January 2022

My daffodils are blooming early, and they will always remind me of my dad who died in January 2021. He had given me these bulbs. They were growing on a back corner of his property, and they may have originally been planted by my great-grandmother! I have many more around the front of my yard.

It’s the last day of January, and whew — I’m glad it’s over. This has been a very busy month, and it has been cold outside with a few days of almost warm. It also has been a month of remembering….remembering loss from last year and remembering pre-covid times when everything was so much easier. I have been doing lots of random things like going to physical therapy, and I have been ordering specimens for my son’s biology labs. I also baked a loaf of bread for one of his science experiments. I haven’t baked in a long time, but I was pleased to have the skill when it was needed. I finished another James Herriot book, and I discovered that I absolutely love Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m so lucky to have musicians in my house!

The project that has taken the most time, however, is my 12-year-old’s new YouTube channel! Yes, we have taken the bird project to new heights! This year my 12-year-old is in an online ornithology club, which has really inspired him to dig deeper into the world of birds, and then I wondered if he might enjoy recording the birds in our yard and starting a YouTube channel. I was right, and he’s so excited about this. Every few days he’ll put the camera outside, picking a new place or a different angle, and we’ll put the seeds out there. Then we go inside and hope the birds will show up. They usually do. (And we’re at the window with our binoculars.)

This project is teaching my son more than just how to record birds. We have sat together to edit the film, and I’m surprised that he has so much patience to go through the recordings! He picks out the best parts, and I’ve shown him how to trim them. We are also going to learn more about video editing together, and I can see that it won’t be long before I won’t need to help. You never know where this could lead.

Naturally, he is most excited about getting new subscribers on his YouTube channel. So if you feel inclined, I hope you’ll subscribe. You never know, I might be fostering a YouTube star. LOL. Or, maybe Mr. Cardinal will become the star. We’ll see. 🤣

Here’s one of my favorite videos. Please go to his channel and click on “videos” at the top to see them all. And then you’ll understand why I’ve been so busy. This kid likes recording!

 

How has 2022 begun for you? I hope it’s starting out well.

May 2021

This VIEW!

May has been a brighter month for me. Earlier in this year, when I learned we would have to prolong our isolation because the COVID vaccine was not approved for kids yet, I fell into a sad slump, which was made worse by other circumstances. However, similar to the experience I had last year — when I realized we were going to be stuck at home for a very long time vs. a 2 week lockdown — I eventually accepted the situation and felt much better. (I am a huge fan of the word ACCEPTANCE. For many years now, I’ve realized that this is a magic word. If you wield it, it has power.)

It goes without saying that beautiful spring weather can lift anyone’s mood. We’ve had a beautiful month, and I’m soaking up the breeze, the birds, flowers and plants. I love sitting on my front porch. It’s my favorite place to be.

Smoky Mountain National Park

After being at home for nearly two years (we had other health issues we were dealing with before the pandemic), we finally got away for a week this month. We rented an Airbnb in the mountains of North Carolina, and I’m sharing photos from that trip in this blog post. The best part of that trip was the view from the porch of our Airbnb. Never in my life have I been so lucky to stay in a place with a view like this. We went birding along the Little Tennessee River Greenway, hiking on the Bartram Trail, and one day we went into the Great Smoky National Park. (We’re planning to go back because there’s so much we couldn’t see in one trip.) We got groceries, ordered take out, sat out on that porch and played games. We had a terrible cell phone signal and no wifi, but we had cable television, which we don’t have at home, so we watched our favorite cooking competitions, Chopped and Iron Chef, and another guilty pleasure, Shark Tank, but that was the only T.V. we watched.

The view at sunset.

Now that we’re home I feel refreshed, and I’ve enjoyed thinking about the homeschool lessons that my boys need to finish up for 5th and 8th grade. They will work until mid-June, and then they’ll enjoy some virtual summer programs. That will slide us into August when we have birthday month, and hopefully by early October we’ll all be fully vaccinated, and the boys can resume face-to-face lessons and other activities. We are especially looking forward to attending music concerts in person again!

William Bartram Trail

At the end of April my 14-year-old received some happy news. He won 2nd place in the state piano competition again, and on top of that, he won 3rd place in a regional competition (8 southern states). You can view his latest performances on his YouTube channel, if you’re interested, and I know he’d love for you to subscribe too. 😉

Little Tennessee River Greenway — Great place for birding. I will share my bird photos someday.

I am also happy to report that I have finished a short PDF resource about homeschooling 8th grade. I have no idea when I’ll have time to post it in my store, but I’ll try to do that soon. Meanwhile, if you have any questions for me, you know where to find me. 🙂 I hope spring is lifting your spirits. Please leave me a message, if you have a moment, and tell me about your favorite part of spring.

Gosh I’m going to miss that view.

October

October is well on its way and the weather has been beautiful. I’m even starting to see a little color on the trees too.

Our homeschool year is going as expected, and it’s keeping me extremely occupied, to say the least, which is why this is a short post. This year is the most challenging as I homeschool both 8th grade and 5th grade. The 5th grader is no longer in the “easy grades,” as I like to think of them, and we are consumed with thoughts on how we’ll manage high school next year for my 8th grader. I spend my days checking my notes, making sure we’re ticking off the to do list and staying on task. It’s not always easy, and I juggle a lot, but I also make sure I preserve time for myself so that I have the energy to do the work.

The boys are older, and there’s so much to look forward to. I appreciate staying busy while we sit out this pandemic, but we also have those humdrum days when we just want to fast forward a little bit. I can’t wait until we (as a society) can get back to some sort of normal, if not exactly the same normal we had before.

Recently we went to the botanical garden, took a leisurely walk, and I cherished every moment. There were many flowers blooming, and I enjoyed using my camera. Outings like these have always kept me sane, and I’m happy to share some of the images with you. Please tell me how you’re doing in the comments. I hope you are well and that you’re getting out into nature too.

I promise I’ll write more next month. 😉

2020 Monarch Butterflies

A few weeks ago, we released the last of our monarch butterflies, and I’ve been meaning to share my photos ever since. We had only four caterpillars this year. (Last time we had 19!) We think a few of the caterpillars may have been preyed upon by wasps (because we counted more eggs), so we didn’t hesitate to move these four into our mesh cage when we found them. Here’s our monarch summer in photos. Enjoy!

The tiny white spot is an egg.

Recently hatched caterpillar.

Getting bigger.

In the mesh cage for safe keeping. Brought them fresh milkweed leaves everyday.

When they are getting ready to pupate, they attach themselves to the top of the cage and form a J shape with their body.

Beautiful chrysalises.

Right before they eclose, the chrysalis turns black. You can see the butterfly within.

The one on the right just emerged. It takes awhile for their wings to straighten out and dry.

Ready to release.

Good-bye!

 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

One of many highlights of our recent trip was being able to visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know I’ve written several times about my younger son’s love of birds. He’s nine-years-old now, and he’s been talking about birds since he was about four. I am pleasantly surprised that his interest has not faded, though he definitely has his own way of navigating this project. We haven’t done a lot  of in depth study about birds. Instead, we’ve drawn them, watched them, identified dozens of them, collected toy birds, made toy birds, and only occasionally read books about them. Though I encourage it and offer whatever I can to foster his love of birds, I haven’t pushed all the ideas I would like to see done. This has been a good decision. It’s truly a child-led project.

We’ve known about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for awhile now, and I have been wanting to visit it, but I never thought we would be able to see it so soon. Then my eldest son’s interest in music took us to Cleveland, and well, though that’s not extremely close to Ithaca, it was close enough for us. We had to go!

We loved Ithaca, and we loved the Lab. We went twice. On the first visit, we walked the trails in Sapsucker Woods for about an hour, and then we took the behind-the-scenes tour of the lab. The next day, we went back and took a longer walk through the beautiful Sapsucker Woods.

View of the lab from across the pond.

It’s a beautiful building. About 250~300 faculty, students and staff work there. We were told it is mostly member-supported, and Cornell University contributes only a tiny percentage of its budget. It has the beautiful Wall of Birds (click on that link and you won’t be sorry), the Macaulay Library, which you can contribute to, and the Lab also houses Cornell University’s Museum of Vertebrates, so bird specimens aren’t the only resource available to students and researchers.

Here is the Lab’s mission statement:

Our mission is to interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

If you are at all interested in birds, then you have probably already been to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. You have probably used the section All About Birdswhich can help you identify the birds you see outside your window. Or you have contributed your sightings to to eBird or another one of their popular citizen science projects.

Their website has much more on it, and if you are a bird lover or you have a child who is, then there’s a lot of educational materials that you can use. I can’t wait until my son gets a little older. I think he’ll really enjoy the Bird Academy. There are also activities and planned lessons for teachers or homeschooling co-op parents in their K-12 Education section. There’s even more than that, but I’ll stop there and let you explore their website yourself. You can also read about the history of the Lab on Wikipedia.

Sapsucker Woods is a special place, and we knew it before we even stepped on a trail. I’ll show you our walks through my photos.

I know Canada Geese are everywhere up north, but we don’t see them too often in Georgia, so we still enjoy encountering them.

Right at the start of the trail, we saw a pileated woodpecker. We see these occasionally in our yard, but it’s always a big deal when they arrive because they don’t come often. We stood there watching this one for quite awhile.

Mama wood duck and her ducklings.

fleabane

Fawn. Mama was there too.

Song sparrow

Haven’t identified this fella yet. Anybody know?

Baby raccoon. There were two siblings and a mom in the tree too.

Georgia Blue Jays have never posed for me like this one did. 😉

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Sapsucker Woods is a special place, and I highly recommend that you visit, if you can.

Have you ever been to the Cornell Lab? Please tell me about your visit.

Project-based Homeschooling: Plant Project

A winged elm (Ulmus alata). We found two fully grown winged elms in our yard when we began our mission to identify and label all the plants and trees in our wooded yard.

Happy Earth Day! To celebrate, I thought I would write about a project we’ve been working on for over a year. My older son has always had a special interest in plants. When he was little, he became obsessed with seeds for awhile. Then he had his carnivorous plant project, and we still grow the carnivorous plants. My younger son also enjoys gardening and likes having his own plants to care for too.

Wild ginger (Hexastylis arifolia) grows abundantly in the woods behind our house, and I love this wild plant. If you pull back the leaves, you can see their bell-shaped flowers.

About a year ago my twelve-year-old became extra interested in plants, especially trees, and he even asked to go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden for his birthday.  He’s been learning how to grow and propagate trees by himself, particularly redbud trees. His younger brother wanted to try this too, so he’s trying to grow some hickories. Needless to say, my refrigerator has been packed with little pots of dirt and seeds this past winter! If they have any success growing these trees, I’ll be sure to write about it in the future.

Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea). We found this growing wild by our driveway!

There are some trees that are very difficult to identify, such as this prominent oak in our front yard (center). We think it’s a post oak. (Quercus stellata)

What started all this? Well, we decided to try to identify and label the plants and trees that grow naturally in our wooded yard. I had mentioned trying this a long time ago, but I never did it because it was a huge undertaking. Finally my twelve-year-old wanted to do it in earnest, so we got serious about it.

So far we have identified and labeled 20 different species of trees and plants! It feels like we’ve made a lot of progress, but there are so many plants we still haven’t identified!

Plants we’ve found:

Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea)
Wild Ginger (Hexastylis arifolia)
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatom Communtatun)
St. Andrew’s Cross (Hypericum hypericoides)
Smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum)
Pennywort (Hydrocotyle microphylla)

Trees:

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
Winged Elm (Ulmus alata)
Hawthorne (Crataegus)
Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica)
Water Oak (Quercus alba)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Carolina Basswood (Tilia americana caroliniana)
Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)
Holly (Ilex)

Water Oak. (Quercus nigra) Surprisingly, we have only one water oak in our yard, but it’s huge, and it’s near our front porch. It also happens to be my favorite tree in the yard.

