Tuesday, April 29, 2008

He's Home from Maryland and Chincoteague!

My dh finally came home a few days early! The one Saturday dh was there, he went to a place the dc and I have been begging him to let us go to.  Does this remind you of a famous children's book?

Ever read Misty of Chincoteague?

Here are one of the wild ponies on Assateague Island.

Assateague Island is a barrier island. Marshes face Chincoteague Island...

Whereas the other side has the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean...

Assateague Island is a nature preserve with many animals like bald eagles...


wild deer...

and even ducks...

This is the area where the ponies swim across the channel between Assateague Island and Chincoteague Island every Pony Penning Day...

Here is the fire department that sponsors Pony Penning Day...

You can even ride some of the tamed ponies...seasonally.  April is not the season, but summer is. 

My dh had promised to take us out here as well as Colonial Williamsburg and Washington DC for our summer vacation this year.  He told me I had 14 days to allot for the vacation, so I've spent many hours of squeezing in lots of fun.  Then he said we had to add Chincoteague to the list.  I didn't know how to fit that into our already scheduled 14 days. 

Friday, April 25, 2008

Xeriscape Tour of my Texas Garden

Xeriscaping, which usually conjures images of cactus and stones, can actually be full of color and gentler looking plants. For those who may be new to the term, Xeriscaping is a means of gardening, typically in the Southwest, that uses drought tolerant plants, mulch and irrigation.

I took pictures of my garden yesterday to show what my garden looks like in April in San Antonio.  They are all green, despite the heat (over 100 degrees in the summer, sometimes for weeks), despite the sun (almost daily), and despite the droughts (which we are in now...only 3" of rain since New Year's and not much since last September.)

I have antique roses (peach) which are called such because they have withstood the test of time. They were found neglected on the sides of the road or on deserted properites, flourishing with blooms.

Salvia greggii(red) is quite drought tolerant. After a few months it gets scraggly looking so I cut it back and it comes right back again.

Summer phlox is so drought tolerant, that all of mine are transplants from my mom's garden in the middle of the summer, and then future divisions spread throughout my gardens over the years. When they are completely spent in the autumn I cut them back and they pop back in the winter. My phlox is not yet blooming, it is still growing, in the front.

My herb garden. I have chocolate mint, orange mint, regular mint, lavendar, lemon basil, lime basil, French thyme, rosemary and more. These are Mediterranean plants that have endured dry growing conditions from ancient times.  It's also green to save gas from driving to the grocery store, buying plastics full of herbs from off the shelf and saves money. As an added bonus, they add more flavor to cooking than dried herbs! Also see all that stone! Those are all the stones I have dug out of the property (dh was in Korea for a year when we bought the house; he hopped on the plane a few hours after we signed the papers and got the key! We had just enough time to drive to our first house, he carried me over the threshhold, then we picked up the kids at my mom's and drove him to the airport.) Anyway, dry creek beds are part of the Xeriscape scenery around here and I didn't have to pay a penny to haul them in. I chose to put it here, because that is where the dripline from our 2 story roof is. We had a lot of rain when we first moved in and there had been a lot of erosion going on. That is no longer a problem!

One of the bushy green plants is a Sky Plant which grows prodigiously every year! It gets purple flowers in the summer and turns to yellow berries in the autumn. The hummingbirds and butterflies love this plant. Well, they love all of the flowers. The pink flowers are more antique roses. My vegetable garden is in a row at the bottom of the hill. This area gets a lot of sunlight. When we first moved here, I had this hill and I knew it would be unsafe to mow. So I took the extra bricks from our house construction that I found in the garage and laid it around the perimeter of the yard. There are now railroad timbers at the bottom of the hill to hold the dirt in. The beauty of this is that it allows for raised bed gardening. This allows one to easily amend the soil (around here it is heavy clay filled with all those rocks (that you saw in the previous picture. Then I layer with mulch (more on that later) to conserve water.

