July 27, 2015

Our Summer Homeschooling Plans

My son’s carnivorous plants are thriving, and one plan we have for this summer is to give them a bigger pot!

Someone once told me that summer has a mind of its own, and I believe that. For the past few summers, I’ve learned to go with the flow, and I know that my plans might not come to fruition. That’s happened this year too, but I’m pretty happy about what we’ve accomplished anyway.

I always wonder if we should do some formal lessons in the summer or just have unlimited free time. The thing about not having any schedule is that I’m afraid I might disconnect from my kids, concentrating on projects around the house and work that I’ve been neglecting for a long time. I’ve also noticed that having a little structure just feels right for us. If I keep the boys busy in the morning, they are less likely to mope around and say they are bored in the afternoon when I need them to play by themselves. Or, if I decide to let them have free play time in the morning, one of them might come ask me to do something with them anyway. So, if I feel like I’ve planned to spend the time with them, I don’t get as discombobulated, wondering when to say yes and when to say no. I hope that makes sense!

Of course, we do need days when there is nothing on the schedule, and the boys can do anything they want. We do that plenty of days all year round, so I’m not too worried about making them do too much. Besides, what I consider schoolwork for the boys is not torture, and sometimes, it’s exactly what they want to do. It just helps me to have a plan so I can make sure we’re accomplishing our goals.

Here was my loose idea of what we could work on this summer. Keep in mind that this isn’t a daily list. Some of these items we may do everyday, but others we may only do weekly or even just a day or two in the summer.

  • Math — I’m going to be making math more a priority for my eight-year-old from here on out because he’s pretty much got the reading thing.
  • Readalouds
  • The boy’s projects
  • News and current events
  • Art
  • Catch up on Nature Journals
  • Work on our junior ranger badges
  • Memorize a poem
  • Work on our history timeline
  • Summer camps

So how’s that going? Here you go:

Math — Yes, we’ve worked on math. But I was planning to do more readalouds with math books, and that didn’t happen because it’s hard to get the books from the library! (Other people want the same books I do. Grrr.) However, we did read The History of Counting, and I signed my eight-year-old up for Splash Math’s summer program. I don’t actually recommend that program — I thought it was going to be something else, but it’s just a review. If you need a review, and your kid likes working on the computer, then it might be a good fit. It has fun graphics. I signed up early, so it wasn’t expensive, but as it gets harder, my son really hates it, and it doesn’t offer any explanation of how to do the problems (it only tells you the right answer, if you get it wrong), so I’m considering letting him stop.

Readalouds — Like I said, I was hoping all of our readalouds would be about math, but that didn’t happen. So we’re continuing on in The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, which was one of our best library book sale finds ever. (We got it for $2!) The boys like Winnie much better than the math books anyway. (We also read books of my sons’ choice, usually at bedtime, but I’m not counting that here because it’s not part of my formal homeschool plan.)

The boy’s projects — I started a project calendar, and I’ve been trying to make myself available when the boys might want to make or do something time-intensive, and that is working out fairly well. (I’ll write about this in more detail at some point.) However, their projects these days are less about making something and more about doing: My eight-year-old started taking piano lessons this summer, and he’s practicing at home on his own. The five-year-old is interested in birds, and he mostly wants to look at our bird app, which I do with him at night before bed. I listed all of my boys’ current projects in The Summer Rundown.

News and current events — For a while, I was wondering how to introduce my son to news and current events in a way that would engage him. home/school/life magazine has a great list of resources on its blog, which came from the Summer 2014 issue, but my son seemed too young for most of those. Then I found News-O-Matic, which is an app. My son didn’t like it at first, but I incorporated it into our lessons, and now he voluntarily checks it everyday! I can’t recommend it enough.

Art — Most Fridays (but not all), I have kept up with our art lessons, and I even incorporated some math! One Friday I surprised the boys by turning Art Friday into a field trip to the Georgia Museum of Art.

Catch up on Nature Journals — My eight-year-old used to enjoy this more, but it may be coming to a close. The day we were working on this, my son lost interest pretty fast, so I probably won’t make him continue. After all, we started it when he was four, maybe?!

