Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Well, here he is, my seven year old. SEVEN. How the heck did THAT happen?? J had a great time celebrating the actual day of his birthday yesterday at Foster Farm (which I blogged about earlier here and here), then we headed over to the children's museum for a class (which I'll talk more about in my week 9 wrap-up at the end of the week), then home for yet another cake (talked about below), then dinner over at McDonald's (J's favorite restaurant, so how could we say no?). Full day. And hopefully the end of the birthday chaos!

I try to get a portrait type photo of both of the kids on each of their birthdays. So after getting multiple usable shots of J, I asked Zoo Boy if he would stick his his head out the porthole of the pirate ship so I could get his photo, and here's what he gave me:

....classic Zoo boy....

But I did manage to get a decent shot when he wasn't expecting me to be lurking around with a camera. If it's not obvious to everyone already, he's singing "Yo, ho, ho, ho, a pirate's life for me...."

About that cake, here it is. Our 3rd cake of this birthday. This time an ice cream cake, because we have enough traditional cake left over from the first two parties to choke a horse. (No, we didn't actually test out that theory, though we could have. But given that both of our ponies have metabolic problems and can't have sugar, we figured it wasn't a safe experiment.)

J excitedly opens his gift from us, a Lego Star Wars X-Wing Fighter set. A direct quote "This is GREAT! I love Star Wars! I love Lego's! This is a GREAT present!"

Mom done good.

more from Foster Farm

There was no way a great place like Foster Farm was going to get just one blog entry! (Read my earlier post for more photos and details about our visit there yesterday.)

Here's one of the pumpkin patches in front of the edge of one of the corn mazes. Behind is the hill the hay ride went up.

The jack-o-lantern display and pumpkin education area. (There's an illustrated chart about how pumpkins grown, and lots of examples.)

Loading up for the hay ride!

Our groups' kids at the entrance to the Monkey Maze. We never even made it over to the Lion and Zebra maze, we were too beat after conquering the Monkey!

Zoo Boy and J play on one of the many wooden play structures in the huge play area. They also had tractor tires buried in the ground to climb around on, piles of hay bales, and big empty drainage pipes the kids could climb through and be rolled around in. In addition to all the other cool stuff I posted about in the earlier post.

Foster Farm

Yesterday was J's actual 7th birthday, so we spent the afternoon doing something really fun -- we headed out to the Foster Family Farm corn maze and play farm, in South Windsor, CT, with a couple other homeschooling families (that's one of the boys' homeschooling buddies being the goat in the middle of this picture, where J is a cow and Zoo Boy is a -- what else! -- pig).

There is SO MUCH to do at this place, all of it bunches of fun and great for gross motor skills! (Funny how doing Occupational Therapy with your kids makes you look at everything through sensory-integration-colored glasses!) We would have been here every week in October had I realized how wonderful it was -- next year! (They are closing for the season today.) Here the kids race around a track on pedal-powered race cars.

Farmer Zoo Boy sings a Farm Song while "driving" his tractor. Not only was there real farm equipment to check out and climb all over, but lots of wooden and play equipment too, and animal pens with friendly farm animals scattered along the periphery of the huge play area.

Hay ride! We've been for a record number of hay rides this year at all the various farms we've visited, and I have to tell you, we're not sick of them yet! This farm's ride goes WAYYYYYYYY up a hill to the top of their farm where you can overlook their pumpkin fields and corn mazes and see clear to Hartford and beyond. Best hay ride yet!

And then there's the corn mazes. They have two big mazes (this year's theme was a jungle maze, and this is a picture of some of our group in the Monkey Maze), and there's maps and a scavenger hunt in each -- you're looking for the paper punches to punch holes in the appropriate place on your map, 6 punches per maze. (Here one of the adults in our group punches the kids' cards for them at one of the stations.) The mazes each have about 2 miles of trails, so we felt pretty accomplished to find and punch all 6 spaces on our Monkey Maze map. Only J was ready to tackle the 2nd maze, but we all over-ruled him, and the kids spent the bulk of the afternoon playing with other kids on all the great play structures and scrambling over hay bales and digging in their massive sand pit. It was the PERFECT place to spend a birthday afternoon!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

new critters

The pig has landed! We brought our little porker home today. Sunday night the farmer that owned her picked up her Mom and siblings and drove home with them, leaving poor little Pig by herself. She's pretty traumatized and spent most of yesterday running around frantically searching for them. Sort of heartbreaking. I'd feel guilty about separating her from her family, if it wasn't for the fact that if she didn't come to live here, she'd be on her way to the butcher shortly. But I feel a lot like we're living in a retelling of Charlotte's Web. Or Babe.

Several people have asked me what breed she is, but I don't have an answer. I didn't get to actually meet the farmer that I bought her from, it was entirely through a third party (the farmer just let them borrow the sow and litter for the month of October). My guess is she's some sort of cross-breed, given that she and her siblings all looked pretty different from each other. I do know she's about 4 weeks old, and that this wean was pretty sudden for her (I saw her and her siblings all still nursing hardily when we were at the petting farm on Friday). But apparently it's standard procedure to wean piglets at about 21 days, so I'm sure she'll pull through and settle in, we'll just have to be patient and give her time. The one time we let her out of her yard today, she headed for the hills as fast as she good (thank goodness for good fences, she'd still be going otherwise!), trying to nurse off of every critter she saw (NOT a popular act as far as the ponies and the dogs were concerned). I managed to get her back into her own pen eventually and she finally accepted a dinner of soaked pig grower food with electrolytes in them (the package says "for stressed piglets", and I'd say that description fits her pretty well). Note to self: don't let Pig out of her yard for at least a week. In retrospect, the transition may have been easier for her if I'd bought her a companion pig as well. Unfortunately, the boat's sailed on that one, though, as I have no way of contacting the farmer I bought her from, and pigs are very territorial, so I can't just add a pig from a different litter (if I could even find one). So she'll just have to learn to cope. Ultimately, space-wise, it's going to be better that she's an only pig when she grows into a full-sized hog.

Anyway, we didn't come home with just her. They gave us all of their left-over animal food (about 75lbs of it), a bag full of corn cobs, and a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins. And this cat:

When I bought the pig on Friday, they had told me that someone had dumped this sweet kitty off in their fields, and she'd been getting thinner and thinner, so finally they'd started feeding her. I guess she was killing rodents, but wasn't sure what to do with them (as in, eat them to survive). Obviously she'd been someones indoor house pet before being abandoned. She is a real doll, and all the little kids at the place have been carrying her around, she puts up with absolutely anything. She's much too nice of a cat to let starve in the cornfield (and the folks that run the place only lease the field, so after they shut down for the season, they abandon the place until the following year, so there would be nobody to feed her). So when they asked me if I'd do them a favor and take her, too, how could I say no?

I'm not sure what's going to happen with her ultimately, several of my friends that were with me Friday when I agreed to take her expressed an interest in her. I wormed her as soon as I got her home (which will need to be repeated over the next month or two), and fed her a couple of good meals (which of course will continue as well!). I set her up with a bed and a litterbox (we'll see if she actually is litterbox trained, I wouldn't be surprise if not, there's SOME reason someone threw her away) in our grain room until we know what her story is. I've got a vet appointment for her on Wednesday, I should know more after that. I wouldn't be surprised if she's Feline Leukemia and/or Feline Aids positive. I also wouldn't be surprised to find out she's pregnant, although in her condition, it's hard to imagine it. In the meantime, we've decided to call her Candy Corn (because of the season and her colors) for however long she's here, and if she winds up staying with us, we're all fine with that. There's always room for one more if the need exists.

Candy Corn spent the day alternately diving into any food I put before her, and sleeping soundly on her bed. She seems SOOOO appreciative to have a dry, warm place to sleep, and stopped trying to slip out the door within the first hour she was here. She'll hopefully start cleaning herself once she's feeling a little better -- she's about the smelliest cat I've ever come in contact with! And I thought the pig would be the stinky one....