You might even be able to notice some black hoses in the gardens. These are drip hoses. Merely watering by hand is not as efficient as drip irrigation. With drip irrigation, you can allow lots of water to slowly settle deeply into the ground, where you want the roots to grow to obtain moisture. These deep roots will survive drought. Shallow roots from light hand watering results in plants that beg daily for water in the summer. They can become more easily diseased also. In addition, having one's own garden saves gas, less packaging purchased at the store, saves money and tastes better! I have tomatoes, peppers, eggplant (kids can't imagine what I'll do with that), onions, yellow squash, zucchini, spaghetti squash and sugar pumpkins. Maybe even cucumber but I forget.

Mexican Heather likes sun and shade, and looks quite fernlike when full grown. In the autumn I just cut them back and they come back every spring.

Bougainvillea is a favorite of mine for containers. These are extremely heat and drought tolerant! That way I don't have to water my pots as often!

Blue Plumbagohas taken over my garden! (As many other plants have that I have had to tame! I now have a sprained arm!) Those roots are really deep (as many other of these plants.) These and many other of my plants can get over 5 feet high if I let them! My mom can't get over how big my plants get.

Skullcap is another wonderful plant that is drought tolerant and spreads, making an attractive border and garden filler. The more flowers, the less room for weeds!

Lemon Thyme...I love to put between the cracks of my stepping stones. Everyone tries to avoid walking on them but I tell them that is why I put it there! Step on them...and enjoy the delicious lemon scent that wafts through the air! This is some thyme that has endured drought and winter! I set some aside in a garden for cooking purposes!

Our mulch pile from 2005! The children helped me haul that around the yard. After about a week of labor, we headed for SeaWorld (near to our house) to swim and cool off! Mulch is incredibly essential to a "green" garden, to help it stay green. It retains necessary moisture in the soil and an added bonus, inhibits weed growth.; Before I never had enough mulch, and I spent all my time weeding, never getting caught up.I had so much mulch, I laid about 3-5" throughout the gardens. We tend to take 1-2 week summer vacations during the peak of summer heat and drought. My parents check on things while we are gone and they were stunned at how well most of my plants did with very little water. There would be only a plant or two (that was not yet well established) that needed water (and the container plants). My mom gardens too but wanted to know my secret. Drip hoses and mulch.  I don't think she's invested in the drip hoses, but she had to get down on her hands and knees to see how thick the mulch was.  She couldn't believe it. That's a lot of mulch and it is still going strong. It is starting to thin out in places and it is still quite thick in others. One of my necessary garden chores is to redistribute the mulch and replenish. Mom might have discouraged me from doing this at all, but now that she's seen the results, I notice a lot more mulch in her gardens! ;)

Of course it would be even "greener" to make one's own mulch. I would love that. But with our tiny property, there really isn't a place to do it. I would love to buy one of these handy dandy gadgets. I haven't convinced my dh yet. I would like to use it behind the shed, but there are already 5 garbage cans back there...3 of our old ones and 2 of the humongo new ones provided for automated recycling and garbage pick up. We are left with those 3 old garbage cans that the city has not provided us an option to "greenly" get rid of. We have no more use for them and I wonder if dh could hack them down to put in the humongo recycling container. Then maybe we'd have room for a compact easy to use handy dandy mulcher!

Monday, April 21, 2008


It’s that time of year again! Fiesta! This yearly event in San Antonio commemorates the victory of Sam Houston in capturing Mexican dictator Santa Anna on April 21, 1836. During the Battle of San Jacinto (in present day Houston), the Texian army yelled "Remember the Alamo", "Remember Goliad." This victory freed Texas from Mexico. At that time, Texas became a republic, sort of a country of its own. Sam Houston became its first president. We are one of only two states in the union to have ever been a republic. (Do you know the other? Hint: I've lived there too.) That is why we are the Lone Star State. 

