Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tae Kwon Do

J started Tae Kwon Do classes yesterday morning. After completing his first class, he was awarded his white belt, seen around his waist in this photo of him demonstrating some of the moves he learned during his first session. He's extremely excited about this new venture, much more so than I expected. (Martial Arts classes was actually Zoo Boy's idea, but then he backed out at the last minute with a polite "no thank you".) And the instructor is excited to have such an enthusiastic participant in her class. In addition to learning blocks, kicks, and punches, he's going to be learning a lot of Korean words and history. So it's a pretty cool activity all around.

Just so happens that yesterday afternoon the martial arts school J is going to was holding a demonstration at a local event, so I took J up there to watch. He thoroughly enjoyed it and is looking forward to being able to participate in future demonstrations.

Friday, September 28, 2007

more photos from Hill-Stead

I wanted to post a few more photos from today's visit to Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT. For photos and stories about our visit, see my previous post.

This is the sunken garden, where they host musical performances and poetry readings during the summer months.

The museum, the former main house of the estate. Hill-Stead was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

The hayfields below the museum.

Traditionally sheep and cattle were kept on the property. The museum still maintains a small flock of sheep.

The pond.

Hill-Stead Museum

Today we hooked up with some homeschooling buddies to explore the grounds at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT. A turn of the century country estate, the 10 buildings and their grounds are now a haven for fine and performing arts. Tours of the museum are available, but we decided our young boys would be better suited to exploring the grounds. We'll save the less-physical activities for when they are a bit older.

In addition to impressive New England architechture, there is plenty of stone walls, hay fields, pastures, and meadows to explore. We brought along our letterboxing supplies, too, as there is a series of boxes on the property. We had a beautiful afternoon for our adventure.

The kids rolling down the grassy hill that leads to the museum's sunken garden. The garden is a cultural gathering spot, hosting musical events and poetry readings throughout the summer. We'll try to attend one of those events next summer, it's such a beautiful setting.

Out on the trails, letterboxing. The kids are working on getting our notebooks stamped and stamping the box's notebook. The trail was well-maintained and the boxes were easy to find by following the clues, but I would reccommend sturdy footwear, you do need to navigate your way across rocks and old stone walls to get to them.

Zoo Boy straggling behind on our way back to the parking lot. We would have all liked to hike a little further, but it was time for them to lock the gates and we had to leave. It left us needing one more box in the series to find, a couple more trials to explore, and a lookout that we didn't have time to visit but dearly wanted to. Gives us a good excuse to go back again soon! Maybe when the foliage is at it's peak.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The season is a' changin'. A sugar maple across the street from us is already ablaze in color, as are a few of our red maples (you'll see in a photo below). Most of the trees are still clinging onto their greenery for as long as they can, but the trees that are more stressed are already getting ready to shed for the winter. This year in particular we've got a lot of early color, as we had the driest August on record for this area, and September is promising the same. (Other than that one day with a little rain that I talked about last week, we've had nary a drop in 2 months -- in fact, our well recently dried up, a fact that makes day-to-day life around here a bit of a challenge. We're wearing out of feet practicing our rain dance.)

These are just some snapshots I grabbed while out on our morning bike ride. These pretty purple asters were growing amongst the ferns along our street. The weather has been clear and comfortable in the mornings, but it's been getting beastly hot and humid again in the afternoons. Just when you think summer is gone, it blows back in again like a blast furnace. If only it would rain....

A few "wild sunflowers". In quotes because I'm honestly not sure what species this is -- looks like a tall sunflower with a small head, so that's what I'm going with. In any case, they're growing all up and down our street and look nice with the stone walls and browning ferns.

This is what our pasture is looking like these days. Brown. With color from some of our red maples eeking in. The yellow is the grape leaves in the trees along the edge of the pasture. The grapes are just about gone now, the birds having eaten their fill, the sheep having eaten whatever dropped. Never did get around to collecting any to make jelly (which I was resistant to) or wine (a good suggestion by a friend!) this year.

