Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Water Day

On Monday the children and I purchased lots of shelving units and we spent the afternoon assembling them with a rubber mallet (they are pretty do-it-yourself). Now we actually have shelving to put all the boxes on when we move them! My new house is only a few miles from my old house, so every time we go anywhere I take a lot of bins over to the new house in my truck. Having shelving at the new location makes this arrangement much easier. The girls have gotten used to the routine of packing and then unpacking the truck before every swim class, trip to the community house, etc. Tuesday we took a load over before swim class and then another load over before movie night. During the day we went to Water Day at the Community House, which they do every Tuesday from 10 am to 1 pm. This means sprinklers, hoses, water guns, kiddie pools, water balloons, you name it. Everyone gets soaked. My girls were busily making friends and playing (boy did they nap HARD). Leah came over to me at one point and held out a full water balloon, asking me cheerfully, "Mom, can you tie this and then let me throw it at you?" Of course I dumped it out on her head instead. We had a good time!

My girls are so funny as we pack and move. Each time I give them a fabric grocery bag and ask them to pack up some of the books (this is my favorite trick for moving books -- the bags are cheap, they don't get so heavy that you can't carry them -- which happens when packing boxes of books -- and they then can fit into all kinds of nooks and crannies in the truck) I come into the room instead and find three children sitting on the floor, silently absorbed and reading. They stop to caress all the old favorites and just open one for a peek at the illustrations and bingo, no one is packing. Everyone is reading. Natalie has recently discovered two books which she is thrilled about and can't put down. One is The Enormous Egg(a favorite from my childhood)

and the other is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- another classic.

It is so cool to have my kids reading. Natalie is into all the books I remember and loved -- Pippi Longstocking, Ramona Quimby... It's like seeing my old friends again. It truly is. And I keep thinking of books I want to share with her. Paddington Brown. The list goes on and on.

Leah stopped reading the unabridged version of Alice in Wonderland, having decided (rightly) that it was too hard for her. She's now deep into my old collections of Peanuts cartoons and Calvin & Hobbes. But the other day I found Leah reading

She was entranced and came wandering through the kitchen saying slowly, "Mom, this is a very special book." And I thought, she's right. What a perfect time of year for creating your own Celebrations. Seeing the box turtle so close up. Picking wild raspberries. S'mores. Water Day!!! I highly recommend this lovely book by Byrd Baylor for inspiring your own families festivities this Summer. Enjoy this wonderful time!

The children have been saying such wonderful graces lately. They are excited and thankful for our new house. But Natalie said one last night that just knocked my socks off. It was,

"O Lord, Thank you for my day, my life, and the good I have had. Amen."


Fairy Houses

Sunday I took the girls to Annmarie Garden Sculpture Park. I had no idea that they had a new art installation -- fairy houses sprinkled throughout the woods! The children went absolutely nuts. We spent an extremely pleasant hour wandering slowly through the park and searching for these delicate constructions. Some of them were very elaborate. There were even hanging fairy houses. The children then made up their own fairy names and played at being fairies for several days. I had to relearn all their names: Silvermist, Rosetta, and Annabeth. Luckily for me, Natalie made me a little piece of paper saying who was who and I carried it in my purse. Lots of happy play resulted from this little visit to the garden and the children want to go back again and again to see their favorite houses.

Usually people recommend Fairy Houses by Tracy Kane but I greatly prefer Daniela Drescher's work

Sea Rocket

While we were at South Beach for the bonfire on Saturday, a local expert in foraging pointed out a plant to me which was growing along the beach. It's called sea rocket and is a relative of mustard (I'm guessing this is "rocket" as in arugula). I tasted some. It did taste a lot like arugula! He said it's very vitamin rich and can be used in salads. But I have a friend who says that plants growing along our part of the Chesapeake Bay are actually heavy metal rich due to their proximity to the nuclear power plant and probably shouldn't be eaten. Anyway, I think it's cool to be able to forage and some day I'd like to take a nature walk with this expert and see what is in the woods around here, even if I never have the courage to eat anything! :-)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Our Very Favorite Book of Mother Goose Rhymes

