Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Welcome Spring with a Nature Walk!

Today was a memorable day.  We were up with the sun...well, my boys were up with the sun.  I was up, when they climbed into bed with me.  We started lessons over pancakes and sausage and finished by lunchtime.  After chores were complete, the boys went outside to play and immediately ran back inside to inform me that it was a beautiful day!  One look out the window proved that fact and the temperature was very nice as well.


Lunch, grilled cheese and tomato soup, was at the picnic table.  Since we were eating al fresco, we decided it was nice enough for a walk.  This would be our first nature walk since Winter's cold weather had established itself.  We were all anxious to see what Winter had done to our trail.


After we cleared away our soup mugs and grabbed our nature journal backpacks, we hit the trail.  We each keep a lightweight backpack packed with our nature journal and colored pencils ready to go at all times, so getting ready for a walk takes very little time.  I could tell that the boys were really excited to be on a walk again.  We don't own the land on which we walk, but we have permission from the owner.  In the Spring, Summer, and Fall, we walk the trail at least once a week, so it feels like it's ours.  Walking it again today was like revisiting an old friend.


Our first discovery was that a tree had fallen across the path and created a neat little bridge to another part of the wild where we rarely explore.  So we ventured into new territory across this God-made bridge.  Signs of new life were everywhere.  I sat and sketched the beginnings of some purple skunk-cabbage plants.  They were truly beautiful.  My youngest son went spe-lunking.  No there are no caves on our nature trail.  He throws large rocks into the nearby creek and listens to them make a "spee-lunk" sound.  And my oldest son came to me and said that he and his brother had found another secret spot by the creek.


We ventured along the creek for a while and then returned to our trail at the "Fairy Tree."  This is a large tree that sits beside an old stone wall.  The roots of this tree are exposed on one side and look like so many little fairy homes in the holes made around the roots.  We said hello to the fairy tree and asked if it missed us this winter.  Then we stopped at our resting spot.  This is an open area under several pine trees.  The ground is soft with inches of pine needles and there are a few fallen logs on which to sit.  We sat and finished adding drawings to our nature journals. 


While the boys were still drawing, I went and leaned against a tree near the creek.  I could hear the water passing over rocks int he low places of the creek.  I could hear birds singing and the occasional car passing in the distance.  I looked up and saw two hawks circling above me.  Their flight was completely silent.  Everything inside me was rejoicing and alive in this beautiful setting.  My mind sang the hymn, "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord." 


We headed back home after about an hour.  Our first true spring day ended with a supper of beans and sausage by a fire in the yard.  As the evening air grew colder we toasted the last of the marshmallows and headed inside.


I love Thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of Thine abode.

The Church our blest Redeemer saved

With His own precious blood. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Month Wall

A few years ago I picked up a stack of bulletin board decorations at a thrift shop.  I think that they were originally used in a church Sunday school room, because there are lots of church images.  August has a symbol for VBS and many of the other months have cute little country churches in the background.  When I bought these signs, I had no idea how I would use them, but now they are an integral part of our family life.


We have what we call the month wall.  Each month, I put the new sign for the month up in a designated spot in the hallway.  Whenever we do something that month, we put the ticket stubs, pamphlet, or bulletin on the wall below that month's sign.  At the end of the month, everything from the month wall goes into a scrapbook right after the ticket stubs, receipts or bulletins from the previous month.


At the end of the year we have a month-by-month overview of what we did as a family that year.  Our tradition is to sit together on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day and review the activities of the previous year.  We spend time saying, "Remember how fun your cousin's musical was this year?"  "How about that trip to the museum!"  "Oh, I forgot we spent that day in the mountains!"  It's a great way to remember all of the fun we had as a family.


This week when we returned  from our field trip to Easton my nine-year-old reminded me to put the stickers we wore at the Crayola Factory Experience on our "March Wall".  This, I'm sure, is a family tradition that he will pass to his children.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Field Trip: Crayola Factory

I've changed my background to this blog for a very special reason!  We've been on a field trip!  We took a drive to Easton, PA to visit Crayola Factory Experience.  What a great time!!  Using directions from the web site, we very easily found the building and the parking garage.  Since it was a long drive for us, our first stop was the nice clean restrooms located just beyond the entrance.  Then my husband headed for the registration desk.  After paying our entrance fee, he was handed a stack of gold coins.  These coins can be used in the Factory Experience floor to purchase Crayola items from fun vending machines.  As Todd was paying the entrance fee and getting our entrance stickers to wear, the boys sited a "hands-on" area and went to explore.  This area explained different attractions around the Easton area and had displays with gears and levers that piqued the boys' interest. 


From here, we headed to the next floor to Crayola Factory Experience.  As you reach the top of the stairs, you are bombarded with color and sound!  It was so much fun!  We just moved from area to area.  At each stop there were crafts to make, paints to use, glue to put on paper, sculptures and magnets and markers. Oh my!  We all made lots of crafts that we placed into our plastic handle bags.  We painted with melted crayons, used finger paints and a cool heat dryer, made family trees, wrote on a large glass wall, observed a beautiful folk-art display by various artists, danced in a special room that provided a large screen that turned your body into color, and sculpted, just to name a few activities.


And the gold coins?  Well, the boys each bought a marker from a vending machine, but then they found that they could turn each coin in for a sample bag of Crayola Model Magic.  EVERY one of their remaining gold coins went to model magic.  My budding sculptors made their own souveniers!


After touring the entire 2nd floor we headed off to the third floor which is the Canal Museum.  Right now, most of this museum is under construction and will be VERY cool when it's completed.  It will include a working canal where the children can choose a boat, put it into the water and operate the locks to move it along.  We'll have to return to Easton to explore the Canal museum next year.  There was one room open and the boys dressed up in period costume, sat on a replica train engine and operated a train's light as well as a model train.


Our time at the Factory Experience lasted almost 3 hours!  But of course, we had to visit the Crayola gift store.  We loaded up on glue sticks and crayons (a box of 120) and headed to our hotel.


The hotel was the highlight of my youngest son's experience.  We stayed at a Comfort Inn just below Hamburg, PA.  The hotel had an indoor pool and we went swimming 3 times in one overnight stay!  We also enjoyed their wonderful continental breakfast before headed to Cabela's in Hamburg for a few hours.


We love Cabela's.  It is like visiting a museum, not a store.  Our highlights are the walk-through aquarium and the safari room with more animal mounts than I can list!


Our trip was over much too fast, but my husband has already said that it will be an annual event.  While driving to Easton, we saw lots and lots of billboards and exit signs with attractions we will visit in future years.  This will be a memory builder for years!

Friday, March 17, 2006

home school home

I used to say that my home was decorated in "early yard sale".  I have a very ecclectic style, which not only shows through in how I decorate, but now it also shows through in our little home school.


If you would enter our little home in the country today, you would see remnants of learning in every room.  Right now as I sit at the living room PC and type to you, there are loops from the pot holder weaving loom in a pile on the floor; some leftover fabric from the masks the boys were making yesterday; legos, legos, and more legos; and stacks of library books on the coffee table, mostly science project books.  In the kitchen, there are clay sculptures waiting to be colored; ASL ABC cards hanging on the wall behind the kitchen table; finished pot holders from the weaving loom and still more of the loops!  In our little-tiny bathroom is a 3 foot long rubber lizard that has been soaking in a 5 gallon bucket (this lizard started off about 6 inches long); and funnels, buckets and cups in the bathtub.  The boys' room is a science project just waiting to explode!  There you will find more legos, two guinea pigs, a rat, and lots and lots of books.


So, Ladies Home Journal it is not.  But it's home and it's a comfortable environment for my guys to learn about whatever their heart desires.  We do have somewhat structured lessons almost daily, but we also have lots of spontaneous learning going on throughout the house.  Sometimes, I don't notice the spontaneous stuff as much because I've already logged the official learning for the day.  Living in PA, I have to keep a log of their lessons.  This can sometimes feel like bondage.  I've got to learn to teach to my boys and not to the portfolio that needs to be turned in at the end of the year.


Maybe someday, my living room will be coordinated and organized with no projects scattered on the end tables...nah... I like it this way much better, legos and all.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006


One of my favorite places is Abundant Blessings Thrift Store in Mifflintown, PA.  On Friday nights, from 5:00 to 8:00 PM they have a half-price sale which I frequent.  But, alas, I have decided to give up thrift store shopping for Lent.  Each member of my little family has chosen to give up something for the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  We are saving the money we would have spent on our sacrifice, for instance the money I would have spent at my various Thrift Store haunts, and donating it to our church building fund on Easter Sunday.   We are working our way through the book "Family Countdown to Easter" for our lenten period.  Although we don't go to a church that really acknowledges the lenten season, I look on it as I do Advent before Christmas.  Lent is a time to prepare our hearts for rejoicing at Easter.  Lent is a time to really reflect and draw closer to our Lord and acknowledge the sacrifice of His Son for our sin.


I learned a few things about Lent last week when my mother asked about its origins.  Originally acknowledged by the Roman Catholic church, Christians gave up many rich foods and the ingredients therein, such as eggs, milk, and butter.  Meats and poultry were also avoided during this 40-day period that was a church-recognized fasting time.  Some say that the roots of this time-period came because it was when winter stores were getting low or there was a need to use up what was left so that it wouldn't spoil.  Therefore it was almost a natural time of fasting.  The fasting was a tool to remind the believer of all that was sacrificed when Jesus willingly laid down His life on the cross.


I grew up in a church that didn't acknowledge a Lenten period.  But our Easter week was the most spiritually moving time of my year.  I have yet to find a church that celebrates Easter like Highspire First Church of God's Easter week services.  On the Wednesday before Easter we had a baptismal service. It was the one time of year that the lid on the baptismal was lifted and many young people (including myself) were sunk below the water to be raised up into eternal life.  Then on Thursday, the Maundy Thursday service included communion and feet washing.  If you had been baptized the evening before, this was the first time you could participate in either of these special times in church-life.  I have vivid memories as a young child of following my mother and paternal grandmother to the back of the adult Sunday School Room  where chairs were arranged in a circle with basins and towels placed at every other chair.  I sat behind Grandma and watched the ladies slip of their shoes and hosiery and sit in that circle.  As they sang hymns accapella, one woman would kneel before another and wrap a towel around her waist.  As she lifted another's foot into a basin of warm water and lovingly scooped water from her own hand to bathe the foot of another, I could see Jesus.  In fact, I could hear Him in their hymns.  I could feel Him in the room.  It was the most sacred time of my life.  After feet washing, the men and women would meet again in the church sanctuary for communion. 


On Good Friday, Highspire observed this day with a community church service.  This service rotated to each of the four churches in town.  It was in the afternoon, which disrupted a day-off from school, but looking back to that time, it accented the importance of this week in preparation for Easter.  On Saturday morning, the church women had a sacrificial breakfast.  First, there was some sort of presentation by the women, usually of the Easter story, in verse, special readings or scriptures.  After that brief service, we all walked across to the Sunday school room where long tables were set in the shape of a cross.  A large arm chair draped in purple with a crown of thorns stood empty at the top of the cross.  As we all took our places at seats around the table, we received red juice and a hot cross bun as our breakfast.  All was comsumed in silence.  The morning ended when the pastor's wife beginning at the foot of the cross, walked to the head singing "The Old Rugged Cross."


On Easter Sunday, we arose at 5:30 for the Sunrise Service, usually held outside.  The Youth had charge of this service and, afterward, our reward was a home cooked southern breakfast made by the Pastor's wife.  Then we headed home to find our Easter baskets before returning in a few short hours for Sunday School and church.  During the Easter worship service, we sang all of the best Easter hymns, raising our voices to the rooftops, "Up from the grave He arose" and "He Lives!  He Lives!  Christ Jesus lives today!"


That was my Lent.   It wasn't Forty days.  It was Five days.  But it was the most special Five days of my year.  This year, we are spending time as a family to prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday.  We began tonight by holding our own Ash Wednesday service around the kitchen table.  We wrote down one area in which we would like to improve, prayed aloud about that area, and then burnt our slip of paper.  It was such a special evening to hear how God convicted the hearts of my young men, as well as myself and my husband.  Our little service was a perfect start to a focused Lenten season.


If you haven't observed Lent, consider it.  Pray about taking on a special task during the next 40 days.  Maybe it will be reading a book concerning a spiritual discipline, or completing a devotional.  Lent could be the time you choose to commit to a consistant quiet time each morning.  Whatever you choose, observe a special season to prepare you for Easter.  When Easter Sunday arrives, you will be blessed for your effort.