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Friday Felicities

Some happies from this week:

  • a real return to health for the whole family–thank you, Lord!
  • a week of cooking which results in a fridge full of leftovers for the weekend:  abundance!
  • milder temperatures which have made going outside fun, not painful
  • an off day for Steady Eddie
  • an afternoon at the park
  • brownies to share at today’s homeschool group
  • a half-price sale that begins today at my favorite library’s used bookstore
  • a little girl who requested to ride her new Christmas bicycle around the block
  • another little girl who wanted to walk so she could collect things (see picture below for an example of what she deems collection worthy!)
  • Lulu’s reading success:  she began just this week keeping a log of the books she has read semi-independently
  • Louise’s many and varied malapropisms and generally endearing mispronunciations.  Example:  she referred to an enema (don’t ask–you really don’t want to know) as an I-N-V.  Get it?  N-M-Uh.  🙂  {I can’t believe I just used that word on my blog.  It was just too cute not to document, though.  🙂 }

For more Friday Felicities, check out Becky’s blog.

Friday Felicities


A few of this week’s blessings:

  1. A fun trip down south and a safe trip home
  2. Audiobooks to keep the girls (mostly) occupied for the 14+ hours we spent in the van
  3. Only one nonstop laundry day to get us caught back up
  4. One good school day to get us back into the groove (sometimes I think a break does wonders on the brain’s ability to perform news skills!)
  5. A busy weekend of soccer, birthday parties (one for a 3 year old; one for a 100 year old!) and supper out with my oldest friends
  6. A name we recognize in the news
  7. New to me  (and free, too,  until I decide I need the upgrade 😉 ) photoediting software 


For more Friday Felicities, visit Joyful Mother!

Nature Friend Magazine and Study Guide

Nature FriendAs a part of TOS Homeschool Crew, I received two issues of Nature Friend magazine to try out in our homeschool at the House of Hope.  I put it off looking at it with my girls for a while, although I did look through it numerous times myself, enjoying the beautiful photography and the artwork.  I thought it would probably be way over my girls’ heads, since I have a kindergartener and a preschooler.  I knew, though, that I needed to put it to the test in order to write a balanced review of this resource.  As I was looking through the September 2009 issue, it finally registered with me that the first article in it would be a perfect place to start.  You see, a few weeks ago, this fellow somehow found his way into our home:

 walking stick

We spent a good deal of time capturing this walking stick and observing him. Lulu even took him to our homeschool group for show-and-tell. I’ll admit I was not too thrilled with the idea of capturing him (especially the second time 😉 )–something about these critters really gives me the creeps–but my girls were non-plussed by him. I knew, then, that Sharon H. Anderson’s article in the September 2009 Nature Friend, “Sticks That Walk,” would likely be a hit with them. I was right. Written as a short story in which a girl and her mother find a walking stick and discuss it, this article is full of facts about walking stick insects: they like certain types of leaves better than others, they can regenerate parts of their bodies, they molt, and it is usually only the males that have wings (which is how I knew to refer to this one in the masculine!). My girls have listened attentively as I read this article aloud twice already, and I’m pretty sure they could tell almost any layman a thing or two about the walking stick insect by now.

Nature Friend magazine has many features that are appealing to younger students, as I found when I opened to magazines to my children. The very first feature in each issue, a hidden-picture puzzle called “Invisibles,” was a real hit with my girls. They enjoyed searching for the various animals hidden in the picture, and they were able to find some of them with no help.  They enjoyed looking at the various readers’ submissions to the “You Can Draw” gallery, and they were particularly interested in the entries by children close to their ages.  In addition to the features I’ve mentioned in this review, any given issue of Nature Friend might contain 

  • Reader submitted “Pictures and Poems”
  • Puzzles and riddles
  • “Wondernose,” articles in which nature questions are discussed in depth
  • “The Mailbox,” in which reader-submitted letters, questions, and photographs are published
  • “Creation Close-ups”–more reader-submitted photographs
  • “You Can Draw”–step-by-step drawing lessons in which the subject is something from nature
  • “The Story Behind the Photo”–reader-submitted photographs with the details behind how they were captured
  • “Learning by Doing”–step-by-step activities in which some aspect of nature is observed and recorded

As the girls looked through the magazine, the beautiful photographs really caught their attention.  In fact, Louise requested that I read an article about a snapping turtle (well written by a twelve year old reader, I might add) based on the accompanying picture.  Obviously, photography is a big part of this magazine; each issue is full-color and contains many reader-submitted nature photographs.

If you’re a regular reader here at Hope Is the Word, you know that I enjoy nature photography, so this aspect of Nature Friend really appeals to me.  The magazines that I received for review also contain an additional feature:  a Study Guide, which is available by subscription for an extra $2 monthly.  One part of this Study Guide is a feature called “The Photo Critique.”  This feature provides helpful hints for taking better nature photos.   The Study Guide also includes puzzles, research questions, writing instruction, and even recipes!  For older children especially, I think the Study Guide would be an excellent and cost-effective additional resource.

The subtitle on the masthead of every Nature Friend magazine is “Helping Families Explore the Wonders of God’s Creation,” and this is a very accurate description for two reasons.  First, this is a Christian magazine written from an obviously Creationist viewpoint.  A Bible verse might be on any page, and each issue contains a “Motto for the Month,” which is a Bible verse superimposed over a beautiful nature photograph.  Second, this truly is a magazine the whole family can enjoy together.  Although according to the website the target age is 8-16, both my young children and I (well past my teens 😉 ) enjoy it. 

A year’s subscription to this monthly magazine is $36; including a year’s worth of the Study Guides would bring the yearly price to $48.  Although I would not consider such a resource as a necessity to a successful homeschool, I do think that it is extras like this that often “light a fire” in some students and give them the extra boost to pursue a passion.  If there is a little breathing room in the homeschool budget, I would consider Nature Friend magazine and its accompanying Study Guides as money well spent.  I even think Nature Friend would make an excellent birthday or Christmas gift, if it’s not in the education budget.  This magazine has been going strong since 1983, and it has many additional online features that would be helpful in determining if it would be a good fit for your family.  You can also view sample issues or even check out more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews for more opinions about this resource.

TOS HS CREW long banner

Rock Spring Nature Walk

crossing the creek


September is hummingbird migration time, and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird travels through our neck of the woods in large numbers.  In fact, you might remember several weeks ago that my girls had the unique experience of holding one!  One of the hummingbirds’ favorite spots is a place on the Natchez Trace Parkway that is just a little drive from our home.  The spot is called Rock Spring, and jewelweed grows profusely along the water there.  Hummingbirds love jewelweed! 

A couple of weeks ago, we drove down to Rock Spring on a Friday evening to see if we could observe some of the little birds in action.  It was already getting dusky-dark by the time we got there, and we have figured out after going late in the evening two years in a row that evening is not the best time to see hummingbirds.  Although we saw a few hummers, we didn’t see nearly the number we expected.

However, we did see a few other things that made the drive worthwhile!

We saw fog, which was perfect since we had just read Hide and Seek Fog (my thoughts here).


We saw jewelweed, of course, which is a very interesting looking plant.


jewelweed, closeup

We even saw an large, older beaver dam which we remembered from our trip last year.

beaver dam, large

We were surprised, however, to see a smaller beaver dam this year!  These fellows have been hard at work!  I love how the spring is already diverting around the dam.

beaver dam, small

By the time we got to the end of the trail, night had come to the woods and it was too dark for me to get any good pictures of the girls throwing rocks into the spring.  It was a good evening of family togetherness and being out in  God’s beautiful creation, even if we didn’t see many hummingbirds!

jewelweed and beaver dam

Next year we’ll have to remember to make this a day trip!

Mystery Solved

mystery flowerMy mother called one of her dearest friends, a flower afficianado, and asked her the identity of our mystery plant.  My mother had opined that it is a spider lily, but her friend said it is a surprise lily.  Hmm.  We got home, and Steady Eddie Googled Swagbucked surprise lily, and he finally concluded that what we have is indeed a Red Spider lily.  Mother was right!  🙂

I thought it was interesting to note these details from the link above: 

Some say that the flowers bloom two weeks after the first good fall rain. If there is no rain during the month of September, the bulbs have been known to not bloom altogether.

That would explain the proliferation of them around these parts; this is the wettest short period of time I can ever remember in the South.

Mystery Flower

mystery flowerI don’t usually post on the weekends, but I wanted to share this picture in hopes that someone could help me identify this flower.  These bright, spindly fellows have been cropping up in yards all around our neighborhood, and for the life of me I can’t remember seeing them before now.  I’m sure they were there, but this awareness of the wide variety of flora that surrounds us has only recently come over me.  🙂  Isn’t this plant gorgeous in a strange, almost creepy way? 

This flower grows on a stalk about twelve to eighteen inches off the ground.  I would’ve taken a better picture of the whole plant, but right after I snapped this one, Louise began screaming because she was being attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes as big as hummingbirds.  I’m not sure if the abudance of rain we’ve received here in the Southeast is responsible for this interesting specimen of a flower, but I know it is responsible for the plague of mosquitoes and bumper crop of mushrooms we’re having.

Although we haven’t enjoyed being cooped up inside so much lately, the girls and I have enjoyed looking for mushrooms in our neighbors’ yards as we drive.  Yesterday we saw a huge fairy ring!  Oddly enough, a few yards down from this fairy ring, we saw a fairy ring of flowers like the one I’m trying to identify.

What do you make of it?  I’ve searched my favorite wildflower database to no avail.  Although I will be very embarrassed if it turns out to be something I should be able to readily identify, I’ll mainly just be happy to have this mystery solved.  🙂

Hum & Flutter

We had the unique experience on Saturday of attending a hummingbird banding.  A biology professor at a nearby university participates in a study in which hummingbirds are measured, weighed, and banded each year.  Data is collected to determine whether the migrating Ruby Throated Hummingbirds return to the same place each year.  The highlight of the experience was that the girls each got to hold a hummingbird after its data  had been catalogued.  The hummers took off so quickly that I didn’t get a shot of Lulu’s, and I barely got this one of Louise’s:
Louise holding butterfly

After the girls released their birds, the scientists involved took a break, and we wandered over to the cages to watch the professor demonstrate how to catch and hold a hummer:

how to hold a hummingbird
The hostess for this study is the president of our local wildflower society, and her yard and surrounding property show it. She puts a lot of effort into attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to her yard. Every time I visit some place like this, I start dreaming about what we can do in our yard to approximate a city version of such an environment. (Does anyone else suffer with the affliction of “I’m interested in too many different things”?) My favorite shots of the day (aside from some fun ones of the girls around her ponds and in front of her flowers) are of this beautiful butterfly:

 butterfly 1

butterfly 2

butterfly 3

butterfly 4

The zinnias and their visitors were gorgoeus–truly breathtaking! I think this one is a Monarch, at least based upon my quick perusal of National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies .  Steady Eddie’s years of undergraduate biology study are coming in handy for me, finally. 

Sunflower Books and Resources

sunflower in field 2

If you’ve been reading here at Hope Is the Word for very long, you already know a little bit about our sunflower saga (part I, part II, part III).  You also know that not many opportunities go by that I can’t find a book for!  😉  I knew for a couple of weeks that we were going to try to take a field trip to the sunflower patch, so I gathered all the resources I could readily find at the library on one of our weekly trips.  These are the books we read:

Sunflower House, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt, is the story of a family that sows their sunflower seeds in a circle, and the result is their very own sunflower house.  This sweet story details all the fun they have inside this house until the sunflowers begin to droop.  The children attempt to fix the wilting flowers, and failing that, they begin collecting and scattering the seeds against next year’s need for something bright and sunny to brighten their days.  This story contains a hint of foreshadowing which I thought was really neat for a story that is obviously geared to rather young children.  Lulu picked up on the fact that this story is similar in its ending to Miss Rumphius, which was a proud Mama moment.  Highly recommended!

A Handful of Sunshine:  Growing a Sunflower by Melanie Eclare is one of those books that might seem dated pretty quickly because it has actual photographs for its illustrations (thus, clothing and hairstyles are very noticable), but it is in fact the photographs that make this book so good.  This is a large book–about 11 1/2 square inches on the cover–and it contains lots of close-ups.  There are close-ups of the little girl, Tilda, digging her hole for the sunflower seeds, a two-page spread of her planting them, a close-up of the newly sprouted plant, and best of all, the huge sunflower featured on the inside of the front and back covers.  The book even includes a step-by-step pictorial entitled “Growing Instructions” at the end.  This book is especially appropriate for preschoolers due to the age of the little girl in the story and because it is very simply told.

to be like the sunI saved my favorite, which I’ve written about before, for last.  To Be Like the Sun by Susan Marie Swanson is by far the most abstract and poetic of the trio in today’s post, and for that reason I think it might appeal to older children better than the other two.  Its illustrations, though, are very simple, so it is also accessible to the younger set.  I wouldn’t mind adding this one to our collection, I like it so much.

I actually had great plans for some sunflowers this year in our little square foot garden.  However, we ran out of space in the beds, so we ended up planting several seeds in a large flower pot.  As the temperatures, heat indexes (indices?), and humidity soared, I went out into our backyard less and less.  It turns out that we did grow a couple of sunflowers, but I learned a valuable lesson:  these plants must require more growing room than just a flower pot.  These are the two flowers we grew:

sunflower back yard



droopy sunflower back yard

The healthy flower grew to a great height–about a foot taller than I am, and I’m about 5’8″. The poor little droopy one is about eye-level to me.
I have been inspired by reading the Handbook of Nature Study blog, and I was particularly inspired by this post on sunflowers.  Therefore, I have to credit Barb-Harmony Art Mom with clueing me in to The Great Sunflower Project, although once I mentioned it to Steady Eddie, I found out he knew about it all along.  (He is a great untapped source of scientific educational knowledge!)  This looks like something fun for next year.

In Search of Sunflowers Part III

SE & girls walking

While I meandered along, snapping pictures of all the pretty things I saw, Steady Eddie and the girls marched resolutely on in search of sunflowers.  One thing I love about him is his determination–he keeps at something until it’s done.  No sunflowers in sight?  Keep looking! 

Actually, by this time we had figured out that what we had assumed was the observation deck was most definitely not the observation deck; what we saw looming in the distance, however, was.  We had a goal now.  We still hadn’t seen the first hint of a sunflower, but we knew where we were going. 

observation deck view

The view from the deck:  still, no sunflowers in sight.  We had walked a fair distance by this time, and Steady Eddie was technically on his lunch break.  We decided to call it quits and return to our van.  Oh well.  At least we saw some interesting flowers and got a little bit of exercise.  I was beginning to wonder if maybe we had gotten it all wrong, that perhaps we missed the directions entirely.  When we got to the end of the road we had turned on to climb up the observation deck, a pickup truck (pulling a camper, no less) met us, and the driver rolled down his window to ask us about. . . sunflowers.  He had some senior protraits to take, and they had apparently envisioned a huge, lush field of the gigantic beauties, same as us.  Nope, nothing, we said.  He opted to keep on going down the road past the observation deck, while we headed back in the opposite direction.

My gallant husband offered to jog back to the van and drive to pick us up, and we accepted his offer.  The girls were not complaining, but I knew they were hot and tired.  I sure was. 

It was looking like Steady Eddie was going to have to call it a day at work anyway (we had spent probably a good hour and a half on this venture by now), so he decided to follow the lead of the photographer in the pickup truck and drive back in the direction we had been walking.  You already know how this ends. 

sunflower field

While they certainly weren’t what I had in mind, we were tickled to see them.  Only about as tall as Louise, they all hung their heavy heads.  (I’m sure there’s a message in this somewhere.)  

Flowers are miracles, aren’t they?   

sunflower in field

sunflower in field 2

Steady Eddie showed the girls the seeds. 

sunflower in hand

I call that an afternoon well spent, despite the heat.  Taking family outings like this is one of my favorite things to do, and it’s the part of homeschooling I look forward to the most.  I hope we can incorporate a lot of nature study into what we do.

You know that there has to be some books involved in this story somehow.  🙂  Come back on Wednesday to find out!

Bumble Bee’s Passion (In Search of Sunflowers Part II)

purple flower

(Go here to read “In Search of Sunflowers Part I.”)

Our sunflower search continued down that gravel road.  It was a hot day–in the mid-90s, I would guess, in Alabama humidity and full sun.  I was glad to have my camera along, though, because even though the sunflowers were elusive, I saw all sorts of other beautiful and interesting things that made the sweat worthwhile.  The girls had a good time, too–discovering all sorts of treasures, chasing butterflies, etc.–the kind of fun kids can only have when they’re out-of-doors with nothing else to do. 

By far the best thing I photographed on this search was this, some close-ups of a purple passion flower and a visiting bumble bee.  I think these flowers are so pretty and unique looking–sort of like a sea anemone.  I got as close to the bee with my fixed 50 mm lens as I dared . . .

bee 1

bee 2

bee 3

Coming up next week:  In Search of Sunflowers Part III!