This spring has been all about chasing sunshine, growing green things, and avoiding floodwaters. Since moving to Walden we’ve been attempting to create something closer to Thoreau’s version than the golf cart variety of Houston… But mostly we’ve been tackling our Classifications of Living Things, getting our kitchen garden going, learning to fish, and dipping our toes into the world of museum membership at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Kiddo helped me plant teeny tiny tomato plants, acorn squash seeds, cucumbers, and green onions. Marigolds galore, mints, parsley, basil, lemon balm. We’ve got lots of blooms for the butterflies and the hummingbirds, a variety of lilies, roses, and snapdragons. We’re in love with our little patch.
All this, but we’re not yet living the heaven of the picture book we just discovered this week: On Meadowville Street by Henry Cole; because, frankly, I want my backyard to look like this:
How cool would it be if everyone’s back yard looked a little bit more like this? Ponds, birds, trees, overgrown grass and wildflowers… yes, please.
We also fell in love a little with Bees, Snails, and Peacock Tails. Kiddo is pretty fascinated with bees, so even while surrounded by gorgeous butterflies around the world in the Cockrell Butterfly Center, she finds the bee hive and watches them the most.
So now that spring has passed and summer is upon us, we’ve burned up all the vacation days I possibly could trekking around, established our garden, and purchased a fishing license for my days off.
Fishing mostly looks like kiddo playing with a pole, naming earth worms, sinking our toes in mud, and me lounging lazily in the sun, but we pretend we care about catching things – sometimes.
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. It is what it sounds like: a memoir about an out of control woman who strays. It could very easily be placed in the same category of Eat, Pray, Love, by my Christian counterparts especially, but somehow I can’t lump the two together. As a writer, Cheryl has more Bill Bryson (author of A Walk in the Woods) qualities than Elizabeth Gilbert ones.
Cheryl is lost, inappropriate, cheats on her wonderful husband, divorces, does heroine, has almost a complete disregard for herself while simultaneously worshipping her own wants. It should not make for a good read. But somehow it does.
Cheryl doesn’t relish in these moments. She doesn’t glorify them or justify them, she just tells her life how it was, and how she discovered that being comfortable in your own skin, alone, in the wilderness, can be just the provision a lost soul needs. She doesn’t abandon a marriage for a grand tour and love affair with an air of flippant disregard- instead she tells a story of how when you have a huge hole in your heart you drown yourself and everyone around you.
Though the Pacific Crest Trail is long and grueling, Cheryl’s book about her trek is not. She is down to earth, shockingly honest, clever and witty about her past ignorances, and leaves you feeling a sense of hope for not just yourself, but for everyone who struggle.
Author: Susan Hood
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Genre: Picture Book
Ay, caramba!, we just read this before bed this evening and we love it! First off, I’m a sucker for an axolotl. I discovered them about two years ago when an avid reddit surfer sent me some images they had found. Strange but cute creatures are kind of our thing, and an axolotl definitely fits the bill.
I remember thinking there should be a picture book about them. I love kids picture books featuring the odd ducks of the planet and offer educational value at the end of the story. I have tons of them lined up in my head that I haven’t written yet. My favorite thing about Hood’s book is that she incorporates Spanish words through out the story and the last few pages include research about the creatures who made an appearance. There’s so much educational value to this book and I can’t wait to own a copy. (We read from a library book.)
Referred to as a water-monster by the Aztecs, I was introduced to these tiny creatures as Mexican Walking Fish. Either way, they are super cute, come in all different colors, and if ever there was an animal worthy of a picture book it would be this one.
I absolutely adore Melissa Sweet’s illustrations. They are bright and spunky and the kiddo was riveted by each and every page. Sweet captured the essence of the story with care and finesse and I look forward to seeing more of her illustrations on picture books in the future.
We are kind of in love with our librarians at this “new” library branch. We loved our librarians at the old house, don’t get me wrong, but these ones have definitely weaseled their way into our hearts. Case and point – there’s this adorable seasonal bin one of the children’s librarians puts together, and of course, we find the *best* things there.
This week, it was Flip, Float, Fly and Strega Nona’s Harvest, both perfect stories to read during planting season. Flip, Float, Fly talks about seeds and how they work, blowing dandelions, and the nature of sticker burrs and such. Strega Nona, of course, in Tomie dePaola typical fashion, covers not just gardening season – but an entire culture of a family and their village and what fresh vegetables can mean to people. (More typically, the nature of their rituals to ensure that they get an abundance of these fresh vegetables.)
Of course, when we’re not reading and planting ourselves… we’re out and about playing in creeks and inspecting the forest.
Author: William Agosta
Publisher: Helix Books * Addison-Welsey Publishing Company
Genre: Science/ Nature
Length: 224 pages
It started because I realized I had used the word “pheromone” one too many times during every day discussions that week. It seemed from a biological standpoint my nose – and my whole body really – was on high alert. I could smell EVERYTHING. Which happens more often than I’d like. And not normal smells like the fast food restaurants when you drive by or someone’s overbearing perfume. It’s not even the homeless guy that comes into work from time to time. He’s odorous, don’t get me wrong, but those aren’t the smells I tend to notice.
I smell clean skin a lot. And not the soap that was used, just skin. I tend to pick up on not the typical overly sweaty man on a jog, but the very subtle clammy sort of sweat that someone gets when they are thinking too hard or are wearing the shirt they slept in. I can smell my daughter’s little curls – not the shampoo, not the preschooler desperately needs a bath smell, but HER smell. Obviously, I have a word and a basic gist of why humans respond to these smells (whether they are aware of them or not), but I wanted to know more.
The library has NOTHING on people. So beetles it was.
And Agosta is fascinating. I love this book and plan to purchase it for kiddo to read for a biology course when she’s older. It’s smooth reading, has a lot of information, and has taught me something new about a subject I was already interested in (nudibranchs) that I wasn’t aware was going to be included in this title. Agosta goes over caterpillars and butterflies, discusses spiders and their silk, and even talks about plants, opium, and medicinal remedies.
Definitely loved every word and page and am now moving onto Wyatt’s Pheromones and Animal Behavior. Pipe in if you’re interested in a discussion.
Author/Illustrator: Lori Nichols
I would have gotten this review up earlier in the week except every time I pick it up to look at it the kiddo stops me and says, “Oh Mommy, read it again, it’s so beautiful.”
So we’ve read this on repeat all week and have yet to put a line down about it anywhere.
We love that the girls are named after trees. We love that they spend 90% of the story outside. We love that they are sweet, sweet, but realistic sisters.
The girls play outside making fairy gardens and blowing dandelions – something we do a lot of. Collecting worms is also a household specialty; kiddo once delivered earth worms to my sister’s kitchen table and insisted they have lunch along with her and her cousins. My sister was none too thrilled about this and sent kiddo and the worms back outside where they belonged.
We love how familiar the girls’ lifestyle is, how much these aspects of their lives are in fact the best parts of childhood. We love… well, we simply love everything about them. Kiddo has asked that I buy this one for our collection, as we picked this up at the library. We will do just that as soon as I find it. We’ll purchase the other books in the series as well.
Title: Swirl By Swirl
Authors: Beth Krommes & Joyce Sidman
Genre: Picture Book / Educational
We actually read this one quite a bit ago, I was hoping to review it when I finally got around to purchasing it, but I can’t wait any longer. It’s too wonderful to keep under wraps any longer and it has been an inspiration to my kiddo who now draws swirls and “round ups” into all her artwork.
The book is all about finding math in nature. About how snails, flowers, and everything have mathematical patterns that create functional things we can see. It first page by page identifies all these things… spider webs, tendrils on foliage, the curls of animals’ tails, etc.
Then, it explains the how and why of it all.
Kiddo’s eye lit up at the end of the book every time (we had to read it over and over again before we turned it back into the library). My four year old’s mind was blown.
Since moving away from our beloved Timberlane Estates, we’ve been in dire need for nature. Especially with this winter we just had – harsher than I remember winter being – wet, muddy, colder sooner, and nowhere cozy to defrost. Temporary living arrangements have caused us to leave the comfort of having a nearly 1000 square foot library just down the hall from our beds. We also don’t have a fireplace here. It’s been a long time since I lived without a fireplace. But the change is good, it’s helped us redefine necessities, discover the beauty of new public libraries we hadn’t yet visited, save money for the land and dream home we want, and teach our daughter lessons she might have otherwise missed.
We’ve also discovered the Lake Houston Wilderness State Park. We went from 100+ acres of trails and exploration that we knew like the back of our hands to not having anything most of the winter, to Lo! And Behold! 4700+ acres of trails and wilderness closer than we could have ever imagined. Ask and ye shall receive. Take a ride down the highway and pay attention to those marvelous brown signs!
It costs $3 per adult to get in, kids under 13 and senior citizens are free. OR (and this is what we’ve done) it’s $25 for a year pass for an adult and three adult guests; basically, a family pass.
We’ve been back about every other day since we’ve discovered it. We walk, tromp, and read. We snack and picnic, we play in the creek, we stare at the trees. We read all the sign posts and discover new plants we’ve never heard of. We soak up vitamin D and work our muscles.
To the left you’ll see a Hercules’ Club. We were pretty excited about this discovery and did a mini-research project on it when we got home.
In all this much needed tromping and new library resources at my fingertips, I stumbled across a Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants by a fellow named Nyerges. It isn’t the best resource for Texans, only a few plants were ones I recognized, but if you hail from California then it’s right up your alley. Either way, if you’re in the foraging scene, this book is a great read. Nyerges personalizes a lot of his foraging facts with anecdotes of how he has confirmed or debunked various myths, legends, and general assumptions for certain plants. My favorite was a bit about the Native Americans and poison oak – eat the young, red leaves and you’ll be immune to the rash for the rest of the season/year. The science of immunizing oneself at its finest. Already this is how we tackle seasonal allergies when it comes to pollen, it would not have occurred to me that there is a practical pre-remedy for poison oak.
Title: The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Crosswicks Journal Book Two)
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
I’ve been reading The Summer of the Great-Grandmother for nearly a month now. I read pieces and snippets in particular moods – moods when I need it: L’Engle’s wisdom and a bit of the outdoors.
But finally, last night, I turned the last page.
I finished and sat there a moment. My journal open, the book closed, my pen ready and not ready at the same time. Ready because I had a vision to capture in the ink. Not ready because it didn’t seem to me like a book review at all, but it’s what I have – my thoughts regarding this book.
I cannot help but think of Sandy Smith while I am reading it. L’Engle tells tales of her home life and mentally, for some reason or another, I picture Smith’s face rather than L’Engle’s. Perhaps it is because I’ve met Sandy, but L’Engle is a series of disjointed pictures from different decades that I have plucked from the internet. Sandy is flesh and blood to me, and L’Engle deserves to seem like flesh and blood in my mind. Flat internet images glowing with the unnatural light of an LED background do not do her justice. I hope Sandy doesn’t mind me stealing her image and loaning it to another in my mind.
It’s just that – in my mind, they belong together. They are joined by associations I may never be able to clearly express, but might be able to feebly make a fraction of sense of them here.
They are each writers and humans in their own right, but L’Engle’s writing seems to have the same aura of loveliness that I find in Sandy when talking to her in person. When I think of her, this soft spoken writer who traveled all the way from Oregon to Texas for a book signing tour, you’d think I’d remember the hours I spent with her in bookstores hanging out around tables of her young adult series Seed Savers. But I don’t.
Instead, I specifically recall looking back at her while walking on a trail – her face lit up by the sun and a full smile as she looked back her husband entertaining my daughter with flora and fauna and a delightful hat. (The picture on the left is not long after that moment that is ingrained in my mind forever.)
As in every moment with her, she had a twinkle in her eye. I’d call it a spark, even. She’s someone you meet and instantly want to be her friend, or little sister, or niece, or daughter. It doesn’t matter, you just long to matter to her because she is wonderful and wise and everything about being around her feels enriching.
I do not know Madeleine L’Engle other than by her books, and I would not presume to say that I really know Sandy Smith either – I’ve just had the pleasure of her company, the joy of promoting her books, we’ve chattered back and forth in emails to plan signings and blog tours, and I adore her. But in my mind, I imagine L’Engle and Smith as kindred spirits that belong to the same whisper of a thought.
Perhaps this is one of those things I’m meant to keep to myself. I’m not sure. I have forgotten, until recently when back in the store full time, how awkward I can be. I say things at odd times, like tonight when I commented on a girl’s freckles. I really love freckles. But I’ve read The Summer of the Great-Grandmother and I’m grasping to “review” it. I can’t. I can only tell you about a feeling, and that feeling was a memory of sunshine and a respect for life and nature on an Easter Weekend in the woods near my old home. Ultimately, I can only choose one word that describes it all… this book, the ladies in question, the woods, that moment…
Homeschooling adventures have turned into some serious life skills lessons, which in turn have become foraging.
As previously mentioned, we use foragingtexas.com as a main source of information, but we do a lot of external research on our own as well.
Mustang Grapes – from foragingtexas.com
Scientific name: Vitis mustangensis
What: fruits, leaves, young tendrils
How: fruit raw (very tart), cooked, dried, preserves, wine; leaves and tendrils cooked,
Where: Edges of woods. Mustang grape leaves are fuzzy and have a white underside.
Nutritional Value: calories, antioxidants
Other uses: water can be obtained from the vines (see technique in grapes- muscadine post), wild yeast from the fruit
Dangers: Mustang grapes are very acidic and handling/eating large amounts of the raw fruit can cause burns to hands and mouth.
When homeschooling, this is a good time to teach your kiddo about plant classifications. While picking the leaves (we had a mixture of Mustang grape leaves and Muscadine grape leaves, but I don’t recommend stuffing the Muscadines, they end up a little stringy).
Kingdom – Plantae
Order – Vitales
Family – Vitaceae
Genus – Vitis
Species – V. mustangensis
Our lessons then continue into the kitchen where we follow recipes and learn about fractions and conversions. You’d be amazed at how much a three year old will pick up on if you just show them. We halved this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/my-own-famous-stuffed-grape-leaves/ as well as added lemon balm from our home garden to the rice mixture.
Dewberries – from foragingtexas.com
Scientific name: Rubus species
What: flowers, berries
How: open mouth, insert flower/fruit, then chew. seep flowers/young leaves in hot water for tea
Where: Sunny wastelands, borders between woods and fields. Dewberry plants grow as a low, horizontal ground cover.
Other uses: wine, jelly, tea, wine
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, vitamin C; small amount of minerals and vitamins A & B
Dangers: sharp thorns
Again, our goal is to memorize the classifications and understand how they work:
Kingdom – Plantae
Order – Rosales
Family – Rosaceae
Genus – Rubus
Species – R. arborginum
Well, that and to make pies.
We used this pie recipe, except exchanged the blackberries for dewberries, and used a bit more sugar.
It was a hearty dinner and dessert.