Thursday, May 31, 2007

chick moving day

Our not-so-baby chicks are finally old enough to move outdoors to the chicken coop, so today was moving day. The boys helped me catch them up out of their pen in the laundry room and they carried them out to the coop while I carted out their food and water. They commented several times on how much they'd grown since we got them as tiny little fluff balls, especially on how HEAVY they'd gotten, and that they looked like little chickens now instead of chicks. Although they are only about a quarter of the size they'll be as adult hens, they've got their full compliment of feathers now. But they still "talk" like chicks -- peep peep, as opposed to cluck, cluck. It will be another month or so before they start sounding like chickens.

Our "starter coop" is behind our main chicken coop, and was serving as a duck house this past winter. Now that the nicer weather is here, the ducks don't want anything to do with being indoors at night, so the coop is available to move our chicks into. We had a surprise waiting for our six Rhode Island Red chicks, though:

Even more chicks! The boys and I had gone out and bought nine White Leghorn chicks, the same age as our chicks, this morning. Our egg business is booming and we've got more customers than we've got eggs available, so we decided to go ahead and expand our flock a bit, although these guys won't start laying until September. But a fresh batch of young birds means that there'll be enough eggs for all of us through the winter.

After the chicks get situated their new home, J latches the coop to make sure they stay indoors. Even though they have all of their feathers now, it's important they don't get chilled. In another several weeks, they'll be able to come out into their yard during the day, but right now we just want them to get adjusted to being in the coop. The temperatures will vary much more in the coop than they did in the house, getting warmer during the day and cooler at night.

Zoo Boy takes a peek in the window to make sure everyone is settling in alright and getting along together. So far so good!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

what happened to our sand pile

Here's what our big pile of sand has turned into. We're calling it Harvest Beach. If an ocean would just move in next door, we'd be all set to start charging admission and become a hot spot on the New England summer tour.

Here's how our pile of sand turned into a beach: A whole lot of hard work and sweat from The Map Man. And me. But mostly The Map Man. Lots of work with a trusty shovel and a sturdy rake spread out our sand and leveled our crooked lot into something appropriate to build a playscape on. Now we just need to build that playscape! (Stay tuned!)

J did his best to lend a hand in the shoveling department, too. And honestly, over the past two weeks, the kids really have done their share of moving sand down the mountain, mostly propelled by their bums as they slid down the side of the pile, or by their feet as they climbed back up to slide again.

But now that our pile has turned into Harvest Beach, neither of them see much point in doing anything but play in it. Great for making sand castles!

And great for pretend play, too. Here Zoo Boy drives a "boat", taking his "passenger" J for a ride. Hosing them down when they're done playing is becoming a daily ritual.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Campbell Falls

This is a continuation of my earlier post about our Saturday adventures in Norfolk, Connecticut.

After we left Haystack Mountain State Park, we traveled a whole 4 miles north (and into and out of Massuchusetts several times) to Campbell Falls State Park. The highlight of this park is this gorgeous waterfall. You can't see in this picture, but that rock outcropping that hangs over the falls on the left side of the photo is just covered with wild columbine, in full bloom. I only wish I had the proper photo equiptment to have taken advantage of it!

The Map Man and the kids enjoyed climbing all over the big boulders surrounding the falls. I enjoyed sitting on a rock taking pictures of them. As much as I loved scrambling about waterfalls as a child (and even as an adult), my knee just won't support that sort of activity right now (I have a partially torn tendon, and possibly a torn meniscus). But I am very much enjoying watching the rest of my family enjoy the woods the way I've always done!

There are two letterboxes at Campbell Falls, and we found them both. This photo is of the trickier one to locate (in fact, I think the other letterboxing family that we ran into there gave up on finding this one!), but we're pretty persistant "treasure hunters" so we stuck with the clues and eventually found the box. I've got photos of us working with the other box in an earlier post about letterboxing.

The Map Man snapped this photo of a gorge through which a side-stream runs while the kids and I were working on the first letterbox. Photos just don't do this area justice, it's quite beautiful here. And it was nice and cool -- it was a warm day, so it was nice to be in such a cool spot during the afternoon. (We also managed to find a great place for icecream in a nearby village on our way home!)

The boys and The Map Man fiddle around with a mere stone (the state line marker) designating the line between Massachusetts and Connecticut (I'm standing on the Mass side, as is Zoo Boy -- J is in Conn, and The Map Man has one foot in each state!).

