Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring ramblings: my inner naturalist coming out

On days when I can steal an hour or so and my allergies aren't too bad, I've been touring our local parks for exercise and mental recharging. Sometimes I have a kid with me, but a lot of the time I'm alone, and I like it that way. Still, many of the things I see I would like to share because it all carries so much wonder for me. All it takes is the willingness to look around and take notice, and amazing things start popping out at you. It sometimes it also helps to know a little bit about the plants and animals in the area so that you know what you are looking at though.

Spring is a great big reproductive frenzy in North Carolina. Pollen is flying and flowers are blooming. Ornamental flowers are beautiful, of course, but I tend to value the quieter woodland flowers more... the ones you have to go out of your way to notice. They don't always jump out at you, but they are there never-the-less, like shy little beauties all the more beautiful because they are native and we didn't make them that way. 

Here is an example: the azaleas in front of our house. I love it when they bloom each Spring, but look as this Pinkshell azalea I found in the woods. Our cultivars come from native flowers like this. To me it's like the difference between a gaudy hooker and an elegant young lady, though this one was pretty gaudy.

 Trumpet honeysuckle is a native vine, unlike the pinkish Japanese honeysuckle (an introduced exotic) that is everywhere. The hummingbirds who have just returned to our area a week ago love to feed on flowers like this and this one was an unexpected splash of red in the forest. 

Magnolias are a common tree in the south, a wonderful remnant from millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the area. The Frasier magnolia is more common in the mountains, but we have small pockets of mountainous species in our area. Hemlock Bluffs is a small Town park preserved from development just for this reason. There are hemlock trees there, left over from the last ice age, and apparently also Frasier magnolias. Going to the same places throughout the year, I continually notice things I had never noticed before and these trees are one of those things. I just noticed them last week, even though I have walked that same trail at least 30 times. They bloomed a couple of days before I took this picture. Sadly, I didn't have my camera at that time. The flowers are like those of the Southern Magnolia, but smaller and thinner... daintier. This tree is also called the umbrella tree because the leaf whorls are like big umbrellas.

That particular walk was really wonderful. Looking at the new greenery more closely, look at what I noticed! A green pitcher plant hiding in plain sight! 

Walking further along the trail, it occurred to me that it sounded like it was raining. Small things were falling from the trees, but the skies were clear. It took me a minute to figure it out. Looking at the tops of some leaves I noticed small black pellets. Next I noticed that many of the leaves were looking pretty eaten up. Then I saw them. It was an army of inchworms eating the new growth as fast as they could manage and pooping it out just as quickly! 

I believe this was an elderberry tree in bloom. Again, a small, little known understory tree. Showing off just a little bit each year. 

 My walk ended on a really high note, though I realize for many it would have been a bit scary if you are not a fan of snakes. Looking around the park patio area, I was searching for the resident copperhead. In years past, this large and beautiful specimen has been spotted hiding in plain sight just off the walkway. The weather was warm, so I thought he might be hanging out. I like to challenge myself to find him, even though his camouflage is so good I could be looking right at him and not see him. I didn't see him, but I did find not just one, but two, three foot long black rat snakes. 

This beautiful guy was just off the patio in plain sight. Three other people passed me while I was  looking at him and didn't even see him. The second one was near the parking lot. Again, overlooked by all who just don't bother to look. 


trout lily

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Geography Fair 2013

We had our annual Geography Fair last night. I posted about this even last year here. It's a big deal in our house because my kids just love it and I've become the organizer for this event, so it keeps me busy for a while each Spring! 
It is an event where families (or individual kids) can choose a country to study, study whatever they want about it, and share what they have learned in the form of a table display. Tri-fold displays are common as are various building and map creations, videos, art work, costumes... whatever their creativity leads them too. People also bring ethnic foods, which I think is probably the favorite thing with the kids. 

This year, my daughter chose to do South Korea. Since she wanted to do an international theme for her birthday party, we combined some of the work and used some things for both. For instance, she wanted me to make a Korean hanbock for her to wear. I did manage it (a victory for this non-sewer!!) and she happily wore it to both events. She tends to be very hung-ho about these things, so she got to work and had her display done a month in advance.

My son has a little more trouble with these things. He's not very motivated, and even if he comes up with ideas, he has trouble implementing them without a great deal of help and direction from me. He chose to do Liechtenstein this year. It was hard finding a great deal of information on such a tiny country, but in the end I think he had a decent display and learned a few things. The whole point of this, of course, is to learn some stuff and try to have fun in the process. Sharing it with others is also a valuable skill.

The hardest part for me was helping them implement their ethnic food choices. My daughter chose to make Chapssalddeok, which is a Korean version of Japanese mochi. Is it sweet rice flour balls stuffed with red bean paste. This seemed like a pretty good choice, but it look us a day and a half to make, and that was after soaking and cooking the beans ahead of time for two days. The bean mush had to be ground up and cooked down on the stove, and then the rice flour needed to be steamed. This took us several tries to get it right. In the end, they weren't bad, but I don't think I'll be doing that again soon!

For Liechtenstein, we decided to make Käsknöpfle, which is kind of like Liechtensteiner mac and cheese. Simple, right? Well, we got started pretty easily, but not having the proper tools for noodle making, I spent the next two hours trying to force really rubbery dough through a grater into boiling water. Needless to say my arms were sore and my hand was well steamed by the time I was done! I wouldn't let Noah do it because he didn't have the strength and I didn't want him to get burnt.

It was a lot of work, but it turned out to be a great event I think! There were a great many wonderful displays and I am always amazed by the creativity and energy of the kids and families that take part. We had a quiz of questions, one from each display. Kids who wanted a prize had to go around and try to answer questions. In this way they were given an extra incentive to really look at the information presented and maybe learn something new. Smaller kids were given the option to collect stamps in a "passport" booklet for a prize. One dad suggested that I do a map next year instead of the Passport and let the little kids put their stamps on the map. That seemed like a great idea, and I may do just that!

Here are a few pictures from the event... (some people chose to be outside the box with particular places and things).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Poems, Poems Everywhere

Did you know that it is National Poetry Month? I would have been clueless about this if the people around me hadn't been supporting it, and boy are we getting poetry everywhere! Our local libraries are doing a Teen Poetry Contest. They also had a "Poetree", which my daughter just loved coming in and contributing to on the spot.

Also, a great fellow homeschool mom we know (her own blog is here) is challenging my middleschooler to post some poems in the library contest, do a "Poem in your Pocket" day on April 18 (you select a favorite poem, copy it down and keep in in your pocket all day, and take it out and read it to people) AND to also do the "Dear Poet" project. In this project, kids take a little time to get to know some contemporary poets and then write them a letter. All of this and more can be found at the Academy of American Poets website.

As if that weren't enough, our art teacher has paired up with some local poets to have the kids read and share their own poems and accompanying art to each other and then meet and hear from a panel of published adult poets at a poetry reading this Sunday. The topic is "surrealism" and it will be the first time we have ever been to anything like that and we are all very much looking forward to it. Even my son, a generally reluctant creator, seems to have come up with a great poem he wants to share.

Finally, while I am on the topic of poetry, I'd like to share some of our favorite poetry books.

By far, my daughters favorite is a collection of poems by Barefoot Books called The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems . This has some really nice drawings and a wide selection of famous poems. My daughter decided one day to memorize "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll and now both of my kids know it by heart. That, I believe, is the beauty of spontaneous inspiration!

There are some fun little books we have also found in the library. One of my favorites is called "Dogku" by Andrew Clements. This is a little book of haikus from the perspective of a dog. Great for young kids.

Oops! is a book of poems that is very funny and a lot of fun. It's by Alan Katz. Here's a sample:

No Eggs - Aggeration!
I'm writing a love song
to eggs.
They don't have eyes,
they don't have legs.
They cannot sing,
they cannot dance.
You cannot keep them in your pants.
But they're my friends,
is what I've rambled.
I love them so...
especially scrambled!

Scholastic has a series of books called "Poetry for Young People". There are separate books with poems from Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Lewis Carroll, Robert Browning, Edward Lear and more. Although these aren't as beautiful as the Barefoot book we love, they are a good safe accessible collection for young kids. 

Finally, how could I not mention Shel Silverstein? I especially love Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook.

Runny Babbit lent to wunch
And heard the saitress way,
"We have some lovely stabbit rew --
Our Special for today."...

So if you say, "Let's bead a rook
That's billy as can se,"
You're talkin' Runny Babbit talk,
Just like mim and he.

What did I forget? If you have some favorite poems, share them! It'll be a great way to celebrate National Poetry Month!