Posts tagged ‘my newspaper columns’

November 24, 2015

Natural History Museum at Georgia College

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal in October 2015.

If you have young children, they may not be old enough to appreciate Georgia’s history or the beautiful homes you can tour along the Antebellum Trail, but you may be able to sneak some of that in on a day trip to the Natural History Museum at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. Our boys love fossils, so we spent a long time in this small museum, and then we enjoyed exploring the beautiful campus and viewed some of the historical buildings too.

The Natural History Museum is only a 2,500-square-foot room in Herty Hall, but it is jam-packed with fossils and exhibits that will teach you about ancient life forms. Georgia College holds one of the largest repositories of fossils in the southeast, covering the last 500 million years, and it’s the official repository for National Park Service specimens too. Though small, there’s still enough to keep you busy for well over an hour as you slowly make your way around the room.

My boys are excited about seeing any kind of fossil or bones, but some of the highlights were the large cephalopods, a crinoid and trilobites. There was a fossil of a large amphibian from the late Triassic found in Poland that looked similar to an alligator’s head. The fossil of a dinosaur egg was pretty cool, and a skeleton of a Smilodon, or saber-toothed cat, was a favorite.

After the museum, we walked to the Ennis Hall, the Department of Art, hoping to check out an art exhibit, but at that time, they were between art shows. We still had fun checking out the beautiful, old antebellum buildings that have been turned into office buildings and classroom space. The main part of campus has a large green area with beautiful trees to walk under.

We stopped by the Old Governor’s Mansion, which was the home of eight governors, their families, slaves and free servants from 1839-1868 when Milledgeville was the state capital of Georgia. (The capital moved to Atlanta in 1868 due to Atlanta’s superior rail service.) During the Civil War, General William T. Sherman’s army captured the mansion, and it served as his headquarters. Now it’s a museum, and you can take tours there too, but we didn’t think our young boys would be patient enough for that, so we just enjoyed walking around the block and checking out the gardens.

Downtown Milledgeville is also within walking distance. It’s quaint, and it has plenty of shops to peruse. We found some old comic books in an antique store that has kick started my nine-year-old’s enjoyment of reading silently to himself. (Score!) We even found a restaurant that served food my picky eaters would eat too.

Since it’s only two hours away, Milledgeville makes a lovely day trip. You can go for the fossils, or the history, or just a lovely stroll down some beautiful streets.

Find out more about the natural history museum at this website: It’s free and open to the public from 8a.m. to 4p.m. Monday through Friday. There is free 2-hour parking outside the building, which will give you plenty of time to see the exhibits. Large groups can make reservations for a tour.

November 16, 2015

Is Homeschooling Hard?

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 11, 2015.

While I was running errands in Winder recently, someone asked me if homeschooling is hard. Since I was having a good day, I said, “Not really. Not if you like learning and don’t mind doing some research.” By that I meant that if you don’t mind engaging in the learning yourself, and if you’re willing to search for the right materials and activities, it’s not that hard to teach your kids. But that doesn’t mean that homeschooling isn’t hard sometimes

I’m sure different moms would have different answers to that question, but I don’t believe the challenges I face are any different than what is hard for any parent. Raising kids is difficult no matter how you decide to educate them, and everybody has different opinions on how to do it.

Knowing what is best for any child is always difficult because every child is different. What worked for one of my boys may not work for the other whether I’m teaching him how to read or teaching him how to behave at the dinner table. We have bad days just like everyone else, but they come and go. Children go through phases, present different challenges, and parents get frustrated and impatient all the while searching for the right solution, even if there isn’t one. Fortunately, most struggles are worked out over time.

Just like any parent, the most difficult thing for me is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. On three week days, one or both boys have outside classes and activities that I drive them to, so I do most of our “formal” lessons with them on three other days (including Saturday) from about 9-2pm. I usually prepare and go over my lesson plans the night before.

