Thursday, December 25, 2008


LIGHT looked down and saw darkness.
"I will go there", said Light.

Peace looked down and saw war.
"I will go there", said Peace.

Love looked down and saw hatred.
"I will go there", said Love.

So he, the Lord of Light, The Prince of Peace, The King of Love,
Came down and crept in beside us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How Many Footsteps

ON a visit to the historic city of Lincoln, we attended a beautiful and extremely moving event entitled "The Journey". Described as a "travelling Nativity", the annual event takes place in the grounds of Lincoln Castle and traces the footsteps of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men as they journey to Bethlehem. The performance takes place in the dark with figures often showing only as silhouettes, the audience led on foot behind the narrator around the grounds. Instrumental and vocal music completes the poignant display.

I felt like I was treading on sacred ground. Not because of the performance, though this would have been beautiful in any location. But here in the castle of this midsized English city I was struck by the enormity of the history that had taken place beneath my very feet. The earliest origins of Lincoln can be traced to the remains of an Iron Age settlement of round wooden dwellings that have been dated to the 1st century BC. A fortress was built by the Romans on the site of the present castle, and the town was a trading post during Viking times. In 1068, the Norman William the Conqueror had a castle built on the Roman ruins. Much of this medieval castle still stands, supplemented by later buildings used for, among other things, a debtors' prison, and a courthouse still in use today. One of the original copies of the Magna Carta also resides here. How many people - great or lowly - had stood on the same ground as I now stood over the past 2000 years? What did they do, say, think? It was a humbling experience.

Day is Done, Gone the Sun

SOMEHOW in eleven years of living in Atlanta I've never really noticed the difference in daylight hours between here and England at its higher latitude. But as the Winter Solstice approached and passed, the difference became all too evident. According to a day length calendar, there are over two hours less daylight in London than in Atlanta in December - unfortunately those seemed to be the very two hours we often spend outside at home. So on the few days we had nothing planned during our holiday, we had to rethink our daily rhythm to take advantage of the daylight hours. Mornings weren't a problem, but Emma was a little confused getting up from an afternoon nap when it was already dark. How different life must be in those places where daylight is very much more limited.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

English Holly

EN route to a park on foot, we spotted many holly bushes and trees. In residential gardens, in vacant spaces, in the woods, we noticed that of the 50-odd instances of holly we passed, only a single bush bore berries. This of course led our inquisitive minds to wonder why. Here is some of what we discovered:

* Although mature in late autumn, the berries are very bitter so are rarely touched by birds until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable. So maybe it wasn't cold enough...? Our hats, scarves and gloves indicated that this was unlikely.
* Hollies are dioecious. To the non-botanists among us, this means that you need both a male and a female plant for reproduction to work. So the berryless plants we saw could have been all male, or all female with no male in the vicinity to pollinate them.
* A poor show of berries can also be due to cold winds and wet periods during flowering, which deter insects from pollinating the plants. (Wind and rain in England? How could that be?)
* Of course, the birds could just be really hungry.

Whatever the cause, I was relieved to see plenty of berries on another walk, so all is not lost.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Family Gatherings

TO our good fortune, a family wedding took place close enough to Christmas for us to attend both events with family. We have now embarked on our annual visit to Europe, staying in England and enjoying also the company of German grandparents who are visiting for a few days. We always try to make the rounds of as many people as possible, but this time we have already, or plan to, see every one of our 'immediate extended' family on my side with the exception of two. For our little family of four on the other side of the world, all this clan gathering is wonderful! All in all, our visits have included or will include (from the children's standpoint) one great grandma, four grandparents, three great aunts and uncles, six cousins once removed, ten second cousins and one uncle. How lovely to see all the children playing together!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's a Batty World

EVER since Emma saw a bat box a few months ago, she's been fascinated by bats. So when we happened to walk out in our garden in the dark and I saw a bat flying overhead, I thought she'd find it pretty cool. WRONG! For the next few days she was petrified of them and made me shut the doors all the time so the bats don't fly in and get her. But gradually the interest is returning, and as she's asking me questions I'm finding I don't know the answers. So I thought I'd look into them a little this evening.

It's probably little brown bats we have in our neighborhood. They are brown, and 2” to 3” in length with a wingspan of 9" to 11”. Little brown bats begin foraging for food after sunset, flying 10' to 20' above ground searching for flying insects. They can eat as much as half their weight each day in mosquitoes, beetles, moths and other insects. Bats navigate by sending out high squeaks that bounce back to them from things that are in their path, a process called echolocation. They roost in hollow trees, caves, rocks and sometimes buildings, using hooks on their hind legs to help them hang upside-down. The mama bat usually has one baby in May or June. At the beginning she's into babywearing, carrying her infant in flight for a week or two. This gets old pretty quickly though - after two weeks she hangs the baby up while she goes off for food, and by three weeks the young'un's on his own. It's a tough world out there.

My next step is to get hold of a copy of Stellaluna by Janell Canon, the story of a baby bat who grows up with a family of birds. Maybe a bat finger puppet to join Emma's growing collection of animals for storytime will help dispel the fear too. Hmm... so many fun possibilities.

Five Little Bats

Five little bats ready to soar,
One flew away and that left only four.
Four little bats hiding in a tree,
One flew away and that left three.
Three little bats looking down at you,
One flew away and that left two.
Two little bats hiding from the sun,
One flew away and that left just one.
One little bat hanging all alone,
He flew away and then there were none.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Song

THOUGH Thanksgiving belongs to neither Thomas nor my family's tradition, it's a celebration that embraces all heritages and cultures. For we all have something to be thankful for. Among other things, we are thankful for good friends who invited us into their home to share their family celebration with us.

Thanksgiving Canon

text by Ivy Eastwick
music by Carol King

Thank you for all my hands can hold,
Apples red and melons gold,
Yellow corn both ripe and sweet,
All so good to eat.

Thankyou for all my eyes can see,
Lovely sunlight, field and tree,
White cloud boats in sea-deep sky,
Bird and butterfly.

Thank you for all my ears can hear,
Bird songs echoing far and near,
Song of stream and song of sea,
Cricket, frog and bee.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Parent Check

THERE'S nothing like a child to call you out on something you know you should or shouldn't do.
- Sometimes it's really helpful, like "You forgot to strap me in!"
- Sometimes it's guilt-inducing, like when you see a little sad face after you've overreacted to a misdemeanor.
- Sometimes it's that 'you've been caught' feeling, like an innocent "You wear that shirt uhday Mama, same shirt a' yesuhday?"
- Sometimes it's a reminder of double standards, like "You say no chocolate before dinner Mama. You allowed chocolate before dinner?"
- Sometimes it's just plain funny, like at the end of an exhasperating 30 minutes trying to get out the door, when I barked just a little bit louder than necessary: "Sit!" and Emma replied so sweetly: "Emma sit or Basil sit?"

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gorgeous Gourds

THE gourd family covers a broad spectrum of vined plants from edible gourds like pumpkins and squashes to inedible fruits, often used for decorations, vessels or utensils. Early Americans Indians found another use for the latter; they discovered that if they cut holes in them, cleaned them out and hung them in trees or on poles around their gardens, birds would use them as a nesting site. Birds that controlled the insect population around the village were particularly desirable.