Every year during the week of April 21, San Antonio throws a week long party! We have a lot of fun participating as best we can. Here are a few of the highlights during the week. On Monday night, the Texas Caveliers River Parade  floats down the San Antonio River! We got to go to our first one last year! More on that in a bit! On Thursday night the high school bands gather for Battle of the Bands.  On Friday all the public schools take a holiday for the Battle of Flowers held in the afternoon. Over a hundred years ago carriages were bedecked in flowers and everyone threw flowers at each other.  (We learned last year this is a tradition that originated with the Ancient Romans during the triumphal marches.) The Texas A&M band come to play if they don’t have other commitments; one year my college band was featured. Of course all the high school bands and queens and other bands and various guests from around the country come too. We even have the Old Fife and Drum corps visit from Virginia! I have been to this several times, one time viewed from the top of a Victorian house and the other times in front of the Alamo. Then on Saturday night, we have the Fiesta Flambeau Parade which is the largest illuminated parade at night in the country!  It is led by the best college band of them all, The Texas Longhorn Band! Hook ‘em Horns! Here is oa video clip of them at a previous parade.  Here's a memory from when they were the Rose Bowl Champions!   

Last year the Caveliers, who host the river parade, honored the military with free tickets! We could never have afforded these otherwise! We arrived early to be assured of good parking down town and to beat the traffic. I was surprised that there was no traffic! The city offices must close early for the big party! Since we had plenty of time before the parade, we walked down to the Alamo. We were surprised to see a special ceremony there, called Pilgrimage to the Alamo. Various military and civic groups and schools lay flowers in front of the Alamo and have a special ceremony to honor those who died fighting for freedom.

Then we walked back to the part of the river where the Caveliers were honoring the military. We got free dinner, free medals, program, etc. These medals are a big deal. You collect all you can. My children were elated they now have a collection!

Here is the Fiesta stuff I've collected over the years.  The ladies all get decked out in colorful flowers and ribbons.  The top medal was gifted to me from El Rey Feo (he collects the most money for charity).  The bottom two I got from the Caveliers last year.  The one on the left is their parade theme medal, "A Fiesta of Film."  The one on the right is the King Antonio medal.

Then we had free entertainment from one of the military bands playing jazz.

They found a helper in the audience!

Then we got our seats right on the edge of the river! We kept telling the lady in front of us not to worry about falling in, the water is only knee deep. (She kept asking us if she should be worried.)

King Antonio!

Here we are!

US Senator from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchinson...

Fun float...

One of the queens...

Looks like a sailor?

More queens...

The weathermen floated down individually on innertubes!  Actually they had little motors on them. They could even shoot water at us!

This year we won’t go to the festivities. That’s not something I’d tackle with dh being TDY. So I have lots of Mexican food.  We’ll watch the parades on tv this week!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Presidential Kitty?

I have a friend who has told me all about her kitty, named Mr. President. Can you imagine waking up in the morning, looking at the cat and saying, "Good morning, Mr. President?"  LOL  I told my husband about it and he can just imagine every time the kitty goes by, someone starts humming  "Hail to the Chief."  I must honestly say that I've been jealous that I don't have a "Mr. President."  LOL

Well that may have changed.  One of our favorite movies is "Arsenic and Old Lace" with Cary Grant.  One of the many funny things in the movie is Cary Grant's uncle, who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt.  Every time he goes upstairs, he has to run up and yell "Ch-ar-ge!", because he thinks it is San Juan Hill. 

So, what does this have to do with a presidential kitty?  Well Slipper has a new method of climbing the stairs.  She now ch-ar-ges up the stairs crying, "M-e-o-w" at the top of her lungs!

Our own Theodora Roosevelt!  My husband's reply when I told him?  "Deee-lighted!"

Friday, April 11, 2008

Piano Lessons

For years I have had a goal to teach my children how to play the piano.  I knew all the brain benefits.  But with their Sensory Integration Disorder, they didn't seem ready.  Nevertheless, in preparation, I purchased some Bastien piano books. 

They had been recommended by a homeschooler I knew when my dc were 3 and 5.   My husband and I were raised on John Thompson; I wasn't committed to remaining with this series.  I don't remember what I had heard about Bastien, but they sounded great.   A few years ago I purchased the Primer series.