And now I'll tell the quick saga of our milkweeds. We had a few milkweed plants sprout in the sand that we brought in for the playscape. Thrilled, we kept a diligent eye out for Monarch eggs and caterpillars. We thought we finally found some, only to discover (thanks to a reader) that they were really Milkweed Moth Caterpillars. Being unsure whether Milkweed Moths are migratory or if they hibernate and metamorphize in the spring, we decided to release those that we had set up camp for in our aquarium. Well, we went out to check on them today, and found our milkweed plants absolutely covered in aphids (that yellow fuzzy stuff on the stem of that milkweed is hundreds of aphids). We did see a couple of caterpillars still, munching away steadily at the leaves, but no sign of any cocoons. So the jury's still out on whether or not our caterpillars will turn into moths this fall, or wait until spring. Does anyone out there know?

Happy Harvest Moon to you all!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

J's recent artwork

A few of the works of art we've been treated to lately:

J made a paper airport with a fleet of planes. I wish the photos would have done them justice, but most were too washed out due to his details being drawn with pencil. In this photo, you can see the "Airport" sign behind one of the planes -- not sure if you can make out the windows, doors, and pilot along the side of the plane. He also made a parking lot (with a car parked), and the airport itself with stairs and a clock. He had all the pieces set up in the proper relationship to each other. Zoo Boy, upon seeing what he'd created, immediately started playing Airport with the set. Pretty cool, actually.

Here's a Zoob creation, that J built from instructions. This one is apparently called "Dino Bunny". The kids kept this "critter" intact for the better part of a week, making other "critters" to keep it company. (J made it a "Fly" to play with, Zoo Boy made it a "Small Plane".)

A magnadoodle drawing of our house (middle left) built out of legos, and J, me, and The Map Man as lego mini-figures (on the middle right). I can't really figure out what "Busy Work" means, or what was intended with the first word. When I asked J about it, he just looked at me like I was totally dense and said "it's Busy Work". Um, yeah, ok.

J's also been making up his own word games. Here's a crossword puzzle of our family's names. I particularly like how he drew pictures of each of us as the clues.

And here's a word search with family names and other words he happened to come across in his puzzle.

Monday, September 24, 2007

week #3 report

The Map Man and the boys did better than survive without me last week, they seemed to flourish! Not only did he keep them steady with their normal daily rhythms, but he did a lot of really fun activities with them as well. Unfortunately, he seemed to have forgotten that the camera exists and didn't get any pictures of most of their activities. But I did find a few usable shots on the camera. Like this one of the kids involved in making apple sauce.
They had our usual movement circle each day (with J backing him up as far as the verses went), then The Map Man read the curriculum story I'd chosen (a story about Duchess Autumn and the changes she brings).

They also made apple prints, which were easy enough for me to photograph after the fact. They cut apples in half and then cut the sides off of them to make a stamp of the star inside the apple. Tempera paints were used for the prints. The colorful ones are J's, the one with only black is Zoo Boy's. (I'll bet you could have guessed that, right??) This was Tuesday, and the kids went out to the playground later in the day.

Here's a craft idea that The Map Man came up with on his own. The kids colored white paper with crayons, then they cut the paper up into shapes, then glued them onto another piece of paper however they wanted to, making a mosaic/collage. The kids were really excited to show me these when I got home that night. That day they also went for a nature walk.

Playing with playdoh on one of the days (apparently, given that it was on the camera -- nobody mentioned this to me). For other outings they also went scooter riding and bike riding. And to top-off their week:

They went apple picking. This time it was a more local orchard than the one we went to the previous week, and they got a wagon ride out to the picking (which Zoo Boy was very excited about).

I was lucky enough to be able to get home for Family Story Time each evening, which was nice because we had a great set of books this week. We read Apples and Pumpkins by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, which is a very simple story about visiting a farm to pick apples and pumpkins. We also read The Apple Pie Tree, by Zoe Hall, illustrated by Shari Halpern, which is also a simple tale about the seasonal changes in a family's apple tree, and how they work together to make apple pie (recipe included!). And finally, we read the most popular (with both the adults and kids in this family) book we've ever read at Family Story Time: Apples to Oregon, by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter. Oh my gosh, what a great, FUNNY, book. It's a tall tale, (best told in a "wild west" accent, in my opinion!) about how orchard trees were brought across the plains from Iowa to Oregon (which really did happen, in 1847). The tale is told by the farmer's daughter, Delicious (great name, huh?), and there's SO many funny moments, and puns, and play on words, and just general good laughs. One quote, so you can get the flavor of the story: "I reckon that nasty wind blew my left boot clear to the other side of the moon. And if it should happen to drop out of the sky on your head one of these days, I'd sure appreciate your sending it along to me." In J's words: "I just love that girl!"

So it was another great week around here, even without me. (Not sure if I should find that comforting or insulting!)

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Map Man takes over

(A couple pictures from J's first day at Soccer Class for Homeschoolers.)

The Map Man is going to be in charge of the kids' daily rhythms and homeschooling activities for the next week. I've got six days of herding clinics to attend with my dogs and a client's dog, although I plan to be home in time for Family Story Time each night. I've got him all set with a nice Enki Autumn nature story, and he participated in our Movement Circle yesterday, so he should be able to run that with J's help on the lyrics/tunes for the songs. I've got our daily rhythms typed up so that he can refer to that, and J knows all the right transition songs for each thing. I've got suggestions for Afternoon Adventures written out, apple printing supplies readily available, a baking activity planned that the kids are looking forward to (apple sauce), a fun Apple Picking field trip laid out for them for Saturday (at an Orchard with a wagon ride, which is something Zoo Boy missed on our last apple picking venture), and an apple crisp baking in the oven right now for snacking on.

(Another photo from soccer class, J was teamed up with this girl -- that's Zoo Boy in the "caboose" in the background, courteously objecting to invitations to participate. Teacher: "Would you like to play soccer, too?" Zoo Boy: "No thank you, I don't play.")

So I think they're in good shape for the week. I'll encourage The Map Man to take plenty of photos, so hopefully I'll have a nicely illustrated report to post by this time next week.

Have a great week, everyone!

observations on week #2

(Kids heading out on our daily morning bike ride.)
I figured I'd post a few thoughts about this past week's homeschooling activities. I already posted individually about our rainy day activities on Tuesday, our apple picking on Friday, and our visit to the fair on Saturday, so I won't bother revisiting old news. But I did make a few observations as the week progressed that I think are worthy of note, and took a few pictures yesterday that I thought were worth posting.

(The kids playing football with The Map Man in the yard yesterday morning.)
I made a mistake this week. A typical week for us will involve us reading the curriculum story for 3 or 4 mornings a week(depending on whether our Friday Excursion is a half-day or all-day event), but since J's Monday classes at the children's museum hadn't started yet, and since we were planning to do our Movement Circle and Curriculum Story on Saturday as well (to show The Map Man what we're doing), I decided to split the week and use two stories. So I read our first story on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then started a new story on Thursday which I also told on Friday and Saturday. This was obviously too much for one week for my kids, though. They didn't sink as well into the stories, and their play this week didn't reflect either story. Given that they had really started getting into the first story, I think I totally disrupted things by changing gears mid-week. From now on, regardless of how many days we read our story, I'll stick to the one-story-a-week plan for our curriculum stories.

In lieu of a nature walk this week, we did a "pasture wander" instead to see what we could find right in our own pasture, and honestly, I almost think it worked better, as it allowed the kids to take more time exploring the details of their environment, and they really came up with some great discoveries, as you can see below. Another realization I had this week is that there's no need to use planned "themes" for our activities -- the seasons themselves naturally offer enough activities and experiences that any planning is really unnecessary.

Here the kids check out a snake skin we discovered in some tall weeds. They had fun identifying the tail and the head of the snake. What I found most fascinating is that they have seen and handled snake skins before (some brought in off our own property), we've read books about kids finding snake skins in bushes, and they know that we have snakes on our property (in fact, we watched a large snake slither across our driveway earlier in the week with a big lump in it's belly: obviously it had recently eaten some rodent or large toad). Yet, they couldn't quite put these bits of information together to identify the snake skin when they first found it. It was only after providing a few more clues for them (those look like scales, I wonder what is long and has a tail that looks like that, etc) for them to realize what it was.

They also found quite a few woolly bear caterpillars. They compared them to our monarch caterpillars (I think that's what we're growing in our aquarium -- I could be wrong!). [NOTE: We have since discovered that our caterpillars were really Milkweed Moth caterpillars.] They watched them curl up when we touched them. They asked if we could bring some inside to live with the monarchs, so we talked about how they are getting ready to hibernate and wouldn't spin cocoons and become moths until next spring. In the end, they decided to leave them to go about their business of finding a good place to hibernate. It was also interesting to note that the chickens didn't want to eat them (unusual, since our chickens will eat anything that moves usually, but they would walk right past them). We speculated as to whether they are too fuzzy, an unappealing color, or maybe they just taste bad.