In the afternoons and evenings, I am “free,” but of course, there are several things I “should” be doing. 1) Cooking a nutritious meal for my family. (This usually turns into “what can I cook in 20 minutes or less?”) 2) Cleaning. (This gets partially done.) 3) Exercising. (Not just for pleasure anymore. During the past few years when I put off exercising, I developed bursitis in my right hip, and exercising helps to relieve the pain.)

4) Writing. (Again, not for pleasure. We need the extra money. I already wrote a column about the difficulties of a family trying to live on one income, and that remains high as one of our challenges.) 5) Take care of all the other things that come up in a family of four. (i.e. enduring endless interruptions in my work.) Clearly, I can’t do all of this in a short afternoon or evening, so a lot doesn’t get done, or I do a sloppy job of doing a little bit of everything.

A lot of people think that homeschoolers aren’t socialized properly, and I’ve learned that those people are quite ignorant of what homeschooling is about. My boys’ social life is not the problem – it’s mine! My boys enjoy long play dates with friends, classes and camps with kids of different ages, and visiting museums where interesting adults talk to them. All the while, I am busy driving them places and missing the time and energy I once had to join groups with common interests such as the photography guild and writing groups.

Don’t get me wrong – I have some wonderful friends who I have met through homeschooling. I enjoy talking to these other moms about homeschooling and motherhood. But I am not just a homeschooling mom, and I miss meeting people who share creative goals.

Equally difficult is meeting moms who don’t homeschool or working moms. They have different schedules, and sometimes they look at me strangely. Either they think I’m crazy or they wonder if I’m judging them for not homeschooling, which couldn’t be further from my mind. Once a couple rolled their eyes when I said I homeschooled. As a homeschooling mom, I am subjected to all kinds of stereotypes, and this can be frustrating, and at times, painful.

But as I said before, most of these are challenges that a lot of parents face, and every parent has endured the “opinions” of other well-meaning parents. So homeschooling usually is not “hard” for me. When I love what I do most of the time, it’s enjoyable, and I accept the sacrifices. I wouldn’t expect everyone to feel this way because just like children, adults are all different too.


October 19, 2015

Fall Migration

A monarch I spied at the botanical garden.

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on October 7, 2015.

The other day my son looked out the window and called out, “There’s a monarch butterfly!” This was exciting because we have never noticed a monarch on our butterfly bush before. At this time of year, we knew this was a monarch who was on its long journey south to Mexico. A couple of days later, we saw another monarch stop by to replenish itself as well.

The monarch is the only known butterfly to migrate like birds. Other butterflies can usually overwinter as larvae (the caterpillar) or the pupae (the chrysalis). It’s amazing that the monarchs know where to go without having ever made the journey before.

In the spring and summer, three to four generations of monarchs make a long journey north from Mexico to the northern U.S. and Canada. After a life cycle from egg (approximately 4 days), to caterpillar (for about 2 weeks), and then chrysalis (10-14 days), the insect transforms into the adult stage, a fully-grown monarch butterfly. The adults live for only 2-6 weeks, and after laying its eggs on the milkweed plant, it will die.

However, the fourth generation of monarch, which we saw in our yard, delays this process and can live six to eight months so that they can make the long migration south. Monarchs who live west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in Southern California, but the monarchs in the east travel all the way to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico where they roost together in trees. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster together on a single tree. Together they are so heavy that they can sometimes break the branches. They stay there until the weather begins to warm up in March, and then they mate, lay their eggs and start the process all over again.

While we humans generally stay put in the fall and winter, carrying on with our daily obligations and activities, it fascinates me to think about the animals whose lives are ruled by the seasons. They make astonishing journeys to continue the circle of life.

Another tiny creature to make a long journey is the ruby-throated hummingbird. We enjoy these tiny birds all summer as they feed from nectar in our hummingbird feeder and plants. They are feisty little birds, zipping through the air and defending their feeders.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder. The male has the “ruby” throat.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds breed all over the eastern United States, and those migrating from the far north might spend the winter along the gulf coast or the tip of Florida, but most of them will cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight in order to spend the winter in Central America. The shortest distance across is 500 miles, and it can take the hummingbird 18-22 hours to cross. And there are no rest stops! That’s pretty amazing for such a tiny bird.

Many other birds are making their way south now, and many will pass through Georgia on their way farther south. Others will spend winter in Georgia. One of those is the wood duck, which is my six-year-old’s favorite duck. The males have incredible colors on their head. I hear wood ducks are a favorite among duck hunters, and the season for hunting them are various dates in November-January.

I wish I were a bird expert so that I could identify any migrating birds that come through our yard. I find that watching the wildlife for even a few minutes each day is relaxing, and it calms my mind during a busy season of my life. If you’re inclined to learn a little more about migrating monarchs or birds, and how you might help them, see,, or these birding resources on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website:

September 15, 2015

Not Back to School

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on September 9, 2015.

I see a lot of homeschoolers posting pictures on Facebook and labeling them “not back to school” because, you know, their kids aren’t going back to school, and for many, their daily routines stay the same. But September can mean getting back into a routine that summer vacations and a much-needed rest may have (thankfully) disrupted for awhile. Homeschooling moms are excited to crack open new curriculums and resources that they ordered during the summer and start a new year of lessons, classes and get-togethers with other homeschoolers. Some celebrate a “first day” their own way such as going to a park and spreading their books on a picnic table or cooking up a special breakfast for their children.

I don’t celebrate our first day of lessons because it was only in July that we had a small celebration of the end of 2nd grade and pre-Kindergarten for my two boys. We did that by watching a slideshow of photographs from our year, including vacations, field trips, play dates and a good dose of science experiments. The boys are always asking me to see the photos we take, so a yearly slideshow was my solution to that. Even my husband seems to enjoy looking back over our year.

In August we took some time off because that’s birthday month in my house. My eldest son turned nine-years-old, and my youngest turned six. I had an old-fashioned birthday party for my six-year-old at our house with all our friends. They played musical chairs, hot potato, guess how many marbles are in the jar and played a long time, filling the house with noise and good cheer. We took a fun day trip for my nine-year-old’s birthday, but I’ll write about that another time.

After all this celebrating, all I did to mark the first day of 3rd grade and Kindergarten was tell the boys we’d be getting back to our lessons on Monday morning. These formal lessons were completed shortly after lunchtime, so the rest of the day was similar to most days, including watching documentaries, reading books at night, and for my nine-year-old, practicing his piano. They don’t consider any of that “school,” but I do.

This year is exciting for me, though, because it’s the first year my six-year-old is on record as a homeschooler in the state of Georgia. And as a third grader, my older son has a lot more work to do. Considering that we have outside appointments three days a week, I have my work cut out for me this year. Luckily the boys are none the wiser if we do a few lessons on Saturday too.

The hardest part for me is making sure I teach them what I want them to know and also allow time for them to work on their own projects. Kids are more likely to be inspired to learn about something on their own when they have plenty of free time to play, rest, and think for themselves. It’s a hard balance as my son gets older and needs/wants to learn more, but I’m grateful that homeschooling allows for a lot of flexibility with our time.

It’s exciting to watch my boys grow while being free to explore their interests almost any time they want. My oldest boy still loves animals, robotics, making pottery, and now he’s playing the piano, which still surprises me. My younger son loves birds. He has made two posters and a book about feathers. He also loves being with his big brother whether they are playing Minecraft on their tablets or playing with plastic sharks and whales in a big hole they dug and filled with water in the front yard. Mud is always fun.

We are looking forward to another year of homeschooling, and whether you homeschool or not, or have kids or not, I hope your coming year is full of anticipation and good things too.

How have you celebrated your back-to-school or not-back-to-school?

August 27, 2015

Introducing History for Homeschoolers

{Free Online History Classes}

george & shelli-1

George and me

Note: A similar version of this column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, August 26, 2016.

Some of you know that my husband is a historian and a history professor. He has been teaching history at the college level for over eighteen years. At first, he was very skeptical about online courses, but his fascination with using technology in education slowly led him in that direction.

