June 23, 2014

Nature Watch: Polyphemus Moth & caterpillar

This is a beautiful Polyphemus moth that my seven-year-old found recently in our yard. It’s pretty rare to find a moth like this, so we were thrilled. It was sitting on the ground and almost got trampled by our dogs, so  we carefully picked it up and placed it into a container that we keep on our front porch for similar nature discoveries. We thought it was dying because it seemed weak and could not fly. It stayed that way for a long time, but the next day it flew away, so we think it may have just emerged from its cocoon and was gaining strength. We were happy to have given it a safe home for the night.

By coincidence, last September we had found a Polyphemus caterpillar, so this is why we knew what it was. They like to crawl way down into the leaf litter and spin their cocoon. If you see one late in the fall like we did, it will probably stay in its cocoon over the winter and emerge in the spring! Did you know that adult moths do not eat? They don’t even have a mouth! Their one mission is to find a mate and carry on life. They only live for about four days.

After my son found the Polyphemus moth, he has been interested in moths, and he studied drawings of them that we found in our nature center’s newsletter. He says he thinks they are even cooler than butterflies, and he may want to study snakes and moths when he grows up. He sketched one in his sketchbook too! I’m wondering if this might turn into a new project?

Note: We are lovers of nature, and I have accumulated many photographs of little discoveries we have made in our yard and on our hikes, so I thought I would dust some of those off and share them with you. Some of the wildlife may be unidentified, but I like to try to learn about what we find, so I’ll do my best to share what I learn with you. I hope you’ll share your knowledge about these discoveries with me too.

I’m happy to make this a new addition to my blog because I am no longer able to do some of things I used to do such as Worthy Reads and Inspire KidsSince beginning my work with the magazine, my time is more limited. (Truthfully, I need to shift the efforts I put into those categories to the magazine. I will share interesting stuff I find on the magazine’s social media and newsletter now.)  The newspaper has also cut my columns down to only two per month, so you’ll see less columns, but I still plan to journal about our homeschooling journey here. Thank you for reading!

June 20, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: My seven-year-old and his pottery

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 18, 2014.

My seven-year-old loves to build things. Mostly, he uses cardboard because we don’t have access to many other materials, but he also loves using clay. For the past three years, I’ve kept air-dry modeling clay on hand because it’s cheap and the boys love it. (I like it ten times better than Playdoh.) The seven-year-old takes his clay building very seriously, and he’s sculpted some pretty cool stuff.

When I found out a homeschooling class was being offered at Good Dirt Clay Studio in Athens, I jumped on it, and to say that my son loved it doesn’t do it justice. He even opted to go there instead of his homeschool science class at the nature center, which has always been a top priority with him.

I wasn’t sure how he’d feel in the big studio with all the different people coming and going, but after one class, his eyes were beaming, and I could tell he was in heaven. I loved how the class taught him some sculpting techniques as well as taught him how to use a potter’s wheel. All the pieces were glazed and fired too, so he got to learn about the whole process. The teacher also made the students spend the last 30 minutes cleaning up after themselves – that’s always an excellent lesson.

He ended up outperforming the older kids in the class by making many more pots than they did. I don’t know if this was because they were talking too much, or they were going for perfection or what. My son’s pots aren’t perfect, but they are all beautiful and useable – they have almost replaced the plastic kid’s ware that we usually use.

I love how my son wanted to use the air-dry clay at home after the class, and he used the techniques he learned from his teacher. In the past, he has gotten frustrated when small pieces fell off his sculptures, or they would easily break. Now he instructs me on how to make a pinch pot and how to “slip and score,” and his work doesn’t fall apart as easily.

rhino made in class

dinosaur made at home using same techniques

I don’t know how long he’ll continue to enjoy making pottery, but his father and I want to support all his interests. Learning any skill is a good thing in my book. The pottery classes aren’t cheap, but they aren’t so expensive that we can’t swing a class here and there.

We also thought he would have fun going to some pottery sales and meeting the potters who sell out of their homes. We are lucky to live in an area rich with this type of craftsperson. About twice a year, they collaborate and have open houses to sell their work.

Last weekend we went to Geoff Pickett’s open house, and we were delighted when he gave us a tour of his studio, kilns, and my son even got to see his potter’s wheel and asked him a question about how he made a vase.

From there, we went to one other sale, and we ran into our son’s pottery teacher. She thrilled him by complimenting him in front of other potters. She said how quickly he learned how to center the clay on the wheel, which is one of the hardest things to get right.

I’m struck by how kind and generous these artists are, and it’s clearly a good community to belong to. I don’t know if my son will continue to learn about pottery, but I’m happy that he’s happy, and I only see good things coming out of the experience.

June 18, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Mama’s Sketchbook Habit

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. ~ Pablo Picasso

Over a year ago, I bought a little sketchbook while I was browsing an art store with my boys. I knew that I wanted to use it myself, but I justified the purchase by allowing it to be another homeschooling tool that I was just going to keep on hand for when the moment was right.

A couple of weeks ago, I was proofreading the Art Start column for the summer issue of home / school / life magazine. (Did I mention I recruited Amy Hood because she’s awesome at explaining this art stuff in a completely stress-less way?) Her column is about starting a sketchbook habit, and it came to me at just the right time.

My little sketchbook that I bought a year earlier was still empty. So were the big, beautiful sketchbooks that were given to my boys for gifts a year or more ago. As soon as I read her column, I knew it was time to change that.

The most important reason besides me wanting a new hobby is that my four-year-old loves to draw. He draws and draws and draws. And paints. (I wrote about that in Project-based Homeschooling Preschool: My four-year-old’s projects.) I’ve got several stacks of paper with his artwork on it, and I don’t know what to do with it all, but I’m not throwing it away. I’m encouraging him to do more. And if I am going to help him draw, then I need to learn about it too. (Remember in project-based homeschooling, parents should model the actions they want their children to take.) While my seven-year-old prefers other mediums, I knew a sketchbook habit might be fun for him too.

But I knew that I couldn’t expect my boys to just start a sketchbook habit. They don’t do things simply because I tell them to. That never works! I knew that I had to get past my insecurities about drawing and just do it for myself. Then, maybe then, they would follow. But if they didn’t, that would be okay too.

I am not an artist, and frankly, I don’t want to be. I can draw well enough to enjoy drawing, but I want to do this so that I have something just for myself. Just for fun. With no pressure.

My passions are writing and photography, but after working at those for so long, they aren’t as fun anymore. I want to remember how to be creative and simply have fun. When I do that, then I start to have more fun with my passions. Does that make sense? I need something that gets me away from my computer too.

I was very happy to see that when I pulled out my sketchbook, my seven-year-old was interested in what I was doing. I told him about that beautiful sketchbook I had been saving for him. I gave it to him, and he’s been using it. (Unfortunately, it has caused some stressful breakdowns on his part when perfectionism rears its ugly head. Sigh. But I think over time the sketchbook may help him deal with that. At least I hope.) It’s supposed to be fun and just for practice!

lagoon outside our vacation condo by seven-year-old

I decided not to give the four-year-old his nice sketchbook yet. This is because he flies through the paper, and I have my limits. First, I gave him the little sketchbook that came with the pencil set I bought. After that, I bought him another inexpensive sketchbook. I will give him the nicer one when he gets a little older.

apple tree in the rain by four-year-old

I do not exaggerate when I say that I think this new sketchbook habit saved my sanity while we were on vacation. My four-year-old was sick that week, and I was stuck in the condo quite a bit, which was disappointing. But it didn’t seem so bad at all when I pulled out my sketchbook, sat on the back deck and drew the gnarly, big oak dripping with Spanish moss. Or when I took a chair down by the lagoon and tried to draw the snowy egrets and their nest.

If you are looking for a creative outlet, I recommend starting a sketchbook habit, especially if you make it stress-free by not caring if your drawings are good or not. It’s the act of sitting quietly, concentrating on an object, and really seeing it that is relaxing. For me, it’s an act of mindfulness and a respite from my busy life.

 My four-year-old asked me to draw the cecropia moth so that he could paint it, which he did.  He said he also tried to paint a luna moth, but he didn’t like it.

seven-year-old drew our cat

June 14, 2014

Visiting Edisto Island Again

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 4, 2014.

About three weeks ago my family was lucky enough to spend a week on beautiful Edisto Island, South Carolina thanks to my aunt who gave us a week in her timeshare. Unfortunately, right before we went, my family was suffering from a virus, and the weather forecast predicted a whole week of thunderstorms.

What could we do but laugh at our situation? This was the very first time we were ever going away on vacation with just the four of us – we decided we’d have to make the best of it. As my husband said, he would rather be sick at the beach than sick at home.

Despite feeling a little poorly, we had a good time and the weather turned out to be beautiful most of the time. Everyone felt well enough to enjoy the beach and other sights.

It has become my great joy in life to discover all the treasures of this earth with my little boys. On our very first walk on the beach that first night we arrived, we found jellyfish, a little squid, beautiful shells and two pairs of horseshoe crabs mating. We watched as the female almost buried herself in the sand, no doubt depositing eggs that were being fertilized.

On other walks on the beach, my son found a large whelk, and in a tidal pool that was almost dried up, he found thousands of fiddler crabs. (Fiddler crabs are tiny and have one long arm and one short.) On the last day when he was out with his dad, they even found a small, dead shark washed up on the beach.

We saw dozens of dolphins breaching the water about 150 yards away from the shore. They seemed to be entertaining the family who were kayaking in the bay. I also took photos of a hermit crab creeping out of its shell onto my son’s hand just before he freaked out and dropped it into the water!

We collected dozens of shells – the picking was tremendous. We found more horseshoe crabs, fiddler crabs, pelicans, and countless other birds I can’t identify.

The beach wasn’t the only place we were able to watch wildlife. Right outside our condo, there was a lagoon surrounded by large, gnarly oaks and palms draped with Spanish moss. On a tiny island inside the lagoon, there were two snowy egret nests, and with binoculars, we could watch the parents feeding the babies. One nest had very young chicks that were gray and wiggly. Another nest had larger offspring whose feathers had already turned white. They practiced stretching their wings, but they still cried for their mother to feed them.

We observed several nests of green herons in the lagoon too. The offspring were big enough to start fending on their own, but they stayed close to mama and practiced hunting in the shallow water near their nests.

We also saw hundreds of turtles, fish, a magnificent blue heron and one small alligator. He remained hidden the first few days we were there, but then almost everyday we watched him from our window as he would glide down the center of the lagoon.

The last time I got to visit the beach was on our visit to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area. It’s well worth a visit, and we hope to explore it more in depth someday. What is unique about this place is that it has only been open to the public since 2008, and no one is allowed to take anything from it, including shells. Because of this, we were able to find a beautiful collection of large unspoiled shells on the beach. The remains of dead trees that once grew along the shoreline were fascinating and wonderful to photograph too.

I especially enjoyed walking on the path through the marsh to get to the beach on Botany Bay, and we took a driving tour through the rest of the 3,363 acres, reading about the old plantations and viewing some of the ruins on the site.

We returned home a day early, but despite some little challenges this trip contained, we still collected a lot of good memories from it too. My family’s general health seems to be improving, and you know what they say: there’s no place like home.

Are you taking any trips this summer? Please tell me about it.

June 10, 2014

Homeschooling: Transitioning to Second Grade

This is a rambling, “thinking out loud” post as I think about our plans for homeschool.

Last summer seemed to have a mind of its own, and my idea to continue homeschooling through the summer quickly went out the window. After that experience, I don’t feel it’s necessary for us to homeschool through the summer. I think we all need a nice long break sometimes.

This summer is presenting me with another option though. After being sick for quite a while and going on vacation, I came back and felt like continuing our learning routine. There’s something about having a little structure to our day that feels good. I don’t know if I’ll continue this through the whole summer, but I have some things I want to accomplish before we take a longer break.

I noticed that we have only three more chapters in Life of Fred: Cats, which is our math curriculum. (Did I tell you we picked that up again? Yes, we did! I’ll write more on that later.) We’re also starting to do reading practice in some longer chapter books. (I’ve been using the recommended book list at the back of 100 Easy Lessons as well as some reading material my son picked.)

At some point we’re going to do what we did last year: an end of the year review. I have given myself the deadline of “sometime in the summer.” I think that’s a good, realistic goal. I have already written his progress report (which is part of Georgia law). Now I’m trying to decide what kind of slideshow I want to make. Last year I used PowerPoint, but I may just make one in my photo program.

The slideshow is a great way for my son to see everything he’s done. It gives him a feeling of accomplishment. I also give him a little certificate and a small present – something fun that helps him continue with his studies.

As I complete these end-of-the-year goals, I will write about them. (If you want to know how I write our progress report, you can see my Printables Page or e-mail me for more details.)

I’m also excited to be looking forward to next year, which will be 2nd grade for my seven-year-old (although he will be eight when we begin). I will be continuing what we’ve been doing, but I just looked through a big drawer of educational materials that my teacher-sister has sent to me over the past few years. I was happy to find plenty of materials that I think he’s ready for, so I’m considering how I might use them, or if I need to. More about that later.

I’m also going to consider that my four-year-old (soon-to-be five-year-old) is in pre-K starting this fall. My only goal for him will be to learn his letters and the sounds really well. (He knows most of the letters already, and numbers and everything else he’s quite skilled at already.) We’ll see how that goes. He’s a different kind of learner than his brother, and he has different strengths. I’m not going to push him, but I’m going to be a little more intentional about teaching him. Part of the reason I’m doing this is because he has started to show an interest – he’s pretending to write a lot, and he’s enjoying the practice writing sheets I’m giving him while I do lessons with his brother. So we’ll go slow and at his pace.

You may wonder why I bother using grade levels? Yes, I think grade levels are arbitrary, and I want to go by my sons’ abilities and interests rather than pigeonhole them. But I also find it useful to gauge where they are and what I might introduce to them. I have no problem pulling back, if they balk at something, but why not continue to move forward, if we can? While I want to follow my children’s interests, I also want to give them a very solid education, so I’m going to tick boxes without them knowing about it.

Within our child-centered, project-based homeschool, I find I’m able to “tick” most boxes without trying. It’s amazing what kids will learn when given the freedom to do so. But I’m also balancing that by filling in a few gaps. I like using grade levels (the grade level I give them – most kids start earlier than mine) because it gives us a framework to work within. Plus I’m just one of those people who like to organize things. But I totally get why other people choose to ditch grade levels altogether.

So, I’m getting ready for our end-of-year review. I’m so excited! It’s hard to believe that my seven-year-old has almost completed 1st grade! The year went so fast!

Here’s a little of what you can expect from me as I find the time to write it:

  • Project-based Homeschooling posts on DNA, pottery, and other building projects
  • Something about my son’s summer camps
  • Homeschooling: Things I’ve tried that didn’t stick (I’ve wanted to write this a long time.)
  • Our 1st grade year review and progress report
  • My new sketchbook habit

I can’t promise anything, of course, but by writing out my intentions here, I’ll be more likely to follow-up!

Are you homeschooling through the summer? What fun plans do you have for the summer?

June 5, 2014

The Joy of Salamanders and Other Natural Things

I’m trying to remember when I first discovered that I’m a nature girl at heart. I’m lucky because my parents loved to travel and spend time in nature. We weren’t exactly roughing it because they owned a big RV, but we traveled through many national parks, and my dad loved boating, so I’ve spent time on different lakes and waterways.

I can remember taking long walks with my best friends during my late teens and early twenties. I loved being outside even if it meant walking along city streets. I always noticed the trees, flowers and birds. Whenever I traveled anywhere, I would seek out parks and other beautiful places. I’ve always loved hiking, and I have gravitated to friends who enjoy hiking too.

I met a friend in my late twenties who was a biologist, and she sparked a deep respect in me for the little critters of this earth. She loved frogs and snakes, and for a while she studied salamanders in the Smoky Mountains. I visited her once while she was doing some fieldwork. I thought she had an awesome job.

But I’m not sure I truly understood how much nature – and spending time in nature – meant to me until I became a mother of little boys. Seeing the world through their eyes makes me know on a deeper level how much all of this means to me.

Being in nature is something I crave, and I love learning more about it. Whether it’s learning how alligator moms carry their babies in their mouths or how to grow carnivorous plants, I find more joy in this – in making discoveries and feeling part of this mysterious and wondrous world – than anything else I’m part of. I am in awe of this planet and its place in the universe, and I believe that I’m very lucky to find joy in something so accessible to us all. I believe that finding joy in the simple process of observing and learning is what leads to lasting happiness.

On Mother’s Day, my family took me hiking in the North Georgia Mountains because they know that’s what I love most. First, we climbed the short trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. It’s a beautiful, paved path along Smith Creek, and on Mother’s Day, it was quite crowded, but we didn’t care. We were not there only to view the falls – we went to find the salamanders.

There’s a rocky, muddy wall along the path, and a natural spring drips down it constantly. Even in the coldest part of winter, the water there stays about fifty degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celcius). This is a perfect habitat for salamanders. They like to hide away in the rock crevices. We must have found a dozen of them.

While other tourists passed us by or lingered only for a few moments, we crowded around this wall for a long time (on the way up and on the way down). My seven-year-old said, “I could stay here forever!”

I was reminded of my old friend who studied salamanders, and I was reminded of all the times I’ve been hiking with family and friends, and the peaceful feeling that I get whenever I’m in the mountains, sitting by a gurgling stream. There’s no better place on earth, in my humble opinion.

I’m glad my son thought he could sit there by those salamanders forever. I hope that someday when he’s grown up and dealing with grown-up problems, he’ll remember the good times he had looking for salamanders by a mountain stream, and he’ll be able to go back there, seeking solace. A home for his heart.

June 2, 2014

Robot Mom

The only photo of me taken on our vacation – taken on our first night in the condo by daddy with his tablet. (Because I’m usually taking all the photos.)

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 21, 2014.

In the late 90s, I worked for US Airways at the Athens Ben Epps Airport. Truly, it was the best job I ever had for two reasons – the varied work suited me, and most importantly, I worked with some awesome people. It’s the only time I witnessed true teamwork despite working in offices where employers touted the term “teamwork” frequently.

Now that I look back, I realize that the work suited me because I’m not cut out for sitting in an office in front of a computer for eight hours. At the airport I got to work with people, work inside and outside, do physical work, and work on the computer. There were slow times between flights, and there were intense times while checking people in for the flight, loading their bags on the plane, running the security check point, and marshaling the plane in and out of its parking spot. Many times there were only two of us working, and since it was a small airport most of the passengers thought they could arrive five minutes before takeoff. (That wasn’t helpful.)

Once a passenger asked me, “Do you fly the airplane too?”

“Only in emergencies.” I joked.

My co-workers and I worked well together because everyone did exactly what was needed of them in any given moment. None of us favored one task over another, so we jumped in wherever we were needed. The only exception to this was our manager, and though that may sound like a criticism, I actually liked her. She was a nice woman, but when she was there she disrupted the flow of our work for various reasons. Later I learned the only reason she took the job as manager was because there was no else to do it, and she gladly gave it up when someone else wanted it.

The reason I’m telling this story is because I have a vivid memory of one day when a flight was cancelled, and twenty passengers stood before us in a panic because they were going to miss their connection in Charlotte, NC. One of my co-workers and I worked so smoothly and quickly helping each passenger in line that we deflated any quick-tempered passengers.

What I remember about that moment is my manager standing near us and exclaiming, “Look at them! They’re like robots!” It was always hard for her to understand how we could remain so unflustered during those stressful moments.

Now all these years later that memory keeps resurfacing because once again, I find myself in a situation that requires varied tasks. I get to work with awesome people, get outside, do physical work, and part of the day, I’m on my computer. But it’s even better because I get to do creative work and continually learn new things too.

The bad part is that I never get a day off, and I’m so busy going from task to another that I rarely get a chance to rest. I never get to cross everything off my to do list either. Indeed, this is the life of a mother, especially a homeschooling mom, and a freelance writer, and it’s not lost on me that sometimes I must look like a robot. That is, focused, hurried and unsmiling.

I’m trying to remember to smile more. I want my outward appearance to match how I’m feeling inside. I want my kids to know that I love my job, and I love them. Even when I’m tired, there’s nowhere I’d rather be but right here.

I have so many good memories from my time working at the small airport. I could write a book about all the characters I met there, and all the laughter and smiles. Did I appreciate it while I worked there? I think so, but I know there were days that it was just a job.

My current job is anything but “just a job,” so I hope I can remember that each moment is a memory in the making.

May 9, 2014

Lazy B Farm

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 7, 2014.

You may be familiar with Lazy B Farm because we’re lucky enough to have this beautiful homestead in Barrow County. They have been doing a Sheep to Shawl event every year in Statham that was just this past weekend, and my boys and I were lucky enough to attend a farm field trip at Lazy B last week with some of our homeschool friends.

My boys were jumping with joy with anticipation of this field trip, and it didn’t disappoint them at all. They were able to touch many of the animals, including a turkey, duck, goats, and horses. We also watched her feed pigs and cows.

The farmer, Cyndi Ball, told us that she is a self-taught homesteader. She wanted a different way of life for her six children that she homeschooled, and some of them had allergies that brought to her attention some of the unhealthy practices in which our food and products are made. In 2002, she and her family moved to Georgia, bought land, and started Lazy B Farm. She has taught herself how to raise her own meat, make cheese, become a beekeeper and more.

She says she has made many mistakes along the way, but it’s apparent that she has learned from them because her farm is a beautiful, welcoming place with many healthy animals. Lazy B Farm is a teaching farm, and Cyndi offers homesteading workshops such as “Raising Chickens,” “Junior Beekeeping,” “Wildcrafting Jams and Jellies,” “Making Cheese,” “Soapmaking,” and more.

Cyndi showed the children how a beehive is made, and she let them touch a honeycomb and a block of beeswax that she had made. She let them touch the wool that was sheared off a sheep and showed them the steps it takes to turn it into yarn and a finished hat. She had them stand up one at a time as she explained how many people it takes to get some milk from a cow to the grocery store (twelve), and she compared that to the one person it takes at her farm to bring it from the cow to her kitchen table.

Of course, the animals were the stars of the show. She brought out Fred and Ethel, two of her turkeys. Fred is a commercial turkey that has been bred to be much bigger than natural turkeys, but Cyndi is keeping him and letting him live his life out on the farm. Fred was obviously used to strutting his stuff in front of an audience, and the kids loved him.

The chickens didn’t seem interested in coming out of the coop, and I couldn’t blame them since there were so many children and adults staring back at them. Cyndi is caring for these chickens as part of a research project with the USDA. The USDA wants to find out if chickens raised on a farm like Cyndi’s will have any traces of salmonella after they are butchered – so far, they can’t find a single trace.

The pigs were enormous, and it was nice to see that they have a good home under some cool shade trees and plenty of mud to dig into. Did you know that pigs are actually quite clean animals? They picked a corner in their pen to use as the “bathroom” and will only relieve themselves in that place. The reason they roll in the mud is to keep their skin from burning in the sun. Their skin is similar to ours, and mud acts like sunscreen.

Cyndi keeps her meat cows at friend’s farm where there is more space, but she has a dairy cow at her place that is now nursing a five-week-old calf. She said she has just recently noticed the calf starting to sample the grass and his mama’s food. Up until now he has lived solely off her milk.

My son’s favorite animals were the goats. He said the baby goats were very cute, and he enjoyed petting them. The children even got to take turns milking a goat, and I got to try too! (Clearly I’m not a natural. It’s harder than it looks.)

If you haven’t visited Lazy B Farm, you should. You can make an appointment to buy Cyndi’s products or organize a tour with some of your friends during tour season. Visit the Lazy B Farm website at thelazybfarm.com for more information.

 

May 1, 2014

Spring Discoveries at Ft. Yargo

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 30, 2014.

This is a beautiful time of year for walking in the woods, and last week we had an especially fun hike at Ft. Yargo State Park. Besides the weather being perfect, we discovered wildlife, blooming flowers and a new trail.

After studying the map of Ft. Yargo, I have learned that one of the trails we walked on is not on it. Right across the big bridge, the Lake Loop Trail splits and if you head right, it’s not marked on the map, but there is a clear trail with yellow blazes. At the end of it, we turned right and headed up a bike trail.

Now I have learned from the park’s website that hikers are discouraged on these bike trails because of the speed of some cyclists, but I’m glad we didn’t know hikers were discouraged from walking there because it ended up being a beautiful trail and parts of it were right along the lake. I guess it’s fortunate we went on a Monday, and I only remember passing one jogger and one cyclist going at a slower speed.

It’s on the west side of park and passes through an area called Deadwood Hill. It was named so because many of the trees in this area are dying due to disease and lightning, but everything we saw was still quite pretty.

The dogwoods were blooming, looking like points of white light peeking out from between new spring green leaves. There were pink and white flowering bushes right along the edge of the lake, and when I got closer, I could see they looked like a kind of honeysuckle.

I only had my son’s point and shoot on this walk, but at least I was able to capture one turtle before he escaped into the water!

We have never seen so many turtles before in one place. There was one fallen tree in the water with eleven turtles lined up on it, and as we got closer, all but one brave little turtle plopped into the water. We found many other turtles along the way, but they were too far away to identify. I’m guessing some of them were yellow-bellied pond sliders, though.

Several geese live around Ft. Yargo. On another hike a few weeks ago we found a nesting goose near the dam, and on this particular walk we heard some fierce squabbling from two geese that were either mating or protecting a nest.

We spied a bright red wild honeysuckle, which I also have growing wild in my backyard. We found where the fish were hiding along the edge of the lake (those fisherman on the bridge said they weren’t catching many), and some kind of large wasps were making nests in the brambles on the edge of the water – not something I like to see at home but interesting enough to watch with little boys on a trail.

I also found a fern growing in the underbrush that is new to me. From my search on the web, I think it is a Woodwardia areolata or Netted chainfern. If I’m right, it grows all along the eastern U.S. and as far west as Oklahoma and Texas.

It is fun to return again and again to a favorite park or trail and watch the seasonal changes. Over the past few years we have seen other wildlife at the park such as a great blue heron, and once we heard wild turkeys gobbling at some distance in the woods. I’m sure if we could get ourselves out of bed at an earlier hour, we might get lucky to find the more elusive animals, but for now we’re content to find deer tracks on our afternoon hikes. And despite how common they are, I’m still thrilled every time I catch sight of a red cardinal or a flash of blue from that bossy blue jay.

April 28, 2014

Magazine Update: Free Monthly Newsletter

home / school / life magazine is offering a free, monthly newsletter, and I hope you will sign up.

This will be the place where we can really engage with YOU, our readers. As I said before, I want home / school / life to be more than a magazine – I want it to be a community. So I want to learn what our readers have to say, and I want them to learn from each other! I hope you will consider contributing to some of these things we’ll have in our monthly newsletter, and maybe we’ll be inspired to cook up new ways for you to be part of our community in the future too!

Student Spotlight ~

We’re all doing this for our kids, right? So let’s celebrate our kids by sharing their work! Please send in a photo of your child’s project, artwork, or their participation in a class, field trip, your homeschool day, or whatever it is you’re proud about! Include a caption, child’s first name, age and the state or country.

Recipe Swap ~

I know all of you are much better cooks than I am! Please share your favorite recipe with us! (Please be aware of copyright if it’s not an original recipe. We may not be able to share a recipe that is not yours unless we get permission. Let us know – we may be able to help.)

Homeschooling Tip ~

We have all learned something from our homeschooling journey. Let’s share that with each other! We’re aiming to collect 101 quick homeschooling tips! The challenge will be to tell it in three sentences or less! Once we collect 101 of them, we will post them all on our website! (Hurry because we won’t publish tips that are too much alike.)

We’re happy to include any blog URLs with your contributions too!

I hope you’ll participate. There is no deadline. Just send me what you’ve got, and I’ll put them in a queue. We will be sending a newsletter once a month, so depending on how many are in the queue, your contribution may take awhile to appear. I’ll be sure to let you know when it does!

Of course, we’ll also use the newsletter to make important announcements and share interesting links, and I love inspirational quotes, so I’m going to include one of those in each newsletter too.

Click here to E-mail Your Contributions 

(For the subject line, please specify “Student Spotlight,” “Recipe” or “Homeschool Tip.”)

Click Here to Subscribe to the Newsletter.

(Your information will not be used for anything other than this newsletter!)

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