Seasons Feed

An Ode to October ...

Dear October, how I love you ...

"There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October." ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Brilliant leaves in the trees, on the ground, whirling in the air ...

At the orchard we pick the last of autumn's apples ~ for sauce, for pie, for just plain good eating.

Squirrels scamper and chipmunks scurry - preparing for hard times ahead. We watch and an ancient instinct kicks in ...

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There's a distinctive crunch underfoot; weekends are spent raking (and jumping in) the leaves. Tiny bulbs are planted in fertile hope of a distant spring.

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Lazy days are over - it's all bustle and busy-ness now. Our thoughts turn from sandcastles to schedules.

The mornings are much colder ~ a sweater is a must before the sun rises and warms the air.

And sometime overnight, Old Frost left his kiss on the last blooms of fall ...

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We return from a walk in the earthy damp woods, our pockets full of acorns and other fall treasures. We relish time spent outside before winter shuts us in.

But more often, the kitchen is the place to be these days ~ warm, bright and smelling so good. A hearty supper lures us inside before dark ...

Pumpkins are plentiful in the field and at the farmstand ~ which one should we pick? 

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"October is nature's funeral month. Nature glories in death more than in life. The month of departure is more beautiful than the month of coming - October than May. Every green thing loves to die in bright colors." ~ Henry Ward Beecher  

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Standing in the bleachers, watching the big game, clutching a cup of hot cider to warm us inside and out.

Distant honking draws our eyes to the skies ... a familiar V passes overhead and pulls at our heartstrings.

The landscape is ablaze with color - from orange to yellow to red. 

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We make journeys big and small ~ a leaf peeping tour through the country, a canoe trip down a quiet river, a hay ride through the farm.

We visit the Country Fair and come home sticky and tired and grinning ear to ear - remembering giant pumpkins, ferris wheel rides and prize-winning hens. 

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At home we dig out candles, and craft baskets and change cotton for wool.

Our thoughts turn to the holidays ... and making plans for guests, goodies, and gifts.

We create cozy corners to invite readers and nappers alike. Our need to nest these days is strong ... 

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October's blessings are many ... as rich and varied as the palette itself.

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How lucky we are it returns every year. 

Happy Autumn to all of my readers ... I hope your October is off to a great start!


Nature Study Club ~ September 2010

Our Nature Study Club met for the first time this (academic) year, yesterday here at our home. We started the meeting in our backyard, but then walked the kids down to a trail behind our home. Our September mission ~ to say goodbye to Summer and look for signs of Fall ...

As usual, we had a wide range of ages attend Nature Club - a few teens, several middle schoolers and plenty of little ones. Twenty-eight children in all, which was a fantastic turn-out! I made up a trail checklist* for the kids to work off of, listing things they might be able to observe on our walk. I also prepared a bunch of clean baby food containers (small plastic tubs with fitted lids) to serve as miniature collection boxes. 

Here's one of the tables I had set up in the yard:

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In the left corner are the collection boxes and checklists.

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And in the right corner is an assortment of autumn books and nature magazines.

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*Here's the list of items I had on my handout:

 Ferns and/or moss?

Wildflowers ~ how many different kinds/colors?

A nest or sign of nesting activity?

Scat?

Fungii ~ where is it growing? What kind?

Trees ~ how many kinds can you identify?

Any sign of fall foliage?

Insects ~ see, hear, or other evidence?

Seeds ~ in travel, on the ground, on a plant?

Spider webs ~ what kind? Is the spider visible?

A fruiting plant and/or a vine?

An animal ~ see, hear or other evidence?

Migration in action? (Look up!)

Sounds ~ birds, squirrels, human, elemental?

Can you find the temperature by cricket song?

(Count the number of chirps in 15 seconds + 38 = temperature)

Is there a breeze? In what direction is it blowing ?

Any nice or nasty smells?

 Other observations?

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Above is the "moms resource" table. I put out a variety of nature-related books, field guides, audubon guides etc. 

And here are some photos from our walk, as you can see it was an absolutely beautiful day:

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Goldenrod, a plant that grows all over New England in September.

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Milkweed - the pods have not opened yet, but soon ...

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I believe this is pokeweed.

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And wild asters (or Michaelmas daisies), another September favorite.

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One of the very observant children spotted this incredible caterpillar, munching on some goldenrod (and completely unaware of the tiny spider stalking nearby!).

No idea what kind of butterfly he'll be, but he sure is colorful!

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We went off-trail for a bit, meandering into a field to listen and look for insects. There were many, many dragonflies darting overhead, grasshoppers and locusts hopping about and just look what the children found here:

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A praying mantis! 

I haven't seen one since I was a child! I remembered them as being green so I was surprised this one was pale brown. We wondered if he was camouflaged to blend in with the faded grass?

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I couldn't get a close picture of this shy bird, but I think it is a flycatcher of some sort. Only rarely do we see them in our backyard.

The following picture shows the most startling discovery of all ...

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Bill had spotted this animal jawbone earlier in the day. I told the kids to look out for it and sure enough, on the walk back home, they were able to find it. Out came the cameras and sketchbooks! 

We wondered what it might be - and what might have happened - trying to determine if the teeth were sharp or dull. Guesses included coyote, fox, dog and deer. Bill looked online last night and actually this most closely resembles a deer jaw. 

Do any of my readers have any thoughts? (Other than, ew, lol!)

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Last photo - this a collection box that got left behind ... just look at all the little treasures that fit in here!

We made lots of neat discoveries, but the nicest part of the day was the friendship and good fun. When we returned home, the children played, the mums chatted and we all enjoyed some cold cider and cornbread. I'm just so thrilled to see another year of Nature Club off and running!

Thanks for stopping by today, and I hope wherever you live, you're enjoying the blessings of this lovely time of year. :)


Happy Summer!

Hummer 

(And a happy hummer!) 

The Solstice arrived at 7:28 this morning ... though it's felt like summer for weeks now, it is now officially a brand new season!

I'm sorry to have been missing these past two weeks - we've been quite busy trying to catch back up after all that "time off." Our academic year has not quite come to a close ... but we're getting there. ;)

I'll post again soon - hope your week is off to a good start!


Down the December Trail ...

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Last week, our Homeschool Nature Club met for a winter solstice program, and once again we had a great turnout! In past posts I've described the how's and why's of our group, so for today, I'm just going to plow on (a rather timely pun as you'll see) with the tale of our day. :) But I must mention that each month is organized by one mum (we are, roughly, a group of 15 families), and  December's meeting was led by my friend, Laura. She did a fabulous job, as you'll see! I hope you take away some ideas, or perhaps just some winter inspiration!

Since the forecast called for heavy snow, we bumped our meeting time up, and just after noontime our group had gathered at a local wildlife reservation, ready to observe some winter nature together.

It was an *extrememly* cold day, so I bundled up my boys (EB was home with Nana) ... and here they are, perched on their favorite rock and clutching their thermal cups of glogg. (Remember this was St. Lucia's Day, so we were already in a rather northerly mood):

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Our meeting began inside this roomy pavilion. We listened to a charming Danish folktale, The Evergreens, as read by Odds Bodkins on his Gentle Tales of Nature CD.

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As the kids listened, we passed around solstice cupcakes - golden representing the (returning) light and chocolate symbolizing the (retreating) dark:

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Laura spent time explaining the science of the winter solstice to our group. Here she has two helpers, one holding a globe, and the other a flashlight (aka the sun). This was an excellent demonstration of the way the seasons change! 

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Next we had a simple candle-lighting activity, and just as we gathered out in the open, the snow began to fall ...