Haystack Mountain

We drove out to Norfolk, Connecticut on Saturday to visit a couple of state parks and do some letterboxing. Our first stop was at Haystack Mountain State Park, where we climbed the mountain to the stone observation tower at the summit. The Map Man snapped this photo of us atop the stone retaining wall that winds up the mountain along the trail. It was about half a mile hike to the tower, pretty much the perfect distance for our crew of two young kids and two adults with knee problems, although it was steep enough to be a bit of a challenge for us all at times.

There were stone steps built into the mountainside trail at the steeper spots, which can be seen here in this photo of the boys and The Map Man. This was about the point that I suddenly remembered that I left our letterboxing clues back in the car! But not to fear, The Map Man remembered enough of the clues for us to find the box anyway. My hero!!

There were wild columbine (red, on the left) and wild geraniums (pink, on the right) growing all over the mountain -- they were JUST gorgeous! There was tons of honeysuckle in bloom, too. Such a pretty location!

Another visitor was kind enough to take this photo of us all together on the steps of the tower. Family photos of us are pretty rare (either The Map Man or I are usually behind the camera), and we are always grateful when we are able to get one.

The boys show off the rubbings they made of the survey marker at the top of the tower. It's hard to see that view since it was so dark in the tower, but trust me, it was amazing! You can see Long Island Sound (coast of Connecticut), the Berskshire Mountains (Massachusetts) and the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains (New York) from the tower. It was a perfect day for visiting this park, very clear skies afforded us distant views.

After Haystack, we headed to nearby Campbell Falls State Park, which I'll blog about next!

Sunday, May 27, 2007


A lot of our activities this weekend include Letterboxing, so I thought this might be a good time to describe what Letterboxing is to anyone not familiar with it.

All over North America (and possibly beyond?) there are boxes hiding, "planted" by Letterboxing enthusiasts. Inside these boxes are notebooks, stamps, and ink pads. Letterboxing enthusiasts find these boxes by following clues to their whereabouts. When they find one, they stamp the box's notebook with their own stamp, and then stamp their own notebook with the box's stamp. That's a pretty breif description, more detailed information can be found here.

All you need to get started is those things pictured above -- a notebook, a stamp (something unique -- you can use a store-bought stamp, make your own, or have one professionally made for you -- our family stamp, pictured above, is a logo that I designed and The Map Man had professionally made for us), and an inkpad. Then all you need to do is go and get some clues and head to a natural area with a box hidden in it. And, voila, you're Letterboxing!

With clues in hand, we drive ourselves out to a state park (or other natural area) where there is a box hidden. We follow the clues (in this case, the final clue told us that the box is hidden inside a leaning dead tree, after the clues led us to the right area of the park), and then search for the box. This is the boys' favorite part, hunting for the "treasure".

We then look through the box's notebook to see all the other stamps of all the other people who have visited the box. And we leave our own stamp on a page, along with a short greeting to the other people that will be looking at our entry.

We then stamp our notebook with the box's stamp, and jot down the date and location where we found it.

The final step is to replace the box where we found it and make sure that it's hidden well, so that the next Letterboxing enthusiasts that come along can have the fun of hunting for it, too. It's also to keep it concealed from being found accidentally by hikers who may not know about letterboxing and mistakenly think that it's trash and remove it.

Letterboxing is a great family activity, we highly encourage everyone to give it a try! If your family likes hiking in the woods, they will LOVE letterboxing!!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

week full of fun

The boys have had so much fun this week, I figured I'd share a little of what we've been up to.

First, we lofted J's bed over our spare queen-sized bed (from this time forward to be known as Zoo Boy's bed -- he'd never actually slept in it before this week, but he's there now....with me next to him for the most part, but still, it's HIS bed). The boys have been very excited about sharing a room and their great "new" bedroom. (They also helped The Map Man put together 3 new pieces of furniture for that room.)

We went to visit some friends who live on a dead-end road, and the kids biked and scootered up at the "circle" at the end of the road, then played in their nice yard all afternoon.

We also biked quite a bit at home, on our road, and played quite a bit in our yard. The weather has been amazing this week!