Books we read during Family Story Time this week: Night in the Country, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mary Szilagyi; The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree, by Gail Gibbons (GREAT book! and good info about using a cider press, as well as an apple pie recipe); and Apples, Apples, Apples by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (which, while possessing overly simple illustrations, provides a lot of information about Apples in a story format, and is one of my kids' very favorite books of all time -- there are also lots of ideas for apple crafts, activities, songs, sayings, and their recipe for Apple Sauce is out of this world!).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

country fair

We took advantage of some lovely, crisp autumn weather yesterday by heading over to the local country fair. Zoo Boy was excited to see the animals (no big surprise there), J was looking forward to riding the rides (although he loved checking out the lego creations in the exhibits building too), and The Map Man and I were just looking forward to the whole darned thing! Here, Zoo Boy makes friends with a pair of Oxen outside the cattle barn. He also did his best to convince us to buy a goat that a farmer told us was for sale when he saw Zoo Boy petting it. (Gee, thanks mister!) We told him that we could talk about getting a goat or two in the spring, but for now, we have our hands full of sheep.

I, meanwhile, absolutely fell in love with these Tamworth piglets. I've never been a big pig fan, but these guys and their beautiful (yes, I said that about a pig!) mother caught my eye. The Map Man and I jotted down the farmer's information, as these piglets will be ready to sell in mid-October. We've never raised pigs before, so I suspect we'll do it at some point, even if we decide against buying one of these particular porkers. At least now we know a breed that suits our fancy!

The kids really enjoyed watching The Connecticut Renagades, who held a mounted shooting competition. There was a course of balloons on pylons, and the riders (all geared up in traditional cowboy wear -- the rules don't have any restrictions on costumes for the riders, but the horses are not allowed to wear any synthetic tack) had to run the course with their horse, shooting balloons with their six-shooters. Apparently, scores are based on time, with time faults for missed ballons. Looked like a bunch of fun, and it was certainly entertaining to watch.

We also watched a bit of the Ox Draw, although the kids were less thrilled about the slower pace of this competition. The Map Man and I actually spent a good chunk of our early married years attending all the local fairs in order to watch the Ox Draws, and we'd always intended on getting our own team of Oxen to compete with. We never did it (not yet anyway!) but we like exposing the kids to it occassionally, hoping one of them might develop an interest in pursuing it. There's just something about a team of Oxen that has always captured our imaginations.

Of course, the highlight of the kids' visit was the midway and riding the rides. There was a handful of appropriate rides and activities for little kids, and The Map Man took them on the Ferris Wheel, too. I'm "that" Mom at amusement parks -- the one that stands on the sidelines and waves and takes pictures. Not a big ride fan, I never have been, I get motion sick far too easily.

It was a really wonderful afternoon/evening, we all had a great time. The fair is big enough to fill a day with activity, but not so large and overwhelming that we worry about the kids wandering off and getting lost, and there aren't any crowds to fight. It's truly an agricultural event, and it's fun to see the displays and animals of the farms in the surrounding towns -- it helps us feel more connected to our New England farming heritage. The kids and I are talking about entering some of our own products and projects next year.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

apple picking

What would living in New England in the fall be without an excursion to an orchard to do some apple picking?! Yesterday we met some homeschooling friends over at Dondero Orchards, in South Glastonbury, CT, to do just that. In addition to picking our fill of apples, we were able to explore the blueberry field, the peach orchard, and the pear orchard as well as checking out many varieties of apple trees.

J had a clear plan of what he wanted -- Red Delicious apples, because those are his favorites. We found this tree, absolutely loaded with apples, towards the back of the orchard, and J quickly filled his bag with as many as he could carry.

Zoo Boy picked exactly two apples, and declared himself done. (Given that he doubled the number of apples that he picked last year, I'd say that was pretty good!) He doesn't like apples much, so mostly just wanted to get back to the farm store so he could play with the other kids in the play yard there. While they had fun, I shopped and picked up some homemade preserves and a few ears of Indian Corn for some fall crafts I have in mind to do with the kids.