I want to post the link to our very favorite book of Mother Goose rhymes; there are so many out there and most of them just have the same old verses. But we found one -- quite by accident -- that is really top notch. It is packed with rhymes that I have never heard before, the illustrations are lovely, and my daughters absolutely adore it. Right now Natalie is reading it and quizzing me (did all the king's soldiers and all the king's men put Humpty Dumpty together again, or not?). It has the well-known rhymes as well, of course. The book is published by Dalmatian Press out of Franklin Tennessee. There's no table of contents and the pages are not numbered so I can't tell you how many rhymes there are total. Natalie is counting the pages now (I gave her the task as a challenge). She says 117 pages. Some have a large illustration and one rhyme; some pages have many rhymes. I would guess there are 200 verses in all, but that's just a guess.

ISBN 1577594193. Here's the link:
Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes (Treasured Collection)

Meeting a Box Turtle

The girls went picking wild raspberries yesterday morning, each with her little silver pail. Natalie experienced for the first time the disappointment of accidentally tipping her pail and spilling hard-won berries. She came to me all in tears. Leah experienced getting her hair stuck in the thorny stems of the bushes. But she didn't cry. All in all, the girls had a good time and we stopped and bought vanilla ice cream last night so that we can enjoy our fresh berries.

Last night we put up the tent for Round #2 of practice camping. It was HOT last night! I'm thinking that we should get some of those little silk sleep sacksthat can be used alone for hot weather and inside a traditional sleeping bag for an extra layer of warmth in really cold weather.

After pitching our tent and having dinner, there was a community bonfire at South Beach to kick off the beginning of Summer. There were so many children running around that my girls were pretty overwhelmed! They found sticks and roasted marshmallows for s'mores but pretty much stuck by my side. We met a few people who knew me and came over and said hi. But I know my girls will soon get comfortable and start making little friends. Summertime friends are the best of all. There's so little do do and so much time to play. We went to the little cabin and the children got measuring tapes and pens and paper and helped me make drawings of each room so we can figure out where all the furniture will go. I think it will be quite pleasant once we are moved in.

This morning I made oatmeal on my new handy-dandy camping stove (my first time trying it out) and we had oatmeal and peaches and sat out on the picnic table and pretended to be camping. The children had so much fun exploring the yard as if they had never seen it before. "Mom, I found a pear tree!" The highlight of it all was when we saw a box turtle walking through our yard and the children went over and gave him (her?) a good long look. There are wild raspberries growing in our yard as well, which is probably what attracted the turtle. We let him pass by in peace. Then at the end of breakfast my girls discovered that one of the rules of camping is that you give any leftover food to the dog, since you can't store it. They thought that was the funniest thing ever (and Toby was pretty pleased with the arrangement as well....) It was a very nice morning.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Free Online Sharable Calendar

Here is this fantastic FREE resource I just found for creating sharable online calendars with family members or friends. You decide who gets the username and password that's needed to view what you've created and to edit it (separate permissions). It's free and there are no ads. It's easy to create a one-time or recurring event, you can change the view (blocks, list, etc.; by week, by month, and so on) and you can have different bars of background color or write the text in different colors for different family members if you want to. Awesome!!!!

free online interactive web calendars

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Family Reunion/Bonfire

My girls are with their dad now & I am filling the time this week with packing my entire house up (which doesn't sound fun and isn't) and looking for a backpack (which sounds fun but really isn't since it entails a lot of trying things on and then having people tug at straps, turn you around, and drop 30 pounds of sand down your back). Current front runner is the Osprey Ariel 65 medium in brown sugar; second at bat is the Gregory Deva 60 medium, color irrelevant because there's a website selling a discontinued Coastal Sage color for a lot less ($161.97) and who doesn't love a great deal? Looking for a pack before actually planning a trip makes sense, though, because there's no time crunch and you can make sure you get a pack that fits you properly instead of rushing and buying something because time is of the essence. You can also rent packs at places like REI and then buy the one you like once you are SURE the fit is correct. Walking a few steps in the store is not the same thing as walking all day, as we all know from buying pants and/or shoes that were fine for a few minutes but deucedly uncomfortable after a serious length of time. And when you are in the wilderness of West Virginia you don't get to change your mind and take it back. You just have to keep carrying the darn thing.