We painted this bottle gourd at a holiday fair at the weekend. Gourd birdhouses are used by different cavity-nesting birds such as martins, bluebirds, carolina wrens, swallows and woodpeckers. Which species comes depends on the size of the hole and location of the birdhouse. We definitely have bluebirds, wrens and woodpeckers in the garden! We'll see if anyone moves in in the Spring.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seed Pod Art

AUTUMN is such a great time for gathering items from nature to use in art and craft projects! So far this year we've made acorn necklaces, leaf mosaics, seed pod boats and here's our latest creation. I'm calling it a Mimosa Fairy, as it's made from the seed pods of a mimosa silk tree. You can't see it well in the picture but the eyes and mouth are made from seeds that Emma painstakingly removed from the seed pods while trying to keep the pod intact.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bailey the Bear Cub

AS October was all about squirrels in our house, so November is about bears. Our nature table now features a snuggly bear cave, the story of the month is Goldilocks and song of the month is The Teddy Bears Picnic.

While at the library scouting out bear books, I came across this gem just by chance. Bailey the Bear Cub is written by Nannie Kuiper and illustrated in beautiful watercolor by Jeska Verstegen. The story tells of a little bear cub who wishes to grow all the way up to the stars so that he can find the most beautiful one and bring it home as a gift to his mother. To do that he first has to learn to hunt for food by himself. Cautiously he tries to gather berries, collect honey and hunt for fish. After a few false tries finally succeeds in both filling his tummy and bringing home a twinkling gift to his mother.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wood Kindergarten

I'VE been reading up on the concept of wood kindergartens, also known as outdoor preschools or forest schools, where the vast majority of the time is spent outdoors in the woods. This idea originated in Scandinavia and is catching on quickly across northern Europe but has apparently not yet made it over the Atlantic to the States, let alone to our corner of Atlanta. Never mind, we are doing our best to replicate the experience on a very small family-based scale. I wouldn't say we're outside *most* of the time, but certainly every day, regardless of the weather, we spend at least an hour or two in the great outdoors.

Emma was eager to try out her new child-sized rake, so today we bundled up and headed into the garden to rake leaves, jump in them and gather them up by the armful to make leaf snow. Emma also discovered with delight that with a bit of help she can climb a tree in our garden. We started to hammer in nails to make a little step (don't worry, the tree's already dead) but ensuing darkness caused us to postpone that to another day and head inside for hot chocolate.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

New Discovery

WHAT better season to discover a new park and lake in than Autumn? This park is one we've hashed through many a time, but with eyes only for the trail of flour, we had never fully experienced it. So, with vague recollections of a playground hidden in the woods, I took a drive with the children to scout it out.

What a find! A lake surrounded by wooded paths, and a well-equipped playground and covered pavilion right next to, but completely hidden from, the car park. It was a great place to gather leaves and seed pods and the wall of railroad ties around the playground was apparently the place to be if you are a harvestman. At the weekend, we returned with Thomas and Basil to investigate the trails, and this time we came prepared with a picnic.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More Visitors

WE'VE had two unexpected visitors this week. The first caused a great fluttery commotion as it took a wrong turn through our back door on a sunny afternoon. It took a quick tour of the house, did a U-turn and with glee made a hopeful dash towards the light. BAM! It was a scene reminiscent of the Windex ads, as the poor bird smacked into the window and fell dazed into the sink. It broke its fall on the drainer, from where I had to prise its little claws open as it hung upside down, likely wondering what strange universe it had been suddenly catapulted into. The little wren recuperated from its misadventure on top of our car, while I read up on its species. It waited until I went back to check on it to ruffle its feathers as if in thanks and flutter away. Some fun facts about the Carolina Wren:

  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Average lifespan in the wild: 6 years
  • Size: 5.5 in (14 cm)
  • State bird of : South Carolina
  • The song record goes to a male Carolina wren who sang 3,000 times in one day
  • Among other things, Carolina wrens use snakeskins to build their nests

The second visitor dropped by late at night as we opened the door to let Basil out. There was a scurrying sound behind the curtain and along the baseboard, and I admit my first instinct was to get my feet off the floor. When an inquisitive little nose twitched around the corner of the curtain, I was relieved to see it was only a mouse. (Phew, no raccoon, possum, hyena, mountain lion!) It's a funny thing that no number of adult years can compare to growing up in a country when it comes to being comfortable with its wildlife. Not for the first time did I notice the gap beneath all the interior doors since the carpet was removed, as we tried to limit its path and herd him back outside. He eluded us for about an hour before concluding that a labrador might not be the ideal housemate, and with a haughty flick of his tail left the way he'd come in.

Photo: James Politte (

Friday, November 7, 2008

It's a Pine Tree

NOTHING fills you with as much pride as accomplishing something for the first time. Well, maybe when your child accomplishes something for the first time. In our nature class today Emma proudly identified her first tree - a pine. Beaming with delight, she skipped away down the leafy path pointing out every pine tree to our hike leader, earning a high-five for each correct identification. Our group learned about hickory and sweet gum trees and we were amazed how different that stretch of woods looks from just a few weeks ago now the leaves are changing colour and falling. Animal finds included a katydid, harvestman, stink bug and, the prize, a well disguised deKay snake.

The visit ended with a picnic of homemade treats, tree climbing and three little human squirrels racing around the leaf-covered lawn. Good times.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who Needs a Pencil?

RESOURCEFUL to the last, Emma found something to do while waiting for me to shape dough into balls for her to place on the baking tray.

"My finger like a pencil Mama. My no need a pencil."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Autumn Winds

AUTUMN is now in full swing and the woods are breathtakingly beautiful. It is easy to understand how Wordsworth and other great Romantic poets found such inspiration in nature.

We've spent many hours this week in the woods. When the wind blows, leaves fall all around like rain and we rush this way and that trying to catch them, laughing as we bump into things while looking in the air. Some leaves are still green and cling proudly to their branches. Others in shades of yellow, gold, brown, orange, red and burgundy wave gently against a background of brilliant blue, waiting for the breeze that will send them on their downward journey. The low sun glints through the canopy overhead, turning the yellow hickory trees to gold and sparkling on water like magic. The leaves crunch under our feet, rustle as they float down, nuts and acorns freefall and land with a soft thud, and squirrels are having a ball racing around the trees and chirping to one another. Dried leaves on the ground can be piled up, jumped in, thrown in the air, admired and collected.

Like a leaf or a feather in the windy autumn weather
We turn around and turn around then all float down together.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

House Guests

APPARENTLY this is a very common creature. A house centipede. Fast, yes. Smart, no. It scuttled the perimeter of our bathroom three times before experiencing deja vu and finally exiting for pastures new. Perhaps it thinks it's a fish.

This one is also quite common in our garden. I believe it's a southern green stink bug. In any case it seemed to be smarter than the centipede. It strolled all the way across the top of our garden bench, down one leg and across the patio to the other end of the bench again. It had only gone a few centimetres up the bench leg when it recognised its earlier path and turned around to go somewhere new. Perhaps I'll call him Tom-Tom.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Laterne, Laterne

Laterne, Laterne,
Sonne, Mond und Sterne.
Brenne auf mein Licht, Brenne auf mein Licht,
aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht.

My Lantern, my Lantern
Shining for Saint Martin,
Let it shine my light, let it shine so bright
Let it light my way through darkest night.

On November 11, throughout the world people commemmorate the life of Saint Martin in the celebration of Martinmas. Martin was a Roman soldier who, so the legend goes, was one day so touched by the plight of a freezing beggar that he cut his own warm cloak in two to share it. That night he had a dream in which Jesus was the beggar wearing his half a cloak. Inspired to do good, the soldier left the military and became a monk, and later a bishop. The day is commonly celebrated by lantern walks representing the light of Christ, and the sharing of food among the community.

Our little community gathered for an evening of fun and sharing, with delicious homemade soup, pumpkin bread, salads, cookies, hot apple cider and mulled wine. Many of us brought lanterns from home, others made one at the craft station provided. Emma's and several others were made from glass jars covered in coloured tissue paper for a wonderful stained glass window effect. Still more had shapes cut from paper bags or small cardboard boxes through which the light shone. Carefully carrying our lanterns with little handles or hanging from sticks, we processed through the neighbourhood singing Martinmas songs. The procession ended at the playground, where the children enjoyed time together in the dwindling light.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

From CSA to Soup

AH harvest time! Our CSA (community supported agriculture) box has been filled with earthy goodness these past weeks and with abundant crops of the same vegetables, has forced me to get creative with finding new recipes. Here's what we've been enjoying recently:

Baked cheese grits - made from locally stone ground corn
Sauteed radish tops with garlic and a splash of balsamic vinegar, as a side vegetable
Roasted root vegetables - radishes, butternut and acorn squashes, sweet potato and turnip
Turnip and turnip green risotto (described by one reviewer as "a South Carolinan on holiday in Italy" but extremely tasty!)
Caribbean sweet potato and black bean stew
Butternut squash soup with cider cream
Baked butternut squash, apple and dried cranberries
Radish top soup
Baked sweet potato
Apple and pear chutney
Winter vegetable curry
Roasted spiced squash seeds (eat as a snack, like pumpkin seeds)
Farfalle with butternut squash, mushrooms and spinach (I guess I'll substitute turnip greens)
Time to look into some more harvest songs.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cut That Impact!

I have just finished reading a parenting magazine. You know the kind - the ones with all the articles that seem to repeat in every edition, and glossy ads and reviews of yet more must-have stuff or the latest packaged food concoction. Excuse me while I rant a little. No child should grow up thinking that consumption is a worthy goal. How about stewardship, resourcefulness and thrift? These values have been cast aside as outdated, last resorts for the poor and uneducated. Enlightened people go instead for the new and shiny! Yay. The Story of Stuff is a frightening reminder of what exactly we are doing to our planet as we forge ahead in our fast-paced, throw-away society. So along with my quest to simplify our family's life, I am taking baby steps to reduce our impact on the earth. I want my children to know that there is not only an alternative to mindless consumption, but that it is becoming more and more urgent to preserve our beautiful earth. Here's what we're doing. Some of these need a little more work on consistency, and there's certainly a whole lot more we could do, but it's a start:

- Hanging washing on the line instead of using the dryer
- Washing laundry with cold or warm water instead of hot
- Unplugging appliances when not in use
- Reducing and combining car trips
- Buying locally grown produce

- Using cloth nappies instead of disposables
- Learning natural infant hygiene to further reduce need for nappies
- Composting kitchen waste
- Recycling all plastic, metal, glass and paper
- Bulk buying and purchasing items with least packaging
- Using containers for food storage instead of zip bags
- Washing and reusing zip bags
- Using own bags for food shopping, not supermarket plastic bags
- Printing as little as possible and using both sides of paper

- Washing up and washing vegetables in a bowl instead of directly in the sink (less water)
- Flushing less
- Using water we would usually pour down the sink to water plants
- Shorter showers

- Shopping at charity shops and garage sales
- Fixing broken things
- Freecycling
- Using every part of food (vegetable leaves as greens, stock from chicken carcass etc.)
- Making gifts

Friday, October 24, 2008

Needle Felting 101

YESTERDAY saw my first attempt at needle felting, with the intent to create a squirrel for our nature table. It started with a vague framework made from a pipe cleaner, then I wound wool batting rounded and round, needling it to adhere the strands to one another. From a strange form resembling... not a lot... it gradually metamorphed to an animal, then something maybe like a beaver, and eventually with a little more detailed shaping it looked more and more like a squirrel. Just in the nick of time, as the needle snapped and the project was brought abruptly to a close. Emma came excitedly to breakfast asking if the squirrel was finished, and when she spotted it on the nature table, declared immediately that it needed a nappy. How silly of me not to felt a nappy onto the squirrel!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happy Halloween

WITH the abundance of events happening this time of year, we stumbled across the Halloween Hikes. We weren't exactly sure what to expect, but this turned out to be a wonderful celebration of the season.

We arrived just after dark to a buzz of activity. On the field, a percussionist invited all to join in with bells, tambourines, shakere gourd rattles and more as he danced with his djembe drum. Apples and hot chocolate were eagerly greeted as we sat mesmerised around the bonfire, the music and sparks drawing us into the sounds and shadows of the forest behind.

Then it was time for our nature walk. We were guided in groups along a lit path through the woods, where costumed characters crouched in wait. We met a red winged blackbird, box turtle, swamp rabbit, bullfrog, black widow spider, and beaver all of whom told us in short rhymes where they live and what they eat. The last two stops were by characters dressed as a rubbish dump and a mother earth, who thanked us for our interest in the woods and its creatures and pleaded with us to respect the planet by reducing, reusing and recycling. We are trying!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Scarecrows In The Garden

THE Atlanta Botanical Gardens holds an annual festival of scarecrows, which sounded like a good place to visit on a beautiful Autumn day.
Sponsored by various companies and organisations, the scarecrow installations were scattered throughout the gardens. Whether constructed all from a particular material, depicting a scene, serving as a means of outreach or merely a witty statement, the designs and their accompanying titles were nothing if not imaginative.

Just as appealing as the exhibition however were the permanent residents of the gardens and incidental visitors from the animal world. In the waterfall pond, snapping turtles swam beneath draping tropical plants, while outside enormous bullfrogs basked in the sun. We also spotted a tiny gecko and a hummingbird, which thankfully were interesting enough to stop a preschool meltdown in its tracks.

Pop quiz: What's the difference between frogs and toads?

Generally frogs spend most of their lives in or near water. Toads on the other hand, get out on land a little more and find their way into gardens and yards. Frogs also usually have moist slimy skin, while toads have dry bumpy skin. (From

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pumpkin Pickin'

LAST year was our first visit to a pumpkin farm. I was quite amazed, I must say. So when we had company from England in October this year, I knew this would be an obligatory part of the week's itinerary.

The visit began with a hayride sitting in a wagon actually filled with hay. Emma was intrigued that we were sitting on the "horse's food". We drove through fields of vines with pumpkins still ripening, and rows of picked fruit waiting for transportation.

