Thursday, May 31, 2007

Plants I added to the garden

After saying how much I loved my established yard and garden, I thought I'd put down what I've added since we moved in--just to show that although I appreciate what's already here, I have no intention of stagnating!

We have a flagstone path leading to the front patio, and in the fall I planted mums, purple and yellow. I also planted bulbs--daffodils, crocus and phlox. These I put around the small Bradford pear tree that is by the street, around the magnolia in front of the patio, and in front of the row of azaleas that also border the front patio. Some of the daffodil bulbs were also put by the back fence, but our dog, Sophie, trampled them a lot and only a few came up this year. In the spring I added Sweet Williams along the path in shades of red, pink and white, and at the top of the path on either side of the steps I planted a "cutting garden"--a variety pack of flowers that are supposed to be easy to grow and bloom all summer. They are growing, but no flowers yet.

Gifts: when we moved in our friends Liz and Peter gave us a beautiful rhododendron with smaller flowers than usual, which we planted in the side yard in front of the fence. My parents brought us a pine tree seedling (which we call the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree) to plant and watch grow along with the kids, which we planted at the front of the house. Matt and the kids gave me a clematis vine Mother's Day 2006, which we saved in the pot until we moved, then planted next to the front patio so we can train it up over the front door arbor. My sister Susan gave me a hydrangea this Mother's Day, which we planted in the ivy next to the front steps. My parents gave me more Sweet Williams and marigolds this past Mother's Day, which also went around the pear tree, and for my birthday this year Matt enclosed a packet of red geraniums which I planted in front of the ivy in the front. Finally, I bought myself a lilac bush because I've ALWAYS wanted lilacs in my yard, which I planted next to the rhododendrons in the back yard.

Front window boxes: I loved the huge window box that is on the front patio, outside the living room window, but it was empty when we moved in. At first I put a pot of mums (dark red) that my brother and sister-in-law brought on their first visit to our home--but I was so busy that I didn't plant them, so they withered. Knowing mums are very tough, I put them into the perennial garden and hope to see them again this fall. After they croaked, I got official and went off to Agway, where I got masses of pansies in purples, yellows, orange and cream, and filled the space up with those. I also got three small heather plants to mix in, because they stay pretty through the winter. The pansies actually bloomed through January, died in February--but came back in April and are still breathtaking. This spring when we visited a favorite farm I found big bowls of pansies on sale, so I got two and put them on either side of the front steps.

Side yard: we planted some blueberry bushes amongst the roses, and they are forming berries as we speak! Yum! I chose the side yard very specifically; we feed birds in the front and back with feeders, so blueberries there would just be giving them away. Our chickens live in the back yard, and so do the children: blueberry bushes would also be picked bare by them. I figured in the side yard the kids and the birds would have a harder time remembering them and I might actually get to make some muffins or jam before they're all eaten...

Back yard: I planted catnip under the maple tree, although it hasn't come back--maybe not till summer? I know it's a weed. I planted poppies in the small garden by the back shed, but I must admit I didn't realize how much was planted there--irises, mint, Montauk daisies--and they may never come up. My big project in the back was extending the perennial garden to include vegetables and herbs. Because I did it piecemeal (as I bought seeds/seedlings), I turned it over using a trowel, making it about a foot wider along one side and the bottom--I would estimate this as about 15 feet, maybe as much as 20 (I'm not very good at distances, though!). I planted basil, lemon thyme, garlic chives, more poppies, tomatoes--two kinds of grape and beefsteak hybrids--peas, gourmet beans--green, wax and purple--bush cucumbers, yellow peppers, eggplant and watermelon. Unfortunately for us I think our chickens killed one of the pepper plants and the watermelon plant, but we'll see what happens.... Other than that, the lilacs and daffodils I already mentioned are the only other things I put in the back yard.

I'm including a photo of the lilacs (more purple!), which I'm happy to see are starting to bloom--I've read that often they don't bloom for the first few years after they're planted. Wow--writing it all down shows me just how much I have planted. Wonder what will be next?



Just thought I'd post a tip. It isn't new, by any means, but it's something we never actually tried and the kids were entranced, especially Emma, who can't blow proper bubbles yet. She's always frustrated because she either blows too gently, not into the bubble wand, too hard (which breaks the bubble before it can come out of the wand), or sucks air which doesn't form a bubble at all.

I poured bubble soap into a bowl--we buy it at Target in a 128 oz. bottle for $2.99, rather than getting the tiny bottles-- and then the kids dipped fly swatters in. By waving them in the air, you get masses of tiny bubbles, blobs of bubbles, and in general make the air full of them. Emma kept shrieking, "It's snowing!" while she did it. It was lots of fun, and when we were done I rinsed the swatters with the hose and put them in the sun to dry.


Purple flowers

If I ever doubted that we chose the right house, this spring and all the purple flowers would have erased them! This is our first spring here--we moved last August, in 2006--and one of the reasons I loved this house was the yard. The lady who had lived here since 1950 was an avid gardener, and I am just learning, so to come from a house with a wooded lot, a patchy (to put it kindly!) lawn, and every weed and poison ivy vine known to man to the home of a gardener was a real bonus for me. Flowering trees (a pink magnolia, three white dogwoods, a Bradford pear), roses, a perennial garden, forsythia, rhododendron and azaleas, ivy with a border of violets in front, a clothesline pole draped with a huge clematis vine, beautifully shaped shrubs all over the property, and maybe most of all, nice grass, all drew me here. But this spring is when I am finally getting to see everything bloom and grow. And I had no idea so many of the flowers would be purple, one of my favorite colors! Just look and see.....


Daily Quote

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fairies Galore

This is a poem that Julia wrote for Mothers' Day. Mom loved it, and we hope that you will, too!

Fairies Galore

Fairies Galore,
fairies galore
fairies on the ceiling,
fairies on the floor,
fairies in the icebox,
fairies by the door,
fairies that are rich,
fairies that are poor.
fairies that are rich (not doing any chores!)
fairies that drink, fairies that pour,
fairies galore,
fairies galore.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Yummies that Rachel made

I should have posted this yesterday but I was too busy....that's the way it's going to be--you'll have me post several times in one day when I'm in the mood, and then there'll be nothing.

Yesterday Rachel was really industrious. She made us macaroni and cheese (from scratch) for lunch, using the leftover grilled hot dogs from Memorial Day as well, which the kids really love. I like it too because hot dogs and mac & cheese was a favorite meal when I was a kid, and also because when you have 4 kids and 7 leftover hot dogs, there'll be a fight if they aren't sliced into something!

As if that wasn't enough, she then decided to make cookies for dessert, and they turned out great. She used the recipe that Matt adapted from the bag of chocolate chips, but she used half chocolate chips and half butterscotch chips. YUM!
Here's the recipe:

Matt's Chocolate Chip Cookies:

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tb. rum
1 tb. vanilla
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1-2 tbs. molasses (corn syrup will do, but not as well)
2 cups chocolate chips (she used 1 cup chocolate and 1 cup of butterscotch, as mentioned)

Cream butter and sugars thoroughly. Add vanilla, rum and eggs; mix well. Beat in soda, salt and some flour. Keep adding flour, then molasses to restore good consistency. Stir in chips.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 375 for 7-9 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen.



Daily Quote

I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.

--Dwight D. Eisenhower

The end of another homeschool year

The hardest thing about homeschooling is the month of June! (Well, maybe not THE hardest, but really, one of the hardest....) We homeschool during the regular school year; i.e., September through June. We take some of the holidays that schooled kids have, usually the ones Matt doesn't have to go to work for. Then there are some days that we have no lessons or half days--days that we have a field trip or a club activity that will take a lot of time. I figure the kids are learning at least as much as kids sitting in school are on those days, and since we don't take the silly holidays off, we get the right number of school days.

Anyway, in September all is fresh and new. New notebooks beg to be written in, freshly sharpened pencils want to write in them, and the routine is new and exciting. The kids bounce to the table, ready to start learning. Then there's all the holiday excitement, where we incorporate fun activities such as decorating, shopping, cooking, gift wrapping, holiday specials, movies and parties into the lesson plan. We take our annual trip the week after Thanksgiving to Boston, where my husband has a business trip each year. We have our own traditions, such as burning a fire on the winter solstice where we gather a bunch of sticks and tie them with a ribbon, break it in half and throw half on the fire and leave the other half (and the ribbon) on the mantel for a few months. As we watch it burn, we make wishes for the new year and hope they'll come true.

The long, cold winter days are great for homeschooling. There's no bus to catch, no awful weather to be out in if we don't choose to, and we can stay in pjs till noon, reading and doing lessons. The little ones play and have their TV time so that we have quiet in which to work. The drowsy days are great for learning.

Then spring starts to show, and everyone begins to get antsy. The routine is just a routine. The girls look forward to what they'll be doing next year, hoping that it will somehow be "more exciting" than what they're learning now. We plant the garden, watch the birds return, ride bikes and go back to the playgrounds, and the last thing anyone wants is to sit at the table and do work. I find myself reminding the girls in mantra-like fashion that if they went to school they'd be sitting for 6 hours or so with just little breaks, not for just 2 hours or so. They couldn't drink lemonade or do work on the patio, or take a break to play with the dog--all of the things they take for granted while learning.

The garden grows taller, the flowers burst into bloom, and all of a sudden we get a day warm enough for the beach. That's it! We either hurry through school work in the morning or shelve it till tomorrow, and head to the ocean. I, of course, want nothing more to do with the water at 65-70 degrees than to dip my feet in it. Then I rush back to my chair and burrow my feet into the warm sand, while the kids gleefully frolic in the freezing water like tiny lunatics. They are freezing but won't admit it. I have to watch each one do their age-appropriate tricks in the water, sometimes over and over. I bring a book or magazine but never read more than 4 sentences uninterrupted. We have snacks, drinks, and I have my travel mug of coffee. It's almost always one of the best days of the year, that first trip to the beach....

Now my lesson plans fall off, and rather than spending hours at Border's, meticulously going through materials and planning a calendar for each child, complete with marking my calendar with lists of materials and supplies I might have to find/buy to complete a lesson, I make lesson plans a week ahead, sitting at the table while Julia works on Language Arts or math. When Julia finished her Language Arts text on May 20, I didn't bother planning any more except for having her read 30 minutes a day (though she would do that anyway--but for this I assign the books). I figure she has gone through 2 separate Language Arts programs, and this is only 2nd grade....

Julia's schedule now is: a lot of math, so that she will finish up her math program by June 15. French three times a week--we use the BBC website, which has a cute free program with songs, cartoonish characters, games and printable activities that teach the basics--vocabulary words, numbers, how are you, my name is, etc. The aforementioned reading each day, and once a week a book report on one of the books she read. Right now she's into books by Dick King Smith--he wrote the book "Babe, The Gallant Pig," but also many other really good stories. Then I took out "What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know" book, and each day we're going through the Social Studies section. That is the only area that we were sketchy on this year, because I didn't buy a book for Social Studies but instead used regular books as springboards. I enjoy doing that, but it can leave gaps....

Rachel has more to do, being in sixth grade. She still has a lot of history left to do, as those Story of the World books tend to go for 40-42 weeks. She still has math and because her Language Arts program was writing a novel, she works on that pretty much every day. She also does French several times a week. Both girls are finished with their science programs, and Rachel also finished Health and a book we used called Web Hunts, which covered many subjects and involved doing research/projects online.

My point being, many subjects are over, and for the rest, it's easy to be lackadaisical when the weather is so beautiful and the kids are having fun getting outside and running around. (I think that I have unusual kids in that they don't go out regardless of the weather. Some kids--I was one of them--wanted to be outside every day, whether it was raining, cold, windy, snowing, whatever. Just for a change, just to run around. My kids are like cats. They see a lousy day and would rather just play inside. It's fine, but after a whole winter, it gets kind of wearing....)

As for me, I can understand, because I too am tired of the books we're using and can't wait to pick new ones and plan another year. It's exciting to be in charge of what my kids learn about and to hunt down the materials I think will teach them the most and be the most fun. I get into the back-to-school spirit as much as my daughters do, and next year---GASP----Ben will begin kindergarten. So now I have 3 kids to plan for and to keep interested all year. Even in June......


Sunday, May 27, 2007


Well, this is the first post on Eager Beavers!

We are a family on Long Island who homeschool. There are 4 kids: Rachel (11), Julia (7), Ben (4 1/2), and Emma (2 1/2.) We have a large assortment of animals, from snails to chickens. They are a lot of work, but we are happy (especially since the chickens produce eggs for us!)

I, Rachel, am in sixth grade, and my younger sister, Julia is in second grade. I love being homeschooled and would never have it any other way. Come fall, my brother, Ben, will start kindergarten. He is very excited about that! We play 'School' often with him, and he loves every minute of it. I make worksheets for him, and he is even starting to read.

Well, that's it for now. We'll post again soon!

~The Eager Beavers

Daily Quote

"There are only 2 ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

-Albert Einstein