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.