The main visitor area was filled with the usual cheesy accoutrements such as country music and painted photo ops, but it was fascinating to see quite how many pumpkin and gourd varieties could be grown locally. As the picture shows, Emma "can't know which one I like".

In comparison to the bustle of the farm, lunch was a peaceful affair enjoyed on the bank of a nearby creek. We hesitantly made our way on wobbly stones across the water, trying for once not to get our feet wet. We failed. Our slippery crossing did however show us the way to a shed snake skin and a mottled brown grasshopper-type creature that was so well disguised in the pebbles that it almost met a very sticky end from my hand.

That evening, a delicious butternut squash soup was just the ticket. We would have enjoyed the pumpkin bread we'd bought at the farm along with it, except we couldn't find it. The wrapper turned up later in the yard. Chewed. Hmm, I wonder who that could have been... BASIL.

Squirrel Study

NOW that Autumn is here, the squirrels are hard at work gathering food for their winter stores. We have squandered many an hour sitting in the garden watching them. One time a squirrel was travelling back and forth across our garden collecting large nuts from a neighbour's property and hoarding them in our black tupelo tree. The squirrel would disappear behind our house and be gone for a while before returning with a prize almost as big as his head. I never did discover the source of this bounty, but the nut was obviously worth the arduous trek. Not to mention the dangers of this quest! After two successful journeys, on the third return trip the squirrel had to make a mad dash into a tree to avoid a beast of prey - namely our excited labrador. The nimble creature managed to schlepp the nut with it, taking the longer route home in the safety of the trees around the perimeter instead of shortcutting across the lawn. Not to be deterred, it set off once again. This time when the dog pounced, the nut was jettisoned as the squirrel leapt to safety. We banished the dog to the house and warily the squirrel returned to ground level to reclaim his abandoned nut.

Another time we lay on the grass looking up at the sun glinting through the light green leaves and red berries of the dogwood. This tree is adjacent to the squirrels' tupelo, and the squirrels were hopping about in time to the tunes of a mockingbird. I thought the berries were only consumed by birds, but the squirrels were eating them too. They would scamper to the ends of the twigs to collect the berries, causing the branches to bend precariously under their weight, then retire to a safer fork further down the branch to eat. I have heard that squirrels are smart enough to discern which fruits and nuts will spoil quickest and eat them first. Naturally berries don't last long, so they just had to gobble up these juicy little morsels on the spot. Little did I know we had a 'hop-thru' on the premises.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Loaves of Revelation

WE baked bread and it was a success! I had never done this before, but have wanted to for so long. I would go back and forth between being super-enthusiastic about my new 'project' (wanting to go out and buy a milling machine, for example, so that I could mill my own flour), then overcome with doubt and deciding I should start small with a packet mix of the 'just add water' variety. Then finally yesterday I managed to get past the overthinking and just made it. A little background for those to whom bread baking is no big deal: I have always thought my cooking skills to be quite good, but baking was just never my thing and even homemade cookies frequently end up being donated to the birds. I admit, I have a problem following recipes.

Well the actual act of baking was not especially eventful; Emma had fun transforming Basil into a dalmation by 'raining' on him with handfuls of flour; I was trying to put some elbow grease into kneading the dough - not very easy with a slumbering little bundle suspended on your front in a sling. But when it was finally baked, I even procrastinated cutting into the loaf to see how it turned out. (Ever done that with a letter that you know contains exam or interview results?) When I finally did, half a day later, I was amazed to find that not only was it fully cooked inside, it held up to being sliced thinly, was not too heavy and even tasted good! You can't imagine how clever I felt! Emma and I high-fived all through our bread and cheese lunch.

I do realize this small feat is not exactly comparable to Neil Armstrong's steps on the moon, but to me it was! And that led me to a revelation. Emma likes to dress and undress and redress her dolls in Alexander's clothes oh, maybe thirty times each day. That's great except she can't fasten the snaps (poppers). So guess who gets this job (thirty times each day)? Today she came running to me announcing ecstatically: "I did it up Mama all by myself!" My first instinct was "Thank heavens! About time!" Then I remembered that I baked bread all by myself, and shared her moment of joy.

Friday, September 19, 2008


YESTERDAY Alexander had his first introduction to our Waldorf Homeschoolers group, as we went on a guided children's hike at Autrey Mill Nature Center. With the group of eight children ranging from 3 to 8 (excluding Alexander, who was tucked into a sling), the resident naturalist managed to capture the attention of each and every one of them. Soon he had them scurrying after him to see what was under the log ahead, who could spot the next tulip tree, and what would come out of the hole at the top of the dead pine tree if we shook the base a little. We learned about different habitats as we walked through the hickory forest and looked down onto wetlands and into the creek bed.

Then, as we looked at leaf types, someone spotted a ferocious-looking insect! Anyone familiar with the exceptionally bad Tremors movies might agree that this caterpillar bears a striking resemblance (albeit on a thankfully miniature scale) to the subterranean worm-like creatures that terrorize a small town in Nevada. With a couple of pairs of long curving horns, orange spikes and an impressive five-inch length, we had every reason to be taken aback. However I've since found out that this bug's bark is worse than its bite. It was a Hickory Horned Devil, calmly munching its way through a hickory leaf, and is quite harmless to humans. Body colours can range from deep blue-green to tan, depending on its instar, or developmental stage. Similar to the way a snake sheds its skin when its body has outgrown the skin, a caterpillar does the same. The one we found was brown, not green like in this photo. Unlike most caterpillars that spin a cocoon or chrysalis, this one burrows into the ground then overwinters in the pupal stage, emerging in the spring as a beautiful orange Royal Walnut Moth, also known as the Regal Moth. Was this not a cool find?
Photos from

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Baby's First Trip to the Beach

THOMAS has been longing to show us a bit of river he came across, so today we packed up our swimming things and a picnic and headed out. This place was fabulous! A wide, shallow river bed filled with sand banks, rocks and little waterfalls. Emma wasted no time getting in the water and not even the cake we brought with us could coax her out. She was too busy sailing a 'ship', crossing 'bridges' and collecting freshwater mussel shells. From my position on the bank, it looked like she was repeatedly slipping over and only papa's hand was preventing her from a mouthful of water. As I later discovered when I was on river duty, actually she just liked to practice her swimming strokes with her legs, dangling from a parental stronghold.

Alexander had no objection to a bed of sand and drifted peacefully off to sleep under the blue sky and canopy of gently waving leaves.

Apart from a fisherman, we were the only people in sight. Three hawks circled overhead, and a doe with her two fawns pranced across the road as we approached the river. It was a beautiful place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Little Nut Tree

AFTER days of the house being in disarray following the arrival of our new baby, I decided that if we at least had one beautiful corner, there would be hope for the future. So I revamped our nature table. Though September has begun, it still seems too early for a harvest theme, and I'm not familiar enough to do a Michaelmas table without researching it first, so decided on the nursery rhyme I had a Little Nut Tree. I used yellow beeswax for the golden pear, and took a nut from Emma's collection and painted it silver to make the silver nutmeg. The tree was made from a bare twig to which I added six green felt leaves. The princess's dress was made from a scrap of fabric left over from a dress made by Grandma, wrapped around a cardboard cone, pipecleaner arms and a body stuffed with wool. The head is a another nut, and the hair more wool.

The characters in the nursery rhyme are believed to refer to the visit of the Royal House of Spain to King Henry VII's English court in 1506. The 'King of Spain's daughter' refers to the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The princess in the nursery rhyme is probably Katherine of Aragon who eventually became the first wife of King Henry VIII, much loved by the British people.

I had a Little Nut Tree

I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg, and a golden pear;
The King of Spain's daughter came to visit me,
And all for the sake of my little nut tree.

Her dress was made of crimson, jet black was her hair,
She asked me for my nut tree and my golden pear.
I said, "So fair a princess never did I see,
I'll give you all the fruit from my little nut tree."

Monday, September 1, 2008

New Life, New Rhythm

BABY Alexander is here! Just when we thought we were getting the hang of the daily rhythm thing, along come days filled with endless nappy and clothing changes, nights not filled with sleep and the sudden exponential elongation of every 'getting ready' step that causes you to be late for everything and get very little achieved in a day. And then there's the incredible new life so entirely dependent on you, the heart-melting moments when Emma brings her very special cuddly toys and blanket to "make baby brudder happy", the look of utter peace and contentment on the baby's face when asleep on papa's chest. Give us a few weeks, and our new addition will be fully incorporated into a brand new family rhythm!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wildlife Festival

LOOKING for something fun to do as a family this weekend, we came across a wildlife festival that sounded interesting.

They had all kinds of stalls with various connections to animals - from Native American handicrafts that showed how previous generations respected animals by 'using' every part of them and not wasting anything, to fishing and hunting organisations, to animal rescue and welfare groups. We saw and touched alligators and boas, porcupines, pot bellied pigs, horses, hawks and much more. We learned how skins were tanned, bones used, and various aspects of the circle of life that we'd never thought to question. We bought a hand crafted bird and squirrel feeder and learned about the best way to observe these animals in the back garden.

And Emma got to be a monkey as the littlest person on the biggest slide.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What's That Bug?

OH dear, now I'm really in trouble. After finding out that our digital camera's auto focus feature is what is preventing me from photographing some interesting spiders we've found, I had to go online and scroll through images from memory rather than go through usual identification channels (search by colour, habitat etc.). In doing so I came across . As if I needed another site to get lost in. It's quite odd to be so fascinated (and amused) by something that you simply cannot stop reading, even when it's ridiculously late and if you have to still be up, you have real work to do... AND the pictures make your skin all crawly. Thomas just rolls his eyes. The problem with this is that there are 13 pages of spider info, and I've only got through page 3 so far. And that's just spiders! There's so much more on this site.

The photo is one I had to steal from the web since my photo is out of focus, but we have this interesting spider in our back garden. It's a Golden Orb Weaver. The zigzag shape in the web is called a stabilimentum and is believed to be a camouflage mechanism.

Where the Wild Things Are

AFTER being somewhat boring in our weekday walks for a week or two, Emma, Basil and I decided this morning to hit the swamp. Where we walk is not actually swamp itself, but adjacent to real swamp and is certainly, let's say, a more adventurous hike than others in our local repertoire. In Spring and Autumn it's perfectly pleasant, but the humidity levels in Summer rise like crazy causing even the small group of hardy dogwalkers to abandon the spot for pastures greener and pleasanter. So the paths get overgrown, it's impossible to walk without hitting a spider web every few feet, and even the toughest bug spray is no match for the swamp's superbeasties.

Having said all that, it's really fun! There are tons of logs to balance on and scramble over, since no-one else is there Basil just runs wild and has a great time, and you really feel like you're in the midst of a tropical rainforest. The crickets chirp so loudly, other insects buzz and hum and you can imagine all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures hiding up in the trees. Like wasps. Well okay, those ones are not so wonderful, especially when the daft dog disturbs a nest and just goes round and round in circles attracting more and more of them, his protective mistress trying to save him while trying to keep Emma far away. I know it looked comical. I swear I heard a family of monkeys laughing at the entertaining scene. To cut a long story short, we escaped relatively unscathed and went on our wild way.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Two Drinks Today!

AS a Brit, it's a sad and rather odd thing that rain should be so remarkable. But alas, here in Georgia it really hasn't happened much this year and for some bizarre reason, whenever rain hits the city it really does manage to avoid our neighbourhood.
So as usual we were out watering our few remaining annuals and vegetables this morning, not knowing that the afternoon would bring some of those precious drops from the sky. When late afternoon we did have a short shower, Emma was so excited, she rushed to put on her raincoat and boots so she could go outside and splash in puddles. Then a thought occured to her: "Mama, Mama! Flowers happy! TWO drinks today!"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Birthday Bugs

HAPPY third birthday Emma! One of her coolest and most unusual presents was from Grandma and Grandad, and was a solar powered bug box. This lights up at dusk to attract various night flying insects and has a viewing window at the front. The insects can fly in and out as they please, so it is up to us to make it conducive for them to stay a while so that we can see them! We've been trying various combinations of recommended plant material and sugary concoctions but so far the cosy insect hotel remains a well kept secret among the insect population, visited only by a few.
We'll keep trying and post our progress!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


IT never ceases to amaze me how many things we are taught in school are really learned way earlier, or at least can be, at home. I was in another room late afternoon when Emma called me excitedly from the kitchen to come and see her shadow. I couldn't imagine where there was enough light to make a shadow at that time because usually the only shadow play we do is outside on a sunny day. But walking across the kitchen she had noticed a faint shadow thrown onto the white kitchen door, and was quite fascinated. She walked backwards, watching her shadow growing, then forwards and it shrank to her own size. Then backwards, and forwards, and so on for a good 10 minutes, all the time giving me a running commentary: "Look Mama! Big Emma shadow... Mama! Tiny Emma shadow...Mama! Emma shadow getting big!"

Then we had to repeat the whole process with a giant Mama shadow - then because all this movement and excitement was too much to just stand by and watch, the dog bounded up to join in too. By that time the shadows turned into a blur. We found the light source to be a window at the other end of the house, where the sun was low in the sky. "Night night, sun."

My Shadow - Robert Louis Stevenson

I HAVE a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Flowers & Fairies

AS we went out this morning to see what's new in the garden, Emma decided she wanted to wear her fairy crown. This is a fun wreath we made at a friend's house with a twirled vine and coloured crepe paper.

We found little purple flowers blooming in the shade in the wooded part of the garden, but I've not been able to identify them. If anyone knows what they are, drop me a line! One interesting fact is that when Emma picked a couple with no stems, we put them in a bowl of water and a few hours later the beautiful violet colour had faded completely and they were all white.

Our crape myrtle is now in full bloom. It seems to bloom a little later than other varieties you see all over the place here, and we love it because there's not much colour left in our garden in late Summer.

