Sunday, May 31, 2009

When she's sick...

Ani has her rough side. Her tough side.  Her willful, my-way-or-the-highway side. But when she's sick...oooh, this girl is sweet.  She sat in this camp chair this morning, in the kitchen, wrapped in her sleeping bag, so she could be close to me while I did the dishes and got some breakfast going.  She kept up a steady patter that went something like this:
Oh, Mama.  Thank you for doing the dishes, Mama.  I just didn't want to get my hands all dirty, so I'm not doing the dishes, so thank you for doing them, Mama.  Know what I'm going to do for you, Mama? You know what? I'm going to dig my thumbs into your shoulders. I'm going to dig my thumbs into your shoulders and I'm going to scratch you, like those good kind of scratches that feel good on your back.  Mama? I love you, you are a sweet sweet Mama.  (makes sound of a kiss and then blows it across to me as I stand, doing the dishes with a great big smile)

Just before the birds...

Do you know what the morning sounds like, just before the birds begin to sing? It's quiet. Real quiet.  I know, because Anika woke up at 4 this morning, because she was hungry after a day of being sick, and wanted some cereal.  So we came downstairs, lit some candles, and she ate cereal while we listened for the first robin of the morning start to sing (it was about 4:25).  I taught a game at coop a few weeks ago - the Songbird Clock Chorus, I think it is called, from Hands-On Nature - where the kids all get cards with a bird song on it and a time, and then as I turned the hands on a clock, they started and stopped their songs.  It was very cool...This was sort of like that, except I was tired, much much more tired...
Ah, Sunday night. Moon rose during our evening walk to the garden to string up "Mr. Stripey" and put in some leeks.  The air was soaked with the scent of honeysuckle. We ate pizza topped with garlic scapes (the greens of spring garlic) , green onions, and spinach from the market. YUM. But I'm working backwards...Friday evening was spent harvesting, as is now the routine.  Lettuce, spinach, green onions.  I upset a huge wolf spider while cutting lettuce - kept my adrenaline up for a while, as I searched the jeweled leaves for signs of her hiding from me.  I noticed that when I cleaned the tub full of leaves from the mixed lettuce bed, I picked out countless weeds and grasses.  But when cleaning the leaves I decided to add from a "volunteer" bed, just to boost my amount - harvesting the "weed" lettuce, as it were, there were NO WEEDS.  Hmmmmm...Up early on Saturday to harvest the cilantro and drive to market in my friend's ancient Cutlass Sierra (this car is serious JUNK!) (he is aware of it:  Deb, I was cleaning out my car (ha!!!) and took a  good look at it, and if I didn't know it was mine, I'd think it belonged to a crazy person!).  I suffered the guffaws and rolled eyes of my market neighbors who have commented numerous times on what an improvement our car is over this one...oh well! Dan needed our car to take the girls out to the L's farm for the morning, as he was conducting auditions for Oliver all day! Market was slow, but steady, and I just love the people.  I got to make one of those "you need to know this person" connections for two friends of mine, and it was electric! It was so much fun to watch, and I can't wait to see what comes of their collaboration.  They were talking environmental, place-based education, so I am bound to enjoy the fruits of their connection down the road.

I ran home with some leftover lettuce to share with neighbors, and all my market treasures (asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, garlic scapes, spinach, bread, eggs) and called my friend M to tell her I was on my way, and she told me Ani had been throwing up (strawberries) all morning. BAD MOM! Oh, bad mom. I zoomed out there, just cursing my morning, and found that she had been sleeping, was comfortable, and felt well-taken-care of.  I am so very grateful for this friend. In fact, aside from wanting to be held and snuggled, all Ani wanted to talk about were the new kittens, and the new rooster.

So, the rest of yesterday was all about being quiet and resting, snuggling, comforting. She went to bed early, and 9:30 rolled around with Dan, Eliza and I sitting at the kitchen table, playing Set, laughing, was really lovely.  Today was E's turn to audition for the chorus of Oliver - she was beside herself excited and had a great time.  Come on, singing, dancing, spending all that time with outgoing, friendly people...she will have a blast.  I'm a little worried - I told Dan with a wry smile that I was afraid this was going to be it - she'll have the bug and we'll be lost to the world of theater.  I mean, it's what I would have wanted at her age - the opportunity to pursue theater, whenever and wherever it arose? Yowza. Of course she may surprise us - she wants to be an ornithologist after all.