Since it never rains but it pours, we also added this handsome new Katahdin ram to our sheep flock last night. He comes from Pennsylvania, via Maine where he's spent a couple of years producing nice babies. Hopefully he'll do the same for us -- he certainly lost no time getting right to work! We had a tragedy here a month or so ago -- our beautiful young ram, Apollo, suddenly and unexpectedly died (he got into a bucket of apples and bloated). Not only was the event itself upsetting, but it was just prior to the breeding season, and I was left desperately searching for a flock sire. I was lucky to locate Mars (he came with that name -- is that a really weird coincidence with the names, or what??), and even luckier to find a fellow CT Shepherd who was traveling to that same farm in Maine this past weekend and was willing to bring him down for me.

And one last addition to talk about, although we've had these guys for a few weeks now, I just haven't managed to mention it yet, I don't think. These fine fellows are a trio of Khaki Campbell drakes (male ducks). In addition to herding sheep, there are competitions for herding ducks (and cattle too, though I'm nowhere near purchasing any cows!!) that I compete in with my dogs. We have ducks now and again for me to train the dogs with, and for some of my herding students to work also.

And yes, for those of you who have farming experience and are scratching your heads at this entire thing, this is TOTALLY the wrong time of year to be ADDING mouths to feed to a farm. Yes, I'm probably insane. But then again, I'm doubting that comes as news to anyone reading this....

Monday, October 29, 2007

week #8 wrap-up

Wow, we're already starting the 9th week of our fall semester, the end of which will officially put us 3/4 of the way into our 12 week semester. It's amazing how quickly time passes, yet still gives me the opportunity to savor it. I think I appreciate the change of the seasons more this year because we are paying such detail to it.

So anyway, it's time for my weekly summary again, or rather, a bit past time, given that I usually post these on Sundays. But there was just too many other things going on this past weekend that needed to be blogged about. Like J's birthday party. And his other birthday party. And the Halloween party. And our new pig.

But anyway, the week started out looking a lot like these first two photos -- bright and sunny and colorful. The middle part of the week was gray and windy and rainy. So by the end of the week there wasn't much of any color left at all. All the leaves that had already changed had been stripped from the trees by the weather, all that is left are the green leaves that have not changed yet. Of course, that didn't stop us from getting outside as much as possible when it wasn't pouring rain on us.

J had his usual Homeschool chorus and soccer classes at the children's museum on Monday. And in a new addition to our weekly rhythm, we headed back over to the museum on Tuesday afternoon so that J could attend a museum class about bugs, where he made this really cool lady bug snack out of a saltine cracker, cream cheese, a mini-oreo, licorice, and red hots. Mind you, he didn't try to eat it, but I was excited just thinking that he actually had his hands on all of that "strange" food! So, of course, I signed him up for another half dozen classes or so. He just loves the classes there, and Zoo Boy loves playing in the museum while J goes to class, and I love chatting with the other parents, so it's a win-win situation for all of us.

Later in the week, we were back at the museum again, then had a nice walk at a nearby natural area, where J was checking out these cherries. This is what is referred to as a "mast year", which means we have an over-abundance of fruit -- wild cherries and apples, acorns, maple keys, nuts and seeds of all kind have been very plentiful. This always precedes an upswing in wildlife population -- makes sense, all that extra food allows more critters to survive the winter, and more nutrition for babies growing in their mom's bellies. Traditional farming folklore says that it also indicates a very severe winter. Guess we'll see soon enough!

I thought that you Enki-ites out there might be interested in seeing what our Nature Table is looking like at this point. We add something to it each week that reminds us either of our curriculum story for the week, or one of our outings, as well as picking up various things we find on our nature walks and pasture meanderings. This weekend J added a chicken feather he found in the barnyard, because it reminded him of the curriculum story we used this week (Child of Faerie, Child of Earth by Jane Yolen, adapted by me to better meet the needs of my children). I was very pleased when he did that, as I wasn't entirely sure the kids were "getting" the story. It's a verse rather than prose, and the boys seemed a little tuned out (I notice the same thing the last time we used a verse, which was Duchess Autumn in our 3rd week), even though we read the story book to them last year at this time and they loved it then. I gave them stringing beads to keep their hands busy after the first couple of tellings as I felt that I was "losing" them a bit. But then J happily skipped up to me and said "look, it's the feather the fairy child pulled from the egg!" and gently added it to our menagerie of memorabilia on the table, and I said "Hm. How about that."

Books we read during Family Story Time this week were Pumpkin Pumpkin, by Jeanne Tihterington (extremely basic text about a boy who grows a pumpkin, but the illustrations are gorgeous and I love how the pictures tell the bulk of the story without needing a lot of words); Patty's Pumpkin Patch, by Teri Sloan (a wonderful alphabetic romp through the seasons of a pumpkin patch); and Pumpkins, by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root, which I'd heard mixed reviews about, because it's written like a true tale but has some pretty outlandish details -- we love it! Just enough magic to keep this story (of a man who saves a field by growing pumpkins in it) fanciful.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween party

Last night, in the 2nd part of our 2nd day of birthday celebrating, we attended a YMCA Halloween Party as the guest of an employee (which happens to be my sister!). The kids got to dress up in costume and trick or treat with costumed Y employees, and all sorts of activities and games were set up for them to participate in. It was a bunch of fun!

J (aka Superman, minus the cape for this particular activity) got to try his hand at rock-climbing on a "real" rock wall (as opposed to the little ones they have at playgrounds), supervised by his uncle. He didn't make it too far up before getting a little scared, but my guess is the next time (and we're invited to join them for one of their weekly family rock-climbing times!) he'll climb even further. The Map Man did his first climb as well, but Zoo Boy chose to eat a lollipop instead, and I opted out due to the long line of kids waiting for a turn. Next time! It's something I'd really like to try.

Zoo Boy (aka the astronaut) plays Foosball with his aunt. Other Halloween activities we participated in (but were too dark to get any photos of) were Spooky Soccer (the kids ran around in the dark with glow necklaces around their necks and strobe lights flashing, trying to push an oversize soccer ball into a spookily-lit net), Carnival Games (my boys watched while their cousins ate donuts off of a string suspended from above, no hands allowed!), The Monster Mash Dance Party (dancing to every one's favorite Halloween song in a gym with lots of large exercise balls to bounce around and on), and the Spooky Swamp, which was a boat ride around the darkened pool, towed by a lifeguard through icky things suspended above them, and with costumed "monsters" popping up out of the water to scare them.

J tries his had at another kind of pool, which he liked a lot better than that Swamp ride. He really got scared, poor kid. Fortunately he was sharing a boat with one of his cousins who is a few years older than him and helped him cope with it. But I'm guessing it'll be quite some time to convince him to get into a boat in a dark pool again. (Then again, how often in life does that actually happen?) Zoo Boy got scared too, but recovered quickly -- he told me that the monster was scary, but it's just pretend.

Given the boys' reaction to the Swamp ride, we decided they should sit out the Haunted House activity. So they took advantage of the "Popcorn and Movie" activity, where they were handing out popcorn and cotton candy and had the Charlie Brown Halloween movie playing on the big-screen TV, while their uncle and cousin went to check out the Haunted House. The boys hunkered right down to enjoy the show, while I ate the cotton candy and The Map Man ate the popcorn.

Other than the scare, the kids had a great time, and I'm sure will be looking forward to next year's party come Halloween time again. Zoo Boy in particular loved talking to all the costumed people "in character", asking them questions, and asking if he could touch them (I guess to convince himself that it was really just a costume).

birthday party number 2

Here's my nearly-7-yr-old looking forward to his 2nd Birthday Party of the weekend. The first one was celebrated with his friends Friday at the Pell Farm in Somers, CT. Yesterday was the family party, although less family than usual showed up making it the smaller of the two parties(ordinarily it would be the other way around). However, both parties were a bunch of fun. Pell Farm was less work, though, as the family party was held at our house, so I had to actually clean. I'm becoming a fan of the off-site birthday party....

