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.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Natural Playground

WITH a slight pang of guilt towards my second child - because Emma really did have fun playing on it - I sold our Little Tykes slide and playcube with the intention of making a more natural play space.

It started last year with a sandpit that I built myself out of 2x4s. It was a little too shallow, so this year my Dad and Emma added a second layer of depth and a storage box/seat in one corner.
Two of our dogwoods have not fared well in the long drought we've been suffering here in the southern US. In a fit of manly fervour, Thomas attacked them with a chainsaw, resulting in several logs and lots of smaller blocks cut in different sizes. He took the opportunity to also massacre my poor wisteria, which he has always hated due to the tendency of its tendrills to take over a small city in a matter of weeks. The dogwood and wisteria stumps now 'live' on in a circular obstacle course Emma and I created in the small wooded area at the back of our garden, and also serve as superb hidey-holes for insects of all shapes and sizes.

A seesaw and balance beam were easily created from scraps of wood, and the 6+ minimum age on the box in no way deters Emma from scaling the rope ladder we mounted against a tree for extra stability. But the piece de resistance is a work in progress; the speed of its build-out depending on fallen branches gathered in the garden and purloined from the woods behind the house. Emma has yet to share my vision - she looks at me with one brow raised whenever I mention "the fort" ("Fort?? Call that a fort?" I hear her thinking), but Basil appreciates my efforts to gather sticks for him and occasionally manages to free one of my carefully woven wall pieces to sharpen his teeth.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

In the Shade

THE next time we have children over, I think we shall have a competition to see who can collect the most pinecones and sweetgum fruits. Emma has an ongoing collection of green and brown sweetgums "for the squirrels" nestled in the roots of the tree. This got me thinking that I didn't actually know what most of the trees are in and behind our garden, besides the numerous pine trees, American holly, flowering white dogwoods and one sweetgum.

So with the help of
this website I made a start at identification:
Sweetgum - liquidambar styraciflua
American holly - ilex opaca
Black tupelo (black gum) - nyssa sylvatica
Water oak - quercus nigra