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September 2011

August 2011

Thoughts on the Learning Room ...

Or, Where Do We "Do School?"

As homeschoolers we're quite fond of the saying, "the whole world is our classroom," but it's still nice to have a designated space in our home for storing and displaying our "school stuff." In our house, the "learning room" is a small-to-medium-size area situated between the kitchen and family room. When we bought our house 11 years ago, it was a 3-season porch: there were seven storm windows, two doors (one to the deck and one to the kitchen) and no insulation whatsoever. (Hence the 3-season availability!) 

Within our first couple of years here, we (meaning, Bill) opened it all up - he began with the wall between the kitchen and porch, and then eventually the rear exterior wall came down too, as a family room addition went up. Bill also raised the ceiling, installed "real" windows and insulated the floor. (As you may have guessed, I married a very handy guy!) Eventually - once the family room was done - it became our dining room, but the many windows afforded the room lots of air and light, and its position right off the kitchen made it a great space for homeschooling. Over the years it became less of a dining room and more of a "classroom."

Well, our classroom (or learning room as we usually call it) recently underwent another makeover, and I've been blogging about it a bit recently. Basically, I felt we weren't making the most of this room - which is my favorite in all the house for its windows and "central" location. For one thing, the older boys use the kitchen island for seatwork, and Earlybird and I can (and do) work all over the house. And for another, the dining table only gets used as a dining table on occasion - we take most of our meals around the kitchen island. (That's actually something I'd like to change ... but more on that project later!) Ultimately I felt that the room would be more enjoyable with a bit more elbow room and some comfortable seating. I wanted to make it a place for curling up with my boys and/or a good book, or chatting with company, watching the birds, or just "hanging out" ... learning and living as the days go by.

So I talked with Bill about my ideas, and was very glad when he readily agreed! After some discussion (and a wee bit of debate), we came up with a plan, and once our schedule afforded us some free weekends, we dug in. :)

The first thing we did was to move the large table out to the front room which will now serve as formal dining room - and by formal I mean "official" not fancy. ;) Then we took out everything else! The bookcases, the benches, the bags, the crates - all the kids' "stuff" as well as my "office" paraphernalia. 

Then Bill got to work - while he primed the walls, I looked for a new paint color. (We had decided on moss green, and our eventual choice was called "dark sage.") While he repainted, I shopped for a couple of modest-sized seating pieces. It's not a big room so I didn't want anything too bulky - but I was looking for comfort! We ended up purchasing an upholstered chair and loveseat in coordinating red/cream patterns.

With the furniture ordered, Bill next installed the wood flooring. I've always been a "carpet" girl (it's what I grew up with and it feels nice underfoot - especially in winter!) but Bill has been itching (literally) to get rid of our carpeting and replace it all with more natural flooring. It's so much better for everyone's respiratory systems, but especially Bill's and Earlybird's who both suffer from environmental allergies. And since it's not a big room, it didn't take too much time to install, once Bill got the hang of the nail gun. And when he was done I was a convert! I had no idea I'd like wood flooring so much!

Finally it was time to move the furniture back in and arrange things to our liking. Or I guess I should say "my" liking ... this room belongs to everyone of course, but we all seem to be referring to it as "Mama's Room," lol. ;)

So, here's a picture of the room late yesterday afternoon ... but since I've taken up so much of your time with all of this "backstory," I will do another post tomorrow, giving you all a tour of our new learning room and all its nooks and crannies ...


And we'll need to talk about school supplies and schedules and curriculum choices, etc. There's much to do these days, with September pressing upon us! 

So I'll be back tomorrow with more on the learning room ... but for now, I will wish you all a pleasant day and offer my thanks for your time and attention.

See you all again soon!


After the Storm

Well, it's a bright and beautiful morning here in Massachusetts ... Irene has come and gone and we're doing just fine. We never lost power and thankfully we had no flooding. But I know we were very fortunate, considering the devastation in other towns, especially up north where the flooding was quite severe. To my Vermont friends - I hope you all are OK! We're praying for you today and hoping your beautiful state recovers quickly!