Then one of the aunts gave the dc and me each a recorder with a lesson book. Although I had initially taught myself piano and guitar, and later took lessons, I had no experience with a wind instrument.  The book confused me!  I had been using A Beka and they had a music theory program with flutophones.  So I bought those books and some flutophones for each of us and we learned to play a wind instrument.  My dc had no care in the world for timing.  They got emotionally frustrated (SI) with dealing with formal lessons and timing.  So I made it more laid back and they learned how to finger and play beautiful songs, although they had unique rhythms.  I told them for the familiar songs, to simply imitate the rhythm they know.  By the end of 2 books, when I planned to transition them to the recorder, they decided they were all winded out! 

They wanted to do piano.  In fact, they like to sit at the piano and create their own "tunes".  Being quite peaceful in their playing, I never minded.  

We did lessons together for the first few days.  Most of it was a review, since they already know a bit about music.  Thankfully they don't mind that these books are meant for 7-11 year olds.  I love these books.  They were written for my children!  They guarantee success at the beginning. The first homework assignment was to "compose" their own piece!  That delighted my children.  My dc have never been ones to enjoy coloring books, lap books, notebooking, much less toys used in the traditional way.  They have always preferred either inventing their own way or reinventing something tried and true. 

DS is picking up the timing and precision quickly. As a result, yesterday began separate lessons.  He is now a page ahead.  I do hope this does not become a problem.  DD, however, is struggling.  She has praxis, or motor planning issues. Therefore I need to spend all of my time with her to count out the notes, remember the fingering rules, etc.  This can take a long time.  But usually, once she has it, she's got it!  She is the one who is usually found creating her own pieces at the piano.  

Now that my daughter has gone through Vision Therapy, I understand why she had so much trouble learning to play the piano. Her eyes couldn't track between the page and looking at the keys (because she hadn't memorized key placement).  

Monday, April 7, 2008

Colonial America Dialectic History Presentation

Welcome to our history presentation of the first thirteen colonies and European history in the 16th to early 18th centuries! 

Here are extra literature books that were read.  They are excellent but unfortunately out of print. We read these a few years ago.  However, since all of our other literature books had been read, these were a terrific review into some history of the Puritans in Salem before the witch trials.  One of the books is missing from the stack because ds was reading it.

Here we are!  DD was Pocahontas.  DS was Squanto.  I was a praying Indian.  The children each gave speeches on who they were.  We were extremely busy last week with finishing up the term paper and power point presentation; I didn't have time to supervise the construction of these character speeches.  The first I heard them was during the presentation.  They were excellent!  Then when it got to my turn, I used Socratic questioning to help pull details from the children on who I represented.  Since I didn't have a name, my dh and dc named me.  DH decided to name me Running Deer, because I am always running around and he always calls me dear.  LOL  The children went through many names for me...Evening Primrose, Sweet Primrose, Quiet Waters, Rippling Brook.  I'm not sure what they ended up with but I liked them all!

Because Ds studied animal tracks he made a model.

Here is the display table. Their term papers are on the left.  A Squanto audio CD from Focus on the Family is at the bottom. This was excellent! To the right is a rabbit skin we recently aquired. There are also some oyster shells they had collected while in Willliamsburg and Jamestown a few years ago. 

They wore most of their projects. DS made mocassins for himself and me.  He helped dd make hers.  DD designed and made this wampum/seashell necklace.  I did not have much involvement in this and I was quite pleased with how it turned out!  DD's work is usually quite random.  I've been encouraging her to use patterns in her beadwork.  This time she showed me the pattern in her beadwork she had designed.  Lovely!   

 DS made the hatchet, drawstring bag, bear necklace and wampum.  

He designed and made the bear claw necklace with an arrowhead, seashells and wampum.  He had made several extra strands of wampum, tied together on his belt.  Grandpa asked him if he had wampum and right on cue he showed him the wampum.  Now we can't find it anywhere!

The bulk of their time the last few weeks was invested in a 10 page research paper on the settling of the Thirteen Colonies.  They then used that information to do a power point presentation.  

Here he is talking about Jamestown, with the map above and the church shown below.

We had lots of food.  DS helped make the New England clam chowder.  DD helped roast the turkey, bake pumpkin bread with walnuts and cranberries, cook cornmeal mush with cranberries topped with maple syrup, prepare trail mix with pumpkin seed, dried cranberries, dried blueberries and corn nuts, and bake blackberry cobbler with cornmeal crust.  We served apple cider to drink. (Editor's Note 2011-There might not have been cranberries yet to eat, according to the Pilgrim historic site in Massachusetts. oops)

 Then we closed with what is considered the first Christmas Carol written in America, "Twas the Moon in Wintertime."  Written with imagery the Huron Indians could understand, it is a carol about the Christ child written by Jesuit missionary Jean de Brebeuf.  He was later tortured and killed by the Iroquois Indians.  Here is the  history and words with the tune.   

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Home Education Week-In Their Own Words

12 Year Old Son :  "I like homeschool because we can take it at our own speed and work ahead if we need to. Usually in homeschool we have better teachers than public school.  We have time to look up something if we have questions, instead of waiting until we get home and forgetting what we wanted to research.  Also, I don't have to listen to evolution.  My favorite subject is literature.  I like the action and mystery books. I like to do hands on projects, like when I did my Greek hoplite shield and armour. 

I also like to Nature Journal because I get to see new things, I can pay attention to detail, and I can be as creative as I want without being restricted to a certain assignment. "

Here's a drawing from his nature journal of the bird house he built.

Another view from the bird seed bell...

 15 Year Old Daughter:  "I like the Christian aspect of homeschooling because I get to study subjects in depth.  Also I prefer to study Creationism instead of evolution.  I am learning how to defend my beliefs and use them to witness.  I like Apologia Science, because the mp3 files allow me to listen to someone read the textbook aloud.  The videos help me to see what I am actually studying.  The experiments help me to experience the lesson being taught." (Editor Note: Here is yesterday's experiment.  She is learning about electrons while chasing a white balloon that hung from her bedroom ceiling!  That white balloon had normally been hanging down where she is standing.  She "activated" electrons on the green balloon so that she could "push" the white balloon around.  You can just barely see that the red string from which the white balloon is hanging is at an angle.)

Back to dd: "My favorite subject is literature.  I like books with girls as the main character.  My favorite books this year have been Not Regina and Dr. OmaNot Regina is about the Anabaptists during the reformation in Switzerland.   Dr. Oma is about Maria, the daughter of Prince William of Orange during the Protestant Reformation.  This is set in Holland while they are at war with the Spanish.  Since I like flowers, I enjoyed reading how Maria learns to use herbs from her grandma, while her father is away at war.  I also chose to do a research paper on Holland a few years ago, because I like their tulips.  Reading a literature book about some of the history I had learned was interesting."

When she was in the children's choir at church, she helped sing back up to the Mwangzaza Children's Choir 2004.  (She's hard to see but she's in the purple t-shirt, center, second row down.)

Here she is trying to keep the moves correct in the spring missionary outreach, "Acorns to Oaks".  She's wearing the green bandana.


Dad/Principal:  "I like having computers available for the kids to do their research.  I don't think public schools provide for this.  I like seeing my kids socialized across age lines.  When we sing at the nursing home, the children comfortably spend time talking to the senior citizens and distrubute music.  The history presentations are great because I get to eat!  I also enjoy seeing the kids' presentations.  I have enjoyed tailoring our summer vacations and field trips around the kids' studies.  We've been to lots of great places.  Laurie, you should post the pictures."   

To accomodate my dh's request, here are some vacation pictures that he wanted me to show.  ;)

We got to work at a loom at one of the Spanish Missions...

  Pretending to do school, at the very spot under the trees of the very first "public" school (mid 1800's) in central Texas!

At the Sauer-Beckmann Homestead near the LBJ birthplace in central Texas, collecting turkey eggs. First, the children were not too certain about going into that dark building to collect eggs from a scary looking turkey!  But they did!  Then my poor son tripped over the doorway into the kitchen and all the eggs went splat.  We assured him children in the 1800's and early 1900's (the era for this home of the midwife of LBJ's mother) probably had similar accidents!  

 One summer we went to the East Coast and experienced 3 hurricanes/tropical depressions.  No wind, thankfully but we were soggy!  First stop, Colonial Williamsburg (during Hurricane Alex).  (They have a Home Educator Visit every autumn and fall for about $5 a day with special activities.)  We had fun doing the maze at the Governor's Palace!

 Experiencing cruel and unusual punishment!  It was the kids' idea!  I promise!  They really do have big grins on their faces!

DH and ds in boot camp!

 While avoiding the worst of Hurricane Alex, we met with Thomas Jefferson.  He gave a great presentation to the children!

Ahhh, the hurricane went out to sea.  Sunny day!  Chopping wood at Good Hopes Plantation.

Carrying the water...

Getting drum lessons from the fife and drum corps...

Designing a hat at the milliner's shop...

Meeting Patrick Henry.  He gave a wonderful talk and had me so worked up from his "Give Me Liberty or Death" speech, I was ready to join the militia! If only I could be as articulate as him when meeting loyalists at the Raleigh Tavern.

Trying on armor at Jamestown...

Pounding corn at Powhaten's Village...

Scraping off fur from a hide with an oyster shell...

Keeping those fires going with a feathered turkey wing!

Inspecting General Washington's tent at Yorktown...

A colonial soldier...

Water, please!  My children simply don't work this hard at our house!!!

Then our ABC trip took us to New York for a pause between hurricanes. Riding through the lochs at the Champlain Canal on the Sadie, a turn of the century craft, in upstate New York...

Riding the Erie Canal on a barge pulled by a mule named Sal, in Rome, NY.  Yes, we all sang the song while on the ride....

Visiting Mount Vernon.  Hurricane/downgraded Tropical Depression Bonnie dumped a deluge of rain on us the day before and that morning. Finally the skies are clearing.  

I loved the round barn that George Washington designed.  The children got to run around in circles, simulating how the horses do so to step on the wheat to thresh it.  The wheat sifts through the floor boards into the basement below.  Then the horses came and did it.  My dc slept great that night!

Boat ride on the Potomac to see Washington DC!  This is a great way to see DC with little ones.  Now that they are older, we are planning a vacation to go back and walk up to these places this summer!

Touring Monticello during Hurricane Charlie (downgraded into a tropical depression).  By the time we left, the sun came out and no more rain the rest of the trip...home!  boo hoo!  I called this our ABC trip!  Anyway, we did a special chidren's tour of the mansion and then dodged rain drops to see what we could outside!  Here is poor dd!

Another year we hiked in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle, the second largest canyon in the USA. 

 We saw a musical about the local settlers of Texas. There were pyrotechnics with a simulated, yet realistic, lightening strike and grass fire.

We went to the Colorado Rockies and got to see elk up close and personal at over 11,000' elevation in Rocky Mountain National Park.  We experienced how elevation gain is like driving towards the North Pole!  This area is like the tundra.

 We got to see the Manitou Cliff Dwellings of Colorado...

Horseback riding in Rocky Mountain National Park, in the montane zone.  The guide is up front, then dd, then me.  The guys are behind me...

While analyzing plants in Colorado, we just missed the bear a few yards away. Hikers showed us a picture on their camera.  Hmmmm, I should have given them my e-mail to send me a copy.  It was a cute picture!  Just imagine a cute bear a few yards away from this plant!  ;)

Meeting with a marmot at the top of Pikes Peak! 

In Colorado Springs we went to Focus on the Family and produced our own copy of "Adventures in Odyssey!"  DH and I were the foley...

The children each had a voice part.  The voices of Whit, Connie and Kris were pre-recorded.  We got to take home our very own version of "Adventures in Odyssey" starring us!  And it was free!  Each part of FOF we visited offered us a different AIO CD.  For doing the taping, we also got a coupon to buy one, so we got a couple and a few other things at the bookstore.  We also went to Whit's End for lunch and got a wod-fam-choc-sod!