Nature play Feed

Heralding the Snow

Well, we're in for another big snow here tomorrow! Lol, I should have known - we've only just begun to see our driveway again! But you all know I don't mean to complain. Winter in New England means snow, and some years that means more snow than others. I think it's safe to say, this has been a very snowy winter so far ...

Well, a few days ago I was poking through my craft bins downstairs and I came across some unfinished wooden snowflakes. I decided that the next time we had an impending snowstorm, I would have the boys paint them up and then we'd hang them in the learning room windows - to welcome the snow in our own special way. 

So with the storm on the way for tomorrow, we got started on this craft just after we got home from EB's therapy today. Truth be told, this was all for Earlybird, who loves to paint in any capacity. Nature-related crafts are a big part of his kinder "curriculum." The older boys, good sports that they are, joined him at the table this morning.

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There was a snowflake, a paintbrush and a cup of color for each one.

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Here's our Earlybird, concentrating hard. (I feel compelled to mention, that's not peanut butter smeared around his mouth or anything. He has a terrible winter rash around his lips right now. It's actually much better than it was last week.)

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Here's Crackerjack, also working carefully.

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And our Bookworm, too.

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The snowflakes drying in the sun ...

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... and now hanging in our windows. 
Welcome Snow!

So tomorrow we'll be staying in, watching the snow fly and keeping warm at home. I plan to read a special book with Earlybird in the morning - The Big Snow - a longtime winter favorite. It's the story of Winter on its way (and a "big snow" along with it) and how all the woodland creatures prepare. It's a wonderful story and there's great scientific information to be learned, too. The last part is the best, I think - when a thoughtful family puts out food for the hungry animals. (I plan to have EB toss cracked corn and toast crusts outside our birdfeeder windows.) And the very last page is quite timely - the groundhog wakes up on the 2nd of February (which is next Monday, my friends!), sees his shadow and burrows back into his den for the rest of his winter's nap.

It's not a very long book, but just enough pages that I could see Earlybird getting impatient if he's not really into the story. EB has a hard time sitting still for books, so to make it more interesting for him, I pulled together an assortment of nature puppets to use as we read. As luck would have it, I had a puppet for each on the creatures mentioned in the story! (This is thanks to years and years of collecting.) 

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As I read the book, and mention an animal, I will have Earlybird look for and pull out that particular puppet. When we are done, he can play with all the puppets and make up his own story if he wishes. 
If you don't have nature puppets, you could always use photos or pictures for a similar activity. (Just google each animal online.) I've found enjoying books with EB in this way helps my squirmy listener stay put - and pay closer attention. 

OK, then ...
Birdfeeders filled? Check.
Hot Cocoa on hand? Check.
Cream to whip? Check.
Cookies to bake? Check.

I think we're ready for that snow now.
:)

Our Summer Nature Shelf

I've finally gotten around to spiffing up the nature shelf - sweeping away bits of dirt and crumbled dried petals and grass - and changing it up to reflect the new season ahead. Here's how it looked in the Spring, and below you can see how it's changed for the Summer, which, according to my handy-dandy countdown widget over there on the left is just TWO days away!

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In New England, the summer season is closely tied with the ocean, so I went with a blue and green sea-theme - scattering about shells and starfish along with the rose petals of June.

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Also present is my nature angel, our wooden water element as well as the boys' tiny aquatic figurines (some mythical, others not). As the boys find real bits of nature to add to the shelf this summer, I'll clear away some of these props.

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In the lefthand corner is our book of nature poems, open to June's blessings. Behind the Flower Fairies of the Summer is our storm candle, ready to be lit at the first peal of thunder, a common summer sound in these parts.

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Our nature shelf is always rounded out with lots of books.

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Not shown above the shelf is a grapevine swag; I thought it would look pretty adorned with dried flowers and maybe little seashells, too. Right now I have lavender buds stuck here and there - they don't show up much, but they smell lovely.

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I do have fun setting our nature corner up, but I hardly expect it to stay so tidy and "staged" for long. ;) For instance, today we are headed out on a nature hike with friends. I'm sure the boys will return with a new treasure or two, and I will come home with lots of pictures to share!

Well, I hope you all have a great Thursday ~ see you again sometime soon. :)


~A Raccoon, a Cricket and a Few Book Reviews~

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Look who paid a visit to the feeders early this morning!

Bill first spotted the raccoon on our roof, as it was closely inspecting the chimney. (Hmmm.) Next thing we knew it was in the seedtray, feasting away. It was not at all concerned with us, even after I opened the window and clicked and beeped away with my camera. I find it surprising (unsettling maybe) that a raccoon was out and about in the daylight hours. Aren't they supposed to be nocturnal? The other odd thing was that it was alone - when we've spotted racoons before there has always been a small gang of them.

It was damp overnight, and it's quite drizzly still - I think we might head outside in a bit to scout around for tracks in the muddy areas. I love this passage about raccoon prints from the Handbook of Nature Study:

"What country child, wandering by the brook and watching its turbulence in early spring, has not viewed with awe a footprint on the muddy banks looking as if it were made by a very little baby? The first one I saw I promptly concluded was made by the foot of a brook fairy. However the coon is no fairy ..."

(A brook fairy? How sweet!)

So now the small raccoon puppet has taken its place on the nature shelf. Later today, Earlybird and I will make up a small story about our encounter, including the blue jay and the red squirrel puppets as well - the two creatures who were brave enough to challenge the coon for the seedtray this morning.

I have also dug out Raccoons and Ripe Corn by Jim Arnosky, which is such a nice book, and the focus of a wonderful Reading Rainbow episode in which Lavar does some nature study with Mr. Arnosky himself! Don't you just love Reading Rainbow? :)

And, hey! Just as I was about to go to press, so to speak, look what I found in, of all places, the laundry pile!

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A quick internet search has me wondering if this might be a cave cricket. We've found one or two before, only those were dead. Now that we have a live one in our possession, we have made a temporary home for it on our nature shelf (a tall glass jar with a pierced paper towel for a lid). We placed two bottle caps inside - one with a bit of water and the other with a bit of crushed pineapple. We're not sure if this is at all appropriate - or even appetizing - so we'll watch the cricket throughout the day and see what transpires. If he looks at all distressed, we will release him - only not back into my laundry pile, lol!

So where do I go when we have a new nature study subject to consider? Why to Amazon of course! And consequently, I now have Chirping Crickets and Quick as a Cricket in my cart. ;) I usually cross-check titles with my library, but I happen to have a gift certificate to use up, so I think we'll splurge a little. :) 

Good picture books are such a fabulous investment, anyway. I can think of no better way to expand upon nature studies than to follow up with a few (or many!) good books. So while I'm here, I'd like to mention a few other nature-themed picture books we have on display this week:

The Salamander Room ~ This was recommended by a friend after I described our recent woodland surprise. It's the dreamy story of a little boy who finds a salamander and imagines a scheme for keeping him happy and safe in his room. (Or at least we assume he is imagining it - that might be up for debate!) His mother questions him repeatedly (in a kind, not reproachful way), but the boy seemingly has an answer for everything, and a plan to meet his new pet's every need. A sweet and cheerful tale, it invites conversation about what living things need to live well.

The Tree in the Ancient Forest ~ A beautiful story told in the tradition of the Mother Goose verse, "This is the house that Jack built ..." It begins and ends with "This is the three-hundred-year-old tree that grows in the ancient forest ...," and in between it explores the life that thrives beneath, inside and all around this majestic force of nature. It is very much a circle of life story (the owl follows the vole, the marten follows the squirrel), but in a gentle and lyrical way. It's from Dawn Publications which publishes fabulous nature books, both fiction and non (including the well-known Sharing Nature with Children series by Joseph Cornell).

Our Apple Tree ~ I bought this book without even opening the cover - theOurappletree cover itself appealed to me so! (See picture below.) The story, and the illustrations inside, did not disappoint. A pair of tiny apple tree elves describe the seasons of their tree to the reader - beginning with winter's rest, and the various wildlife that frequent it (nuthatches, pheasants and honeybees). By the end of the story, the elves and their tree are quietly sleeping again, and we are left with a happy sense of completion - and a recipe for apple crisp. Apple tree books are generally thought of as autumn stories, but I think May is a perfect time to start talking about apple trees ~ when the branches are laden with their magnificent blooms, and the whole cycle of life has begun. This little book would be perfect to bring along on a picnic at the orchard - and don't forget the sketch pads!

Well, this post has meandered all over the place - from the birdfeeders, to the laundry pile to the bookshelf! And now I must be off to get this day started. Looks to be a rainy one, which is okay ~ we have much to do (and apparently to see!) within the four walls of our home.

Have a good one, my friends!


A Happy Arbor Day to You!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Read some favorite tree stories, like ~

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

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

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

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

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


Spring Crafting ~ A Little Earth Loom

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

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

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

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

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

Our final results:

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

Some of things we wove into our loom:

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

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

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


Toys of Wood and Wonder

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I've posted before about my little love affair with wooden toys. I think (no, I am sure) I love them more than the boys do! They are so lovely and warm; they inspire such wonder and creativity. Now, don't get me wrong - we have our fair share of plastic toys - and then some! (Just last night the Toys 'R Us flyer was dissected and discussed at great length.) But I so treasure our earthy, open-ended toys. They seem to go hand-in-hand with our nature study and stories, and best of all, they have yet to appear on any recall lists. :)

Well, this post is for Katherine and Laura, who asked about our wooden nesting elements (shown above). ... at long last I found them! They can be found right here at the beautiful Three Sisters Toys.

And for Lori who asked about our tree fort (shown below), it's there too! And at a good price, if my memory serves. (And by the way, Lori, most of our soft nature toys are Audubon birds (this site has a GREAT selection) and Folkmanis finger puppets. (Many can be found here. Do request their catalog - it's amazing!)

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Admittedly these toys can be expensive - but they are very well made, and they really last. In our family, they have mostly been delivered over the years by Santa ... and his generous assistants, the grandparents. :)

Of course the trick with any toys (plastic, wooden or otherwise) is finding a balance: keeping track of how many we own, and limiting how many are kept out at one time. It's hard to take care of "too many toys," and yet all too easy to take them for granted ...

Ah, but that's a post for another time! The coffee just beeped and it's time to start my day. :)

Hope yours is a good one!


Science this Week: All Fired Up!

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In the other gardens,

And all up the vale,

From the autumn bonfires,

See the smoke trail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daddy began with kindling and a few wooden blocks.

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A harvestman residing inside the chiminea made a narrow escape!

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

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The view from above.

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Now we were cookin'!

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My fellas all gathered around the "bonfire."

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

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

Here's that page close up:

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

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

More notebook material. ;)

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Sing a song of seasons,

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!

(Robert Louis Stevenson)


Q & A Round-Up

First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone who stops by and kindly leaves aDaisiesmug comment or question. I'm sorry I can't always get back to each one - or that sometimes it takes me a while to do so - but I hope these little round-ups help a bit. Here are a few random questions from recent posts ...

Lindsey asked:

Dawn, do you have a favorite resource for finding prayer cards?

I buy all my prayer cards at our local Catholic gift shop. They have a wonderful display and most of the cards are .75 cents or $1. I have seen beautiful ones in the Trademark Catholic Stationary catalog; you can also order them at Catholic Heritage Curricula, Totally Catholic as well as Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

If any readers have a favorite source for prayer cards (or holy cards as they are also called), please leave a link in the comments below. :)

Paula wondered:

Where do you get your nature puppets?

We have been collecting nature puppets since Bookworm (now 12) was a baby, so we have quite a large collection! I began buying them at Wild Birds Unlimited, so I would suggest starting there if you have a local store. Since then I have been able to pick up the Audubon puppets (the bird ones with the call inside) at Wild Oats food store. (By the way, the birds aren't technically puppets - you can't put them on a finger or hand) but we still use them right alongside the puppets. Audubon Birds are also available here (I've ordered from this company before). I have also purchased nature puppets from Acorn Naturalists (which is a fabulous science and nature catalog). I particularly like Folkmanis puppets which you can purchase online and find in many independent toy stores.

Melissa asked:

Have you ever blogged about your favorite kitchen/baking items (tools, gadgets, gear, etc.)? I'd love to hear what you can't live without and/or love. Thanks!

Well, that would be a very fun post, Melissa! Last summer about this time I did do some posts on my kitchen, a few of them were for Meredith's Loveliness of Kitchens Fair:

Looking back over those posts I am more than a little shocked to see how clean my kitchen was then - and to realize how far it's come since! (Not in a good way, lol.) I feel shamed into inspired to do some scrubbing and de-cluttering, I have to say!

And, a last question from Kelly:

Just wondering what your favorite magazines were...

Well, magazines are where I spend my "pin" money. ;) I find them relaxing and inspiring, and I keep them in a special basket, all arranged in a particular order (the best on the bottom, the quick-reads up top). I read them in bits through the day (a magazine is always open on my workspace) and I clip and save anything of interest in my journal. Right now I am looking back over and clipping through last year's holiday special issues (the ones about cookies and entertaining and such). I keep a batch for a year at a time so I can look them back over before the new crop comes out in the fall.

All right, then, my favorites include:

I could name a few more, but I'll stop there. :)

I still have a few more questions to answer that are in regards to my planner and journals. I'll try to work on a post addressing those tomorrow (or very soon).

Have a great day, everyone, and thanks for stopping by!


Field Day: The Early Spring Edition!

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"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." (Anne Bradstreet)

It's been an awfully long winter, has it not? And - I fear for many of us (me included) - winter has not quite let loose its grip. But it can't be much longer, my friends. It simply can't.

So let's bundle up (just a bit - leave the parka - grab the fleece instead!) and head out for an Early Spring Field Day! I have many friends joining me on this nature carnival, and we all have spring in our hearts ... if not yet in our yards. :)

We have photos a-plenty to share this time out! Marcie, Robyn and Heather (whose flowers grace the top of my post) have all contributed the most beautiful pictures today! For lovelier artwork, I could not have hoped. Thank you, ladies!

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Beautiful Lake Martin, by Marcie

Let's begin up north, where Margaret captures the whims of the season with eloquence and lovely contentment. Snow in the morning, sunshine at dusk? Minnesota sounds a lot like Massachusetts these days!

Our next stop is down south, where Dana is reveling in the beauty of Texas wildflowers. Such warm and vibrant colors! Matilda has similarly beautiful scenes to share, as she waltzes through a spring daze of flora and fauna.

One of my favorite young ladies had a grand time recently looking for invertebrates! In Post One (the checklist) and Two (the results), Marianna shares some terrific scientific discoveries! Excellent lesson, Jennifer!

Spring, of course, means new life ...

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Aren't these pictures precious? Please read on for Robyn's story ...

"We rescued a baby bunny from our dog, who found a nest of bunnies in our yard. We aren’t sure how many babies were in the nest but this baby was the last one left, so we found a nice cozy box filled with tissue paper and went to the feed store to get a bottle and food for him. The bunny was so young, his eyes and ears had not yet opened. We were torn between putting him back into his nest in the hopes that his mom would relocate him, and keeping him safe from the dog inside the house. He didn’t know yet he was supposed to be afraid of humans, and he let us gently hold him in our hands--- he was so small (about the size of a mouse). He nuzzled in our hands, drank a little milk and seemed happy enough in the box. The next morning, we searched online to find out more about baby bunnies. This site has a lot of information about wild bunnies: http://www.rabbit.org/faq/sections/orphan.html.

We discovered he was actually a hare, not a rabbit. We found out that babies this tiny do not usually survive in captivity and that the mama would come back to the nest up to a week checking for her young if a nest is disturbed.  We decided to put him back in his hole for his mama to find him, knowing that it was his best shot at survival. So we said our goodbyes to our tiny houseguest and put him back on Saturday afternoon. We kept the dog on a leash, knowing that the first thing he would do is to go back to the nest so we protected the baby hare by making sure the dogs could not have access to him. On Easter morning, we checked the nest, and sure enough—the baby was gone, and we are assuming, reunited with his mama and in a new place."

As Robyn's family discovered, we often need look no further than our own backyards to experience the supreme joy of nature. Happily, Meredith's family has rediscovered the breathtaking wilderness in their midst. Oh, to be on that swing - viewing those views!

All about her lovely home, Cay shows us how beautifully spring has sprung in Louisiana. Oh my, I can almost smell those sweet blooms and taste that fresh lemonade!

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A turtle sunning himself, by Marcie ...

Angela's family always has lots of interesting things going on in their backyard - and how neat that they tapped their own maple trees this year! What a wonderful learning experience for her gang (whom we had the pleasure of meeting recently)! They also kept a close eye on their feeders (love the chipmunk!) while inside, they worked together on a seed starting project. Wonderful!

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Seedlings growing, by Heather ...

Spring's a great season for ducks, don't you think? These fine feathered creatures have certainly caught the attention of a few of my friends. After reading a perennial spring favorite, Michaela and her children made their way outdoors for some sketching by the lake.

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Sunny daffodils, by Robyn ...

Lorri's crew also found time to stop and enjoy the ducks - in their own backyard! (Actually the ducks found them  - what a treat!) And, in pursuit of a scouting badge, Lorri's family has been keeping a close eye on the songbirds in their surroundings. Now's the time of year to see lots of new faces, as well as old favorites.

Speaking of birds, Dani shares some gorgeous photos of an egret and heron - white and blue, respectively - from her pier. What a blessing to live by the water - I can only imagine how varied and interesting the nature must be!

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A Great Egret, by Marcie ...

Divina and her family have been out to the beach already this year. They've seen a wide range of sea birds - from mallards to a loon, and plenty of other examples of seashore life. But perhaps there's no better nature study than one so hands-on as sand play

Playing in the sand is an excellent form of earth science for youngsters, and I'm taking notes for my own little boys. We'll also be studying volcanoes, and we'll need to look no further than Susan's great list of books on that very subject. I always know to turn to Susan for wonderful children's book suggestions.

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Flowering tree, by Heather ...

More spring science ideas can be found at Theresa's. Stop by to learn how to make three different kinds of nets for a stream study - the first two posts are here and here, and the third will be coming later today!

Now, on to one of my most favorite nature blogs - Marjorie's Letters de Moulin. She shares three lovely posts with us today. The first takes us on a tour of birds' nests - which are a welcome sight anytime of year, but especially so in spring. Next, it's up the mountain to explore the joys of the butterfly, another sweet harbinger of spring. And finally we look down from the heavens, and specifically under some rocks, to take delight in spring salamanders! Ooh, how I'd love to find one of those shiny little fellas.

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A mockingbird - just after a bath! by Marcie ...

Brooke and her boys have a fun and educational spring ritual - birdwatching! They spent an amazing day at a national wildlife refuge - looking for eagles! She shares great tips for spring birding in her post.

And on with the hunt for spring! Joann and her kids spent some time looking for signs of life ... and what did they find? Tune in here to see. Sherry, too, took her gang out in search of spring - and a little patch of nature did the trick. Crisanne takes us on a tour of flowering trees - spring beauties that bring thoughts of God's love.

And speaking of love, what more joyous feeling can there be than a walk in the spring rain with our dear ones? Beth shares beautiful images and feelings from her day.

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A Nutria at Lake Martin, by Marcie ...

Spring brings its own mysteries. What will this seedling be? Where did we plant the tulips? What was that flash of orange in the trees? Helen's daughter has made a mysterious treetop discovery - please stop by and check it out!

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Yellow Iris, by Marcie ...

Spring sneaks up on us, in fond and familiar ways we must not overlook. From petals to pollen to screen doors wide open, MaryBeth has noticed all those subtle signs, the ones that tug at our heartstrings, and assure us that really, spring has returned home after all.

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Robyn's front yard is the pinnacle of early spring beauty.

Thank you for joining us on this Early Spring Field Day! I would like to thank each and every person who contributed in some way - whether by post, by photo or plug. :) I appreciate your participation and I hope you will consider joining me again in another month or so for the Mid-Spring Edition!

For now, let me leave you with these timely words by Robert Frost:

The sun was warm but the wind was chill. Early_spring_07
You know how it is with an April Day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off the frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

How true!


Morning on the Farm

Morning_farm

Today is National Agriculture Day!

It would be a fine day to visit our local farm and check in on the animals we have not seen in so many months ~ except that it's only 21 degrees! We could make a quick trip to the market and look for locally grown or raised products. I've been meaning to ask the store manager about this ~ supporting our local farms is ever more important these days!

Or, we may just stay in out of the cold and explore farm life at home! We've always wanted to have a little pocket farm, and even though our yard is not nearly big enough for even "pocket" status, we can pretend ... how fun would it be to brainstorm a name for an imaginary farm? Have you ever done that with your children? Even sketched out on paper what you would grow and raise?

We can talk about what farmers do in the early spring. Well, we just learned about how they tap their sugar maples. (Notice our tree above has a small tin bucket hanging from a limb.) They also start seedlings indoors (we can do that) and repair machinery (we've got some toy tractors around here, including a large antique tractor my grandfather painted for Bookworm when he was just a wee one). Lambing is just around the corner, too. Time to start thinking about wool crafts, perhaps?

We can also talk about what we eat today. How many things came from the farm? It would be a fun and educational activity to brainstorm all the things we use in our everyday life - food, wool, candles, honey - that come from our national farms! Do you know what agricultural products are produced in your state?

Here's a short list to get you started. What do we get from:

  • dairy cows
  • beef cattle
  • sheep
  • pigs
  • goats
  • chickens
  • horses
  • turkey
  • ducks/geese
  • rabbits
  • bees
  • gardens
  • orchards

Am I forgetting anything? :)

Here at home we will be reading our farm books today and most likely playing with our farm set (pictured at top). We have a wonderful book called A Farm through Time, which shows the history of an English farm from medieval times through present day. That would be a very fine history lesson today all on its own! I also have a coloring book of the middle ages that shows many scenes from feudal life. Gee, I love it when our lessons plan themselves! :)

A few other favorite farm picture books:

Farm machinery is big with my boys as well. Earlybird is particularly obsessed with fond of tractors right now. We have a show on our Tivo list recorded off The RFD Network that is literally just a parade of old-fashioned tractors. He could watch it for hours! Instead of that, though, for quiet time today we might watch Babe, an old farm favorite. :)

Finally, I put up an old photo album from last year's first farm trip of the season! It was fun to look through it and see how the boys have grown (and my hair, lol!).

Have a grand day, my friends ... and Happy First Day of Spring!


Still Winter Here ...

“The stormy March has come at last,
With wind, and cloud, and changing skies;
I hear the rushing of the blast,
That through the snowy valley flies.”

          (William Cullen Bryant)

With all my talk of early spring lately, you'd think we were out of Old Man Winter's grasp at last! Not so, I'm afraid. Not here in the northeast, anyway. Why, just yesterday we had the second coldest day of the season! The wind chill will be less bitter today, but the temps. will barely budge out of the 20's. As New Englanders know, this is true March ~ a month which may appear dull in its mousy brownish-gray appearance, but never lacks for excitment in the weather department! March keeps Winter close by his hearth, but surely by now a polite invitation has been sent out to old Mrs. Thaw?

As you can tell, the boys and I have been inspired by the weather of late. We're setting up a nature shelf this week, and the seasonal stories have been popping up left and right. The other day we had an *arctic blast* blow into town, and we watched in amazement as it advanced from the west ... the skies grew dark, the wind picked up ... and for an hour or so we had what seemed like blizzard conditions!

Here are some photos we snapped ...

Late_winter1

This is a robin on our front lawn that Bookworm noticed earlier in the day. We were all excited to see this welcome harbinger of spring, and immediately noted his appearance on our nature calendar. The robin puppet was placed on the nature shelf, but within a few hours all thoughts of spring flew from our imaginations ...

Late_winter2

Here is how the backyard looked as the snow began to fall. I used a setting on my camera (not sure what its technical term is - its symbol is a flower - I use it when photographing bugs) that enabled the camera to catch a few flakes in motion. :)

Late_winter3

The woods out back always look so dramatical (as Crackerjack would say) in a storm.

Late_winter4

Just a half-hour later, Bookworm was out exploring and, as you can see, the sun was breaking out.

Late_winter5

Ah yes, March is a fickle one - he might even be called a tease. Just how long will he allow Winter to rule the land? Perhaps a few weeks more, but before too long, that clever housekeeper Mrs. Thaw will sweep in with her broom and turn the Old Man out on his frosty heels. There's just so much to keep our imaginations alive at this time of year! Many nature stories just seem to jump from the pages of our minds.

Now for some true spring inspiration, I'm going to pop over to Jennifer's where it is always as cozy as spring. :) Her photographs today are a stark contrast to mine - lovely images I will have to wait weeks more to see.

Winter or spring, wherever you are, I pray you keep warm and well! Have an imaginative day!


Muffins, Snow and Paczki ...

... on Presidents' Day Weekend!

Presidents_day1

My family just never knows what to expect around here, lol! Today they woke up to cherry and corn muffins in remembrance of Presidents' Day! (You can't tell, but the serving plate bears the image of Mount Vernon, George Washington's home.)

This weekend was cold, bright and just right for lots of time exploring the woods and testing out the snow gear that has been so neglected since last year. Here are some photos for you ...

Presidents_day5

Who needs a sled?

Presidents_day6

Oh, to be young again!

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Bookworm and Crackerjack on a momentary sliding break.

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The quiet woodland trail ...

Presidents_day7

Back home, our slightly sloping front yard serves Earlybird's sledding needs just right! (He's the one with the jingle hat on Daddy's lap.)

While looking for a presidential quote to close this post, I came across the following by Abraham Lincoln. It ties in with yesterday's gospel so I thought I'd post it:

"Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

It might not be the cheeriest of thoughts, but it is thought-provoking.

And speaking of Sunday, I wanted to post a picture of our breakast after Mass yesterday ...

Presidents_day9

Bavarian-filled Paczki and coffee! I have only come to know Paczki (pronounced ponch-key, I believe; please correct me if I'm wrong) in the past year. From what I understand, these jelly- or cream-filled donuts are a traditional Polish food savored on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). From what I, ahem, observed, they are delicious in a very creamy, fluffy, fattening way.

Presidents_day8

I saw them at the local supermarket this weekend (right next to the hot cross buns, mind you) and I remembered having read about them! They were all stacked neatly and prominently in the bakery section (new products always catch my eye).

I just love these small signs of faith that appear here and there in the otherwise mainstream world. Like the fish department with its "Lenten Specials" and even the International House of Pancakes which is offering free pancakes tomorrow from 7 to 10 a.m. in honor of Shrove Tuesday (also known as National Pancake Day)! Then of course there will be lamb cakes come Easter ...

Well, next week will be a quiet one for us, not much to do out-of-the-house, lots to do within. My homebody self is quite pleased. :) And it's a nice way to begin our Lent, I think.

I hope you had a wonderful long weekend and I wish you a Happy Pancake Day/Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Carnivale!


A Wee Tea

Except, hold the tea ~ cold milk washed down the cookies much better. :)

Shortbread

Today, or rather, tonight, is Burns Night in Scotland, when that nation celebrates the birthday of the beloved poet, Robert Burns. This was a perfect excuse to make delicous shortbread for Thursday tea! Plus, I'm part Scottish so it's my ancestral obligation.

"O, my luve is like a red, red rose,

That's newly sprung in June.

O, my luve is like a melodie,

That's sweetly play'd in tune."

I also sang a bit of Auld Lang Syne, fully expecting the boys to recognize that song. They just stared at me blankly. (Of course, it could have been my singing.)

And to be perfectly frank, the shortbread was a bit of a miss - I'm the only one who truly enjoyed it, lol! I put too much butter in the ridiculously easy recipe (three ingredients, how could I have gone wrong?) and it never really baked all the way through. It may have been too moist to be authentic, but it was delicious. Here's a link to the recipe, which I will try again sometime soon.

I set the table with our beeswax Celtic cross candle (which I never burn - it's too lovely!), our Waterford votive (which my folks brought home from Ireland) and my "homegrown" thistle (Scotland's national flower) in a vase. This was a last minute idea - just lavender tissue paper folded and snipped into a thistle shape (more or less) and wrapped with green tissue which I snipped into spear shapes (for leaves). A rubber band held the whole thing together atop a pipe cleaner stem. Very humble, but kind of fun!

We read aloud from Magnifikid while we munched on our cookies. OK, I muched on the cookies - the boys pecked at the cotton candy leftover from yet another failed experiment - edible owl pellets.

Yep, you read that right. Edible owl pellets.

Well, this warrants some explaining. It was going to be a really neat edible craft project to tie into our owl study (I couldn't wait to tell Meredith) but it was, well, not so neat. Happily, though, it was edible.

I found the idea in Small Wonders: Nature Education for Young Children (an otherwise terrific book). It sounded so clever on paper - just wrap small pretzel sticks with cotton candy and shape them to look like owl pellets. According to the instructions ...

"When you serve the "pellets" to the children, be sure to tell them to pull the "fur" apart and look for "bones" before eating the whole thing."

Now who says I don't serve boy-friendly tea? ;)

Anyhoo - it just didn't work out for us. The cotton candy just wouldn't stay wrapped around the pretzel bits, try as we might. It didn't bother the boys much - they were just tickled they were getting cotton candy at all!

Well, I spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures of our learning room and my lesson planning in action. I will try to post about all that sometime tomorrow. :)

For now, Good night and God Bless!


The Plan for Today - Evening Update

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007 (St. Anthony, Benjamin Franklin's birthday):

(Please see blue notes beneath each section for the updates. I have some pictures from today but I just lost my memory stick inside the hard drive (long story!). I'll try to post them soon.)

Housekeeping: Kitchen and Meals

  • Clean kitchen. (Neaten, sweep, wipe down surfaces.)
  • Look through fridge and cabinets; take note of what is needed.
  • Begin meal plan for next week.
  • Start grocery list for Saturday.

Ok, I'm going to be completely honest with you. As of 6:30 this evening, my kitchen was no cleaner than it was this morning! Well, I did sweep the floor and clear the island. Nothing got wiped down as I had hoped and no menu plan or grocery list was begun - not on paper anyway.

My plan was (and always is) to start in on the kitchen before we begin our lessons, as really, it's the only hope. After 8 a.m. I'm just putting out too many fires to spend any quality cleaning time in any room, let alone the kitchen. Fires such as the one that broke out in Earlybird's bedroom when an entire bag of potato chips somehow got dumped out all over the floor. All over construction paper that had also somehow found its way to the floor and acted as a perfect catch basin for the chip grease. Mind you, this was all before 10 a.m.

So after cleaning up that mess, I turned my wary eye toward the older boys' room and decided it too was in need of a good "pruning." (Thankfully nothing so dire as chip crumbs, however.) So I set Crackerjack to picking up cars and Legos, while Bookworm took action figures and trading cards. I stuck to books, bedding and clothes and within 1/2 an hour we had all the bedrooms put to rights. I also got two loads of laundry done - but please don't ask if they're folded.

So the kitchen work gets bumped to tomorrow - Thursday - the day usually reserved for the living room and family room. That's okay - we're home all day - and tomorrow is a brand new day! Right? :)

Lessons:

Pledge of Allegiance and Prayers ...

  • Math
    • Saxon lessons
    • Make graph-paper chart for bird counting

O.K., so the math didn't get done either, lol. But wait! Before you think I completely slipped gears today, let me assure you we did do math. We did really fun math, in fact! Bookworm became engrossed in Math for Smarty Pants and I let him run with it. He read aloud and worked on problems for a good long while. And Crackerjack just loves the Sir Cumference books so we read Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi which led to circle discussion and some measuring.

But it's back to Saxon tomorrow, I'm afraid. ;)

  • Language arts:
    • Lingua Mater: Nouns (1 pg.)
    • Language of God A: Capital Letters (2 pgs.)
    • Copywork; choose favorite Franklin quote.
    • Handwriting Can Help practice.

All done! We even read Eats, Shoots and Leaves as a bonus, a Christmas gift from Uncle Greg. What a funny book!

  • Religion:
    • Read Sunday's Gospel in Magnifikid.
    • Look at church bulletin for BW's CCD assignment.
    • Read A Life of Our Lord for Children: Introduction.
    • Read about St. Anthony. Spend 15 minutes "hermit time" in reflection.
    • St. Anthony is patron saint of domestic animals; groom cats.

We did all these things except the 15 minutes "hermit time." You know, I was really looking forward to those 15 minutes of quiet ... maybe we'll try again tomorrow.

History/geography: American

We did all these things, too, except we didn't finish the d'Aulaire book. We'll read it over the next few days. Both boys voted for the turkey over the eagle. (We're partial to them as they live in our woods.) CJ even insisted on making a turkey flag. Here it is hanging above the boys' colorings and copywork:

Ben_franklin

No popcorn (not after the chip fiasco) and no coloring page about red-winged blackbirds. Everything else we did.

I couldn't find the Olivia Owl book so EB did some math in a workbook and made a page of numbers. I wrote them out and he named and copied each one. He did this right up at the table with us. We didn't do puppet stories (though somehow they ended up strewn all over the family room, anyway). We did spend 10 minutes working diligently together on a solar system floor puzzle. I was very happy with EB's patience and turn-taking.

We named each planet as we went. And our "X the Owl" came out great! EB colored the picture while I cut out the pieces to make a tree base. Here is X peeking out of his nest:

X_owl

(Notice the chip grease near the bottom, lol!)

To do:

  • Make vet and dentist appointments.
  • Pull next week's folder. Jot down events/feasts/activities.

As it is just 7:30 a.m., this all seems very do-able. I will report back later today on how it all went! :)

No phone calls were made. I dug out next week's folder and started looking at the calendar, but no notes were made. All the more for tomorrow!

And now it is 12 hours later - 7:30 p.m. - and it hardly seems all that time went by. 7:30 a.m. will be here again before it seems I've even shut my eyes. And I'm off to do just that! Good night! :)


Picture Books in Winter

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

  ( Robert Louis Stevenson)

One of the nicest things about wintertime is the way the world slows itself down and carves out a nice little niche for us to fill in with hours of reading. What can be finer than a cold afternoon curled up hearthside, paging through favorite books?

With this in mind, I set up our winter book baskets the other day. I thought you might like to see them and hear what we have tucked inside.

Winter_books1

Here are the bins all gathered beside the fireplace. I actually spread this all out along the window-paned door on the right; I just forgot to take a picture once I did, lol.

Winter_books3

Here are a few of our nature puppets close up - the purple finch, the Canada goose and in the background, the groundhog, who (along with his shadow) will figure into our nature stories in the upcoming weeks. The purple finches are flocking to our feeders in record numbers (their rosy coloring is striking) and the geese have been flying over quite a bit. For some reason I equate that honking with spring (or fall) - but of course it's been so mild around here ... I wonder if there's a story there?

Winter_books4

Here's the rest of the gang! I only set out those critters that are visible at this time of year in our backyard: the crow, the black squirrel, the red squirrel (the gray should be in there, too), the woodpecker, the sparrow, the goldfinch (though he's still sporting his summer coat), the hawk, the cardinal, the chickadee and lastly, the blue jay.

Winter_books5

This smaller tin is filled with bird-related resources:

Winter_books6

And here is the main winter books basket. Since you can't really see what's inside, I'm going to list and link it all for you!

Here's a little idea I gleaned from my town library a few years ago. One January they announced a weekly afternoon gathering "Cocoa Club" - a time when the children would listen to a story (I think it was Harry Potter) while enjoying a cup of cocoa. It sounded heavenly but it was being held downtown, on a late afternoon which as we all know in the winter means two things - darkness and traffic. Well, my next thought was to try this idea out at our weekly homeschool co-op, which worked out lovely. At the end of a long co-op day, the 5 and unders (fondly known as Little Sprouts and Seedlings) gathered in a room for cups of warm cocoa and books. (I think the marshmallows were the biggest hit!) I also decided with a bit of tweaking, this plan could work out at home.

The general idea is this - a weekly (or daily) time when you sit down, cocoa in hand, to share in a good story together. You could choose a chapter book, or if your children are younger, a beautiful picture book or two. While they sip, you read, and watch the darkness fall outside the windows. It might be fun to invite another family to join you!

Now to make it more interesting, you could do one of a a couple of things. You could make up a chart and using small stickers (such as stars or hearts) keep track of who "attends" your Cocoa club and/or how many books are read. Perhaps the final week (just before Lent begins), there might be a special treat in store for all who participated? A trip to the book store to purchase a new book or a stop at the bakery for some tea and goodies?

You could also make a reading tree, similar to the ones quite popular in the fall. Make a paper tree or bring in a real branch to hang, or just use a window pane. Hang little construction paper cut-outs - each one bearing the name of a book you have read.

I started making the materials this afternoon ...

Winter_books11

I'm using wintry shades of blue, white and a touch of red (for valentines). If you enlarge the picture you can see the bird and heart template I drew on a piece of tagboard. I cut out several birds and hearts, and over the next few days will have the boys make up white snowflakes. Instead of using a tree or a branch, I will place our decorations in the windowpanes facing the backyard. Though we have not yet begun our Cocoa Club, I hung up a few to give you an idea of the effect.

Winter_books12_1

This will work nicely with Earlybird, especially. This winter we are working on increasing his attention span, and the length of time he will sit for books. He will really be working hard to earn his birds and hearts!

Here's wishing you many happy, chimney-corner days this long winter season!


One Hundred Years from Now ...

It will not matter
what kind of car I drove,
What kind of house I lived in,
how much money was in my bank account
nor what my clothes looked like.
But the world may be a better place because
I was important in the life of a child.

(Excerpt from "Within my Power, by Forest Witcraft)

Merry_boys_fall_1

My Merry Boys of Autumn, 2005


Field Day is Here!

Welcome to Field Day ~ The Late Autumn Edition!

Field_day_late_autumn_6

Can it really be the first of December? It seems we were only just stepping out together for our first Field Day journey last June. Now, autumn is coming to a close, and we are standing here at winter's doorstep. This is a time of contradictions - outside the world is coming to a screeching halt (or so it seems) while inside, all is aglow and alive. Before we rush headlong into the holidays, though, let's pause for a moment and remember how good the autumn has been to us.

Let us remember the golden sunshine, the falling leaves, and the crispness of the air. Let us drink in the colors of the landscape, so unique to this season; it will be some time before they grace our vista again. The fields are brown and withered now, perhaps a bit crunchy underfoot. But, in the scheme of it all - to everything a season, remember - autumn's empty fields are no less beautiful than the meadows so full in the spring.

A balance must be met at each turn of year. Just as in summer, when our homes graciously stepped aside to allow the out-of-doors to shine and beckon, so now must the out-of-doors bow to the pleasures of hearth and home. Of course all that said, it is certainly not a time to batten down our hatches too tightly! Oh, no, for there is still much to see and enjoy out there - if not in our backyards, than most certainly through our frost-covered windowpanes!

All we need is a little encouragement ~ the proper frame of mind, the proper outdoor gear ~ not to mention the proper refreshments to return to. (Nothing warms and welcomes like a mug of something hot after a cold hour or two spent outdoors.)

I hope this Field Day post also serves as some encouragement, with some ideas and inspiration to tide you over through these next cold and yes, even dreary months. Truly there is much to do, and always, something to remember. Let us then remember, together ...

I am pleased to be joined by a happy and hearty bunch of friends and fellow nature enthusiasts. All throughout my post, you will once again find a number of Marcie's breathtaking images. Happily, her photos are joined by a few others this time; I think you will agree, all the pictures are filled with the delight that only nature can bring.

Marcies_bayou

Marcie captured the beauty of a Louisiana Bayou.

Speaking of delight, who better than a child to seek and find the smallest and sweetest gifts in each day? When Alice sent me this darling picture of her Catherine, I immediately returned to my own little girl days - roaming my family's backyard, warmed by my trusty golden poncho. No kind of weather deters the joy of a child when she is allowed to explore and befriend the out-of-doors. 

Catherine_in_autumn

Now I ask you, does autumn get any lovelier than this?

Sometimes a field trip makes for a wonderful field day! Perhaps you enjoyed a trip to the pumpkin farm as Alice and her sweet bunch did this fall; her talented children always have the loveliest thoughts to share and Theresa's description of fall captures its essence perfectly. And speaking of talented children, Elizabeth's son Michael ventured forth into the wilderness and returned with gorgeous photos and heartfelt reflections on fall.

Krisann's family spent some beautiful autumn hours by a river and were amazed by the animal tracks they found along the bank. What a lovely day and an excellent science lesson to boot! Jennifer's family enjoys visiting the Public Gardens throughout the year and watching the seasons change. Their photos are lovely and to "hear" November through the words of a child is a true gift. Closer to home, an inspired lesson masquerades as a lively game - and reveals many of autumn's treasures!

One of the miracles of autumn is that it happens all over the world. Kira and her husband have traveled far from home to experience the greatest miracle of all. Kira writes: "My husband and I are currently halfway across the world in the country of Kazakhstan adopting a baby girl (nineteen months). This is our first Thanksgiving that feels like a traditional Thanksgiving for us even though we are far from all our loved ones and in a foreign country! This is because we have snow and barren trees here ~ as I always imagined late autumn to be like! I took this picture right outside the door of our temporary apartment building. I assume it is a common bird like a sparrow, but being from the southwest (Arizona) I am unfamiliar with birds from these colder climates. (It's currently in the mid-80s in Arizona!) This picture was taken just hours before the first big snow of November."

Snow_day_sparrow

A pair of lovely snowbirds, half a world away.

And let us not forget our many good friends in warmer climes - they will surely supply us with tales of sunshine and warmth throughout our long winter months.

Marcies_gulf

Marcie's son enjoys the Gulf of Mexico - on Thanksgiving Day!

Leticia's family also enjoyed the water on Thanksgiving Day, after a family hike led them to the beautiful bay. And Rebecca brings glad tidings from warm and sunny Florida! Recently she shared a nature walk with her children and a very lucky neighbor boy. Together they discovered many interesting examples of autumn nature.

And how about a trip back to the mangroves with Jennifer, Hal and Marianna? Such beautiful images, both written and photographed, I felt like I was there - and wish I was! We can always rely on the S/V Mari Hal-o-Jen for warm thoughts and fair winds.

As we all know, we needn't sojourn much farther than our own neighborhood to witness the wonder of nature. Tracy and her children spent the month of November observing their neighbor's ginko tree - and a lovely nature study followed suit. Jane and her children are enjoying the lovely fall colors down south - brighter this year than in recent memory. What a special day, Jane!

Mandy keeps close to home as well, enjoying the falling leaves with her adorable daughter. I am sure those leaf paintings will be treasured forever, as will this sweet memory.

In a moving tribute to the splendor of the season, Alice and her children created a still life ~ an absolute work of art that represents all they love about their autumn garden. This lovely creation expresses in a personal and memorable way, all the joys of the season within the realm of their beloved Cottage.

Also marrying that balance of indoors and out, Margaret explores the reasons she loves late autumn - and, oh, how they resonate with me! She writes, "We are cyclical, seasonal creatures and are wired with the desire to know our Creator." Oh, Margaret how very true! And how better we know Him when we seek to understand the world he has created for us! The seasons suffuse our very lives, and how brightly their lights shine on the path we all walk together.

Angela's family is blessed to live in a beautiful spot - surrounded by trees and fields, the majesty of the seasons cannot be missed. I loved reading of all their end-of-season plans, and I look forward to hearing more about their bird study - a subject near and dear to my heart!

Matilda shares a beautiful blossom from her garden, and its fleeting beauty before ...

Gerbera_daisy1

and after, below - highlighting the passing of one season to the next.

Gerbera_daisy2

Matilda writes: "One of the diffucult things about living in Texas is the unpredictable weather. There's an old saying that goes: If you don't like the weather just wait a minute! It will change. Well, this year summer began in March and still isn't over ... This is a Gerbera daisy that was planted by the original owners of our house and was a lovely surprise the first spring we lived here when we saw it peeking up at us. Daisies are my favorite flower and I especially love this variety. This last late bloom caught my eye when I was thinking about the Arctic blast supposedly heading our way. I will probably bring it inside tonight so that it can brighten our lives for a few more days otherwise it woud just wither away in the cold wind ... It will probably be the last bloom we will get this year if the cold front turns out to be as strong as they are predicting ...

And what a difference a day makes! From bloomin' daisies to icicles in 24 hours or less!"

There is so much to explore and enjoy close to home, as Maria and her darling children found on their sunny autumn jaunt. I'll bet that bright, lovely day stays with them all winter long - the leaves, the webs and especially that gigantic bug! Venturing a bit further out Maria's gang spent a most exciting morning learning all about salmon and trout - inside and out. A gorgeous day spent in the sunshine, learning all together - what fun!

Speaking of bugs, Mary Ellen shares a wildly funny post about wildlife! You know, there are many sides to nature, and some are rougher than others, but for the love of her son, Mary Ellen is enjoying her time spent in "Boy Country." Now that's a loving and generous homeschool momma. :)

Cay's family has also befriended a rather large insect specimen - in fact, she and her children have happily welcomed "Sam" into the family - or was it Samantha? - you'll have to check out her post to see!

Cheryl reminiscenses about how, unexpectedly, she befriended some various forms of wildlife in years past. Or rather, furred and "fungified" creatures sought to befriend her! Cheryl's post points out the delicate - if not difficult - balance that exists between us and the wildlife around us - because sometimes it just doesn't keep its distance!

Marcies_tiger

Thankfully, Marcie's white tiger is only as close as these bars allow it to be!

Autumn is a time of harvest, and for that we look to the earth's bountiful blessings, many which can be found in the wooded areas near our homes. Above us in the majestic tree canopy, we find nuts of many kinds - and Sherry celebrated the pecan all through November! I cannot imagine an autumn passing by without the smell of a pecan pie in the oven.

While below us, hidden beneath the roots and the soil, we find mushrooms - as did Susan and her son who studied many varieties, from the edible, to the inedible to the questionable. Fascinating!

As we enter the winter season, I can think of no lovelier nature study than the herbal activities Elizabeth has planned for her family. Herbs are a delight to grow, delicious to consume and a boon to the medicine cabinet. Elizabeth's plans will explore all these facets of yet another of earth's blessings.

Autumn brings with it windy days and along those winds one finds all manner of seeds making their way here and there. A beautiful example of God's perfect plan! Theresa and her children study nature in so many ways and in such a thoughtful manner, I can imagine how well they will undestand this process - and other methods of seed dispersal - when they finish this particular lesson! Their nature notebooks are amazing in detail and style!

Mary writes about their year spent focusing on owls, and shares tips for bringing depth and meaning to any nature study. Wonderful experiences and all kinds of research led her family to a familarity and better understanding of its subject. This is nature study at its deepest and best.

Marcies_owl

Marcie saw this owl at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival.

Thank you for joining me on this Late Autumn Field Day! I am so grateful for all who have participated in these fun days a-field! This project has been such a joy for me to compose - I hope you will consider joining me again before too long! Perhaps a Midwinter Edition round-abouts January 12th?

In the meantime, I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons, and please - keep warm, keep well and be blessed.

"If you keep a green tree in your heart, perhaps a singing bird will come." Chinese Proverb


Odds and Ends

This is not a very coherent post, I'm afraid. There were just so many little things today that I wanted to mention - nothing of great importance and yet, I didn't get a chance to sit down and create a post around any one thing. And now it is getting late and we're all getting ready for bed, so I will weave a quick recap of the day - all those little stories gathered up into one rather long and rambly post. :)

Morning in the Garden

Very early this morning I went outside to fill the feeders. I try to get outside for 15 minutes or so before Bill leaves for work every day - and while he's inside shaving and dressing (and keeping one eye on the kids), I putter a little outside. I retrieve the paper from the end of the driveway and then head out back to check on the feeders. It's been kind of dark lately so I don't do much looking, but I do listen. I love this time of day; it's so simple and quiet. I can hear the crows off in the distance, the wind rushing through the woods and the chickadees scolding me to get on with it already and just fill up the feeders. :) I got to thinking about the upcoming Field Day and what this time of year means to me. I kicked around a few of my own thoughts and plans for the winter garden - the one I watch outside my windows and the one I carry in my heart until spring. Here are a few pictures:

Pine_branch

Spruce branch - new cone buds, I think?

Dandelion_in_november

Tiny, withered but stalwart dandelion.

Mornign_sky

Eastern sky, from our deck, dawn.

My Christmas Kitchen

I am on a mission to make over my kitchen for the holidays. I'm not talking paint or hardwood or anything like that. I'm just talking clean countertops, baking space, merry music and good smells.

To that end, I spent an alarming amount of time cleaning in the kitchen today. In all the Thanksgiving rush I've kind of neglected a few corners, crooks and crevices of late. So I tore apart the windowsill which had accumulated a number of unrelated items (pencil sharpener, pumpkin pie spice, two marbles and a paintbrush for instance) along with a healthy (make that unhealthy) amount of dust. I polished the woodwork and I even took out the screens to clean them thoroughly. (That never happened however, they are still sitting in our tub!) Once the area was spiffy, I put up a few Christmas candles:

Christmas_kitchen_window

Candle light, burning bright ... help me wash my dishes tonight. :)

Next I tackled the lower corner cabinet - the one with the revolving shelves. This is where I store most of our canned goods and other pantry supplies (as well as, for some unknown reason, the crockpot and toaster). I found a small box of Hodgson Mills Cornbread mix so I cooked up some cornbread muffins for lunch. I also discovered 4 overripe bananas and 3 enormous butternut squash hiding in the baking pan cabinet. (I have no idea how they got there, though I'm guessing Earlybird had something to do with it.) I baked the squash for about an hour or so (split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and flesh lightly buttered). They came out pretty well!

Butternut_squash

I scooped out and mashed the insides and got quite a bowl-ful of squash! I will freeze it in baggies in 2 cup measures - just the right amount for my favorite quick bread recipe. I didn't get around to the bananas. If they are still viable I will bake them tomorrow - Oatmeal Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins is what I have in mind!

National French Toast Day!

I'm sorry I didn't post this earlier today so you too could incorporate French toast into your menu plan today, although it's possible you think serving French toast for dinner is a rather nutty idea! It is, yes, a bit nutty. But it is also delicious and fun! We make ours with whole wheat bread, organic milk and eggs and a dash of pure vanilla. To round out our meal I roasted chunks of apples and turkey kielbasa. Ooh, it was all so good.

Now you might wonder how I found about National French Toast Day - it being, I would guess, one of the lesser known American holidays. Well, this morning I found in my in-box, a charming e-newsletter from mystery author Susan Albert called All About Thyme: A Weekly Calendar of Times & Seasonings.  It sounded so informative and inspiring, I signed right up! True confession - I have not read any of Ms. Albert's books (though my mum is a big fan). I do have The Tale of Hill Top Farm (from the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter) on my bedside table ... where it has sat these many, many months. After the holidays, I will get through that book!

New Blogs to Read

I've been thinking about handcrafts and herbs a lot lately. (Not so much in the doing as in the wishing-I-was-doing.) Here are a few great websites I have been enjoying:

Our Homeschool Bulletin Board

I got our bulletin board all done at last! I will post all the details tomorrow. :)

One Last Thing

Oh and one last thing - little, but definitely not fun and possibly problematic. You remember how my husband is recovering from Lyme Disease? Yes, this would be the man who spent the whole weekend working in the yard raking and blowing leaves and this morning woke me up with the news that he had a deer tick attached to him. Oh, for pity's sake, didn't the frost kill the little buggers off? Apparently not. We removed the tick and he dropped it off at the lab for testing. And do you know he just finished his anbtibiotics course last week? Sigh ... any and all prayers would be most welcome!

And One Last Photo

This has nothing to do with anything, I just love it. I call it Boys in Leaves:

Boys_in_leaves

Bookworm (in purple) is underneath all this!

So there's the round up of odds and ends! I wish you all a good night and God bless!


Quick and Crafty Puppet Curtains

Do you know a little person (or 2 or 3 or 4) who enjoys puppet shows, storytelling or just plain old make-believe? Well, then have I got a craft for you! :)

As I've posted before, my boys really enjoy our nature puppet collection. (Notice I say, our puppet collection, LOL!) Well, we've been collecting various critters for years and have amassed quite an array! A few years back, my mum noticed how much Crackerjack, in particular, loved making up stories with his finger puppets, so for his birthday that year she made him several pairs of homemade puppet curtains! I helped pick out the material, relating to themes we usually pretended - snowy woods, starry night, magical kingdom, sunshiney days, etc. A simple tension rod was all we needed for the boys' bedroom door and voila - we had our own puppet theatre!

Recently we decided to add an autumn leaves theme to our collection. I picked up the fabric a few weeks ago and today I took advantage of my mum's visit and asked her to show me how to make the curtains. I am happy to report, it was very easy and it only took about 2 hours. (I can tell you that because we worked on them right after Earlybird went down for his nap, and we finished just before he woke up!) 

I have included many photos in this post - big surprise, right? :) I don't know about you, but I do much better with visuals. Let me confess right away, I am no seamstress at all. My mum - now, she can do anything - knit, sew, crochet, paint, etc.  Me, well, I can glue pretty well. :) I can also fold and iron - and basically that is all this craft requires - folding and ironing.

Now, as I sit down to write this post, most of the facts and figures have flown right out of my head so let me start by saying this craft is completely adaptable. There really are no "set" measurements - you can make your curtains in any size or shape that suits your fancy. I hope this post gives you an idea of one possible final product.

Our curtains are a set of panels, which fit on a tension rod that can be easily placed in a regular door frame. Spectators sit on one side (usually the bedroom side) while the performers sit (or lay) in the hall, and reach through between the panels with their puppets. It's really fun!

(Note: Another idea is to turn a small child's wooden table into a portable theatre. Simply attach velcro (dots or strips) around the edges. Cut material into two pieces to fit around the base of the table (leaving the back open). Then, the children can lay under the table and poke their puppets through the front, where the two pieces meet.)

But I digress - my aim is to show you the curtains we made today!

Start with a fabric to your liking. When choosing prints, consider themes your children like to play out - princess, knights, safari, etc. You might start with the puppets they own. And puppet shows can be performed by all kinds of toys, believe me - Bionicles, dinosaurs, Toy Story characters. You name it, if it's a toy they love, it belongs on stage!

I was even thinking our saint spoons might make wonderful "puppet shows!" We could re-enact the stories of the saints we've come to know. I'm sure we could find some celestial-looking fabric. Ooh - and a dark desert night fabric would be a wonderful backdrop for a set of Nativity-themed spoons (the Holy Family, three wise men, angels, shepherds, etc.). Hmmm ... the wheels are turning ....

Good grief, enough of my chatting, on to the project!

Curtains0_1

You will want to buy your fabric (approximately 2 yards), a tension rod (we use 32"; check your door frame size) and a package of Stitch Witchery.

The snowflake print above is already a curtain, we used it as a template to cut our autumn leaves fabric to the right size. This picture also shows the snowflake curtain's bottom hem.

Curtains1

Above you see the first panel we worked on. (Instead of using an ironing board, which I, er, couldn't locate at the time - funny, that - we worked on the dining room table with a couple of towels laid out underneath.)

A note on the fabric- it should be pre-washed before you begin. Once it's cut into shape, press it lightly to smooth out any wrinkles. As I mentioned above, your curtains can be any size or shape. Our panels measured 44 inches long by 22 inches wide before hemming.

Curtains2

The above photo shows the right side hem on one of the panels (and the package of Stitch Witchery). We folded each side of the panel in about an inch. (You want enough material to cover the Stitch Witchery.) We pressed the fold first, and then ...

Curtains3

... tucked in a length of Stitch Witchery (which by the way is a fusible bonding web - and I LOVE it). Following the package directions we pressed the hem twice (front and back) for 10 seconds each turn. We had a little bit of trouble with this but realized it was probably because I forgot to wash the fabric first. (Such a rookie mistake.)

Curtains4

Above you see the first panel with side hems complete.

Curtains5

And here is the bottom hem finished. (Turned in about an inch and a half.) My mum had an excellent point - you could finish the bottom hem in different (and perhaps easier) ways - for instance, cutting the bottom with pinking shears or adding a lace trim.

Curtains6

The above photo shows the top hem (folded down about 2-3 inches). Remember this does not have to be exact - just as long as the two panels match in length. We actually made two folds. The first was about an inch; we pressed this (using no Stitch Witchery) to keep the inside edge neat. We then turned the hem down another length - allowing space for the tension rod to run through. This edge we adhered with the SW once again.

Curtains7

Working on the second panel, we first made the side and bottom hems. We then lined it up with the first panel to check for accurate length. In the above photo you see the unfinished second panel on the bottom; the completed first panel on top. We used the finished hem of the first to guide where we folded the hem for the second. (I know that probably sounds very confusing, sorry! It will make sense when you do it, though.)

Curtains75

And finally here are the two completed puppet curtain panels (undersides up)! I am really very happy how they came out - nice neat edges and perfectly sized to each other! (Thank you, Thank you, Mum!!!) We will have so much fun acting out our late autumn stories with these!

Curtains8

Above you see our current curtain collection (left), a basket of nature puppets (right) and the folded new curtains in front.

I have a few other ideas for this puppet project, but once again it is getting late and I really should wrap up. I would like to post again more about all this, hopefully this weekend - including photos of the curtains in action! Because I bought 2 yards of fabric, I had a good bit of it left over ... but I have a really fun idea how to use it  up, and after a trip to the craft store this weekend, I will post about that too!

Curtains9

Thanks for sticking with me on another loooong post, LOL! Good night and God Bless! :)


Scenes from Today

Tonight I am putting all my creative energy into my first post for Mary Ellen's O Night Divine, while all the rest of my brain power (such as it is!) is going into figuring out my new computer. (Thank you, thank you, dear husband!)

In the meantime, here are a few simple scenes from today:

Mary_in_the_morning

Mary in the morning; we spent a few minutes here before Mass today.

Golden_raspberries

The last of the golden raspberries. Happily they survived the frost!

Milkweed_seed

Ah, it wouldn't be fall without this ...

Do you know what this is? Bookworm found this single milkweed seed sailing through the backyard this afternoon. He was insistent we plant it, in order to better support our local Monarch community. :)

Milkweed can be found growing near marshes or ponds. I remember we had some growing beside a brook in my parents' backyard. The pods were smooth and had a distinctive, though not unpleasant, smell. The seeds bundled inside all together were so silky and what fun it was to blow them off into the autumn sky ...

If you do find some, here is a sweet little fingerplay for your little ones from Earthways:

In a milkweed cradle all close and warm,

Little seeds are hiding safe from harm.

Open wide the cradle now, hold it high.

Come along wind and let them fly.

I hope you had a lovely weekend. Enjoy the new week!