Work on junior ranger badges — I thought we might make a point to go on some family outings to places that we need to go to make progress on getting the next badges this summer, but with the intense heat and the summer camps keeping us busy, we’re not going to make much headway this summer. That’s okay because it’s just an ongoing project that we do whenever we can. We did, however, earn some Civil War badges this summer. They didn’t require a lot of work, and it was fun too.

Memorize a poem — This is something I’d like to start incorporating into our homeschool on a seasonal basis, but so far, I am lousy at making time for it. The boys and I memorized poems in the spring, but I never did anything with it. I should have videotaped them because they’ve probably forgotten it by now!

Work on our history timeline — I finished making two big timelines this spring, and I need to get more intentional about adding what we learn about history to them. Really, it’s just about setting aside a day to work on this because we have some things in mind to add to it! I think we’ll get to this soon.

Summer CampsTruly, the summer is about summer camps. It’s my number one priority for many reasons, and anything else we can get done is just icing on the cake. I wrote about the camps my sons took in my upcoming column, which will be published soon, and I’ll post it here too.

As you can see, we haven’t been able to do everything. But with lots of play time, gardening, bird-watching, sketching, and other odds and ends, we have had quite a full summer! Soon, I’m going to do an end-of-the-year celebration and let my sons know that they are moving on to 3rd grade and Kindergarten. I have been busy planning some birthday celebrations and next year’s curriculum too….I’ll be sure to update you about that as it happens.

Do you homeschool year-round? What are your favorite summer activities?

July 21, 2015

Piano Lessons

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 15, 2015.

My friends were all surprised when I told them that my eight-year-old wanted to take piano lessons. I had never talked about music with them before, and my son had never mentioned it when we were on a play date. That’s because music is my husband’s domain. He’s not a musician, and he has never played an instrument, but listening to music – all kinds of music – is one of his favorite pastimes. It’s how he relaxes.

My husband’s playlists on his iPod are well organized while I don’t feel like I have time to fiddle with a MP3 player. Rides in the car with me are mostly music-less. I love music, but listening to my boy’s chatter all day makes me savor any silence I can get. Riding with my husband is fun, though, because he’s got music for every mood.

But my son’s interest in music started much earlier. We have a funny story about how Beethoven’s 9th symphony, or at least, Ode to Joy, became his favorite piece of music. There was about a year or more when my son was four and five when he wanted to listen to this symphony constantly, and we obliged him by listening to it in the car. He had heard it on an episode of Little Einsteins, and despite hearing many pieces of music on that show, he had latched on to that one.

I will always wonder if it had something to do with the fact that when I was pregnant with him, my husband and I attended a free concert at the University of Georgia to hear Beethoven’s 9th. It’s during that concert that I felt the unmistakable movements of my baby inside my womb for the very first time. I’ll never know for sure, but we always tell our son that that’s why he loves Beethoven’s 9th symphony so much.

Also when he was five and six, we attended a church that had a fantastic piano player. My son wanted to sit right up in the first pew in front of the piano and watch that guy play. He played lots of classical music. Our son was so fascinated with the piano that we asked him if he wanted to take piano lessons. At that time, he gave an unequivocal no, so we forgot about it.

Fast forward to a few months ago, and one night, my husband found my son pretending to play piano on our cheap, digital keyboard. My husband, expecting to hear “no” again, asked my son if he’d like to take piano lessons. We were both taken aback when our son said yes.

At first, we said no. We were wondering how we could afford the lessons and buy the proper equipment, but after two or three months more, my husband started to feel guilty about that and said he wanted our son to have the lessons, if he really wanted them. And he did.

So now he’s been taking lessons for a few weeks. Through a local homeschooling group, I found a great teacher whose rates we can afford, and better yet, she lives in nearby Statham. Through some research, my husband discovered that you actually could buy a full digital piano with weighted keys at a reasonable price. They are good for beginners, at least.

Our son seems to enjoy the lessons, and he’s practicing everyday, though we don’t force him. This is his thing, and we’ll be happy for as long as it lasts. He knows, however, that we won’t continue paying for lessons, if he isn’t going to practice.

I am thrilled because music is one subject I knew I couldn’t teach, and I was afraid we would have a gap in the boys’ education because of that. Though if nothing else, my husband gives the boys lessons in music appreciation. He shows them YouTube videos of everything from classical music to hard rock. Now that the eight-year-old is taking piano lessons, they are spending time exploring different kinds of composers and watching symphonies online. Of course, they started off with Beethoven’s 9th.

As I’ve said before, my son is not me, and I’m so glad about that. When I was young, I wanted to play the flute, but did I ever practice? No. Somehow this kid inherited the genes of discipline, and I can’t wait to see where this takes him.

July 13, 2015

The Summer Rundown

An Update On Our Homeschool, Projects, and Life

Okay, so I know that life speeds up the older we get, but gah, homeschooling can really make it move! We spend everyday exploring, doing chores, learning, doing chores, working toward our goals, doing chores…you get the picture. I might add that I’m the one doing most of the chores around here. For the boys, you can switch “doing chores” to “playing.” ;)

But life is good. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t look at my family and my home and think how lucky I am. Sure, we’re always striving for more, but I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got.

Summer fun: We always enjoy going to Snake Day at the nature center in early June.

One of things I don’t have, unfortunately, is time to blog as much as I’d like. I would love to make a separate post for each of my boy’s endeavors and homeschooling lessons, going in depth about what we do. If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know I try to do that when I can. But this summer, it’s just not happening. At least not yet. So I’m going to give you a little rundown about what we’ve been up to, and if I can get to a more detailed post later, I will. I’m writing this list as a way to help me do my record-keeping and know what to focus my writing on these next few weeks, but you definitely don’t have to wait until I find time to write about these things, if you want to know more. Just write me a comment or send me an e-mail. I love corresponding with fellow homeschoolers and offering support and encouragement.

We went blueberry and strawberry picking this summer too!

HOMESCHOOLING

Our summer schedule – I decided to keep homeschooling during the summer, but we’re not working on all the subjects. Our priority has been math. I am planning to write a post about summer homeschooling, so I’ll go into more detail then.

Summer camps – I love summer camps, and I think they offer homeschooling kids a great way to socialize and focus on some of their main interests. I’ll try to write about the summer camps my kids attended this year at the end of the summer.

Art – I’ve kept up with Art Fridays (most weeks), including a fun field trip to the Georgia Museum of Art. I’m going to try to write about these when I can. Since my focus this summer has been math, Amy Hood’s Art Together issue focusing on art and math was perfect for us, and one day the eight-year-old and I learned about Fibonacci’s sequence, and I helped him build a structure using the sequence as inspiration. That was fun!

Civil War Badge – Both my boys earned a Civil War badge through the Georgia State Parks and Historic Places this summer! It was a lot of fun to learn a little bit about the war before we actually delve into formal history lessons.

Our history timeline – At the end of spring, I finally checked off a long-time goal and that was to make a big history timeline that now hangs in our upstairs hallway. Actually, I made two timelines. This will be something we add to over many years as we discover new facts about history.

Our end of the year review and celebration – I’m planning to do this again at the end of July, and I’m working on our annual slideshow of everything we did during the year. If you want to read about how I handle the end of the year, you can see ­­­­Homeschooling: End of the Year Review and Progress Report.

There’s always more time to go with my kid’s ideas in the summer.

PROJECTS

As you know, I make my boys’ projects a priority. Some new interests have been creeping up, and it’s been fun to see them develop. As I get the time, I’ll write more about these:

Birds – I have been seeing the theme of birds pop up in my boys’ interests lately, especially for my five-year-old. He is carrying around some beloved bird toys, and he loves collecting feathers, and every night, instead of reading a book, we’re looking at birds in our bird app, looking at their photos, where they live, and listening to the sounds they make. I definitely want to write about this more when I can, but I have already written about how the real birds gave us a show this summer, and wow, how special is that?! And you can see the photographs I took of a cardinal family rearing their young on my photography blog.

Piano – My eight-year-old started piano lessons this summer! We are so excited about this, and I already wrote a column about that and will be posting it soon.

Robotics – My eight-year-old has been interested in robotics for a while, and he’s learned about them in a few different ways. But this isn’t something he works on everyday. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the steps he’s taken with this in an upcoming post.

More building projects – I have noticed my son’s general desire to create things with cardboard and craft materials has slowed down, but he did finish another Star Wars ship recently, and he’s got a list of ideas he keeps saying he’ll work on. We’ll see…

The project calendar – In order to help me make sure that I’m giving my boys the time they need to work on their own projects, I developed a project calendar. I’ll explain how I’m doing that at some point.

After learning about food webs on the show Wild Kratts, my boys decided to make one of their own. All I did was print off the photos they wanted from the web.

My five-year-old decided he wanted to make one all by himself without his brother’s help.

MISCELLANEOUS UPDATES

You may have already read that home/school/life has a new website, and we’re giving away the summer issue for free to celebrate. If you want to take advantage of that, read this. I’m happy to see the magazine growing, and it’s getting a lot of good feedback, but we still need more subscribers. It’s a lot of work, and the brunt of that work is on editor-in-chief, Amy Sharony, but I feel hopeful the magazine will get to a place where it can afford to hire more writers and bloggers and general help!

I, too, am working on some other projects that I hope will eventually get me to my goal of earning a decent part-time salary working from home. I’m going to be pursuing more freelance opportunities, but gosh, it’s so hard to get everything done while taking care of my boys, homeschooling them, and taking care of the house too. (Obviously, if anyone has any leads for me, I would welcome them.)

Good thing I love what I do! I have worked out a system to get things done, and though everything gets done slowly, it gets done. Hmmm…that might be a good topic for a column or blog post someday too.

Funny thing, even though it’s only mid-July, public school starts here on August 4th, and since my boys are involved in some activities that correspond with the traditional school year, I’m starting to feel like summer is going to be winding down soon. And I feel like it’s barely just begun! Well, August is birthday month for us, though. That’ll slow down the homeschooling at least, and it’ll give me more to write about. Like I said, time is going fast, and my boys are growing fast too!

I hope that whatever you are up to these summer months, you are healthy, safe and having fun. If you have some time, I’d love to hear about what you’re doing in the comments section.

July 9, 2015

Website Launch and Free Give-away

SUMMER15-coverThis has been an exciting week for me because after a long wait, home/school/life magazine finally has a brand new, shiny website! The magazine is growing up, and I’m thrilled to see it get the platform it deserves. Here are some of the highlights that the new website will have:

  • Subscriber accounts. Subscribers to the magazine will now have their own login/password, and they will have a virtual bookshelf where they can access all their past issues.
  • The home/school/life store. Now you can purchase a subscription, gift subscription and all the back issues right in the store.
  • Magazine content. This new site will have a section dedicated just to sharing free content from the magazine.
  • Blog. The blog will continue to offer the same great writers and content. You’ll find me there sometimes too. :)

To celebrate, this month the blog will be updated every day, and even better, we are giving away a FREE copy of the summer issue of home/school/life magazine. Until August 1st, you can go the website’s store and use the code OUTFORAWALK to download a free copy of the summer issue. You’re welcome to share this information with whomever you like too.

I hope you’ll take advantage of this and then let know what you think of home/school/life. Thank you so much for your support!

July 6, 2015

Birds

mama feeding chicks 6.21.15-1

Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on July 1, 2015.

I may call this the spring and summer of birds. My family and I have always enjoyed watching the songbirds in our yard. We love the cardinals, bluebirds, tufted titmice, hummingbirds and chickadees. Every time my boys see a flash of red out the window, they call out, “There’s a male cardinal!”

But this year, birds have become more of a focus, and though I wish I could take credit for it, it has all happened by chance. First, we were lucky that a family of Carolina wrens took up residence in a birdhouse we keep on our back deck. This birdhouse has been sitting empty for several years, and we wondered if it were in a bad spot, or maybe it was too close to the other birdhouse we keep on our front porch. We’ve had bluebirds nest in it consistently, and we know they don’t like to compete with other bluebird families for food.

Though we’ve enjoyed watching the bluebirds on our front porch feeding their babies in the past years, and we could always hear the little chicks screaming for food, we had never before seen the baby birds fledge. This year, to the squeals of delight by my sons, we saw not only a baby bluebird sitting on our front porch rail, we also looked out the window the exact moment when a Carolina wren flew from its birdhouse into the big wide world for the first time.

After all this excitement was over, my eldest son noticed a cardinal building a nest in a bush right outside our living room window. She placed it where we could see it perfectly, and we got very excited.

It took Mama Cardinal about a day to build her nest, and two days later, we could tell there were at least two eggs in it. After that, Mama consistently sat on the nest most of the day, though she seemed to leave for a while in the evenings, probably to find food. She protected the nest through some rough storms too.

About twelve days later, we felt the chicks would hatch soon. We began to see Papa Cardinal hanging out in the trees nearby. Sure enough, they hatched two days later, and then we had the pleasure of watching both Mama and Papa feed the two little chicks, though not quite as frequently as the bluebirds seem to feed their chicks.

Little by little, they grew until we could see they were now looking back at us through the window, and one night, they jumped from the nest into the branches of the bush. There was no sign of them in the morning, so we hope they made it to the safety of the nearby woods.

Not surprisingly, birds have been a theme in my sons’ interests lately. Even before these birds began nesting in our yard, my five-year-old has had a fascination with feathers, and most evenings after dinner, he likes to take a walk with me so that he can look for feathers – you’d be surprised at how many you can find, if you just start looking.

The boys have always loved looking at the bird field guide app, especially when they see an interesting bird they want to identify, and someone gave us The Bird Songs Anthology by Les Beletsky, which features 200 birds and the sounds they make. I have discovered that my eight-year-old has an uncanny memory for bird songs, and whenever we’re outside, he’ll say, “That’s the tufted titmouse!” or “That’s a cardinal!” My ears could never sort and remember all those bird songs, but I have always suspected my son is very auditory, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

The birds have given my family a show this year, so I think I’ll always remember this as the year of the birds. Or maybe it’s the beginning of many years of learning about birds. I can’t wait to find out.

Eventually I’m going to post more photos of the cardinal family, but until I have time for that, you can see a bunch of them on the home/school/life Facebook page.

June 22, 2015

Engineering for Kids

Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on June 17, 2015. 

It’s no secret that the United States has been pushing more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in education. Though I’m not sure I agree with all the motives for that, and I certainly don’t want to see cuts in the arts due to it, I’m glad there are more opportunities for kids to learn and explore these areas. Many kids thrive with hands-on learning, so there should be more of that.

My eight-year-old is one of those kids who seems to be on a track for a STEM career. Sure, he could change, but when I was his age, I was already writing poetry. (He’s so not me. Thank goodness.) He likes to build things, and he loves science. He’s crazy about Legos and Minecraft. He enjoys art and has even written stories, but the passion isn’t there. His preferred craft is pottery, which, of course, has a lot to do with using one’s hands and building too.

We have done everything we can to support his interests despite the fact that my husband and I come from a business and liberal arts background. (It’s been a steep learning curve for us.) Last year I looked in vain for classes within driving distance to support my son’s love of robotics. He’s learned a lot at home, but there’s only so much more we can do here.

CO2 powered dragster races

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

 click above image to go to video

For these reasons, I jumped for joy when I found Engineering for Kids of Northeast Georgia, a franchise that is serving Barrow, Dawsonville, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Hall and Jackson counties. Engineering for Kids provides programming for kids ages 4 to 14 that introduces STEM education. They go into the schools, offer after-school programs, homeschool programs, camps, birthday parties, you name it.

This past spring, I enrolled my son in their STEM Club Saturdays that was being held once a month next door to INK Musuem in Gainesville. He had a great time making a CO2 powered dragster, a model of a roller coaster, and a bottle rocket.

Building a scale model of a roller coaster and learning about kinetic and potential energy in the process.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

bottle rocket. click above image to see video.

The owner of the franchise, Jeffrey Butler, told me that he was working on securing a facility in Barrow County for his summer camps, and he did. They will be at the Sims Academy of Innovation & Technology this July.

They will have a “Pirate Academy” and “Junior Robotics: Adventure Stories” for ages PreK-2nd grades. At the “Apprentice/Master” Level (3rd-8th grade), they are offering an “Out of This World Space Camp” and a “Robotics: Mission to Mars” camp. They offer discounts, if your child wants to stay for a full day and participate in both camps.

Butler says they plan to offer a year-round Engineering for Kids Club in Winder in the fall. He said they started this last year at the Lanier Technical College Winder-Barrow campus. They will release their 2015/16 schedule of classes in the summer, and they plan to do an Open House/Customer Appreciation event at their Gainesville campus in early August.

If you’d like to learn more about Engineering for Kids, go to engineeringforkids.com. For the Northeast Georgia home, see https://engineeringforkids.com/location/northeastga/home

June 8, 2015

Cloudland Canyon State Park

main overview at Cloudland Canyon State Park

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 3, 2015.

Last month we had time to take a short vacation, so we decided it would be a good time to visit Cloudland Canyon State Park. It is located in the very northwest corner of Georgia. We stayed in a cabin in the nearby small town of Rising Fawn, and from there we were only 20 minutes from Chattanooga, TN, and four miles from the Alabama border.

The canyon is a must-see, if you haven’t been there. I didn’t even know about it until I saw it on an episode of GPB’s Georgia Outdoors. The canyon is vast and beautiful, full of trees and shrubs, painting it with different shades of green.

Cloudland Canyon

The ancient sandstone is still eroding, and it’s a great place for geology enthusiasts. Over 200 million years ago, this area was completely under the ocean. Lookout Mountain was formed through the same seismic activity as the Appalachian Mountains, but later, as the ocean receded, the rim of the canyon was a beach. To this day, you can see ripples in the rock that long ago was sand on the ancient shore. The canyon was formed from rivers draining out to sea – what we now call Sitton Gulch Creek and its tributary, Daniel Creek.

The ripples in the rock indicate where there was once an ancient shoreline.

For three days, we went over to the park in the mornings and hiked. There are trails for those who are experienced hikers and backpackers, and then there are those for the rest of us. We took the moderate trails, not just because we had small children, but because my husband and I are noticing that hiking more strenuous trails isn’t as easy as it used to be!

There is a short trail anyone can use to see the grand vista of the canyon, which we stopped at first. Then we took a trail down to Cherokee falls. I was enchanted with this small crevice between the towering rock walls, filled with beautiful hardwoods and moss, and the sound of water cascading into a small green pool. We sat on the rocks for a while to eat a snack before we left.

There are two waterfalls you can hike down to, but if you don’t think you can make it back up the 600+ steps, I recommend just going to that first waterfall. The second waterfall, Hemlock Falls, was beautiful, but you can’t get as close to it, and there’s a small platform that you are restricted to while viewing it. That wouldn’t be fun on crowded days.

Cherokee Falls (photo taken without a tripod)

I would have liked to have continued down from these waterfalls and hiked ­­­­Sitton’s Gulch Trail, which is a two-hike along the Sitton Gulch Creek. I have a feeling it would have been a gorgeous hike with several mini-waterfalls along the way. But we weren’t sure we were prepared to keep going down when you have to turn around and go all the way back up!

Another day we took the West Rim Trail, and I highly recommend this trail. It has beautiful views overlooking the canyon and the nearby small town of Trenton, Georgia. We drove into the rim and parked so that we could make the hike a little shorter than it would have been if we started it at its trailhead, which was the same place where the waterfall trails start. Except for one part that went slightly uphill, it was moderately flat, but anyone on this trail should be sure-footed because you have to walk over thick roots and rocks. There are also several drop-offs with no railing. Our boys did extremely well on this nearly five-mile hike, but they were ready for it to end by the time we got back to our car!

view from West Rim Trail

Little did we know that the area around our cabin would be one of the loveliest places we’ve ever stayed. We had mountain views, and there were small lakes within walking distance. The best part was that there was a horse pasture on the other side of the fence in our cabin’s backyard! The boys were thrilled to get to pet the friendly horses and feed them carrots.

our cabin

See the red roof in the middle of the photo? That was our cabin.

in the backyard of our cabin

taken from the backyard of the cabin

first time fishermen

My boys went fishing for the first time during our trip at one of the little lakes near the cabin. Every evening they went down there and caught lots of little sunfish, though most were so little they needed to be thrown back, and we didn’t have the right bait to catch the large mouth bass that we could see swimming through the shallow water. By the time we left, my eight-year-old could bait and cast by himself, and my five-year-old was getting pretty good at casting the line too.

If you’d like to learn more about Cloudland Canyon, check out http://www.gastateparks.org/cloudlandcanyon. And if you’re interested in the cabin we stayed in, just send me an e-mail and ask, and I’ll send you a link.

I still have lots of photos I’d like to share with you from our trip, but I’m going to save most of those for some Nature Watch posts. So stay tuned, and thanks for reading my blog!

May 22, 2015

Garden Time

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 20, 2015.

Every year the boys and I buy seeds and a few plants and plant them with good intentions. My boys also enjoy growing sprouting beans in jars and then transplanting them to the garden. We don’t have the best soil or much sunlight on this wooded lot, but I let the boys plant what they want. Digging in the dirt and caring for the vegetables must have more life lessons than I can count.

My eight-year-old wanted to plant pumpkins again. We put them in big pots in our driveway so they can get the most sunlight possible. My five-year-old is growing squash in our garden, and I planted some tomato and cucumber plants. We are all sharing the strawberries and green beans. We have some herbs left over from last year too.

A new garden is a pretty sight. There’s fresh topsoil and no weeds. The new plants have that fresh garden color – a world of promise in a single leaf. Perennials are blooming throughout my yard, keeping promises planted long ago. At this time of year, it’s easy to muster the energy to go out every evening and water the garden. By August, it’ll be another story, but that’s still far off, and I’m going to enjoy this beautiful spring for as long as it’s here.

My son’s carnivorous plants are looking healthy and growing like crazy, and we were thrilled to see his new sundew plant come to life after buying it in its dormant state late last fall. This sundew has long, spindly leaves with a sticky substance on them that insects will stick to, if they land on it. He also has a pitcher plant and Venus flytrap. I think my son’s carnivorous plants are doing a service for our whole neighborhood considering how many dead insects we find in them.

I wish my whole yard looked as fresh and well kept as our garden, spring flowers, and my son’s carnivorous plants, but that’s not the case. Weeds taunt me from under the azalea bushes, and there’s not enough time or money to fix up our backyard or the bare patches of lawn. I found one of my favorite flowering bushes – the name always eludes me – died this year after producing beautiful flowers for many years. It was the same bush where a cardinal family reared their chicks in one year, and we were able to watch the whole cycle right through our living room window. I’m very sad to see this bush stand bare of leaves.

My bay leaf tree, also, has suffered these past two years after growing so well for many years before this. Is it because I’m too busy to go out and pamper it, or did the winters just get too cold for it? I don’t know.

But I see good things happening too. Every year I manage to do one or two small tasks to add to the “perfect yard” that’s in my imagination but slowly taking form around the house. The lead plant I bought two years ago at the botanical garden is hanging in there, and for the first time this year, it’s blooming. Some irises I divided last year are doing quite well in their new spot, and this year I finally divided some monkey grass and planted it in front of the fence on the other side of the house.

We are in this house for the long haul, so I’m patient about getting the yard just right. We are in the season of our lives when we have other priorities, and trying to keep a perfect yard would be a waste of money and time. Keeping it fairly neat and planting slow-growing but lasting plants seems like the more prudent way to go. Besides, when the boys grow up, I doubt they’ll remember the weeds or the lack of lawn. Instead, they’ll remember the flowers, vegetables and freedom they had to run and dig in the dirt. Perhaps this is the perfect garden after all.

May 9, 2015

Project-based Homeschooling: Carnivorous Plants Update

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile may remember when my son was interested in carnivorous plants. It was a long project. We read about them, found them at botanical gardens (we have yet to see one in the wild), talked to experts about them, and my son wanted to grow them. During this time, we found him a venus flytrap and pitcher plant that he could grow himself, but he always wanted a sundew too, which he says is his favorite. These are not so easy to come by locally. Finally last fall, at the suggestion of a local carnivorous plant enthusiast, I ordered my son a sundew from flytraps.com. The man who suggested flytraps.com said this was a reputable vendor, and he also wrote down the scientific name for a couple of sundew that should grow well here in Georgia’s climate.

When I ordered it, however, it was late fall, and the plants go dormant for winter. So what we received didn’t look like much. We put it in the pot outside with the other carnivorous plants, covered it with mesh (to keep the squirrels out of the pot), and I kept my fingers crossed that the sundew would survive the winter. It did! And as you can see, it’s growing very well.

