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A Backyard Camping Trip to Celebrate Sweet Summer Time

Tips, tricks and activities to make backyard camping a blast

Our summer science class this year isn’t very outdoorsy.  The whole reason I initiated summer science four years ago was that I wanted the Littles to be able to get some Hands-On, Outside, Science Stuff Experience.  It has served us well over the years, making summer school seem less like school.  And even though it seems just as un-school-like as ever this year, that’s because they’re talking about and playing video games.  Screen-time science.  Important, I know, if they want to be able to function in today’s world.  But how am I to get them outside for some screen-less lessons when we’re studying code?

Well, the perfect solution is a backyard camping trip.  We did this last year, and it was so much fun we are still talking about it.  We took a Saturday and I set it up like a summer camp, with crafts and activities and a tent set up on the trampoline (because Mama’s back wasn’t up to the cold, hard ground).  This year we have a camper we can sleep in for our summer camp because the trampoline may actually have been worse than the ground!

Last year’s itinerary was so fun I thought I’d share my ideas with you.

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This Crazy-Cool Country Life

I’ve mentioned often that part of the Littles’ learning process here at home is working on the farm, but I’ve never really given you much of a tour.  So today I’m going to take you on a photo tour of some of the cool things we’ve done/encountered so far this summer.

We’ve had a couple of run-ins with snakes already.  Now, my beautiful husband loves snakes and there isn’t anybody here who is afraid of them, so when my sweet mama called me and said, “Snake in my strawberry netting!” with abject fear in her voice, Martin rushed home from work and we went over to save her.  Save the snake.  Save somebody.

IMG_20150529_154922413IMG_20150529_155023776_HDRMy beautiful husband was about as patient as a person can be.  The blacksnake’s head was caught in the netting.  He had a mouse halfway down his throat that he couldn’t swallow because the netting had tightened around his neck.  Martin took his pocketknife and a pair of scissors and loosened that netting strand by strand.  Eventually, the snake coughed up his dinner, his head was extracted from the netting, and Martin set him free at the edge of the woods.  Mama Did Not put netting back over her strawberries.

Look at those muscular arms.  Swoon

Yesterday was a different story.  Littlest came running over at feeding time.  It’s his job to gather eggs.  “Daddy!” he yelled, “there’s  a snake in the hen box.”  So off we all went again to get a look at yet another blacksnake.  This one was stealing eggs.  It was so cool to witness, we just let him eat.  I mean, what’s one egg?  Right?

IMG_20150609_161721759IMG_20150609_161709971How often do you get to watch a snake suck down an entire egg?!  The Littles got to see how his jaw unhinged, how when he got to the biggest part of the egg his eyes closed, how patient he was to get that meal into his gullet and get his belly full.  We watched him for about 10 minutes.  But after the initial awesomeness, it kind of became like watching paint dry.  Apparently, it takes a Long Time for a snake to eat an egg.  The little thief.  Isn’t he beautiful?  We couldn’t even be a little bit mad.

Because it was incredible.

Snakes aren’t the only things we see a lot around this place.  Dragonflies and butterflies love it here, especially when we let the meadow grow up and provide plenty of food and hiding plabutterfliesces.  These butterflies are Everywhere.  They came and hung out on the ladder when we were working on one of the outbuildings.  They follow us around in the woods.  I think they’re trying to let us know that we might think we own this place in human terms, but really it belongs to them.  I’m good with that.IMG_20150609_164627063

IMG_20150609_163713009It’s berry season, and the wild raspberries are finally ripening.  They grow everywhere along the edges of the woods, so we spend a good part of our summer walking along the edges and gathering all that yummy goodness.  I love that the Littles are getting the opportunity to learn how to identify these plants and also learning to appreciate what the Earth has to offer us that can’t be found in stores.  (If you’ve never tasted a wild raspberry, you haven’t Really tasted a raspberry.  They are so much better than the ones you can buy in stores.)  finchesI don’t know if you can tell in this photo, but when we went out to get to the bushes between the woods and the meadow this morning, we scared up a flock of goldfinches.  They landed safely on the electric lines and chirped at us until we were out of sight.  They nest in the tall meadow grasses and we get blessed with the sight of them daily.

Yesterday, for some unknown reason, all my boys decided to go hang out on the IMG_20150609_164052305tailgate of Big’s truck.  In the blaring hot sun.  You can tell by their faces that it is too hot and bright to be hanging out on a black tailgate.  But they wouldn’t be country boys if they didn’t tailgate in some way.  So even though Littlest Still Won’t Put on a Shirt Unless You Make Him (he’s been like that since birth), I had to capture the moment.  See the turkey by the truck?  His name is Peeper, because of the loud peeping sounds he made as a baby.  He is a family pet.  He travels everywhere on the farm with us.  And scares any woman who dares show her face here with his strutting and cooing.  It’s pretty funny.

IMG_20150609_163423360Here are a couple of cool things about our veggie garden this year.  See the weird white thing at the bottom of the pic in front of the pepper plant?  That is half a bar of Irish Spring soap stuck onto a stick.  Why?  It keeps the rabbits away.  My sweet mama taught me this trick, and it appears to be working.  I guess the strong smell of the soap masks the smell of the plants.  Rabbits were tearing us up a couple weeks ago, but since we put out Irish Spring on either end of our rows, they have left it alone.  A quick spray of cayenne pepper diluted in water keeps the bugs away from the leaves of the plants.  We never use non-organic materials on our garden.  Unless you count the landscape fabric we put down to keep the weeds out.  We learned that from the GAC reality show Farm Kings.  If you’ve never watched that show, it’s a really good way to learn some new farming tricks.  You know I don’t like TV, but this show really does teach something a person can use.

This next pic shows my beautiful husband’s idea for getting my cucumber plants up offIMG_20150609_163356241 the ground so they’re easier to harvest from.  We had some old wall-racks for feeding livestock hay that we had no use for.  Instead of building a trellis, he lay them down by the plants, covered them with a piece of fencing, and the plants are growing up through them beautifully.  And, they can just be carried back to the barn in the fall with no fuss whatsoever.  He’s a genius.

But the really cool thing Martin has done around here?  IMG_20150609_163509560He built me my very own building.  Walled with bookshelves.  Containing a desk.  And electricity.  A haven for me to write in, read in, escape to when I need some quiet.  Sitting in a clearing just inside our woods, it reminds me of something out of Little House on the Prairie.  It’s my favorite place in the whole world.

Blue and Storm

Speaking of favorite things, how cute are my cats?  They totally have that brotherly love thing down.  I’m taking them to the vet today to be neutered,  and even though logically I know they’ll be okay, I have this weird, paranoid fear of anesthesia.  So wish them luck.

IMG_20150325_152457355Some of the animals we raise to sell here on the farm include rabbits, doves, and golden pheasants.  Pheasants are incredible creatures.  They look like little Samurai warriors, and their colors are breathtaking.  In comparison, the doves are like the IMG_20150504_082657032sweet version of bird on the farm.  They have soft voices, soft, lovely colors, and a gentler approach to life.  We don’t often get to see the little ones before they’re IMG_20150514_091549644learning to fly, but here’s the one pic I’ve been able to catch of them while they’re still just a few days old.  My favorites, though, are the rabbits.  I love how the little ones will cuddle against your chest until their heart rate slows and they get drowsy.  I love that the Littles get to see how they grow from birth to weaning and learn the responsibility of taking care of something and keeping it alive.

IMG_20150529_161626590There are so many things to learn on a farm.  Invaluable lessons about life that are harder to grasp in the city.  Animal husbandry.  The life cycle of mammals and how to handle death.  The miracle of birth.  Getting your hands dirty and feeding yourself.  How to tell one tree from another, one plant from another, one insect or bird from another.  Every day is a free science lesson.  I am grateful every second to get to live here.

I suppose I’d better get busy…

Love wins,

KT

Gardening (or School-That-Is-Not-School)

IMG_20150604_112153023Part of the Littles’ school-that-is-not-school around the farm is helping out with the gardens–both flower and vegetable.  It provides good opportunities for science lessons in botany and entomology as well as training them to be self-sufficient for the zombie apocalypse.  (Kidding.  They’re convinced it’s coming, though, and I want them to grow up with all the knowledge I can give them for taking care of themselves.  So if I have to use the zombie apocalypse to keep them interested, well…Let’s just say I’m not above it.)

IMG_20150604_112426400The cool thing about yesterday’s work was that we were placing rocks.  Two sections of my flower garden are rock gardens, so we have been placing creek rock in them all spring.  The Littles help me collect the rocks then help me place them.  It’s a IMG_20150604_113119688great spatial activity because you have to figure out what rock will go where without backing yourself into a place where you can’t fit any more rocks.  It. Is. Hard.  Or at least it’s harder than you’d think it’d be.  So it’s nice when Middle spots a rock that will fit perfectly into my puzzle or Littlest points out that I’ve made a space where no rock will fit.  It is also very cool when Littlest says, “Oh!  Sandstone!  This is sandstone, Mom!” and Middle says, “Hey, Mom, look!  This one has a fossil!”  Gotta love those openings to teach.IMG_20150604_113102876-1

Gardening is one of my true joys in life.  I hope that the Littles are learning a bit of that love through working with me.  As they learn about the different plants–what each needs to thrive, how to care for them so they continue to bloom, what insects they attract, and even which ones to plant where–that free lesson is going to stick with them any time we actually study botany in the classroom.  And there’s no pressure.

Plus, gardening provides us the opportunity to just hang out together, talk about nothing and everything, and remember IMG_20150604_113127757we’re just a family, not always a teacher and students.  It’s almost as good as fishing.  Not quite, but close.  It gives me a chance to notice how much they’ve grown, how strong they are getting, and just how smart and funny my boys really are.  They floor me.  They truly do.

Middle tried to hide behind my Winnie-the-Pooh tree here so I couldn’t take his picture.  But I’m fast. You can’t see it, but the whole in the bottom of the stump contains a hunny jar with a Pooh Bear in it.  It’s pretty cute.  I got the idea from Family Crafts.  They suggested it for party favors, but I had this perfect tree stump with a hollow in the bottom, so I found a small Pooh Bear to fit in the top of the jar and placed him there.  He seems happy.

I moved the fairy garden this year to incorporate it into my bigger garden.  Here are a few pics even though we haven’t added the mulch in yet:

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Finally, the Littles are learning that hard work and dedication pay off.  It’s an important lesson for littles to learn.  Especially in this era when they are provided so many opportunities to just sit on their butts and stare at a screen.  I never garden without my boys, even though weeding causes grumbles.  Because when we’re done, we all get to enjoy this….

IMG_20150604_114017222 IMG_20150604_114206260 IMG_20150604_114842979 IMG_20150604_114217687

Payoff.

Love wins,

KT

The Joy of Boys

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My amazing, hilarious, talented best friend is not only a kick-butt sales director for 31 Gifts, but also a crafty little bugger who turns out awesome signs like the two above.  When she sent me this pic, I fell completely in love.  Having raised only boys, I know just how super-heroic they can be.  (Don’t get me wrong, there was a time when I desperately wanted a girl.  As time has passed I’ve realized I am blessed to have been surrounded by all these boys. Plus, said friend has a girl who is gorgeous in every way, so I get to live vicariously.  Without worrying about the teenage years.)

What’s so superhero-like about my boys?

I talked all about Big last week, so if you don’t already know his superhero qualities, you can read about him here.

Middle is a keenly intelligent kid with a strong sense of compassion.  Though only 12, he has a way of looking at the world that is kind and respectful while maintaining an innate curiosity.  He’s the guy who would figure out how to save Everyone on the collapsing bridge rather than focusing on the people who might be considered ‘important.’  Money wouldn’t sway his moral compass, power wouldn’t touch it, fame wouldn’t faze it.  He is a natural leader who likes to think things through but is capable of making quick decisions that seldom turn out to be wrong.

Littlest is a joyful, fun-loving guy who loves deeply and lives loudly.  He’s the flashier guy who is flying around the bridge saving all the pretty girls first but making sure to leave time for the babies and other folks.  And maybe relying a little on his older brother to bring the whole plan to fruition, but he’s a heck of a team player.  He has a lot of leadership qualities as well, but they stay mostly dormant while he’s still under his brother’s shadow.  He doesn’t mind.  He really is that guy who shrugs it off, goes with the flow, and just makes sure the endgame is accomplished.  With a lot of fanfare.  And fireworks.  And maybe an explosion or two.  And definitely an Eminem song playing in the background.  Full blast.

Here’s the thing.  Though my little superheroes may have a bit of trouble with the whole ‘cleans his room’ thing, they do keep it in a semblance of order.  They all share without even having to think about it.  They use kind words.  Most of the time.  Because they Are brothers, after all.  Smiling and giggling is their strong suit.  You can’t survive in this house without a rollicking sense of humor.  They run, jump, and climb more than I’d like.  They put family before all else because that is the way they’ve been shown.  They dream.  Great big, wonderful, fantastic dreams that I encourage with all my soul, even if, as a grown-up, I think they might be impossible.  I never tell them.  What kind of Nick Fury would I be if I squashed their dreams?

Now, if only I could do something about all the bodily function jokes, I would be a happy mama.

IMG_20150528_105742107What makes a boy a superhero?  Knowing who he is and where he comes from.  What he loves and what he shouldn’t tolerate.  How to treat others and how to be strong.  And laughter.  Definitely shining eyes and shaking bellies and great, rolling belts of laughter.

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What about you?  What makes your boys superheroes?  Better yet, what kind of superhero is your girl?

.Love wins,

KT