Just when I thought I couldn't gracefully handle another 5 minutes of trying to make dinner while Ani wanted to be realllllly close to me, Dan called to say he really wanted to come home before plunging back into the fray for the night...Sigh. So, everyone is asleep and - do you have that special button on your computer that allows you to receive aromas from other places? Well, turn it on...I just took a strawberry rhubarb crisp out of the oven. I told Dan we're celebrating the better parts of being a grown-up (you know - aside from being the ones to worry about x,y,and z, enforce all the rules, and do most of the cleaning up) - like staying up late to eat amazing food with lots of sugar in it.  Of course he's working through a presentation for tomorrow, but hopefully this will get those synapses firing...Here's to the end of a beautiful month, and the beginning of the new...

Friday, May 29, 2009


These are the inhabitants of my salad spinner, sitting on our kitchen table.  One of the five had hind legs when we got them and now has front legs (which I called "arms" and was quickly corrected by A.).  We will return them to the pond when they've grown to be big toadies.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ah, Jewelweed

Well, the inevitable happened, and I too have poison ivy.  I don't remember ever having it before, so I've been asking around for home remedies, the things people swear by.  I knew about jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), but had not had call to use it until now.  Luckily there is a small patch growing in our backyard, and another large patch on our walk to the community garden.  Today the girls indulged me with a first aid stop on our walk today.  Here is the patch of jewelweed, which is about waist-high, with a succulent fat juicy stalk, and just a few yellow blossoms starting to open:
Literally right next to the patch is this explosion of poison ivy - they often grow side by side - isn't that convenient? Eliza just walked along singing out "poison I-vy, poison I-vy", pointing out plant after plant after plant - some of it bushy, some of it vining.
After I had taken part of one plant to rub directly on my arm (I split the stem, unrolled it and rubbed the juice onto my patch of blisters), I harvested three more to stuff into jars to make a tincture.  They have very shallow roots, so it is easy to pull out the whole plant if you're not careful.  What I am trying this time around is covering the plant (I used the whole thing minus the roots) with alcohol and letting it sit for 2 weeks.  I will have to post a picture of what this concoction looks like at that time - it is supposed to be VERY GREEN.
I have a friend who is dropping off a small amount of this very mix that she made last season - it should get me through this bout and then I'll be ready with my own when and if it strikes again! I'll let you know how it works for me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Creek Walk

Coop today was at a member's house, and the kids chose between spending time with the horses and taking a creek walk.  Ani chose the latter, and I went along...big surprise there, huh?It was beautiful and lush...
...we found Jack-in-the-Pulpits and Ginseng...crawdads and salamanders...
Ani chatted the whole time as she and I and our host meandered slowly, letting the rest of the kids charge on ahead, led by his two boys.  She was so happy - she told me, Mama, this is my kind of nature, as she marched ahead in her boots.
This was a relief, as the last time we went for a hike - with Dan at Fox Lake - she was getting tired and cranky and was expressing her frustrations of the day by "testing" went something like this (as we walked in an otherwise quiet woods, save for the wood thrush trilling its magic):
Mama, you really love nature, don't you?
Oh, you got that right, Ani. I really really do. (deep inhalation)
I hate nature. Hear me Mama? I hate nature.
Hmmmm. Really?
Yeah, I hate nature, and I think we should shoot some fish.
Wow. You know, there are better ways to catch fish...(I digress into the many diverse ways a person may go about catching a distraction tactic seems to work)
You know, there are things I igmire about the woods.  Igmire.  Igmire.  What is that word?
Um...I'm wondering if you mean "admire"? Something you like about the woods?
Yeah, admire, there are things I admire about the woods, like how quiet it is. And it's green, I like green.
Yeah, me too, Ani.  I like green too.

Library Love

The first place we went when we moved here was the Farmer's Market - we went there even before we had unpacked the truck, so eager were we to see some of the very best this little town has to offer.  (We weren't disappointed!)  The second place, two days later, was the library.  As is the case in many families with small children, the library has always been a safe haven for us, a place where we can all find something for ourselves, whether it is a fairy tale, a field guide, or a pile of puppets.   We feel pretty welcome in this library - most of the librarians know the girls by name and are not bothered by their endless questions and offers to help with all of the mysterious jobs librarians do (stamping! beeping!).  I was excited to learn that they welcome kids as volunteers, and Eliza spent 4 months this year taking care of "her shelf" of fairy tales.  The other jobs given to the youngest volunteers - those not able yet to return books to their proper place on the shelves - ranged from dusting to putting new stickers in the DVDs to selecting books to display in their adopted section.  These jobs seemed to be done rather quickly, though there were the occasional odd jobs of putting all the puzzles together to make sure none were missing pieces, and the bulk of how Eliza spent her time was doing craft busywork (think decorating paper gingerbread men).  This did not thrill me or her and rendered the volunteer position...boring.  I came up with a couple of projects that I think will appeal to her, and perhaps to other young volunteers, and in the fall we hope to embark on a new era of volunteering.  Some of my ideas included:
  • writing a monthly book review, to be posted in the children's section
  • becoming involved in the process of donating books to the area's various shelters and hospitals - packaging the books, creating bookmarks
  • interviewing some of the regulars - this would be a parent/child collaboration - why do they come to the library, what are they currently reading, what was their favorite book as a child (if they are an adult).  This could be paired with creating a portrait of the person as well, all to go into an exhibit - somewhere along the lines of "Friends of the Library".
I am trying to find ways to give Eliza (and other young volunteers) a sense of who the library community is and how the library can operate as the hub of a town.  Her favorite thing to do, aside from poring through the fairy tales and graphic novels, is to chat with whomever is there hanging out near her section.  She has her library friends - completely separate from me - and even invited one of them to her first Irish Dance performance (which was held at the library) - and he came with his wife!  This is where the idea of an exhibit of regulars came in - I think it would be a great experience to interview and draw some of the people she sees there every time we go.

I mention all of this because I think connecting children to their libraries is not a difficult thing to accomplish, and giving them some ownership and deeper connection is valuable.  I am looking forward to the day when Eliza is capable of shelving books (ok, was that a dorky sentence or what?!), wheeling the little cart slowly down the aisle, quietly alphabetizing...but in the meantime, I think there might be ways to expand her experience a little more.  I also think it is incredibly valuable to have the experience of volunteering, and I'm always looking for places that welcome a family of volunteers.  I would encourage you to check into volunteer programs at your local libraries, and if they don't have one,  maybe they would be willing to consider starting one!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And don't tell me there is no mystery...

Caterpillar found on the basement wall - Buckeye?

And don't tell me there is no mystery, mystery, mystery
And don't tell me there is no mystery - 
it overflows my cup.
~ Bruce Cockburn 
The chrysalis, waiting for us the next day

Gallery - Nature Journals

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hawk Banding

Today the girls and I went hawk banding. I know! I was so excited!!!!!! (Either you are totally confused right now or you are as big a nature geek as I am. Either way, hang in there, it's an interesting story!)  My friend from Waterloo (WAEC) casually mentioned that she'd be going when I saw her at market on Saturday, and I jumped at the chance, so we met her and her son and carpooled to a nest by the side of a country road that had been staked out by a family of researchers from Cincinnati, who have been doing this for as long as their kids can remember (and longer).  We were looking at red-shouldered hawks today - they mostly inhabit woods near wetlands, and so are a good indicator species for the health of the local wetlands.  If the hawks aren't doing well, that probably means trouble for the frogs, snakes, salamanders and other inhabitants of the wetlands.  When we arrived (tipped off by the line of four cars by the side of the road, just beyond a bridge over the Raccoon Creek), Jeff was already up in a tree, cinching his way over to a larger tree next to him, where the nest was:
(Jeff is in the center right, in a white shirt.  
The nest is to the left of center, in the crook of the tree. )

While we listened to the mama calling and calling her alarm from high above (they have been known to dive-bomb a researcher before - one of the women there today was hit in the forehead and suffered a black eye at the speeding body of a protective parent), Jeff carefully checked out the nest - four babies! Apparently they rarely find more than two, so this was good news.  They appeared to be about 4 weeks old, meaning they have about 2 more weeks left before they fledge.  Jeff carefully loaded all four babies into a canvas sack and lowered it by rope to Sherry.  She brought it over to a tarp where they had assembled their equipment for measuring, recording, banding, and taking blood.  The kids sat on a ground cloth next to the tarp to watch.
Their mouths were open the whole time, though only one of them made any squawks during the examination.  Sherry said it was stress and possibly the heat.  After they were banded and measured, and checked for ear maggots, they let each child hold one in their lap.  Oh my stars!!!
My very happy nature girl (who declared she wanted to be an ornithologist)
And her more tentative sister (who declared she wanted to be a hawk).  Actually I think Ani is trying to get a better look at its face, without getting too close.  Those beaks are pretty intimidating, even at four weeks.
Check out the talons as well! This was the one who had something to say, and though smaller and fuzzier, was also clearly not happy about the situation.
Once the banding and examination was finished, the hawks were loaded back into the bag, pulled back up into the tree and placed back in the nest.  It was an amazing experience for us. We also got to drive in beautiful country we hadn't been in before, saw a fox run across the road, and helped this turtle across the road.  

Do any of you Ohioans know what kind this is? The closest I can get is a Blanding's Turtle, whose shell is this shape and color, but we did not see any distinctive yellow chin - Eliza suggested that maybe it was just too muddy?!  Perhaps more impressive was the leech on its shell.

It was all totally worth the sea of poison ivy we waded through to get to the hawks, and I was able to confirm my identification of jewelweed, which we do have in our backyard, and which I am testing on a small patch of my arm that is could just be the mosquito bite I got while I was holding the turtle and unable to get to it, but I am suspicious...Dan has an arm full of poison ivy that appeared as an absolute mystery and is just so nasty, and I'm hoping I'm not heading down the same road..

Sunday, May 24, 2009


This past week was Week 8, which is codespeak for the eighth week of the 10-week quarter, typically a place of panic and doom (mine) and very late nights with little contact with the family for Dan.  I think it was during Week 1 that Dan told me that it already felt like Week 10.  My response was to collapse dramatically on the couch and begin to cry.  I promise, I am usually more supportive than that, but I seem to remember feeling tired from the previous quarter, with a short week in between, and one or all of us were sick, and the thought of 10 more weeks of stress at home and Dan feeling overworked and overwhelmed was too much.  Well, it went better than that, of course, and here we are close to the end.  For a while.  So I was reflecting on this past week and there was so much in it to give me courage and hope, and I thought I would share.

For starters, the girls and I had that magical day at Fox Lake.  It is so rejuvenating for all of us to be out in nature, and as they get older the discoveries they make on their own connect them so much more closely to the world around them.  Eliza has a penchant for knowing what things are and will toss out names of trees as we pass by, as if greeting old friends.  Our week was sandwiched by visits with friends - this spring Mondays have been a day to host our friends the L's, who arrive with eggs from their chickens and good stories about their goats getting into the house.  They arrive and the girls disperse into the land of make-believe while M and I cook, talk, follow the baby boy around.  A small chaotic slice of heaven.  Friday we got to see them again, while we gathered for a pizza party at our friends' house in the woods - more chaos, more filling, a little more hectic for the day we were already having, but so lovely to be there.  The drive out is windy, wooded, swampy, through a couple of postage stamp-sized towns.  

Tuesday was a bit of a miracle - I knew I had to get to the "farm", but I was really wanting to spare the girls some of the time I knew we'd have to be there this week.  As if she knew, a friend called to see if I was available to come and watch 4 of her kids for a while in the morning, and as we talked about the day she suggested that when she got home I leave my two with her for the afternoon.  Brilliant! The girls had such a marvelous time out there, I got to feel as though I was contributing to my friend's sanity and stride, and I got three hours of work done at the garden.  As  extra bonus, I got to carry a baby around all morning, and dug my Sutemi pack out of the back of my car and slung her on to do some of the mountain of dishes 6 people can produce.  An extra extra bonus was listening to NPR on the long drive.