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Each of us got our own little votive to light at home on the first day of winter (which is this coming Saturday). The precise moment the solstice will occur is 1:08 a.m. EST, so I'm thinking we'll light our candles when we wake up Saturday morning. ;)

Next, most of us headed out for our nature walk, while some folks headed home to get ahead of the storm. All along the path Laura had "planted" stations of information where the the children could stop and learn more about the winter season. We began our walk rather leisurely, but soon we were moving along at a good clip - the snow was falling fast and furious!

Along the way we found:

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Information about evergreens ...

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A lovely Nativity, speckled with snow ...

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Maps and excellent information ...

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Questions for the children to ponder ...

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A quick solstice experiment ...

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Winter spices, such as this wonderful frankincense ...

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A mistletoe pop quiz ...

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Information on America's Stonehenge (I had no idea!)

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And at the very end of the walk, Laura had sprigs of mistletoe for everyone to take home! She made sure to have the children wipe their hands after handling it due to its toxicity.

Because it was snowing hard, I hardly took any landscape pictures at all. Despite the weather, though, the day was informative and fun, a true winter welcome in every sense of the word!

And here's the last picture I took, just as we headed out of the park ...

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Technically, winter may not be due for another five days, but it has made itself right at home here in New England! The storm that set in this day landed us with nine inches by morning! (See my Snow Days photo album at left for more details.) We had another storm yesterday - a Nor'easter - which is infamous in these parts for snow/sleet/rain and driving winds. And I hear tell there's more snow on the way for later this week!

All this snow can only mean good news for our January Nature Club meeting, however ... next month we'll be observing Animal Tracks in the Snow! Speaking of which, the boys and I are eager to see what animal signs we can find in our own snowy backyard ... once it warms up just a tad, that is!

Have a happy week!


Season's Greetings!

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Fall arrives bright and early this Sunday morning (5:51 to be exact) so let me be the first to wish you A Very Happy Autumn! My favorite season is here at last!

The above sign is a craft I made today, a little too fussy for my boys, but it really didn't take me too long once I got started. (One good thing about trying all these handcrafts, is how they teach me to slow down and have patience. I can always use a little more of that!)

I had saved this idea in (where else?) an old journal. It first appeared in the November 2005 issue of the now out-of-print Child Magazine. It was proposed as a Thanksgiving craft, but I changed the wording to suit the whole season.

You can see the article pasted there in my open journal below:

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Also shown are the main materials:

  • alphabet stencils
  • autumn-hued card stock
  • fine glitter
  • thin golden cord
  • glue

(Not shown: sharp scissors, a hole punch and a small paintbrush)

First step, trace the letters for your message and cut them out with a sharp pair of scissors. (Regular scissors are fine for the bulk of the cutting, but the inside parts of the A and P, for instance, really need a sharp edge.)

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Next step, apply a bit of glue (thinned slightly with water) to the edges of the letters (one at a time) and shake on a generous amount of glitter. (I used caramel, copper and burgundy.) Shake off the excess glitter, and spread the letters out to dry.

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Now, hole punch the tops of the letters, and weave the gold cord through each word. Hang on your front door, along a mantle, or above a favorite window ...

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It's really hard to see the letters in this picture; this window gets so much light it's always hard to get a good shot. I wish you could see how the glitter catches the shimmery leaves in the garland above. (And, you know, I wasn't too sure I wanted the glitter, but I don't think the letters would have stood out as well without it.) Suffice it to say, I am very pleased with the results and I plan to hang this banner here till Thanksgiving Day!

Now, it goes without saying, this craft could be duplicated, in seasonally appropriate colors, for Christmas, New Year's, Easter - any holiday or special day, really!

Well, I wish you all a Happy Weekend, and an Autumn rich with abundant blessings. See you next week!


Grandma Millie's Piccalilli

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Green tomatoes are a hallmark of early September, and in our family, Labor Day is the day to make my grandmother's delicious piccalili!

So, what's piccalilli you say? Ooh, just a great way to use up unripened tomatoes, combining them with red peppers, onions, vinegar and pickling spice. Piccalilli is absolutely wonderful served with a Sunday pot roast, a sweet touch of late summer alongside the most wintry of meals.

Not having the gumption (i.e. time and energy) to grow our own tomatoes this year, I relied on my local farm for the bounty you see above, and did they ever come through! I got the call at 4:00 on Sunday afternoon: my 20 lbs. of tomatoes were harvested, and I could come get them anytime. Well, with green tomatoes you don't waste time (as you don't want them to turn red!) so I ran over to pick them up - but first I dug up my grandmother's recipe to check on the rest of the ingredients.

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The above recipe is a photocopy of the original card (which is tucked away for safe keeping); this copy is taped into my journal from August 2005.

Next, I called my mum, and asked her to come over straight away, because piccalilli must be started the night before.

First we washed and chopped up the tomatoes along with the red peppers and onions. With a glass of wine by my side it felt like an Ina moment. ;)

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We poured salt over the vegetables and they were left to "sweat" overnight.

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And on Labor Day morning, it was time to stew! We added some celery, a quart of vinegar and a pouch filled with pickling spice - and, finally, 7 teacups of sugar. Yes, teacups! I use the same Irish teacup my grandmother did to ladle in just the right amount of sugar. Bill asked me if I ever checked to see how much sugar was actually in a teacup, so as to get a more accurate measurement, but I actually like the not knowing. One family's recipe will undoubtedly be a bit sweeter (or less) but that's where the tweaking comes in. :)

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The smell is incredible as it cooks.

Once, when my grandma was talking about her childhood memories, she spoke about piccalilli. I wrote about it in my journal:

"Oh sure, at that time of year the whole neighborhood smelled like piccalilli because everyone was using up the last of their tomatoes. At every stove there was a pot bubbling away ..."

What a nice memory ... one rich with tradition, rhythm and comfort. It's been years since housewives have had to grow and make do with their own, but I think it's a skill and a tradition worth (pardon the pun) preserving.

The smells and tastes of late summer might have changed since those days, but really, only if we let them. I love the thought that my boys will grow up remembering a bustling kitchen on Labor Day, the house filled with that distinctive, sweet-spicy smell. Next year I hope to add to that memory, a backyard tomato garden - because nothing beats the rustic smell of tangled vines and warm soil ...

Allright, enough reverie ~ back to the present we go. ;)

Once the piccalilli was cooked, we poured it into hot, sterilized jars:

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Now, I've always wanted to do a little jar topper, and so this year I made a point to pick up some fabric for just this purpose. If I was a true seamstress (which, alas, I am not), I would have scraps on hand to choose from. Instead, I bought a few "quarter flats" from JoAnn's. I liked the reds, pinks and greens ...

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I wasn't sure if the fabric should be laundered first but I did iron out the wrinkles. (Note the conspicuous lack of an ironing board, lol!):

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It took a few attempts to figure out the right size circle to cut. I used pinking shears to give the edges a nice finish:

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And by the end of the day, the jars were done - filled and lined up on the sill.

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Now, it feels like September. :)


Sweet and Simple

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We had our weekly sit-down-to-tea yesterday (Wednesday) since today (Thursday) will be a busy one for us. This might remain a permanent change as Wednesday afternoons look to be the quietest of the week this fall. I like to have our tea when we've got the whole afternoon at home. This way I have time to prepare, and they have time to digest. :)

I didn't have a craft planned, or a picture book picked out, but I printed out the weekly coloring page at Catholic Mom.com, and we read aloud Sunday's Gospel (Luke 14: 1, 7-14) from our Magnifikid. The boys colored as I read and we all nibbled on the fruity snack I laid out.