Our yard is littered with tree branches (some a good size!) so the boys and I have plans to gather those branches and start a tidy bramble pile this morning. We'll fill all our feeders, too - the critters may have missed out on their daily meals yesterday, seeking shelter from the storm. We may also take a walk along the bike trail to see how the woods fared. Otherwise, we're kicking off our last week of summer vacation - I spent the weekend ordering curriculum and ironing out a specialized plan for Earlybird this fall. (I only plan through Christmas - by then I'll see where we're at and write out plans for the rest of the year.) I'm also tweaking the learning spaces - readying the materials and supplies we'll need for another year of learning at home. I have to say this is perhaps my favorite time of year! All this nice weather - hurricanes not withstanding! - and such promise for a bright and shiny new year.

Well, my friends, I hope you all have a nice Monday ... I'll be back again just as soon as I can. 


Sitting tight here in New England ...

It's not raining here yet, but the clouds are thickening and the air feels like soup. Hot, sticky soup. And now the hatches have been battened, the batteries are charging, and the flashlights have been found. We're feeling prepared and safe.

Thank you to everyone who has left notes to offer prayers and thoughtful concern ... and please know we're thinking of you all too. Whether you're in Irene's path, or if there's something else bearing down on your peace of mind ~ I pray you find comfort and strength.

Be safe, my friends ... I'll be in touch soon.


This might not look like much ...


... but it was by far them most surprising and exciting thing we've ever seen at our feeders!

This picture was taken last night, looking out at the birdfeeder tree. The night was just so nice - we had all our windows open, so we could enjoy the cool breeze. (I love how nights feel at this time of year!) The kittens were just loving it - sniffing the air and perking their ears at every little movement or sound. I turned on the outside lights so we could see what had caught their attention ... and we were just FLOORED by what we saw!

It was not a mouse.

It was not a mole.

It was not even a wild (or runaway) chinchilla ...

It was:


I recognized it immediately as a flying squirrel only because I've read enough issues of Ranger Rick in my life to recognize a flying squirrel when I see one, lol!

Also, as if on cue, in case we had any doubt - and after we fruitlessly tried to capture him on camera (which as you can plainly see, we could not) - he leapt from the tray feeder and seemingly FLEW to the tree trunk. Looking for all the world like he was on an episode of Zoboomafoo!

Hands-down, this was the most amazing creature we've had visit our yard - and there have been many cool sightings over the years. I think we were most surprised because we all had this notion that flying squirrels are not from our continent. Crackerjack was all but certain they are a species native to the southern hemisphere. A little googling schooled us on the "North American" Flying Squirrel ... so now we know.

And so now we plan:

How do we get him to come back?


Have you ever had a flying squirrel visit your feeders? What was the neatest creature you ever spotted in your backyard? 

Advent in August?


Behold, our 2011 Advent calendar project! :)

Not to get ahead of myself - this being August and all - but I absolutely love the season of Advent! And I love to come up with new projects that highlight the joyful anticipation of this time of year. In the past, I've made use of bulletin boards, grapevine wreaths and candle-lit windowsills ... but this year a lovely wooden tree will be the focus of our countdown celebration!

I found this neat craft at AC Moore this weekend. I happened to have a 50% coupon to use, and so I only spent $12.50, rather than the $24 full price! It looks very pretty plain, but I'd like to paint/glitter/decoupage the tree (with my mum's help no doubt) and then fill the tiny drawers with happy little things like treats and notes for the boys to find. I'm envisioning a frosty, sweet "woodland" motif ... and I think it will look quite nice in our "revamped" sitting room. :)

And now that the sitting room is coming together (the loveseat arrives this Thursday!) I'm eager to gather and coordinate our "school supplies" and learning spaces. Also, I'm ironing out a new fall schedule, trying to make room for home-centered learning and all our outside activities - not to mention general household upkeep as well!

