Actually, I guess the first couple of photos here are from March. (1) We hadn’t been to Old Town San Diego in a while and made a quick pilgrimage there one day during Wonderboy’s spring break. (2) Rilla’s bunny chain—entirely her own design—is the best Easter decoration I’ve seen in a long time. Those ears!
April for real:
(3) How Huck likes to rock his Math-U-See.
(4) Library day. I want that Eric Carle rug!
(5) Another library-day shot. What I love most about this photo is that the bed they’re on belongs to neither of them. It’s Beanie’s—the bottom bunk, which has long been the favorite place for my girls to sprawl. Beanie, meanwhile, does most of her own sprawling on Rilla’s bed. Go figure.
(6) Monarch caterpillar on our milkweed: always a sight that brings me joy.
(7) Wonderboy raised these sunflowers from a handful of old seeds spilled in the bottom of a bag of mostly-empty seed packets. The color surprised us!
(8) Also a surprise this year: the giant blooms on a neglected rosebush by our patio. Loads of them! It’s like Valancy went at the bush with her clippers.
(9) Playing with a Hobonichi Techo-style layout in my bullet journal. Mary Ann Scheuer and I had a fun Skype session last week to chat about my bujo system. What’s working these days: Separate books for my messy notes and my bullet lists. It’s sort of a left brain/right brain thing: I need a space for scribbly notes of all kinds, an unkempt, all-purpose thinking-on-paper space; but I also need nice, neat(ish) to-do lists with boxes I can fill in as I accomplish tasks. It took me a LOT of years—and the revelation of the multiple-insert traveler’s notebook—to figure this out: that I need the two separate spaces.
• Melted at the artwork and poems created by the three classes of fifth- and sixth-graders who welcomed me to the Greater San Diego Reading Association’s annual Authors Fair.
• Read aloud the last chapter of The Prairie Thief to a roomful of eager fifth-graders. Such a delight. I so seldom get to read the end of the book to a school group—I don’t want to give anything away! Exceedingly fun to discover the teacher had been reading the book to the class and saved the finale for my visit. 🙂
• Had a marvelous time swapping book suggestions with the kids during the Q&A after my readings. Hot tip: they are loving The Unicorn Chronicles at the moment.
• Tried out a new voice for Fox in my Storytime at Carmel Valley Public Library on Saturday. Gotta keep it fresh, you know.
• Wrote my tail off all day yesterday.
• Rejoiced with the gang as our monarch butterfly emerged from its chrysalis this morning. We missed the big entrance but not by much. Later, when it was ready to fly, we took it out to the milkweed patch in the backyard, and it rested there long enough for Rilla and me to sketch it. I had just finished adding watercolor when it soared away to the cape honeysuckle, and from there out into the blue. Bon voyage, little dear.
So much of my role with Rilla is staying out of her way. Giving her vast stretches of time to draw and play, giving her space to get messy in. (Actually, she’s kind of a type A artist—very precise about her materials and workspace.) And of course strewing, strewing, strewing, the good old Sandra Dodd coinage* that captures the essence of my approach to family life: leave neat stuff where the kids can find it—and be around to talk about it when they’re ready.
She spent half the evening working away at this owl. Yesterday it was a pair of goldfinches, because they’ve been delighting us at our feeders.
Here’s the book that has captured her fancy: Drawing Birds with Colored Pencils. Amazon tells me I bought it in August, 2011. It saw a brief period of use then, with Beanie I think, and has mostly lived on the field guide shelf until now. I don’t know if it was chicken or egg—whether Rilla found the book and decided to dive in, or went hunting for help because she wanted to draw birds. I’ll ask her tomorrow, if I remember. All our drawing and nature books are stashed on shelves in our dining area, right behind Beanie’s chair and directly in Rilla’s line of sight.
*Sandra’s strewing page begins with a quote, “I just strew their paths with interesting things,” captioned “long ago, AOL homeschooling boards.” I was there, reading along, nursing infant Jane, when she wrote it! And now, many strewn paths later, Jane’s preparing to head off to college. We made the first big dorm shopping expedition today. I can still see those early AOL conversations scrolling across my screen—I got my first modem and my first baby in the same month—and thinking, Ohhh, this homeschooling thing has possibilities, I’ve gotta talk to Scott. Amazing.
This is Huck’s current favorite read-aloud. I grabbed it from the library on impulse a couple of weeks ago—we’re short on fall color here, and the cover appealed to me, but I didn’t expect it to grab the three-year-old’s attention. Shows what I know. The kid is smitten. He thinks it’s called “All Dem Leaves.”
The bold images on the cover are a good foretaste of what’s inside. We’ve spent many happy moments poring over these bright leaves, matching their shapes to their names. Turns out we have a lot of sweet gum trees on our street—almost the only sparks of autumnal foliage we see here. (Mind: we’re not complaining. 70-degree weather and soaring blue skies. I’m content to satisfy my fall-color longings with children’s books.)
Rilla’s a fan of the book too—it ties in quite serendipitously to the fun we’ve been having with the Trees of England course over at Memrise. (By golly, I know my horse chestnut from my blackthorn now.)
Most of you probably live in places where the gold and scarlet has been stripped from the branches by now, in late November. (Jiminy crickets, it’s late November. I’m quaking.) This recommendation may come a bit late; we’ll all be in Holly and Ivy mode soon. But if you’re not ready to let go of autumn, you might enjoy a ramble through these colorful woods.
So says Rilla. Her father does not approve. Her father is not a fan of tarantulas.
But he’ll forgive me, because he knew what he was getting into when he married me—the runaway train of my enthusiasm. How did we get on to spiders this morning? Rose said something about liking them; I think that was it. Beanie shuddered; she sides with her daddy on this one. Rose and I had a sudden impulse to go outside and see how many different kinds of spider we could count. Oddly, the pickings were slim: we only found two. Usually, they’re everywhere you look, causing some small child or other to shriek and run away. But there were two tiny ones of a species we’ve yet to identify, teensy oblong things with thin stripes of brown and tan, poised on webs stretched between the stems of the rose bush. Look, said Rose, I found this out yesterday: if you put a bit of twig in the web, the spider will come and snip it out. We waited, but the spider was on to us, frozen, silently glaring. Ten minutes later, after we’d roamed the yard in search of others, the twig was gone.
By chance—or maybe this is what put spiders on Rose’s mind this morning?—I’d pulled Fabre’s Life of the Spider off the shelf a day or two ago, thinking it might make a nice nature-study read for the summer, and added it to the high-tide stack in the living room. At the time, I wasn’t at all sure it would grab my girls—read-alouds are a challenge, these days, with one sweet boy endlessly butting in with questions, and the other impish one endlessly butting you with his head. But they were interested, so I gave it a try. Note to writers: If you want to hook an audience of 6-13-year-olds, “Chapter 1, The Black-Bellied Tarantula” is a sure-fire way to begin.
The Spider has a bad name: to most of us, she represents an odious, noxious animal, which every one hastens to crush under foot. Against this summary verdict the observer sets the beast’s industry, its talent as a weaver, its wiliness in the chase, its tragic nuptials and other characteristics of great interest. Yes, the Spider is well worth studying, apart from any scientific reasons; but she is said to be poisonous and that is her crime and the primary cause of the repugnance wherewith she inspires us. Poisonous, I agree, if by that we understand that the animal is armed with two fangs which cause the immediate death of the little victims which it catches; but there is a wide difference between killing a Midge and harming a man. However immediate in its effects upon the insect entangled in the fatal web, the Spider’s poison is not serious for us and causes less inconvenience than a Gnat-bite. That, at least, is what we can safely say as regards the great majority of the Spiders of our regions.
Nevertheless, a few are to be feared; and foremost among these is the Malmignatte, the terror of the Corsican peasantry. I have seen her settle in the furrows, lay out her web and rush boldly at insects larger than herself; I have admired her garb of black velvet speckled with carmine-red; above all, I have heard most disquieting stories told about her. Around Ajaccio and Bonifacio, her bite is reputed very dangerous, sometimes mortal.
Well played, Monsieur Fabre.
Of course we had to look up these twin terrors, the malmignatte with her thirteen red spots, and the tarantula, about whom Fabre’s predecessor, Leon Dufour, waxes quite lyrical: “…when I was hunting her, I used to see those eyes gleaming like diamonds, bright as a cat’s eyes in the dark.” Off we trotted to Wikipedia, for pictures, and YouTube, for pictures that move.
After which appetizing display it was time for lunch.
I’m a wimp in the cold. Much as I respect the Charlotte Mason “get out for a walk every day, no matter what the weather” principle, I don’t live by it. No well-bundled foul-weather treks for me, invigorating though they might be. The children are encouraged to get outside for fresh air every day, but if they want my company, they have to settle for the sofa, the fireside, and a good book. Preferably one full of heroic wilderness adventures in the elements.
But as soon as the weather begins to turn, oh, I’m there. Just try and keep me inside. Housework? Pah! The floors can take care of themselves. The kids and I have paths to tread, shoes to muddy, trees to meet.
In addition to field guides and the indispensible Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, there are a few other books that leap off the shelves at me this time every year:
These old friends keep us busy during the wet and chilly days of March. Come April, we’re outside living the adventure instead of reading about it. I am intrepid! I am daring! No breeze is too balmy, no creek too melodic, no backpack too full of snacks for this nature-loving mother.