It was quite warm here yesterday, and I had planned to serve this, our last "summertime" tea on the deck - but the lure of the AC was too great! Not shown is the refreshing "Zingerade" punch, the recipe for which I found in Parents magazine, a lovely last hurrah for the summer:

Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add 4 lemon-zinger herbal tea bags and brew for 10 minutes. Discard tea bags. In a large pitcher, combine 1 can (6 oz.) frozen lemonade concentrate, 1 liter plain seltzer and tea. Serve with orange, lemon and lime slices.

As you can see in the photo above I served watermelon "sticks" and apple slices along with strawberry yogurt for dipping. (It was just too hot to bake!) I explained that these fruits formed a bridge between the seasons - juicy melon from summer and crisp apples for fall. Beginning next week, our table will adopt a distinctly more autumn feel.

In fact, the windows have already begun the transformation:

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I picked up these garlands at Michaels along with the clip-on silk "fall" butterfly. I only got enough to do one set of windows, so I'll wait for the next store coupon to buy more. ;) I'd like to have Bill weave a strand of tiny white lights in with the garland. I think fall's dark afternoons will be much enhanced by soft lights twinkling above our workspace.

Well, I hope you enjoy these last few (unofficial) summertime days! So far the morning here is bright and breezy, a welcome foretaste of fall ...

Before it gets too warm (as it's bound to do), I'm going to get some banana breads in the oven. And, later this morning I'll place some calls to local farms to inquire about the availability of green tomatoes.

Labor Day means picalilli, of course! :)


Late Summer in the Garden

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My dear friend Ruth is hosting The Loveliness of Summer Gardens today, and though I fear my thumb is still a bit on the brown side, as usual, I wanted to add my two cents. :)

In these late summer days, backyard gardens - meadows and roadsides too - are simply bursting with color and life. But my favorite "flowers" will always be the bright little feathered ones. :) The garden beds, shade plants and other ornamentals I leave in my husband's capable hands; for me it's all about the fauna, rather than the flora. I've come to realize and accept that the type of gardening that interests me the most is the kind that is commonly referred to as "wildlife gardening."

It's not perfect roses and umblemished tomatoes I seek (though they would be lovely, to be sure) but instead, songbirds and small mammals like chipmunks and red squirrels, as well as the humble toad, the brilliant butterfly, the lowly worm and the busy bee. Even the garden snake is fine by me. The more we see, the more hospitable I know our garden is to all of God's creatures ...

  • songbirds harvesting seed from sunflowers
  • chipmunks filling their cheeks ahead of autumn's advance
  • crickets chirping the temperature on hot muggy nights
  • bats swooping through the yard at dusk
  • an owl screeching off in the woods
  • fluttering moths and industrious orb weavers by the night light
  • bumblebees lazily criss-crossing the lawn
  • monarchs passing through on their way down south
  • dragonflies hunting mosquitos

Our garden may not be filled with the rarest of blooms, but it will always be busy with life ...

For example:

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Yesterday afternoon we observed the long-awaited return of our tiny red-breasted nuthatch. Oh, how we've missed him!

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I've waited all summer for this particular shot! Here is one of our beautiful goldfinches, wearing his brightest coat of the year, enjoying a tasty sunflower snack.

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Isn't he handsome? The boys and I sat in the window for a good ten minutes watching this finch eat his fill ...

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Another thing I love at this time of year is the late summer sky. Below you see a storm is approaching ...

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Which, of course, meant it was time to light the storm candle, another late summer tradition in our home:

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At the base of our favorite birdfeeding tree (virtually the hub of our backyard garden) we found this strange looking thing:

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Do you know what it is? Or what it was? (This is its exoskeleton.) On hot hazy days you can hear its call off in the distance ...

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On misty mornings our front lawn is dotted - no, encased - by dewey webs. I looked up this particular kind of web in the Handbook of Nature Study, and I believe they are made by "grass spiders." (Perhaps so called because that is where they live?)

If this type of natural, wildlife gardening interests you too, please let me recommend THE most wonderful book on the subject ~ A Blessing of Toads by Sharon Lovejoy. It is worth its weight in gold for information and inspiration. I'll bet you are familiar with some of her other books - Sunflower Houses, Hollyhock Days and Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots (each one a treasure trove of nature projects for families). A Blessing of Toads is a collection of essays, a "gardener's guide to living with nature." I am currently on my third read-through!!

Stop by Ruth's later today for the Loveliness of Summer Gardens, and please tell us ~ what is living in your garden these late August days?


Night News & Nature Notes (etc.)

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One of the nicest things about summer nature study is that it is so easy - enticing even - to enjoy nighttime events, of both the social and natural variety. Warm weather, late sunsets, relaxed bedtimes ... all mean much ado after dark. Really though, you need go no further than your own backyard for memorable and meaningful entertainment. Just look up and you won't be disappointed.

Anna B. Comstock says it far better than I:

"The summer is an inviting season for making the acquaintance of eight of the fifteen brightest stars visible in the northern latitudes. Few midsummer entertainments rival that of lying on one's back on the grass of some open space which commands a wide view of the heavens. There with a planisphere and an intermittently lighted flashlight with which to consult it, learn by sight, by name and by heart those brilliant stars which will ever after meet our uplifted eyes with friendly greeting. To teach the children in a true informing way about the stars, the teacher should know them, and nowhere in Nature's realm is there a more thought-awakening lesson."

Keeping all that in mind, here are some random nature thoughts I'd like to share this week.

~ Space Shuttle Sighting ~

Now, I'm a little fuzzy on all the details, but there will be something neat to see in the sky tonight and tomorrow night, just after the sun goes down. According to Spaceweather.com:

"On Tuesday morning, June 19th, space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station. On Tuesday night, the pair will fly in tandem over many US towns and cities including Detroit, Washington DC, San Francisco and Denver.  Typical flybys take place shortly after sunset, with the pair first appearing in the northwest (look for the Big Dipper) and soaring overhead from there.  The space shuttle appears first, followed by the ISS.  Both spacecraft are bright and easy to see with the naked eye.  Double flybys continue on Wednesday night, June 20th, before Atlantis returns to Earth on Thursday, June 21st."

I'm having a hard time pinning down the exact time to watch; Spaceweather is a bit coy on this point, linking two sites for further information. The latter link recommended a 9 p.m. viewing for the area in which I live - and that seemed strangely late to me - until it occured to me (duh), that 9 p.m. is just after sunset at this time of year.

So the boys will get to stay up a bit past bedtime tonight it looks like, for the space shuttle flying over (not to mention the space station) is a sight to see. Do you know, I have a very strong memory of being awoken by my parents one summer night when I was quite young, and brought outside to watch a satellite (or something or other) go over? I must have been very little because my brother was in my mother's arms. I think sometimes night memories can be the most dramatic in young and active imaginations.

~ Stars, Planets & Harry Potter ~

More things to look for in the summer night sky; this from the Boston Globe:

Lined up to the lower right of the moon at dusk are Saturn, and farther on, brilliant Venus. Very close to the moon is the star Regulus. Try binoculars.

I couldn't help noticing that Regulus is the name of Sirius Black's brother (Harry Potter's godfather) who may or may not have a part to play in the last HP book due out next month. If your kids are fans of the series, it would be fun to look for these characters' namesake stars this month (Sirius, the dog star, being the brightest of all). There's also a constellation called Draco the Dragon, but I'll leave that for another post.