On Friday, the boys had some friends over for some water play in our wading pool, as the temperatures hit record highs across the state. Look how nice and clean and refreshing that water looks. Soon after this picture was taken, the four of them started methodically filling the pool with sand from our big pile of sand. It stopped looking so appealing pretty quickly after that....

We topped off the week with a bunch of hiking, letterboxing, and State Park/Forest adventures, which I'll be blogging about in the coming days. But here's a quick shot of my guys (all 3 of them) on top of the observation tower at Soapstone Mountain (part of Shenipsit State Forest) in Somers, CT. We stopped there on our way home from adventures elsewhere in Connecticut today.

Fun week! And that's not even counting a family birthday party, dinner at a restaurant, a couple different playgrounds, music class and baking.... Then again, it always seems to be a fun week. Gotta love that about homeschooling!

Friday, May 25, 2007

along the roadside

We've been enjoying the plants and flowers along the roadside on our walks and bike rides this week. The earth is just bursting with green life!

Personally, I don't think there's much prettier, or more New England-y, than a big grouping of hay-scented ferns growing along an old stone wall. And we've got both ferns and stone walls aplenty in this area. Our road used to be surrounded on both sides with farmland (the original homestead is across the street from us), so there are stone walls bordering both sides of the road, as well as running into the woods where they originally were dividing pastures and fields.

The spring asters have just started blooming the past couple of days. Their dainty purple petals are nicely complimented by their yellow centers. The boys really love these flowers. (Of course, they really love dandelions too, so there's no accounting for some folks' taste! But I happen to agree with them on the asters!)

Amongst my favorite spring wildflowers are the starflowers (lower right corner of this photo) and Canada mayflowers (the rest of the flowers in this picture). My Dad might correct me on these names, as it seems the common names I learned for the native wildflowers in Botany class in college don't neccessarily match up with what the native New Englanders call them, so I'll be sure to post any corrections he tells me to make.

A lovely clump of blue Phlox, escaped from someone's garden, no doubt, and growing in the woodlands. I've tried growing Phlox in our yard in the past, but apparently it's a favorite of the sheep, and it never lasts long. One of these days I'll have a more formal garden, no critters allowed! Then I can grow whatever I want, not just those plants hardy enough to withstand heavy grazing pressure.

Our neighbor's lilac tree. Beautiful! And stinky. I'm allergic to lilacs, so that's a planting that I'll leave to the neighbors so I can enjoy them at a distance.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

the ants go marching....

This isn't really about ants -- ants are just the only insect we managed to capture on film last week during our "bug theme" week. Actually, last week and this week are sort of overlapping themes -- the kids were defintiely on a bug kick last week so we went with it -- they played Bug Bingo, we took Bug Walks, watched a really cool Bug Documentary (called Microcosmos), watched "A Bug's Life" for our Family Movie Night, and of course we read Bug Books. But THIS weeks' theme (and something that we'll probably stick with over the next few weeks) is Flower Gardens, both the flowers that grow there, and the bugs (and other critters) that live there.

In any case, here's our reading materials from last week:

Our three Family Story-time books were:

Bugs are Insects, by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Steven Jenkins. This is another of the Let's-Read-And-Find-Out Science books put out by Scholastic that I've mentioned previously. It's a little more fact-based than I like for storytime, but appropriate in that I myself learned a LOT about insects from it. Like, for instance, that a Bug is not just any insect, it's a special classification of insect (just like Beetle is a special classification) -- bugs have a head shaped like a triangle and a mouth like a beak. So Ladybugs, while insects, are not bugs. Pretty interesting stuff!

The Lamb and the Butterfly, by Arnold Sundgaard, pictures by Eric Carle. This is a story about diversity and differences, but it stars a butterfly, so was perfect for our theme. And I love Eric Carle's art -- so colorful and textured.

Bumblebee, Bumblebee, Do You Know Me? by Anne Rockwell. This was definitely the hit of the week! It's a garden guessing game, where on each turn of the page, a different flower gives a different insect clues as to what type of flower it is, then reveals the answer. My kids LOVED this book, and learned the names of some of the most common garden flowers and insects along with it.

Books that were "strewn" (available for them to explore on their own): Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Jennifer Dussling, What Lives in the Garden by John Woodward, The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle, The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, The Very Clumsy Click Beetle by Eric Carle, and The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle. (Yes, we love Eric Carle.)

