Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Morning's Activities

We had strong winds and rain last night. This morning after I let the chickens out and before I fed the horse, I noticed the large gate to my garden was wrenched off of its hinges. In my garden stood seven calves. As soon as the yellow dog noticed, he ran in and started barking. Four of the calves leapt the three foot decorative chicken fence, bumped a bee hive and started for the road.

At this point, I yelled for my husband to get out of bed and come help. By the time he got out there, I had gotten the remaining calves out of the garden and propped and wired the gate closed. The calves headed for the orchard where they nipped the new growth on my new trees. I righted the bee hive and thenmy husband herded the calves back around the house. In the meantime, the horse decides to leave through the gate we opened to let the calves back in. As the calves start through the gate he bursts through at a canter and heads out onto the highway. Instead of going into the field where we want them, the calves jump the cattle gap and high tail it over the hill. We decide that while they are not where we want them they are safe so concentrate on the horse. He is easy enough. I just bang the side of the metal container holding his oats. He, even though we could not see him, ran back up into the yard and through the gate. All this action occurred before 6:30 a.m. and in the sloppy remains of the night's storm.

A little while ago, it finally quit raining and I went to my garden to check the damage. The cows ate most of the tiny corn plants, about half of the sugar snap peas, the beets, onions, and broccoli. They knocked over the bean pyramids I constructed yesterday, damaged the asparagus beds and that was all I could bear to see. I just cried and left. I'm angry, but have no direction for the anger. That makes it worse. We sold the calves last week, but they will stay with us until June.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Red Bellied Woodpeckers

This one of many woodpeckers living in our yard and surrounding acreage. I, literally, cannot walk out of the house without seeing a Red Bellied Woodpecker (like the picture to the right), Downy, or a Red Headed Woodpecker. This could be good news or bad depending on how you view it. The bad news is that our trees are obviously loaded with insects. The good news would be that woodpeckers eat enormous quantities of wood beetles and such.

Other than the plentiful food in the super old pecan trees (there is an older, non producing pecan orchard next to the house and a dying tree in the front yard), I cannot imagine any other reason for the abundance. We encourage some of my favorite birds by feeding through the winter and providing nesting boxes, but I have never done anything for the woodpeckers. We don't use herbicides or pesticides except for some organic solutions for emergencies in my garden. Perhaps they can smell the acrid odor as I can and have flown from all my neighbors who use the poison like it was water. One neighbor, even hired a helicopter to kill the weeds and insects in his small pine plantation.

This picture was taken while sitting on one of my porch swings on the front porch. I will take pictures of the more spectacular red headed woodpecker in the next day or two.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Rare Occasion

I did something this morning that I haven't done in ages. I got back in bed! I woke at my usual time (5:30ish) and fed the cats and dog, let the chickens out, made sure there was fresh water, and gave the horse a few oats. Then, I came back into the house and got in bed. Nothing is wrong. I am not sick. The cool temperature and perfect humidity of the morning just made me want to lounge around. If you remember we keep our house open during this time of the year so we have an inside/outside house and this morning all the conditions were perfect for snoozing. At 7:30, I realized my husband was still asleep. This is unheard of and though I am not his alarm clock I pushed him a bit and asked if he knew it was late. Of course he didn't. Since I had gotten back in bed before he realized I was gone, he thought it was still early. I stayed in bed as he frantically got ready for work and left. Before I knew anything more, I heard the children in the kitchen scrambling eggs. It was 9 o'clock. Needless to say, we are a bit behind schedule today.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Roosters are so vain and rightfully so. This is my full grown Buff Catalina. He struts around the barnyard like he is a king and seems offended if I walk through the paddock on my way to the barn. I suppose I should give him a royal right of way, but I remember him without his tail feathers, wattle and comb. He was certainly less regal looking then. Truly, he is a good rooster. He finds tasty morsels for his hens and calls them over. He is not overly aggressive and seems to offer some protection for the hens. He doesn't crow non-stop all day and night like some of his predecessors. His mom, Henny Penny, took on a hawk to save his life, so I spared his life during the rooster cull even though his feet are not blue enough. I think he is beautiful unless he is in my garden.

The lighter colored bird is a young Barred Rock rooster and the darker one is a pullet. The adolescent rooster does not look as regal as the older Buff, though it won't be long until he will demand respect. The bird wire is part of the restructured chicken house. There is an outside yard and a building. I open the door at 5:30 each morning so the birds can free range and close it after sunset to protect them from predators. So far, The Yellow Dog has been respectful of the little birds, but I am keeping a close eye on him. I am always amazed at the anatomical changes that take place in such a short time. Remember when I first got them?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Pranks and nonsense

My son moved to the next level in Scouts last night and I find that today he has moved to another level in pranks, which run rampant in my home. We have had a slooooow draining tub for a few days and I decided that the soap that went down the drain was not dissolving fast enough and that anything else that went down afterwards would certainly aggravate the problem. We live far enough out in the country that we are not connected to the town sewer so we have a septic tank. With a septic tank, you should try all methods other than chemicals to unclog so that you don't ruin the all important balance of bacteria in the septic tank. We don't do chemicals here, anyway. I took out our heavy duty plunger and plunged until nothing could possibly be left in the drain or pipes.

Ten minutes later, I summoned my 10 year old son to the shower so he could be less farmy when we took my daughter to ballet. He called from the bathroom that the faucets would not work and he could not take a shower. All I could think of was that I blew everything out when plunging. After a few minutes, I realized that he had turned off the supply to the tub. What a wonderful trick. After we laughed a few minutes, he showered and we were off to the city.

Crossing the Bridge

Last night was my final Cub Scout pack meeting. We have this final meeting a bit earlier than most scouting groups so we will have good attendance. This is a baseball community. Anyway, we have this wonderful bridge ceremony, complete with two fire circles and a hand lashed bridge, in which the second year Webelos cross over to join the council circle of their chosen troop. We also let the younger ones cross the bridge to the next level.

When my son crossed the bridge to join the Boy Scout Troop, I was amazed how grown up he looked. He looked small standing next to the older Boy Scouts, but he stood there with poise. I could really see the passage of time, because examples of the process of development were standing all around. Tiny little Tiger Cubs (where my son started in this journey), Wolves, Bears, Webelos, and finally Boy Scouts of all levels (where he is heading). What is so scary is that days seemed to have passed in this journey, rather than years.

I have been a Den Leader for six years. My son has been a scout for five years. But, it doesn't seem possible that so much time has elapsed. Last night was my final Cub Scout meeting. I retired. Everyone was so sweet and I even got gifts!! The pack gave me a gift certificate for fruit trees and many of the individual boys brought gifts and cards. I realized just how many boys I had led, even though my intention was to make sure my son had the opportunity to be a Cub Scout. I didn't lead because of altruistic reasons, but apparently much good came from the years I dedicated to making Cub Scouting fun.

My Monday night calendar was clear for about five minutes. The Scout Master asked me to be on a Boy Scout committee. He said it would be only once a month. I have a problem saying no. Not so much because of my inability to say no, but because I have wanted to be a Boy Scout since I was eight or nine, when I would sneak through the woods to spy on this same troop. They always did much more interesting things than the Girl Scout Troop. What a funny turn of events.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Self Evaluation

As the end of the school year approaches and we are finishing some of our planned books, projects, and lessons, I try to honestly evaluate what we've done well, what we've done poorly, which things worked and which things didn't. I evaluate myself, the children, and the materials. I find that I have the same problem area as in previous years - my inability to watch my children struggle.

I cannot bear to watch my children struggle so I let them retreat or, worse still, I step in and over help them at the first sign of distress. Part of moving forward is stepping beyond your comfort zone, yet I find it difficult to let my children enter that learning place. My goal, each year, is to let the children struggle within a safe haven, yet, after 5 formal years of schooling I still wince when my six year old struggles with new words in her reading and my 10 years old battles with math.

I often worry that since the children are not attending a public or private school that I am not held to the daily public evaluation that occurs in the classroom. Yes, that daily public evaluation can be a terrible situation, but for those parents who care about the success of their children and who spend hours at night reteaching and tutoring their child beyond his comfort level, the public daily reckoning provides an impetus for learning. The child feels the urgency and frequently steps up to learn. In a homeschool environment there is much leniency in this area. No one is looking so the child and the parent relax. Obviously, relaxing has its benefits, too. But, I would like to create an urgency to learn without the stress of the public or private schools.

As I evaluate, I realize that much of this urgency could be created through formal goal setting procedures, especially if the goals were structured specifically and with completion dates. Doc wrote a good entry about goal setting complete with forms. In an attempt to gain sanity, I have recently been working with goal setting for work and home management and will find a way to incorporate it into my school in the fall.

Meanwhile, I will continue to struggle to find the balance between nurturing, protecting mother and goal oriented teacher. With a perfect balance, my children will gently achieve their heart's desire and I can feel content that they are prepared to competently and comfortably interact in whichever arenas they choose because of their well balanced education.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Just One of Those Days

I had one of THOSE days, today. The only truly great thing was seeing Natalie at the pick-up/drop off for my daughter's ballet rehearsal. The day began early and went well until people start using the phone. Once the children got up and we began school, the phone rang twenty times - each time interrupting a sentence. I know, I know. Don't answer. But, it was my dad and mom and husband. You have to answer family even during school. Then my friend called because the bees we moved a month ago were swarming. She needed help so I dropped everything and went over in my black pj bottoms to rehive the bees. The bees were indeed freaking out and attacked my black pants. I know better than to wear black. I deserve every one of the twenty stings on my legs. Fortunately, I am somewhat immune to bee stings and I, at least, had enough sense to wear my bee bonnet.

After hiving the bees, I rushed home to change clothes and get ready to drive my daughter to ballet (1 1/4 hour). Even though I had resolved to wear makeup and decent clothes to be more presentable, I didn't dress and felt guilty. As we drove, the rain I have been dreaming of for weeks finally arrived in the form of strong thunderstorms. We drove right through the worst and were later than I would rather be for ballet.

When we got home, my husband and his friend, alias cutting horse trainer, were visiting on the back porch after having moved our calves back from his place. I stepped on a cat as I was going up the steps and Wha-bam took everyone(daughter, husband and me) down like a row of dominoes. But hey, I saved the Chinese food I had picked up. We all fell in the mud left by the driving rains I had driven through to get home.

A few minutes ago, I realized that I had not changed the clothes from washer to dryer and the clean sheets I so wanted to lie on were still in the washer and would not be dry for at least 40 minutes.

Aloof Mamma

I didn't post yesterday even though one of my goals is to write everyday. I was too busy outside of cyberspace. One of my tasks was weed control. The children and I spent two hours cutting and bagging flower heads from thistle in one of our pastures. This pasture has a huge problem and I am determined not to let my husband spray weed killer. We will be back out there when I finish here and the children get up and finish breakfast. What I really need are a few goats added to my grazing rotation, but I know nothing about goats and haven't had the time to investigate. Where is Doc when you need her?

