Dec 31, 2012

Bird's-Eye View of the Week: On with the Show!

Don't you love it when homeschooling allows you to cover several subjects through pure entertainment (and  almost no prep)? A theater performance covers art, literature, culture, and often music just to think of a few.          This holiday season we found ourselves immersed in the The-ah-tah, a place I find myself perfectly comfortable. I was raised by a former off-Broadway actress and her husband who both valued the arts. My father's holiday tradition was to take me first for lunch at the historic five-star Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, DC and then to see "The Nutcracker" at the venerable D.A.R. Constitution Hall. My Dallas grandparents would treat their visiting granddaughter to several shows at the Dallas Summer Musicals. I think I've seen almost all of the Rogers and Hammersteins, a staging of "The Sound of Music," and in 1971 was seated in the Kennedy Center box next to Leonard Bernstein at the premiere of his controversial musical, "Mass."
Finding family in"Annie"
   While we weren't at anything like the KenCen over our break, what we did take in was so heart-warming it didn't matter where we were. Our first show was "Annie" performed in our very own church, a show that we ourselves had considered auditioning for. "Annie" tells the story of an orphaned girl seeking her birth parents, an idea that is probably true at least in the hearts of most adopted children. It was therefore poignant for us and allowed for some discussion. It also was a balm to our frayed spirits that it opened the night of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CN. Children singing 'The sun will come out tomorrow" was something we all needed to hear.
    Next stop was Mei's cousin's performance in "The Nutcracker." She has been dancing for at least 10 years now and dazzles us with her ever-increasing skill and her 100-watt smile. It was a great opportunity for Mei to be in front of the curtain for a change. Having danced in several Nutcrackers over the years, I realized she knew little about how it looks when it's all strung together!
   Finally our local homeschool co-op organized a group trip to the Olney Dinner Theater to see good ol' Rogers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella." I had been raised on annual televised showings of it as a child with Lesley Anne Warren as a rather simpering 'Ella. My friend and I who shared her given name (no, my name is not Robin) always felt she was an insult to Leslies everywhere. So it was so refreshing to witness this spunky, self-assured Princess-in-the-Making . Even more "charming" was the photo opp afterward with the star and her pumpkin coach! As exciting as seeing Leonard Bernstein! (well, almost)
   Of course, the best "show" of all was the candlelight service on an unexpectedly snowy Christmas Eve. The meaning of Christmas. That's a story that's always worth retelling.

Outdoor Hour Challenge #1: The Pine Bark Mystery!

The Mystery Bark
  In Outdoor Hour Challenge #1, the idea is just to whet the appetite for nature study. Charlotte Mason didn't want it crammed down the children's throats perhaps because, like all things that are good for them, they will run in the opposite direction as soon as they learn that it's beneficial. No matter that it might even taste good!
   So although we've been doing nature study for a few years, it was good to go back to basics and just let Mei lead the way in finding something of interest to her. She doesn't get all hot and sweaty over nature study, I have to confess (unlike me). So allowing her to call the nature study shots was a sneaky way to get her attention.
    As the Challenge stated, she could find anything she wanted.. She could have chosen some exciting stuff like the pileated woodpecker that I can imitate pretty well much to her amusement, or the bittersweet that was festooning the late-autumn trees. Nope, she chose bark.
    This bark was from a downed tree along the private road we frequent. It runs through a mixed hardwood forest divided by a couple of streams--tributaries to the Patapsco River which in turn flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It's a nice little piece of outdoors that provides many of our nature study opportunities. And a good dog walk.
   As I said, the tree was down and quite deteriorating. At first all we noticed was a trunk, smooth and lying a distance from its source. The short remains of branches stuck straight out in regular intervals. It was a few minutes before we discovered the stump that had once supported the tree. It surprised us to see that it was covered with bark, unlike the smooth surface we had seen on the fallen trunk. We helped ourselves to a sample and headed back, looking all over for a match to identify the tree.
White Pine: gray-green,
long crevices

We narrowed it down to a pine, but weren't
sure which. There were trees that were clearly white pines. We knew enough about clusters of five long, soft needles to pinpoint that one (ID trick: "WHITE" has five letters, just like the tree has five needles) But the bark didn't match. Nor did the cones. We suspected red pine, but here was the rub. Whenever we found a tree with bark that resembled ours, the tree was DEAD! No needles! Only a rare cone. Ah ha! Now I had her interest as I gave her the responsibility of doing the research at home.

Range Map for Red Pine
   At long last, after consulting a few field guides (hint: it's good to invest in several different guides!) and some internet resources, she concluded that it was indeed a red pine. But why all the pine death? She looked at the map and noted that  red pines don't normally grow this far south. So how did all these trees end up growing here in the first place? Did they sprout from seed cast by a transplanted parent in someone's landscaped yard? Are  they dying from the hotter-than-usual summers we've been having? Or is it something else, like an  infestation or disease? We really haven't solved the mystery
yet, but just having one related to nature made this study all the more "appetizing!"
Mei's  observation page for Challenge #1
   Want to know what makes a pine a PINE? Check out this video "How to Identify Pine Trees." And below that you can learn how to identify four different pines including White and Red! We'll be watching it too. It may solve the mystery of the Mystery Bark!
"How to Identify Pine Trees"
"Pine Tree Identification

Dec 30, 2012

Outdoor Hour Challenge: Clouding Around

I am writing this post with my left foot propped up like it has been since the day after Christmas when I was discharged for breaking it at the end of the holiday. That was five days ago, and the house is going to pot. Nothing like taking Mother out of the house-keeping picture. The dog just keeps looking at me, his faithful walker, and wondering why I've abandoned him. Even when Mei does the job herself, he has to be carried over the electric fence line before he will continue, which she is definitely incapable of doing with 35 pounds of dead weight. While Father Robin is on vacation, it works out, but no telling what's ahead after New Year's.
  Our nature walks pivot around exercising the dog (if you want to keep in shape and eliminate excuses for getting outside, get one). But we do have lots of windows to observe from and lots of pretty views outside them. And being winter, there are plenty of changing weather conditions to enjoy from a warm seat with a mug of hot chocolate. Add in some field guides and our nature appreciation needs not take its own holiday.
  The last 24 hours or so have seen dramatic weather changes, from snow to clear to partly cloudy at sunset, providing us with plenty of cloud observation fodder. Mei and I set up our painting supplies on our school table in the sunroom and began painting the snowy scene outside our window.
    Imitating the great idea that Barb shared, Mei set out to collect some of frozen precip to paint with.

She was fascinated with the way the paint interacted with the snow.

Here is my interpretation of the stratus clouds' impact on our backyard. 
And how much the sky changed in a couple of hours

   Mei wants to practice a bit more on watercolor painting.  In the meantime, her science studies on weather have perfectly meshed with the Outdoor Challenges lately. This "cloud detective" page is from the chapter on Weather from her text "Considering God's Creation." by Eagle's Wings.

So, until I'm walking again, we look forward to more window-shopping for clouds.
Thanks to Barb at  Handbook of Nature Study's for sharing this on her Blog Carnival. Click over for more ideas on cloud study

Dec 18, 2012

Waiting for Winter

Our autumns seem to be getting milder. I avoid saying Global Warming, but as a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic, I do sense more pleasant Novembers and even Decembers than in my growing up years. We continue to enjoy long walks without being bundled to our noses. My husband still occasionally runs over the grass with the mower! 
   Of course one of the downsides are the lingering insects that trouble our lives. Ticks are almost a year-round issue now a days. To treat our pets, Frontline and Revolution are  line-items in our family budget. And those pesky stink bugs have become like unwelcome relatives, creeping on our walls, hiding in curtains, sunning on windows, in general a part of our daily lives. I have discovered though that I can pick them up without being sprayed by grabbing them by their antennas. Then I take pleasure in tossing them into the fireplace. I'm a nature lover. Really I am. But this subspecies are invasive and causing all kinds of problems, particularly for our apple growers. And they have one of the simplest but most effective defenses I've ever encountered. You can't squash them, flick them, or even gently scoop them. They will spray your hands with a stench that will persist through several washings. And finding cups to catch them in isn't always  convenient. But if you grab them by the front, like a bull by the horns, or a snake by the throat, they are powerless to anoint you!!  Their pollutants just squirt uselessly into thin air. Haha!
   I'll save my thoughts on ticks for another post.  I'm getting too riled up!

  With inspiration from the Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge, Mei and I took a few minutes (indoors; don't tell Barb!) and just gazed out the window as well as challenged our memories to list the changes that were taking place, mild temps notwithstanding!
We played a spontaneous game of turn-taking to build our list. Mei will be green; I will be pink:
"Geese Honking"
"Geese flocking on the pond"
"Our tall [ornamental] grasses have turned yellowish."
"Our lawn has, too!"
"No leaves on the trees."
"Colder" (well, it IS compared to a couple of months ago!)
"[Horseback] Riding in the indoor arena"
"More geocaching" (the nasty, thorny weeds are dying back)
"Horses huddling, wearing blankets, furring out--or becoming "furballs" as she preferred to call it, feeling friskier"
   You can tell where her interests are....
   The exercise of paying attention to the changing seasons keeps us from complacently going through our day unaware of the hand of God and the world He holds in it. Thanks for the nudge, Barb!
  You can get your own nudges from Barb by downloading her latest newsletter. The December edition is all about weather! Subscribe to Handbook of Nature Study and get it for my favorite price: free! Then check out others participating in the Outdoor Hour Challenge blog carnival happening at the end of the month.
    In the meantime, we'll still be waiting for winter!





Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...