin and bone.

And just as I need every bit
of me to make my body fit,
So Earth needs grass and stone and tree
And things that grow here

That's why we celebrate this day.
That's why across the world we say:
As long as life, as dear, as free,
I am the Earth and the Earth is me.


Jane Yolen has written some of my favorite books (Letting Swift River Go Owl Moon, and Child of Faerie, Child of Earth to name a few) but I never knew she was the author of this beautiful poem.  For more of her nature poetry please see my righthand sidebar;  I have several of those titles on request at the library this week. :)
(Btw, I did not take that picture shown above; it's the desktop background on my Macbook.)

Take a moment to enjoy the world around you today ...
and have a Very Happy Earth Day!

Monday Morning Memo: Tree & Earth Week

It was a lovely weekend around here - so sunny and bright. Our spring has been - dare Treehugging I say it - near perfect this year. Sometimes, here in New England, we can have a mildish winter and then a brief wet spring before summer just steamrolls right over us. And then it's just hot and muggy and HOT day after day. (Can you tell summer is not my favorite season, lol?)

Well, this year we had an old-fashioned looong winter and now we're enjoying a lengthy coolish spring. Summer seems miles away. Last Friday it reached 74 (or roundabouts) but a day over 60 has been a very rare thing. That's ok with me, because the season is unfolding slowly, making it easier to catch spring as it's springing. And this week shows lots of promise: temps in the higher 50s, some showers early on and then by the weekend - sunny and 70 degrees!

So, we have a full week ahead! Lots to celebrate and explore. Take a peek at all the new book lists I put up along my sidebars. I've been a busy library-bee as you can see. :)

The Week at a Glance:

  • Earth Day - Wednesday
  • St. George's Day - Thursday
  • Shakespeare's Birthday - Thursday
  • Arbor Day - Friday (varies by state, google yours to be sure)  
  • Educator Appreciation Week at Barnes & Noble!! 
Some plans and ideas:
  • Make a list of "Green Family Resolutions." Ask ourselves, how can we do better? Post it on our bulletin board/refrigerator (whichever has more room at the moment) and then, of course, here at my blog. :)
  • Choose an environmental charity to save money for this year. We'll make our donation at Christmas.
  • Boys choose a naturalist to learn about and report on.
  • Take a Nature Walk and enjoy the goodness of the earth.
  • Outline ideas for nature activites for the upcoming months.
  • Spruce up the nature shelf; make room for new treasures.
  • Enjoy an English tea on Thursday morning. Read this book while the boys eat.  
  • Bring out our dragons and knight toys.
  • Take a Tree Walk: bring along a field guide and identify as many trees as we can. 
  • Begin our own homemade Field Guide to Trees we Know. Photograph the trees near our home (and even trees that are not, but are special to us). Make a page for each tree and write down what we know. Close-ups of the tree structure, the buds, and later, the leaves and seeds. Add bark rubbings and preserved leaves in summer and fall.   
Well, those are my notes so far for the week ahead. Whatever your week brings I hope it's a good one! And I have not forgotten about our Kitchen catch-up! I promised you all a cuppa and a look around my kitchen and I will do that as soon as I can. Probably a bit later this week. :)
See you all again sometime soon!

Soccer Surprise

Crackerjack had his first soccer game of the season yesterday, and the good news is A. he had fun and B. his team won, but the highlight of the morning was the sighting of an enormous raptor at the game! Not only did it land smack dab on the concession stand in the midst of it all, but it politely posed for the cameras for a good half hour or so. It was so funny - there we were, sitting on the sidelines, keeping an eye on CJ (who was playing defense at the time) when I noticed him elbow his co-defender and point to something in the distance, just behind where we were sitting. Then I heard him exclaim (bear in mind the game was stalled at the other end of the field at this moment) ...

"Look at that HUGE bird!"




We're not sure what kind of hawk this is (and we're assuming it's a hawk, not a falcon or eagle, but we could be wrong), but it was easily the biggest we've ever seen. We looked it up in our favorite bird book and the closest we found was a red-shouldered hawk (not that his shoulders look all that red, actually). What do you all think?

And oh yes, I should show you a picture of Crackerjack in action:


And hey, while I'm thinking of it, did anyone notice the slight change to my blog template? Radical, I know, lol - but I am thinking of toying with it a bit more. It's only been like three years since I've changed anything about my design, lol!

So keep a sharp eye out for more changes around here - starting with some new sidebar book-lists later today!

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Bird of the Day: The Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Always skittish, always a surprise - he's a rare but welcome sight at our feeders. I almost never get a shot of him - notoriously camera-shy, he can sense the lens opening - but today I took pictures from where I sat at the table. Literally, I barely moved, and just hoped for the best. I'm amazed the pictures came out at all! As you can see, the morning light was filtering into the feeding area.





Do you get woodpeckers at your feeders? Aren't they fun?
We see the downy woodpecker quite often - oftentimes, two or three at a time. We also can expect the larger hairy woodpecker from time to time. This red-bellied woodpecker is even larger - about the size of a blue jay, I'd say. I think it's the suet we put out that attracts them - that and the deep woods out back.

What birds are showing up at your feeders these days?
Any springtime surprises?

"The sun was warm, but the wind was chill ...

... You know how it is with an April day."


Our Nature Study Club held its April meeting yesterday; our theme this month ~ A Spring Scavenger Hunt.* As you can see from these pictures it was a bright, sparkling day - so very spring. And as the lines from Frost's poem suggests, the sun was indeed warm, but the air was still cool. Spring in New England unfolds slowly, and the changes to the landscape are subtle. There was not too much to see just yet, so the kids pretty much just had fun running around together. Really, after the winter we had, it just felt good to be out in the light, fresh air again. 

I hope you enjoy these pictures, and check out the list at the bottom of my post - you might try using it with your children one fine spring day. :) This list was adapted from one I found in Let Nature be the Teacher, one of my favorite nature study resources.









*Search for Spring Scavenger Hunt*

Can you find ...

Signs of nest building?

Buds on a tree or a bush?

A spring flower?

Three shades of green?

A fresh smell?


A new bird sound?

An early spring insect?

A fiddlehead (young fern)?

A migrant bird?

An amphibian or reptile?

Bill and I plan to take the boys to an Audubon sanctuary this weekend and if we are patient and aware I'll bet we'll find quite a few things on this list!

Off for a bit now - hope you all have a great weekend!

Morning, Mrs. Cardinal


Sorry for my spotty posting this week! Having been all-consumed with Easter preparations last week I didn't do a blessed thing to get ready for this week! No lessons or meals were planned, and no file folder was made up ... We don't take an April vacation as do the public schools, but I think I could have used one this year! 

(And if I ever wondered if all that "advance weekly planning" I do really does make a difference, I've got my answer this week: IT DOES!)

As you can see from my picture above, taken just a few moments ago, it's a bright and beautiful day. A perfect day, in fact, for a walk in the spring woods. This afternoon we'll be attending our Nature Club's April meeting ~ and I'll be back with details and pictures later this evening.

Hope your week is going well!

The Full Pink Moon


Its hard to tell from this picture, but last night's moon rose - truly - in Easter egg pink!

So very lovely.

The boys noticed it around 7 p.m. while watching the BoSox with Bill, and naturally, they called it to my attention.
So I put down the dishcloth and headed for the backyard ...
and spent the next several minutes outside taking pictures.

Listening to peepers.
Watching ducks fly overhead.
Peering into the dark woods.
Shivering in the cold.

The full moon was amazing -
- but ten minutes later it was gone.
Hidden beneath a thick cloud cover.

I'm glad we looked when we did. :)

Check it out this evening, if you have a chance;
the April moon is full, technically, tonight.

The Frog Moon
Frogs sit in the marshes,
throats bellowed tight,
feeling quite romantic,
calling through the night.
Come my love, my love, my love,
Come be mine tonight.

April in the Learning Room

It's Spring Cleaning time in the learning room! Time to re-do the bulletin board and book displays, change up the window decor and refresh the nature shelves. That was the fun stuff - there was also the washing of windows, the dusting of wood, the shampooing of carpet, etc. But it all needed to be done and when it was done, I decided to take pictures to share!

So first, a look at the "window of books," the heart of our learning room, I'd say. April is for Amphibians, as you can see from our books on display:


Links to most of these titles can be found in my sidebars; all but a few I borrowed from the local library (or through inter-library loan). Included amongst the books are back issues of Your Big Backyard open to pages on Spring Peepers, Salamanders and Mallard Ducks. In the middle of the windows you see our Lenten cross, teeming with life, and below on the bench, are the boys' schoolbooks.

Here's a late day peek at our Eastertide window decor:


I (meaning Bill) put up the forsythia garlands, along with a couple of strings of pretty pastel flower lights. They're a tad garish, but the boys love them. :)

And here we have the worktable - scrubbed clean and bright:


Note the dueling laptops (mine on the left, Bill's on the right), the spring tin of school supplies at the head of the table (close-up below), the empty in-basket ...  

... and the napping cat, who often claims the in-basket for his own:


A closer peek into our school supplies tin:


I bought this pretty spring bucket at Magic Cabin several years ago. (I looked for a link, but I don't think they still sell it.) Inside I placed three tin cups, one each for pens, colored pencils and writing pencils. A jam jar in the back holds rulers and correcting pencils. Also tucked inside here are flashcards of various sorts, and clamped onto the front edge are three large bull-clips, red, blue and green.

In the backdrop, on display, is the April nature blessing page:


(The blessings book has since been moved to make room for our Palm Sunday planting.)

Just to the left of my laptop, I have a cubby bench; on top are displayed some current reading materials:


On the left is my magazine pile, in the middle is a new gardening book (on top of test- prep workbooks) and on the right are some resources for planning spring kinder themes.

The windows facing the front yard also sport forsythia:


No lights here, but there are pretty Easter eggs hanging from a length of twine. (I didn't make these - I bought them at Michael's for .99 cents.)

And here's how the bulletin board looks just now:


I got the frog life cycle poster at a local teacher's supply store. The papers hanging below are Earlybird's homework from speech therapy.

I always have the most fun working on the nature shelf:


Budding branches, vernal pools, ducks and birch trees are the focus this month.

And here's our new classroom pet (or one of them):


Can you spy Figaro hidden in the moss?

Well, thanks for joining me on this latest tour of our learning room! Hope you enjoyed seeing the spring changes.
And by the way, Teresa asked if I would do a post on my kitchen, and I would be glad to. I'm cleaning feverishly this week, so it might not be till after Easter, but then I'll be happy to invite you all in for a cup of tea at the counter. :)

Have a great Tuesday, everyone!