Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Garden Critters

We've taken short trips outside in the hundred degree weather to do mini-nature study. Recently, looking for bugs. Interesting bugs, we're not counting ants this time! Some of the critters were lovely, like this giant swallowtail butterfly.

Others were not so lovely. I hate to say bad things about God's creation, but ugh. Carpenter bees send us running into the house. Something about the low-frequency humming really gets to all of us. This one made a nest in the palm tree three feet from our front door. They bore a perfectly round hole to nest in.

There she is foraging for food, and generally keeping us out of the yard.

My husband got rid of the nature by putting wood putty on the entrance to the nest. The bee tried to figure out what was going on but then flew away and hasn't been back (picture below was snapped when the bee was still trying to figure out what happened to the nest. Now we just have a palm tree with wood putty on it.

In other scream-inducing news, this 1.5 inch beetle was crawling in the rocks right under the carpenter bee tree.

We are having a little bit of difficulty getting used to the variety of insects here in the Sonoran desert, but it makes for good nature study. I couldn't get any pictures of the girls observing these insects, because they are generally running in the other direction. Even my photos are blurry, as I'm trying to escape while snapping a picture (we look at the pictures in the safety of our house to "make a match" in our Audubon Field Guide to the Southwestern States).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jack's Beanstalk May Have Been A Sunflower

The sunflower seeds we planted in April have grown to about seven feet tall and have bloomed. This has been fun for the kids to watch them grow from tiny seeds to towering flowers with stems so huge, birds can perch in them. Now we're waiting to harvest the seeds (hopefully before the birds do) so we can start all over again.

For sunflower nature study, we've been watching them grow from sprout to plant to extremely tall plant, and watched them bud and flower. The girls watch the teeny ants crawl up and down the stalk and try to figure out what has been munching the leaves (we haven't seen any bugs on them other than ants, so it may be neighborhood birds).

Today's art project was to make sunflower watercolor art.

Next will be sunflower books and of course eating sunflower seeds. We may even plant a sunflower house (though the ants like the sunflowers so much, we're not sure we want to go into that house!). Below are some sunflower reading ideas.
Sunflower House
Sunflower Houses

The Parable of the Sunflower, 10th Anniversary Edition:  The Parable Series #3  -     
        By: Liz Curtis Higgs
Katie and the Sunflowers
Check out the Outdoor Hour Challenge on The Handbook of Nature Study blogspot if you want some great ideas for your own nature study.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up: Little Hands To Heaven Unit 24

The girls had two activities they particularly loved this week from their Christian preschool curriculum from Heart of Dakota. One was a paper craft to model Jesus walking on water. They painted waves onto construction paper, glued on a paper boat, and I drew a little paper doll Jesus figure for them to glue onto a craft stick.

Displaying the finished product:

The girls also learned the bible story of Jesus healing a blind man. This story led to a discussion of the five senses, and they used the sense of touch alone to identify household objects hidden inside a pillowcase.  The girls loved this "pillowcase game" so much, we've played it four times already and they're asking to play it again. It's their new favorite game. I wouldn't have thought of it on my own, so I'm thankful for the pre-planned curriculum!

What they identified by touch alone in the first round:

"I think I know what this is"...

Little sister gives it a try...eyes closed...

The decorated cardboard box in the background was not part of this week's lesson! We just had a large delivery and have been beautifying the new "forest cave" ever since.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blessing Our Kids

Our church service has a lovely tradition that I've adopted in our own home: blessing the children. In church, the kids spend time in the main sanctuary with their parents for music and praise. Then, the children stand to be blessed by their parents, the pastor and the congregation before they are excused to their Sunday school classes.

What does it mean to bless someone? Merriam-Webster defines it this way: to consecrate, to make holy, to ask divine care or protection for, to speak well of, to approve, to confer happiness or prosperity upon.  How natural and how loving it is for a parent to bless their child and appeal to their own heavenly Father for blessing upon the child's life as well. This is a little different from praying for the child, though it is a prayer.  It is said aloud specifically for the child to hear and be blessed by hearing it.

I have started doing this at home, with Buttercup at bedtime and with Sunshine at naptime. Not only is it a good thing to pray for the children, but it has helped me see through the occasional chaos and frustration that are inevitable with small children. It helps me clear my own mind, seeing these little ones as precious gifts from the Lord. It brings peace to the child. It brings peace to me. Even after a scream-fest. Really.

This is how I do it. I lay my hand on the child's head or face and bless them aloud. Sometimes the blessing will be from the bible, such as the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace

I usually just say a simple blessing from my own heart that a small child will understand, something like, "I thank the Lord our Father for you. You are precious to Him and precious to me. He watches over you day and night and loves you. I am thankful to God that I am your mommy. May you trust in the Lord Jesus always, and grow to know and love him more each day."

The words change but the sentiment is the same each time. The blessing lets the children know "I am thankful for you", "you are a gift", "you are loved", "may God bless you always", and "may you grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ". After I say the blessing I kiss my child on the face and on the top of the head.

Every time I bless my four year old, she smiles a big broad smile, sighs a contented sigh, and settles into her pillow to go to sleep. It's as if she is bathing in the warm blessing. It feels good for her to receive the blessing and for me to give it. It lets her know that no matter what craziness went on that day, she is valued and loved, and she should continue to trust God, who is watching over her. I'm going to continue this new tradition as the kids grow. The words might change as they mature, but the intent will remain the same.

Blessings bring peace to the blessed and the peace to the one bestowing the blessing. We could all use a little more peace in our homes and in our lives.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Dug Down Deep

Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris contains the basics of the Christian faith in an easy-to-read format.

Sometimes the church uses words like justification, sanctification, salvation, and atonement and assumes that people know what these words mean, when they may not. Or, they may know what they mean from a theological standpoint but don't know what they mean in their own lives.

This book takes these elements of the Christian faith one by one, and explains what they mean in everyday terms. Harris uses his own life and the lives of his family members as examples of getting it wrong and then by the grace of God, getting it right (though this is an ongoing process for the author as well as every other believer).

Some of the questions this book addresses: Who is Jesus? What is the difference in believing in Jesus and trusting in him? Do theology and doctrine matter, or is a personal spiritual experience enough? What is God like? Why do Christians still sin? Why should a Christian go to church and be a part of organized religion?

This book encourages you to think about what you believe in and what you are building your faith upon. The challenge to readers is to dig down deep and build your life and your faith on the solid rock of truth. This book would be great for someone who is new to Christianity and is wondering what the buzzwords mean, a new graduate ready to move on in their lives and their faith (think of it as theology 101), or someone who is asking himself some of the questions mentioned above. The book's readability makes it appropriate for teens to adults.

I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Backyard Birdwatching

Well, it's officially too hot for nature walks, unless we want to go out at 7:00 in the morning when it's still 85 degrees (we don't). So it's time to sit on the back porch for breakfast, or better yet, to sit inside the air conditioned house and look out the window for our nature study.

We are participating in the June Outdoor Hour Challenge on the Handbook of Nature Study blog site. We're looking for desert birds that might not be found in other places. We have a backyard full of mourning doves and starlings, but we're keeping our eyes open for the visitors who live around here but don't spend all day foraging in our yard.

A female Gambel's quail came for breakfast a few days ago (they only come for breakfast and an early supper but leave after a few minutes, as they're very shy).

A gilded flicker (a type of woodpecker) poked around in the grass awhile, looking for bugs. When not foraging, he kept his mouth open to try and keep cool.

Here it looks like he's trying to figure out whether or not he can eat our sprinkler "worms". He looked at them for a bit before moving on.

I said I was going to ignore the doves but this little one was resting on the grass and posed so patiently I went ahead and took a picture anyway.

We took 10 minutes in the afternoon (105 degrees) to go into the front yard and look for birds or something that reminds Buttercup of birds.  She found two feathers, from different birds...

 She then drew a picture of a dove feather for me with sidewalk chalk...

While she was drawing, we heard a buzzing and were afraid our local carpenter bee was in the area again. We were prepared for our usual screaming and fleeing routine, but it was unnecessary this time. It was a hummingbird (black-chinned, I think). I didn't get a very good picture because I didn't have my distance lens, but it hovered and buzzed right there behind the tree, very still, just watching us awhile before it flew away. We were being bird-watched as we were bird-watching.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

We Love Mail

We love the mail around here. Real, overstuffed mailbox post office mail. Catalogs, magazines, invitations, postcards and letters (we don't get nearly enough of these any more), Netflix movies, packages. Obviously utility and mortgage bills are not included in this love affair.

My kids run expectantly to the mailbox every day hoping that there is something wonderful for them in there. This is partially my own doing, as I have made many book and gift purchases with mail delivery, not to mention the two (or is it three?) preschool magazines the kids get. Our mailman even said, "you sure do get a lot of packages here". What can I say? My husband and I both prefer online shopping to trudging around a mall. Plus, it's too hot to go outside, so sometimes I get a little bit clicky and order a little something for the girls. They just get so excited to receive anything! I need to find some pen pals for them when they're old enough to write letters.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Catching Up

I haven't been posting much about what the girls have been doing in school lately, so this is my "catch up" post that highlights the past couple of weeks.

Part of the reason for the delay is that Buttercup has been in Vacation Bible School this week and has LOVED it! The three hours a day for the past week has been a nice break for her and a chance to do some fun activities and see some of the kids from church outside of Sunday school. Here she is proudly arriving the first day.


I got to spend a little one-on-one time with Sunshine and took her to a Mother Goose storytime event at the local library. She was so excited to meet Mother Goose in person!

Back at home, we had been cruising right along in our preschool curriculum from Heart of Dakota (prior to the VBS slow-down). Two weeks ago the girls learned about Daniel and the lions' den and made their own paper plate lions.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Children's Picture Book Nostalgia

Having kids means I get to re-live some of my favorite parts of childhood, including children's books.  I have always loved children's books, and kept buying them even after I was well out of childhood and before I was a parent. 

Sometimes I come across a book that gives me a strange flashback, time-warp feeling that I describe as...thirsty. Strange, right? But that's the odd word I use to describe the feeling I get when I see a book I used to love. Maybe it's a thirst for the past?

I remember when we would get our Scholastic book order forms in school. I'd order at least 6 or 7 books and the day they arrived was so exciting, with the piles and piles of wrapped book packs on the teacher's desk...ooooh I can remember it so well now...which one is mine?  Book nostalgia can come out of the blue, when someone mentions a favorite book or when I stumble across one at a used bookstore or online. So here are some of my favorite books from when I was a kid. Some of them we already own, some are classics, some are pure 70's silliness, some are going to send me on a mad online search. This is making me thirsty. On with the list:


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