This is either a drosera filiformis or drosera tracyii. I’m afraid I didn’t note exactly which I ordered…these were the two species the local carnivorous plant enthusiast recommended to us.

There are over 500 species of sundew in the world. Many of them are tiny like this one, but some are quite large. They have sticky secretions on their long, thin leaves, and when a bug lands on them, they stick to the sundew. Then the sundew’s leaves curl up and around the insect in order to digest its meal.

My son already had this venus flytrap, and we’re happy to see it’s coming back after the long winter too.

I love the pitcher plants. These will get much bigger and wider as the summer wears on.

Finally, my son said, my collection is complete!

May 7, 2015

Indian Springs State Park

Note: This column appeared in the May 6, 2015 edition of the Barrow Journal.

Last month we enjoyed exploring Indian Springs State Park, which is located almost right in the middle of Georgia. It took us about two hours to drive there, and like all Georgia state parks, it’s beautiful, but we didn’t realize what a rich history this particular park has.

Indian Springs is thought to be the oldest state park in the United States because it has been operated by the state as a public park ever since the land was secured from the Creek Indians. It did not become an official state park until 1931 when, along with Vogel State Park, it became one of Georgia’s first state parks.

Our first quest when we arrived at the park was to find the natural spring that is said to have curative properties. The Creek Indians used the water in the spring to heal their sick people, and by the 1820s, white people flocked to the site to taste and bathe in the water, claiming it had healing properties. It didn’t take long for a flourishing resort town to spring up around the park.

Now the spring is located inside a house-like structure built of rocks. Water constantly pours out of a spout and what is not collected goes down a drain. Apparently, people are still collecting the “healing waters” because when we got there, a man with several empty gallon jugs was taking his fill. Later, we saw a woman with a trunk load of containers going to collect water.

the spring is located in that small building where the people are standing

In order to earn another junior ranger badge, my eight-year-old was supposed to drink some water from this spring. The spring has a very strong smell of sulphur, and at first, my son hesitated. But when his mom and dad reached down and scooped up a handful of water, he tried it too. (My five-year-old refused to try it.) Though it’s drinkable, the water tasted “thick” and had a strong taste due to its mineral content. Since we are not used to it, it wasn’t water that we would want to drink on a regular basis.

From there, we walked over to Big Sandy Creek where a fast current flows over some shoals. It was very pretty, and the boys enjoyed throwing rocks in the water, and I took photographs of the stone bridge crossing the creek.

As we walked deeper into the park, we came to the park office, which was a beautiful, historic home. Named Idlewilde, it is a twentieth century two-story “New South” structure with four over four rooms. It still has its original beveled glass windows, heart of pine floors, door handles and light fixtures. There are all kinds of historical items inside the house, but my favorite part was walking through the rock terrace in the backyard. Apparently, one of the women who built the house, named Gi-Gi, was an avid gardener, and she had the terrace built. There still remains some of the Day Lilies and Jonquils that she planted.

The house has an interesting history, but I liked reading about the history of the Creek Indians in this area the best. In 1821, after this area was already becoming a resort area for white people, 1000 acres were reserved for Chief William McIntosh. Chief McIntosh was born in 1778, and he was half Creek and half Scotsman. In 1825, he signed a Treaty of Indian Springs, which handed over Creek land in southwest Georgia to the state for an equal amount of land west of the Mississippi River plus $400,000.

This “Treaty of Indian Springs” was illegal because only eight out of fifty-six Creek towns supported Chief McIntosh. Not even President John Quincy Adams considered it a valid treaty. A few days after the treaty was signed, Chief McIntosh was killed, and in 1826, a “legal” treaty was signed, and the Federal government seized the land.

From the park’s office, we walked toward McIntosh Lake, walked across the levy, and then followed the shore until we came to the manmade beach area where the kids played for awhile. By then we were ready to head back to our car. We only saw a thumbprint of this beautiful 528 acre park, so we plan to go back some day.

The park offers camping, cottages, fishing, boating, swimming, miniature golf, hiking, a museum, and it’s close to many other attractions, such as Dauset Trails Nature Center and Jarrell Plantation State Historic Site. Be sure to visit http://gastateparks.org/info/indspr/ to learn more about this park, and visit it when you get the chance.

What new places have you explored lately?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 337 other followers

%d bloggers like this: