Arbor Day

April 26, 2014 at 8:46 pm (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Arbor DayP1010768 was yesterday.  It’s always a nice ending to all the Earth Day celebrations… recycling, going green, celebrating the earth, and then – oh yes, plant a tree.

Of course we had to celebrate in the woods.  So we took to the trails as usual and found our way to a lake.  It was pretty fun teaching the kiddo to read a map – she’s already had a lot of exposure via The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library book about maps.  Putting it into action was a little bit more work than listening to me read clever poetry though.

P1010786We found the lake, a dock, and a pavilion.  The kiddo painted and ate snacks, played with her homeschool buddy, and helped me pick dewberries. (Of course, little girls get distracted by pretty purple flowers.  There were a lot of pretty purple flowers.)

For those who aren’t from the area: dewberries are basically blackberries.  They look the same, taste the same, everything is about the same, they just grow on a vine-like plant (‘small trailing bramble’) that usually stays closer to the ground rather than the larger bush where you’d find blackberries.  They’re of the same genus of plant – Rubus – and taste great raw, cooked, or baked into pies or muffins.

Which is exactly what we did.

P1010801dewberry muffin mixdewberry muffins

Dewberry Muffins

2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup vanilla extract

1 tsp. lemon extract

1 tsp. ground clove

1 quart freshly picked dewberries

Mix all ingredients well. Pour into muffin pans, bake for 30 minutes with the oven on 350.

If you can’t plant a tree, then plant any seeds you get your hands on.  Seeds are important.

So, after all the fun and excitement of yesterday, today we stayed indoors.  At Half Price Books…

We attended/ hosted another Half Price Books Humble event today.  It was seed driven and sponsored by the Mercer Arboretum volunteers.  Information about the Arboretum was shared with all the HPB customers, kids were given an opportunity to plant their own seed in little cups and take it home, and packets of free seeds were handed out.




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Lessons in Fleabane

April 22, 2014 at 9:10 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Book - Wildflowers Of TexasMy favorite thing about homeschooling is hitting the books and walking in the woods.  All of our lessons involve those two things in some combination or another and it’s so invigorating.  Fresh air, sunshine, open spaces, trees, and good books – I don’t understand how I learned anything in any other fashion. With spring upon us, we’ve been going headlong into Wildflowers of Texas. We love this book. This book has already enabled us to identify Bull Thistles (& Yellow Thistles), Herbertia, and a number of other plants we’ve seen popping up along the trails in the last month.  We like taking the book with us, so if the little girl has a question we can pull out the book right away and discover its name.  The flowers are sectioned off by color to make it easy to do quickly. This weekend, we identified Philadelphia Fleabane, which apparently is an edible weed.  Roots, stems, leaves, flowers, every part of this plant can be made into teas and poultices.  Today, we made tea out of the flowers (making it from the root is more traditional, but the flowers work for a quick tea). P1010739So on our trail walk today, we collected fleabane flowers.  (Kiddo likes to pick them anyway, so if we’re collecting flower baskets, I’d like to get good use out of them.) There are a whole host of lessons that come into foraging.  Identify the plant, spell the name of the plant – with a three year old we get to talk about phonics and how the ‘ph’ in Philadelphia makes the same sound as the ‘f’ in Fleabane.  I wonder if in the long run the F sounds will always bring to mind images of white sunflower-like-daisy flowers and the smell of fresh, nearly summer tea. We learned that “fleabane” is a common name for Erigeron and is part of the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. P1010741  Once home, another science lesson ensues.  Boiling water on the stove.  After all, boiling is the rapid vaporization of a liquid with occurs when heat is applied.  We get to discuss the words ‘rapid’ and ‘vaporization.’  Rapid ties into our synonyms lesson (from the Bryan P. Collins’ Words are Categorical series that we’ve been reading since birth.)  Kiddo’s eyes light up when she sees the water get hot enough to cause steam and bubbles. P1010742We’ve used the strainers before, and the measuring cups, but becoming a pro in the kitchen is something to strive for daily.  Making tea this way is the perfect opportunity to practice reading our measurements and understanding what those mean… two cups, one cup, half cup, etc.  Understanding these concepts visually before setting fractions in front of them when they’re older is essential, I think.  Plus, there are some practical life skills gained from knowing how to make fresh food from fresh sources. P1010743 I also like her growing up knowing that food has purpose beyond pleasure and satisfaction.  This tea, for instance, has very little flavor.  It is a bit floral, obviously, having been made from flowers, but without honey tastes a bit like fancy water. It is a natural insecticide but is edible.  You can treat headaches with it as well as inflammations of the nose and throat.  It cleanses the kidneys and can aid against gout.  Be warned, like chamomile and licorice root, fleabane tea made from the roots can induce miscarriages and was commonly used for menstrual issues and birth control by Native American tribes.  Now, we’re diving into history… P1010744 The picture came out a little blurry.  But now, we’re enjoying our tea and a game of Name That Continent. Happy Earth Day.