As a homeschooling mom, I can say it feels great when your kid gets old enough to do the hard work by himself. This project has led my twelve-year-old to learn how to use a dichotomous key when trying to identify plants and trees. He has used Tree Finder: A Manual for Identification of Trees by their Leaves (Eastern U.S.), Winter Tree Finder, A Field Guide to Eastern Trees and the Internet to identify several plants and trees. Then he lists the plant names in a notebook. Sometimes he takes photos of them, but I often do that. I’ve also been helping by uploading some of our photos to iNaturalist, which has been a big help in identifying plants and trees too.

We have several white oaks. (Quercus alba) The ink on the label has already faded in just one winter. Time for a touch up.

I also help by writing out the labels that we put on or near the trees and plants (because I have the nicest handwriting). We always put the common name and the scientific name. My yard is starting to look a little bit like the botanical garden….well, I guess it would need to be much neater before I could say that! But I enjoy seeing the labels nonetheless.

We have a few wild black cherry trees. (Prunus serotina) They surprised me one year by producing small, tasty cherries! These trees have beautiful bark too.

This Friday is Arbor Day, so I’m going to use that day to post about a particular tree my son wanted to buy and plant in our yard.

There is one small willow oak (Quercus phellos) trying to grow among the the other hardwoods in the backyard.

I hope you are having a happy spring!

March

Today the weather finally feels like spring. We’ve had other spring-like days this winter, but I think we were too busy to notice. But today it’s Sunday, and we took advantage of this warmer, cloudy day to go bird watching at Ft. Yargo State Park. There were very few people there since the forecast predicted rain, but as I write this, it’s late afternoon, and we haven’t had any rain yet, so our instincts were right. 🙂

We had a very successful bird watching expedition this morning. I believe birds are beginning to migrate back up north, so we were able to add some new species to our “life lists.” This included lesser scaups, a pied-billed grebe, and hooded mergansers. We also saw Canada geese, mallards, and wood ducks. As for songbirds, we saw the ever-present cardinals, Carolina wrens and white-throated sparrows. I also saw a red-bellied woodpecker, though I wasn’t able to identify it until I cropped the photo I took on my computer. In fact, cropping photos helped us identify the pied-billed grebe and hooded mergansers too.

lesser scaups

You may be thinking that my blog is turning into a birding blog, and maybe it is. LOL But as I have written many times, birds are a favorite interest of my youngest son, and my eldest son loves birds too. In fact, I think my eldest son helps keep the interest alive in his younger brother as he’s more adept at identifying the birds and looking them up in the bird app. But now that the nine-year-old is growing more capable, I hear a lot of fussing over who gets to do the “looking up.” (And who gets the binoculars too.) But it’s all good. I love to see them work together and get each other interested in something.

mallard

Other than this, we are still in the middle of what I call “piano season.” Along with the state piano competition, my son has other events he’s attending, so he’s been busy preparing for those, and with the temperamental weather, we’ve mostly been inside….another reason why today was so special. We finally got outside for awhile!

One good thing about being stuck at home for awhile is that we get a lot of lessons done. I feel like we’re making very good progress this year, though I have ditched a few things and changed resources on a couple of subjects. But this is the best part of homeschooling — getting to change it when it seems for the best. I will try to write about that in more detail at some point.

signs of spring

We are especially having fun with our subscription to the Great Courses Plus. The boys have even found courses that they are willing to watch on their own free time! (How to Play Chess and Robotics)  We are also watching The Rise of Rome for history and an Intro to Geology for science. I have also discovered that the course How to be a Superstar Student is great for my boys, and it’s introducing them a lot of skills that we’ll be going over again as they get older. It is targeted for high school age students, but the silly parts are probably more funny to kids that are my boys’ age instead. We have also watched a course on mathematics that we’ll slowly continue as my eldest son reaches each concept in his math curriculum. (Most of the courses, however, are college-level, so I am not recommending that homeschoolers with young kids subscribe. What until you get to junior high or high school.)

Do you see me? great blue heron

Also exciting to me is that I have started reading Chickadee by Louise Erdrich, the fourth book in the Birchbark series, out loud to the boys. This series has to be my favorite young adult series that I’ve read so far. I’m not extremely well-read when it comes to young adult novels, but I’ve been adding several titles to my list as I read books to prepare for my rising 7th grader’s literature study next year. I have decided to do a theme-based literature unit on books about “survival.” It’s been a lot of fun to read the books and think about all the ways humans “survive” this world.

Well, now it’s Monday morning, and I am trying to wake myself up after the dreadful time change. I will finish up this post with a few photos from our birding expedition yesterday. And please tell me–how are you doing this early spring? 

January

A little visitor to our front porch. I like to think of the squirrels in our yard as friends, but I’m not sure she feels the same way about me.

January has been a quiet month around here. It has offered some very cold days — at least cold to us Southerners — so it’s been a good time to stay inside and get some work done.

The boys and I have been doing a lot of birdwatching out our windows, and we finally started some official Life Lists. (I love it when the boys get excited to write a bird’s name on their life list!) In Georgia, we have some birds who live here year-round, but it’s great fun to watch the winter visitors such as the golden-crowned kinglet, which is one of our our favorites (and comes in close second to my nine-year-old’s all-time favorite chickadee.)

For the second year in a row, we’ve had juncos visit the yard. Sometimes in pairs or sometimes twenty at a time! Also for the very first time, we saw two northern flickers! (They are so beautiful!) And we’ve been so excited to see a pileated woodpecker hanging out in the yard for a while. In the past, these big, gorgeous woodpeckers would only give us a brief glimpse before they moved on. We also had a young hawk hang out for a short time too.

(Yes, we’re going to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count this year!)

The pileated woodpecker. Gorgeous fellow.

Other than this, we’ve been keeping a good homeschooling routine — six days a week. Yes, that’s right. This morning (Saturday), my eldest son did science because it’s hard to fit it in during the weekdays, but I was thrilled to see he was enjoying it. He may be a pianist, but he still loves science, and I love that because I love it too. I love learning with him.

I don’t have much time for myself, and when I do have time, I usually end up lesson planning, cleaning, cooking (but not much — I still fail at this), or exercising (stupid hip thing), or planning the next six years. But to tell the truth, that’s kind of what I want to do right now. As I mentioned in my December post, I’m obsessing about planning for the next six years — junior high and high school. I’ve learned so much, and we’re already starting to implement some ideas in order to see if they will work and if I can fit them in. We’re going to try to fit more and more in as my son works through the rest of the 6th and 7th grade. The scheduling and how we do things is a sort of an experiment right now.

I keep thinking of topics and ideas to blog about, but when to actually blog? I’m writing this off-the-top-of-my-head, rambling post on a Saturday afternoon in about thirty minutes. (Saturdays and Sundays offer a little more free time.) Writing about specific curricula or other topics takes much longer because I have to think through what I want to say. Sigh.

I will tell you that we just signed up for a free trial of The Great Courses, and so far, we’re loving them. If we continue to like the courses, I can use some of them for our junior high and high school curriculum, and I’m so excited about this.

Now that January is almost over, I’m looking ahead to a very busy February when some important piano events and opportunities are starting. We will continue to lay low so my son can prepare and hopefully not get sick, and I’ll continue with my big planning. But right now I have thirty minutes until I need to start dinner, so I think I’ll take a nap. Thanks for reading!

Please leave me a message and tell me how YOU are doing this January.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

The strings you see hanging down are roots.

This post concludes my series of day trips that we took this summer, which also concludes our 2017-2018 school year. Day trips are some of our most educational and fun activities we can do as homeschoolers. I will try to write about some of the places we go this year too.

The photo does not do it justice, but I loved this statue of a toddler holding onto some frogs, and he’s extremely proud of his capture.

I had to take this photo of a nepenthes pitcher plant for my son who grows carnivorous plants.

My son picked the Atlanta Botanical Garden as his “birthday day trip.” I won’t lie — I wasn’t disappointed about this at all. I have been wanting to go there for a long time. My twelve-year-old has always been into plants, and lately, there’s been a kind of resurgence in this interest. Since I love plants and gardening too, it’s such a pleasure for me to witness this, and what a surprise that he’d pick the botanical garden on his birthday. I thought he might pick a science museum or aquarium like his brother.

We had never been to the Atlanta Botanical Garden before, and we were not disappointed. It was more beautiful than we were expecting. We have been to our state botanical garden, and we’ve been to the Chicago Botanical Garden, and both those places are lovely. (How can gardens not be?) But the Atlanta Botanical Garden was truly special. The boys loved all the plant sculptures in the garden, which was whimsical and made it fun for kids.

The greenhouses, which you see in the background of his photo, were fabulous.

A bloom among the plants of the desert.

It was so big, we didn’t even get to see it all, so we’re planning to go back. I will highlight our favorite spots in the photos. I hope you enjoy them. (And by the way, I was dismayed that I forgot to bring my Nikon with me. If there’s anything I love to photograph, it’s flowers. So there’s another reason to go back. These photos were taken on my phone camera.)

The orchid house was perhaps our favorite place.

Something I’ve never seen before — flowers growing on the bottom of the roots!

 

Georgia Aquarium

On our recent visit I did not take many photographs except for these awesome puffins, which is a new exhibit. So the other photographs in this post were taken on previous visits to the aquarium.

We have been to the Georgia Aquarium several times (mostly when the boys were smaller), but I realize I have never written a newspaper column or blog post about this amazing aquarium. It used to be the largest aquarium in the world until it was surpassed by an aquarium built in Singapore in 2012. Go there and you can gaze at beluga whales, whale sharks, manta rays, and literally hundreds of amazing smaller species too. We were quite thrilled to get to see their newest exhibit of marine birds, including puffins, on our recent visit, which was on my 9-year-old’s birthday.

I’m not going into detail about what the aquarium has for you to see and do because you can find out about that on their website. Instead, I’m going to babble on about the cost because, geez, this is a very expensive place to visit. ($36 general admission for adults. $30 for kids. And don’t forget parking and food.) That’s why we rarely go. When the boys were small and my eldest son was obsessed with ocean animals, we went a few times. But it was cheaper back then, and I remember finding coupons that allowed us to get in for $15 per adult — they don’t offer those anymore.  (Though they do offer various discounts on their website.)

I have mixed feelings about the expense. I mean, on one hand, it’s too expensive for many families who can’t pay that much to get two adults and their kids into the aquarium. On the other hand, the cost to run that place must be enormous, and I know they are doing all kinds of good research and conservation efforts. So once in a while, we splurge on it.

At least the general admission includes the dolphin show now. It used to not. And the dolphin show is much, much better than it used to be. It’s not cheesy, and it’s more educational. Instead of actors and singers, the real dolphin trainers run the show.

My youngest son just turned nine, and it was his request to visit an aquarium on his birthday. (And you can get in free on your birthday, so there’s that.) We were going to take him to the Tennessee Aquarium because, to be honest, we like it even more than the Georgia Aquarium, and we have only been there once (on my eldest son’s ninth birthday). However, there were severe thunderstorms predicted on his birthday, so we didn’t think it would be wise to drive so far. To make up for that, we purchased two tickets to a dolphin encounter at the Georgia Aquarium. It ended up being a good decision, and I’m the lucky one who got to meet the dolphin with him. (I fulfilled a childhood dream!) It was amazing, and I’m so glad we did it.

If you go, I hope you can go during the week. Saturdays are chaos. I am not joking when I say it’s shoulder to shoulder people, and it’s hard to see any of the exhibits at that point. Also be sure to purchase tickets in advance online, or you’ll be standing in an extremely long line. My son’s birthday happened to be on a Saturday this year, but we got there right when it opened. For an hour or so, it wasn’t too bad. But man, the people came quick. Please go during the week, especially if you’re an introvert. 😉