J blows out his candles while Zoo Boy looks on. It was a "Star Wars" theme, so the cake had Darth Vadar on it, and the kids each got light sabres as party favors (and they had a lot of fun with some game they made up that used them).

Zoo Boy reads the card that he made for J. According to Zoo Boy it read: "Dear J, I love you. We made [he means wrapped] your birthday present. Love, Zoo Boy." Very sweet! And he picked out the present himself, which just so happens to be J's favorite gift of the day:

A Star Wars Transformer toy that transforms from an X-Wing Fighter to Luke Skywalker. Obviously kids know what other kids will like best -- his favorite gift from yesterday was one that one of his friends had picked out. I'm going to let Zoo Boy do the birthday shopping from now on.

This morning J discovered how much fun another one of his gifts is -- this is a set of Rally Dominos that my parents gave him. Big hit! They also gave him "My Book About Me", a Dr Seuss favorite in our house where the kid fills in a bunch of facts and questions about him/herself. Mom gives one to each of the grandkids on their 7th birthday, and J filled his out in it's entirety tonight. His answers were pretty funny! (And revealing -- he said he wants to be a Fireman when he grows up, which is a bit of a surprise as the last I knew he wanted to be a Football player. Zoo Boy says he wants to be either a Lifeguard or a Veterinarian -- big surprise, NOT!) He also got a few other well-loved gifts -- it was a really good gift-getting birthday for him, all of his favorites. We're still holding his "big" gift from us (but I can't tell you what, as he's got a really annoying habit of reading over my shoulder while I type....) until his actual birthday on Tuesday.

But the birthday party was only half of our day....another post forthcoming on our evening activities!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pell Farm birthday celebration

Yesterday began the insanity that is J's Birthday Weekend. Being born so close to Halloween certainly makes for a very festive mid-Autumn season for us all! We went to the Pell Farm in Somers, CT, to celebrate his birthday with some of our homeschooling buddies.

Here's a picture taken in the picnic area in front of the hay maze with our new piglet, Pig, while we were waiting for our guests to arrive.

J the bat and Zoo Boy the pumpkin guy. Behind them is the corn maze. We had a gorgeous afternoon for farm fun!

Some of the party guests enjoying the hay ride through the fields and woods (J on the far right, Zoo Boy next to him).

Party time! Cake and apple juice for everyone!

When the day was over, all the kids got to pick out pumpkins from the pumpkin patch.

Not shown was their very cool petting zoo area with llamas, goats, ducks, chickens, calves, and of course PIGS. The kids were given a bit of animal feed and had fun handing it out to their favorite critters.

Can't think of a nicer start to our weekend o' fun!


We bought a pig. Seriously. Here she is. Zoo Boy named her Pig. She's HIS pig. (I'm hoping that the next time he asks for a Guinea Pig, and I say "but we've already got a REAL pig", that'll put an end to requests for small furry things to live in the house, as least for awhile -- I'm alway a much bigger fan of things to live in the barn!)

We pick her up on Monday morning when the farm's Fall Operations shut down, so I'll blog more about her, and about pigs in general, once we get her home. Too much else to talk about today. But I knew you'd all want to know...I mean, how often does one of your friends buy a pig?

Friday, October 26, 2007

a Thursday collage

After my earlier "heavier" post, I thought it would be fun to just throw up some pics from our day yesterday.

During the rainy portion mid-day, we spent a couple hours at the children's museum, where J (dressed as the ship's captain) took part in an impromptu lesson on buoys and knots by one of the museum intern, while Zoo Boy was busy talking a 14 yr old volunteer into taking all sorts of animals out for him to pet (the photos I tried taking all came out too blurry, there's just not enough light in that animal room).