And! Speaking of the Harry Potter series, have you heard about Nancy Brown's new book, The Mystery of Harry Potter, a Catholic Family Guide? Thanks to Maureen Whitmann's post earlier today I remembered I wanted to order this book - so I did! - and it's on its way as I type. (Note that the book is available now, though Amazon lists it as a pre-release order.)

Now, speaking of Venus (which, in case you've lost track, I had been several sentences back) ...

“Next to Mercury the beauteous one,

Venus, her father’s delight,

Unrivaled reigns, without sceptre or crown,

The glorious queen of the night.”

(From the Monthly Evening Sky Map by Nancy L. Moorefield, 1937)

What a nice copywork page for the nature journal! Perhaps with a sketch of the summer evening sky? The whole poem can be found in the Handbook of Nature Study; I may just post it in its entirety for Poetry Friday this week. (I was going to do so right here, but then this post would be ridiculously long. Even for me.)

~ The Solstice ~

The summer solstice occurs this Thursday at 2:06 p.m. This would be the longest day of the year, and consequently the night would be the shortest. A fun thing to do this week is to acquaint your children with the weather pages in your local paper, particularly the sunrise and sunset times. Record the times over the next few days (and do the math, fuguring out the total hours of daylight). Help them discover what happens over the course of the week.

~ A Full Moon & Strawberries ~

While you're there (at the weather pages, I mean) take a look at the moonrise time for each day as well. June's full moon will occur on the 30th, and last, day of the month; it is known as the Full Strawberry Moon. How about a day trip one day next week to the nearest pick-your-own strawberry farm? Why not read about The First Strawberries, too? Certainly on that night, strawberry shortcake is a must for dessert! Ooh, and not to skip around too much here, but do make a point to stop by Suzanne's Virtual Kitchen next Wednesday for The Strawberry Festival! I wonder if Suzanne knew her timing was so perfect? :)

Now, for a few final random nature notes ...

  • The daylilies are getting ready to burst ... I always look for these bright orange beauties the week or so before the Fourth of July.
  • You can see fireflies at night, and hear crickets as well. Summer would not be the same without either.
  • We also like to look for bats at dusk. They dash out of our woods and dive-bomb our yard. We cheer them on, hoping they'll take thousands of mosquitos a night (and they will).
  • Once we had an owl swoop through the yard; Bookworm swears its wings almost brushed his head. Bill backs up this incredible story - they had been out watching bats when a hooting deep in the woods caught their attention. Moments later a large creature swooshed through the dark yard, heading towards that mysterious sound. Now, I'll bet that will be a memory that will stay with Bookworm forever!
  • We found our first little toad the other day - I just love them, and they love our grass, pesticide-free as it is (the only lawn in the neighborhood to claim that I think). We've also got plenty of slugs, bugs and other toad-yummies. Bill is very careful of these guys when mowing (with the reel mower) out back. 
  • Keep your eyes peeled and your ears tuned for baby birds; nestlings are emerging just now. We have the cutest family of sparrows nesting in of all places, a street lamp! They visit our feeders en famille every day and they are the funniest little creatures to watch. It's quite easy to tell the baby birds from the parents - they're the fluffy ones with open beaks and fanned out feathers, begging for a meal, and not wanting to budge from their branch. :)

Well, allrighty, I've kept you all here long enough! Have a fabulous night, everyone - open those windows, listen to the breeze and don't forget to look up after dark!

********************************************************************Update, Update, 9:05 p.m. ~ Wow, did you see them?! We just came in from the front yard where we watched the shuttle and the ISS pass over as a pair! They were easy to see - two good size lights, a bit apart from each other, but moving steadily together across the sky from northwest to northeast. So cool! But I can only imagine what someone might think if they did not know in advance what those two lights were! Remember, they go by again tomorrow night - definitely worth it! And hey, how about that milky, golden crescent moon off in the western sky? Very warm, light breeze; we had a few bats fly by, too. Still just light enough to see, but now the dark's closing in fast ... OK, time to get these kiddoes off to bed. Good night! :) 


Field Day ~ The (Late) Late Spring Edition!

Late_spring

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous."

This quote by Aristotle is perfect for today, for the fleeting and frenzied season of Late Spring is indeed a marvelous time of the year. No matter where you live, wherever you look there's something amazing to see and to do! There are gardens to plant, flowers to pick, birds to watch, bugs to catch, woods to hike, creeks to cross and ... well, I could go on and on. But instead, I will let my Field Day friends do that for me. :)

First though, please let me thank you all for your patience and understanding throughout the Field Day postponement. I am grateful to everyone who participated and I appreciate your enthusiasm and support! (And if by some chance I missed you - if you don't see your post here - please send me an email, or leave me a comment, and I will remedy the situation ASAP!)

Without further ado, let's set out for our Late Spring Field Day! There are many wonderful posts to share, and, thanks again to my friend Marcie, many gorgeous photos as well. Field Day would not be the same without them!

To begin, let's check in with Silvia at Po Moyemu as she shares Images from Her Rural Life including an undercover turtle, a nest-that-almost-was, a busy bee and some very funny chickens. Next she describes the joys of Gardenschooling with her son - what a terrific home-learning day! And finally Silvia shares her surprise when she recently discovered a Skink in Her Yard!

Speaking of skinks (a creature I'd barely heard of before, and here I now have two to admire) ...

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Marcie's husband found this fellow hanging out in their carport!

Becky at Farm School delved Into the Woods with her family and came home with a bountiful spring harvest ~ seven liters of morel mushrooms! We found some morels last year too, but we just stared at them, lol. Becky had the forethought to make the most of them, and in a most delicious way!

Rose at Pretty in Pink shares a montage of breathtaking pictures from her Victorian yard ~ and one can see why she has the perfect setting for a fabulous Late Spring Field Day. Stop by to admire her lush gardens - so colorful and interesting!

Jennifer at As Cozy as Spring also has a most lovely and lively garden - lovely for its blooms, lively for its visitors! Stop by and take a peek in her Backyard Guide Book. There are butterflies today ~ perhaps spiders tomorrow?

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A butterfly resting in Marcie's Bradford Pear.

Jenny at Wildwood Cottage has seen a rainy spring, but it has hardly dampened the spirit of her lovely gardens. She was inspired by Tasha Tudor (one of my favorite authors) to take us on a late spring garden tour of her beautiful Flowers!

As a new mother, Melissa at Here in the Bonny Glen, was inspired to seek out special places to visit with her children ~ Some Breezy Open Wherein it Seemeth Always Afternoon. In her post, she remembers old haunts and treasured memories, while appreciating new memories in the making.

Joann at Ten Kids and a Dog shares many delightful photographs throughout her post describing the way Late Spring is unfolding in her neck of the northern woods.

While over at Cay's Cajun Cottage, my dear friend shares her lovely Gardens in Bloom. There's so much to see (and yes, almost smell!) with blossoms unfolding, in-waiting and in paint on paper!

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A bumblebee greeting a bright lily.

Maureen at Trinity Prep School sent her children out in the yard to explore and take plenty of Fotos for their Far-Away Father. Stop in and cast your vote for your favorite shot - they're all lovely!

Divina at The Bean Sprout enjoyed a special day by the seashore with her family and shares why B is for Birds at the Beach. That's quite a list of birds to see, Divina! What fun your Little Man must be having.

Back in the April Early Spring Field Day, Theresa at Lapaz Farm, showed us how to construct inexpensive nets for a stream nature study. In today's post, she announces "We're Back with a Splash" and shares with us all the cool and interesting things they found in their stream. Don't miss their photobucket slide show for even more exciting images!

Alice at Cottage Blessings always has wonderful activities planned for her children, and recently, after a whirlwind spring "at the theater," she found it time to announce, a Return to our Regularly Scheduled May. First up ~ a lovely, sentimental walk through the grounds of a local and beloved garden.

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A honeybee clinging to a thistle.

Spring has brought many delights for Dani and family at Artful Thoughts. In their Spring Nature Journals they have captured the sights and sense of spring itself (love the twig binding!). Her son Quinn's Spring Lapbook, filled with memories and information, will be an amazing keepsake for years to come. And I am sure Quinn will also long remember the adorable Fairy House crafted by his older brothers especially for him.

Meadowlarks, tanagers and buntings - oh, my! And how about those hummers?! Meredith at Nature's Sweetness has been enjoying myriad Backyard Bird Tales with her dear children. What a happy spring for them all, with so much bright color to behold and so many sweet songs to learn!

Mary Chris has found the joys of nature in her own Little Pocket as well as while out and about. She takes us along on a few Late Spring Field Days to see turtles, bluebells and some very smart fish. All that is quite exciting, but I have to say, I would just love to join Mary Chris for that morning coffee in the midst of her lovely backyard.

Nissa from Simple Gifts shares with us two lovely spring photos, capturing the busy-ness of spring. The first shows a nesting catbird in her family's French lilac:

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And the next shows a "most perfect" beaver lodge and dam in the sparkling spring sunshine:

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Next we have Jen at Daughter of the King, who shares some wonderful photos from a weekend spent enjoying Springtime in Maine. Beautiful flowers, scenic vistas and interesting wildlife to boot!

Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living takes us on a Sunday Garden Tour with a list of all the beauties growing in her garden. What a lovely June afternoon, despite all the rain.

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti talks about three of my most favorite things in her Field Day post. In Bird Books for Children, you will find an extensive list of literature for children of all ages. I can't wait to check them out, for you all know how I feel about birds. In fact at this very moment I am straining my eyes to see just what bird that is perching outside my computer desk window ...

And Speaking of Perching, Michelle at Living Waters has been watching a lovely pair of songbirds along with her children who have dubbed the pair Derek and Odette. Could a nest be any more romantic than one situated in a basket of fragrant spring flowers?

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Minding his own business, just being a frog. :)

Meanwhile, Leticia at Cause of our Joy has started a lovely new tradition - Sundays at the Nature Preserve. How fortunate are her children to have a father so knowledgeable and eager to share his love of nature with his family. I can't wait to see more!

Marjorie always has fascinating and inspiring nature posts at her blog, Lettres de mon Moulin. Today is no exception - as her family explores those Shelled Wonders - Turtles and Crayfish. Marjorie recounts their newly made armored acquaintances and offers excellent tips for our own study should the opportunity ever present itself. (Fingers crossed!)

Spring has arrived at long last up north, and Angela's dear family has shifted into summer mode. At Three Plus Two there are plenty of Birds, Bugs and Botany to observe and explore. I predict a very busy and happy summer for them all!

And here comes dear Waltzing Matilda who offers us some lovely photographs for Field Day, all hallmarks of the late spring season (well, maybe except for that "wolf," lol). Stop by to see a passing spring rain, vibrant garden blooms and a spectacular rainbow!

And speaking of rainbows ...

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An evening rain brought this beauty to Marcie's neighborhood!

So much of the thrill in birding lies in discovering a new bird at your feeders. Ruth and family at Just Another Day in Paradise have had a wonderful time drawing in new birds to observe. Check out her Birdwatching archive to join in their excitement!

Donna at Moments Like These is also raising several Birders in Training. A recent trip to a nature preserve yielded many sightings of several new species. Take a peek at Donna's Baltimore oriole pictures - just lovely! She offers some great birding tips as well. (Ooh, and this just in - Birders in Training Part II! What a shot!)

As you all know, I love a good nature mystery, and Kimberlee at Pondered in My Heart had an intriguing Empty Nest Syndrome on her hands recently! Some thoughtful field work ensued, and the mystery was at long last solved ... what could have happened to those eggs? Stop in and find out!

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The miracle of spring - new life unfolding!

Tiany at Less of Me ~ More of Him shares with us a collection of amazing photos from a Late Spring Field Day in her Backyard. What a habitat she has created - filled with lizards, frogs, butterflies, geese and more. Check out that butterfly bush - beautiful!

Kristen at Adventures in Bodenburg takes us along on a Memorial Day trip to a nearby creek. They had such fun and found some neat rocks! Next she shares a post about The Pumpkin Patch 2007 (and Seed Companies). I loved reading about her pumpkins which are usually thought of as a fall symbol, but part of the delight of spring is the promise it makes toward fall!

Maria at Tater Tots and Ladybug Love shares an absolutely charming photo essay, reminding us of the Lazy Summer Days in Late Spring. So true! I love how the seasons tread on each other's toes sometimes. Next she shares a family adventure which consisted of Bikes, Turtles, Blades and Burritos. What a fun day!

Beth at Woman of the Tiger Moon spends much time in her yarden (love that) with her dear little son, Larkin, a boy after his Mama's green heart! Grab a cup of coffee and join them for Reflections on One Good Spring Morning - and don't miss those bunny pictures!

Beth at Simply Sewn has lots of nature to share ~ inspiration on the farm (love the kitty!), strawberries and colorful quilts (again, love the cat), princes of butterflies and ladybugs, and a museum visit (complete with frogs) too!!

Plus Beth shares two grand photos of her kids enjoying the very best kind of Field Day - a real one!

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I just had to wrap up my post with that above shot. It is truly the essence of nature study with children - getting them out there and letting them take such JOY in our marvelous world!!

As always, I thank you all for joining me on this Late Spring Field Day. I hope you'll consider a return visit later on in the summer - right about first harvest, perhaps? Mid-August or so?

For, already spring fever is winding down, and very soon the hazy-lazy days of summer will set in ...

The afternoons will hum with the drone of bees and cicadas. The sun will bare down on us, and we will retreat to the shade and the cool of indoors. Storm clouds will gather in the west and the wind will scarcely move - nor will we. So for now, relish the fresh air, the brilliant blooms and the busy energy of spring - tuck these sweet little things away in your heart, and carry them with you all year.

Little drops of water, little grains of sand,

Make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land.

Thus the little moments, humble though they be,

Make the mighty ages of eternity …

Little deeds of kindness, little words of love,

Help to make the earth happy, like the heaven above.

          (Julia A. F. Carney, 1845)


An Alphabet of Summer Delights

It's that time of year again ~ a new season is upon us! And while Memorial Day is still a few weeks shy of the solstice, I think in most American hearts and minds, it is certainly the unofficial kick-off of the summer season.

Up here in New England we are experiencing a very warm week and everything is green and flower-y. Truly, spring has sprung itself all over, but summer is nipping at its heels! In my book, it's high time to brainstorm a list of all the delights summer can bring, so I will remember to stop and be thankful for life's little joys:

A is for air-conditioning in August (if not before).

B is for baseball games, a day at the beach and blockbuster movies.

C is for cool cotton sheets, cook-outs and clambakes.

D is for daylilies, dragonflies, dandelions and daisies.

E is for eating outside!

F is for fireflies, firecrackers and the Fourth of July.

G is for gardens and ghost stories 'round the campfire.

H is for hazy, hot and humid.

I is for ice cream!

J is for turning July's jewels (berries) into jam.

K is for keeping cool by the pool.

L is for lemonade, lazy days, and lightning storms.

M is for a morning in Maine, muggy and magical.

N is for night creatures like bats, moths and owls.

O is for orb-weaver spiders and Orion's belt at sunrise.

P is for popsicles, poppies, parades and pick-your-own.

Q is for a quiet fan humming, lulling you to sleep at night.

R is for roses, reunions and refreshing raspberry shrub.

S is for shooting stars, seashells, sprinklers and s'mores.

T is for toads in the garden and tea, iced and sweet.

U is for unusually large and prolific zucchini.

V is for verdant pastures, vacations and farm-fresh vegetables.

W is for watermelon and pearly webs glistening with dew.

X is for crossing the days off till September.

Y is for yellow-jackets and yarrow by the roadside.

Z is for zinnias in lollipop colors.

Here's wishing you a season filled with summer delights!


A Late Spring Field Day!

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It's time for a Field Day! And I cordially invite you to join us ...

Let's celebrate these final weeks of late spring, and share the world of nature around us. What's happening in the garden, woods, fields, by the pond or the shore? How about through your windows or just a step or two outside your back door? Nature happens everywhere, in ways big and little. What does late spring look like where you live? I hope you will consider telling us, for our next Field Day will run on Thursday, June 7th, rain or shine!

And just what is a Field Day you might ask? :)

Field Day is a nature-themed blog carnival. A carnival is a blogging event in which a host or hostess collects information about a particular theme (in this case nature) from other bloggers (and sometimes non-bloggers). She then organizes the information - links and photos, etc. - into one big post to share with everyone who stops by her blog on that day. It's a lot of fun - and the more the merrier - so I do hope you'll consider participating!

Your submission can be as simple as a photo, or as lengthy as a detailed post. And if you don't have a blog, you are still more than welcome! Perhaps you have a photo to share, or some thoughts you might like to write up?

Here are some ideas to get you started. You might share:

  • a review of a great gardening book
  • what's in your spring storybook basket
  • photos of spring in your yard
  • your nature study plans for the summer
  • a trip to a farm, a pond or anywhere you've noticed nature
  • a list of birds, bugs or mammals you've seen in recent weeks
  • a spring poem

For more ideas, you could peruse past issues of Field Day:

Also, I will be posting more of my Everyday Nature posts over the next couple of weeks, and some book reviews, too.

Now, the nitty gritty - what I need with your submission:

  • your name
  • your e-mail (not to be published)
  • your blog address
  • your post URL
  • a brief summary of your post or photo/entry

Please send all submissions to me at drhanigan AT verizon DOT net. Leave a comment below, too, if you'd like. I would like to have all entries by the end of the day, Wednesday June 6th.

And I'd love help spreading the word! Please copy the Field Day button at the top of this post and feel free to use it with your post or on your sidebar. (Thanks to my dear husband for designing this latest button!)

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to hear from you soon! Enjoy this beautiful spring day. :)


Poetry Friday: "Our Tree" by Marchette Chute

Apple_tree

When spring comes round, our apple tree
Is very full of flowers,
And when a bird sits on a branch
The petals fall in showers.

When summer comes, our apple tree
Is very full of green,
And everywhere you look in it
There is a leafy screen.

When autumn comes, our apple tree
Is full of things to eat.
The apples hang from every branch
To tumble at our feet.

When winter comes, our apple tree
Is full of snow and ice
And rabbits come to visit it . . .
We think our tree is nice.

This is a perfect time to begin an apple tree study - one that might last the whole year 'round! Do you live near an apple orchard, one that would be convenient to visit a few, or perhaps several, times a year?

A few Septembers ago, my dear friend Lisa suggested we conduct an apple tree nature study with our children. One fine autumn day we brought our children to a local farm and parked ourselves beneath an apple tree. Not just any tree, mind you - the children spent a good deal of time deciding just which tree would be the one to befriend.

Once we selected our tree, we made ourselves comfortable on blankets spread out underneath, and began sketching. Our idea was to visit "our" tree several times throughout the growing season and observe it in all of its stages - fruited, barren and blossomed. I am sorry to report, we let that project get away from us, but this year I would like to renew it(what do you say, Lisa?). :) We'll start with the flowers of spring.

Possibly the trees are just past bloom time, depending on where you live. But that's all right - anywhere you start in the year is a start. Within a year's time your tree will have covered the entire cycle of life. But if you begin soon, your children will have many months to observe their special tree and by autumn, its fruit will taste all the sweeter.

I'll post more on this idea in the future, but I wanted to mention it along with this week's poem - which I think would serve as a lovely cover page to an apple tree journal.

"Our Tree is by Marchette Chute, whose poems I have come to know through a tiny and beloved gem ~ A Small Child's Book of Cozy Poems. It is illustrated by one of my favorites, Cyndy Szekeres (are you familiar with Pippa Mouse books at all?) Several of her poems are featured in this lovely little book, which I highly recommend for the little ones. It's not a board book, but a real hardcover - and slim as it is, it's just the right size for small hands. Its page are filled with mice and other woodland creatures in all kinds of homey arrangements. My particular favorite is a poem called "Politeness" about a squirrel. Maybe that will be my poem next week! :)

Have a grand day, everyone, and be sure to stop by Kelly's Big A little a for the Poetry Friday Round-Up!


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?

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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)


Spring has Sprung in my Heart ...

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... and at long last, in my yard.

There is a butterfly floating by my window. I think it might actually be a moth, but the point is, a tiny gossamer-winged creature - a herald of spring itself - is flitting across the lawn, stopping at this bloom and that. It's been such a long time since I've seen such a sight.

I hear a bird singing it's dear little heart out somewhere close by. I believe it is the mockingbird who, just a few minutes ago, hopped down from the telephone wire to the lawn. The sunlight is so bright and golden, and after a long winter, it is so very welcome.

And what, perhaps, is even more striking than all this? My window is open. Because it is quite warm today, and the air has just the tiniest, kindest hint of coolness. Refreshing, really ... such a beautiful Sunday, and a glorious Earth Day indeed.

Because we have all our windows open, there is a slight chill filling the house. It feels good to us, but it alerts the heat to come on, and so, as I sit here typing beside the open window, the warmth spreads around my feet. It is a familiar feeling; this time of year is at once cool and warm. It is the hallmark of spring to be such a tease - but we love it all the more.

There are activities all over the country today, in honor of Earth Day, but we will just celebrate at home in our own way. For one, we will have our first cookout! And over supper we will discuss our environmental goals - take stock of how we've done since last year, and brainstorm how we might do better this year.

Here are a few ideas for celebrating spring, and our lovely, life-giving earth today, or any day:

  • If weather permits, open your windows wide and exchange the stale air for fresh.
  • Make up a new spring nest for each of your loved ones - trade flannel for cotton.
  • Set up a small nature shelf for the children. Let them add little treasures they find like nests, stones, and blossoms. Add a pretty beeswax candle (perhaps one they've made) and a small postcard with a seasonal theme.
  • Make up a basket for your field guides, and keep it handy!
  • Rise early and sit by an open window with a warm cup of tea. Listen to the new sounds and feel the new air - write down your thoughts in a journal.
  • Sit down as a family and discuss how you might be better stewards of the earth.
  • Carry canvas bags to the market instead of bringing home plastic. You can buy plain ones at the craft store and decorate them yourselves.
  • Find out where there will be farm stands this summer; try to buy local as much as possible.
  • Begin a compost pile.
  • Go on a neighborhood walk - bring a trash bin or bag, wear gloves and clean up trash as you go.
  • Plan to grow some food of your own; research organic growing methods.
  • Visit a natural foods store and look for environmentally friendly cleaners.
  • Look up your town's recycling guidelines; they might have changed! We just found out ours did - and there is much more we can recycle.
  • Read biographies of naturalists; there are many available for children.
  • Sit down with your grocery list (I use my store receipt) and consider each item you purchase regularly. How might you make a better choice (less packaging, better nutrition)?
  • Do an energy audit of your household. Where can you decrease your energy consumption?

