Wednesday, August 13, 2014

cold & wet... heaven

We have been visiting family and enjoying the countryside of Western New York.  The first day we went for a long walk down our dirt road.  It was overcast and rainy the first week we were here, perfect weather for a few desert rats tired of the Southwest heat.  We found two salamanders and the boys were interested in how they differ from our desert lizards. 

It sounds funny but just wearing sweaters we never pull out until winter in the Southwest was super exciting for us.  Silly Owen, who is used to warm rains went out in the cold rain here to play.  Before I could get him dressed he was out in the rain in his undies.  He came back 3 minutes later saying, "Whew, it's CHILLY out there!".  We then got properly dressed and went out to play.  We laughed when Gramma came out in her nightgown to take a picture of those crazy New Mexicans who were playing on the swing set in the rain.  I said, "Who's crazy you're in your nightgown, in the rain taking pictures of us!"  We all had a good laugh.

I have many more fun things to share.  Until next time...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Leadership Education & Our Outdoor Classroom

Schoolhouses are made wrong. If they must be, they should be built in a woods pasture beside a stream, where you could wade, swim, and be comfortable in summer, and slide and skate in winter. The windows should be cut to the floor, and stand wide open, so the birds and butterflies could pass through. You ought to learn your geography by climbing a hill, walking through a valley, wading creeks, making islands in them, and promontories, capes and peninsulas along the bank. You should do your arithmetic sitting under trees adding hickory-nuts, subtracting walnuts, multiplying butternuts, and dividing hazelnuts. You could use apples for fractions, and tin cups for liquid measure...

~Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter

This is one of the most inspiring books I've read recently.  It speaks of a young girl's love of nature, natural love of learning and exemplifies beautiful ways of mentoring children within a family.  I'll be thinking about this book for a long time and coming back to it often for inspiration.

This book and many others are assigned books in a certification for Leadership Education also called  a Thomas Jefferson Education. I'm working on this certification with a friend and it's been so much fun!  We are reading all the texts, listening to audios and discussing it each step of the way, matching each others progress and what a gift it has been! We are both inspired in many of the same ways in regards to home education. We both love literature, nature and allowing our children's inspiration to guide us.

A big part of Leadership education is mentoring, not teaching.  I found so much inspiration in Laddie, here is one example of the father in Laddie, mentoring his children.

He is always watching, observing, studying: the earth, the stars, growing things: he never comes to a meal but he has seen something that he has or will study out for all of us.  There never has been one day in our home which he did not read a new interesting article from book or paper; work out a big problem, or discuss some phase of politics, religion, or war.  Sometimes there has been a little of all of it in one day, always reading, spelling, and memory exercises at night. 

In this way, learning at home becomes less about Mom or Dad coming up with lessons for their children, (although that happens in Leadership Education too).  But it's more of providing an environment that is in itself educational.  It means that the parents are committed to their own education and work to understand the world around them and having that process be very visible to the children.  This is the part of Leadership Education that is most exciting to me right now.  It gives me the permission to continue my education at home. Those of us that have been through public school and/or college often get the idea that education is for school and when school is done "real life" begins and education is over.  In this method, the parents continuing to learn and grow is paramount.  Finally I can give myself permission, and not feel it's a luxury, to read all the classics I've always wanted to read, sharing my interests and excitement along the way and in this way being an important example to my kids.

So, in our schooling we have been reading many classic books to the boys.  My friend and I started a classic book club for homeschooling parents and children.  We read classics and then discuss them at home and then with the group at the park.  The kids, ages 4-9, discuss the books with us, then run off and play.  Sometimes we notice aspects of the book come out in their play. We don't require them to discuss the book. We try to inspire them by asking what their favorite or least favorite character is, favorite part of the story, etc. Often the parents have in depth discussion while the kids are off playing & that is ok with us.  The valuable part is in reading, enjoying and discussing it at home as a family.  My son Michael exclaimed, "Mom, Alina knows ALL the books we know!"  It's definitely a very special thing for him.

One of the books we recently read was, "Little Britches", in it there is a major tragedy within the family.  Originally I thought, no way will I read that part to my son.  Michael is so sensitive, I knew it would be hard for him to hear it and hard for me to read it to him.  After much thought I did read it to him. I cried through most of it and so did he. That book changed us. We found such empathy for "Little Britches" and his family.  Michael insisted we buy the next book right away.  I could tell he wanted to make sure the boy would be alright. At the beginning of the book the little boy is 8 years old and helps take care of his family.  This had such an effect on Michael.  He began to feel more capable of tasks around the house he previously had not felt capable of doing. So, Classic books have become our teachers.  They teach us morality, compassion and so much more. 

We've also been letting the boys lead learning with their interests.  They both love to learn about insects. We've gotten books from the library on butterflies, dragonflies, leaches, spiders, ants and more.  Owen is very interested in cacti and so we've studied them and bought him one to take care of and watch grow.

I often joke about our outdoor classroom for backyard Science.  We are always finding things to observe and study and research in our yard.  One day we had a box turtle come to our front door to visit us. We learned all about her that day. 

Another day we noticed a hummingbird who was building her nest about 8 feet above in our pine tree.  We have watched her build her nest, lay eggs, hatch them & now are watching her babies grow.  This is Lovely, the Mama, and her babies Lucy & Ruckus. 




What a fantastic learning experience it has been.  Shortly after the eggs hatched we found a hummingbird book at a going out of business sale, 45% off. We were able to identify her as a Black-chinned hummingbird. She has a beautiful greenish back in the sunlight. The males have a black chin that appears violet in the sunlight.  We are hoping one of the babies is a male, so we can see their bright colors. Then we found a book at the library all about hummingbird stories & legends.

It seems that life can and will take over teaching our kids if we let it.  It just takes an open & willing heart.  Our "Science class" is not from a textbook.  It doesn't follow a logical, by the book order.  It follows the pattern of life in our own backyard, of seasons, our own questions and circumstance.  It's real life unit study and we love it! 

Until next time...

Happy 5th Birthday & Owen Says...

Owen is 5!  This year we had a simple birthday.  We invited friends over for a playdate and made cupcakes.  The boys had a fun time playing and frosting cupcakes together. 

Both my boys seem to be growing up so fast.  Michael is almost taller than some of my friends already.  So, in effort to remember...

The other day Owen said, inquisitively.  "Daddy is a worker.  He has tools.  But he doesn't USE them!?"  (Such is the life of an academic, they have tools but they hardly use them, lol.) 

Owen has a million stories about the "centipede spider".  This is a mythical insect who is always changing & morphing into Owen's newest idea.  Sometimes he lives under the barrel cactus.  Owen is obsessed with the barrel cactus.  He loves to see them, read about them and has a toy (train) that he says is a barrel cactus that he "plants" outside and waters. This Spring because of all his talk about cacti, we bought him a little one to take care of.  He loves it and has figured out just how to touch it without getting hurt.

His favorite movies right now are all about letters. We found some at the library that he has been carrying around with him everywhere.  Today, my boys and I started reminiscing about little things that have happened in our life together.  I showed them old pictures here on the blog and realized how thrilled I am to have this space to record our family.  I haven't been blogging much lately and I want to change that, but however life twists and turns we have such a beautiful record of our love here. 

Happy 5th Birthday Owen! 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Seedlings & Sprouts, an update...

So much of the garden is volunteer this year, I'm not completely sure of some of what's growing. I love that!  I love learning to recognize seedlings.  French Marigolds & Nasturtiums are popping up everywhere and now that I've grown them from seed for the past few years I can recognize them.  This time of the year is so exciting.  I have the memory of how the garden looked last year at its peak and I want that!  But that time of the year is just a fleeting glimpse of the very hottest point of summer. It's such a reminder to stop and enjoy this moment when everything is beginning anew. 

This looks to be zucchini.  I had wondered if it was summer squash but I compared pics from last year and it appears not. This is where I had wanted to have a butterfly/ bee garden.  The Borage is
coming up beautifully and there are a few flower seedlings under the right zucchini. I wonder what they will become?  Perhaps the zucchini knew right where it would be pollinated best. 

Cherry tomatoes are popping out already, green and full of potential.  Last year I tried yellow pear & grape tomatoes and I guess I decided I didn't like them much. I did try to enjoy them but we're back to cherry this year!

My  other "sprouts" are growing well too.  Lately wherever we go Owen has been asking women, young and old, for their hand, kissing it and then telling them they are beautiful. I'm learning this boy LOVES getting a reaction.  It's pretty darn cute.  Whenever he sees me annoyed or getting stressed about something, he forms his hands and forearms into a heart and says, "Mom. Hearts & love".  It always melts my mood, how could it not?

Both of these little sprouts melt my heart and drive me crazy everyday.  If you're a Mom, you'll know exactly what I mean by that. 

In our front yard where the Spring bulbs came up, we threw shade flower seed.  I can't wait to see what these seedlings will become. I love the idea of perennial flower/veggie gardens.  I want to see this effortlessly beautiful all throughout the season. 

There are plenty of other "seedling" projects going on here, including some really exciting Homeschool developments.  More on that another time. 

Until next time...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Fun...


Happy Belated Easter! We had such a beautiful day yesterday.  The morning began with two, little boys waking and trying really hard not to be too loud.  It was quite cute!  My husband and I asked that they not wake us up until it was light outside so, they were quietly talking in their room.  When I woke and came out with my camera to capture their wonder, I heard my eldest shush his brother because he heard the squeak of my door.  Excited much?


This is the first pic I took of Michael's surprise coming out of his room. As you can see he was moving fast.  It is our tradition to hide chocolate foiled eggs, or rather the Easter bunny does. So it's always a dazzling site to see all those brightly colored foiled eggs "hidden" about. 

This year I painted some hollow, wooden eggs to fill our baskets.  So the eve before I had the boys hide 8 wooden eggs around the house.  We left a note for the Easter bunny inviting him to have an Easter egg hunt of his own and find the wooden eggs.  We hoped he might fill them up, but we didn't ask of course, that would be impolite.  I kept 2 of the wooden eggs and filled them with a special MamaWestWind bunny, from their Mama with love.

The first thing they spotted at their places at the breakfast table were some child-sized Bolga baskets from Cedar Ring Circle.  Inside was their special bunny doll filled egg.

This year the Easter Bunny found some pretty awesome Mama makers to trade with and buy from.
The boys were especially excited about their adorable knit toadstool necklaces.  The little cap can be raised to find a tube of Burt's Bees chap-stick. Plus we found that the Easter Bunny did fill those wooden eggs with candy & bubble gum and hid them with their Easter baskets.  He did enjoy his hunt and left a drawn picture of himself on our note!

After a spot of breakfast & later a second breakfast of sweet rolls the boys spent all morning playing with their Mama made bunnies at their tree house. 


I was so surprised that the bunny dolls seemed the hit of the day, besides the chocolate of course.  I figured since they had seen me making them for my shop, they would be old news. But no, they really seem to treasure them.  Warms this Mama's heart! 

The rest of the day was filled with good food and family.  I hope you had a lovey Easter too! 

Until next time...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vanishing of the Bees


This season I'm looking especially to our beloved pollinators, bees & butterflies.  I recently watched, Vanishing of the Bees, a fascinating documentary of the plight of the honey bee in this country.  Let me just say, I had no idea.   Did you know that giant farms are creating farming monoculture, making it hard for bees to survive?  That bees are trucked all over the country to pollinate crops because of monoculture? Or that queen bees are artificially inseminated & later killed by pulling off their heads so that a new queen can be introduced to the hive?  Did you know that bees are being killed by all the pesticides & herbicides that we use at home and on farms?  Yikes!  

From what I've learned it is especially important to know what kind of seeds and plants you are planting.  Many companies are now selling genetically modified seeds & plants.  This means, among other things, that they coat the seed in pesticides or other chemicals. This can potentially kill bees and butterflies, all the good bugs as well as the bad.  Then if you eat the plant those pesticides are now in you!  Again yikes!  I knew some of this before watching, Vanishing of the Bees, but this film really brought it home.  (By the way it's available on Hulu.)

So at any rate, this year we're planting a butterfly blend of flowers, Echinacea, Borage & lots of other herbs in hopes to attract loads of bees and butterflies. 

You've heard of the bird's eye view, well this is the bean's eye view!  I planted these beans weeks ago but it was still a little too cold, so they waited and took their time. 


The greens and beets we planted here are coming up & seem happy.  I'm interested in experimenting with this bed.  I recently watched a video that explained how to create a perennial "food forest" garden.  This is a garden that is basically untouched.  The veggies are planted and then allowed to go to seed. Mulch, add a little compost, keep moist and leave it alone and when the seeds are ready to sprout they will.  This leaves it all to Mother nature.  The earth is never turned.  The dead plants will keep it composted long term.  I wonder if this can work in the desert? I think it will require covering for our Spring winds. 

And those Spring winds are most definitely here! I hear the wind howling as I type.  I think some row cover will be next on my list of supplies. 

The onions, carrots, greens & leeks in this bed are coming up too.

Here's my current project.  In my last gardening post I mentioned I had dug out a new bed that was really shady.  So far the plants seem happy there, everything is coming up slowly.  The rest of this side yard was old dry weeds from last year.  I carefully burned them and dug them up & then thought why not plant all along this wall?  So I'm currently digging out, sifting the sandy soil & sheet mulching.  It's quite a job but I'd rather see flowers and veggies here than weed grass reappear. & I have some interesting squash on their way from Cedar Ring Circle's, Heirloom Seed order!  I can't wait to see if they might like this area.

I wish I could turn my sandy, desert yard into beautiful right away! But alas, Mother Nature is teaching me patience.  She seems to be saying, a little at a time will do it. 

So everyone, watch Vanishing of the Bees.  It's so important to have pollinators.  It effects not only gardeners & farmers but anybody that wants to eat!   Everyone can do their small part to help. 

Until next time...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fairy Garden Accessories...

We've been in miniature mood lately.  The boys and I began by making some sweet little bowls and cups out of acorn caps.  They are surprisingly easy to make with just a file.  Then we had to set the tiny table and of course Mommy decided a couple of place mats were in order. To be honest I'm not sure the boys really cared about the place mats.  That's ok, Moms can play too.

We also played with some of the other miniatures in our craft stash.  We made wreaths to decorate the fairy garden and our gnome tree house.  We also made a little bird nest with wax eggs.

Then I happened to see this post & video, at Anne of Green Gardens.  It's a whole fairy village!  The video tells all about her process of putting it together and what plants she used.  Anyway, in the video there is a cute little hanging basket behind them while they talk.  Since I had a few of those baskets lying around I decided to make one!  Owen and I went and bought little rosemary & lemon thyme "trees" & tiny peppermint ground cover along with some teeny tiny gravel.  Where the pine cone is I want a little house.  Perhaps I'll make one.  I can't wait to see it once the plants have filled out a little.  I can see the basket from my place at the breakfast table and I kind of love it!

We also bought some herbs for the boys' fairy garden or as they like to call it the "gnome garden". So far they have put it together all by themselves. When we're finished with it, I'll post some pictures. 

Until next time...