In this pasture with the thistle we have a cow and less than week old calf. The mother has been so weird and neglectful. The day after the calf was born she left it in the middle of the pasture, in the sun, on a 90+ degree day almost all day while she stood in the shade with the other cows. We kept watching and eventually (calf had been there over 5 hours), my husband was overcome with fear that the calf would dehydrate so picked it up and took it to the momma. The calf nursed frenetically. The cow looked unconcerned.

Yesterday, when we were doing weed control, the calf was, again, lying across the pasture from the cow when the yellow dog found the calf and barked at it, ran around it and otherwise toyed with it. The calf gave a distress call. The cow charged across the pasture in such haste and with such a look of concern that even the ferociously brave yellow dog cowered behind me. I was glad that the cow had an iota motherly instinct, but also thought how there are human mammas who essentially neglect their children but when something bad happens to the children they storm around angry, blaming everyone but themselves, and wanting compensation. Last night, at dark, my husband had to herd the calf into the herd, so, obviously, Aloof Momma has learned nothing.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Speed of Light

Over the Easter weekend, I devoured The Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner. This is not a new book, but new to me. My mother recommended it and I thought I might have some down time on our trip. Once I read the first few pages, I created down time. I, literally, could not drag myself from the story. Beautifully written, The Speed of Light grapples with the repercussions of Nazi concentration camps on the lives of children of survivors. Living with a father twisted with the grief of silent memories, Julian and Paula create coping mechanisms. After the death of the father, the siblings have to face the atrocities of the father's memories to create a healing for themselves. With the assistance of Sola, a housekeeper with lurking shadows of her own, they find strength to face that truth.

I finished reading Monday morning and I have not, yet, been able to leave the images and language of the book.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Art! Another Reason to Homeschool

Art is frequently sacrificed (other than coloring pages) in lieu of basic skills training in public elementary schools, but in a homeschool children have the freedom to explore art, art history, and artists. I take this freedom seriously. Maybe I just have an obsession with art supplies and need an excuse to purchase more, but doing art with my children just makes me feel satisfied. Boys at scouts and children who visit our home are mesmerized my the options, quality, and variety of art stuff available at our house. They are able to let their imaginations soar by painting, drawing, sculpting, creating mosaics, inventing catapults, airplanes, and boats with balsa wood . . . They all ask, "Where did you get this stuff?" I get to say, "We homeschool, and all this is part of our school." Then, with an envious look the child says, "I wish I could go to school here." Satisfaction -- satisfaction that my children, who are curious about public school, feel that they have a good situation and satisfaction that my children are learning so much without even realizing it.

I didn't have my schooling plans solidified when we began homeschooling. We do a quasi classical/Charlotte Mason/unschooling contortion thing for school now, but this method has evolved over five years . I would have loved to incorporate historical art study with history, but I re-acted my first year instead of planning. I have purchased and used, and purchased and put on a shelf many art resources. I will share some of these so perhaps you will not have to purchase blindly, as I did.
  • We started with Child Sized Masterpieces. These are just sets of postcards, which unfortunately you have to cut apart. The children then play matching and sorting games with the cards. The guide How to Use Child-size Masterpieces by Aline D. Wolf gives suggestions about arranging the cards, care of the cards, and activities. Honestly, I didn't use the book much but I did scan it. I also didn't store the cards with as much care and reverence as they suggest. I used a book ring and hole punched the cards. We do enjoy the cards, even after four years because the artists and art for each set of cards was thoughtfully chosen and you can sort and arrange the cards in many different ways -- by painter, art schools, chronologically, naming the artist. I mostly just leave them on a table and someone picks them up and looks.
  • Art Basics for Children by Rich and Sharon Jefferies is an A to Z guide for art concepts and technique written for elementary age children. A is for apple and the lesson is drawing an apple and shading. Z is for zebra and you learn to draw an animal using ovals. The book is not a commercial publication and is copied/printed in black and white and bound with binding combs. Layout and design is not beautiful, but the information is good and can be used as a resource or an art curriculum.
  • Meet the Masters is my all time favorite. More expensive than many programs, but well worth the money, especially if you are not a seasoned artist. This program consists of a html program on a CD and binder for the teacher. The CD provides a slide show with good resolution art images, some sound bytes, and an ending quiz or slide show for each artist. The binder includes the script for the slides shown on the CD, activity/technique pages, and the instructions for the master work production. My children have produced beautiful works of art(a Van Gogh, a Remington, a Mondrian, and a O'Keefe) and have a wonderful appreciation and knowledge of the artists we have studied. I produced some wonderful pieces, too! Now we must wait for the next artist group, before we can continue with the program.
  • The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett is an enormous (736 pages) reference volume and is just good to have. It is referenced chronologically which makes it quite useful for the classical homeschooler. The hard cover, paper quality, narrative, and zooms make it a wonderful study and a nice coffee table book. It is well worth the money.
  • Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists Series by Mike Venezia are wonderful paperback books loaded with images, large print narrative, and a few comics. They are just right for the elementary art student, but have enough information for older students. We don't have all of these, but wish we did.
  • Lives of the Artists by Kathleen Krull is a humorous book with short stories about various artists. These are anecdotal in nature. If you can only get one book, this is not it. Though the information is interesting, you don't get a full picture of the artist, the art, or the movement.
  • Looking at Pictures by Joy Richardson is a wonderful introduction to art museums and the role they play in preservation, types of painting, painting techniques, and stories in painting. This is a short book, only 79 pages, but is loaded with information and beautiful images. I like this book and with a practice component or artist study could be the spine of a year of art.
  • Art Fraud Detective by Anna Nilsen is a fun sleuth game in a book, where the child (7 and over) seeks forgeries by comparing the catalog images to the art in the museum. I found all the forgeries.
  • For times when you just need or want to let the children color, The Start Exploring Masterpieces coloring book by Mary Martin and Steven Zorn provides stories about the paintings and somewhat detailed coloring pages. Crayons are not perfect for this coloring book, use markers or colored pencils instead.
  • Online Resources - Try Princeton online Art Lessons. If you don't find what you need Doc has compiled her usual mega-list of resources here. Thanks Doc!
Next year, I will have the chronological classical plan up and running, thanks to Art Smart! by Susan Rodriguez. This chronological plan, complete with slides, begins with the stone age. These activities require a bit more planning and sometimes more real art materials. They are appropriate for the 9 to 13ish group. Making a cave art gallery out of a refrigerator box might lose its appeal with the older children and some of the activities are beyond the fine motor skills of the under 9. There are only 20 activities for ancient art so there is still time for artist study or enrichment of some sort.

I am so happy I get to share these art experiences with my children. Art enriches our daily lives and we have so much fun. Even on those days when structured school seems overwhelming, we can look at pictures, read about artists, and create our own works of art and have that satisfied, a job well done, feeling.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Dog Trot Day

A light breeze drifts through the center hall (dog trot) and freshens every room and provides a perfect temperature for these over 80 degree days. The seventeen foot arch beginning at the front screen captures the warmer air and sends the cooler air back through the lower (8 ft) hall and into the kitchen. Late Spring is the perfect time to enjoy a house as open as this.

I am amazed by the ingenious design of this 100 year old house. The heat trap, seventeen foot ceilings, and open design provide near ideal temperatures through much of our extra hot summers. The designers and the builders of this house worked with nature and the environment to provide comfort through our longest season. Granted the house would have been difficult to heat when it was built (there was no insulation), but Winter is short.

Much is made of working in unison with the environment these days. Many feel these are new principles, but I have proof that people 100 years ago were working with nature to stay comfortable.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A check mark!

I have finished a project! The opera site launched this week. What do you think? I am so excited that I can check one thing off the unending to do list!!

I have to chuckle. I am writing about checking things off the list, while all the time I am writing, I am procrastinating. I don't want to do the laundry, pack for the trip, clean the bathroom, kitchen, or the office. No matter how much I write, those tasks will not be done.

List is still too long

I've been trying to get control of my life. Even though I've tried these goal setting, home management ploys before without success, I have been working with Doc's goal system. I downloaded the sheets and printed the narrative the day of the original post. But it got lost under the mounds of paper in my office. Having the post in the Country Fair reminded me of my plan to give it a whirl. Her plan seems doable because it makes sense, doesn't have five hundred pages telling me how I've been getting it wrong, and I don't have to categorize myself (impossible). A few pages of reading and the plan is clear.

Usually, my first goal is to make it through the day without letting the proverbial ball drop. So the first thing I need to do is make new goals. I worked with that some and even after crossing off things that don't help me reach the few goals I've made, my to do list looks impossible. Herein lies the problem. I cannot say no.

We are going to Memphis to visit my husband's family for the Easter weekend. They called and asked me to make bread for the picnic for 20 people. I said yes (felt I had to pitch in), so tomorrow morning I will be up at the crack of dawn producing bread, so I can shlep it to Memphis. During this same time, I have to get clothes ready, find a place for the yellow dog, find someone to feed the other animals and check a first time heifer who has chosen this week to calf AND TEACH MY CHILDREN AND FULFILL WORK OBLIGATIONS. Why am I incapable of saying no?

Maybe I should start the goal setting, purging thing on Monday. I can hold on for the ride this weekend.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More Yellow Dog

My sister's family is waiting on more yellow dog pictures and stories. Here they are! The yellow dog is growing and his personality is developing into something akin to Hank of Hank, the Cowdog fame. By the way, if you haven't read this series, treat yourself to a laugh. Hank is a Maxwell Smart type character who believes he is protecting the ranch, while all the time causing mischief and mayhem. Our yellow dog is growing into the character by leaps and bounds. Only last night he protected us by barking at the cows - our cows - for hours on end. We went out and checked, and checked, and checked. Nothing out of the ordinary, but our fearless yellow dog could not be convinced.

He has gotten so big that when he jumps to greet the children, he knocks them down. He greets me every morning for the walk to the chicken coop and barn by running circles around me. I can barely find a place to step without falling. And that tail. . . it could be classified as a weapon of destruction. One swish and things start tumbling. He is just so excited to see a person after a long night with the cats and cows.

The yellow dog contemplates baby chicks from beneath the restructured, restructured coop. I hope this does not become a problem. The big chickens give him a wide berth and he leaves them alone other than occasionally stealing their food. He is a vacuum cleaner like eater - not picky in the least. His favorites are whatever someone or something else is eating at the time. Yesterday, he was running around and around the house with a mouse in his mouth. I'm sure one of the cats caught it at the feed shed, but the yellow dog claimed it for his own and was so excited about it. I'm not sure if he actually ingested it, but he had fun with it. Boredom does not exist when you own a yellow dog.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Today, I added two new colonies of bees for my just planted orchard. I'm sorry there are no pictures of the action, but I couldn't get the bees installed and take pictures at the same time. I wanted them in the hive as soon as possible. My bee man at McCary Apiary in Buckatunna, has the calmest three banded Italians but he must have miscalculated the shipping time or just forgot what day it was and they arrived this morning which means that they sat around over the weekend in a truck somewhere. There were many dead. This is normal, but I know they are weaker than a colony with single day shipping or no shipping. But, they are already building comb. How exciting!

I will attempt to raise these bees organically. Organic bees are few and far between in this part of the country. Mites almost make it impossible. See the unpainted thing between the bottom board and the box. This is a screen. Supposively, the mites will fall through the screen and then not be able to catch a ride back into the hive. In the back of the hive, I can remove a tray so that I can see if there is a problem. Inside the hive is a plastic frame with drone comb spacing. Even though the males are expendable in the colony and most beekeepers try to minimize drone comb, mites like the drone larva. Once this comb is built up, the queen has laid, and the workers have nurtured the larva and mites have congregated, I will take the frame and put it in the freezer. After killing the drones, I will return the frame to the hive and the process will continue. This is high maintenance, but this is Mississippi.

For those who don't love bees let me extol their virtues and the virtues of honey. I will start with honey. Honey is an excellent sweetener. Your body can process it easier than sugar. And if you are allegeric to Spring or Fall you can use locally grown seasonally appropriate honey to alleviate allergy symptoms. Of course, this is not an immediate cure but over time you can eliminate allergy medications for seasonal allergies. Bees do nothing for animal allergies.

Bee stings can help with arthritis symptoms. I know this personally. I severed the tendons and nerves in my thumb (cooking accident) and waited around a week before going to the doctor. Surgery followed and because of the week without connected tendons I had a lot arthritic type symptoms. Before I started beekeeping and getting the occasional sting. I could barely use my thumb. Now, though I cannot hyper-extend, I can use it without pain and I cannot predict rain.

I love the insect and they hold a wonderful place in nature as a healer, feeder, and pollinator. To bad they cannot cut the grass.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gardening Day

I got a chance to spend some time in my garden today. We have had much rain lately and my garden has been mushy. The big part of the garden is still too wet for tilling, but I was able to plant a few things in the raised beds today. In this bed I have the first of the tomato plants, marigolds, and seeds of basil. Some dill self seeded from last year so I let it stay.

I am experimenting with companion planting this year. I have done rotational planting and some companion planting in previous years, but never on this scale. The garden will not have a planned look. I cannot visualize how it will look but am determined to do it anyway. I feel sure we will still get vegetables and if the garden is too difficult to work or looks terrible I can always revert to standard practice next season or mid-season.

I plan to run my green beans and lima beans up the corn stalks. I read somewhere that the beans make the corn less accessible to the coons. I do know that the beans will feed the heavy eating corn. I am going to plant squash with dill, marigolds and tomatoes. I will plant basil with eggplant. Does this sound like a disaster waiting to happen?

I planted french filet beans in another raised bed block. I also did some much needed weeding and harvested a few radishes. In this bed are lettuce, radishes, carrots and beets. I plant these in rotation. Today I planted more seeds for each of these veggies and will again in another few weeks. After that it will be too hot here for anything other than tomatoes, peppers, beans, okra, melons, and eggplant. Spring vegetables have a short season here.

Carnival No Show

I will be a Carnival of Homeschooling No Show this week. I have just found out that the Carnival will be hosted by a Homeschool Blogger person. I wrote this nice piece on reading for the carnival, but will not submit it. I am determined to stay true to the boycott of the Pearls, Homeschool Blogger, and The Old Schoolhouse.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Let's Go Fly A Kite!!

Today, after the storms passed this morning, was a wonderful day to fly a kite. My friend from California sent my children these backpack kites. They have no rods so can be stuffed into a sack to fly when ever the mood strikes. We do much kite flying when we are at the beach (We have sharks, turtles, my dad has a Peter Pan type pirate ship and my Dad salvages any kites left by tourists), but these kites are fabulous for the car and for a day when the winds are not howling. The kids fly them if there is even a breeze. Today was perfect. I could just hear the "Let's go Fly a Kite" song from Mary Poppins singing in the breeze. So, The Yellow Dog, my son, my daughter, and I flew kites. We had the two backpack kites going at the same time - until disaster stuck. My son got his kite caught in a pecan tree. I cannot imagine why he would fly so close to those trees, but he did!

What would any self respecting "wannabe" redneck do if a kite gets stuck in a tree? Just blast a limb from the tree to free the kite. Should I be proud? I am having a difficult time believing the images I caught with my camera. Is this the same man who was a currency options trader on the floor of the CME just 10 years ago? Before the children, before the country, before the gun (O.K. he has always hunted but in a more genteel manner) he would never have attempted such a feat of aim. Today, it just seemed natural.

I am still laughing!! How better to spend such a wonderful, breezy day than flying a kite!

Reading Good Books

One of the most wonderful benefits homeschooling offers is the time and flexibility to explore timeless books. Some books just cannot be scheduled. They must be read when they are discovered, in their entirety, and with passion. I have been reading to my children since birth and will continue to do so (even though they are becoming readers) until they shove me out of the bed or off the couch. I love sharing books at bedtime or on the porch swing or on the couch or . . . I have abdicated some reading responsibility as they have grown, but will continue to find time to read as long as they want me.

We have read thousands of books and it seems that each good book leads to another. We read The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth Speare and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes last year for history. Both mentioned Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. My son had to read that book last summer. We don't always follow literary allusion or recommendations of characters to books. Sometimes we follow authors. My son loved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so we have also read Tom Sawyer. My daughter enjoyed The Little Princess by Frances Burnett last year, so this year we read The Secret Garden. Other times we follow stories through to their conclusions by reading a series like the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis or The Little House series by Laura Ingals Wilder.

We also find books through our study of history by reading historically significant literature. We studied the Civil War this year and read The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane and Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. We are reading Gay Neck:The Story of a Pigeon for WWI study and plan to read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boon and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl for WWII. My little ballerina also led us to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night Dream. After watching the ballet, I suggested we read the play (I would have found an excuse to read Shakespeare even if she had hated the ballet).

Once you start reading good books there is no where to stop. The question is where to start. I love book lists. I check several, periodically, to make sure we haven't forgotten some wonderful, age appropriate, historically appropriate or just perfect piece of literature. Here is a smattering of the lists I use to help guide my children's reading and enjoyment of literature.
  • Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt -- My sister in law gave this book to me years ago and I still enjoy it. Though her lists are not exhaustive or organized as I sometimes need them I have come back to this book many times because Gladys Hunt chooses quality. Over 1/2 the book is commentary on the importance of reading quality books. If you are just starting and have young children, the commentary can confirm your ideals and cement your plans in reality.
  • Let the Authors Speak by Carolyn Hatcher -- This book organizes titles historically by reading levels, type of book, and location. Having all this information at your fingertips is indispensable if you like to structure some historical fiction and non fiction with your history study. There is little commentary. Three fourths of the book is comprised of lists sorted by period, title and author.
  • The Literature Teacher's Book of Lists by Judie Strouf is an older book. I got it in my past life as a literature teacher. This book does not stop at lists of books but has an assortment of other "useful" or maybe "useless" information. Book lists are sorted by age, classics, popular, fiction, non-fiction, autobiography, comics, and on and on and on.
  • The Story of the World Activity Guides by Susan Bauer and others -- I bought the first two of these and used them quite a bit. I don't like blind ordering from the library and enjoyed the historically significant literature choices. After the second activity book the activities and book choices seem sloppy and somewhat haphazard. The Guides do have lists of books by chapter significance, but the information is somewhat vague and the books are often redundant. You shouldn't have to read the same book each time you go to China in history.
  • For free online lists try these:

    • Award winning book lists -- Though these are the source of exhaustive official ALA lists, the format is not great. They are difficult to read and print. This list does not have the all important short summaries for each listing.
    • Newbery Books -- Each entry has a short summary and winners are divided by century. The Caldecott Medal Books are accessible from this page, but are not organized for printing as you have an extra click so that you only get one book per page.
    • The Great Books Academy -- This online school provides lists for great books and good books arranged by grade level.
    • Great Books Online -- This list is for the older student and for people who don't mind reading online or printing books. The list is free and so are the books!
    • Ambleside Online -- AO has reading lists for each grade level. Click on the grade level of your children and scroll down to the bottom for literature and free reading selections. They also have an alphabetical by authors list.
    • Finally, though many of the books on these lists are drivel, here is the resource for the much touted Accelerated Reader program. I sometimes use these to find a grade level.
Armed with lists, I feel I can choose books that will make a lasting impression on my children, fill their minds with questions, and lead them to more books.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Balancing Act

Balancing life, work, children, home, and school is like a sad clown juggling act. The idea of multi-tasking is intriguing and seems do-able. When you look at my life from the outside, I have it made. I love most of what I do for work (the creation, planning, and design of web sites and business images). I get to work from my home and set my own hours(most of the time). I get to interact with the outside world. And the extra money is useful and fun to have. All this, and I still get to have and teach my children at home and live on a farm.

I can keep all the juggling pins in the air most of the time. The problems arise when everybody needs me at once -- phone ringing, e-mail beeping, children calling, and husband wondering if I left the relationship. I feel torn. I know my children need me and want time with me that is not school time and when I am not sitting in front of the computer or in the garden. I know the home would function better if I could learn to say no to a few outside activities. I know I could do a better job at everything if I would drop almost half of what I do. So what stops me?

I don't know! Every morning I get up and start tossing. Nothing seems scheduled, though there is a semblance of a plan. I grab and toss anything that comes toward me. Chickens are hungry so I open the gate and clean the water. Horse follows me because he wants his treat so I give him oats. Twenty people e-mail for tiller information or broken links so I answer the e-mail and repair my oversights. Children wake up hungry so I feed them. Children need to learn so I introduce material. Phone rings and a POS network is down at my family's store so I get the children in the car, drive to the store and repair the problem. Daughter has added rehearsals for show so we drop everything and drive hour and a half for a rehearsal. Weeds have grown in the garden so I pull them. My husband needs his accounting done and expects me to do it and I do it. Everything done is reactionary. And, I can react with the best of juggling clowns.

The problem is that I see how fruitless this juggling act is. I know how sad, but funny, I look trying to keep everything going. I don't want my children to learn to be like this. I want to stop. Yet, I never do. I gave notice to one of my least rewarding (financially and creatively) jobs a few months ago. They haven't found a replacement or to my knowledge haven't even looked and I continue to do the work. I have read at least 50 organization, home management books and know about all these wonderful plans, but in order to implement any of these plans you must stop juggling, let the pins drop, and do some self analyzation. Maybe this is the problem.

I just can't bear to let anything drop.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Independent Stores

Yesterday, was ballet day and shopping day. Our weekly trip into the city is punctuated by many short, very inefficient stops. Many years back, I made a commitment to shop at as many independent stores as possible. I couldn't stand the Wal-Martization of the country and refused to be a part of it. I want something other than disposable toys for my children, mass produced (poisoned and genetically engineered) vegetables and meat, and products produced by the ridiculously inhuman cheap labor in China. I want quality, service, and choice. I decided to choose fewer quality items. What this means in reality is that we make many more stops and have to wait patiently while books or other special orders arrive. What we get in return is a personal relationship with people who recognize me and my children, who are getting to know our tastes, and who are eager to help.

I believe, especially, in independent book stores. We have two old and thriving stores in Mississippi(probably because of our rich southern writing tradition). We visited Lemuria yesterday. They have a wonderful selection of Southern writers and a tremendous children's book store. The staff reads and can discuss the books, they are helpful and are current with new publications. I love that store! Here is the frustration. I had a few books that I wanted to order for next year's school. The list price for the books was $32.95 each. Expensive to begin with, but these books were not in their warehouse so there would be a ridiculous upcharge of $30. I can get these books at Amazon, etc. for the list price. I am dedicated but not stupid. Now, I get to spend time online searching independents and family owned bookstores to find the books when what I wanted was to hand my money to a person. The competition in the book business is huge, but I don't understand why the huge companies can get the book to sell at list or less and the small independents are forced to market at twice list.

Frustrated, but standing firm in my dedication to independence in the book market.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Carnival Woes

I have enjoyed the past Carnivals of Homeschooling. I have anticipated Tuesday, hoping I would be chosen and hoping someone would write something that I needed just at that moment. For the past few weeks I have danced around the Carnival because I was so busy enjoying Spring and all that encompasses on a farm. Today, because I woke up with the roosters, I was set to learn. After clicking the familiar links of friends and known sites, I ventured a few clicks on interesting topics. I knew I was in dangerous territory. As soon as a homeschool blogger address showed itself, I would click stop loading (I wonder if they got the click. Does anyone know when the click logs?). I missed a great deal of the Carnival. I think the remaining five or six homeschool bloggers bombarded the Carnival. I call for all Boycotters to submit something for next week!

Boycotts are precarious at this time. The first weeks you get attention and everyone feels empowered and self righteous. Later, you have a trickle down effect where more people are interested and participating. Then, melancholy arrives. At this point, you are faced with many decisions. Fewer people are paying attention, so some participants fall by the wayside and click or buy. The truth is that this is when the boycott is made or broken. The effects are only real if everyone is strong in his or her continued support for as long as it takes to put a stop to the behavior.

The little boy is still dead. The Pearls are still hawking their books. Homeschool blogger and The Old Schoolhouse are still supporting the Pearls. There are still parents who believe that wielding a rod is positive discipline.

Where is Joan Baez singing "Amazing Grace" when you need her. Keep the faith that child abuse can end. Keep the faith that the churches of America will stop supporting, providing cover, and nurturing abuse. I am determined that Sean Paddock's death will not be meaningless. Are you?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Time Flies

Yesterday, we had a quasi birthday party for my now 10 year old son. His birthday was Saturday, but he was on a Scout camping trip so we waited until Sunday for grilled hamburgers, banana cake with cream cheese frosting, homemade ice cream, and presents. He was exhausted after a weekend of camping and late nights with a bunch of boys and was not up for celebrating or anything other than sleep, but my parents and my sister and her children were already on the way over before we could think of canceling. He smiled and was polite. He played with the children and waited until everyone was gone to collapse.

Time flies! Not long ago, he wouldn't have gone camping without me and he couldn't have been pleasant when he was so exhausted. I cannot believe a decade has passed since he was born. I remember it like it was yesterday. Though he is taller, has more self control, and is more independent, I still think of him as my baby. When I think decade, that sounds like a long time. I know he is still just a little boy, but time seems to be moving faster than I would like.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Mom to a princess

I got to spend a wonderful private weekend with my 6 year old daughter, the one who really should be my sister's child. She is a princess. She loves clothes and at six already has a great sense of style. I don't. She loves to shop. I don't. She loves doing her nails, brushing her hair, and bubble baths. I don't. She has a well developed social intelligence and can feel comfortable and be accepted in almost any social setting. I don't. She is so like my older sister that we joke that she was misplaced at birth. My sister has only boys.

Having a whole weekend of girls only time was priceless. We watched some movies, played dress up, danced (I taught her to waltz), and finished reading The Secret Garden. We ate coffee ice cream with strawberries.

She is a treasure. I am amazed that I get to watch her grow into this wonderful girl. I am scared, frequently, that I am not prepared to guide my little princess, since I am not so polished (Compared to the other ballet moms and my sisters, I am a disaster). Being a somewhat reclusive bookworm who prefers animals and books to most people, I don't feel qualified to teach her the things she wants to know. I don't know what clothes to get, how to be well placed socially, or anything about salon days. What if she doesn't get the opportunities she needs? She makes me want to be more social and all that it entails. Unfortunately, I don't really know where to start.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Nature Study

Spring is a natural for nature study. You only have to step outside to hear the almost obscene symphony of bird courtship rituals, see flowers blooming and trees leafing, feel rivers and streams gushing, and find tadpoles and frog eggs. Take advantage of your child's natural desire to be outside and live nature study. It's never too early to start.

We've been doing nature study since my children were born, though I didn't realize it as an organized "real school" subject until this year. We just walk, look, and talk. Finding snakes, alligators, beaver huts, fox holes, and nests of eggs in the wild and learning to respect the animals and their habitats is the official lesson, but mostly we just look, listen, and enjoy. Granted, not everyone has the wild so close at hand, but nature is everywhere if we are patient enough to find it. Here are a few things I have learned in the past ten years of nature study.

  • Babies love to be outside and I think they learn about nature even when tiny. I let mine stay outside on a blanket as much as possible. I back country hiked when my first was four months old and took him overnight canoeing when he was two. He loved it!
  • Let the child lead. Children are closer to the ground and unbelievably observant and therefore able to find small treasures you might miss like a salamander, crystals in rocks, mushrooms, and bugs. Even if they are too young to identify species they are learning to find beauty in nature and to interact with nature in a positive way.
  • Let the child set the pace. I have to watch myself here. I have a tendency to rush (combining exercise and nature). Children can spend much time watching ants carry loads and snakes sunning. They learn more from watching nature than listening to you drone on and on about the details.
  • Let your child explore freely, yet safely. Be aware of your surroundings and hidden dangers like posisonous mushrooms.
  • Don't give all the information you know or can produce from the guidebook to small children. If they need to know something they will ask. Do provide basic observations and comparisons.
  • Teach your child respect for animals' wildness, personal space, and habitat. Some adults need this lesson too. When hiking in Glacier National Park the trail crossed the highway where several cars were pulled over to look at a grizzly bear. One woman took her camera and started trekking up the side of the hill to get a better picture (despite all the warnings in the park). She put herself at risk and that bear at risk. Luckily, a ranger showed up and dragged her down the mountain.
  • I may carry this a bit too far, but clothes can be washed so let them get dirty. Feeling mud squish through toes and fingers, making clay bricks, and rolling in the grass are learning experiences too!
  • Children don't melt. Let them play in the rain if lightening is not a problem. Teach them respect for weather, not fear.
  • Nature happens everywhere. Every city has a park (not a researched point). Take advantage of them and the zoos, natural science museums, botanical gardens, and aquariums found in a city.
  • When the children are older and you wish to add more structure think about starting collections of rocks, shells, flowers and leaves; growing vegetables and flowers from seeds; starting a bird watchers life list; or starting a nature journal.
  • If you decide to journal these things have worked for us:

    • I love the Bienfang Notesketch books. Each page is divided into a lined section and a sketching section. The paper is heavy enough for water colors and packing. They come in two sizes and two page configurations. They are available from Rainbow Resources (search words note sketch) or Office Depot.
    • Use the best colored pencils you can afford. I truly believe the Berol Prismacolor pencils and water color pencils are worth the extra money.
  • Subscribe to The Big Back Yard or Ranger Rick. My children love the pictures and stories. They also like getting mail with their own name on it.
  • If you want or need more information or structure you can use materials available at Ambleside Online - a free Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum. Many of their suggested books are available online.
These are resources and books I like for my 10 year old and under.
  • In the Small, Small Pond and In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming. These are for the very young. They are bright, happy and appreciate nature.
  • I Took a Walk by Henry Cole. Again, this is for the younger children. It teaches attention to detail and camouflage.
  • Let's Read and Find Out Series i.e. From Tadpole to Frog. These come in two stages. Stage one is appropriate for 4-6 year olds and stage two is for 7 to 10. My 6 year old daughter enjoys the stage 2 and I frequently catch my just turned 10 year old reading the stage one books. We have many resources and my children have much hands on experience, but they still like these books that have enough information to be useful, nice illustrations, and in the stage 2 books some activities.
  • The Usborne Complete First Book of Nature Study is a colorful and useful guide for children. Loaded with illustrations and short informational sections and activities this book will be picked up over and over again.
  • The National Geographic Nature Library. I think there are eight slim books in the series. Each species has a "What is a..." page that show the commonalities of all reptiles, birds, insects, mammals, or fish. The pictures and drawings are what you would expect from National Geographic. We have poured over these. I would guess that they are expensive though we got them as a gift.
  • I love Stellaluna and Verdi by Janell Cannon. They create lovable images of two of the world's most feared and least understood animals. I couldn't bring myself to buy Crickwing, the cockroach.
  • Mammalabilia and Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian are fun poetry books about animals and insects.
  • For conservation's sake try The Lorax by Dr. Suess. We've read it at least a thousand times and still love it.
  • The Raft by Jim Lamarche is a wonderful longer picture book story about interacting with nature in a positive way on a special raft.
  • National Geographic's My First Pocket Guides provide enough information to identify animals and start a conversation with the 7 and under group. There is not enough information for more prying minds. Some of the guides are redundant.
  • Secrets of the Woods by William Long(actually all his books) personify animals while teaching real concepts. The stories are long enough and interesting enough for the 8 and above crowd.
  • Burgess Bird Book and Burgess Animal Book by Thornton Burgess personify animals in fun stories while teaching real characteristics, habits, and homes. Both my children love these stories.
  • For you, get Anna Botsford's Handbook of Nature Study. This book, as recommended on Ambleside Online, provides information for you and leading questions. There is a ton of stuff in this huge volume.
  • If you decide to start a life list get a Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds or another complete guide. Many of the junior versions only have the most common species and this can be frustrating when you find that more rare species.
  • Online resources:
    • provides such useful resources as How to draw a bird, coloring pages, puzzles, and Identify a Bird.
    • provides species identification and sound tracks
    • provides study pages, online databases, and a weekly newsletter.
Of course, all this being said all you really need is some time and a child and a place to explore. Get out there and live school!