Materials that were strewn: magnifying glasses, plastic insects, Bug Bingo game, Insects flash cards (photos and facts about insects), 'bug jars' for capturing and holding (temporarily) insects to study.

Activities: we been focused on finding and observing insects while on walks and playing outdoors.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The first photo is of my kids playing with a Lego Mosaic set -- basically a set full of tiny, one-square legos in various colors which they can then use to make mosaic pictures on a flat lego board. Sort of ties in with my topic today, as it's one of the things strewn about the house available to the kids when they want it.

Strewing is the term used by unschoolers (people who homeschool without a curriculum or schedule -- they let the children learn naturally from what interests them) to describe leaving materials available for their kids to come across and explore on their own, if they so desire. In other words, there is no requirement that the kids ever pick up the books or materials, but they are available in case they want to.

Now, my entire life is basically one big strew. We've got LOTS of stuff. Too much even. And most of it is accessible to my kids at any time they want it. Basically, if they show an interest in something, I pretty much let them run with it. But lately I've been making a more purposeful effort at strewing. There are now art materials (crayons, pencils, scissors, several kinds of paper and cardboard) on the kitchen table: I figure I'll swap it out occassionally for paints, cloth materials, clay, etc. When I'm gathering books for our Family Storytime on a theme, I gather several more to just leave available for the kids to explore on their own. Some books are just better geared towards self-explanation than reading anyway, especially factual type books. I try to save the STORIES for Storytime.

In any case, I'm liking the effect. After ignoring the art materials for the better part of the last week (and neither one of my kids is particularly interested in arts and crafts, much to my chagrin -- I was a kid that was all about doing crafts!), J suddenly started drawing some pictures yesterday with the crayons and paper. I was surprised at how well he did with the crayons -- nice, bold lines -- the last time I saw him use crayons he had trouble getting any color onto the paper, it just took more effort than he was willing/able to put out.

And then he further surprised me by showing me this:

He told me that it was a house. (The paper is folded in half, he cut through both halves on the fold to make these cut-outs.) I was surprised, he'd never shown a whole lot of interest in using scissors, yet this looked pretty skillful to me. And then he really blew off my socks by unfolding the paper to produce:

This mask! WHOA! I said, meaning it. Where did you get THAT idea? That's SO cool!

As it turns out, it was something he learned in school (he went to preschool for 1 1/2 years before we came to our senses and pulled him out), and he went on to tell me the entire story which goes something like this:

Once upon a time there was a witch who found a piece of paper. She decided to make a house -- she cut out a door with one point so that she could fit through it with her pointy hat on. She cut out a window so she could see outside. What she saw was a little ghost, so she cut a small door to let him come in. (Then you unfold the paper to reveal the mask and yell:) Happy Halloween!

Ok, so let's recap. Halloween was how many months ago? About 7. Yet, he wasn't in school this past Halloween, so he's remembering this from the Halloween before, so that makes it (quick math:) 19 months ago. And he probably hasn't picked up a pair of scissors since then. So I'm pretty impressed with his ability to duplicate the visual props as well as the story after that amount of time. Of course, Zoo Boy immediately got to loving the mask idea, and he himself started messing around with paper and scissors. The boys made paper mustaches and beards and hats and costumes.

I'm so totally loving the strewing!

Friday, May 18, 2007

rainy afternoon at the museum

We met some of our homeschooling buddies over at the children's museum this afternoon. This place is SUCH a perfect spot to spend a rainy afternoon! The kids burned off a lot of energy and had a blast, and we parents got some good chatting done. We also attended their daily animal program -- I don't like to photograph the animal on display as I don't want to frighten it, but today it was a Chinchilla. I've seen them before in pet stores and the like, but I've never had a chance to touch one -- they really ARE as soft as they say. We also learned that Chinchillas are an endagered species in their natural habitat (the mountaintops of the Andean mountains), that they live 15 to 20 years (the one we petted is 16 years old), and that it takes 100 Chinchillas to make a fur coat (a sad topic considering the cute furry little face staring back at us while we were presented with this fact!). We also were told that today is Endangered Species Day. I'm still not clear on what that means. But we wished Priscilla the Chinchilla a Happy Endangered Species Day anyway.