The sun did come out eventually, so we left to pursue some outdoor fun. J bought a compass at the museum shop, here he's navigating our way back to our car.

We went for a walk at a natural area in the town where I work (and Joy came along for the fun).

The kids had fun climbing around on this Hickory tree.

As we do every Thursday evening, we wound up over at the dog training facility where I teach classes. (The Map Man comes and picks the kids up there and brings them home on his way home from work.) The boys LOVE coming with me to "work" and playing in my classroom -- they use the skateboards and wheelchairs and dog toys and run around a lot. This winter I'll bring their scooters with us too. And the staff loves having them there to socialize their puppies for them! The pups get used to wheeled things zipping by, and kids running around and laughing and squealing.

writing samples and thoughts

First a bit of a disclaimer. We do not work on writing, as anyone who's been reading along knows full well, but J's been working on it on his own for the past...well, several years anyway, I guess technically longer. He mostly writes on his Magnadoodle, as he can get the most consistent results that way (he's got a bit of a problem with being able to apply enough pressure to the pencil/crayon/etc, but actually that's coming along as well at this point and he's writing more short notes, etc, on paper -- although the writing he does on the Magnadoodle is much more involved and extensive). I thought it would be fun to post some examples of his writing from time to time to document his progress.

This above photo is something that he wrote one morning upon first waking up. It was last Monday morning, and he'd gone to bed at the halftime of the Patriots/Cowboys game (football, our family obsession) on Sunday night. He jumped out of bed Monday morning and ran to the Magnadoodle, and duplicated a sign he saw during the game (there's that photographic memory again). It's an acrostic -- CBS (read down the left side) was the network broadcasting the game, so the sign read:
Cowboys and Patriots
Bring us to
Super Bowl XLII

Which is all fine and well, but here's where things start to get a little funky:

Do you recognize this? Why not? It's Russian for "Enjoy Your Meal!" Doesn't every nearly-7 yr old American child write in Russian?

How about Chinese? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what this one says, but I do recognize some of the characters from our In The Leaves book, like rice, fire, field, sprout, pig and mouth.

Here's something a bit more traditional, the name of one of his favorite musical groups, written out in decorative lettering. I always wonder if something like this is considered writing or art, I guess it's a combination. But it's one more way to work on those letters and their usage, so it's contributed to writing one way or another anyway!

This is actually the most interesting of the batch to me, because it's sort of how Enki Education introduces the letters in the Language Arts portion of their curriculum. (There's a Y in the center of that Yak's head, in case you didn't pick that out -- in yesterday's art post I mentioned this picture.) Mind you, Enki's approach is a bit more involved -- first you read a fairy tale written to represent the letter, then you do a led-drawing (the parent draws, the student follows their lead and duplicates what the parent drew) in which there is a letter hidden within the drawing which the child then discovers. Something tells me that J's not going to have any problem with that portion of the curriculum. That same something also tells me that maybe it's time to look into starting those drawings with him. I've been putting off starting formal artwork with both of my kids due to a combination of their fine motor skill challenges and the fact that I'd rather spend the nice Autumn weather outdoors immersing ourselves in nature and working on gross motor skills. There will be plenty of winter ahead of us to work on seat-work at the table.

Another issue is that these sorts of things are a part of the 1st Grade Curriculum, which we haven't purchased yet -- our intention had been to transition J to 1st grade next year (for those of you who don't know, he's a little bit "behind" grade-wise due to all of our time working on Autism remediation with him). But clearly I think he's ready to forge ahead now, at least with some of the 1st grade materials, so you know what'll be on my Christmas list! We're going to have to tread carefully, though, there's a lot of things that the Kindergarten curriculum still has to offer him that he badly needs, I don't want to go skipping willy-nilly ahead and leave important developmental work behind. So it's going to be a balancing act to meet him where he's at with the Language Arts (and probably the Math too), yet leave him enough time for Kindergarten stories and exploration.