Wednesday was all about coop, which went well and was pleasantly exhausting, and we got Dan out to Fox Lake for a walk in the evening light, which has to be my favorite time to be out in the world.  We heard the throaty cough of a heron making its way around the lake, and the girls stopped to show him particular plants we had stopped at our first time there.  I mean, the exact same plants! They were so excited to be with him, it was a little heart-breaking.  The constant patter from Eliza, behind me, in front of him, was something like this:  "I love you Dad! Dad, we found TWO TOADS when we were here last time, do you want to look for toads? Dad? I love you.  You can hold my shells if you want, Dad.  I love you."  I told Dan that I am still this way with my Dad - I'll realize that I'm so glad to be with him that I've been talking non-stop for an hour, and the subtext is all "I love you I'm so glad to be in your presence, I love you".  He handled it well, quietly "mmmmhmmm"ing and patient.

Thursday is our day of decompression after the early part of the week - slower, meandering, though not always quiet.  We spent the morning with the 9-month-old baby of a friend who just lost her childcare and needed to attend a class.  What a nice time for the girls and I! She had us giggling and playing and we somehow kept her from crying until Mama came back. In the middle of the day I got a call from a new friend who lives close by, asking for help.  Her family was having a rough week, kids were sick, one was recovering from dental surgery and had a fever, life was feeling out of control and could I bring them something to eat? I almost burst into tears (that's me), I was so grateful that she called to ask. I know how hard that is, and I was just impressed with her willingness to reach out for it.  So I doubled the fresh spring rolls I was making, put in a batch of squash muffins, and headed over. 

Friday was more farming - this time with kids, and for a while it went really well.  They both wanted to be out with me, which I loved, and so Eliza was on one side of me, trimming the roots from the green onions, Ani was on the other, handing me rubber bands to wrap around the bunches, and I pulled the onions and shook the dirt from the roots.  It was slow, but we were all involved and it was really nice.  It lasted about 15 minutes.  The rest of the morning was stressful - I "gave in" to watching more Little House on the Praire, and of course the fighting started, and then I yelled at someone because there was muffin all over the floor and in my mind I'm thinking, not only am I needing to harvest all of this, I'm going to need to clean their house when I'm done! Finally I called it quits, we went and relaxed at our pizza party in the woods, and I came back at dinner time, alone, to finish the lettuce and spinach. This also meant that Dan had more time with the girls - evening on Friday as well as Saturday morning during market.  Market was its own immersion in community - so many people I know and enjoy stop by the stand to shop or say hi, my market neighbors help me without my asking, taking me under their wing, sharing their wisdom of years. I could enjoy being there, knowing that my family was having a lovely morning together - pancakes and a walk to our garden to plant tomatoes and flowers.


I am ready for activities to end (piano, dance - choir ended 2 weeks ago) and for our summer to take on its own shape; ready to not feel like I am a tight string stretched between 4 human beings; ready to find time to renew myself and get some perspective on how we are doing - but this week showed me that I am already intertwined here in this place, that I have people I can rely on to help me find my way to the next stepping stone, that I am counted on to be a helpful part of the way things work around here - that some of the stress of being out in the community, taking part, is paying off in shared care, shared trouble, shared joy. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I am...

eating...salad (of course) - baby greens picked last night at about 8:00, avocado, oil and vinegar - and this amazing bread from the market that had so many ingredients I couldn't possibly remember them all, but what I do remember is cranberry...leeks...and mustard.  Sweet, spicy, deep. And a glass of white wine. It must be summer...

reading...Twilight.  I know, I know, but I am totally, completely, utterly, undeniably hooked. I am desperate for the next book, even swung by the library on my way home from market in hopes of finding it there, waiting just for me, but no such luck. I thought about this book all day.  I never even considered reading this book until I heard from my cousin in Niger that she had devoured the whole series.  I figured if it caught the imagination of a woman living such an adventurous incredible life it must be worth the read...I fully sympathize with the adolescent followers of this series -  my romantic heart would never have survived this book intact at age thirteen.

thinking...about my grampa today, whose birthday it would have been.  I spent my morning with farmers, old-time farmers, and I saw him before me time and time again.  I love the way they all stroll by each others' stands and gossip about the rhubarb and the arugula, while looking askance at my sign that reads "Gourmet Baby Salad Greens".  I definitely have an "in" with my market neighbors Amy and Ed, who greet me heartily in the morning and jump to help me put up my cumbersome tent and tie long bungie cords to their own tent poles.  They've been farming since the 70's, organically, and have their fingers in everything that goes on in the community.  I get some courtesy nods for knowing them, even from the Amish man who sells pies.  My grampa would have loved talking shop with any of them - I knew him as a gardener (among many other things), but he grew up on a farm and could answer any questions I had about what was growing in what field, how this or that worked.  And you might think I'm a little off my rocker (maybe it's the wine?) but when I've been working, say, harvesting cilantro, loading my car with tent, tables, baskets, produce, and then unloading it all again in 80 degree weather, and I'm good and sweaty, I like to think I smell like my grampa.  Is that weird? Be it so - it makes me think of his blue work shirt, and I am very very happy.

waiting...for my dearling to come home from seeing a play.  He has two weeks left of this quarter and then we have a summer before us - new routine, lots more Papa, some reconnecting and adventuring...I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ponds, Birds, and Bees! Oh MY!

Coop met at Waterloo Aquatic Education Center again this week, and we explored the pond. Big nets, little nets, containers, buckets, identification cards, magnifiers...we were all set, and were not disappointed with the tadpoles, newts, bullfrogs, dragonfly nymphs, whirligig beetles, giant water bugs and tiny bluegill we found (and released).  Well, not all the tadpoles were released - we were asked by the woman who runs the center to keep a few for the resident newts to eat...

Eliza stalking something..

After an hour of exploration and then a picnic lunch, we drove about 10 minutes to the home of one of the coop members.  Their backyard has been certified as an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. To be certified, the backyard (or schoolyard, or park) must provide food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young for beneficial animals or insects.  It was a mown half acre of grass when they moved in 7 years ago and now there are trees, cattails along the stream, prairie grasses, and a meandering bluebird trail, along which are several bluebird boxes.  It was an inspiring little spot to see (surrounded by the mown acres and acres of her neighbors) - it didn't take much land to make quite a home for a variety of birds, amphibians, bats, and insects!  We learned about the greatest obstacle for the bluebird population here - the persistent, bullying English Sparrow.  In fact, T and her husband make their weekly rounds of the bluebird boxes and oust any nests of the English Sparrow that they find, residents and all.  Of the 5 that we checked today, 3 had messy sparrow nests in them, 1 had an abandoned bluebird nest, and one housed a swallow.  

A robin fledgling

The tree swallow, who just lay several eggs since last night.

T and her daughters showed us the bat box on their garage, which they think houses about 20 adult little brown bats and a nursery of babies.  I had not thought that bat houses were very successful, but they thought they'd give it a try when they discovered that bats were using their picnic table umbrella as one of their roosting spots (apparently bats usually have two - one for their daytime sleeping, and one for resting in at night, in between hunting expeditions), and the bats accepted it.

Then we were shown an empty hive that her husband left out for us - he keeps a few different kinds of bees - as well as the smoker and the parts of the bee suit that he has.  I had always thought that the smoke had a calming effect on the bees, so they would not swarm and sting - didn't you? Well, it's not so.  They smoke makes them think their hive is on fire (duh - smart bees!), so they quickly eat as much honey as they possibly can, to take with them on their journey to find a new hive.  When they are so full of honey, they can't bend their bodies very well to sting, so they tend not to try.  T also explained that when you see a swarm of bees they are not likely to chase and sting you, because they are also on their way to find another hive, and so are also full of honey!  This all became infinitely more interesting about 20 minutes later when the mamas were lounging in the shade, watching the kids play, and T suddenly started calling to Eliza who had wandered off towards some trees. She beckoned her to come quickly, and then pointed out what you may sort of be able to see below:
If the blue sky above the trees looks a little hazy, it's because it's filled with bees.  The timing of T's explanation could not have been better.  No one panicked, except T, knowing how upset her husband was going to be that he was losing an entire colony of bees (off, presumably, to follow a newly groomed Queen to a new hive).  She had also just explained how to "capture" such a swarm, so we immediately started to try and figure out if we could do this for them! In steps our heroine, K.  In fact, what did it was hearing T's daughter exclaim, "We need a man!" K's hackles were raised, and she determined to set things right (she is a self-made farmer and horsewoman who raises beef cattle and sheep - the proverbial tough gal with a heart of gold. She is awesome.)  So, here she is suiting up:
We waited for the swarm of bees to form a ball, which they eventually did - it looked like a black mass on a branch of a small pine tree.  Here is K pushing the empty hive we had just been looking at under the mass of bees, which you can maybe see in the branch above.
Now here she is shaking the branch of bees.  The hope is that when they drop onto the hive they will find it a welcoming home and will choose it to be their next hive.  Of course, you need to convince the Queen of that, so this took a few shakes to get all the bees down onto the hive.  And then you wait.
Here you can see that most of the bees have fallen onto the hive, though at the very top of the photo you can just make out a smaller ball of bees (T commented that there must have been several pounds of bees - the branch is much higher in this photo, as most of the bees have fallen) - K went back for a couple more shakes.
This was even cooler than the pond exploration!  Unfortunately, most of the kids were so hot and tired that they missed out on this part of the excitement.  I'll have to let  you know whether or not this was successful - we had to leave before all the drama was over.  It definitely made my day - inspired by people who care so much for the wildlife around them, inspired by learning more about the life of bees, inspired by the willingness of a friend to help a friend by doing something they never imagined themselves doing...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Homeschool Coop Part 2

I just put aside my small pile of pond books, having finished preparing to lead a pond study tomorrow for our coop, and I have a little energy left, so I thought I would at long last get back to describing the coop we are currently a part of (see the first post, about the coop in Virginia, here).

For being such a small town (about 8,000 residents when the University is off session - add 20,000 during the school year), the homeschooling community is large and diverse.  Just in the past year two coops have formed, and we were fortunate to connect with one that fits us pretty well.  We are made up of 9 families, with kids ranging from infant to 10 years old.  When they began, they would meet in a different location every week, depending on the needs of the class being taught (field trips, local farms, meeting room at the library, someone's home), but this year we decided to find one location in which we would congregate.  I think this makes a lot of sense - the kids become comfortable and we don't have to spend a lot of time "policing" the space, meaning, they come to understand the rules of the space quickly;  the teachers are not sent scrambling for an appropriate and comfortable space every month; we had a space to store a few art supplies.  The space we used was in an old high school now used as a community center in a town 10 minutes away.  We used the lunchroom and kitchen (a great bonus!), the gymnasium and stage, the library, and an art room.  There was also an outside space and a short nature trail behind the building that we made use of quite a few times.  The cost for renting the space for a full day every week came to $20/family/month, though we have a sliding scale and plans for a fundraiser to help offset costs.

When we started the year, we were meeting for one hour of class time, lunch, and a lot of unstructured playtime.  This was fine when the weather was nice, but it soon became apparent that too much unstructured, unsupervised play inside the LOUD gymnasium was making all of us cranky! So we began to consider what else we could do with the day, the space, and to make the most of the longish drive some of us were making to be there. By the end of the year, our day looked something like this: 

Arrive 9:30
10 - 10:50 Kitchen Science (this was open and optional, but the parent teaching requested an rsvp in order to know how many to plan for) - other kids played in the gym or arrived later.
11 - 12 Parent-lead class time - one class for older kids (6-10), one for preschoolers (0-5).  The classes offered this year lasted a month each, and were varied: soccer skills/body awareness, fire safety, US politics (the structure of our political system, how voting works), book making, electromagnetic science, poop (love how I throw this in there?! digestive system, animal scat, owl pellets, etc.), spring science (wind, water cycle, clouds, plant dissection/seed growth), architecture.  Preschool class was basically story time followed by an activity/nature walk/art time.
12 - 1 Lunch and play time
1 - 2 - This began as "centers" time, where we set up various centers each week and the kids chose what they wanted to do.  Build with legos, play board games, draw, use playdough or clay, knit...This would have been more successful with a bit more parental involvement.  We then decided to bring in an outside teacher to teach an "elective".  This increased our monthly obligation by $15/family, with which to pay the teacher.  Classes offered this year were drama (both age groups put on plays around the winter holidays - pretty darn cute!); creative writing; conflict resolution; putting together a newsletter.  There are classes offered for homeschoolers at local art centers, yoga studios, etc, and we've talked about bringing in a teacher from those organizations for a month at a time.

There were a few field trips woven throughout the year as well:  the kids went to meet some of the local (and newly-elected) politicians; we visited the firehouse up the hill; most of the group traveled to visit Falling Water, a Frank Lloyd Wright creation in Pennsylvania.

We are still figuring out whether or not we want to get any bigger, and how we'd like to structure our classes next year.  Up for discussion:  split the older group into two? do this on an as-needed basis?  team teach each class? choose a subject matter or focus to help define the year?  A family joined us about a month and a half ago, and we're all really happy to have them with us, their 3 girls are definite assets to the group, but the mother pointed out at our last lunchtime parent meeting that we should really strongly consider a parent's ability to contribute to the group when inviting a new family to join.  She commented that while she loves her kids and really enjoys homeschooling, she is actually not that great with children nor with teaching a large group of kids! We all laughed, because while this might be true, she brings with her a wealth of knowledge about the natural world, having been a naturalist in Montana for years, and a quick willingness to brainstorm and help create a class. She makes a good point though - none of us are trained teachers, we are all learning on-the-job, as it were, and it takes a lot of energy and cooperation to make a coop work.  It was helpful at a point early in the year to start designating an organizer for each season - too much democratic group decision-making was proving too exhausting and not very effective. I would also say that what I miss from the Virginia coop is having like-minded parents as coop members.  We are all respectful about our differing parenting and homeschooling styles, but it would be so much more enriching to have that added layer of support to what we are doing.  I see Eliza, our social whirlwind, making some good friendships and enjoying the time to run with the pack. Ani is still finding her way a bit, not being one to naturally want to join in and do what the others are doing.  She is ready for a break from regular coop, I think, though she also has made some friends that she talks about a lot at home.  I enjoy the contact with the other parents, and really enjoyed teaching my class, and I'll be interested to see how this group matures in the coming year.  
We are just about in summer mode right now, with very loosely structured gatherings at local parks and nature centers.  We'll continue to meet through the summer, with park days and the occasional field trip or group hike. And before too long, we'll be ready to begin again...I'm sure I'll think of some more things that might be of interest to someone wanting to begin or join a coop, but that energy I had has now seeped out through my fingertips!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Fine Day

Our hike at Fox Lake today (see previous three posts!) was magical.  Eliza has an eye for details and is happy to share her observations with me - she spotted so many small wonders along the path, while looking intently for signs of fairies.  Every plant we passed that I commented on (wild ginger, trillium), she had a use for in the fairy world (trampoline, ferris wheel).  At one point we stopped for a moment and she looked at the tree she was next to and said, hey, I think this is a willow - Dad told me they grow near water, like this lake, and the leaves are silvery on the underside.  She was right, and I can't tell you how that tickles me, nature geek that I am.   In spite of her eagle eyes, we didn't find any zebra swallowtail caterpillars on the many young pawpaws we passed...But we hiked for about 2 and a half hours, happily, enjoying the many greens and the smell of a sassafrass root I'd pulled, and when we got into the car to leave they asked if we could just sit there for a few minutes, enjoying looking at the lake and writing a couple of poems about the day...

The rest of the day found us around our home...making these cookies (try them, they are really really amazingly good), hanging out in the stick house making onion grass stew,

and for me, I had a nice communion with my worms, on the front porch!  I was situated across from The Worm Man at market, so I hit him up for ideas for faster ways to harvest the castings. He apparently uses a machine of some kind - sounds like a barrel with a screen, which you spin, and the castings drop to the bottom while the worms work out a chute in the end...I don't know, I can't quite picture it, but he did give me this idea, and it worked so much better than what I had been doing.  You pile your castings and worms like so:
After letting it sit in the sun for a bit, you can scrape off the outer layer (checking for the wee little baby worms) and keep in a bag for compost - the worms have burrowed into the center and bottom of the pile to keep moist and cozy.  Repeat until you have a nice baggie full of poop! It was a good excuse anyway to sit on the porch, reading and drinking my afternoon coffee while hanging out with my worms.

Adventure to Fox Lake Part III

Adventure to Fox Lake Part II

Eyes open to the smallest world...
a caterpillar munches its lunch
two toads hop across the path
a fly hangs underleaf
a chipmunk dashes and scurries into its hole
trillium make fairy trampolines
small thorns weave leaves together
~Eliza, Mama

Caterpillars chomp,
Frogs ribbit,
Everything does what it must do.
The earth works in and out
Best what it can do best.
~ Anika

Adventure to Fox Lake Part I

Swan circling over water
Forest trail leads to adventure
Adventure leads to worlds unknown, and
Worlds unknown are hard to be told.
~ Eliza