Well, I hope you all had a nice weekend. Can you believe it's just TWO weeks till Labor Day?! No, I can't believe it either. It happens every year and yet somehow it still catches us by surprise - the summer just FLIES by! Our town starts school next week but our first day will be (and always is) the day after Labor Day. I've just put in our curriculum order and I'm working on an outline of themes, goals and activities for Earlybird.

Oh, and thank you for all your sweet kitty comments! They are doing really well - settling in, getting brave - venturing out into the rest of the house, and absolutely LOVING the bird windows! They really are so very curious ...


Have a happy Monday, my friends ... I'll be back again very soon!


My New (Desktop) Wallpaper


And since I have your attention ...



(It just doesn't get old.)

I hope you all don't mind me indulging my need to share so many pictures of our new kittens. We're a bit obsessed, I'm afraid. ;)

For the record, the boys would like me to announce the cats' full names:

~ Archibald Fred (Archie) and Oliver James (Ollie) ~ 

Archie is named for that ginger-haired comics icon (the boys are avid fans/collectors) as well as the tragically fallen Weasley brother. Oliver is simply named for my favorite chef, Jamie Oliver. (We watch Jamie at Home every night, almost without fail.)

Needless to say, we are smitten with our kittens ... and happily, they seem to be settling in quite well.


This was such a sweet surprise!

A pretty little package appeared in my mailbox yesterday ... and inside I found this pretty little tissue cozy, a heartfelt, handmade gift from Sarah H. of Vermont:


It's just beautiful - as well as perfectly practical! First of all, cold and flu season is right around the corner - not to mention, those pesky autumn allergies! - but tissues are always handy to keep on hand. And for some reason I seem to always be without them! As I said to Sarah, I am forever forgetting to pack tissues in my purse - and invariably one boy or another needs a tissue at church!


 The cozy is made with two kinds of material - a soft antique floral (all pale peach and robin's egg blue) and a wonderfully contrasting, wheat woven cloth. A tiny adorable button (featuring a tiny adorable mouse) adorns the pouch's opening ...


... and a soft ecru measuring "tape" ribbon forms a loop at its side.


Sarah's a SAHM and she runs a lovely Etsy shop called Sweet Sparrow. I hope you'll stop by and take a peek at all her wares. I, for one, think this tissue cozy would make a special "first day of school" gift for a student or teacher in your life. I know I will treasure mine always - for it's simple beauty, certainly - but for Sarah's kindness as well.




Ok, I've escaped to a secure location where I should be able to use my computer in relative peace. The kittens are such little scamps! But they are doing really well and we are so thrilled to have them. Oliver actually has/had an upper respiratory infection so he's already been to the vet and is currently on eye drops and an antibiotic. We're also mixing Lysine into their daily 1/2 can of food. He's responding well to the treatment so hopefully the infection will be knocked out completely very soon. Thankfully, Archie has not shown any symptoms ... and they are both as playful and active as ever. They have particular times of day when they are extremely rambunctious (right about bedtime, natch) and their favorite pastime seems to be brawling - i.e. charging at and mauling each other. Fortunately, they seem to be on equal footing and nobody actually gets hurt. But they are just too funny to watch! We call them our kittens rampant ...

You know, as in, lion rampant, lol:

Lion rampant

(Bookworm took some video - I'll try to post a link.)

In other happy news, I finally finished the end of year school reports! Mailed them off early yesterday morning ... but oh my goodness, I have never been so late getting our reports in! It feels really good to be done with that particular project - now I can concentrate on ordering our fall materials and outlining Earlybird's goals for the new year. Also, I can focus on preparing the learning spaces, which, as you know, are undergoing a bit of "transformation" right now. Today I've started a "back to (home)school" list of supplies - and I will post about that too, very soon.

Well, I must be off ... I just wanted to stop in quickly and let you all know I'm still here, and working on all kinds of stuff. I'll post again just as soon as I can ...

Enjoy your day, my friends!


Our Two New Little Loves ...

 Please say hello to "Archie" and "Oliver," our 4 month old kittens!


We are officially "a cat home" again - and it just feels so good!

So, as I've been hinting, for the past month or so I've been quietly researching kitten adoptions. We had a short list of criteria: we wanted shelter kittens (i.e. rescued felines) and we knew we wanted a pair of male siblings, if possible. We also hoped to find orange cats - mainly because, A. I have a soft spot for marmalades and calicos and, B. we wanted cats that looked entirely different from our late kitties.

So here's what happened ... (and because I can't help myself, I will post pictures of Archie and Ollie throughout my ramblings). 


(Archie, front - Oliver, back)

I had been perusing local shelter "adoptable" kittens online, when a couple of young marmalades caught my eye. They were found abandoned in the next town over, this past April, as part of a large litter with no mother nearby. I called to see if they were still available, not feeling too hopeful - most sites warn that the kittens shown online could very well be no longer available - but the woman I spoke with, a volunteer for a local feline rescue organization, assured me they were still up for adoption. Hooray! We immediately made arrangements to visit the kittens at a nearby Petsmart.



Now, we entered Petsmart this past Thursday morning knowing we would most likely be leaving with adoption papers in hand. Because honestly, how can you go visit kittens and NOT want to adopt them?



Needless to say, we were completely enamored. Not only were they friendly and playful, but they were affectionate, too. I held each of them and they just melted into my arms. We asked lots of questions and learned more about their backstory. Between April and July they were fostered by another rescue volunteer. Bottle-fed, held and nurtured, they are completely people-friendy cats. In July, they were brought in to Petsmart for adoption and very surprisingly they were not snapped up until we came along. (It was obviously meant to be ...)



So we made arrangements to pick up our new kittens - pending adoption approval - on Saturday morning - Crackerjack's twelfth birthday.

And that's just what we did. :)



We were advised to keep the kittens sequestered in a separate room for a few days before introducing them to the rest of the house. We chose the older boys' room which was given a top-to-bottom overhaul in preparation. And both Bookworm and Crackerjack assured me the kittens' nighttime antics (sounds, smells and activity) would not bother them a bit. 


(Archie, top; Oliver, bottom)

They have food, water, a litter box, a tower (seen above) and a snuggly bed as well as a few different toys. And of course, they have each other.

But tonight ... well, tonight they discovered the window:


(Archie, left; Oliver, right)

You might be wondering how we can tell them apart ... well, Archie is slightly smaller and leaner (he's also more rambunctious and interactive). Oliver has more white and his orange fur is more "buff" than the yellow-orange of Archie's.


(Oliver, left; Archie, right)

Bill is working on closing up the staircase to the downstairs. Once that area is secure, probably in a day or two, we will let these two hooligans kittens out into the rest of the house.

And THAT should be quite an adventure!

At this very moment as I wrap up this post, the kittens are vying for space on the window ledge, mercilessly hunting moths. They are also eyeing the door *and* Crackerjack's top bunk.

The little scamps ...


(Oliver, left; Archie, right)

So as you can imagine - between the room renovation, Crackerjack's birthday (and back-to-back parties) AND the new kittens this has been quite a crazy few days! I wanted to mention also, that Bill's eyes are doing better - his dermatologist said he has exzema, and an underlying allergic reaction which will be determined once he can undergo further testing. (Early this fall.) Thank you again, for your prayers and concern - we appreciate each thought and suggestion. 

So "Good Day" then, my friends and thank you so much for stopping by. See you again sometime soon!


Happy Birthday, Crackerjack!


It was a Smurfday Birthday this year! And Crackerjack is now officially TWELVE years old!

A few quick pictures from our party yesterday ... today we celebrate with family so I have but a few moments to post!


The balloons were actually supposed to be dispersed around the yard - along the fence, the trampoline, off the deck, etc. But we were running late and Bill brought them home literally moments before guests were scheduled to arrive. The list of "things to do" was consulted, and an ice-filled cooler and a grill ready-to-go took precedent over well-spaced balloons, lol!


And here's the buffet table ... we had burgers and dogs, veggies and dip, macaroni salad, macaroni and cheese and assorted chips. Oh! And a "Smurfberry Punch!"


I originally had a plan to display all the blue and white cupcakes (along with a red toadstool cupcake or two) on a tiered display something like this ... but alas, once again, time and toil got in the way of creative expression. Above you see my last minute variation. 

Here's a picture of how the cake and cupcakes ended up:


Not quite what I envisioned, but it all tasted quite yummy. (And as CJ reminded me, that's really the point!)

And why yes, I am wearing a "Smurfette" shirt. 


Well, I hope you all have a great weekend. I will be back tomorrow with another post (we have some happy news to share with you all) but for now I'm off to get ready for the next birthday party!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

The New Green

First of all, thank you again for the advice and prayers for Bill. He is doing better overall, though some days his symptoms are really wicked. He sees the dermatologist tomorrow morning so hopefully things will keep getting better.

Now, I had wanted to wait till we had the new floor all done and the furniture set up before showing you the new sitting room color ... but I just can't wait any longer!

And here it is:


"Sage Green"

Once the walls were set with the final coat, Bill started in on the floor. He's improved the subfloor with extra braces and thicker insulation. (This was once a three-season porch that Bill opened up and insulated several years ago.) 


And he got a few feet worth of "white oak" down before his sinuses just gave up. Still, you can get an idea of how it will look ...


Love the way it catches that sunlight!


The new chair has arrived - now we're waiting on the loveseat, which should be delivered sometime next month. The window grilles need to be put back in, and though I'm loathe to cover up my sunny windows, I'm thinking about a potential window treatment. (A simple valance of some sort.) We'll also have the family computer out here (the one the older boys use) as well as some shelving, an area rug and a coffee table of some sort. I will also have my "home office" items stored in this area.

I hope you all are having a nice week. We're gearing up here for Crackerjack's birthday this weekend - two parties back-to-back and ... AND ... we might be getting our new kittens!

Stay tuned for more!

(And have a nice night.)


Friday Photos & Newsy Nature Notes

Good morning, my friends. :)

I am sorry I have not been around much this week - things have been somewhat hectic here on my end. On top of all the "usual" hubbub, and all the house "work" we've been up to (cleaning/painting/flooring/etc.) Bill has been feeling rather unwell. For months now, he's been fighting an allergic reaction (to what, we're not sure) that affects his eyes, and now it seems, his sinuses as well. His eyes have been itchy, swollen, red and very painful for some time now - between high pollen levels and now our renovation work, he's just been miserable. When Bill's having an episode (because the reactions come and go) his undereye area gets all dark (like he's been socked in the nose!) and the skin all around his eyes gets puckery and wrinkled. Originally, he saw an opthamologist (who told him it had nothing to do with his eyes) and later a dermatologist, who prescribed creams and drops - which helped - but did not resolve the situation entirely. He's seeing his dermatologist again this week to address this current flare-up, but he is also seeing a nurse this morning because the sinus headache that came on yesterday was just awful. Honestly, I have never seen Bill so sick as when he walked in from work last night, and truly, I was considering a trip to the emergency room. Intense headaches and nausea are not something to fool with! Fortunately, the "Sinex" he took (a decongestant with pain reliever) as soon as he got home eased his pain within an hour. He also steamed his head (over peppermint-scented water) and applied ice where it hurt the most. Thankfully, by mid-evening he was feeling much better - the congestion had eased and the pain was completely gone.

All of this to say - if you would, please keep my Bill in your prayers, and if you have any home and/or natural remedies for sinus issues, I would appreciate suggestions. My mum gave Bill a neti pot, which, depending on what the nurse says this morning, he plans to try tonight. Although he had no fever I'm wondering if he might not have developed a sinus infection and possibly needs an antibiotic to clear things up. We're not big fans of antibiotics, but at times they are warranted. We'll see what he finds out today ... and later this week at his dermatology appointment.

Anyhoo! So I'm very glad it's the weekend, and though our plans were to install the wood flooring (we chose white oak - it's very nice) we may give ourselves a rest from "hard" labor and allergen-stirring activities. (Sawdust, sanding and paint fumes, etc.) I say all this like I'm working alongside Bill, lol, and I'm not - not really. I help move things and clear things out and take measurements and give my opinion. Otherwise I'm mostly on child duty (aka keeping kids out of the way!) and actually Bookworm - in all his teenage vitality - has been a huge help to his dad.

Speaking of kids, this post was meant to share photos taken by the boys last week. So without further ado, let me show you a few of their "summery" sights: 


This is a thunderhead heading our way. The storms that moved through on this evening (an evening I was heading out for coffee with friends, no less) were brief, but brutal! We had intense lightning, flash flooding, and when it was all said and done, a big and bright double rainbow. Amazing!


Bookworm caught this lovely little lace-winged bug in our house and before setting him free, he grabbed a few pictures. He thought it looked like a katydid, but after checking our field guide, we think it is the (aptly named) lacewing.


Now this odd looking insect (fly? bee? wasp?) spent all day on our deck. (And sadly, it perished there.) The boys gave it wide berth in case there was a stinger attached in any way, shape, or form. Any thoughts?


Yes, this hungry little (big!) fella came back. He seems to approve of our menu selection, lol - black oil, suet and peanuts. I should note, he is not actually baring his teeth at us in this photo - we just caught him in mid-chew!


Now, this picture takes a little explaining (as well as a good zoom - click on it to get a closer view). The birds you see here are a mother sparrow and two of her brood, however, if you look closely, the bird she is feeding in this shot is not actually a sparrow, but a baby cowbird ...


Have you ever heard of brood parasites? The cowbird is a species that uses the strong nesting instincts of other birds to its advantage. Basically, it drops its egg in another bird's nest (in this case, a sparrow's) and leaves its young to be hatched and fed by the "adoptive" parent. (Meanwhile it can move on and follow the food supply as it wishes.) We've actually seen this sparrow feeding two baby cowbirds at once! And they're very demanding, lol ... the poor mother sparrow can barely keep up!

Well, that's all we have for you this week. I hope you enjoyed a peek at our most recent nature photos. I've been lax on the upkeep of my nature notes column, but I can say, in our yard we've been watching that shy bunny, the cheerful chimpmunks and the feisty red squirrels. Along the wayside, the queen ann's lace, toadflax and goldenrod have started blooming ... and you should see the goldfinches visiting the spent lavender bed - they are so bright and lovely! Just like a Marjolein Bastin card come to life.

Ok, I'm off now, but first a quick update on Bill - I just spoke with him and the nurse confirmed a sinus infection (though she doesn't think it's connected with his eye allergy in any way). She started him on amoxocillin (blech, that stuff kills me!) and advised him to keep taking the decongestant. Thanks again in advance for any advice, your prayers, and as always thank you so much for stopping by!

Have a great weekend, everyone ...


August Blessings!

And a Very Happy August to You!

(Did you all remember to say "Rabbit, rabbit" this morning? I made sure my kids did, but alas, I did not think of it in time for myself. I think my first words were something like, "Bill, move over, I need to get up." Lol.)

Just for fun, here are some of the things I love most about August ...


corn on the cob

heirloom tomatoes

soft peaches

morning glories

big, beautiful dahlias

shooting stars

hazy days

lazy days

the whine of the cicada

the drone of the mower

beach mornings

bats at dusk


sea glass & seashells

zucchini bread

(lots and lots of zucchini bread!)

new school supplies


It's such a lovely time of year! I hope your August is all you hope for ... 

Daisies-mug ~ Dawn