Ok, I have NO idea what kinds of flowers these were, but they were so pretty I nearly came home with a basketful of them (and probably would have, too, if we weren't planning to go to a playground and then out for dinner before heading home -- it was too warm of a day to just leave flowers in a closed-up van).

Here's the playground, not far from the orchards, where we stopped before dinner for the kids to play. There were some really adorable boys doing an excavation for dinosaur bones -- one of the kids (a 6 yr old) was a NY Jets fan who was at the opening game of the season against my beloved Patriots, and I had a good natured argument with him about the Jets vs the Patriots.

All in all, a very fun day, with a very yummy ending. (We love apples! Well, all of us except Zoo Boy....) The yumminess should continue into next week as well -- there's apple pie and apple crisp on the horizon, and J is excited about making apple sauce from a recipe he found in one of the books we're reading this week during Family Story Time.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

random scenes

Other than the rainy start to the week, we've been having some spectacular weather for our week's activities. Decided to share a few photos with everyone. This first one was taken yesterday on our daily morning bike ride. The leaves are just starting to get a little yellow in most places. Great temperature -- jeans a must, but short sleeves still a comfortable option.

We FINALLY found some monarch caterpillars, after searching for them most of the summer. I guess we were just looking a little too soon. In fact, we found SO many caterpillars that we collected about 10 of them to set up in our formally-tadpole-occupied aquarium (now devoid of water, of course) along with a couple of milkweed plants, so that we can observe their growth, changes, and development. So far we've observed that they eat A LOT (we're going to have to go collect some more milkweed plants soon!) and also poop a lot. We're looking forward to watching the amazing metamorphosis that is to come, and then releasing our Monarch Butterflies to join the great migration south. [NOTE: I have since been corrected by a reader that these caterpillars are in fact Milkweed Moth caterpillars.]

Here's Zoo Boy's tree. Or so he claims. He says hello to it every day on our bike ride, and he insists that those reflectors are eyes and that the tree watches him and talks to him. Not the first time he's insisted that things talk to him, by the way. "Everything moves and everything talks" is one of his frequent observations on the world, his tree included.

A late-season dragonfly, resting on our pasture fence. Now that the nights have become quite cool, the entire insect population has slowed down and died back. I'm sure this fellow was warming his wings in the morning sunlight.

You can see the yellow starting to come out in the trees at the edge of our pasture. The sheep have the grass mown down to just-about-non-existent. Usually we don't have quite so much brown in the grass yet (takes until the end of October for it to look this dead), but prior to Monday's downpours, we hadn't had rain in a month, and that sort of wiped out the green color. The sheep can still seem to manage to find something edible out there, though.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

pizza face

Ok, here's that drawing of J's that I promised I'd post. I'm not sure I "get" it, so if anyone has any insight (like, have you seen this before somewhere?), please let me know!

When I asked him about the drawing, he first said "It's a pizza". I thought at first I was misinterpreting the features, but as I puzzled over it trying to see pepperonis and mushrooms instead of eyes and mouth, he chimed in "It's a face. It's a pizza face."

Ok. But here's the thing. J's drawings, until recently, have been copies of things he's seen. Initially (for years) they've been literal copies (he drew exactly what he saw drawn elsewhere). Over the past year, he's begun intermixing that copying to form pictures that tell a story, but still it's been a story that he's seen elsewhere. Recently, he's begun drawing representational pictures of live events (like his drawing of the Sea Lion Show at the aquarium), which feels more like typical kid drawings.

But THIS drawing. If this is truly his own, he's entering a new realm of imagination and ability to express himself. I've got a nagging feeling that he must have seen this somewhere else (although I can't imagine where, I'VE certainly not seen it anywhere, and for the most part I'm always in the same places he is). Somehow, that thought is comforting to me. Because if this is really coming from inside his mind somewhere...I'm just not sure I'm prepared for that depth of creativity yet! Although it would be an INCREDIBLE development in the way his thinking process is organizing, so from that perspective, I wish I could figure out which it is -- his or another's. If he'd just drawn a face split into quarters, it would be intriguing enough as to where he may have gotten the idea. But the range of emotion's just not adding up for me.

So, I challenge you all -- where have you seen this face before?