This unassuming little room is the "Shadow Room". Looks like an empty room, right? WRONG! It's full to the top with FUN! The deal is that the white wall behind the kids is some sort of....well, honestly I don't know. Photographic surface of some type? In any case, when the kids stand against it and the room is darkened, and a bright light is flashed (by pushing a button on the wall), the kids' shadows are "captured" on the white surface. It's totally wild, and obviously this is one of the kids' favorite museum activities, and they get really imaginative with creating their shadow pictures. One of these days I'll have to have one of the museum staff explain to me how it all works. I tried to photograph the room in use, but that just didn't work, everything was totally washed out including the kids, so I had to turn on the light and pull back the curtain to even get this much of a photo. Although when I did try to photograph the darkened room, the flash from my camera was enough to trigger shadow-capturing, which was an interesting discovery for all of us.

Giddyap, partner! Zoo Boy takes "his" horse on an adventure. Looks like he'd make a decent trail hand. Hmmm, that might come in handy....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

sand pile

I'm not sure anyone believes me when I say that the best thing you can do to keep your kids occcupied is to have a big pile of sand dumped in your front yard. People always laugh when I say that, but I'm not joking -- just look at these photos! Today we had a big pile of sand dumped in our front yard. True, after a week or so of playing and spreading, this pile will turn into the ground covering for the wooden playscape we're preparing to build (stay tuned for construction photos!), but in the meantime, it's a playground in and of itself.

It was hard to know what to do first with our imported sand dune. Climb it? Roll down it? Rake it? Dig in it? Throw it around? I personally liked sitting at the top of the mountain like a wise old Tibetan monk, handing out wisdoms like "thou shalt not poke your brother with the rake" and "thou shalt not bury the family dog". That and shoving sand down the hill on top of my children.

Zoo Boy liked the sliding option a lot. I encouraged an open-legged approach for maximum sand-moving capacity. (I turned the hose on the kids after a couple hours of sand sifting, and even then they wound up with a strip search and tub scrub immediately upon returning to the house.)

J found digging appealing. Eventually he wound up almost completely buried (I was too busy doing said burying to photograph it). I can tell that both kids are looking forward to our local lake's beach seasonal opening at the end of June. This was a nice preview, and a good way to kill a hotter-than-normal spring afternoon. We were finally driven indoors by impending thunderstorms (which graciously held off until after the bath), otherwise I strongly suspect we'd still be out there.

If there's not a parable that reads "you can tell how much fun you had by how dirty your feet are", there should be.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Well, that streak of perfect weather was bound to end eventually! As thunderstorms raged just north of us all day, we experienced an atypically hot and humid day for this time of the year. Given the fact that it looked like the skies could open up any minute most of the day (though it never did actually rain until this evening), we decided to spend our adventure time this afternoon at the library. (We did manage to get outdoors for a couple hours later in the afternoon.) In this first photo, Zoo Boy busies himself with some puzzles.

J had a good time constructing a "hide out" from cardboard construction blocks. I like how he made sure to fence the toybox within the confines of his fort. When he was done, he used his little nook as a cozy reading spot for a good portion of our visit.

Zoo Boy tries out some of the puppets, in front of my favorite couch (that's where we head when Zoo Boy has a book he wants me to read to him, so we always spend quite a bit of time there every time we visit). When I'm not on the couch reading to him, I'm usually cruising the stacks of books looking for likely candidates for Family Story Time.

Raggedy Andy waves to the camera on his way to join J in his hide-out. A hide-out is always more fun with friends along! In the background you can see some of the library's other offerings for play -- a train table and a lego table. There's also a play kitchen, and a magnetic board with foam magnetic letters and numbers. It's a really nicely set up children's area that encourages families to just come and hang out for a few hours. This library also has a kitchenettte with a microwave, and tables set up like a small cafe, so that you can settle in with coffee or a light lunch while you read. Very friendly, welcoming atmosphere, all libraries should be like this one, we're so lucky to have it in our town.

And of course there are plenty of books to read and act out and consider bringing home with us. We always leave with a big armful of books, some we use for Family Storytime, some we leave out for the kids to explore on their own. Today I was particularly interested in getting some books on bugs, as it's not a topic I had thought about doing (but was one the children started in with on their own, so I just went with it). As it turns out, we had enough bug-themed books at home for this week, and at the library I found books that incorporated both bugs and flowers, which is a topic I've been wanting to get to anyway. So our bug weeks are going to intertwine with our flower weeks -- it's a good combination anyway!