A Nest With No View

EARLIER this year, Emma and I searched the whole garden looking for a bird's nest whose development we could follow. I was particularly inspired by a friend who posted an incredible photo of a mother bird feeding its baby birds in a nest in their yard. Unfortunately, our search remained somewhat fruitless. As we were trimming some monster branches, Emma and I did find two nests in our American holly bush in the front garden, but though we took great pains to not disturb anything, I fear we might have thinned the birds' thick leafy cover too much, as we never saw any birds there. The tangled honeysuckle vines were another good prospective site, and again we found two nests but no sign of life. Then again, they could have just been old abandoned spots. We have lots of birds in the garden, so next year we'll have to entice them to nest here too by leaving out some good building materials.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Hash with a Pool Ending

THERE'S nothing better than a summer hash than a summer hash with a pool ending. Oh wait, yes there is. A summer hash with a pool ending AND lots of great food!

For those of you wondering what a summer hash could be, please be assured it's not some seasonal gathering of illicit substance users. It's a throwback to our pre-child days (sigh...) and, in its most primitive form, involves a group of people chasing 'the hare' through various terrains for the sole purpose of reaching the beverages at the end.

Now that our free time has taken on new priorities, we don't get to hash as often as we used to. But the child-friendly slow hashes are still a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends in the great outdoors. We pack up the pink Emmamobile and slather on the sun screen and bug spray, then it's ON ON! on trail!

This one wended its way behind horse pastures, around fields and through quiet suburban neighbourhoods. It ended at the hare's house where a deliciously cool pool awaited, followed by an equally delicious feast prepared by the hare's father on the occasion of her birthday. Emma could easily be located just by listening for the squeals of delight as she showed off her new swimming skills. What she found most hilarious, however, was watching the biggest man of the bunch perform cannonballs. Every time the poor guy took a break, she challenged him in her bossiest voice: "You jump in more, make big splash!" Amazing what you can get away with with a cute grin and wet curls.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Woohoo! Compost!

I'M so excited! Another thing on my 2008 to-do list was to start composting in the back garden. I have to say I was a little bit picky about this - it couldn't be just an open heap as Basil would have a field day, and I didn't want the black plastic kind, it had to be wooden. So I shopped around locally and after being disgusted that Home Depot and Lowes (garden/DIY supply stores) neither stocked them nor, apparently, knew what I was talking about, started looking online. Here I found what I was looking for, but I didn't really like the price all too much. The irony of creating a huge carbon footprint in shipping to get a recycling product was not lost on me either. So for several months (yes, months), I've been going back and forward about ordering one vs. trying to make one. Each time I'd decide to just give up and order it, the words on one website would come back to haunt me: "Making your own compost bin is so simple even a child or granny could do it."

So I was justifiably excited to see a pile of discarded wooden pallets next to a building site. These are ideal for compost bin construction because the slatted design contains the waste while allowing air to circulate. What's more, they were free, and I was saving them from the landfill! Now do you see why I was excited? So I sent Thomas to acquire four for the walls and one for the base, and we got to work.

I have to admit it's not quite as elegant as the cedar structures I found online, but our little project was so much more satisfying. And I think the worms, lawn clippings and carrot peel will be quite thrilled in their new home. If you're jealous, bored or feeling guilty that you don't compost, here's how you can create your own.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Peas in a Pod

I'VE never been a huge fan of southern cuisine, but the exception has to be some of the summer dishes when peas, tomatoes, corn on the cob, zucchini (courgette) and even okra are at their finest. We hold a CSA (community supported agriculture) share, where we pay a set price to a local farm co-op every week and receive a share of the crop. It's kind of pricey, so we actually only do it every other week supplementing with regular old veggies from the shops. But the CSA is all organic, it supports local and small businesses, and the produce isn't ueber-refrigerated and shipped half way around the world. Best of all, we never know what's going to be in our box so it's kind of exciting wondering what we'll get this week!

Purple pink-eyed hull peas. I'm glad that this particular bag was labelled, because I with my urban ways would have probably cooked them as beans and then wondered why they were so tough. Then it struck me that I had never actually shelled peas before. Many a country grandma would have probably watched with a mixture of horror and disbelief as my fingers - so skilled on the computer, so nimble on the piano and so good at shoulder massages - painstakingly pried the obstinate pea pods open. By the time there were only four left in the bag, I had figured out that you just need to squeeze and they pop right out. Sigh... live and learn.

Onto the corn. Ah, a familiar vegetable. Well Emma and I fixed a delicious fresh summer dinner of corn and tomato casserole with peas and bacon. The southern Grandma would have been proud. One of the ears of corn didn't quite make it into the casserole - this is how I found my daughter after I left the kitchen for a moment. Yes, the corn was raw but it didn't seem to bother her.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hidden Treasures

THIS Sunday morning it was hot, hot, hot and shade and water were in order for our family outing. I hastily made up a picnic and the four of us piled in the car, headed to a mystery destination. We park in a dead end on a residential street and scramble down a wooded embankment. To my surprise we end up on a path which runs alongside a creek that is an offshoot of the Chattahoochee River. Sunlight shimmers through the leafy canopy overhead. Birds and crickets chirp and the brook really does babble. It's quite beautiful and we are the only sign of human life around.

Emma wants to know if it's 'people water' (translation: can I go in it?) Once we've found a good spot to camp, off come her clothes and she's in. At first just the shorts; later on the T-shirt too. Only a long discussion ending with "the fish will nibble your bottom" persuade her it would be better to keep her underwear on. Sandwich in hand, we hopped from stone to stone. In just a short stretch the bank changed from mossy to muddy to gravelly to sandy. We made footprints and handprints and felt the different textures between our toes and fingers. We dropped things in the water to see which would float and which would make the biggest splash. Emma noticed all the leaves were swimming in the same direction in the water. Tiny fish scrambled to get out of our way, while we did the same upon sight of a yellow jacket (wasp) nest. They were nested in the ground just a few inches from the water line. Surely they were smart enough to know that this spot would flood at the first rain?

Our wildlife highlight came on the way back to the car, as we crossed the creek on stepping stones. A small crawfish scuttled under a rock, but compliantly lay still as we carefully lifted the rock to admire him. In the picture, you can just see him in on the left side. In the water is the reflection of the trees above. Some crawfish facts:
  • Other names include crawdad, crayfish, mud bug

  • A crawfish biologist is called an astacologist

  • There are over 150 species of freshwater crawfish living across the wetlands of the southern US states

  • Crawfish live in the earth, burrowing sometimes complex tunnels systems

  • They are an important part of the ecosystem - they consume huge quantities of animal prey and decomposing plant material; crawfish themselves are a valuable food resource to fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals; their tunnels aerate heavy clay soils and abandoned burrows provide habitats for other creatures.

  • Crawfish also taste good in etoufee!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Butterflies and Black Furry Legs

OUR yellow lantana is very popular among nectar-seeking insects. I'm working on identification but desperately need a good field guide! Right now all I know is that we have white butterflies that are shy, little tan ones that never keep still, and beautiful orange butterflies which could be Monarchs or Viceroys.

Today though we were treated by a visit from a huge blue and black butterfly that we spotted from the kitchen window and had to run out and look at (taking our breakfast with us). It was a Black Swallowtail. We followed it for a while then moved to the patio to watch a fuzzy bumblebee having a feast on coleus flowers. Emma was quite taken by its mouth opening and closing (I couldn't see this but she assured me it was) and antenna wiggling, and gave me her impressions of both. Then her eyes widened as she exclaimed: "See this Mama! Bee legs black and furry just like my Basil."

The Bee - traditional German children's song

Summ, summ, summ,
Bienchen summ herum.
Ai! Wir tun dir nichts zuleide
Flieg nur aus in Wald und Heide
Summ, summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.

Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee
We'll do no harm to your tiny wings
In woods and meadows you may sing
Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee.

Summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.
Such in Blumen, such in Bluemchen
Dir ein Troepfchen, dir ein Kruemchen
Summ, summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.

Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee
A drop waits here, a sip waits there
Look in flow’rs and blossoms fair
Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee.

Summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.
Kehr zurueck mit reicher Habe
Bau uns manche volle Wabe
Summ, summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.

Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee
Fully laden fly back home
Build a fine honeycomb
Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

'Venture in the Woods

AS our trip to the Dunwoody Nature Center was washed out on Sunday, Emma and I decided to try again today with friends. Much better weather! Our first stop was to the woods where we had to overturn all the logs to see what lies beneath. Termites, ants, worms, centipedes and various other creepy crawlies all popped out to say hello. Which child grabbed each creature ultimately decided its fate: Emma just mothered them for a while before begrudgingly putting them back. Her little friend insisted on taking a big worm with him to enjoy the rest of the day ('enjoy' being a relative term in a 3-year-old's tight clutches) while his little brother, not wanting to miss out on the action but not quite yet possessing the skill of gentleness... well let's just say we mamas tried our best to save the bugs.

On to the creek, where shoes and clothes were flung away and little bodies immersed themselves to cool off. Lots of rocks to hop on, sandy water to splash in, a slimy encounter with frogspawn, pond skaters (water striders) to chase, tiny waterfalls to investigate, spider webs in the hair, splashing matches... a grand time was had by all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oh For One Tomato

Lest anyone be under the illusion that a fascination with nature correlates in any way whatsoever with green fingers, let me assure you that in my case it is certainly not true.

Take for example my pitiful little vegetable patch. I've planted tomatoes for the second year in a row, and do you think I've had the teensiest little flower, let alone anything even vaguely resembling a fruit? Well truth be told last year doesn't really count because I kind of forgot about the poor little fellows and, well, with the Georgia soil and climate, a little bit of TLC isn't really too much to ask.

But this year, I was going to somehow cope with probable hosepipe bans, and plant a real garden. Just a tiny one - don't want to overdo the investment until I'm sure of a yield. Six little tomato plants, six summer squash, and a couple each of bell pepper and aubergine (eggplant). Lots of garden soil, followed all planting instructions, mulched and watered regularly and generously. Fast forward six weeks, and? They're all still alive but barely seem to have grown an inch. The squash plants have flowered at least, so I guess if we're really hungry we can make do with those. But not a single flower on the tomatoes. So maybe it's lack of sun. The way the shadows fall in our garden, the only place that gets continual sun is smack bang in the middle of the lawn - not an option. But maybe the other side gets a little more sun, and it's less surrounded by other plants that could be sucking the nutrients out of the earth. So two weeks ago Emma and I form a relay team and transplant across the yard to an even better prepared bed.

Well they seem to be doing ever so slightly better. I read that pet hair contains lots of nitrogen which is good for the soil, and heaven knows we have plenty of that to spare. So maybe Basil gets a daily brushing in the tomato bed. If that fails, then next year there's nothing for it. I'll be digging up that patch of lawn in the middle of the garden, doing some heavy duty composting and enlisting Farmer Thomas to pitch in. You can tell I'm totally clueless, but I'll get a homegrown tomato one day, by golly!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Wet Weekend

SEVERAL days this week there's been rain forecast, and we've rushed to look at dopplar radar images to see if any is headed this way. It's like our neighbourhood is in a little rain-sheltered bubble, because we can be surrounded by green and red on the radar (rain and big rain!) but somehow it always manages to turn aside.

So when we decided to spend our Sunday morning outdoors at a nature center, we thought nothing of the little sprinkle that started to fall as we were packing the car. We added rain coats just in case but expected the rain to blow on by as usual. Only it didn't!

No matter; we got to explore the drippy and splashy world of the woods in the rain. Not surprisingly we were the only people there. A lot of the wildlife had taken refuge too: "Where birds go, Mama?" noticed Emma. I recently read that squirrels shelter from the rain by holding their bushy tails over their heads like an umbrella, but we didn't spot any.

The little hut we thought was on the property proved to be too elusive to find, so we enjoyed our picnic (fairly hurriedly) within the branches of a huge magnolia tree on a conveniently-placed bench. When it began to thunder we made our way back, stopping briefly at the Treehouse, an observation structure built over a wetland area. The approaching bright sky and lull in the rain was just a teaser as a fully blown thunderstorm soon reared its head, so we called it a day and scurried back to the car.

Down came the raindrops on a cloudy day
Wetting all the pavements, washing dirt away
Waking little brown buds, thirsty seeds as well
Right into the blades of grass the tiny raindrops fell.

Pitter patter pitter patter this is how it came
Pitter patter pitter patter we can do the same.
Pitter patter pitter patter children though we be
Giver of the welcome rain we give our thanks to thee.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nature Journal - The Concept

FOR the longest time I've wanted to keep a nature journal. Clare Walker Leslie seems to be an authority on this topic, and I was happy to find "The Art of Field Sketching" at the library. Funny how we find every excuse not to start something that could be a little bit daunting... believe it or not I've looked in three local shops and have not been able to find an unruled notebook. Of course art stores keep these, but somehow it's easier to complain that I don't have the right equipment and don't have time for a special trip to an art store than to actually take the plunge and start my book using whatever paper comes to hand, accepting that the drawings will not in fact be perfect. Meanwhile Emma asks me to draw the most intricate scenes and is delighted with the craziest kritzel. Perhaps I should stick with my dayjob.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Pocketful of Pinecones

I got hold of Karen Andreola's 'A Pocketful of Pinecones' and read it nonstop for a couple of days. It's an account of a mother's journey into homeschooling using Charlotte Mason's methods, written in the form of a diary and set in the 1930s. Though the family has their share of problems, it does sound like quite an idyllic world they live in, and such a peaceful yet exciting environment for the children. I can highly recommend this book to anyone looking into such methods or anyone just looking for a good wholesome read!

The mother in the book swears by Anna Botsford Comstock's 'Handbook of Nature Study'. This is a real book, published in 1911. Ms Comstock was a US artist, educator, conservationist and a leader of the nature study movement. I was delighted to find a copy in the library, and though some pieces are a little outdated, the nature of nature does not really change all that much. It's a big fat tome, more a reference book than one you can read from cover to cover, though I'm doing my best before it's due back. It's already noted on my Christmas wishlist :-)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mama's Great Healing Powers

Is it not humbling and a little scary to realise what amazing powers your young child thinks you as a parent possess? I do recall a point in my own childhood when it dawned on me that my parents were human and not perfect, but it was not until I was at least pre-teen. Of course a favourite drink or teddy might also have the same great powers, but still, it's nice to be a hero if only to a very small person.

Take for example a dead insect. It can be very dead - squished, petrified, or otherwise beyond redemption. Yet Emma always says "beetle/worm/bug need his Mama. Mama make him feel better." Sometimes the deceased creature only needs a blanket, so she'll drag her own soft woollen blanket Linus-style through all kinds of muck to cover the ex-animal and speed his recovery. Luckily she was content to use an imaginary blanket for the rather putrid roadkill we walked by the other day, and I wasn't required to kiss it better.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Great American Backyard Campout

ON Saturday our family participated in The Great American Backyard Campout, held by the National Wildlife Federation. This is a nationwide initiative to get more people out enjoying the great outdoors and is designed to be a gentle introduction to camping. Not that we needed a gentle introduction, but with Emma not having camped for a while and me 7 months pregnant, we figured close to home might be a good idea :-)

We joined an environmental education center, where around 20 other families had gathered for the one-night adventure. Emma and I went exploring after the tent was pitched, while Papa cooked bratwurst. Our explorations took a little longer than expected, as we found aviaries of injured black vultures and barred owls that were very interesting to watch. There were some wild vultures who were perfectly capable of flying away that were keeping their caged relatives company just on the other side of the wire. The evening's organized activity was a nature walk on the boardwalk next to the Chattahoochee River, which was definitely geared towards older children but still interesting. We got back to the camp, Emma snuggled down into her bed and was out like a light.
The next morning, she woke with the birds and I tried to get her dressed and out of the tent so that at least one parent could get a bit more rest. After various attempts to move her along, I said "listen, a woodpecker, let's go and see if we can find it!" Unfortunately this had the opposite effect as it was more excitement than she could contain. Thomas 'thanked' me with bleary eyes as his head was rowdily shaken and 23lbs of excited child jumped up and down on his chest. "Papa, Papa, 'pecker Papa! Come see!"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Back to Basics

AFTER a weekend of fun and adventures, it's nice to have a quiet day at home on a Monday. That's not to say we don't get anything done. But in my quest to show Emma that life does not always magically happen at the push of a button, I do wonder how past generations ever managed to complete all their work without the modern conveniences we enjoy today.

But no stress... we take our time and have fun while taking care of the household. She loves to hang her own clothes on her own little washing line and is getting pretty adept at folding them when dry. Her little Radio Flyer wagon is the perfect size to transport her clothes to her drawers, though she often has to make a stop mid way to change clothes if she spies something in her cargo that might look nicer/fits better/does or doesn't have buttons/is cleaner/isn't scratchy or whatever the reason of the day might be.

We all remember the perks of licking the spoon after helping to bake a cake, but it's so hard to wait until we're actually finished with using the spoon! Even at the grand age of 11 or 12, I remember still being grossed out by the feel of raw egg and hated to crack eggs with my bare hands. But Emma has no such qualms and happily breaks eggs for me (usually with only a few pieces of shell to pick out of the bowl).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summer Solstice

EMMA and I began our celebration of the Summer Solstice by learning a new song:

"Darkness, darkness flee away!"
This is what the sunbeams say
When they come at dawn of day
Bringing light and gladness.

If I were a merry sunbeam shining
Shining all the day
Clouds and darkness I would scatter
With my brightest ray.

Melting all the winter's snow,
Making brightest flowers grow
How the whole wide earth will glow
'Neath the sunbeam's glances!

I would like the sunbeam say:
"Darkness, darkness flee away!
Into some sad heart today
Send a ray of gladness."

Little deeds of love I'll do,
Words I'll say so kind and true,
Thus I'll be the whole day through
Like a sunbeam shining.

'Merry Sunbeams' by A.C.B.

Next came homemade sun cookies - round sugar biscuits covered in yellow and orange icing. While they were baking, we changed our nature table from Spring to Summer. As the table usually morphs and has pieces added throughout the season, I try to keep it simple to start with. We started with gold and orange sheer cloths, with a bright blue cloth in a bold sunflower print in the corner. A vase of simple tree and flower cuttings from the garden had a nice kind of overgrown feel to it, and though it didn't last long, the honeysuckle had a wonderful scent. We placed a beeswax candle that we had rolled ourselves on the other side, and from the ceiling, I finally got to hang my sun-shaped sun catcher that we brought back from Germany ages ago.

Since then, we've added some crafts: a bumblebee made out of a cork covered in navy and yellow felt stripes (didn't have any black felt), and a little summer picture we made with various dried pasta, beans and pulses. Oh yes, and we are accumulating quite a collection of feathers too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Feasting Caterpillars

WE occasionally go to the library's reading and craft session and we were excited to discover that this week a puppeteer was visiting. The little show was all about Monarch caterpillars who change in their milkweed patches from green to black and yellow striped, then when they hatch from their chrysalises into butterflies, 'take the Monarch Express to Mexico for a fiesta'. It was very sweet and prompted me to read up on Monarch butterflies.

Later in the garden we went caterpillar hunting and discovered a couple of different kinds. Chowing down on the hostas was a fat black and yellow caterpillar, which just left leaves looking like Swiss cheese. The petunias didn't fare so well at the hands of our little squirmy visitors. After lots of research it turns out we had tobacco budworms, the caterpillar of the uninspiring grey moth. They burrow their way into unopen flower buds and munch from the inside out before moving onto leaves. Apparently these pests take on the color of their dinner, but the ones we found on our pink petunias were only green. They are supposed to be hard to spot, but Emma's keen eye found a bunch, which she was happy to deposit away from the flowers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Farmer Mary's Goat Farm

THIS week we visited a working goat farm with our Waldorf Homeschoolers group. We first met the babies, then Thunder Sprite was invited up to the milking station and we all got a chance to milk her! Between us we squeezed out half a pail of warm frothy milk. I wonder at what age children can make a connection between this, human breast milk and a carton of milk in the fridge?

Next it was off to the other wildlife. A rabbit shared the chicken coop, and when Emma wandered off I found her round the corner comfortably stroking a kitty. To her dismay the enormous golden retriever was passed out behind a fence with his goat friends and she couldn't go to see him. Instead, we made our way to the woods where Farmer Mary had thoughtfully laid out some treasures for the children to find. Animal bones, snake skins, a bird foot, and then onto the living as she managed to catch a crawfish in the creek. I didn't even know we had crawfish in Georgia!
We made our way back to the meadow, and enjoyed freshly made goat's milk feta, mozzarella and cream cheese along with our picnics before returning home. What a beautiful day!

Walls and Mountains

SINCE we got back from our long holiday in Germany in May, we've been busy sprucing up the back garden for our annual summer party. One of our long-term home improvement plans was to build a retaining wall around the bank in our garden, and this year we finally took the plunge and did it. Though not perfect, we're very pleased with the result, and the wall among other things provides a great spot to sit and watch the wildlife in the flower bed.

Every Spring we also mulch the bank. While we were sad to see the county pull down lots of trees in the tiny wooded area behind our house, they have been using the space as a dumping ground for woodchips... which means free mulch to anyone that wishes to pick it up. So the last few days have been filled with rides for Emma in the wheelbarrow, 'mountain climbing' and helping us shovel and haul sweet-smelling pine chips through the back gate and onto our flower beds. She's also been fascinated by the many colonies of ants that have taken up residence in these great cities the county conveniently provided, and has been parading around carrying large sticks on her head to show us how the ants carry their food.