Friday, August 31, 2007

Mystic Aquarium

We kicked off our homeschooling year with a trip to Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT. The kids and I were all really excited about this trip -- I hadn't been in years, and I'm pretty sure the boys have never been (if J went, it was either in my belly or ON my belly, he certainly wasn't walking at the time). Zoo Boy has been asking to see an Octopus since I can remember, and J was just dying to see what sorts of tricks Sea Lions might know. The Sea Lion show answered that question for him, although both boys named a "kid cave" exhibit as their favorite part of the day.

The boys and a couple of pals who are also homeschooled check out one of the Beluga Whales up close and personal. The underwater viewing of so many of the animals is definitely a highlight of the aquarium!

Another underwater view, this time of a shark. This exhibit held their attention for quite some time -- can't say as I blame them, the sharks were just, well, spooky. Intimidating. Creepy. And entirely fascinating!

Zoo Boy got his hands wet in the touch-pool. He got to pick up a starfish, a crab, and an assortment of other small tide pool critters. The aquarium also has a touch-tank with Cow-nosed Stingrays, which J had good success in getting to come to his hand.

A feature this summer has been an exhibit called "Birds of the Outback" -- basically a walk-through aviary with about 500 parakeets, cockatiels, and rosealas flying around. Admission to the exhibit includes a stick with millet seeds on it. Needless to say, these birds are pretty well fed! And have figured out that sitting on the stick is the best way to hog all the seeds. The boys were thrilled to find "twins" to all four of our Budgies in there. I saw a lot of other really interesting varieties that made me wish we had room for more parakeets....

We stopped in at the gift shop on our way out, and the boys made a bee-line for the books. They made their selections, and I inadvertantly discovered that sticker books can keep them content and busy in the back seat for at least 2 hours at a time. A trick that I will be sure to file away for our trip to Ohio this coming November!

Monday, August 27, 2007

party at our place

The Map Man's Mom celebrated her 70th birthday recently, so we threw a big shin-dig for her at our place, complete with tents, lots of guests, and enough food to feed a small army. Friends and relatives came to help her celebrate her big day, and to help us eat all of our food (they fell short by quite a bit, we'll be eating leftovers for the next two months!).

J shares a laugh with one of his Aunts. This Aunt did a great job of organizing fun outdoor games and activities for the kids in attendance, so that we adults could concentrate on throwing a party and not worry about what our kids were up to. She definitely gets the Captain Kangaroo award for the day!

Zoo Boy serves up some icecubes, and a lot of laughs. He was pretending that the food tent was his restaurant, and that he was the waiter. He took the whole thing pretty seriously, which only added to everyone's amusement. In reality, my Mom, my sister and I were inside cooking up a storm, and my friend Christine (who we can also thank for all these awesome photos!) and I were trucking them out to the tents. Lots of appetizers, a few Mudslides, and a dinner of Chicken Marsala were on the menu.

The Map Man did an incredible job playing host while I hid out in the kitchen. Really, I was impressed with him, as he does not like being the center of any sort of social attention, but you'd never know it by his congenial, welcoming attitude on party day. My hero!!

The birthday girl blows out her candles while my kids looks on (and drool in anticipation of cake!). The kids were really excited to have a big party for their Grandma, and it was fun to include them as a part of the whole process.

Everyone had a great time and said that we should do it again soon (um, maybe again some day, but not soon!) and that I should go into a catering business (um, like never). Meanwhile The Man and I are very quietly celebrating our 19th Wedding Anniversary today. One party this week was more than enough for us!

orca mobile

Somewhere in the midst of a dream his voice came through: "Mommy, what is black construction paper?"

I dragged myself out of sleep to examine the expectant face hovering over me. "Huh?" I mumbled, and J repeated the question. "Oh, um, ok, wait, let me get you some." Blearily I asked him what he was doing, and he told me he was going to make an Orca Mobile, showing me the instructions in his Big Backyard magazine. So I got him what he was looking for, surveyed the materials he'd already gathered, replaced the shoelace he had grabbed for "string" with some cotton yarn, and went back to bed for another half an hour. When I woke up, he was already well involved in his project.

Not long after I checked in on him again, he accidentally tore through the body he'd been cutting out. Unphased, he used taped to repair the rip and continued on. I had absolutely nothing to do with this project (obviously, I was asleep when he embarked on it) other than poking a hole for him to put the string through in the end -- he didn't even ask for help then, but I was a little worried at what he might come up with as he was rumaging through the house looking for something to poke a hole with....

After poking the hole for him (which he then asked me to make larger since my original hole was too small), he cut himself a length of yarn, threaded it through the whale's "dorsal fin", and tied it closely with a double knot (where did the boy who wears velcro shoes learn to do that???)

J shows off his just-finished "Orca Mobile". Not long after, the belly panel fell off and he had to reglue it. It amazes me that he doesn't get upset when things go wrong with projects, he just calmly fixes it himself. It also amazes me that he undertakes projects like this -- until very recently he had no interest whatsoever in doing crafts. Everything in it's own time, I guess!

Not only did he undertake and complete his project entirely by himself, but he also hung it on the ceiling of his bedroom by himself. This is what greeted me when I came in from barn chores this morning. The opitome of a self-starter, and with good follow through. He's going to make some lucky employer extremely happy some day! That is, if he doesn't build his own financial empire before he graduates highschool.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mom my ride

Ok, you guys know that I don't usually pass on stuff like this, but this U-tube video was WAYYYY too funny, and I can relate a little too much. Watch what happens when professionals "fix up" a brand new mini-van to make it Mom-ready:

Looks a lot like our beloved "Big Blue Adventure Van" when they're done with it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

dazzling dinos

This afternoon J went to a class about Dinosaurs at the local Children's Museum. If he had his way he would have been in class there all summer long, he just loves the museum and he loves being involved in ANYTHING, so maybe next year we'll sign him up for more. He loved this class and the teacher, and she was equally enthusiastic about having him in class too, saying that she hoped he'd do other programs with her in the future.

The class was behind closed doors, so I didn't get to observe any of it, but J brought me into the room afterwards and showed me this Triceratops "skeleton" that they built. (There were a couple dinos like that, dino puzzles, dino games, etc.) He also pointed out the "dinosaur music" that was playing.

Meanwhile, Zoo Boy, who said "no thank you" when I offered him a spot in the class, played with the museum's Opposum...

...hooked up with some kids to play with in the exhibits...

...and dressed up like a bee. He also read various books (or had me read them to him), "sold produce" at the play farm stand, cooked and ate a pretend meal in the play kitchen, rode the concrete horse, set up and played with a toy train set, gave several guided tours of the animal exhibit room to first time visitors who didn't know all the animals' names, and decided at some point during our afternoon that he needs to get a guinea pig. (Probably while he was talking with one of the museum's employees -- his favorite question to ask there these days is "does it make a good pet?") This was news to me. On the way home he told J, "I'm going to get a Guinea Pig!" I said, "You're WHAT??? I don't think so!" (But you know me, I'm sure the child will wind up with a Guinea Pig at some point....)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

one day project

So, I woke up this morning and decided that we needed a front walkway. Today. Up until this point, we've been using two pieces of plywood and a horse stall mat. Not that our red-neck solution wasn't functional, but with all the sprucing up we've been doing around the yard, it seemed to be an idea whose time had come and gone.

So off we drove to the Home Depot to look at our walkway options. What I really wanted was some sort of stone pavers. But I quickly realized that there was no way to do that particular project in a day. I pondered in the aisle for quite some time (enough time for the kids to wander off and get themselves in a bit of trouble with a moving staircase). Then some lovely flagstone slabs caught my eye. Just the thing I wanted for a patio out back, when we finally get around to working on the back of the house. (Maybe next year. Maybe not.) So I bought the flagstones. Definitely a spur-of-the-moment decision, though you'd think that the time it took to load those stinkin' heavy stones onto my cart, and again off my cart and into my van, would have been enough time for me to realize that I didn't need flagstones right this minute. But that realization didn't strike until I was well on my way home.

It didn't dawn on me until this evening that I could use the flagstones temporarily for the front walkway -- nice thing about flagstone, it holds up really well, so in a few years when we finally get around to either needing them in the back of the house for a patio or finally become ready to undertake a pavers project out front, we can just pull them up and use them again. Fortunately, I had just enough daylight left to get the project accomplished.

Monday, August 20, 2007

winding down

It's true, the tell-tale signs of the end of summer are here. Our beloved beach at the local lake closed for the season at the end of the day yesterday. We weren't there to see it -- it was only about 70 degrees out, certainly not a day that inspires me to go jump in a lake. Besides, we've already begun the frantic push to get our summer projects finished before the intentsity of pre-winter work hits. Fall is a busy time on a farm. So we missed our final opportunity to bask in summer's glory on our favorite patch of sand.

Two sessions of swimming lessons were successful beyond our wildest dreams for J. He became comfortable floating/swimming with a lifevest on. He learned how to use a boogie board/kick board to get around in the water. He even actually put his entire head underwater once. His end-of-lessons report card raved about his progress, and reccommends repeating Level 1 yet again next season, citing needing more practice with floating on his back and going under water. Zoo Boy says he'll do lessons next summer, too, "Because I"ll be 5, and when I am 5, I take swimming lessons." Ok by me, either way. Both boys are swimming independently with life vests on -- that's all I need to be happy.

Zoo Boy will miss the beach the most of all of us. And not just the water and the sand, he loved visiting with the people -- ALL the people. He made his rounds. Watching him on the beach this summer, I couldn't help but start humming Rodney Atkin's "These Are My People". The boy is truly in his element on the lakefront.

But as much as we may try to resist it, the summer is coming to a close. At home, we are rediscovering toys that have stayed forgotten on the shelf all summer. In lieu of an actual set of rally dominos (shhh, he's getting some for his birthday!), J sets up pattern blocks to run his knock-down designs and ideas by. He's discovered that the hexagons and trapezoids are the best choices.

And Zoo Boy continues to work on his pre-reading. His latest favorite activity is to spell out words that he sees and ask what they say. Several times a day I have to set all else aside while he reads through a book's worth of words to me. He's still having trouble with those confusing p, d, b and he's pretty stymied between capitol I and lower case l. But otherwise he's an alphabetic maniac on a mission to spell out every word in the universe.

Meanwhile, I'm putting the final touches on our fall curriculum plans, and am working diligently on getting our physical environment in order. I'm moving furniture, arranging materials we'll be using, packing away things we won't be needing, and sorting through the remainder of our stuff to try to decide whether or not it's worth keeping. Once I'm finally satisfied and the dust settles, I'll post some photos of what I've come up with. In the meantime, it's back to work....

Saturday, August 18, 2007

family party

We spent the afternoon (the GORGEOUS fall-like afternoon!) at my nephew's birthday party. Here the kids watch the birthday boy opening his gifts (his parents prefer that I don't post photos of him). Even though this was technically a family party, he did have a couple of really nice friends over, and the kids all had a blast playing together. I wasn't too terribly surprised to find out that these boys happen to be homeschooled, and I had a good conversation with their father who has the bulk of the homeschooling duties in their household.

Here's all the party going kids (and a couple of the adults) playing a rowdy game of freeze tag.

Pizza for dinner, what could be better? Well, at least according to Zoo Boy. J was eating his usual dinner, "Cheezy Cheese and Crackers" (WisPride spreadable cheddar on stoned wheat thins).

The boys and their cousin found a wooly bear caterpillar and set up a comfortable container to study it in. They had a bunch of fun "taking care of" their caterpillar all afternoon, and I had just recently read about wooly bears so was able to answer the questions that some of the kids had about them. For instance, this wooly bear is a young one -- it's mostly black. As it gets older, the small orange stripe around it's middle will spread and eventually it will be entirely orange in color. It will hibernate for the winter, then in the spring it will spin a cocoon and turn into a moth.

In dropping off our babysitter prior to the party, her mom met us in the driveway and invited us in to see the monarch butterfly that had just emerged for them. (They are another homeschooling family.) They had found the monarch eggs on milkweed plants this summer, hatched them out, and grew the caterpillars out until they became chrysalises. They just happened to have one of the butterflies emerge shortly before our arrival, so the kids were able to let it crawl all over them. (Wish I'd thought to grab my camera when we went in!) They showed us two more chrysalises that Butterflies will emerge from either tomorrow or the next day. Really cool stuff!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

some recent artwork

Figured it was time to post a few pics from our resident artist, J.

Here's the Earth, Sun and Moon -- if you look closely, you can see that North America and South America are in the shadow (hence, night). Boy's got a pretty good grasp on that whole day/night thing, I think, as well as world geography.

A Lion mask. Not sure where the inspiration from this came, I can't imagine it's an original design. I'm highly suspicious of his Big Backyard magazine, seems like the sort of thing they would give directions for. In any case, it certainly was his own idea to create it.

Peter Pan. Well, that's Peter Pan in the corner, anyway. The large glowing amazon-like fairy in the middle is Tinkerbell. No comment.

I was a little confused by this one when he showed it to me. He told me it was "The Water Carrier". I puzzled over that for awhile, until I came across a star chart (I assume the same star chart he must have come across which inspired this drawing) and realized it's a map of the constellation Aquarius. And Aquarius is known as -- you guessed it -- the Water Carrier. Hmph, imagine that.

population explosion

Don't even just sort of happened.

But anyway, meet Pineapple...

...and Lemon.

From the house of the Fruity Four (and at this point I'm not sure if that describes the birds or the humans....)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

a pair of keets

We found our Apple! This fine looking young fella (well, we hope he's a fella, anyway, we actually won't know for sure for another 8 months!) was sitting in a cage full of cuties at our local pet shop -- after driving all over creation looking at parakeets and finding them less than suitable, this guy seems to fit the bill nicely for us. He's young (a little under 4 months of age), robust, playful, and handsome. I told J that he could name him anything he wanted to (and in fact, Zoo Boy tried to convince him to name him "Keet" instead), but he stuck with Apple -- and honestly, I think it's a pretty good name!

Pear is instantly in love, but taking the experts' advice, we'll keep them seperated for a week so that they get used to each other from a distance before allowing them to share a cage. So the boys' room currently looks more like an aviary than a bedroom!

As for the kids, they are thrilled to have our "pair of keets" complete. I have secret plans to get a larger parrot for Zoo Boy in the spring, to help encourage him to practice his speech therapy lessons (reasoning that if he's teaching a bird how to talk, he'll be motivate work on his articulation!), but these little guys will give us a feeling for how birds fit into our lives. So far, we're all pretty pleased at the situation. I've long had a passion for birds myself, and am thrilled that the boys, especially Zoo Boy, seem to be following in those footsteps.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Zoo Boy's new pet

And no, it's not a Dragon! (I may have been spared that particular fate for a bit!)

Meet Zoo Boy's new parakeet (Budgie). She's 2 years old and a real cutie (or, as Zoo Boy keeps saying, "Isn't her beautiful?!"). Simultaneously this weekend Zoo Boy told me he wanted a blue parakeet, and an adoption notice for this blue Budgie went up on our local homeschooling group's recycle board. Talk about serendipity!!

He named her Pear. "Pear? Like the fruit?" I asked him (being a bit too short on sleep to get the obvious connection to the first syllable of "PARakeet"). "Yes, " he assured me. "Have you ever seen a blue pear?" he asked. No, I told him, I was quite sure I never had. He reassured me that they DO exist, his Gramma has one. (This is the imaginary Gramma who lives in Texas, wears cowboy boots, and speaks Spanish, not one of his real Grandmothers who live much less exotic lives and have much less colorful fruit.)

Zoo Boy has been the happiest boy on earth since Pear joined our family last night. He has a permanent huge smile on his face, and he keeps running around hugging us all. He was up bright and early this morning to help me get her fresh food and water and clean her cage. He's anxious to be able to pick her up, but we read that we should give her a few days to settle in before we ask her to trust us enough to let us touch her. He's trying to be patient about that. In the meantime I wired Pear's doors shut to prevent temptation and keep her safe.

Meanwhile, she seems to be as smitten with her new owner as he is with her. She can't take her eyes off Zoo Boy when he's around, and whenever he approaches her cage, she chatters softly to him. "She's talking to me!" he squeals in delight. "She loves me!" Yup, it sure seems like she does.

We've been reading about caring for Budgies on the internet, and have come to the conclusion that she would be happiest with a companion of her own species rather than being kept as an only bird. Since we own a larger cage anyway, we've decided that it would be fine to get a second Budgie. Zoo Boy thinks J should get a green parakeet to go with his blue one. J, being the cooperative big brother that he is, says that's just fine. So the hunt is on for a friendly male green Budgie to keep Pear company.

And Zoo Boy thinks they should name it....Apple. Of course.

some shots from the weekend

A few photos from our weekend activities -- it was a low-keyed sort of weekend, as J was battling a tummy bug. We had to miss out on a campout we really wanted to go to, so that was a dissappointment, but we managed to have a nice weekend anyway.

In this first shot, J drew a picture of the inside of his body (on his Magnadoodle), then held it up to show me how he looks on the inside.

The kids had fun playing with playdoh on Sunday afternoon. (Still in PJs because it was a "sick day".) Here, J is working on a sculpture of a pink alien. Zoo Boy told me that they made a lot of sculptures of letters, numbers, and animals too. (I was outdoors assiting The Map Man with the fence for most of it.)

This big toad has taken up residence next to our trash bin. Smart toad, plenty of flies there. It's about the biggest toad I've ever seen, that's a quarter I put down for size comparison. Note his dark coloration -- when we first moved here, all of our toads were light brown in color. But as the years have gone by and the sheep's fertilizer has enriched and darkened the soil, nature has selected for the survival of toads that are darker in color. (On dark soil predators can easily see light colored toads, hence the darker ones survive to reproduce and pass on their dark color.)

More fencing -- we reset the posts along the pony pasture side of the driveway and got the boards up this weekend. We still need to put up the wire (a heavier guage, taller wire than what we used around the yard).

Not all of us worked and played hard this weekend. This is our little old cat, Dori, who has stuffed herself into the smallest hole possible (amongst the dry goods from our last grocery trip) for a nap.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

for the (baby) birds

First an apology -- my camera is SO inadequate for this! But I've been wanting to blog about it for the past several weeks, and finally just decided to go with what I could manage to get for pictures (prepare to be entirely underwhelmed....).

For the first year, we have been feeding the birds straight through the seasons, and we are amazed at what we've been seeeing. Not only a wonderful variety of species, but over the last several weeks, we've had a parade of youngsters coming with their parents to be fed and learn to eat from the feeders on their own. In fact, one day last week there were so many baby birds of various species lined up on our railing waiting to be fed, a mamma Chickadee almost fed a baby House Sparrow by mistake! So I caught as many pictures of young birds as I could today to put some up here and share the fun. This young Black-capped Chickadee has decided she likes the Thistle Feeder, which seems a little odd since there's plenty of more Chickadee-friendly (at least according to the OTHER Chickadees!) foods available in our feeding spot.

Here's a general photo of our feeding spot -- on our deck we have strung up a feeder filled with sunflower chips, a feeder filled with niger (thistle) seed, and a suet feeder. Plus we cover the play table surface with nuts, dried fruits, and whole seeds, and a bit of millet for good measure. The idea was to attract the largest variety of birds that we could, and we seem to have hit on a really good combination. Having the feeders on our deck is ideal -- they are high enough to be protected from our barn cats and our dogs, we can watch the birds right out the sliding glass doors while we sit at the dining room table, and we don't have to worry about attracting bears. (A lot of fellow Connecticutites have had to take down their bird feeders because they were getting visitors of the large, hairy, scary type.)

I think a big part of the success of our feeders at attracting birds has been the fact that our deck is overhung by a really large Red Maple tree. In this photo alone there are dozens of birds, but they are pretty well hidden in the leaves (although in this picture you can see a young House Sparrow in the center bottom portion of the photo, see if you can find her). Which I think is the reason the birds all feel so comfortable bringing their young to the feeders -- plenty of readily available cover.

Today we were treated to a newly fledged family of Tufted Titmice. There were four babies, with their tufts fluffed out, chasing each other too and fro, begging food from their moms, and making an incredible racket given their small sizes. There's not much cuter than a baby Titmouse! It was a nice treat for us, and we needed one -- we had to cancel a camping trip at the last minute because J came down with a stomach bug. So having adorable babies to watch for most of the day was a welcome diversion for us all!

Here a young American Goldfinch helps itself to some niger seed.

Babies I wasn't able to get any photos of today (well, I got photos, they just were blurry little blobs!) included a couple of Downy Woodpeckers, a clunky young Hairy Woodpecker, a fluffy Cardinal, and a sleek young Chipping Sparrow. I was also hoping to get a picture of the gorgeous male Goldfinch, but he was being a camera shy daddy.

You can bet we plan on feeding the birds year-round from now on -- we didn't realize what we were missing before now!

Friday, August 10, 2007

water slide

Our friends invited us to come cool off in their water slide yesterday, and my kids jumped all over that invitation! Even more fun than going to the beach they said. I guess there's not much more to say about it, so just enjoy the pictures!

Zoo Boy climbs up the backside.

J prepares for his turn to slide down.

Wheeeeeeeeeeee!!! Says Zoo Boy.

J, the boy formally afraid of water, seems to have completely overcome his problems in that department this summer.