Category Archives: Nature Study

Our Summer Nature Table

Summer Nature TableWith summer officially starting tomorrow, we set up our summer seasonal table (it’s  a shelf really). We included our summer-themed wooden tree set and wooden sun stacker, but forgot to include any wooden animals. We also have a summer fairy doll and some seasonal puzzles. Of course, we are now using the summer gnomes that I made and we have some summer-themed postcards. I set out a lot of shells, which we have recently started collecting. I also have a jar of sea glass and a jar of yellow stones, mostly yellow onyx. I know there is probably some official stone that represents summer, but in my mind, I associate the color yellow with summer, so I sought out yellow stones.

What about you? Do you have a summer seasonal/nature table set out? If so, what have you included on your table? Do you have any special plans for the solstice?

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Maureen

Labels: Nature Study, Summer
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Bird Nesting Materials

Bird Nesting Supplies 4Some birds have been returning to our area for the season and both Dora and I have been sad that we can’t feed them like we did last year. For those of you who haven’t been reading my blog for long, here is a short summary of what happened to our feeders last year: We woke up one morning to find our bird feeders completely destroyed. We were standing there, staring at the feeders in disbelief, shaking our heads sadly, trying to puzzle out why vandals would feel the need to so thoroughly destroy our feeders and worrying a bit about how strong the vandals must be, when Tertia came back from walking our dog and pointed to three bears headed our way. Once we thought that the bears had departed the area, we rushed out to clean up the bird feeder mess, realizing that the bears must have been attracted to it. Then the mother bear suddenly charged at Mr. Mo from behind our neighbor’s house while he was trying to dispose of the food and so forth and so on…. I then made the big mistake of calling the Department of Wildlife to report the bears and ended up getting chewed out for putting out bird feeders, given that I lived in “bear country” (which was news to us).  To top the whole thing off, a law was passed a couple of months later, which makes it illegal to feed bears, knowingly or otherwise,  in the State of Washington. This year, I briefly toyed with the idea of placing bird feeders in our backyard, but was a bit worried that the bears would just climb over our fence. Plus, I didn’t really want to attract birds to the area where our fruit trees, berry plants, and vegetable garden are.Bird Nesting Supplies 2Still, we have been really missing the company of all the birds who visited our yard last year. So, we finally decided to set out some nesting materials for the birds. We filled a suet cage with some scrap yarn and wool roving. Dora was very interested in this project and insisted on picking out and cutting the yarn herself, which is why the yarn is a bit brighter than I would have chosen. Maybe the birds don’t care, but I kind of felt that they might prefer colors that lent themselves more towards camouflaging a nest, but who am I to argue with a four-year-old? I did get to pick out the wool roving, however, so I chose a natural, undyed Alpaca wool for that. Thus far, the birds have not opted to take any of our offerings, but our tree is still a bit bare for the birds to be hanging out in. In fact, the only birds we’ve seen thus far, have been  robins and sparrows eating worms from the grass in our yard thus far.Bird Nesting Supplies 3-2What about you and your family? Do you set out feeders or nesting materials? If you set out feeders, do you have problems with bears or other unwanted guests? If you set out nesting materials, what types of materials have you found that the birds in your area like best?

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Disclosure: Some item links in this post are affiliate links. I will make a small amount of money if you click on them and make a purchase. All opinions expressed, however, are 100% my own.

Maureen

Labels: Nature Study, Spring
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Edible Flower Lollipops

Edible Lollipops 4

This project was not one that I had planned for us to do this year, since it entails cooking candy at extremely high temperatures, but Dora started arguing with me that people could not eat flowers and I felt that I just had to show her that some flowers were not only edible, but yummy. We bought our flowers from our local food co-op. They were labeled as edible and were 100% organic. Obviously, one shouldn’t go picking flowers from any old garden and eating them and one should be 100% sure about which flowers are edible before eating them. Ironically, Tertia (age 18) came in while we were making these and started arguing with me about the edibility of flowers also, so clearly this is a gap in my kids’ education that I have failed to address.

Edible Lollipops 3

I used theses directions for making spring flower lollipops. Some notes that we came away with are:

  • The flowers kind of shrivel up when you put them in the candy, so you can use a mold that is smaller than your flowers (Tertia insisted this was a case of cruelty to flowers and it kind of did seem like the flowers were crying out in pain as they were scalded to death with the candy mixture Smile )
  • SprinkleBakes mentions using a candy mold, but I couldn’t find any that were safe for using with hard candy, which gets much hotter than soft candies, so we used the powdered sugar method
  • These lollipops are extremely sweet, so I recommend making them when you know you’ll have a lot of people over. They look lovely, so would add an added extra to your table and people wouldn’t feel the need to eat more than one.
  • Use real white sugar to make these (we used a pseudo-white sugar that we get from the food co-op, because it is fair trade and slightly healthier than regular white sugar – our sugar made the lollipops kind of yellow-tinted, such that they looked a bit jaundiced).

All, in all, this taught Dora (and Tertia!) that some flowers are edible, but I wouldn’t make these again, unless I was doing it for a party. It might have been the cherry candy flavoring that we used, but I just found these to be too cloyingly sweet for our family.

Edible Lollipops 5

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Maureen

Labels: Arts and Crafts, In the Kitchen, Nature Study, Spring
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Homeschool Mother’s Journal–Amazing Spider Webs, Big Rocks, and Pompom Bunnies

Big Rock Park 3In my life this week… I saw my rheumatologist and she put me on a malaria drug. It will take 1-2 months to see if it works. Meanwhile, I’m really ready for spring. I’m not normally so gung-ho about spring, but this year, despite our mild winter, I am just ready to be done with it. I want to get our garden going and see how well our new non-genetically modified seeds do. Did you know that a lot of vegetable seeds are actually genetically modified? So many of us grow our own vegetables to avoid things like genetically modified vegetables, yet we end up growing our very own genetically modified vegetables! If you are interested in guaranteeing that your seeds are not genetically modified, you can check out this safe seed list from the Council for Responsible Genetics.Big Rock Park 1Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… Today Dora and I went to a new park in our area with our friends. That is where we saw the spider web that I have pictured at the top of this post. I know it looks almost fake, but I promise its real, I even have witnesses! The photo above is of the kids climbing a giant rock. You can tell that Dora is my 5th, because not only did I let her climb the rock when it was wet and slippery, but I stood back and took photos of her climbing the rock. We did not go to the park to geocache, but as we were walking I saw a spot and said to my friend, “I bet there’s a geocache there!” So I went to check and sure enough, there was a geocache there! It was really weird, because there were tons of great places to hide a geocache at this park and I never have found a cache that I wasn’t specifically looking for. Big Rock Park 2In our homeschool this week… I tired to focus more on poetry and songs that had movement in them and Dora really responded well to them. She has adapted very well to our colored gnome days-of-the-week system and knows what our order the days/colors of the week go in and what happens on each day/color. She also has shown a sudden interest in Elsa Beskow books. We attempted a few craft projects this week. One was to make a pompom bunny. I read about this craft in several of my craft books and they all used cardboard circles to make the pompoms. We found this method to be incredibly confusing and frustrating. In fact, our pompom fell apart. So instead, I tried the method that I have seen all over Pinterest, of wrapping the yarn around your hand (I used this video tutorial for directions on how to do this). Dora loved having the yarn wrapped around her and it only took about five minutes to make each pompom. I then made some little felt ears and tied them to the pompoms. I contemplated giving the bunny some eyes and a nose, but couldn’t come up with a design I liked, plus Dora was driving me crazy with wanting to play with the bunny NOW.

Making a Pompom Bunny 1Making a Pompom Bunny 2Making a Pompom Bunny 3Making a Pompom Bunny 4

How about you? How was your week? What have you been up to? Has spring come to your neighborhood?

Please note my left sidebar for all the awesome link-ups that I am participating in.

Maureen

Labels: Arts and Crafts, Nature Study, Spring, Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disorder, Wrapping Up Our Week
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Getting Ready for Spring

