Looney Nature Study

Nature study in our homeschool turned a little loony this week. And it was spotty. And uncolorful…

Our Backyard Book page about loons

The lake who stretches her clear waters out northward from the base of our slopping property supports an array of wildlife and picture-perfect sunsets…

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12 Things to do With Fall Leaves

I’m always somber this time of year; sad to see summer fading. To get out of my funk, I focus on the vibrant beauty that next month will bring and think of things to do with autumn leaves.

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While I realize that Sweet Summer can only offer a few more stray weekends of her long, warm days before she tucks them away for another year, I allow myself to start opening my tight grip on these fleeting warm New England days. In truth, I’m ready for a new season.

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Blooming With a Story

There were three guys. And three flowers. But no one told them which flower was for which guy.

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One white rose and two violet irises arrived that sunny June morning at the church on the hill with the tall white steeple. They had been boxed and delivered to the groom and his two groomsmen. For some reason, at least according to my husband’s memory, they just dealt out the flowers randomly, not giving much thought to who should wear the most unique flower.

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How to Enjoy Learning About Slimy Amphibians

Study-Amphibians

I’m learning to enjoy a lot of things these days that are… well… pretty unenjoyable.

Cow patties, for example.

They smell awful.

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Loving science, even if you’re a Language-Arts-kinda mom

In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak describes words as “clouds, waiting to be held and wrung out like rain.”

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Zusak is right. When dropped gently–like summer-day raindrops–or strung together painstakingly, on tip-toe, the perfect combination of words rumble through one moment of our life and never leave. But did you notice what Zusak did with his allegory? Much to my joy–since I’m a language-arts-kinda girl who feels inadequate teaching science to my homeschooled daughters–Zusak combined natural-science and language arts beautifully Continue reading

A flower awakens. A circle closes.

Our move to NH has officially come full circle.

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One year ago today marks the end of an almost 6-year process that led our family to our humble New England homestead. One year ago today we became NH residents. We’re still learning our way around the state. We’re even still learning our way around our rocky, forested 14 acres. And we’re still learning our way around the New England dialect. Just last week I couldn’t decipher where someone lived–“at the end of the t-ah road.” (A phrase that is extra confusing for this southerner who has always used the phrase “blacktop” to refer to roads that were made of tar.)

But I’m thankful for the simpler, quieter life… the life that, indeed, often takes a turn onto a dirt road.

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Last summer, down back roads and up winding trails, I met a joyful plethora of new wildflowers.

Having always been intrigued by botany, I felt like a giddy child introduced to new forms of sugar as I discovered unfamiliar wild flowers on every mountain hike. Although I grew up in the same time zone where we now life, I was 2 plant zones away. (If you’re curious what plant zone you live in, check out this great interactive gardening zone map.) So we added entries to Our Backyard Book often. You see, as my daughters have grown over the past 15 years of homeschooling, with my youngest now being 12, we still have a few staples that we love having randomly pop up in our days–taking school to the sand for impromptu beach days, baking instead of math once in a while, and adding to Our Backyard Book when the occasion rises.

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Many new botany pages have been added about New England wild flowers, but one flower never made it in last summer or fall, because we hadn’t yet seen the bloom.

We had been intrigued by the plant’s 3 large blankets of leaves that seemed to be one with the stem, providing a green, growing canopy for leaves and ladybugs.

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The canopy was topped with bright red berries. But somehow we were too busy unpacking boxes, painting, turning over and planting a garden, and refinishing our wide-planked pine floorboards to notice this intriguing plant before its flower’s ovaries swelled into berries and tossed its vibrant petals aside. I had not seen its green sepals symmetrically surrounding its vibrant burgundy bloom. Until today. The 365th day of living on this land and walking these woods.

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I still almost missed it.

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But once noticed, the sweet trillium–or “Wake-Robin”–can’t be ignored.

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And it can’t help but have its own Backyard Page. We used this helpful site to help us identify the wildflower then did a search for additional information.

We learned that a few rare Wake-Robins do grow in our native state, but since there are less than 20 known populations of them, we had never seen one before. Here in our woods, the beautiful flowers abound. The plant earns its name “Wake-Robin” by analogy with the Robin, with its red breast, because both act as heralds of spring. Unlike the Robin, the flower requires a scent to attract pollinators. Since the Wake-Robin is pollinated by flies, well, it’s safe to say it doesn’t smell like roses. In fact, it emits the smell of rotting meat. Thankfully, it’s not an odor one will notice, unless they have their nose to the ground.

To learn about some flowers in your backyard with your own children, feel free to print and use this blank ID page.

Now I’m going to spend the rest of today–the anniversary of the day this 215-year-old homestead became our own–reveling in God’s goodness, planting my family one year ago today where we are deeply rooted in signs of his love and discovering beautiful new ones every day.

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“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you!” Luke 12:27

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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.

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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