Friday, June 26, 2009

Time to Hit the Highway!

Now that the glory of swim team is behind us (three wins, two losses -- not bad at all), we are packing up for our annual Big Trip. We are blessed to have a small cabin on a lake in Maine, and the girls and I spend nine to ten weeks there every summer. (Frankly, it was one reason I chose to homeschool. School starts at the beginning of August where we live, and August is very nice in Maine. I'd hate to go back home in July.)

We drive up (Dh at the wheel the entire time, as per his preference) and it takes us three days to get there. Yes, it's a haul, but the girls have been doing it for seven years now and are good little travelers. A few activities, a few DVDs, and a few books on CD, and we're good to go.

Except for all the other stuff that goes along, too. This year I was determined to "pack light," that mantra of seasoned world travelers everywhere. I've discovered I'm really not good at it.

My beloved has given me a few tips. First, I'm not to pack all the grocery items I usually take along. There are stores in Maine. Ditto on all my toiletries. Also, we don't need to take as many clothes as we usually do. The girls tend to wear the same outfits over and over, and the rest is just excess. And do I really need to bring ALL (a slight exaggeration) of our school materials, since we only do two weeks of school in Maine? Perhaps we could keep it light in the beginning and add in more subjects once we return home.

Still. Trying to decide what to take and what to leave gets me in somewhat of a dither. It's not like we're only gone for a week or so. We're talking two months. And, yes, there are stores in Maine. But why buy things I already have but simply didn't bring with me? Aren't we trying to save money?

It's a conundrum.

Add to this the fact that I tend to leave difficult things until the last minute, a character flaw I attempt to address every now and then. So instead of packing this afternoon, the girls and I were at the pool with friends. Well, we won't see them for two months, will we?

I may delay, but time does not. Tomorrow, we'll be pulling out in an overloaded (I'm certain of it) minivan, complete with car-top carrier attached, and towing a boat. For three days. Let the fun begin!

Puny Frog

Tiny Girl's adjective of choice for anything small is "puny." I have tried to explain the pejorative aspect of the word "puny," but she has taken a shine to it and will not be dissuaded. Last week, she caught this puny frog in our backyard. She's the critter catcher in the family. After admiring it for a few minutes, she put the little guy back where she'd found it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Just-Comfy Homes and Gardens

I just received my monthly issue of Better Homes and Gardens, a magazine I enjoy flipping through, but whose title makes me wince. Better than what? I want to know. After a brief flip through the pages, I know: better than mine.

I was once I contented gardener; if not passionate, then definitely enthusiastic. We lived in our first house seven years, and every spring found me in the yard, planting all sorts of different flowering things. That house oozed curb appeal when all was a-blooming. Alas, that was then, and things are different now. I still love flowers, but I lack the time and inclination to putter about the flower garden nowadays. I find I prefer to plant perennials and flowering shrubs that require minimal fuss, with a few annuals for all-season color.

Over the winter, my dh took out many gargantuan and hideous hollies and boxwoods that were along the front of the house. We planted Knockout roses and dwarf pampas grass in their place.

I also have two other rosebushes. One is a fabulous yellow rose than reblooms every time I prune it, spring through fall. Dh gave it to me for my birthday several years ago. We've moved it twice, and it continues to thrive. (Please kindly overlook the bug-nibbled foliage.)

I planted this hydrangea last spring, and was delighted to see it bloom this year. It will really be lovely in a few years. Another hydrangea did not bloom at all. I'm not sure if it's getting enough sun, or perhaps I need to feed it with a bloom booster-type fertilizer.

My shasta daisies finally bloomed! This one was the first to unfold its petals.

My garden certainly isn't professionally planned or landscaped, and I doubt any magazine will come knocking down my door to photograph its beauteous bounty, but every flower makes me happy. What more could I ask?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Our School Plans for Next Year

I've been planning what we're going to do in our homeschool next year. Sort of. Since we use Ambleside Online as our template, I don't need to plan in as much detail as I might otherwise need to do. Also, I tend to take things as they come. In fact, a dear friend of mine suggested I title my blog "Fast and Loose Homeschooling," but I demurred.

Despite my cavalier attitude, some planning is necessary and worthwhile. For instance, I've been woefully slack in our French studies, despite several books and a few CDs. Obviously, another tack was needed. Also, we're adding Latin and spelling, so I did some research in those areas. Here's what I have so far (but it's never carved in stone):

  • Math: MEP, years 2 and 3
  • History: Story of the World, after the Norman Conquest and into the Renaissance; continue with Our Island Story; This Country of Ours
  • Spelling: Excellence in Spelling's The Phonetic Zoo
  • Copywork
  • Grammar: English for the Thoughtful Child; Simply Grammar
  • Latin: Latina Christiana
  • French: Rosetta Stone
  • Natural History: finish Pagoo; Secrets of the Woods; nature study
  • Science: Science Lab in a Supermarket
  • Geography: Marco Polo
  • Biography: Da Vinci; Good Queen Bess; Squanto
  • Literature (a few selections): Tales from Shakespeare; Little Pilgrim's Progress; The Princess and the Goblin
  • Poetry Study
  • Artist Study
  • Composer Study

I've also been perusing the Tanglewood School curriculum. I really like Tanglewood in that it's a blend of Charlotte Mason and contemporary classical philosophies. Also, Tanglewood differentiates between literature and reading. For example, literature is what's read aloud to children; and reading is what they read on their own. I've found that many of the AO free-reading selections are too difficult for my daughters to read independently. Tanglewood's suggestions are quite good.

That's the plan, thus far. As you can see, I have a few holes. Artist study, for example. Our first year homeschooling, we studied Claude Monet. We really enjoy Monet. In fact, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta currently as a Water Lilies exhibit going on. We're planning to see that. We recently read Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, by Hugh Brewster about the development of the Sargent painting with the same title. It's a fabulous book that I highly recommend. So now we're interested in John Singer Sargent. I could write a post on that book and Sargent, alone, so I think I'll stop there and do just that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Off to Summer Camp!

The girls are at Girl Scout camp right now. It's a mini-session (two nights) since this is their first time going to camp, and we all felt nervous about committing to a full week. I'd never been to summer camp, so I couldn't wax glowingly about all the fabu fun they could expect. So when we arrived at the gate (after a 1.5 hour drive), all three of us had butterflies.

But then all our first experiences were good. Check-in was a breeze. Everyone was friendly and seemed genuinely glad to see the campers. We had requested that Tiny Girl and Miss Priss be in the same cabin, so after check-in we walked to their (air-conditioned??) cabin and met their cabin counselor (nicknamed Short Stack -- apparently they all have nicknames). I helped my girls put the sheets on their bunk beds. And that's when it happened.

Tiny Girl said, as she shoved her duffel bag into her cubby, "Okay, Mom, you can go now."

What? The brush-off? The wave-away I've heard other moms talk about?

Miss Priss had other ideas. "Not yet, Mama. Stay for a little longer." So I agreed.

Short Stack suggested the girls change into their swimsuits at the bath house and head up to the pool for their swimming evaluation. Another little girl whose parents had already hit the highway came along with us. I, along with some other parents, watched the evaluation, which was overseen by two lifeguard/counselors named Bluebell and Snow White. I am not making this up. The campers had to swim the length of the pool as best they could, then tread water in the deep end for one minute. They were given colored bracelets (like hospital bracelets) to wear for the duration of camp: almost every girl received an orange bracelet, which means they can swim everywhere except the roped-off deep end. Okay, I have to brag. My girls got the first green bracelets of the day. They can swim anywhere in the pool.

At the pool restroom, the girls changed back into their clothes and got read to walk back to their cabin. Tiny Girl said to me, "See you later, toots." (She cracks herself up.) Miss Priss felt more courageous, but was still a little unsure. So we had a quiet chat, hugs, and kisses, and she was ready to let me go. Tiny Girl deigned to give me a high five. I watched them and their new friend head up the path to their cabin for a moment and then walked back to my car, alone.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Nature Study, Revisited: Salamanders

Last week, we visited an area park with some friends on a mission: find and catch salamanders. Turns out this is easier said than done (surprise!). Those little suckers really move!

The hunt began. We splashed through the creek, turning over rocks (perhaps scaring off any of our quarry in the immediate vicinity) and getting a bit muddy and wet, which, of course, was part of the fun. After a few botched attempts, Tiny Girl got one. It was small, since it's the time of year when the eggs have recently hatched.

We popped the poor little guy into our Creature Peeper and spent a few minutes observing it. Most salamanders have four toes on their front feet and five toes on their back feet, which we could clearly see. My friend had an amphibian guidebook with her, but we couldn't positively, 100 percent, identify our salamander. Since it was a youngster, perhaps it hadn't developed all its markings yet.

In case you didn't know (I didn't beforehand), salamanders are amphibians, like frogs, toads, and newts. These cold-blooded animals typically lay their eggs in water and the young are water-breathing. As they grow, they metamorphose into air-breathing adults who live in or near water. However, some salamander species are fully aquatic during their lifespan, and other species leave their wetland habitat and live completely on the land. Salamanders are capable of regenerating lost limbs, making them unique among all other vertebrates. All amphibians are "ecological indicators," and have experienced a sharp decline in numbers worldwide.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What Is THAT Bird?!

As I've mentioned before, we are enthusiastic backyard birders around here and have been for years. Last week, however, we were stumped when this bird showed up at our tray feeder. At first, it sat on the feeder's edge, cheeping. A few minutes later, we spied a much smaller white-throated sparrow (tan form) feeding it. The plot thickens! What was this young bird? Obviously not a white-throated sparrow -- the colorings and marking were different, and the baby was already larger than the parent! And why was the sparrow feeding it?

Dh suggested the baby bird's mother had laid her eggs in another bird's nest. That sounded plausible. I flipped through my handy Stokes Beginner's Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and found that the mystery bird resembled the female brown-headed cowbird. I also learned that female cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other species instead of building their own nests. Success!

I checked the brown-headed cowbird entry at Cornell University's All About Birds website. It turns out that brown-headed cowbirds are small blackbirds. They are also our continent's most common brood parasite, meaning females lay their eggs in other species' nests, and these "foster parents" then raise their young. Talk about hands-off parenting!

The little one now comes to our feeder several times a day. She's learned to eat on her own, and I no longer see her with the sparrow foster parent. I wonder if the sparrow ever noticed that her "baby" was bigger than she!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bon Voyage, Vanessa Cardui L.!

After observing them a few days, we released our five painted lady butterflies last week. One was mad to be off and zoomed out of the Butterfly Garden as soon as I unzipped the top. The others had to be coaxed into the wide, blue yonder. The last one seemed the least eager to go, and rested a few moments in Tiny Girl's hair before flitting off at last.