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Spring is the perfect time to reacquaint ourselves with the glories of God's awesome creation. Take joy in this day - and look for more joy tomorrow! And speaking of tomorrow, please check in at KC's Cabbage Patch for the Loveliness of Spring! I can't wait to hear how others enjoy this season ~ how about you?


Spring Learning at Home

When I tried to think of a title for this post, I kept coming back to the phrase spring learning. It sounds kind of silly, but actually to us it makes sense. One of the great advantages of home education is immersing ourselves in the day - the natural day. If it's sunny or rainy or perhaps that gray and mellow kind of day, we feel it. It is part of our day and it becomes very much part of our learning. I am so glad for that for my children. I love it that they watch goldfinches while they work on sentence structure and listen to bird song during math. I can only imagine that the fresh air coming in through the windows does their expanding brains a world of good. It certainly does mine.

Here's a snippet of our spring learning today. :)

Note #1: We got a bit of a late start. EB found himself in a rather messy situation so a morning bath was in order. The older two kept themselves busy while I oversaw EB's bath and then threw in a small laundry. While EB bathed we played with the small plastic animal collection. We sorted out the animals that would live in water, and practiced saying their names. 

Roundabouts 9:30 we were back on track:

Math

  • The boys completed their lessons while munching on Honey-Nut-O's and listening to the birds in the woods.

Spelling

  • Catholic Spellers A and E - check.

Grammar

  • Language of God A - check
  • Lessons in Writing Sentences Book 1 - check
  • Spent some time admiring the bright yellow goldfinches just outside the window (see photo below).

Note #2: EB threw up, and that confirmed it; he has a stomach bug. Got it all cleaned up (him too) and readied his bed for a nap. Postponed the backyard nature study until after he was asleep.

History

  • SOTW2: The End of the World (The Plague)
    • mapwork - check
    • wheel of transmission - check

Note #3: Took a break to look all over this site recommended by Theresa. Printed out the light saber cross section to show Daddy. Mail came: Bookworm's Cobblestone (D-Day issue) and a Disney Movie Club offer that the boys pored over while I made lunch:

  • Whole wheat pb&j's, chopped dates and salted peanuts, cheddar crackers, lemonade and sugar-free pumpkin pie for dessert

Nature Study

  • We took a nature walk around the yard. (See photos below.) We were looking for signs of change. It was bright and windy, still pretty cool. A nice fresh early spring day.

Religion

  • Read "Jesus Enters Jerusalem" in Children's Bible; discussed Palm Sunday.

Science

  • Read Our Wet World while CJ sorted plastic animals by water habitat. Tomorrow we will make a poster of aquatic ecosystems.
  • Also read "Foods from the Sea" in this book and brainstormed what to serve this Friday for our Home Fish Fry (we'll miss our parish Fish Fry - long story - so we're doing one at home):
    • clam chowder
    • scallops
    • fish sticks
    • onion rings
    • french fries

We finished up by 1:30 and now the boys are watching Zoboomafoo (you bet I count it as science!). The red squirrel is under the feeders right now, and two beautiful mourning doves are nestled in the sunny grass nearby. The wind is howling all around the house and the sun is splashing across the floor. I just love these early spring days (can you tell?). :)

And last but not least, here are our photos from today's nature walk:

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Tiny crocus shoots pushing up towards the light.

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The goldfinches are getting so bright!

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Couldn't resist posting one more finch picture.

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A forsythia bud shows promise ...

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As do the very tips of this large tree.

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We'll have to look up this fungi in our field guide.

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The river out back. Wish I had sound to go with it! 


One!

Today my blog is ONE year old! Boy, that was a mighty fast year!

I was going to say it's my blogoversary, but I wasn't sure of the correct spelling. Blogiversary? Blogaversary?? Too many variables. I'm just calling it a birthday, and since it is a birthday, there must be cake. Candles too, and we will eat it by my sunny windows and call it a By Sun and Candlelight Cake. :) (Honestly, I could come up with a baked good for any possible occasion.) Really, I wish I could share a piece with you; there's plenty of fresh hot coffee, too. :)

So naturally I am feeling a little pensive about my blog today. I am very grateful for it; it's an awful lot of fun and I find I enjoy writing very much. In fact, sometimes I worry I might post too much, lol! I know myself how hard it can be to keep up with daily blog reading, especially as there are so many great blogs out there!

So I was looking at the calendar and imagining all the things I might blog about in the year ahead. Here are some topics for spring and summer:

April:

  • Holy Week & Easter
  • Early Spring Field Day
  • Science topic: earth/soil
  • Puddles, mud, sandbox
  • Looking for rainbows
  • Listening for peepers
  • Middle Ages: Cathedrals
  • Opening Day
  • Make Way for Ducklings
  • Arbor Day (or Earth Day)
  • Divine Mercy Sunday
  • Feast of St. George (and the Dragon)
  • Sheepshearing Festival
  • Spring Soccer

May:

  • May Day
  • Marian devotion
  • Prayer Garden
  • Kentucky Derby Day
  • Mother's Day
  • Science Topic: air
  • Kites, pinwheels, bubbles
  • Crackerjack's First Holy Communion
  • Rogation Days
  • Memorial Day Weekend
  • Planting at long last
  • Baltimore Orioles passing through (birds not baseball)
  • Mushrooms in the lawn
  • Pentecost Sunday
  • Rhubarb ripe

June:

  • Trinity Sunday
  • Feast of Corpus Christi
  • Strawberry picking
  • Flag Day
  • Father's Day
  • Science topic: fire
  • Bonfires, beeswax candles and cookouts
  • Summer Solstice
  • Bookworm's 12th Birthday
  • Feast of St. John the Baptist (Midsummer)
  • Slugs, bugs and toads in the garden
  • Wrapping up the academic year
  • Lemonade Stand
  • Dragonflies and Damselflies

July:

  • Filing the new educational plans
  • Filing the end-of-the-year reports
  • Daylilies blooming
  • The Fourth of July
  • Bill's Birthday
  • Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
  • Raspberries Ripe
  • Red Sox games
  • Christmas in July (Begin planning)
  • Beach days (tidepooling)
  • Seashore Nature Study
  • Field Day by the Sea
  • Thunderstorms
  • Crickets at night
  • Feast of St. Christopher

August:

  • Lammas Day
  • VBS: Avalanche Ranch
  • 4Real Conference
  • Crackerjack's 8th Birthday
  • Feast of the Assumption
  • Herbs & Honey
  • The Orchard: Peaches, Plums, Blueberries
  • Patriots Preseason Football
  • The Farmstand: corn, tomatoes, melon
  • Fireflies & Shooting Stars
  • Watching Bats at Dusk
  • Our Lady of Knock
  • Queenship of Mary

Well, that's a start anyway! ;)

Seriously though, one thing I love about blogging is how it helps me focus on all the joys of the seasons as they come and go. I may not blog about each and every thing I listed above, but it's nice to remember all the good things life holds in store all year round.

Before I wrap up, I would like to mention my next Field Day (number six!) is just around the corner. The Early Spring Edition will run Friday April 13th. (No, I don't believe in bad luck, lol. My Crackerjack was born on a Friday the 13th and ever since that day has been one of my favorites!)

I hoped to have a button ready to go today, but that's yet another project on the back burner. Maybe this weekend. In the meantime mark your calendars for the 13th of April and get those nature studies rolling!

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for reading this post which I really did not mean to let get so long, but sometimes, when the kids are quiet and the coffee's hot, I really get around to thinking ...

God bless!!

P.S. I'm thinking of changing my blog topper and colors. Are you tired of the blue and pink roses too, lol? Don't be surprised if you see a different look (or two) before the weekend is up! Of course I may completely chicken out. ;)


8:07 p.m.

Tonight. On the dot. And not a moment too soon!

SPRING will be here! Perhaps in name only for now, but still ... Spring will be here!

So, would someone kindly tell Winter to scram, because apparently he didn't get the memo:

March_woods

The Riverwood, March 2007

Now, most calendars will tell you tomorrow is the first day of spring, but for those of us seemingly locked in Winter Land, every minute counts.

Spring begins precisely, at 8:07 tonight. At that very moment, our kitchen timer will ring and we will pause in our bedtime routine to smile and shout Happy Spring! We'll go to bed knowing tomorrow it can - and will - only get warmer, lighter and greener ... 

Since Tuesdays here in the Riverwood School are science and nature study days, here are a few things we'll explore today ...Why_the_sun_rises_4

~ We will read about why, and how, we have seasons:

~ We'll do a little bird study. We'll start by reading this interesting article I found online. Next, we'll read our weekly chapter from The Beginning Naturalist. This week's subject is redpolls. We get plenty of, what I believe to be, purple finches, but I noticed this line in the book:

"The only bird that a beginning birder might confuse with a redpoll is the male purple finch. The purple finch, however, is bigger and has more red coloring."

We're not exactly beginning birders, but redpolls are not so familiar to me. So today we will keep a careful eye out the classroom windows, watching the feeders for these red-headed birds. I am fairly sure the birds we see are indeed finches, but we will observe more closely and see if perhaps there might be a repoll in the mix.

~ We will read the astronomy note from today's Boston Globe: "Look west after sunset for the thin crescent moon and, to its upper left, brilliant Venus. Remember how they look, and compare with the view tomorrow." Very curious ... we'll do just that.

~ In another week or so, we will enjoy an Early Spring Scavenger Hunt. (We need time to melt down and dry out a bit first.) I got this list from a wonderful nature resource called Let Nature Be the Teacher:

  • signs of nest building
  • buds
  • a spring flower
  • three shades of green
  • a fresh smell
  • mud
  • a new bird sound
  • an early spring insect
  • a fiddlehead (young fern)

If you do this hunt, let me know ~ I am planning another Field Day very soon. Details - and a button - by week's end! :)

By the way, if you happen to live near a Dunkin' Donuts, it is worth noting that all day tomorrow (the first full day of spring), they are offering free iced coffee! (One per customer, I believe. Thanks to my friend, Tara, for the tip!) We probably won't make it over to D&D, but I think I will brew a cup of iced decaf. at home and relish the very coolness of it! After all, it will get up to a balmy 39 degrees tomorrow, lol!

BUT! It will reach 65 on Friday, so truly, there is hope in sight. This New England weather is so wacky, you can't help but love it ... right???

Have a great day, everyone, and Happy Spring!!!


~ More Nature Study: A Maple Story ~

This morning, while the boys and I waited for Earlybird at speech, we brainstormed a possible legend behind the discovery of maple syrup. I got this idea from the first lesson in the maple sugaring unit in Project Seasons. (By the way, I cannot say enough good things about this book; even though it is geared toward a classroom full of kids, many activities can be adapted for homeschoolers.)

This activity continues our maple nature study, and also compliments our history nicely - we just finished reading a few versions of the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood. We've been talking about how legends are stories told throughout generations, and, while unverified, are believed to be based in historical truth in some way.

Before I get on with our story, though, I must tell you about a very neat thing that happened on our way out to speech. I had just gotten the boys all buckled in when I realized I'd forgotten my coffee. As I ran back up to the house, something bright orange on the lawn caught my eye. My first thought was that it looked just like a sugar maple leaf, but I chuckled at myself for thinking so, because A. we have no sugar maples growing nearby, and B. it is March, and even if we did have sugar maples growing nearby, they would have no leaves - let alone bright orange ones - at this time of year!

Figuring I just had maple trees on the brain, I walked over to check out the object more closely and almost fell over when I realized it was indeed a maple leaf - a silk maple leaf!! It must have blown off someone's wreath or garland or something - a long forgotten autumn decoration. And here it was, stranded in our yard, right in our very path - this week of all weeks! The boys found this very mysterious, and this curious happenstance set just the right imaginative tone for our morning lesson.

Anyway, now for our story! It was written primarily by Bookworm and Crackerjack, with just a bit of "prompting" now and again by me. ;) After we had all the details down on paper, I typed it up and printed it out for our nature notebook. You can see it there below on the right, embellished with that very leaf!

Once we were done with our own story, we read the well-known Algonquian Legend of Chief Woksis, as presented in Project Seasons. It's an interesting and probable story, but whoever discovered the "magic" inside the maple tree, we owe him (or her) a hearty thanks!

The Story of Gonswap and the Magical TreeMaple_story_2

It was a sunny morning in late winter, when Gonswap, a young Native American boy was out hunting for the very first time on his own. Suddenly, he heard a strange tapping noise coming from over by the river. Curious, he went over to investigate and found a downy woodpecker tapping at a tree.

"Hello, Friend Downy," he said. "What are you doing?"

The bird looked at him, tilted its head to one side, and then went back to tapping. Gonswap wondered if it was making a nest because it was nearly spring, and he knew that woodpeckers make their nests by tapping holes in dead trees. But this tree was still alive, and the bugs would still be frozen in hibernation, so there couldn't be much to eat. What was it trying to do?

"What is it you are doing there?" Gonswap repeated, and this time the woodpecker flew to another tree and resumed his tapping.

Before following the bird further into the woods, Gonswap noticed that there was something dripping from the hole in the tree.

Sticking his finger into the drip, Gonswap tried some of the strange moisture and it tasted sort of sweet.

"Amazing," he thought. "This must be a magical tree of some kind, perhaps a special tree spirit!"

Gonswap decided to run back to Chief Checktoo and tell him all about it.

The Chief was quite interested in Gonswap's story so he sent three of his warriors back with the boy to bring some of this magical liquid back to camp.

Gonswap led the way, and after a time, the party reached the special tree. The warriors held a wooden bowl up to the hole that the woodpecker had made, and after some time they had collected enough liquid for the Chief to sample.

Back at camp, Chief Checktoo eagerly drank from the bowl, and afterward he licked his lips thoughtfully.

"Hmmmm," he said. "Tastes a bit like water, but sort of sweeter. Maybe it's just melted snow. I don't really think it's anything magical, but who knows ..."

He turned to Gonswap and handed him the bowl.

"Bring this to our cook and ask her to warm it over the fire. Then, I'll try it again."

So Gonswap brought the bowl of liquid to the cook and sat with her while it boiled over the fire. Soon something started to smell really good. After a little while the cook ladled the liquid out of the pot and into a bowl for the chief. Gonswap saw that the liquid was no longer clear like water, but dark brown in color. He worried what the chief might think, because even though it smelled delicious, it looked like mud!

Well, Chief Checktoo took one sip and found that it tasted much sweeter now - delicious even - but there was hardly any left after one or two sips! He wanted more!

He smiled at Gonswap and clapped his hands.

"Bring my swiftest warriors here, I wish to send them out to find more of this wonderful stuff! Gonswap lead the way!"

And that was how maple syrup was discovered ... and how Gonswap one day became chief!


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.)

Maple1

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

Maple2

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. ;)

Maple4

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! :)