Shards of Little Moments

Bittersweet. Summer’s final breath. Boxes, a mini fridge, and baking pans neatly stacked in her van. An exuberant college Junior ready to return to friends and professors and her life, apart from me.

This time of year always reminds me that amidst my feelings of sad separation spring joyous pride and immense gratefulness that God helped me prepare her for all that she is becoming.

And I’m glad I worried less about checking all the right “boxes” of our homeschool years and helped her pursue her passions as a child and young adult.

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One day during her last summer before starting her new collegiate life, she was out back, hitting around the tetherball with friends under a bright, powder-blue July sky. I was sitting on the wide, knotty pine floorboards of my kitchen sobbing, picking up chunks of a gray speckled, thick-walled pottery cup with her initials carved into the white, porous bottom. It had slipped out of my hand.

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And I lost one more piece of her childhood.

I could never repair the 22 shards of the beloved pottery cup she had made so many years ago. Just as I could never again teach her a letter’s sound, help her balance herself on a two-wheeled symbol of childhood independence, or discover with her how a preying mantis lays her ootheca. Those days were spent, the details—like the pottery pieces that were strewn across my pine boards that July day— were scattered in roughly-remembered moments. Scribbled in childhood journals. Glued in disorganized scrap books. Randomly stashed away as faint memories.

My tears flowed. Unrestrained. Because I was alone in my kitchen. I didn’t have to be brave for her sake. She had lots of reservations about the looming last weekend of August, but she also eagerly anticipated the possibilities that lay ahead, on a college campus filled with potential for a young woman who was eager to excel as a Mechanical Engineer. So in her presence, that’s what I focused on, the potential. Alone, surrounded by a vivid, scattered symbol of her fading childhood, I focused on my loss.

An intricate, valuable part of our family was moving out. We would experience a great deficit. We wouldn’t be the same.

I cried many more summer tears, but then the day came to pack her boxes in the van, tie her bike to the roof, and watch her say goodbye to sad doggies that would be looking for her return every day until her first break.

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No tears tickled the corners of my eyes that morning. Instead, I noticed how perfectly suited she was for the adventure ahead. That little ringlet-haired toddler who struggled to learn balance without training wheels had grown into a capable woman who knew the precise way to bungie cord her bike onto the van roof.

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The sweet elementary student who hand-sewed Christmas ornaments resembling the characters from Island of the Blue Dolphins, knew she would need a creative outlet in the midst of grueling academic challenges. Her sewing machine was packed and ready.

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The little girl who loved to help her Daddy in his shop went on to build 120-pound robots with engineering mentors, and her final thought as the van is about to pull down the driveway that morning? She had to grab her adjustable wrench that she had forgotten to pack. (My final thought? I gathered a ziplock baggie of q-tips for her and laughed that my future engineer is thinking tools, while her rather lame mom is thinking about the perils of ear wax.)

On the campus that afternoon, there were tears. But not what I had expected.

They were tears of pride. My daughter who had homeschooled all her life, under my limited tutelage and incapable hands, had been accepted to a prestigious engineering school. I made endless mistakes from pre-K through high school, but even on the difficult days I tried to focus on my most sincere desire–to make learning fun and a life-long pursuit for each of my children. Now today, walking the paths of this worthy campus, she looked at ease. She belonged.

Tears of joy. The campus was smaller but nicer than our limited tour had revealed last summer, when we still had no inkling of where she would be applying, not alone attending. Her dorm room was diminutive but infused with natural sunlight through a wall of windows, and the furniture was new. She was friends with only one other freshman on campus, but she found him easily and met many helpful, friendly upperclassman all day long.

Tears of excitement. I had an inner assurance that deepened as the day shortened. God had led her here. Then he had provided scholarships and aid for her financial needs to get her here. He was standing ready to help with her needs tomorrow, when I wouldn’t be here.

Over the last 14 years of homeschooling, I doubted myself almost every day. I worried that I would limit her potential because of my own limitations. But now I realize how beneficial my own insecurity and inabilities were. I had to find outside resources (FRC robotics and community college courses), and she gravitated toward mentors (not only for robotics but also for entrepreneurship, computer skills, and, yes, a pottery internship)–something a reserved, quiet young lady would not have done if somehow I could have taught her all these skills. And in the end, God provided many people and resources to help my daughter grow into a young woman prepared to follow his plan for her life.

My advice?

Worry less about stacking up academic achievements, and focus more on building a loving relationship… Worry less about checking off all the right “boxes,” and help every child discover their passions and pursue them… Worry less, and enjoy the moments more.

Just worry less.

Instead, bake cookies.

Hide love notes in Daddy’s sock drawer.

Cuddle and read a great classic book together.

On a morning when someone is up way too early, watch the sunrise together.

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Be willing to toss aside the day’s grammar lesson when a child discovers a preying mantis in the back yard, and discover the joys of learning all about that little creature side-by-side with your children. Read all about how to care for it, build it a home out of a giant pretzel jar, crawl under trees and dig under rocks with your children for weeks to catch food for it, then sit glassy eyed in wonder as you all witness the miracle of her making her ootheca and laying thousands of eggs.

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If you do have a child interested in preying mantis or other creepy crawlies, please print my FREE Insect ID page here to help guide you in the learning process.

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Your children will eventually learn the correct placement of commas, but they will never forget the day mom helped them house and feed a pet praying mantis.

On a day when you want to scream at your children, grab your keys and some snacks, and take them for a beautiful drive to somewhere fun.

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Soon those precious events of today will be roughly-remembered, scattered moments in childishly scribbled journals and photo albums. You may even sit on your kitchen floor one July afternoon, when your hair is peppered with gray, sobbing, wishing you could relive this very day that you are walking in today, littered with difficulties but filled with blessings.

So every once in a while remind yourself that in just a few more tomorrows your child will be loading boxes in the car and headed for a new, far-away adventure without you. You’ll never be able to recall and place together all the shards of little moments from average days that are scattered across the years. You can’t relive one moment, but you can work hard IN the moment to enjoy the journey—difficulty, heartache, and all. And rest in the fact that you were part of God’s plan for your child, and everything HE does will endure.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

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If you discover a fascinating insect, feel free to use my insect ID page I link to above to help your family research all about it. Our Backyard Book  is one of our family treasures.

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Be sure to follow along right here, on SoulyRested.com, for more nature study resources, posted often! (Just enter your email and click the “FollowThisBlog” in the right-hand column. A few times a month I’ll share tips on Keeping It Simple from my New England homestead.) And—coming soon—a complete nature study resource for even the least science-oriented parent (or grandparent) ever. Really.

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My favorite resource, for all my daughters who love learning all things technical, is TechGirlz. If you have middle-school daughters and live in the Philadelphia vicinity, I highly recommend joining forces in your homeschool adventure with these amazing mentors. At the very least, check out their online resources and maybe they have a shop in a box available in your area.

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Reaping a Harvest

Surely it had been bathed in the light of the Harvest Moon hundreds of times before–our little red cape that sits at the bend in the road.

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There where the lake greets the river in rolling melodies, spilling over the dam, the full moons of many Septembers have certainly rolled their bright lullabies over the humble clapboard walls and lofty shingled roofs of the unassuming home, stretched carriage house, and formidable barn.

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There, close to the marshy river bank where moose have made evening stops for centuries, iridescent moonlight has danced over the tassles of ripened corn husks many times before tonight.

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But tonight I am the one harvesting.

Reaping in the beauty of the billowing poufs of clouds as they soar through the sapphire dome overhead.

Gathering new perspectives on the beauty of night that I usually don’t traverse.

Gleaning a small insight into God’s unfathonable majesty.

I was up too late, as usual. The dogs, already asleep for hours in remote corners, stumbled to the back door when I beckoned them for their last stop outside before retiring to their cages for the evening. Having heard mention of tonight’s moon being  a Harvest Moon, I joined Maggie and Bixby in their jaunt out back. The bleached clouds, cobalt blue firmament, and ringed, colored orb begged me to linger. Maggie moonbathed by the back door, while Bixby and I ambled through the back field, down to the gardens.

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Seeing the garden vines and plants–a summer’s worth of daily effort–basking in the ancient light, thinking of the generations of farmers who had harvested their crops on this land by the light of the same Harvest Moon, I was so thankful for Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides.

He provided this home for our family. Provided the warmth of the summer sun to cultivate the promise of her garden. Provided the extra light of the lingering moonlight every year at harvest time, when more light was needed in the face of shortening days and lengthening amounts of work.

The bright full moon of September has been aptly called the Harvest Moon even longer than our modest cape cod home has stood on its small wooded plot. Even longer than our meek New England town was even a thought in anyone’s mind. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the full moon closest to the autumn equinox has been referred to as the “Harvest Moon” since at least 1706. Because of the elliptical path of the moon at this time of the year, the time between sunset and moonrise is much shorter than usual, meaning the night sky is illuminated much longer, giving farmers an extended harvest time during those precious days of the full moon.

For me tonight, it gave me time to garner insights into God’s breathtaking creativeness. Insights into the light he provides, so we don’t have to stumble in darkness. Insights that I will store away deep in my heart and unfold again one cold day when I need reminders of the warmth of our family’s first summer here, here in the home where God has placed us. Where he has planted us.

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Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4

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I found this site very informative about the Harvest Moon and the upcoming Hunter’s Moon in October.

Investigating. Admiring. Worshiping.

A fascination with creation will never grow old.

A child will be mesmerized by creation for a lifetime if they are immersed in nature investigations at a young age. She, 15 short years ago, became entranced by a caterpillar inching its way along our patio. By the age of three, she had a butterfly themed birthday and become an expert at correctly netting butterflies, caring for them long enough to name and ID them, then set them free.

Whenever she discovered beautiful wings in a field or parking lot, she would identify and learn all about the moth or butterfly they had belonged to, and we would preserve what she had learned in Our Backyard Book.

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She went on to love reading about all things nature. Non-fiction books about anything nature were always her favorites, knowing the nature section at the library and reading every easy reader they had on shelf about insects, birds, and all things ocean.

Today, my one who longs to become a Marine Mammalogist still thrills at capturing tadpoles to care for and watch them loose their tails, gain their legs and lungs, and explore creation as a new creature. To the point that it seemed completely natural to her to walk out of church one summer sunday, walk to the pond with the elementary kids, and show them the right way to catch a tadpole. After parents had beckoned young ones, after the parking lot was empty, she was still at pond’s edge. Investigating. Admiring. Worshiping the creator in the same wonderful way she has since toddler days.

Worshiping Him by simply enjoying His creation.

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 “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” Romans 1:20

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Over the past decade, I’ve encouraged and helped my daughters to keep Our Backyard Book, fostering their desire to know their Creator more intimately by admiring His creation. There’s a blank ID page about amphibians on a previous post.

10 Reasons to Make Sure You Play in the Dirt this Summer

Months ago, when she asked, I didn’t wanna.

10 reasons to play in the dirt

She asked me to help her turn over some more of the garden bed. But I didn’t wanna.

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Heart-shaped lessons from a white-tailed visitor

The corn was getting just tall enough to offer real promise of delicious August meals.

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The tomatoes were the size of bright green golf balls, starting to show hints of pink, longings for red adulthood.

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The cucumber plants were ready to reach out their tentacles and crawl along the ground because we had not yet built them a stick-and-twine trellis to dance on. That’s when our first furry pests paid a visit. With their heads low, eating the grass, and their tails laying laxly on their rumps, they felt at home. Thankfully, they were content with grass, weeds, and mushrooms for their evening meal, all of which lay at least 40 feet away from our own three garden plots of promise.

Our timid Labradoodle who longs to be a protector, but sometimes cannot overcome his fears, ran to tell the visitors they were on his property and not welcome near her gardens that she daily tends to, with him as her constant garden companion.

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But when the white-tailed deer flashed their namesake warning tails to each other and gracefully lunged into the cover of the maples and pines, our garden guard was glad to run back to the comfort of our barn.

We have adored every new encounter with each creature that shares our 14 acres of rural New England soil, in this, our maiden summer at Restful Falls Farm. But this particular visit did not lead to excitement, partially because we had plenty of white tailed deer in our previous backyard, 400 miles south, but mainly because these visitors threatened the promises of luscious summer meals to come. So my gardener started investigating how to keep these particular neighbors at bay.

She had learned a valuable trick from her grandfather, the one who had passed along the heritage of gardening to her. So we gathered tin pans, twine, and sticks, and built silver sentinel sculpture as produce protectors.

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She also read that deer have a great aversion to two particularly potent plants, which we happen to love: peppermint and lavender. So we trekked to town, found hearty specimens, and planted them beside our fruits and veggies. Her sister, my fellow tea aficionado, has great plans for the peppermint, plus we love the smell of it whenever we brush past it in the garden.

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And the lavender adds delicate flowering beauty among the rustic tin sculpture, simple scallion grasses, and small green tomatoes. And we will dry it this fall, turning it into wonderful sachets.

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So far, we haven’t witnessed another visit. But our silver sentinels and 70-pound, 4-legged garden guard stand ready.

Thank goodness, because if we were counting on our cockapoo to help ward off the deer, Bambi would surely dine on our delicacies.

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Once the protective measures were put in place, we did take time to learn a little more about the white tailed deer. First, we referred to our favorite source for all nature facts… Our Backyard Book, where the 2 older sisters had joined forces to make a page about deer many moons ago.

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Then we referred to our favorite Field Guide for New England, which I highly recommend to all local friends.

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As soon as you follow along on SoulyRested.com (by clicking “FollowThisBlog” in the right-hand column), you can snag a FREE 7-page, chock-full-of-information printable that will get you started on an unbelievably easy, unlimitedly rewarding journey of nature study with a child. The free printable even includes an ID page for studying mammals! And even the least science-oriented parent (or grandparent) ever can dive right in.

And love it.

Really.

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The more we read, the less guilt we felt over refusing to share our garden bounty with the deer. Our graceful, white-tailed visitors, and all mammals who stay active in the Northeast over winter–those who face the daunting task of finding food and shelter in the often brutal New England cold–are designed marvelously by an ingenious creator God to adapt. For instance, deer are…

* Wise dressers… The white-tailed deer has a thick coat of winter hairs that are hollow, therefore very insulating, even up to -30 degrees!

* Unfastiduous eaters… The sagacious deer change their diet based on what’s available. They feast on plants in the summer and shrubs and trees in the winter.

* Efficient engineers… While deer eat and sleep wherever they enjoy the food supply, when the snow is too deep to travel for their food, they join together in a “deer yard.” Here, under conifers or on a south-facing slope (where less snow collects), they engineer an elaborate network of trails to food, so they can avoid difficult-to-traverse, deep snow and conserve energy. In deer yards, you will see a noticeable “browse line” where the deer consume all the lower branches on all the conifers.

* Sage conservers, right down to their toes… Turns out a deer’s foot is actually two toes (that’s why their footprint looks like a heart), with their hoof being a thick toenail over the toes. Their hooves grow quickly in the summer and slowly in the winter, allowing them to conserve their energy in the cold winter months, slowing down their metabolism, right down to their heart-shaped toes.

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If I spot heart-shaped deer prints near our plots of produce this summer, I will not only help my gardener vamp up her protective mechanisms, but also be reminded of God’s loving provision. If God has given the deer so many ways to adapt to short-comings and difficulties, I can only imagine, with Him as my provider and strength, what He can enable me to do!

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“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” Habakkak 3:19

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When a Crumb is Like a Stone

Discovering Cookie was a huge excitement on our little New England farm last month. The next gray tree frog sighting was just as monumental, albeit, well a Crumb of a Cookie…

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He was amazingly docile and calm, only jumping out of her hand a few times but, for the most part, letting her hold him and inspect him closely. I felt I was witness to a Frog Whisperer at work. In reality, I think his placidness was because gray tree frogs are nocturnal, and it was mid-day. She quickly, but only half-heartedly, determined we couldn’t keep Cookie Crumb for even an hour because it would be quite difficult to find food so minuscule for him.

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We knew, from Our Backyard Book ID page she made all about gray tree frogs, he eats crickets and mealworms. Having none of those so tiny around the farm, she decided he had to do his own grocery shopping.

But Cookie Crumb’s brief visit was a wonderful reminder that even the stones and the tiniest of God’s creation cries out His praises. Jesus told the Pharisees that if we don’t sing His praises, His creation will. This little guy will grow up to sing a beautiful song. (She helped me make the link so you could hear it too.) His crooning will be just one more tiny reminder of God’s immense goodness on our incidental farm that sits at the bend, where the lake meets the river, in rural New Hampshire.

We made sure every sister got to coo over him, we wished him well, we reminded him to stay nearby and treat us with his lovely serenade next spring, then we let Cookie Crumb go. Until we meet again.

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones [and frogs] will cry out.” Luke 19:40

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If you’d like to ID an amphibian in your own neck of the woods, feel free to use this blank amphibian ID page to help you get started.

A perennial, paternal harvest

It arrived via Fed Ex today. Shinny and ready to use. She was so excited. She couldn’t wait to fill it.

Not an iPod ready to be filled with apps.

Much better, in her mind–a watering can ready to tend to her beloved gardens and fruit trees.

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As I watched her shower her blueberries, I realized how proud Dad would be.

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He’s 400 miles away and hates to travel, so I doubt he’ll ever amble across the acres with her and inspect her fruits and vegetables. But he would love to.

I don’t think of summer without thinking of my father in his gardens.

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He was the one who first sprouted in her a love of playing in the dirt, planting seeds, and tending to her gardening efforts daily, consistently, responsibly.

Each new summer he thought they were just growing that year’s crop together. Crisp beans they’d pop off the vines in the hot August sun and tender squash they’d watch mature until a late September afternoon. But he was sewing so much more. And his efforts are still blooming, 400 miles north, a decade after he first taught her the value of soil packed under her fingernails and the promise of each new blossom discovered on tender stems.

Both harvests are invaluable. There was the annual, physical yield. The sunbaked, golden peppers they held in their hands together and the plump green bean pods they tossed into overflowing buckets among the narrow, even rows. And then there are the perennial, almost ethereal returns. The joys of being an intricate part of God’s springtime, life-giving miracles. Those joys he planted deep in her. This year, being separated from him with our recent move, she saw that love take root and bloom on its own, on her novel New England landscape. His love for creating the perfect growing conditions. His tenderness for a wilted, brown shoot that needed extra special care. His marvel at God’s miraculous provision for us through simple seeds. His childlike joy over emerging sprouts and buds. He’s passed them on to her now, and this year’s harvest will be stronger and more glorious than ever before. It will be one that nourishes her for a lifetime.

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“Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” John 6:27MSG

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A FEW THINGS WE’VE LEARNED in our first month of New England gardening:

The weeds and insect and mammal pests are numerous on a rural farm.

To help deter the weeds, she’s spread grass clippings over the rows of her gardens.

To help deter the deer, she planted small peppermint plants in each bed. While we love the smell when our leg brushes the aromatic plants, deer despise it enough that it truly keeps them at bay. (We were pleasantly surprised to learn that ants, aphids, and cabbage worms also dislike the wonderful aroma.)

To attract insect-devouring birds, we created our garden beds near existing mature trees and installed a few bird houses at various heights as well. Next we’re adding a birdbath. It’s easy enough to fill it with fresh water daily when we’re tending the garden,  and it’s the least we can do for our bird friends who help us with insect removal.

Since frogs and toads feed on just about any creature smaller than them (insects, snails, and slugs), to the tune of 20,000 pests per year, they’re also great to have around.

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To attract helpful gardening companions, like our new friend, a gray tree frog, we just placed a cracked pottery bowl upside down in one of our beds and added a shallow dish of water. Instant toad house. Of course, you can also buy a fancy one, if you’d like.

We’ll share more of our gardening lessons (and surely failures) over the season. But for now, for lots more great organic pest control ideas, we liked this page.

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Be sure to follow along right here, on SoulyRested.com, for more nature study resources! (Just enter your email and click the “FollowThisBlog” in the right-hand column. A few times a month I’ll share tips on Keeping It Simple from my New England homestead.) It’s super easy, and then you won’t miss any of the fun nature study resources that I’ll be sharing here in the months ahead. And—to be unveiled soon—a complete nature study resource for even the least science-oriented parent (or grandparent) ever. Really.

As soon as you follow along on SoulyRested.com (by clicking “FollowThisBlog” in the right-hand column), you can snag a 7-page, detailed, FREE printable that will get you started on an unbelievably easy, unlimitedly rewarding journey of nature study with a child. Start by researching a plant in your own vegetable garden, if you’d like.

Even the least science-oriented parent (or grandparent) ever can dive right in.

And love it.

Really.

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Beautiful imperfections

She is a female, because males only grow to 1.5.” She is 2.” 

Today’s subject of writing? Cookies. Not flour and gooey chocolate chips, but yellow thighs and rough gray spots, her beloved, newest ectothermic friend.

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The friendship began days ago.

“I found Cookies in the outdoor shower… She was chilling out, because she is nocturnal.” 

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