For three years he taught both online and face-to-face classes, and for one and a half years, he taught hybrid courses. Those are classes that meet both face-to-face and online. After this, he decided to take the plunge and teach only online. At first he wasn’t sure how he would feel about teaching online full-time, but now that he’s been doing it for over three years, we both realize it was a great move, and he doesn’t regret working from home.

Another benefit is that it’s given him time to develop some good online course material that he can use over and over in his classes. He continues to work on this and make it better. His students seem to like his audio lectures too. Thinking back to my college days, I would have appreciated having a recording of my professor’s lecture so that I could listen and stop it to take notes!

I’ve been telling my husband for a few years that he should write a history book for homeschoolers or offer some kind of resource with his knowledge. There are some popular history curriculums for homeschoolers, but none of them are updated with new research, and all of them have their fair share of negative criticism. There is also a lack of good material for the high school level. This isn’t to say that what is available isn’t worthy at all, but I felt my husband could offer another option.

Finally, with my help, he is putting his audio lectures online for free for anyone who wants to brush up on their history. At present has all his U.S. history audio lectures and several of his world history lectures. He will be adding more world history over the next few months, and after all the lectures are available, he will work on adding key words, links to relevant videos and other reputable resources on the web. The idea is to give parents or anyone who is interested in history a starting point in their journey to explore the past.

What a lot of people do not realize is that there is a difference between writers who write about history, but they are not trained historians and then those who are trained historians and write about history. Sometimes journalists or other writers can actually be better writers, bringing history alive for folks like me who don’t have a natural enthusiasm for the subject. This is good and has its place. But when it comes to choosing reliable sources for the best researched and least biased history (of course, all history texts have some bias), you want to turn to the people who have dedicated their lives to studying the subject.

My husband thinks that any book that sparks curiosity in children and gets them asking questions and wanting to learn more has served its purpose. He hopes that his site can offer another step forward for middle or high school students and adults who want to learn more, and as a homeschooling mom, I’m grateful to have his discerning eye when it comes to choosing the right resources – whether online or otherwise – to teach myself and kids about history. This is something I’m going to keep pestering him to work on because I need it myself, and I know if I can use it, other parents will appreciate it too.

Please take a look at, and I hope you find it useful! We welcome any feedback as we add to the site and try to make it the best it can be. And, yes, it will remain free and ad-free.

August 13, 2015

Day Trip to Greenville’s Children’s Museum

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, August 12, 2015.

We are having a short “staycation” of sorts while my husband has some time off from work. In order to make the best of it, we thought we’d explore some places we have never been to before, and since it’s too hot to do anything outside, we searched for indoor locations that might be fun. The first place we headed to was Greenville, South Carolina’s Children’s Museum of the Upstate. The drive took about three hours, but it was beautiful, and we were able to see various small towns along the way, including the quaint Anderson, SC.

Once we got to the Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville, my boys had a blast. The museum is 80,000 square feet with three floors and 18 interactive exhibits. The first one I found that I liked was the air tunnel. After coming in from the heat, that felt good! But my five-year-old’s favorite was called “3-2-1 Blast Off,” which consisted of a series of tubes with air blowing through them, and when he put a ball into it, he could watch the ball whoosh through all the tubes and then come back out through another tube. We had to visit that one twice. He also loved climbing on the multi-story climbing structure in the middle of the building, and he did that all by himself since his brother wasn’t interested.

My eight-year-old says he liked the race car driving simulator and the Reedy River Bend – the water exhibit – the best. He liked being able to move some pipes around in the water exhibit so that he could manipulate where the water flowed. My five-year-old loved putting his hands in the water fountains and waterfalls, turning wheels and even going under the water and coming up inside a big, plastic bubble.

Anyone from my generation could probably appreciate the gigantic Lite-Brite, which they called Light Waves Ahead. Remember that toy where you could make pictures by placing different colored pegs on a light board? My five-year-old sorted all the pegs into different colors and made a pretty cool hexagon.

My boys also enjoyed the music room, which was called Garage Rock. They were able to play music on instruments made out of tools, plastic pipe, pinball machines and other fun materials. We spent so long in our favorite places that we didn’t even try out all the exhibits, such as the construction zone, the grocery store, hospital, or the T.V. studio where children can produce their own show from beginning to end and then watch it.

What we didn’t know when we ventured to Greenville was how beautiful that city is or that it’s such a mecca for the arts. The Children’s Museum is located on the Heritage Green, which also boasts the Greenville County Library, Museum of Art, Little Theatre, Museum and Gallery at Bob Jones University, and the Upcountry History Museum. You can learn more about each of these at

Since the Greenville County Museum of Art was right next to the Children’s Museum, and the admission was free, we popped in there for an hour before it closed. It has the largest collection of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings in the country, and my husband and I loved his work. The boys found paintings they enjoyed too, as well as a stunning sculpture of two hawks fighting over their prey in mid-air. It was so life-like we first thought the birds were real ones that had been stuffed.

Downtown Greenville was big, but not so big that it didn’t have that small-town charm. It was full of restaurants, shops, art galleries, and theatres. There are also attractions for those who love sports and the outdoors. We are planning to go back to Greenville sometime and explore this lovely city further.

Admission to the Children’s museum was $10 for adults and $9 for children ages 1 – 15. The website is

August 1, 2015

In the Heat of Summer

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 29, 2015.

I don’t know about you, but it’s always around late July that I start looking forward to fall weather. It’s so hot and humid that whenever I muster enough motivation to go outside, I feel like I’m walking through soup. That takes the fun out of being outside.

It’s also this time of year that our garden suffers the most. Even with all the rain that Georgia has been getting, we seem to live in a dry bubble, and though we water every evening, the plants are starting to play dead. Certainly there are other things I could do to help the garden, but lack of time and the heat makes that a small priority.

If I had my way, I think I would just read all summer. Right now I’m reading Memoirs of a Keisha. It’s been on my bookshelf for only fifteen years, and I’m so glad I’m getting around to reading it. Most evenings I’m staying up past my bedtime because I can’t put it down, which means during the day I’m kind of sluggish, but I can also blame that on the heat, right?

I wonder what my boys might think about someday when they look back on their summers of youth. My guess might be gardening, however pitiful of a garden it might be, playing with their water squirt toys, listening to the loud cacophony of frogs out their bedroom windows at night, fresh fruit (my eight-year-old loves fruit), and summer camps.

Summer means camps. My eight-year-old has been going to day camps for several years now, and he loves them. He gets to pick whichever two camps he’d like to attend, and so far, one of the camps at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is always a must. They run some great programs out there. Last year the one he attended was about water and water animals. This year it was about Georgia critters.

He also picked a robotics camp run by Engineering for Kids in Northeast Georgia. The camp was held last week at the Sims Academy of Technology and Innovation – what a wonderful facility. My son had a great time in the camp and seemed to learn a lot, especially since one of his friends also attended the camp.

Though we couldn’t afford more than two camps for him this year, he has also picked a pottery camp at Good Dirt Studios in Athens before, and those are excellent camps as well. He told me the other day that next year he wants a pottery camp again.

My five-year-old attended his very first camp this year, so that was extra special. Since he loves art, we picked the art and music camp at the botanical garden for him. He told me he was scared of attending camp but also a little excited. After the first day, however, those fears melted away, and he wanted to go everyday. He even participated in a performance with the other kids on the very last day.

Now that camps are over, it is time to think about bringing this “school” year to a close. I always celebrate that by showing the boys a slideshow of what they did during the year. I’m also busy at work planning for next year’s curriculum, and now that my eldest will be in the third grade, we are going to have a lot to do. We’re transitioning to a higher level of learning and that is exciting, though a little nerve-wracking, for me.

But we still have August to swelter in, and I have a couple of birthdays to plan too. Time is moving very swiftly, and while I wish it would slow down, I wouldn’t mind that cooler weather getting here a little faster.

What are your summers filled with?


P.S. In the coming weeks, I’m going to try to wrap up some of our homeschooling activities for the year on the blog as this is one of the mediums I use for record-keeping. So look out for some posts about robotics, our history timeline, a make-believe grocery store, and more.

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 6, 2015


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 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-mile 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 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!


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