Everyday Nature Feed

My Advent Tea Journal ~ O Christmas Tree!

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Good afternoon, my friends! I hope this post finds you well ...

We're all on the mend here, slowly but surely. It's a tough time of year to get sick - it really puts a crimp in your plans! But in a way, it's a good reminder ... Advent is all about mood and mindset, not as much about where we go or what we get done. We had planned to take the boys to a tree farm over the weekend, and I had hoped to get to the library and the craft store for some supplies. (This week's activities - and my tea post itself - all hinged on doing these things!) But alas, nobody felt up to doing any of that, so "plans and hopes" were readjusted and we just stayed home (except for an emergency run to Stop N Shop for tissues and cat food, etc.) ...

So the "forest nature walk" didn't happen, the "cut-our-own-tree experience" didn't happen, and we didn't return home from the farm with rosy cheeks and happy hearts to a pot of simmering wassail. The tree was not up and decorated in time for this post, and we missed out on parish pancake breakfast entirely ...

But you know what? Getting sick really simplifies things. I found myself re-evaluating my list and editing our schedule by asking: "What is it we actually need? What can be set aside? What is most important for the people I love?"

Here's what we need: safety, warmth, nourishment, attention ... a feeling of being cared for, and time spent together. Well, we had all that, and then some ... so it was all good. :)

(Except for the sore throats and fevers.)

At one point on Sunday, we sent the two healthiest among us to the closest tree-lot and they came home lickedy-split with a really magnificent tree. We gathered the bits of greenery that were trimmed off and set them on our nature shelf. I still made up that pot of hot wassail since I had the ingredients on hand and they were so very good for a late autumn cold ...

We played music on Dad's phone, and I lit a few candles placed high out of reach, including this pretty one, a lovely gift from my dear aunt ...

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And I reminded myself to just try to relax, reboot and follow where this Advent Sunday was taking us ...

I love seasonal homeschooling as you all know, and "evergreens" are this week's theme ... which also ties in nicely with our Advent-in-Nature plans for week two: exploring the beauty of Christmas greenery. So this was a great start - bringing a big, beautiful tree into our home!

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My tree is nowhere near ready to show you, so I will do a follow-up post with a look around our Christmas room, including the tree. (Perhaps even a short video?) But for now, I have some questions for YOU, and if you'd be so kind - please leave me a comment below answering them or send me an email (with tree pics perhaps?) ... OR, link me up at your own blog! I bet you have a photo or two of your Christmas tree there ... ;)

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<


Do you prefer live or artificial trees? Cut-your-own or pre-cut?

I prefer live trees, harvested from a local sustainable tree farm if possible.

Are there any special tree-trimming traditions your family follows each year?

Not particularly - we tend to just layer on lights, garland and then ornaments. And lately - between cats and kids - the ornaments have been all soft and non-breakable. Bill is in charge of getting the tree up, stable and lit ... the boys and I handle the decorations.

What is your favorite ornament?

Hard to say! I love all the antique glass bulbs that belonged to my grandparents and a few of the boys' handmade treasures. When I do my Christmas room tour I will zoom in on my favorites. :)

When do you put it up and when do you take it down?

We typically get our tree the second weekend of Advent and leave it up till New Year's Day ... though I love the tradition of waiting till Epiphany, I'm usually itchy to get it out. By January the cats have thrown up dry needles one too many times ...

Colored lights or white lights?

White for the house tree ... but I love having one outdoor tree trimmed in big colorful bulbs.

And now, here are notes from my Advent Tea Journal ...

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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This week my "tea" is actually a yummy wassail ...  which, I just learned, means "to be in health." Something we can really use around here! It was a new recipe, prepared in the crockpot and full of good-for-you things ...

Wassail 1

Orange juice, apple juice, cranberry juice ... plus sliced lemons and oranges and fresh ginger root ... honey, cloves and cinnamon sticks, too ... The house smelled amazing, so being "trapped inside" was not such a bad thing, really! Also, the recipe makes A LOT and it can be reheated as leftovers.

I also had planned to make a special cake for the day, and I ended up doing that, too ...

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Another new recipe, this is a Spelt Orange Bundt Cake from Mother Earth Living, and ... Oh MY. So delicious and moist, bursting with spice and citrus flavor. I think it would be a great cake for the Winter Solstice or Christmas Day. Fyi, I used whole wheat flour instead of spelt ... and left the butter sauce on the side for those in my family who can't do dairy. (I myself slathered it on.)

What are you reading this week?

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Working through my basket of magazines (holiday issues are the BEST) plus a lovely old book about living a quieter, country Christmas ...

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Tasha Tudor's Forever Christmas ... my folks gave this to me back in 2001. I love re-reading this (and watching her video, Take Peace) at this time of year and refreshing my Advent attitude a bit. I've never visited her house in Vermont but it's on my "someday" list! :)

Then we have the basket of "this week" books for the younger boys ...

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Filled with lovely stories (and a field guide!) to go along with our nature theme (evergreens, Christmas greenery):

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree

Night Tree

The Legend of the Poinsettia

The Family Christmas Tree Book

The Story of Holly & Ivy

(and not shown, on request at library):

 Christmas Farm

The Littlest Evergreen


What are you listening to this week?

Ancient noels

Ancient Noels is on request from my library, and we'll mostly be listening to it in the van as we drive around town. We're studying the Middle Ages this year and this month it's all about how Christmas was celebrated in medieval times - food, music, decorations, and festivities! With a soundtrack that features hammered dulcimer, recorder, pennywhistle, Celtic harp, cittern, guitar and tambourine ... this music takes you right there ... or so I'd like to imagine. ;)

(At home we're also enjoying holiday selections from Pandora Radio on our phones. I particularly like Charlie Brown music, classical Christmas and old vintage tunes.)

What are you working on this week?

Well, it's mostly all about Christmas preparations, but I'm also organizing my materials for that Planning Workshop I'm attending next Tuesday! :) 

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Refreshing the file crate ...

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... and assembling another homemade planner for 2016!

Then, as soon as they arrive, I'll be devoted to assembling Christmas cards ... :)

What's happening in nature this week?

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Early sunsets ... surprisingly mild afternoons.

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Though the mornings are quite frosty!

Some of you have asked if our Advent apple candles are still intact. Well ...

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As you can see, I threw the critters off by offering a tasty pumpkin instead ... it's been fun to watch their antics. A couple of squirrels have been up on the table, sniffing at the apples and knocking over the center candle. They didn't cause too much harm though ...

Also this week we are searching our yard for any Christmas greenery we can find ... so far, plenty of evergreens, pinecones, English ivy and a few withering herbs ...

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This photo will feature in my "nest assignment" next week. It's a bit bleak looking isn't it? Well, I have some thoughts on that ...

Any projects with the children this week?

Of course there will be tree decorating! And we'll spread it out over the week. Meanwhile, we've added some greenery to our manger table: a few evergreen sprigs, a pinecone and a (silk) poinsettia blossom, too.

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That candle burns steadily all day and night.

Watching, waiting ...

Also, per my (admittedly, adventurous) Advent plans, we'll choose from the following craft ideas as time, (health) and supplies allow:

terrarium bulbs * nature ice molds * late autumn suncatchers * paperwhite bulb gifts * dried orange slice garlands * grinding whole spices with mortar and pestle * pine branch slice candleholders with Daddy * cinnamon stick-lined candles * gift jars of mulling spices * a local holiday greenhouse visit * water forest snow globes * twig ornaments * orange clove pomanders

(Now, in no way do I expect to do most of these crafts. Certainly not when we're all under the weather! And as I mentioned, I didn't get to the craft store as planned, so I'm short a few key supplies. But when I brainstorm a theme, I really go all out! I've pinned most of these ideas so we'll always have them if we need them. I'm hoping to get a few gifts made if nothing else, and I think the boys will really enjoy grinding spices. I have some oranges on hand to slice and dry and Bill is pretty eager to make some candleholders from our log pile.)

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of your children, they are all 30 feet tall."

~ Larry Wilde 


Well my friends, it's time to wrap up our Tea! I hope you enjoyed hearing about our "doings" and a preliminary peek at our tree! I will share how it turns out once we get it all done up ... and as I mentioned, I would LOVE to hear about your tree and tea! Please share with me here in the comments or send me your thoughts at ...

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

I look forward to hearing from you!

Wishing you all a lovely Tuesday, with my thanks as always for reading! 

My Advent Tea Journal ~ Gifts from the Heart

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Happy Monday, my friends! Blessings to all in this brand new season!

And oh, do I LOVE Advent. It's such a lovely time of anticipation and preparation, a stilling of the world in some ways (yet a rushing in others), as we journey towards the most beautiful night of the year. Today I am sitting down to tea, catching my breath (it is Monday after all!) and taking a little time to think about the Season ahead ...

(How I'd like it to be - and not be.)

Well, there is much involved in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and that includes gift-giving. And every year I hope to make as many gifts as possible (in the physical or spiritual sense), but as time and energy dwindles, I find myself ordering things from Amazon at the last minute, and feeling immensely grateful for my Prime membership's two-day free shipping! I yearn for a non-commercial holiday, yet it's such a challenge every year! The material world (and my own busy-ness) work together and conspire against me! Even so, ever the eternal optimist am I, and this year I aim to make as many gifts as possible with my boys' help, and to come up with offerings that would be much appreciated by those that we love. In short, gifts from the heart (and hands).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

* Do you try to create gifts at this time of year?

* Are you super-organized (as I always wish I'd be) and start your gift-giving early each year, by starting projects, growing things, gathering materials, and just generally planning ahead?

* How do you encourage your children to give in a thoughtful manner? Even if their gift is something they've bought, they can put their hearts (not just their monies) into the selection.

 More on how you can share your thoughts on this theme at the end of this post, but for now, let me open my Tea Journal and share my notes with you ...

What refreshments am I enjoying this week?

This week it's Taylor's Scottish Breakfast Tea and a freshly baked star cookie. Not quite the "Swedish" spice cookie I was aiming for, but close enough! I usually like to bake shortbread on this particular feast day (St. Andrew of Scotland) because for one thing, I'm Scottish! And for another, I love shortbread! But today I was hoping to make some Swedish star cookies because I recently learned (through Ancestry DOT com) that I am in fact, 4% Scandinavian!

So since we're all about "stars" here this week, I decided to make some gingerbread star cookies. They're not technically Scandinavian, but I'm going to pretend they are ... ;)

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And I will confess to you, dear readers: this is not a homemade recipe, but some commercial, roll-out dough purchased at the store. It was just that kind of day - if we were going to have cookies, they were going to happen this way or no way! Also, as you can see, my stars are pretty wonky. The dough just would not cooperate!

(They still tasted great, though ...)

And how about this new mug? Isn't is sweet?

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I found it at HomeGoods recently for all of $5. (How could I resist?) I love the tiny stars and the four birds returning "HOME" (to the nest) ... :) 

Now, you may notice my nest chair is not where it's been in past posts ... well, I've been "remodeling" (re-feathering?) my nest a bit this week with an eye toward Christmas decorations. The tree will be going up in this room, so that changes things a little. I'll have a tour up sometime soon ...

What am I reading this week?

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In addition to a few children's books that work well with our nature theme this week, I am also reading Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi. This is my daily devotional (along with this and this) and I have a pretty little notepad to use along with it - an informal Advent "journal" where I can jot notes as I read. :)


(Note: In a separate post I'm going to outline our nature-inspired Advent plans for this year - which I keep hinting at, but not really explaining, lol! I don't mean to be secretive (as if!) but I don't want to bog down my Tea post with too much about all of that.)

What am I listening to this week?

A lovely CD I purchased years ago, recorded by a homeschooling family, Eventide Lullaby, as well as my own humming as Little Bear settles to sleep - tuneless, but still soothing, thankfully. Today, it was one of my favorite carols. :)

 What am I working on this week?

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Crafts for the first week of Advent - using as many natural materials as possible (some found and some purchased), and making handmade gifts with the boys. I'm also arranging a quiet manger corner in the living room. This will slowly be built up over the next four weeks, according to our nature themes. As you can see, we have a few donations already ... :)

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They don't tend to stand still, though. :)

Oh! And I made up a little frame for myself ... seen here at the far right of the sill:

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This is a $1 acrylic frame found at the craft store. I printed out the Christmas Novena as well as a pretty nativity picture and cut them to fit the frame sleeves. A perfect reminder for the season!

What's happening in nature?

Ok, here's a new idea ... I am going to record a short nature video each week to share with you. A little commentary on our weather and how the season is unfolding and what we're up to in nature each week. I could not - for the life of me! - figure out how to share a video directly in this post, but I was able to get one up at my Facebook page. I believe anyone can access it whether they are FB users or not ... I hope you enjoy!

November Woods


A project with the children this week:

Well, most importantly - and with but moments to spare - we began our Advent calendar, with an apple candle on Sunday ...

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A tiny beeswax tea light is stuffed just inside ... and one apple is placed at each one of the table's four corners. 

(They may or may not be eaten by squirrels ... but that's just part of the fun.)

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A rock a day ... 24 in all. And beneath each one is a word, leading up to a verse. A little mystery to solve ...

And in the center of the table, a plain white, battery-lit candle. I set the candle to turn on each day as the sun lowers and to turn off around eight. We can see this table from the kitchen nook window, and it has been quite the focus of attention already ...

Waiting, wondering ...

We are also spending our outdoor time gathering twigs (as mentioned in the video) and little stones for crafts. And of course, getting busy with some of those crafts:

seashell ornaments * a pebble-filled grotto * yarn stars * twig stars * shell candles * grinding spices with a mortal and pestle * filling hand-sewn felt sachets with said spices ...

Will all of it get done? Not very likely ... but we'll do our best and pace ourselves, and hopefully make some nice handcrafts for our tree and our family and friends.

Now, I was thinking about the older boys, and how to involve them in our family Advent plans. It gets harder as kids get older to "reach" them and secure a little of their time! They will certainly be taking part in some of the activities, and helping with the youngers as they can, but I'd like to make this season a meaningful time for them as well. My plan is this:

  Each evening, they will think about the next day and decide on a small gift to give of themselves: to a friend, a family member, a teacher, etc. It might be hard to think of actions at first, but depending on their schedule, and who they'll be seeing, it should be easy enough to come up with some small token of affection or charity. It might just be a kind word or gesture of some sort, or even just an extra prayer. After all, the best gift we can prepare for the Baby Jesus each year is simply to treat others as we would treat Him.

"What can we give him? We can give him our heart ..."

I'm not asking them to keep track of this or even share what they've done if they'd rather not. But I think we can discuss this over supper each night and help call their attention to potential situations where they might give a small gift of their heart ... if they think and plan ahead it should be easier to pass out those "gifts!"

Words to inspire:

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystery." ~ Albert Einstein

I don't even have a whole lot to say about that quote - I only just heard it today! - but it seems to go well with this season. A time of waiting and wondering ... and yes, mystery, too.

How was it possible? How can it be true? How did they manage? It's just such a miracle!

How beautiful would it be it to fully immerse ourselves in this special time? To experience the true spirit of the season - tuning out what the world is shouting at us through our TVs and laptops - and instead find the quiet where we can and just listen? I myself listen best in nature ...

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Well, my friends, as usual I've rambled on quite a bit, but goodness, do I love this topic and of course, sharing my photos! I hope you will continue the conversation with me - by leaving a comment below, or emailing me your thoughts (with pictures if you'd like!) or perhaps linking me up at your blog? You can reach me at:

> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <

I would love to hear about (see!) your tea and talk more about how we can give from our hearts this year. For those we love and those in need ... it's a wonderful time of year for giving, in every sense of the word.

And thanks so much for joining me! I will be back again soon - I have a little nest "assignment" to share this week, as well as some more reader nest posts, too! I will also be back with more details on our Advent with Nature plans ... I'm still figuring them all out because - oddly enough - I kind of let things wait till the last minute this year!

Enjoy the rest of your evening, everyone ... see you here again very soon!

p.s. Here's a link to my Homemade Gifts archive - there are several kid-friendly craft posts there, as well as a blog fair I hosted many years ago, The Loveliness of Handmade Gifts. There are lots of ideas and links in that one! :)

November Nightfall

It comes so early now ... the night. And some might say too early, but it's all just part of that rhythm. Outside there's a fading of color and a sharpness to the air ... while inside we have our lights burning and there are extra blankets on the beds. At this time of year the comforts of home seem all the more comforting, but the outside is still welcoming too, especially on evenings like these ...

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Sunset, 4:20 p.m. Sunday. Just before the Patriots Game.


How wonderful for a little one to get all rosy-cheeked and leaf-littered on a cool autumn evening ... then to come inside for a warm bath and a good supper before bed. I love teaching my children to appreciate our days in ALL seasons and by "teaching" I mean, sharing my own joy right alongside them. That's the best lesson, I think - what we show them. Because those little eyes watch us so closely! Little Bear might not read his mama's blog yet, but I know he can read my moods ...

You know, I've been working on that book of mine, and trying to figure out just where I'm going with it ... getting distracted sometimes, or maybe even a little defeated ... but when I look back at this post, I can see it. This is what makes me tick, and this is where I zoom in: on the simple, little joys ... the easy, homey comforts. Every week brings something new to learn and share ...

As organic as it seems it should be to just follow the seasons and accept nature's rhythm, I find that Life As We Know It often gets in the way. So I create a little structure - weekly themes and file folders - and hope that by planning ahead we'll make more of the moment. The seasons pass so quickly - not to mention the years! So this week we're watching our world get sleepy and dark and we're feeling grateful for things like light and warmth (and peace) ... in nature we're observing a fallen log and exploring the tart curiosity of cranberries, while baking breads to bring to neighbors across town ... 

November days - are they dark? Yes, they can be. But dull? No, they don't have to be. There's much to be thankful for and so many ways to explore this big, blessed world. It is my hope to highlight these joys in each week of the year ... to work them into my "plans" so they become more than just ideas, but actions ... and then to share them all with my family, and you!

So anyhow ... that's where I'm at right now. I mostly just wanted to share all these happy photos and then I got carried away. (You all know how I get.) And now I'm watching another (early) sunset, lighting a candle on our seasons shelf, and conjuring some good smells in the kitchen ...

And putting the laptop down, for now. But I'll be back here again sometime soon ...

(Good Night!)

Thoughtful Thursday ... Nature Study

Butterfly on coneflowers 1

Butterfly on coneflower 2

Butterfly on coneflower 3

 "But it's not enough to merely exist," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower."

(Hans Christian Anderson)

I love how easy nature study can be ... especially in midsummer, when life all around us is bursting with color, sound and smell!

Over the past few days we've been noticing a pretty orange butterfly visiting our herb patch. We can see this spot easily from our kitchen window, along with several bird feeders and the woodsy woods beyond. It's a view I never tire of - and I'm grateful for it each time we sit at the table. Well, while I was watering my pots yesterday, I saw this handsome fella again - perched on a coneflower without a care in the world - and hastily drew the phone from my pocket to snap some pictures. Back inside I showed the family my photos and we started to discuss what kind of butterfly it could be ... not a Monarch surely, but a familiar orange and brown/black ...

A quick google search later (our field guide of choice these days) and a match was found - or so we think:

A Great Spangled Fritillary

It's our best guess!

I made a note in my daily domestic journal - which sits open on the kitchen counter - re ~ the name of the butterfly and the flower it was enjoying. Also under yesterday's date, I had notes about the weather (beautiful summer day! 80s and low humidity at last! brief showers late afternoon ...).  Looking back over those notes I see I also wrote about the blueberry breads I made - and the rhubarb we harvested (tons, because that plant is going crazy) and the grasshoppers that are active along the stone wall ...

Doesn't that all sound so summery ... ? :)

So it wasn't any major project or investigation - in fact, the boys were only marginally aware of my "butterfly moment" ... but they were aware. Nature, as always, was happening around them. It does its thing all the time, whether we pay it attention or not. And, I think, (hope), they couldn't help but absorb some of my curiosity and delight over this simple event. They've watched me embrace life this way this since they were little ...

Another time perhaps I would have stretched this experience into a more involved project ... a big butterfly study or craft or report. A formal journal entry with a poem or quote (like the one above) ... or even a butterfly walk through a local Audubon locale. And all those things are fantastic activities - but they do come with some planning and effort. I love planning those types of things, but honestly, what makes up the the bulk of our family's nature study is simply just being aware - tuning into the elements, the seasons, even our own senses. Remembering where we are in the year, and how it shapes our day. Becoming familiar with the flora and fauna in our own little corner of the world - the trees and plants and birds and bugs and the small furry things that run across our yard. I think that kind of "accidental" learning is equally meaningful when compared to formal studies. The things we know in our bones don't have to come come from books or documentaries or craft kits. They come from an awareness and understanding of the very world around us ... a kind of knowledge we carry with us wherever we go ... and however old we may be.

So whether a nature "event" is planned out and hands-on or simply exists in the background of our busy lives, I feel it matters. I think my boys - my computer-loving, sci-fi/fantasy, gamer boys - are growing up with a real feel for the seasons and an instinctive awareness of the nature around them. Sometimes we take the time to delve deeper, as we will do this academic year with organized outings and scheduled topics - but there will also be plenty of everyday, effortless moments ...

I'll make sure of it. :)

Meanwhile, as I mentioned previously, I am drafting a formal nature study program for the academic year ahead. It will involve multiple ages and abilities (toddler, special needs and high schooler) and it will follow an outline of monthly topics/habitats. I will be very happy to share my initial outline with you all here ... and I hope to have that for you (and myself!) sometime next month.

Well my friends, you all know I can go on and on when I get talking nature, but I'd best wrap up for now. I have a tired baby who's covered in dirt and grass and lunch stains and very much in need of a bath and a nap. He met a dragonfly this morning and was enthralled ... 

O with dragonfly

And his mama, naturally, was thrilled to watch that moment unfold ...

See you here again very soon!

Finally ... SPRING

 A few pictures from our Saturday, the springiest day we've had yet!

Rhubarb 1

Fresh rhubarb I found at the market! I can't wait to turn it into this.

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Garden seeds purchased at the local agricultural co-op. I am especially excited for the pickling cukes, mini pumpkins and the lovely lupines!

Mrs meyers apple

A new hand soap for my kitchen sink - Mrs. Meyer's newest scent: Apple. Heavenly!

O and daddy out in yard

Bill had the boys out in the yard today - which is nearly snow-free - to start the cleanup. Little Bear is just getting over a nasty virus (high fever, runny nose) but he was loving the fresh air ... and the plentiful "sticks."

Purple crocus

Beautiful purple crocus growing out back.

Washi tape rainbow

A rainbow of wash tape! (For my new file crate folders!)

Daffodils under log bench

Daffodil shoots growing beneath our log-bench ...

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Our vernal pool out front ... pretty soon it will be peeping!

Hummingbird nest

I found a bird's nest underneath a bush, lying on the ground. It has a unique shape - kind of high on the sides with a fairly small hole. Nothing inside at all ... might have been a dummy nest but clearly deserted. I was very happy to place it in my birthday cloche ...

And so begins a new year of nature study ... 


Some of you on Facebook saw my post this morning about my sunrise walk with Earlybird. Truly, it was magical. The day was just getting light and the sun was glowing warmly behind the woods ... we could hear so many songbirds! And ducks ... crows ... geese ... a woodpecker! It was a lovely way to start our day and I felt such a reconnection with the world. I did enjoy the long, snowy Winter (honestly!) but goodness, I am ready for Spring!

Dear friends, I hope you are all having a nice weekend - wherever you are and whatever your weather. Another nice day on tap for us tomorrow - and by Monday it will be 70!

Thanks so much for stopping by ... see you here again very soon!

Everyday Nature: Life's Little Mysteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

This, That and the Other Thing ...

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

Sharing the Cupcake Love

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


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


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

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

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

Well done, EB. :)

Easy-Peasy Breakfast Popsicles


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

Could be a Great Crested Flycatcher?

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


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


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


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

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away ...

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

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

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

I hope your weekend is just lovely! Happy Friday!

Everyday Nature: The Quiet of Morning


We've had some wonderful nature moments here this morning, and I wanted to share them in a post, not just in my nature notes on the sidebar. I took the picture above just minutes ago from our deck. The sun rises right behind our woods and I love how it glimmers through the greenery, gaining in strength as it climbs the morning sky ...

I also love how we begin our mornings. So quietly, so slowly. The light is just creeping through the woods, and my boys are still asleep. I like to raise their windows so that as they wake, they feel the gentle breeze and hear the wakening woods. I think it is a comforting and cozy way to start their day.

In the winter of course, I can only crack the windows (if at all) but our temperatures have been in the 80s lately, and so we are having a touch of summer here in mid-May. Today, as soon as the soft light worked its way through our house, I made the rounds from room to room lifting blinds and throwing windows open wide.

The day was dawning so beautifully. The woods were literally alive with all the bird song and yet, one call lifted clearly and loudly above the rest. Crackerjack and I had been listening to that song, wondering what bird could be making so piercing and distinctive a call. A few moments later, as I made Earlybird's bed, I heard the song even more clearly and called CJ to the window. There, sitting on the gate just outside EB's window, was a tiny Carolina wren, singing his dear little heart out!

We were so close we could see his beak moving, notice the way he tilted his head back as far as he could in order to belt out his call as boldly as possible. We watched him for several minutes, marveling at his tiny perfection. This impossibly small bird has such a large voice! In just another minute he was joined by a second wren, who could only be his true ladylove, and together they flew into our neighbor's shrubbery.

Amazingly, at the very same moment, a young cardinal pair met up on the fence post and followed suit, heading for the very same shrubbery!

"That must be their church," said Crackerjack. "It's marrying day!"

You know, he might be right, for they could not have picked a prettier day! :)

Before the breakfast routine began, I grabbed my camera and headed to the deck to snap a few pictures of the sunrise. Sure I was still in my pajamas, but our yard is fairly private, and really, who else is up at this time? Just as I chased off a neighbor's cat skulking around the potting shed, a flash of dark and white tail feathers in the cherry tree caught my eye. I was immediately reminded of the slate-colored junco, but of course they've been gone north for some time now. I tried to make out the shape and call of this mysterious bird, but with little success. I took a few more pictures before heading in, and here's what greeted me at the door:


Our three cats were keeping a close eye on me - and the birds as well! :)

A few moments later, the same bird I had glimpsed turned up at the feeders and CJ and I got a closer look. It was definitely an Eastern Towhee, a spring migrant who visited us this same time last year! A female, according the description in our trusty Birds of New England. Her song was a clear and charming cherreee! I took some pictures through the dining room windows, but they all came out quite blurry. Hopefully she'll stop by again - perhaps she's making a nest nearby?

How exciting to have so much activity here so early in the morning! It's just barely 7 a.m.! Now the boys are all up and we're sharing our stories with the sleepyheads who missed the excitement. I've just come from the front door where we waved Daddy off on his day. Up and down the street neighbors are hauling trash bins to the sidewalk and pulling cars out of their driveways. A school bus just trundled by. The quiet has been replaced by the bustle of the workaday unfolding. The Blue Jays are calling from the treetops and the squirrels have made it to the feeders. Our early morning time has passed.

Really, there's just no time like the earliest hours for observing the beautiful and sometimes surprising nature all around us! But let's keep our eyes peeled, because I am sure there will be more to see before this day is done.

I hope your day today is just lovely, perhaps filled with a nature moment or two! 

Everyday Nature: The Full Flower Moon

Tonight is the first of May's two full moons. I always thought this happenstance meant that one or both moons were known as a Blue Moon but it seems there's more to it than that. I looked at the link, but honestly it's a bit more complicated than my half-caffeinated brain can decipher just yet this morning. ;)

Despite the presence of a second full moon this month, we will herald tonight's moon as the Full Flower Moon. We're having heavy rain this morning, but hopefully things will clear out this evening before moonrise at 8:29 p.m.

If you're keeping a nature notebook with your children, it might be nice to draw a page showing the full moon and fill it with pictures of flowers (hand-drawn, stickers or magazine clippings). Label the time and the name of the moon, perhaps even add some information about the blue moon theory ~ and how about a poem just for May's moon?


May: The Flower Moon

Lilies of the valley

Ring each silent bell

When May’s bright moon

Lightens up the dell.

Furry-footed creatures

Scurry here and there

Dancing to the music

They can hear

Quite well.

(From When the Moon is Full: A Lunar Year)

Dear Morning Moments

We were up later than usual this morning, having stayed up quite late last night. We straggled out of bed, one by one, around 6 a.m. (Don't laugh - that's late for us!)

As is our routine, we congregated in the family room which was filling with soft morning light. Our attention was drawn to the out-of-doors, to the still and serene backyard - and we had to rub our sleepy eyes to focus on the lovely site just outside:


A beautiful deer! It was eating grass, twitching its ears and flicking its tail -  gorgeous! - and here I was in the doorway trying to get a good picture through the glass, when it suddenly startled and ran off to the left, into the woods.

We all ran to the back windows, to follow its path, and realized there were three more deer, and they were directly behind our house! Oh, the close-ups I could have been getting had I looked out these windows first! One deer was quite small and speckled ~ a fawn, perhaps?

Ah, well. We watched them leap off into the woods, grateful for that sweet, brief encounter. They stood at a distance out in the woods, just looking back at our house (right at us, it seemed), with the sun beginning to pore through the branches behind them ... it was quite a sight to behold! What a way to start the new day!

As the boys made their way towards the kitchen for breakfast, I made my rounds of the "bird windows," and was delighted to watch a pair of cardinals taking their own breakfast under the cherry tree!

These photos (taken through a screened window) are terribly blurry, but I had to post them, just to show you our sweet pair.


If you squint a little, you can just make out the female standing behind the male. They were pecking seeds off the ground (where I spilled a considerable amount yesterday while filling the feeders). Watching closely, I realized he was pecking seeds and feeding her!

You can just make out the tender kiss they shared in this picture below:


Actually, I'm sure you probably can't, but she is just behind him in this picture and he is placing a seed in her beak. It was the dearest thing.

All of this happened within 10 minutes of waking, and it only underscored a few of the points we discussed at my nature study meeting last night. I have some pictures and notes to share, but will have to wait until later today to do so. We're off to speech bright and early this morning.

Thank you to everyone who left comments and questions about nature study yesterday. I think I will begin a series of posts in which we address your various thoughts and queries. It would be fun to share ideas and suggestions with each other!

In the meantime, as always, thanks for taking the time to stop by and read, and have a great morning!

What we found when we looked ...

... under those leaves, like I talked about yesterday. I have to admit, I got a bit ahead of myself on that one. Because it wasn't what we found that made news, it was what we didn't.

Zip, zip, zippo, as Crackerjack said.

Nope, not a whole lot of anything going on under there. Just a lot of dry dirt, old leaves, cracked and scaly seed hulls and, pardon my French, cat droppings.

(Darn neighbor cat.)

So we didn't so much "muck around" out there as scuffle. Things are still pretty dry and cold. So, we note the conditions in our nature notebooks, and we wait a bit longer.


The boys did very much enjoy the investigation, as well as the cool air and bright sunshine. It's wonderful to "do" science out in our backyard while a robin hops by but a few feet away and the woods are whispering their spring song.

But you know, I was hoping for more. We are on the brink of yet another little snowstorm here (we won't mention the nor'easter due Monday), and we really could have stood to find something under there. More than that one tiny wiggly thing. Some little bits of life to encourage us that, truly, spring is here. Somewhere around here. I was sure of it.

So that's the lesson for today, my friends. We must have faith. And we must find the beauty in the here and now. It's the gift we've been given today.

Looking back over our photos we realized there's not a whole lot of color here. Mostly browns, and pale shades of green. But that's exactly the palette of early spring in New England. We won't see bursts of bright color till May when the lilacs and azaleas and cherry trees begin to bloom. And when it happens, it will be a feast for hungry eyes.

For now, we will content ourselves with the subtle signs of earliest springtime.


Tiny ferns growing under the leaves! So pale and lovely.


New chrysanthemum shoots finding their way to the sun.


Tiny but mighty crocus shoots! Theyr'e lifting the mulch as they grow!


The one wiggling thing we found - some kind of beetle larva, we guess.


No idea - but we love the color - like purple cabbage!

That's the thing about nature. You can't package it up all neat and tidy. Sure the calendar says April 12, but nature ... well, it's just going to do it's own thing, isn't it?

On the positive side, we are home today, and we have our Thursday tea planned. On Thursdays we read the Sunday gospel and eat some cookies and drink some tea or cocoa. I was hoping by now we'd have moved onto lemonade, but no such luck. No, a hot cup of cocoa sounds just about right. I think I will whip up a cup of spring cocoa - it's white and creamy and hot and just right for a blustery April afternoon.

In the meantime, please remember that Field Day is tomorrow! I am busily working on my post and having a grand time reading all of yours! Thanks to all who have sent me an entry - you make Field Day what it is! If you'd like to participate, you still have plenty of time - I'll be working late (ish) into the night. ;)

Also, tomorrow is the last day for voting at The 2006 Homeschool Blog Awards. When you stop over there, please read this post first, and keep Heather in your prayers. She needs them dearly.

Blessings to you, my friends. Breathe in, have faith and go give your loved ones a hug.

Everyday Nature: Looking under Leaves


Today we're going to muck about a little in the yard. The ground is softening, the earth smells fresh ... what better time than early spring to dig a bit and look for new life?

For it's certainly stirring now, and in all kinds of places. Sometimes it's plain to see - a nest in a tree, buds on a bush, a bee flying by. But there's a whole lot going on in places we hardly ever think to look.

Or at least, I hardly ever think to look - anymore (I did as a youngster I'm sure). No, usually my first instinct upon discovering a pile of withered, slimy leaves is not to poke around under there - Heaven only knows what might come crawling out! But of course, that's the point. And when we do get down and close up, and carefully lift and look, what we see is almost always amazing.

My young boys seem to know, instinctively, where to go to find the neatest bugs, worms and other cool creatures at this time of year. They gravitate towards the muddy and messy areas of the yard and they are richly rewarded in their exploration.

Today it would be fun to meander around the backyard and lift up things like rocks, logs, piles of leaf litter or even toys that have perhaps spent the winter months parked in one spot. What might you find?

A possible checklist:

  • ants
  • earwigs
  • grubs
  • beetles
  • earthworms
  • sowbugs
  • centipedes
  • millipedes
  • spiders
  • slugs
  • salamanders
  • various kinds of fungi

Ask the children to ponder: why is there nothing green growing under there?

Take a small field guide with you if you'd like (an insect guide would be helpful). Equip the children with magnifying glasses and a small clean jar. Let them dig around and explore for a while. Guide them to move slowly and quietly so as not to harm any living thing (they'll also get to see more if they're careful). If they find a small creature they'd like to observe, carefully deposit it into the jar, making sure to add a bit of soil first.

(Note - we are not experienced bug-keepers so we always return our specimens to their habitats after a short while. There are undoubtedly many books and online resources for information on keeping bugs permanently with care and respect.)

Books for exploring this type of habitat:

Before I sign off, just a quick word about my Everyday Nature posts. I don't want you all to think I'm some kind of nature expert. Oh, so far from it. I am decidely not a very outdoorsy person, in fact. I don't camp (yet), don't hike (much), don't canoe All_things(ever) or do any of those other rugged wilderness things.

But I do love nature. I love my small habitat and getting to know it better. I love showing my boys the wonders of nature, and specifically that which is right under our feet, outside our door, in view from our windows - every single glorious day.

There's so much to learn and even more to love. I think of Everyday Nature as baby steps towards nature study. It really can be as simple as taking five minutes a day to just be aware. Some days we might spend an hour walking through the woods, identifying trees and listening for birds. Some days we might just open a window and feel the wind change as a front moves through. It all adds up, in my book.

And it is all a gift, every little bit.

With every bit of nature we observe - the beautiful and the not so beautiful - it is good to remember Cecil Alexander's timeless words:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Everyday Nature: A Praise Walk

I must say up front, this idea is not entirely mine. It is one I found here, and then embellishedVioletbluebutterfly  upon slightly. I do think it is a lovely and quiet Holy Saturday activity, one that might keep itchy children out from underfoot! ;)

If the weather is accomodating, head out for a leisurely nature walk. You need to bring nothing more than your keen senses with you (though you could of course bring a camera or sketch pad). Smell the new grass, hear the birds in the trees, look around and see the beauty of our world. Look, in particular, for little signs of life returning from the depths of winter. And for everything you see, every little thing you marvel over, give thanks to God for the world He created for us.

When the children return home, have the crayons and paper set out. Let them make a Praise Poster - filled with all the things they saw on their walk. Write Praise God in bold letters at the top (glittered, perhaps) and hang it near your dinner table. Include these beautiful images in your Easter grace tomorrow.

Now, if the weather is not accomodating, your children can still participate in a Praise Walk ~ just have them sit by a window and gaze out upon the world. From where they sit they can surely see many lovely things to be thankful for. They might start with the rain itself, and remember how precious it is to our earth and its creatures.

Simply put, a Praise Walk is a nature walk, but today we bring fresh eyes to the landscape, and we seek out more than just a new flower or the toad underfoot. Today we leave our field guides behind and let our hearts lead the way.

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side'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!

(Pippa's Song, Robert Browning)

Everyday Nature: Backyard Birds & Beyond


An updated list for Spring, 2007:

Birds we see regularly:

  • chickadees
  • mourning doves
  • slate-colored juncos
  • northern cardinals
  • tufted titmice
  • blue jays
  • sparrows (a variety)
  • goldfinches
  • purple finches
  • Carolina wren
  • white-breasted nuthatch
  • downey woodpecker
  • American crow
  • American robin
  • mockingbirds

Birds we see occasionally:

  • wild turkeys
  • grackles
  • starlings
  • red-winged blackbirds (hear them more often than see them)
  • hawks (in flight)
  • turkey vultures (in flight)

Birds we hope to see again:

  • hermit thrush
  • eastern towhee
  • Baltimore orioles
  • red-breasted nuthatch
  • house wren
  • scarlet tanager
  • brown headed cowbirds
  • bats (which are not birds, but somehow fit here)

A presence detected, not seen:

  • owl (heard, not seen)
  • wood ducks (nest observed)

Our bird wish list:

  • cedar waxwings
  • phoebes
  • swallows
  • rose-breasted grosbeak
  • pheasant

A few ideas for the upcoming weeks:

  • Take down and clean out all birdfeeders. (Good tips here.)
  • Set up a bird bath or other water supply.
  • Schedule a trip to a local birdfeeding store. The seed sold here is usually of a much higher quality than the bags you pick up at the superstore (less filler and debris). Also, you can pick the brains of the shop owners, who are more than likely bird enthusiasts with a wealth of knowledge to share. Talk with them about spring feeding and show them your wish list. Ask for suggestions on specific feed and plantings.
  • Here's a great bird-fruit chart.
  • Hang a hummingbird feeder.
  • Before the trees bud out, take a nest walk. Bring along the binoculars (and the camera, of course) and look for nests in the treetops and brush.
  • Plan a trip to the pond to observe swans, ducks or geese nesting (from a distance).

A home bird study tip: We use coloring books (such as this one and this) to aid in our bird study. If we see a bird, we look it up in the coloring book, photocopy the page, color it in, and add it to the nature notebook with notes from the sighting. A lovely online bird coloring book is here.

Another bird study tip: A fun rabbit trail (and/or lapbook) would be to learn all about your state bird. I'll bet you already know, but you can find out what yours is here. Explore birds of all the states with this coloring book - that would be a fun history lesson, and it would just beg for homemade flash cards. :)

A very useful birding tool: The Birdsong Identiflyer

Two books I ordered recently to replace this one, which has fallen apart (literally):

We just love birds around here! Before I go, may I ask, if you have the time, to leave the name of your favorite bird in the comments section below? Bookworm is making up a chart (you know how he loves charts) and would like to add your information. (And if you're coming to Easter dinner, prepare to be grilled!)

Have a blessed day, my friends!

"Kiss of the sun for pardon. Song of the birds for mirth. You are closer to God's heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth." (Dorothy Frances Gurney)

Everyday Nature: Pussy Willows

I thought I might post a little nature activity every day (or so) leading up to The Early Spring Field Day. Just to keep spring nature fresh in my mind and yours. ;)

So for this weekend, I'd like to suggest that it's a perfect time to look around for pussy willows. For one, they are in bloom (or almost, depending on where you live), and for two, they are interwoven with Palm Sunday tradition!

When I was a little girl, there was a small brook running through my parents' backyard, by which a small pussy willow grew. I don't think it's there anymore (the brook has long since dried up), but every year at this time I think of that lovely tree. How I loved to play with those soft pretty catkins ...

"The species most beloved by children is the pussy willow, which is often a shrub, rarely reaching twenty feet in height ... These are favorite objects for a nature-study lesson, and yet how little have the teachers or pupils known about these flowers!" (Handbook of Nature Study)

So, to begin with, we must go on a bit of an adventure to find some pussy willows growing nearby. Bill is taking the boys on their Saturday woods-walk and he thinks he knows where he might find some.

"The best place to look for pussy willows is along the banks of a stream, near wet ditches, around the edges of a pond or marsh, or anywhere the ground stays wet." (From The Beginning Naturalist by Gale Lawrence)

Hopefully they'll find some, and if they do and they're not yet blooming, we'll set the branches in warm water and keep a close watch throughout Holy Week. If the branches are already in bloom, and I am so inspired (i.e. I find the time) I might make them into a simple spring wreath for our front door.

Either way, sketches can be made for the nature notebooks. :)

If you find pussy willows growing somewhere nearby, make a note in your calendar where and when, and then make plans to return through the seasons. The Handbook of Nature Study has wonderful lesson plans for studying willows all through the year.

(Now, I'll give you a little tip. I've seen branches of pussy willows for sale in my grocer's florist department. A walk in the countryside sounds lovely, but if all else fails, commercially grown pussy willow is a fine substitute.)

Here's a charming old poem for the children to learn (or perhaps to use as copywork in their nature notebooks):

"Pussy Willow wakened from her cozy winter nap.
For the frolicking spring breeze, on her door would tap.
" It is chilly weather, though the sun feels good;
I will wrap up warmly and wear my furry hood."
Mistress Pussy Willow opened wide her door;
Never had the sunshine seemed so bright before.
Never had the brooklet seemed so full of cheer;
"Good morning, Pussy Willow, Welcome to you, dear!"
Never guest was quainter, than when Pussy came to town,
In her hood of silver gray, and tiny coat of brown.
Happy little children cried with laugh and shout,
"Spring is coming, coming, Mistress Pussy Willow's out!"

(Kate L. Brown)

And a sweet book to request from the library, orPussy_willow - if you're weak like me - order from Amazon is: Pussy Willow

Now here I'm just planting a seed of an idea, but I know many of us are spending the next several days preparing for our family's Easter holiday. Might I mention that it would be a lucky child indeed who found the materials for a new nature notebook in their Easter basket next Sunday? A set of new colored pencils, and a spiral bound sketchbook ... perhaps even a small sized field guide or two?

However you spend your weekend, at home or afield, I hope you enjoy it and many blessings to you this Palm Sunday!

Everyday Nature: Maple Sugaring

Despite the impending snow, it certainly felt like March today ... gray, drizzly, and mild. LeavessquareIt's been nice to have the windows cracked open, for the breeze is kinder than it was a month ago. The woods are damp with snowmelt and lively with birdsong. Newly sprung from its frosty pen, the earth smells - well - earthy. However removed we are from nature in our everyday life, we know in our bones, spring is near.

Here in New England, March means maple sugaring time. We don't have any sugar maples on our property, but if the storm clears out in time, we are planning to attend a local sugaring demonstration this weekend! I can hardly wait - I cannot believe I have lived practically my entire life in New England and I have never been to a sugaring demonstration. I thought the experience would make a nice entry in our nature notebooks.

So today we kicked off our maple study on a rather (sugar) high note. While I prepared delicous maple cupcakes, we played the Maple Leaf Ragg and we talked about trees in general, in light of their role as a natural resource.

We began with a quick brainstorm: How do trees help us?

  • lumber
  • firewood
  • paper
  • fruit
  • nuts
  • shelter (for animals)
  • oxygen
  • shade
  • maple syrup!

Here are the cupcakes on our "display" table, as well as a few books for the week. (I also made note that the table is made of maple!) On the far left is a page from An American Celebration: The Art of Charles Wysocki; it shows an old-fashioned maple sugaring scene. In fact, you can see it in the Amazon "look inside." (Grandma Moses, Tasha Tudor and Eastman Johnson also have done sugaring scenes.)


Here's a cupcake a bit closer up; I held it near the window so you could see it better. :)


And here's the page from my March 2006 journal where I saved this recipe from Country Living last year. This shows how the cupcakes are supposed to look. Mine are not as smooth or pretty, but if I may so, they tasted awfully good. ;)


We'll see what else develops after our "field trip" this weekend. We'll take lots of pictures of course - though I think it will be too cold and slushy to do much sketching while we're there. I wish we had a sugar maple we could visit year round as is suggested in the Handbook of Nature Study. It is the perfect time of year to "adopt" a tree - and watch it grow through the seasons.

If you're interested in learning more about maple sugaring, you might check out any of the titles I have listed in my Early Spring Basket on the righthand sidebar. (Still to add: The Big Tree and Ox-Cart Man). The Handbook has a wonderful Maple Sugaring chapter, and Project Seasons has many interesting activities (including maple math!). There is also an incredibly complete unit study I found online here.

And, if you are intrested in making the maple cupcakes, the link for the recipe is here.

Very yummy! :)