Spring Nature Table 2Last week, we set up the spring nature/seasonal “table”, even though it’s not quite spring. It just seemed like the right time to do it, with St. Patrick’s Day and Easter both falling in the same month. Even the nature table seems to be bursting forth with abundance, compared to the winter nature table. One special purchase I made just for the nature table was for the green peridot, which I purchased from Our Planet’s Treasure. I really wanted a gem/mineral that was reasonably priced and seemed to me to represent spring. I cannot tell you how much Dora has played with those little gems (most of the pieces are smaller than beans). Most recently, we have taken to putting them into a little wooden “pot”, which we then put at the end of her wooden rainbow. We’ve been calling them “green gold”. She pretends that her farm animals eat the “green gold” and it then gives them various magical abilities.Our Backyard 1Today, Dora and I assembled two more raised beds for our vegetable garden. Mr. Mo has promised to fill them with soil, as that would be too much work for me, physically speaking. As you can see, our small urban (suburban???) yard is looking rather barren at the moment. I’ve put in as many raised beds as I can possibly fit, between the play system and the fact that half of our yard doesn’t get any sunlight, ever. That white thing in the one bed is Pumpkin Jack, who is decaying rapidly now. The rock wall still is looking rather ugly, as I continue to attempt to find a non-invasive plant species that will climb the wall and handle our many gray days in the fall-spring, but then not fry when the sun hits that wall full force in the summer (our neighbor next door who has shielded their wall with those giant evergreens is actually breaking the HOA rules as well as city rules, so that is not an option that we would pursue – not to mention, their evergreens are going to die one of these days, because I keep chopping off the roots when they grow into our yard, so that the some of the bushes are only anchored on one side – I feel mean to do that, but its either that or let their plant monstrosities suck up all of my plants’ nutrients). Our Backyard 2You can’t see them in that first photo, but right behind where I took that photo, we have a few dwarf fruit trees, which are looking sad and lonely right now, but they all have some tiny buds on them! We’re looking forward to getting a decent harvest of fresh peaches and apples from them this year (if we can attract some pollinators).Our Backyard 3The dirt bed in front of our rock wall is mostly used for Dora to plant lots and lots of flowers. As that is where rodents tend to come from, I don’t like to grow any food there, but I do have two blueberry bushes that I planted last fall. I thought the bushes had died, as we had a massive heat wave right after I planted them and they were completely shriveled up spikey, twiggy masses until just a couple of weeks ago. They still don’t look super impressive (to give you an idea of how small the bush is, those are tiny crocus plants in front of this bush). I imagine that we’ll be lucky just to get a cup of blueberries from both blueberry bushes this summer, but hopefully now that they have established a good root system, they’ll grow a lot bigger by next year.

Please note my left sidebar for all the awesome link-ups that I am participating in.

Maureen

Labels: Gardening, Nature Study, Spring
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

This Year’s Terrarium, Take 2

Terrarium - Take 2 - 4I had a major brain fog/senior moment in mid-January and set our terrarium outside in the freezing cold, thinking I’d kill off whatever flies/gnats had invaded it. Uh, doh! The cold did not kill off the flies/gnats, but it did an excellent job of killing off all of the plants! Sigh… Even I was asking myself, “What were you thinking?!?!?” So, I took the jar and cleaned it out really well and let it sit empty for a week. Then we started from scratch. The nursery still didn’t have any sphagnum moss in stock, so I bought uncolored, dried Spanish moss this time. Unfortunately, the Spanish moss now looks kind of like a whole bunch of worms are living in our terrarium. I spent quite some time talking with an advisor at the nursery about our fly/gnat problem and she felt strongly that it was probably fungus gnats and it probably came from the soil, which caused a majorly awkward moment when I pointed out that I bought the soil at their nursery. She immediately proceeded to show to me several means of killing the gnats, all of which were toxic… Terrarium - Take 2 - 3Anyway, we came home and planted a new terrarium. Once again we followed the general terrarium setup instructions that I gave in my post last year. Well, by damn, if there weren’t gnats in the terrarium within two days, even though I thoroughly inspected every single item that went into the terrarium! My guess is that they had to have been in the bag of soil, as that was the only thing that went in both terrarium setups. This time, however, the gnats disappeared within a couple of days. I can only hypothesize that last time, they thrived on the moss layer that I had put on top of the soil. I skipped the moss layer on top this time, just because it smelled so funky. Instead, Dora found a metal ladybug sculpture that we added to the terrarium. Later, I created a “stream” in the terrarium with blue gems. Then last weekend, we found a ceramic fairy that I set out top of the ladybug (since I took these photos, per Dora’s insistence, we turned the fairy such that her leg is dangling in the “stream”). So, I guess this terrarium is going to also be a fairy garden…

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Maureen

Labels: Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Update On Our Pumpkin Jack

Pumpkin Jack In Early DecemberWarning! The pictures in this post get disgusting! Back in November, I posted that we were going to try to grow our own Pumpkin Jack, like the boy in the book, of the same name, did.  In November, we tossed our Pumpkin Jack into one of our raised beds and left him alone. I really started worrying that this was not going to work, because Jack showed no signs of decomposition until December (in the top photo in this post, you can see some brown spots on his skin, three months after we harvested him!). Even then, Jack did not seem like he was really going to rot, until mid-January. Once he started rotting, however, he has been rotting fast! Unlike what happened to the boy in the book, we have not had any snow to cover up Jack through all of this, so we’ve got to see every step of Jack’s decomposition!Pumpkin Jack 12-18-12Mid-December and he’s still not looking very impressive.Pumpkin Jack 1-2-13Early January saw some frost and Jack started getting black spots.Pumpkin Jack 1-6-13 - 1A few days later, his skin began to pucker.Pumpkin Jack 1-9-13 - 3I worried that Jack might attract rodents, but only one animal took a small bite out of Jack and then spit out the bite a couple of feet away.Pumpkin Jack 1-13-13 3Since then, nothing has touched Jack. I guess word on the street now is to stay away from things growing in our garden! Pumpkin Jack 1-13-13 1Mid-January and Jack is beginning to collapse in on himself.Pumpkin Jack 1-24-13 - 1A week later, he’s collapsed some more and he’s developing a pretty large spot of rot on his behind.Pumpkin Jack 2-4-13Early February now and Jack is beginning to show some real rottenness, there is hope that he will rot enough to “sow” his seeds for another generation of pumpkins! Alas, poor Jack, I knew him well!

I had worried that Jack would stink or attract fruit flies, but thus far, Jack has not emitted a single odor and I’ve not seen a single fly. I am prepared to discontinue this experiment at a moment’s notice, however, if any of that changes.

Finally, I have found this to be a bit odd, but not a single visitor has asked us why we have a rotting pumpkin in our backyard….

Please note my left sidebar for all the awesome link-ups that I am participating in.

Disclosure: Some item links in this post are affiliate links. I will make a small amount of money if you click on them and make a purchase. All opinions expressed, however, are 100% my own.

Maureen

Labels: Gardening, Nature Study, Science
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Our Winter Nature Table

Winter Nature Table - 1

Our winter nature table/shelf underwent several transformations this season, but I’m really happy with the end result. Dora is clearly happy with it also, as she loves to have her toy horse, “Charlie”, play all over it. I had to move our nature guides to another bookshelf to make room for our day-of-the-week and weather gnomes. So now our nature table/shelf is really a seasonal table/shelf.

Winter Nature Table - 2

I purchased several Waldorf inspired postcards for the shelf and our playroom, which I just am in love with.

Winter Nature Table - 3This postcard holder is also a tea light holder. Dora is allowed to light this candle, with my assistance, at the beginning of our yoga session. I light the candle at this point in time for multiple reasons. Firstly, I am trying to bring particular attention to this point in the day as being more of a spiritual period of time for us. Secondly, I am kind of using it as bribery to get Dora to participate, by which I actually mean that she allows me to do 20 minutes of yoga, during which she might come in and out of the yoga area and perhaps do a couple of forms herself. Lastly, I use it as a sort of timer for letting her know that this is semi-uninterrupted time for me. She gets to blow out the candle when I am done with my yoga. I also have snuck in my flute practice, which I call “mental yoga” (I’m teaching myself to play the Choroi Quinta Pentatonic Flute so that I can teach Dora to play when she gets a bit older). I have told her that if she ever blows out the candle before I tell her that she can, we will not be able to have the candle anymore for that week. It is a bit hard for her to resist the temptation to blow out the candle, but she so enjoys being able to light the candle, she has not blown out the candle early once.

Winter Nature Table 4

We also have some winter-themed wooden toys on the shelf…

Winter Nature Table 5

… and a winter fairy, as well as many items from nature and a set of seasonal puzzles. I tried experimenting with using play silks on the shelf, but Dora kept wanting to play with the silks I set out and I was really stressed out that our cats would find the silks and shred them to pieces, as they do with just about anything that they can get their teeth or claws on.

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Maureen

Labels: Nature Study, Waldorf
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Nurturing Nature Indoors–Forcing an Amaryllis and Starting a Terrarium

Amaryllis 12-30-12 - 3

This last month, Dora actually spent quite a lot of time outdoors. Mr. Mo was very good and took her outside to play every day that he had off (and let me sleep late while he was at it! Sorry ladies, he’s taken!). He got her into such a good habit, she has come to expect her daily outdoorsy time. Still, it’s not quite the same as during the warmer months, when she might spend hours outside each day. So we tackled a few indoor nature projects so we could keep our green thumbs in green during the cold months. Our first project, forcing an amaryllis bub, was something we actually started back in mid-November.

Amaryllis BulbAs you can see, the amaryllis bulb we used was humongous! The nursery had some that were at least twice as big as ours, but they cost $28.99/bulb!

Amaryllis 12-19-2012 (1)

The plant first started to bloom after about three weeks. Since then, we have had constant flowers that are quite large. We have been cutting some of the flowers and keeping them on the nature table, but this morning we were saddened and surprised when we came downstairs and found that one of the stems had cracked, due to the weight of four flowers blooming on it at once! So, we currently have no flowers on the actual plant. We have no cat-safe windows in our house that get a lot of light, so I am not sure if this plant will have got enough sunlight to “recharge” the bulb for next year. I’m planning to plant it in the yard and we’ll find out. I’ll probably buy a new bulb next winter, just to make sure that we have some indoor color.

Terrarium - 1

Our second project was to start a new terrarium. I got this large jar at Target for just $10. Unfortunately, it is so big, it won’t fit on any window ledge, so I am not sure if it will get enough light to support the terrarium. Currently, it has survived three months with only one mishap, that being that it seems to have some sort of fruit/drain flies in it. I have tried to shoe them out, but they seem to like it in there. I just hope that they don’t reproduce and start some sort of colony! I think they must have hitched a ride on one of the plants.

Terrarium - 2

We used the same layering system that we have in the past, a layer of small rocks, followed by a layer of activated charcoal, followed by a layer of dried moss, followed by the soil. We tried a different type of moss this time, but I’d recommend sticking with the tried and true sphagnum moss, as the moss we bought smells a bit funky and I don’t like having such a bright green layer in between the layers of soil and charcoal/rocks. We topped of the whole thing with moss wherever there weren’t plants, but that was just a personal choice and is not necessary. We also added a few decorative stones. I’d love to add a small figure or two to the scene, but haven’t found anything that caught my eye.

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Maureen

Labels: Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

November Nature Study – Mushrooms and Moss

Mushrooms and Moss 19

For the month of November, we focused on mushrooms and moss, both of which are plentiful right now with all of the rain that we have been getting.

Spore Print 1

One of the projects I decided that I’d like to try was  making a spore print. This kind of freaked out Mr. Mo, who was sure that I would bring in a poisonous mushroom and kill us all or that I’d release some sort of mushroom plague on the house and mushrooms would start growing everywhere. Of course, I could not really reassure him, as I really don’t know much about mushrooms, so that didn’t help. At first he didn’t even know I was bringing all sorts of mushrooms into the house, but once he found out, I had to agree to contain my spore experiments to our garage. Therefore, I’d like to note that it is he who is to blame if Dora never becomes a famous scientist.

Spore Print 3

Firstly, I really have to recommend that one read up on making spore prints before trying it. I didn’t and first I tried pressing mushrooms in our nature journal with a dictionary on top. This resulted in ruining several pages of our nature journal. Then I decided to get hardcore and brought out the leaf press. I squashed those suckers good and a whole bunch of disgusting stuff oozed out the side of the press. Secunda was with me and brilliantly observed, “I don’t think that is supposed to happen.” I had to concur and must confess that those mushrooms are still sitting in our leaf press, as I am a bit afraid to find out what is in there.

Mushrooms and Moss 2

Finally, I decided to look up some instructions, which I despise doing. It ends up that to make a mushroom spore print, you just set a “mature” mushroom on top of a piece of paper and let the mushroom do everything (some people suggest adding a drop of water to the mushroom once you’ve set it down). I can tell you, it is much less disgusting than trying to press mushrooms. The first interesting note that I learned about making spore prints is that it is best to try two prints for each mushroom, one on black paper and one on white paper (the prints on black paper looked better in real life, my camera really did not like taking photos of black paper). Also, do not move the mushroom for 12-24 hours and you should ideally cover each mushroom with a cup or something, so that the air currents don’t mess up your print. Finally, this technique does not work for all mushrooms, it all depends on how they “deploy” their spores.

Mushrooms and Moss 23

The summary of our month is that Dora was not remotely interested in moss, but did enjoy helping me find mushrooms (for those who would like to know, there were no fairies in this tree stump, which really bummed me out, because it is a totally perfect fairy house). Also, we found some very funky black mushrooms that I thought were dog pooh at first. Their insides were white and kind of reminded me of jellyfish. Were Dora a bit older, I would have bothered to do more research and try to figure out what type of mushroom they were, but I was too busy trying to prevent Dora from pouring all her marbles onto the wood floor for the millionth time (even though every time she did this, she’d later accidentally step on one of the marbles and hurt herself – obviously she does not have the concept of cause and consequence down yet).

Sammamish River 1

The two exciting notes about our nature study this month was that we saw a river otter, while looking for beavers (the otter swam way too fast for me to get a photo of it, so I am kindly including a photo of a duck that we saw instead). We also saw a coyote while walking in our homeschool co-op’s parking lot (please excuse the quality of this photo, it was taken with my phone, from a safe distance). Unlike all the coyotes that I ever saw when I was growing up in San Diego, this coyote was sleek, glossy, and down right cute. In fact, it looked so good, I would not be surprised if you told me that someone took it to the groomers that morning. Why the coyote was walking around the parking lot in the middle of the day, I have no idea, but it was fun to see and was not remotely hostile. What about you? Did you have an exciting nature encounters this month?

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Labels: Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff