Friday, May 31, 2013

Collage Friday : Our Start To Summer

Center Picture: I was able to try out my super-duper beach chair and found it quite to my liking!  Thankfully friends of ours that live close by were free for a spontaneous trip to the beach where our girls laughed and splashed and cartwheeled.  It was a much needed time for my friend and I to connect uninterrupted and catch up on what is going on in our lives.

Top Left, Clockwise

Board Books - I have been posting what the girls and I are up to on Instagram.  I love Instagram.  It gives Greg a glimpse into what his girls are up to day by day making him feel more connected while at work.  When he gets home, he does not have to ask, “what did you do today?”, he can ask specific questions about what we did do during the day.  I also learn something every day from the people I follow on Instagram so I try to pay it forward by sharing what we like, what we learn, and how we learn.  

These board books are being turned into art journals.  I have an art journaling “class” beginning next week with two of the girls friends who attend school.  This gives them a chance to see each other, create some art, and have a short project rather than a huge art journal to fill.

Green Smoothies - I should have added to my 10 Things List, green smoothies.  I have been drinking these now for 2 years.  I try to drink one every day but sometimes I am lazy, especially in the winter when my body probably needs the Vit C and iron the most.  I just love walking outside to my garden, cutting the spinach and lettuce and parsley, bringing them inside and filling my glass with their green glory.  

Worm Tower - I was not sure how well this would work but it is an amazing little composting system!  We check out tower frequently to make sure it is not dried out, the food level in sufficient and that there are worm tracks up the sides and hopefully castings here and there.  Lilah saw worms yesterday and since there are no fruit flies, no strong odor and potato plants in this box are thriving, I feel like this has been a successful project.  I plan to build three more this weekend, one for each of my square foot boxes.  

Gilly - Gilly is doing great.  The girls are doing a great job taking care of him.  I do nothing other than buy his food and hay.  They make his salad twice a day, make sure he has pellets, fresh water, hay and toys.  They take him out at least twice a day for about 30 minutes each time.  He gets plenty of exercise and he even has a play house designed especially for him by Lilah!  Our yard can handle the poop of one rabbit.  It all goes into the gardens.

Broken Toe - I am going to be posting soon about one of my favorite family resources, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, an A-Z guide of remedies (herbal, supplement, nutritional) for just about any ailment you can think of.  Lilah recently broke her baby toe and it recommended a poultice of turmeric.  She laughed and reminded me that I am not a doctor.  I told her I don’t want to be a doctor but I very much want to be a healer.  Her toe is still yellow, but it feels better!

Guitar - The weather has been so beautiful that Grace has been practicing outside!

Building - my backyard is almost ready for the big reveal.  This weekend Greg and Grace took down our ugly metal dog kennel and build a farm-like fence enclosure.  We kept the kennel decking for easy cleaning but now they have an enclosure that matches Gilly’s and a beautiful gate.  Gilly’s Garden Box is planted with beets, cucumber, tomato, carrots, and lettuce.  I  have lived here 15 years and have never been excited about my yard....until now.

Cupcakes - While Greg and Grace were building, I was inside serving as Lilah’s baking assistant.  She had her first paying order of 3 dozen cupcakes!  They were beautifully decorated and delivered on time to our friend from church who was throwing a college graduation party for her daughter.

Jake - I just love this picture of Jake.  No story behind it.  Just love.

More Cupcakes - My little baker made a dozen (in addition to the three she made for her order) yummy cupcakes for my sister’s Memorial Day party.  Sadly, none were left to bring home.....

Memorial Day - When my brother joined the Marines we threw a big party for him.  It was the fulfillment of one of his dreams and our way of saying we were proud of him and his accomplishments.  Family came from far away and a tradition was born.  This year may have been a bit chilly but the warmth of family made up for that.  

Dogs - Grace adores my sister’s dogs and lets them climb all over her.  I just love this picture.

It has been a busy week, and not a week crammed with academics but with family, friends, and summer fun.  A good week.  A fulfilling week.  A wonderful start to summer.

Homegrown Learners

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

10 Things...

Ten things that make me happy 

When my own personal cleaning fairy pays me a visit.  Sometimes when I am very very lucky I go to bed with a dirty house and wake up to a sparkling clean one.  This is usually when Greg has something on his mind that he needs to work out and his way of working it out is to clean.  I wish this was may way is to avoid cleaning and to write.  I will never ever forget the day when Greg thought it was a wise decision to drink coffee on the train home from Manhattan and was up until 2:00am cleaning our apartment in Fairfield.  I know I have it good and I love him so much for this little bit of magic he possesses.  He must have a wand hidden somewhere.

Coffee in the morning, my laptop, and the view out my window.  I never enjoyed the view out my window.  I have written several posts about the possibility of moving to improve the view out my window.  Turns out I just needed to change the window!  Rather than enjoying my alone time in the front of my house, I have moved to my sunroom couch.  I can open my window and smell fresh hay from the rabbit, look out on one of my gardens, and enjoy the sunrise creeping up and over my house.  This makes me so happy.

I get a strong sense of peace when my girls are busy.  Not busy running from place to place but busy doing meaningful, joyful work.  Like using tools to help build a gate.  Or drawing beautiful pictures of favorite things.  Or baking.  Or caring for animals.  I love to see them lose themselves in what they are doing.  Those are the times I just sit back and enjoy the moment.  

Chocolate makes me deliriously happy.  I am a bit of a chocolate snob.  Greg brings home the most wonderful treats from New York.  Salted caramels, dark chocolate bars, chocolate covered pretzels, all kinds of yumminess.  I tend to sneak bites here and there.  Sometimes I am busted and have to share.

Pajamas make me happy.  I have a drawer full.  When the girls ask me what I want for Christmas or Mother’s Day or any day really, I always answer, pajamas, matching soft cotton sets that only get better over time.  My favorite pair is just about worn out.  I bought them with a gift card my in-laws gave me 13 years ago.  Butterfly pajamas from Victoria’s Secret.  I brought them to the hospital when I gave birth to Grace.  They now are starting to get holes and tears along the seams.  I will never ever get rid of these pjs and I will patch up the holes and reinforce the seams.  These pjs have seen 13 years worth of my life.  

I love good music.  I remember my Dad telling me that someday I would listen to more than American Top 40 and as hard as he tried to expose me to other types of music, I resisted.  Now I get it.  Right now I am loving Fun and Mumford and Sons and my song of the summer is Best Day of Your Life.  I am not a musician, but I feel music deeply.  I am not a songwriter, but good lyrics can make me cry.  I appreciate the artistry of a musician.  A warm day with a warm breeze blowing and some Van Morrison playing and a homemade lemonade ice tea chilling and this girl is truly at peace.

Connecticut is not known for its beaches.  Long Island Sound is not always the cleanest, the sand is not the softest, and the water is not the warmest.  But there is something so soothing about having your toes in the rocky sand, the salty breeze on your face, and the ability to sit and read and not have to watch your children every second.  I appreciate that they are old enough to go to the beach with friends, even if it is just for an hour or during that time when neighborhood friends are released from school until dinner, and lose themselves in the wonder of the beach.  I never thought I would consider a beach chair an investment, but my last hour at the beach left me with a numb backside and I finally said enough was enough.  I simply cannot wait to try out my super duper deluxe beach chair complete with foot rest!  I foresee many hours reading while the girls play.

Zero piles of laundry is the epitome of joyfulness.  I tried a method of having the girls shower at night then throwing the clothes we wore that day in the laundry.  It worked and we were always current with laundry and there were no piles.  Then I got lazy and now I am buried under mountains of clean but not put away clothes.  This is such an energy zapper.  I am working towards having a no-laundry-backlog this week so I can get back to my happy place.  

Books are my treasures.  A while ago I made the foolish decision to declutter my library.  It is all about ebooks now right?  Then we faced the last year with hurricanes, blizzards, and no electricity.  You can’t read an ebook when you can’t charge your phone or iPad or Nook.  I gave away some of my best friends because I rarely re-read a book, even if it is one of my best friends.  I am in the process of rebuilding my library but I am doing it with care and consideration.  I only want to stock it with great reads, books the girls may enjoy someday.  I want a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and I want the books to be the kind that keep you up all night, or better yet....make you stop and put the book down just so you won’t read it all at once.  BTW....the last book that made me do this was Witch of Little Italy.  I loved it.   I plan on reading my heart out this summer and watching my library grow.

I may moan and complain about the muddy paw prints, the inability of Daphne to control her bladder at times, the constant interruptions with wet noses demanding to be pet, the dog hair and the cost of medications, but I just can’t imagine what our home would be like without our two furry friends.  Our family has so many memories of their silly antics, like when Jake tricked Daphne into giving up her spot on the couch by feeding her from his food bowl, or when we find Daphne perched upon the highest pile of freshly folded laundry like the Princess and the Pea.  They are loved and they bring me joy.

What are ten things that bring you joy?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Art Journaling: Words Matter

This week Grace discovered an old journal I bought for her three years ago at a library book sale.  She poured through her old entries which brought her back in time to when she first began homeschooling.  Back then she was more of a list maker and she detailed her day from morning though night.  I encouraged her to pick up that journal again and jump right in now, three years later.  The person she is now is so different than that ten year old girl.  How she has grown.  How her life has changed.    Imagine the rediscovery of yourself at 10, 13, 15, 18, etc.....

I shared this story with the girls and I encouraged, but did not require, our art journaling group to write.  Write about what they are feeling, thinking, wondering, questioning, wanting, reading, playing, visiting, learning.  Set a timer if it helps keep the pen moving across the paper and move those thoughts from the inside of your soul to the outside.

I think that is where some children get caught up in the act of writing.  It is not the physical act that is challenging, it is the emotional act of writing.  Of taking a piece of your private self and sharing it.   Those children may feel more comfortable making lists or favorite things, or writing down a favorite recipe, something that is not so personal and private.  

This piece of writing served as the background of our art journal page.

The page was adhered to the journal with Modge Podge and then sprayed with Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating 1303A.  This is super stinky and I did not let the children do this.  I took their page outside to spray and then gave it a quick dry with the hairdryer.  Open windows for good ventilation, or better yet, do this page En Plein Air!

The Krylon provides a smooth finish to the page which allows the writer/artist to add another layer with ease.  A word or phrase or quote that acts as a title is written across the page and details are added and colored in.

The girls wrote about moving from Florida, backyard chicken antics, wanting to own a bakery, blessings, all the things that are important in their lives right now.  Imagine how wonderful it will be to open up these journals years from now and rediscover a bit of who you were when you were ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen years old. 

How I wish I had kept my old journals.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

LCC: Prospect House

Years ago when my girls were little I volunteered for a year at a local homeless shelter.  There were many times I was moved to tears by the stories of the residents.  Most of the men were Veterans.  Most of the woman simply made poor choices in life.  While I was there I held babies, comforted elderly, completed in-takes and told countless people that the shelter was full and offered alternative shelters to call.  That year taught me more than I could ever learn from a book or movie.  Like how to truly appreciate the opportunities I had growing up from a mother who devoted her life to her children and a father who worked multiple jobs and countless hours to provide us with what we had.  I grew to appreciate what it took for my parents to offer us a stable home, nutritious food, and clothing that fit and kept us warm.  

Working at the shelter make me realize that my children have the same opportunities I had as a child and possibly more.  We live in Fairfield County, a region of the country that has some of the highest income levels as well as some of the lowest.  The economic disparity is apparent every time we drive through the cities that surround ours.  I want my girls to appreciate what they have without feeling guilty for the things that they are able to enjoy.  This is a fine line with children.  

We had the opportunity to share in Jesus’ mission of helping those most in need this weekend by volunteering as a family at Prospect House in Bridgeport.  Lilah spent the day baking 2 1/2 dozen cupcakes with LCC to bring for dessert.  When we arrived Greg, Grace, Lilah and I set out to prepare 100 grilled cheese sandwiches to be baked in the large industrial ovens.  Colleen, a friend from church, has organized monthly dinners at this shelter for over 5 years.  She encourages children Grace’s age to do this mission work before making their Confirmation.  While we were busy cooking, Colleen was making a huge pot of beef and bean soup to be served with rice.  

I estimate we served 75 meals Saturday night.  Every single resident thanked us for our time, our meal and our dedication to helping them.  We heard so many “God bless yous” that we just could not help but smile throughout the dinner.  My girls were happy giving their time, their effort, and a bit of themselves with others.  There was one moment when a resident came back into the kitchen upon learning that Lilah baked the dessert with her friends, from scratch.  He thanked her personally.  He told her how much he enjoyed her cupcake.  Colleen whispered to me that it just does not get any better than that.  Amen.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Love and Gratitude

Do you ever consciously stop and let the realization that life is good wash over you?  

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of life that suck.  Like when I was driving on I95 Friday night trying to get to Greg who was stuck in Stamford due to a trail derailment and crash.  As I drove and emergency vehicles streamed by me and families of commuters clogged the already very crowded expressway, I realized how fortunate I was that I was not driving to the hospital to meet either my mother, or my husband, or my two brother in laws, just to name of few of the people I know and love who rely on the trains to bring them safely to and from Manhattan.  

Thank you to each and every friend who called, emailed, texted and Instagramed their concern for Greg's well-being.  Knowing that we were in your thoughts touched us both deeply.

I loved my man extra hard this weekend.  I am utterly fantastically in love with him, and after sixteen years our love keeps growing.  For years Greg has been the gardener in our family.  He used to enjoy helping his brothers when they owned a nursery and then he spent a year working with his friend as a landscaper.  He has always planted and maintained our community garden plot and he began our backyard garden three years ago.  I hate the feeling of dirt under my nails.  Truly I do.  It could drive me crazy if I let it......but then I would miss out on so much goodness.  I have missed out on so much goodness already, but I am correcting that this year.

Our garden is not only growing food but growing relationships.  Grace spent a large portion of her day working with us on our herb garden.  I have admired wagon wheel herb gardens for years.  I was just about to go on Craigslist and start searching local antique stores when Greg called me out to the garage to see what he discovered hidden above in the loft.  Two perfect antique wagon wheels!  They have been sitting there 15 years just waiting to be discovered.  

Now they can be enjoyed every day.

While we were working, we spoke to two neighbors about our garden, and our town, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the getting better.  I am holding my breath for the getting better.  New condos are being built near the train station which has the potential to revitalize an area of our downtown.  We talked about local art shows and I put a plug in to see if my class could display their art journals.  I’ll have to wait and see.  The AAA man who came to break into our Explorer and retrieve the keys that were locked inside had a lengthy discussion with Greg about growing collard greens.  We learned about bee colonies when my neighbor’s son brought over a pound of his fresh beeswax and a jar of his honey.  So much goodness in one day.

Despite the weather, Sunday would prove to be as productive a day as its predecessor.  Greg and I were at Lowe's at 8:00am and by 9:00 we were building a backyard farm!  Farm yard posts and chicken wire will enclose the rabbit hutch and give Gilly a safe place to explore.  The 8 foot dog kennel will be replaced by higher matching posts and different, larger wire.  If we ever have chickens, there will be room here for them as well......

This project is 90% done so I cannot show the final reveal.  The gate is under construction using two pieces of picket fence and the board lining the enclosure will be the back of Gilly's square foot garden!  We were too cold, too damp, too hungry and too tired to begin the dog kennel project.  That will have to wait for another day.  Another good day.  

I am learning that life is really what you make of it.  You can wish it away or you can work it into a reality you can be at peace with.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wonder and Growth

Spring is the time of year when kids in public schools have the opportunity to demonstrate their accomplishments for the year.  There are concerts, award ceremonies, banquets, diplomas issued and report cards shared.  

My family is loaded with high achieving kids.  I have a niece at Yale, another on a full scholarship to UCONN, another with a sports scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, nephews who excel in lacrosse and football and soccer.  I have attended their events and cheer and clap like the proud Aunt that I am.

This time of year is a bit different for my girls.  They have had their piano recital, but that is all.  No report cards, no banquets or award ceremonies.  No NCAA titles, no first, second or third place trophies.  They are doing what they do from week to week.....learning and living and loving and achieving.  

They rarely get asked what they are studying or enjoying or accomplishing.  If there is no award, title or money attached to their accomplishments they seem to pale in comparison to others.  So when they do get asked “what did you do today?” or “what did you do in school today?”  I get infuriated when the response is “not much.”  Not much?  Are you flippin kidding me?  I am not busting my butt, planning, driving, coordinating and working with my children every single day of my life for them to turn around and say “not much.”

This question was asked of them by their Grandparents this week.  Their response could have been, “Well Grandma, I spent over two hours working on my video for 7 Cool Homeschoolers.  It involved filming the care of our new rabbit and giving lots of information that we learned about how to properly care for him.”  Or it could have been “I am almost finished with my 7th book in my Life of Fred math series!  I started them in October and I only have three more before I finish the entire elementary school series!”  Or, “I worked on a new piece of writing that I started Friday in my writing group.”  Or, “I finished a page in our writing group’s shared journal that we pass around and all take turns writing in, sorta like they did in the book Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants which I just read.  By the way, it is a book intended for high schoolers and leveled a whole year ahead of where I am in “school”.” Or, “We learned about current events by watching CNN Student News like we do every day.”

But no......none of these answers came out of their mouths.  I know this is not much different than when I used to pick them up on the school yard playground and ask them how their day was and I would get “fine” or what they learned and I would get “not much”.  I had to get creative.  I had to ask my girls what the best part of their day was or what made them laugh or what made them frustrated, and always who they ate lunch with.  

When I spoke to my girls on the way home that night I asked why they default to “not much” and their reply was that when they get asked what they do in school they don’t know what to say because they don’t go to school.  You would think after three years, this would not be the first thing they default to.  I explained that as homeschoolers, we have a responsibility to present what we are doing in a way that shows how hard they are working and the very cool and awesome things they are doing because they don’t get the report cards and ceremonies and awards like their cousins do.  Pick one thing that you are doing right now and talk about it with the joy and excitement you do with our homeschooling friends.  Share a bit of yourself with others so they can understand and participate in your learning, even if it looks nothing like the learning that others are doing in a traditional school.  

I wrote about this before, but when speaking with a homeschooled child, they do get caught up on the “what did you do in school today?” question.  Ask them instead:
  • What books are you reading?
  • Are you working on any projects?
  • Is there something you are really excited about?
  • What is your favorite activity right now?  Has that changed this year?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Is there something you are looking forward to learning soon?

Their accomplishments are not measured in GPAs or grades, class rank or standardized test placements.  Their accomplishments are measured in portfolios, blogs, the number of journals they have filled, the number of books they have read or listened to, the learning the have gained from internships, mentors, field trips and travel, the opportunities to help others and give their time and talents to others, the time they spend collaborating with friends, the hours they spend exploring the outdoors, the new creatures they encounter along the way and the experiences they have that make them grow.  

Their accomplishments are measured in the person they are, and the person they are becoming, and whether or not they are attaining the skills and the knowledge needed become a kind, compassionate, capable, and successful adult.  

I don’t ever want my children to feel that just because they do not receive the same kind of external rewards for their accomplishments, they are any less valid.  They have accomplished so many great things this year.

Grace completed her first internship at Western Connecticut State University and attended her first SPLASH at Yale University.  She  completed a 10 week US History course using an AP history text.  She also completed a 10 week government class and attended a tri-state weather conference held at WCSU as well as a severe weather preparation class and this week she will be certified by NOAA to be a certified severe weather spotter.

Lilah moved up several levels in piano and Grace began studying classical guitar. Lilah attended a special field trip to the company WestElm in Brooklyn to learn about textile design. LCC was established and baked goods were donated to The VFW, the firehouse, the senior center, the pet shelter, a bake sale for to raise money for Hole in the Wall Gang camp, and for a dinner for those in need.  She perfected a vegan chocolate cake recipe and baked 4 dozen cupcakes on her own for a community dinner.  She baked cupcakes for her cousin’s baptism and she designed and printed labels for her cupcake club.  She learned to knit and she wrote a picture book which was given to her younger cousin as a Christmas gift.  She singlehandedly planned and executed her fourth annual Valentine’s Day Party which was beautiful. She designed and sewed garments that are not only beautiful but functional, and hopefully will be made in my size one day!  

The girls have discovered a love of documentaries and have learned about French pastry chefs, ballet competitions, animals in Australia, the theater, and so much more.  They have learned geography through watching The Amazing Race which has become our family activity every night.  

They have attended a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream, saw Mary Poppins, will be attending West Side Story soon as well as visiting Carnegie Hall for the first time two weeks from now.  They saw Winston Marsallis in concert at Fairfield University, attended an acclaimed performance of Handle’s Messiah, attended a stellar middle school orchestra performance, performed into two recitals, performed at an assisted care facility and performed at three masses and performed the music for our annual Christmas Pageant at church.  

They learned to sew, to bake vegan, to make green smoothies and to juice.  They learned to make meals such as Grace’s favorite keilbasa bake and Lilah can make a mighty fine mango kiwi smoothie.  They listened to an 8 hour audio book which taught them as much about nutrition and the fast food industry as a full course would.  They are learning to heal their bodies naturally and understand what it takes to stay healthy.

They traveled to Tennessee, visited Chattanooga for the first time, attended Fashion Night Out for the first time, traveled to Plimouth Plantation, performed their weekly dog walking job which they have held for the past two years, helped their elderly neighbor on a weekly basis and adopted a new rabbit to care for in addition to the care of their two dogs, two frogs and a fish.  

Academically they transitioned to pre-algebra, learned multiplication tables, wrote research reports and gave presentations.  They learned how to use imovie and upload their work to a youtube channel they collaborate on with 7 other homeschoooled children.  They read countless books, and listened to quality audiobooks such as Tuck Everlasting, The Midwife’s Apprentice and Catherine Called Birdy.  They completed Apologia Zoology 1 and are working on Zoology 2.  The participate in a weekly writing group.  They participate in an art journaling group.  They take weekly piano and guitar lessons.  They completed most of Story of the World book 2 and spent the first half of the year learning US History through American Pageant, Liberty Kids, The US Constitution, Where Do Presidents Come From? and the History Channel’s The Story of Us.  I could go on and on but these are what come to mind first.

This has been an incredible year filled with wonder and growth.  So please, please girls, next time someone asks you what you are learning, please do not say “Not much.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Art Journaling: A shift in perspective

Art journaling has been on hiatus for 2 months due to our friends travel to Mexico.  After taking this much time off, I was curious if we would pick up where we left off, or if I should go back to having a model to follow.

I decided to see where the group wanted to go and offered the suggestion that we journal about our pets, and of course, the girls focused in on rabbits and guinea pigs!  

Each girl took their own unique approach.  Lilah and her friend pulled out manga books and created a manga unicorn and a manga rabbit.  Grace and her friend took out the colored pencils and combined their drawings with collage.  Two other friends ripped pages out of a dictionary and drew rabbits in Sharpie marker and colored them in with brightly pigmented Sharpies and sealed the page with Modge Podge.

Often, as was in the case this week, the art takes over our time.  The girls spent about 2 hours working on their drawings.  By the time they finished, there was not much time or energy left for writing.  The words come later.  

For me, art is the inspiration for writing.  I consider art journaling part of our writing curriculum.  I realize that journal writing is not the same as a 5 paragraph persuasive essay or a research report, but the thoughts that are captured in the pages of their journals are the seeds for future writing projects. 

The personal feelings that Grace and Lilah have about their rabbit is a beautiful compliment to the research that they have already done about rabbits.  In fact, Grace used both her personal reflections and her research to begin a new realistic fiction piece of writing that is clearly based on her experiences of having to research and present information on things that she would like to have. It is a funny piece of writing and I am enjoying reading it as it develops.  

Because we are three different families with three different educational styles and philosophies, not all of the children are writing in their journals.  For some of the girls it is a place for art.  This is certainly acceptable but it does change the focus of our group from art journaling to art creating.  

Because I love the journaling piece so much, I am thinking of offering a 4 week series like I did last summer to the greater homeschool community so that my girls and I can have the experience of both art and writing in one session.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

The naming of Gilgamesh

When Lilah takes my phone, I know that good things will be waiting for me on my camera roll.

I am not sure if I mentioned that I thought it would be a brilliant idea to research the word poop in different languages to find him the perfect name.

Dutch: achterdek

Turkish: yormak
Italian: stancare
German: Fekalie
Finnish: Ahteri

The girls did not find this activity amusing, so we went with historical figures and came up with the name Gilgamesh, from Story of the World Book 1 and one of our favorite songs, Mesopotamians by They Might Be Giants.  Just because his name is not Fekalie or Ahteri, you can't discount the true reason I was intrigued with having a backyard bunny....his poop.  

In a week he almost filled a bucket with his poo.  It was enough for me to spread evenly over my three 4’x8’ beds.  The bottom of the bucket was already broken down into what resembled dirt and mixed in nicely with the soil as I cultivated the beds.  

I am hoping to share this fertilizer with friends.  It is mostly organic (we feed him greens from our garden, slices of our organic fruit, and mostly organic greens from the store.  He loves dandelions we pick in the yard and loves to keep his teeth healthy by chewing on maple and apple tree twigs and small branches.  His pellets are not organic so technically he is not producing organic fertilizer, but I am not going to stress about feeling a rabbit 100% organically.....he will become a very expensive pet!

Poop away Gilgamesh.  Poop away.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Notebook Girlz: Time

I recently read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.  I inhaled this book like I do the scent of the lilacs blooming on my favorite tree.  My book is now highlighted, marked up with notes in the margins, and dog earned with the many writing exercises I want to try with my group of girls.

This week I pulled out my poetry books.  I skipped over my Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein books and took out my favorite anthologies and my Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes books.  

I asked the girls to select a book and gave them 20 seconds to find a poem.  They wrote the first line or phrase in their notebook and then wrote freely from that sentence for ten minutes.  If they got stuck I told them not to dwell on it, but to keep their pen moving, rewrite the first sentence again so it becomes a repeating line.

This was a great warm up.  Some of the girls are not used to this type of challenge and it was a challenge depending on the poem they chose.  Others found it fun and asked when we could try it again.  

Writing in a group is a much different experience than writing alone.  Sharing their pieces with one another is an intimate experience.  I don’t recall ever publicly sharing my writing with my classmates when I was in school.  I only shared it with the teacher and it was returned with his or her thoughts and a grade.  These girls get feedback from not only me, but from their friends.  It is immediate and constructive.  

Notebook Girlz, our little writing group, is truly a weekly blessing.  

There is a time for everything,
for the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny,
for friend and frenemies.

There is a time for everything,
for school and homework,
for sports and art.

There is a time for everything,
going to the grocery store,
and picking up the flowers you bought.

You may not think there is 
time for everything,
to run from one
thing to the next.
Take a moment to relax
‘cause something always comes next.
                                                                          ~by Grace

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Good Kind of Busy

Our days have taken a turn...not for the better or for the worse, just a turn.  Our mornings have a different feel.  This is partially due to the amazing spring weather we have been experiencing in the North East and it is partly because we are drawn outside for different reasons.

Every morning I begin my day as usual with my cup of coffee and my blog time.  I catch up on my email, read the daily blog updates of my blogging friends, check local news and scan world news.  It takes about an hour, but I am up before 6:30 and I am finished around 7:30am.  

Then I head outside to my growing garden.  It is growing in both size and in greenery.  I check for weeds, look for new sprouts, and give the beds a hearty dose of water.   The sun is just creeping over the trees and the school buses are rolling by.  Dog walkers are out.  Joggers give a wave.  The neighborhood is coming alive and I am watching it happen.  

The girls have been up early too.  We cancelled our cable subscription.  It seemed pointless to pay $100 a month for something we hardly ever use.  Grace took this decision the hardest, since she has jump started her day with Stephanie Abrams on the Weather Channel for years and years.  Now she is outside with me.  She is making Gilly’s salad, changing his water, and refreshing the hay in his  hutch.  Lilah comes out and scoops his poop pellets into the stainless steel bucket and scoops him up to let him run around the area of our yard they carefully blocked off with old fencing.  By 8:30 we have been outside for an hour. 

I am watching my efforts come to life.  I have constructed a bean trellis from old pieces of wood we had in our garage.  I planted scarlett runner beans, peas, and two different kinds of bush beans.  I planted marigolds, which I read are good companion plants.  Lilah planted a bunch of calendula flowers.  If you pop into my home unannounced, you will most likely find me reading about gardening, with my hair pulled back, and dirt caked in my fingernails.  But I will be smiling.  From ear to ear.  For I am happy.  Really, really happy.  Content to my toes which may or may not be barefoot.  

The girls are content too.  We squeeze in CNN Student News at lunch.  They do kitchen chemistry with their friends on playdates and are working on a Thames and Kronos solar system kit for fun.  They took their first solo trip to Main Street with their hard earned money in their pocket (they have had a dog walking job for 2 years) and bought their Mama an iced latte!  The have “farm chores”.  We do math in the car and we are about to finish our latest audiobook, Pictures of Hollis Woods.  Our previous book was Tuck Everlasting and before that, Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree.  We are watching the Amazing Race season 20 and we are spending quality time with friends, new and old.  We are looking forward to visiting with their Grandparents who are traveling north from Tennessee.  We are busy.  A very good kind of busy.

That rut we were in, after our return from Tennessee, well, we dug our way out of it and found our groove again.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


The girls fell in love with rabbits ever since this picture was taken by Lilah, the day they met baby bunnies at my friend’s farm. 

There is nothing cuter than baby bunnies.  But like all animals, those cute babies grow up and once the novelty wears off, they are something that must be cared for on a daily basis for years.   Still, the girls persisted that they would love to care for a backyard rabbit and since rabbit poop is an excellent fertilizer, I considered it.

The girls each had to research the care and keeping of rabbits.  They took two very different approaches to this task.  Lilah chose to do an oral presentation.  Her information was written on large sheets of paper organized by topic.  One evening, she gathered us together in the living room and presented her research to us.  

Grace decided to do a formal research report.  She included emails that she sent to our expert friends and their response to her questions.  She detailed the research she did on rabbit feed and possible hutch construction.  The websites she used were listed in her works cited page and pictures were added for visual interest.  

Then we had a talk.  A serious - at the kitchen table talk - about what will happen when it is raining and the rabbit needs food and attention.  Or worse, what will happen when it is snowing and a path needs to be cleared to the hutch.  Will they commit to the care and keeping of a rabbit then?  

We decided to get a rabbit.  After the decision was made the rest of the pieces just fell into place.  The $210 hutch from Agway was found on Craigslist for $50.  A friendly, sweet natured rabbit was also found on Craigslist.  

Another kitchen table discussion was held about the safety of meeting people that advertise products on Craigslist, or any Internet site.  To pick up the hutch, we asked my brother in law for help, not only with his truck but also with his presence in going to a residence of someone we do not know.  Plans were made to pick up the rabbit at the University of Hartford, in a public setting but we decided instead to take a family ride, with Greg, up to Suffield, close to the Massachusetts border to pick up this adorable rabbit.

The girls cannot get enough of this animal.  They love him.  They play with him, feed him a daily mix of greens, replace his pellets and water twice a day and make him toys.  They blocked off an area of our yard that may one day also house a few chickens with some old plastic chicken wire netting.  While I sipped my coffee he explored his new surroundings and intrigued us with an odd jump and mid air twist.  Concerned, we looked up rabbit behavior and discovered that this is called a binky  and it means the rabbit is “joyous”.  This made us joyous too.

Welcome to the family Gilgamesh, a.k.a. Gilly.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Worm Tower

A few years ago I had success with vermiculture, or worm composting.  I loved having a handy composting method.  As much as I would love a rotating composter, they are expensive and take up valuable space in the yard.  I would also love a true compost pile but it would be close to the house and would attract all kinds of pests from skunks to raccoons.  Worm composting allowed us to reduce our kitchen waste and the result was lovely compost to add to our garden in the spring.  

Keeping worms indoors can pose problems.  I did battle with fruit flies.  Bowls of vinegar in the container kept it under control, along with a thick layer of newspaper over the food scraps.  As soon as the weather warmed, they were moved to the garage for the remainder of the season.

I am trying something new.  Worm towers.   Rather than keep worms in a Rubber Maid container, the worms are housed in a tower in the garden.  

  • I used a 4” PVC pipe.
  • About 15 3/4” holes were drilled in the bottom half of the pipe.

  • A hole was dug in the garden.
  • The pipe was inserted into the hole so that all the drilled holes were covered.

  • A layer of crushed leaves was added to the bottom.
  • A layer of damp shredded newspaper came next.
  • Then two dozen composting worms (red wigglers). $3.00 at our local bait shop.
  • They were covered with another layer of wet newspaper.
  • The tower was covered with a terra cotta pot saucer to keep flies and critters out.

After sitting for a day, I added chopped up potato peels.  Worms will eat just about all your kitchen vegetable scraps especially if they are chopped up into tiny pieces (no meat, no dairy, no fat, no spicy foods like onion or garlic). The next morning I checked on the worms and discovered castings up and down the side of the tower.  The worms eventually will find the holes in the sides of the pipe and enter and exit the tower, depositing their castings throughout the garden.  A search on google images shows several gardens with these worm towers in every raised bed.  

For now we have one tower but hope to add several more throughout the season.

Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...