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Oh The Holidays of April…

April 20, 2014 at 11:12 pm (Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

4-20, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, Spring Equinox, Earth Day (on the 22nd)… so many things to celebrate.  Today, we hid from them all and took to the woods after doing some spring cleaning and moving of furniture.

So as we practiced the catechism (“Who made you?” “God made me.” “What else did God make?” “All things.”  And so on), we gathered wildflowers in an ‘Easter’ basket and frolicked in the sunshine.

It looked a bit like this:



This time in the woods was refreshing, as always.  And much needed after the exciting week we had.  All day yesterday I was out celebrating Earth Day with S. Smith on her last day in Houston, while kiddo was with her Grandmom dyeing Easter eggs (a tradition I can only get behind because I love eating hard boiled eggs).

Below are pictures from the Earth Day Celebration Seed Savers Signings at HPB Humble and then HPB Montrose.



There’s more celebrating to be had.  S.Smith will be touring San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas before she heads back to Oregon; and HPB Humble will be giving away reusable bags to the first 25 customers Tuesday morning.  Next Saturday (HPB Humble) there will also be a seed presentation by the Mercer Arboretum volunteers!

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Earth Day Reading With Little People

April 17, 2014 at 11:33 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The Weekly Low Down on Kids Books – selected by The Kiddo

Holiday reading with preschoolers can actually be quite fun.  Although most people are doing a lot of Easter books, we’ve spent our focus on nature, enjoying spring, and covering the catechism this week.  Easter bunnies and egg hunting a thing on hold for now.


Our daily go to during any season tends to be Cat in the Hat Learning Library and Magic School Bus books.  We love these.  They are highly educational and should be included in any homeschool student’s arsenal.  Kiddo goes back and forth on which of the two she likes best.  (A lot of times it’s Cat in the Hat Learning Library before bed and during day light hours it’s all about Magic School Bus.)

Life Cycles books are also great to read through when seedlings are popping out of the ground and butterflies are flitting from flower to flower.  It’s nice to read through the book and then step out into nature and see how much we can find in the woods that resembles what we’ve just read.

Because it’s Earth Day season (the actual day is April 22nd, which falls on a Tuesday this year), we’ve been reading up on conservation and organic gardening.  Of course, that also means that I’m letting my three year old water my tomatoes and walk in my garden.  It’s a learning experience for her and a letting go experience for me.

That’s why the woods being by the house is best for us.  It’s where I can really let her go and frolic and be herself.


When we get to the open fields she gets to pick as many flowers as she wants.

P1010629Whether you want to make it part of your normal routine or you’re just celebrating Earth Day, check out kiddo’s favorite books and find a good outdoor park this weekend.  The fresh air and sunshine is amazing.

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Meeting S. Smith – Earth Day Every Day Part Three

April 15, 2014 at 11:01 pm (Events) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I couldn’t have had a more perfect day.  It all started with an amarP1010596yllis bloom opening and an email.  S. Smith had arrived in Houston and was looking to hang out before her first Half Price Books signing tomorrow.

Today I finally had the pleasure of meeting S. Smith, the author of the Seed Savers series.  I never thought this day would actually come, as I am a book reviewer in Texas and she is a young adult fiction writer from Oregon.  But lo and behold! She had a reason to come down south and booked a Texas Earth Day tour starting with Houston.

I was delighted that she wanted to go for a walk in the woods by our house.  It was a joy picking along the trails, chatting, with my daughter and her husband in tow.  We talked about the difference in the woods of Texas from where she lives in the Northwest.

Below, kiddo, Sandy, and her husband stopped for a rest on a fallen log.


Sandy will be at the Half Price Books in Clear Lake tomorrow from 1-4 pm, Good Books in the Woods on Friday evening, Half Price Books Humble on Saturday from 1-3 pm, and the Montrose HPB store that evening from 6-9 pm.  Her books are works of fiction for young adults about a dystopian society where growing your own fruits and vegetables is illegal, a fitting discussion topic for an Earth Day celebration.



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A Shropshire Morning

February 2, 2014 at 8:03 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000979Title: A Shropshire Lad

Author: A.E. Housman

Publisher: Penguin (Classics)

Genre: Poetry (English Journeys)

I know I just posted on this very same title yesterday, but I’ve been reading through it over my morning coffee on this cold, rainy day, and I couldn’t keep myself from sharing the best parts.

A. E. Housman (1859–1936).  A Shropshire Lad.  1896.
XLVIII. Be still, my soul, be still
BE still, my soul, be still; the arms you bear are brittle,
  Earth and high heaven are fixt of old and founded strong.
Think rather,—call to thought, if now you grieve a little,
  The days when we had rest, O soul, for they were long.
Men loved unkindness then, but lightless in the quarry         5
  I slept and saw not; tears fell down, I did not mourn;
Sweat ran and blood sprang out and I was never sorry:
  Then it was well with me, in days ere I was born.
Now, and I muse for why and never find the reason,
  I pace the earth, and drink the air, and feel the sun.         10
Be still, be still, my soul; it is but for a season:
  Let us endure an hour and see injustice done.
Ay, look: high heaven and earth ail from the prime foundation;
  All thoughts to rive the heart are here, and all are vain:
Horror and scorn and hate and fear and indignation—         15
  Oh why did I awake? when shall I sleep again?

This melted me to my core.  Melted me into a state of beautiful stillness, and I couldn’t keep that to myself.  It’s so calming, so true, and so utterly gorgeous.

Not just for his poetry itself, Housman is inspiring because his work is so good and back in 1896 he was essentially self-published.  Publishers turned this beautiful work down over and over again until finally he decided to publish the title at his own expense.  Originally he wanted to call it The Poems of Terrence Hearsay, but was encouraged to change it.  Sales lagged until about 1899 when the Second Boer War broke out and profits have surged for Housman’s work during every time of war since – especially World War I.  Though this surprised the poet, it is not surprising to me… the entire work is about loss.  There is much solace in reading about loss when you have lost or anticipate it soon.

Don’t be surprised if Housman is revisited often on this blog.

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Shropshire Lasses (and dog)

February 1, 2014 at 8:12 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000955Title:A Shropshire Lad

Author: A.E. Housman

Publisher: Penguin (Classics)

Genre: Poetry (English Journeys)

A few years ago I became completely hooked on the Penguin Great Ideas series. I think they’re wonderful pocket sized source documents to keep around the house. I also love the Great Journeys… and now, I have a small collection of English Journeys as well.

The kiddo and I love scampering through the woods.  We also love reading outside.  These little paperbacks are the perfect books to tag along for our wooded adventures and frolics in the park.

Not to mention that, today, I think Housman became my favorite male poet – a title previously held by William Carlos Williams.  The two are nothing alike.  But I am nothing like who I was when William Carlos Williams was awarded his place on my mental pedestal.

Where William Carlos Williams amused me with “This is Just to Say”:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I was in middle school when I discovered this.  For some reason I found this bluntness endearing.  I thought, “What a wonderful jerk to address poetry with such sarcasm.”

I don’t want poetry to be sarcastic anymore.  I don’t appreciate the uncaring witticism the same way.

I do, however, love this:

Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by,
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they’ll say that I
Am quite myself again

– “A Shropshire Lad: XVIII”

Ok, well, it seems it’s always the jerk lines that appeal to me.  But at least it’s not about stealing plums anymore.  Housman has real heart and soul as he describes landscapes and lovers, crickets and dead soldiers, the woods and the very real feelings of longing for something that has gone.   All so beautiful and natural; and the pattern in which he writes lends itself to easily reading it aloud outdoors while the kiddo plays.


The dog seemed to enjoy it too.  He stopped to look at me every time a poem ended as though I was denying him the chance to be included in the written word of humans.


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She Belongs to the Woods

December 4, 2013 at 4:54 am (In So Many Words) (, , , , , , )

A Short Story by A.K. Klemm

The fawn folded its new legs beneath the soft tuft of its under belly, collapsing ever so gently into the pallet of leaves under the shadow of the thicket.  It was vulnerable, but strangely content, hidden from the dangers of the world beyond the green. The chin rubbed against one of its three hundred white spots, the eyes drooped closed, and the fawn went to sleep.

The doe left her baby tucked in the thicket, confident it would be safe but leery nonetheless.  A mother could never be completely sure their babies were safe, but she’d done this before and this was the routine.  She wouldn’t be more than a hundred yards off and the fawn would be asleep while she was away, so it wasn’t likely that it would make any noise that would give away its location.

The mother darted off, never to return, unwillingly surrendering her offspring to the woods.

When the fawn awoke, each sound, each danger, the wind, the rain, and all other possible threats forced the deer’s ears to flicker and head to lie flat against its own back. Eyes peered through the foliage, searching for its mother, longing for some kind of nurturing love, while the world outside continued to call its name.  Here, little deer, come, come, now little deer…

            Leaves rustled, dark turned to dawn and the sun shining through the thicket lent itself to flickering shadows and tricks of light.  The spots were an effective camouflage, something to help keep it hidden from the world, but it didn’t fool the eyes of the seasoned hunter.

            He approached the thicket in the early light, hoping a doe would dart out so he could shoot.  He needed something to bring home to his family, and he was here hunting with others.  They were off in the distance, sticking to the trails and paths to the water, following tracks.  He was different, he sought out the ones hiding in safety, tucked away.

Quickly, he realized there was no doe.  He saw only a small baby deer, shivering in the fog.  The shake of the skin rippled up its back, causing the spots on its back to look like a flicker.  These spots may seem to be a blemish to such a smooth finish, a lovely coat, but they generally kept the creature preserved for the future.  Out of sight.  Safe.

The hunter watched for a moment.  He and the baby deer made eye contact, taking each other in.  She was frightened, of course, but as he lowered his gun she seemed to relax.  Somehow she knew what the hunter knew, no harm would come to her while he was present.  The hunter’s brow furrowed as a shot cracked in the distance.  The fawn ducked her head low with a squint.

For most, a fawn alone does not mean it has been abandoned; its mother is always within earshot, there to protect and guide.  Fawns are supposed to learn from their mothers.  Sure, like any mammal, they are born with innate survival skills, but their mother is the one that shows them the way.  They rely on them completely.   But this fawn’s mother was gone.  Both fawn and hunter knew that she was suddenly alone.  Very alone.

Tiny and frail and being sought out by predators in the wood, the hunter winced at his own involvement.  He wanted to protect this tiny thing and here he was – part of the problem.  He moved a branch, tucked a few sticks around the opening, and ensured no one else would see what he had seen.  No one else would be led here, no one else could spy on his baby deer.  Because she was his now.  He became territorial.  He loved her.

He went home with his party, hung his gun above the mantle, and sat with his family by the warmth of the fire.  He didn’t share his adventures in the woods with them, he didn’t tell them what he saw there.  The fawn was his secret.  He heard a howl in the night and thought of the wolves in the dark.  They were rabid and forbidding, the hunter’s mind raced, they’d be looking for meals for their own young.  The hunter looked out the window and saw the telltale signs of ice soon to fall from the sky.  He imagined what would happen when his friends went out the next morning… Boots tromping down trails, crunching leaves and snow drift, breaking icicles off limbs, destroying what was essentially the little mammal’s front porch… and he vowed to go check on her.  The weather itself was a threat.  No one is there to keep the baby warm, it must rely on burying itself in leaves, its nest, its nook.

The Hunter’s lover called from another room and, distracted, he left the window, forgetting the baby deer and his promise to himself to check on her.  His mind was on more important matters of the heart and she was forgotten.

            Despite all that, despite being unguarded, an easy target, improperly instructed on the ways of life… this fawn did not lack instinct.  Instinct that told her to lie low, to blend in, become one with its environment and do her best to not raise a fuss or get noticed.  She belonged to the woods, and ultimately, she knew that the woods were her threat and her home, her danger and her safety.

It takes a strong backbone to wait so patiently, and the little fawn indeed had a strong one.

            Storms raged all around the wood, but the deer had found shelter.  Through rain and wind, through lightning storms, and crashing tree limbs, through fires erupting from natural electricity, she knew when to wait… when to hunker down and muster up calm when terrified.  The deer, alternately, also knew when to stick her neck out finally and forage for sustenance; and as a three week old could already out run most the dangers the woods threatened.  Once fed, she kept a steady habit of retreating back to her nest to rest and save energy to grow.  So that she would continue to survive.

            The hunter had a caring heart and between distractions would come back to the deer in the wood.  He found her nesting place undiscovered by foes and kept a periodic eye on this seemingly timid creature.  Every now and then he thought he should try to save her, momentary lapses in judgment urged him to want to take her home.  Feed her warm milk, offer the nurturing she had always lacked.  Loving souls long to save and be needed, to protect small animals from the scary evils of their existence.  Loving souls long to offer shelter, to provide consistency and warmth.

The deer would appreciate comfort and protection; it missed the nurturing it never received.  But both hunter and deer knew removing the deer from the wood would be unwise.  Left alone she would still manage to grow into a strong force of the forest.

Over time, she found other deer; a herd, a few who accepted her and looked out for her, some of her own kind who she could also look out for.  They helped each other the best they could, as a herd will do, though the moment a sound startled them it was always every one for themselves, rather than one for all and all for one.  Instinct required this.  Survival of the fittest ensued.

To be rescued would have been lovely.  To grow up as a pet near a fireplace, cozy and well taken care of, patted and loved like a hound.  But then the deer would have been denied the strength gained from stretching her legs.  She would have never found her herd, really grown into the doe of the forest she was meant to be.  She would have never worked her muscles and grown keen eyesight from fighting for her life every day.

She thrived in the treachery of the forest.  She taught herself what was edible and what was not, she watched and learned from the herd what she could when her own experience was lacking.  She found her own streams; she frolicked in her own meadows.  She found coziness where there seemingly was none.  She dodged the bullets of the other hunters and the sharp teeth of the wolves.  Time and time again she escaped the terror, found her way to safety some how.

By the end of summer, the deer stood proud.  She had lost her spots and earned the right to stand there so tall. She never became the most beautiful – she did not stand out from the forest or her herd; she did not grow to be the strongest – having missed out on important protein from her mother’s milk.  But the deer made it.  She learned, she grew, and she can protect herself now.  She has strong hooves, powerful kicks and she can keep predators at bay.

One day the hunter spotted her in a clearing.  She saw him see her, she knew him by his scent.  She found a way to both stiffen and relax, comfortable with his presence, but terrified some day soon he wouldn’t lower his gun the same way.  There would be mouths to feed, the lover who distracted him that night in the cabin would take priority, something or another would simply be different.  They made eye contact, two souls lost in a moment…

She was never rescued, but after all she didn’t need to be – not really.  She belongs to the woods.

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The Wild Girls – A Review

March 14, 2013 at 3:58 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

WildGirlsTitle: The Wild Girls

Author: Pat Murphy

Publisher: Speak (an imprint of Penguin Group)

Genre: Young Adult

Length: 288 pages

Dear Publishing Companies,

Allow me to tell you something you probably already know: Take a book, add a matte finish to it, trace some swirly-like-ivy lines about, and add a garden or forest scene – I will most likely take the book home on the spot.

At least that’s what happened with Pat Murphy’s The Wild Girls.  And despite having an equally girly and gardeny looking book on my night stand (The Distant Hours by Kate Morton), I started reading The Wild Girls that day.

Even if the cover had not been so fabulous, the first line is:

“I met the Queen of the Foxes in 1972, when my family moved from Connecticut to California.”

How do you pass up a first line like that?

It’s a story about twelve year old girls for twelve year old girls, but at twenty-nine I was still dying to know all about the Queen of the Foxes and how interesting a girl would have to be to have the honor of meeting her.

My own wild girl, running, after we read in the park and took a boat ride, but before we had our picnic in the grass.

My own wild girl, running, after we read in the park and took a boat ride, but before we had our picnic in the grass.

Joan meets Sarah in the woods behind an old orchard and immediately takes to her even though Sarah is malicious and contemplating throwing rocks at her.  She can hit a kid dead on from about thirty feet away, too.  Soon the girls are fast friends with woodsy aliases Newt and Fox, telling and writing stories together as they each escape their lives in the comfort and enchanting beauty of the woods and its wildlife.

In the spirit of Bridge to Terabithia (without the inevitable water works), The Secret Garden (without the invalid), and a dash of How to Buy a Love of Reading (or writing), The Wild Girls is a great coming of age story for girls harboring an inner Josephine March (Little Women).

I loved it.  I read a lot of it to kiddo outside and she loved it as it served for a great book to welcome spring.  I can’t wait to read it again when she is older and see what she thinks of it then.

In the mean time, I’m looking for more Pat Murphy titles, reading Kate Morton, and writing a novel.

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