Anyway, Saturday was the day of our family reunion. The girls and I went to get our color-coded tee shirts, based on which person we were descended from, and ended up with a nice light mint-green number. I'm not a tee shirt person but I can deal with one every 2 years. We had a yummy barbecue lunch and then gathered for a photo on the lawn. Amazingly, all my girls were facing the camera this time. They are older and not so wiggly. Down to the beach to play in the water, home for naps, and then it was off to a bonfire at 8 pm -- a little late for my children but doable since there were naps involved earlier in the day and it is staying light for so long this time of year. Happy Solstice to everyone, by the way. There were s'mores at the bonfire, of course, and the girls built sandcastles and a good time was had by all.

For a few more days we can all swim in the Chesapeake Bay (assuming, of course, that this kind of thing appeals to you). Shortly the jellyfish will be in. Stinging sea nettles arrive just in time for the 4th of July, like clockwork every year. Like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano. Only not quite so pleasant.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Silence Game

I took the girls to the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp yesterday. We love this quiet little nature center but it had been a while since we wandered over there to take a trip back in time along the boardwalk. I had the children play The Silence Game (a game invented by Dr. Maria Montessori) through the swamp. This really heightened our awareness of the animal noises around us. It also helped to slow the children down and they were more observant. Wetlands have an incredible diversity of plant and animal life -- second only to the rainforest in its complexity and number of species. We all took off our shoes and tiptoed along. Once we slowed down, the girls spotted quite a few signs that animals had been there, and we heard more animals than we would have if we had been noisier. The children had a blast. I can't wait to take them hiking!!! Everytime we go to a replica of a nature scene, like a diorama or a display (or the aquarium tanks) I think, it will be so great when I can show them this for real.

Here's a great link for teachers/homeschooling parents: the EPA's Wetlands Reading List Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12. Their booklist is comprehensive and excellent. I love that they include chapter books that take place in relevant settings, such as Swamp Foxby Robert Duncan Bass (high school level).

After the simple list of books, a description of the book in more detail follows, for example:

    SWAMP FOX, Robert Duncan Bass. Henry Holt and Company, New York; 1959; 275 p.; grades 9 to 12; NF

    Summary: Historic account of Francis Marion's activities during Revolutionary War when he retained eastern South Carolina from the British and later, with Nathaniel Greene, drove the British from South Carolina. Historic documentation includes many swamp experiences.

    Comment: The swamp provided a good hiding place for the resourceful Swamp Fox and his troops. Descriptions of swamps abound throughout the text, painting a picture in the reader's eyes of real wetlands. The author, Robert Duncan Bass, describes Little Peedee Swamp as:

    "...giant cypress trees rearing their fronds into the sky, their knees protruding from the black loam and their limbs draped with streaming Spanish moss. From all around came the sour, pleasant smell of decaying vegetation and mucky soil."

Camping in the Backyard

Thursday we moved from "indoor camping" to actually pitching the tent in the backyard and sleeping out there. The girls helped me set up the tent and we have been staying inside the house mostly during the day -- because of the heat -- but sleeping out at night. I got the children headlamps so they could walk to the house. I'm working on this camping thing V-E-RRRR-Y gradually with them. My two older girls are pretty gung-ho and up for anything but my youngest shakes with terror and bursts into tears whenever she sees an insect or, heaven help us, a spider. I don't know where she got that from. I've certainly never modeled that for her. But I always figured that girls learned that nonsense from someone and I guess I was wrong -- no one has ever showed her to be afraid of little creepy-crawlies and yet she is. She protests vehemently whenever the subject of a hike comes up because she's afraid of ticks. She once went into a bathroom and there was a camel cricket on the floor and she began to scream in terror, rushed out of the room, and peed on the living room floor in fear. So I have had to be very gentle and gradual with her to build up her comfort level with the outdoors. We spent several days sleeping on the living room floor in sleeping bags and every time we went to the camping store I would get a spiffy new piece of gear and make a big deal out of it. Camping mats... headlamps... compressible pillows... etc. Then we set up the tent together and slept in it for a few nights. We did our read aloud story in the tent, they got their stuffed animals, and so on. They've watched me reading The Complete Walker IVand they know I am going shopping for a backpack. It's all been very fun and upbeat.

Tomorrow the girls go back to their dad's house. When they come back to me in a week we will stay in the backyard but eat camping food (which they helped me pick out) at the picnic table, so they can see how the camping stove works -- although they're not to touch it, of course -- and what kinds of things you eat when you're in the woods. I am not venturing to explain going to the bathroom. Some things should just be in the moment. But every other aspect of it we will practice beforehand. She is fine with seeing the lightning bugs fly past in the evenings and things seem to be going well. I had already planned to do Misty of Chincoteagueas our next read-aloud story. It looks like our first real camping trip may be to Assateague Island! I know the girls would love to camp on the beach with the wild ponies.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The National Aquarium

Yesterday was the first swim lesson for Natalie and Leah. They came bouncing out after their half-hour proud and happy and eager to go again. Luckily for them, tomorrow is the next one. Becca and I spent the time visiting with my mother -- my new next-door neighbor -- and my grandparents who are the neighbor to her (borrowing the cabin we are about to begin renting), in town for our family reunion this weekend.

After the visiting we had an early early lunch and headed up to Baltimore for the day's feature event: a trip to the National Aquarium. It took two hours to get there. We spent four hours there, including a visit to the cafe for strawberry shortcakes, and the Dolphin Show. We spent four hours on the return trip since I got REALLY LOST (which I always do when trying to navigate the one-way streets in the downtown part of the city) and we went to Towson for some pizza. The girls were interested in seeing Goucher College which their cousin attends. We arrived back at home at 8 pm.

The children were most excited by the non-fish things, actually. They loved
  • the rainforest exhibit (especially the birds and the golden tamarind monkey)

  • the caimans, snakes, and frogs in the Amazon river portion of the aquarium

  • the octopus

  • the puffins (which were adorable)

  • the shark tank

  • the giant turtle

  • and watching the scuba divers feeding the rays

They liked the dolphin show also.

Today I decided we wouldn't leave the house all day. Natalie isn't even dressed yet and is relaxing in her sleeping bag with a huge pile of books. Leah is also reading. Becca has her bathing suit on and is happily scrubbing the kitchen floor with a bowl of warm soapy water (Dr. Bronner's lavender) and an old cloth diaper. Life is peaceful and good.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Learning to Swim

Yesterday at 9 am was the first time I saw my girls since I said good-bye to them at noon when school dismissed June 4th. (My ex-husband and I alternate weeks during the summer.) I was so excited!!!

I'm determined to make the most of the summer. Yesterday we had a playdate at a friend's house. They had lunch, played, worked in the garden, ran through the sprinkler, squeezed lemons for homemade lemonade, etc. Lovely summer fun. We stayed and had dinner there. I contributed some salad greens from our CSA. The children and I didn't leave their house until about 7:30 at night so it was a full day.

Today I took the girls to Hudson Trail Outfitters first thing in the morning and got them all Thermarests. We are slowly gathering the gear necessary to do some serious camping. Actually, 2 are Thermarests and the third one is a sleeping pad made by Big Agnes. I love my Big Agnes backpacking tent and so I was willing to try some more gear by them. It's not self-inflating, though, so Natalie had to get a lesson in inflating her sleeping pad. She said it was very comfy. We are doing "indoor camping" and the girls are sleeping on the living room floor in their sleeping bags for practice.

After the shopping excursion, lunch, and naps, we started some homemade yogurt (the Crockpot Yogurt recipe which I love) and then went down to the beach for a walk along the shore and a good splash in the water. The children and I are moving to a beach cabin along the Chesapeake Bay on July 1st so I was taking them all around our new community. It happens to be the place where I grew up -- we'll be right next door to my mom -- and so I was thrilled to think of all the fun times we will have there. We stopped by the pool and I signed my two older girls up for private swim lessons. Natalie has been too timid until this year. According to Games Children Play: How Games and Sport Help Children Develop 1st grade is the appropriate age for learning to swim. I myself have it as a Bridge activity between K and 1st. Natalie never wanted to do it, though, and I didn't want to push her. Leah is moving from K to 1st this school year so it is perfect timing for her & I signed the two of them up to be together. 1/2 hour two times a week. $25 per session. The girls are SUPER-EXCITED and I am so pleased for them. I'm also thrilled to be aiding the discovery and not pushing. I have felt a little uncomfortable watching (it seems) every one else's kids swimming and thinking, my daughter is 8! But all in good time. And, I told the children, there are chapters of Water Games in Games Children Play: How Games and Sport Help Children Develop(my new favorite book) and they are really looking forward to trying them out.

Crock Pot Yogurt
(This recipe isn't mine -- I found it on the Internet. So I don't take credit. But it's genius!)

Recipe notes: This recipe uses a 2 quart crock. In using a 4 or 4 1/2 quart crock I found the yogurt to have a bit of a "springy" texture. I was able to alleviate this by heating the milk an additional 15 minutes for a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

• Turn your crock pot to low and pour in 1/2 gallon of milk.
• Heat on low for 2 hours and 30 minutes.
• Once 2 hours and 30 minutes have elapsed turn your crock pot off and unplug it. Let the milk cool in the crock with the lid on for 3 hours.
• After 3 hours remove 1-2 cups of the warmed milk and place in a bowl. To that add 1/2 cup of yogurt with live active cultures and mix very well.
• Pour the yogurt-milk mixture back into the milk and whisk thoroughly.
• Place the cover back on the crock and wrap the entire crock pot in a thick bath towel or two.
• Let it culture overnight, 8-12 hours.
• In the morning stir yogurt (if desired) and store in glass quart jars or a container of your choice.
• For optimum texture, refrigerate for at least 8 hours before using.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Hungry Coat

Originally, I meant this to be the last fable for our school year. It is such a good note to end on, before sending students out the door. This is not a fable from Aesop; it is a story from Turkey, beautifully retold and illustrated by Demi.

In actual fact, the last fable I told to my students was The Fox That Wanted Nine Golden Tailsby Mary Knight. This unusual fable is told as a short chapter book. It takes place in China. With five chapters, it is perfect to do as a read-aloud story for the final week of the Fables unit. There are wonderful illustrations throughout and the writing goes into a great amount of detail, which is very different from Aesop. The children become very deeply absorbed into this story and feel the moral keenly at the end. I recommend getting your hands on a used copy of this book if you can.

The Mice in Council

This fable is also sometimes known as "Who Will Bell the Cat?" I used Ann McGovern's retelling. I had a large jingle bell on a golden cord and we took turns being the cat, the young mouse, the wise mouse, and the remaining mice in the council. At first, I was the cat. It was fun to prowl around the room while my students sat in council. They particularly loved clapping and cheering the young mouse when he came up with his proposition. Then the room would quiet down and the child playing the wise mouse would stand up and give his opinion... my students loved it! They did well on their retelling of this fable. And I wore my bell on the golden cord for the rest of the day. Sometimes it is good to know when the teacher is coming.

The Fox and the Grapes

I can't believe how quickly the school year has come to an end! I'm going to backtrack a bit and post my notes from our last few fables.

The Fox and the Grapes
I took this version from the collection of Aesop's Fablesretold by Ann McGovern. It's also the fable which is illustrated on the cover.

This one was more subtle for students and many struggled in their retelling to express the moral (it is easy to despise what you cannot possess). They all understood the story, however! After I told it, we went out onto the basketball court and I told them that the woven basketball basket which was hanging above their heads was the cluster of grapes. They stood in line and each had a turn to be the fox, leaping over and over in vain and finally walking away in disgust. The students loved this acting out of the story. Previously, when I taught Fables as a summer camp, we did a moving picture version of this story with the background scene done as paper collage and a paper fox on a popsicle stick which moved up and down through a slit cut in the the paper background. That was loads of fun.

If you're interested in moving pictures, there's a new book at Bob & Nancy's which specializes in this called Making Picture Books with Movable Figures by Brunhild Müller: