Magical Nature Walk + a Fungi Look & Find

It always amazes me how an ordinary walk through the woods transforms through the eyes of a child. On a short hike along a familiar trail this weekend, my children found this "woodland fellow":
...added to this "stick sculpture" (which has been there for some time now):
...and discovered "magical sand rocks," which were crumbled and sprinkled over many a plant and tree, giving them magical growing powers, among others:
With so much magic around us, it was no wonder we spotted an abundance of mushrooms, too! We found this familiar fungi all over the forest, along with some beautiful moss (not a fungus) and lichens (a combo of fungus and alga):
Fall is a great time to spot mushrooms, as seasonal rains and moderate temperatures allow a great diversity of these unique organisms to pop up right now. We only took pictures on our walk; however we dug up a couple of mushrooms growing in our backyard garden to make a "spore print" when we got home.
{This particular shroom didn't leave much of a print, so we'll be on a the lookout for a different type to try again.}
Try It!
Remove the stem of a fresh mushroom & place the cap, gills-down, on a sheet of white paper. Place a glass upside-down on top of the mushroom, to keep air currents away. Let it sit for at least overnight, then remove the glass and lift the mushroom cap. You should have a "print" that reflects the pattern of the mushroom's gills or pores. Spore prints can be useful in identifying mushrooms, but are also quite beautiful. To preserve your print, spray it with an acrylic fixative.


Fresh Juice for Sale

Remember selling things when you were a kid? The thrill of making even the smallest amount of money... of someone actually buying something you had to offer. It was so fun, so validating (truth be told, it still is!). A lot of parents I know discourage their kids from peddling goods on the driveway these days. But I don't. My gals have sold all kinds of things to passers by, even homemade comics! Most recently, they wanted to sell fresh, organic apple juice.
And so they did. With a little parental help, they juiced the apples themselves, packaged up some wheat crackers to accompany it, set up an attractive stand, made their own signs, and sat, diligently, until customers appeared. And they did. They always do; I believe my neighbors would buy just about anything from my gals. (So grateful!)

In the end, they made several dollars, while gaining skills in presentation, math, patience, and communication. And building their sense of worth too. I still think "kid stands" are a good thing... how about you?


Pumpkin Love

I have a new article in the fall issue of Edible Sarasota magazine on Fall's Favorite Fruit: Pumpkins! Check it out for tips on picking, prepping, and preparing pumpkins, as well as recipes for:

What are your favorite ways to enjoy pumpkins? Share your tips & ideas in the comments!


A New Family eGuide ~ Celebrations of Light

A few years ago, I began the process of building new wintertime traditions for my family. I was fueled by the desire to create meaningful holidays and long-lasting memories. And I wished to spread our celebrations out over the season, instead of concentrated on a couple of days.

So I began researching the winter festivals and traditions of other cultures, religions, and philosophies. I pulled a bit of inspiration from my Christian roots, a little from traditional Waldorf festivals, a bit from Pagan beliefs, and still more from my deep love of nature. The traditions we now honor each wintertime have become known to my family as our "celebrations of light," as each one focuses on bringing light & warmth to our lives during the darkest time of year.

Following the success I had in sharing my personal "camp mom" experience with the At-Home Summer Nature Camp eGuide this past summer, I've decided to share my family's wintertime festivities in a new Family eGuide, Celebrations of Light. Once again, I've collaborated with some of the most inspiring & creative writers, bloggers, and women I know to create a comprehensive guide, packed full of ideas and direction. It's designed to both inspire and gently guide families in developing their own wintertime traditions - beyond faith and cultural heritage, and full of light & warmth.

The Celebrations of Light Family eGuide offers you background and resources for five family-centered celebrations (these are the five my family celebrates): Winter Solstice, Advent Season, St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, and New Year's. For each of these festivities, the guide offer ideas and tutorials for: a non-denominational ritual, a project or craft, a seasonal recipe, and a bright idea to experience the true meaning of the celebration.

As far as I know, there is no other resource out there quite
like this one - so I'm pretty excited to bring it to you! 
Learn more, and pre-order your copy now by clicking HERE.


Sunrise, Sunset

Since the Fall Equinox, the girls and I have been tracking the sunrise and sunset times. We made a chart on poster board where we record, for each day, the: sunrise time, the sunset time, the number of daylight hours and minutes, and the difference in daylight from the day before. In only 14 days, our daylight hours have already decreased by 20 minutes!

Our plan is to keep charting until the Winter Solstice, after which the days will gradually begin to grow longer again. My girls are surprisingly intrigued by this project; this morning they were enthusiastically announcing the sunrise time to the other kids at the bus stop (at which we arrived only one minute past the official sun-up time, gah!).

Try It! If you want to track the entire season, use the Internet to go back in time and catch-up on sunrise and sunset times where you live, since the Equinox (September 22nd). Or, from here on, use a poster board or nature journal to record the daily sunrise/sunset times (available online, or typically in your local daily paper). Alternatively, you could record the times weekly, on the same day each week.

* If you do this, let's compare notes! Post a comment here telling where you are and how many minutes of daylight you've lost since the Fall Equinox.


Backyard Camping {getting in the spirit}

We're going camping next weekend, for the first time in a long time. And even then, we've only gone a couple other times with the kids. As a child, I camped with my family a lot. Usually on the beach in the Florida Keys, but all over the state and into the Georgia mountains some too. These are some of my very fondest childhood memories. With my girls now 9 and almost 6, it feels like they are the ideal ages to begin making new family-camping memories. So we pulled out our gear and took it for a "test run" on the back porch on the eve of the Autumn Equinox.
It was fun! We cooked dinner on the grill, and ate next to our tent as the sun set over the water behind our house. The girls roasted marshmallows over the hot coals for s'mores (of course). And then they watched a movie in their camp chairs, because, well we were just on the back deck... and daddy pushed the TV cabinet around to face out the sliding glass doors! After that, we slept in the tent, through the muggy, still Florida night. (I'm really hoping for a cooler, dry weekend.)

It was good to take stock and test out our gear... the air mattresses went flat in the night. We're missing a tarp. Batteries need replacing. My camp chair is the pits. So now we're re-stocking, and getting set for the real deal. The girls and I have been perusing The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids*... what a great resource! It offers gear checklists, camp grub recipes, outdoor recreation & camp craft ideas, smart tips, and more. The girls want to do it all... hiking, stargazing, wildlife watching, nature journaling, fishing, canoeing, and geocaching! With only a weekend trip planned, we'll see...

If you have any camping tips, gear suggestions (we need a camp stove),
or fun ideas for camping with kids, please share them here!

*After reading this book, I visited the author's blog, because I'm just curious like that. She had some good resources from the book under the "camp" tab, including her ultimate camp checklist and a recipe for apple pie s'mores! Plus, there was a fun list of the 11 Best Camp Books for Kids.


Flower Arranging with Children

My youngest daughter's Montessori kindergarten class began a new lesson this month - flower arranging. The lesson is part of the kids' practical life studies, intended to help children care for our environment and build concentration. When a note came home about it, requesting one child bring in a bouquet of fresh flowers each week, it prompted me to write this post, which has been floating around in the back of my mind for some time.
We grow a lot of flowers in our garden and yard, so there are nearly always fresh bouquets on our dining table, in the kitchen, and here and there about the house. My girls especially love to have small bouquets on their nightstands. The eldest likes to help pick and harvest the flowers, while my youngest really enjoys cutting and arranging them. It's a simple, sweet, and mindful activity to do with most any age child.


Try It!

Even if you don't have a garden, or native flowers growing in your yard, your family can enjoy this activity by picking up a fresh bouquet at the market (we also have a local farm that offers pick-your-own flowers, so check around). Here are a few steps to get you started:
  1. Invite your child (or children) to create a flower arrangement.
  2. Allow them to choose their own vase or vessel to hold the arrangement. Choices might include a repurposed bottle, a mason jar, a recycled tin can, or a glass or ceramic vase.  
  3. Provide a jug of water, or easy access to the tap, for filling their vase with water (about half full).
  4. Have your child choose flowers, one at a time, from a purchased bouquet, or harvested from your garden. Show them how to remove any leaves or foliage from the lower 3/4 of the stem, which will be submerged in water. {Just pinch them off gently with your fingers.}
  5. Direct your child to hold each flower up next to their vase to check the height; have them cut off the tip of the stem until it is the right height for their vase. {You may have to assist very young children with this step.}
  6. Encourage children to continue measuring, cutting, and arranging flowers until their bouquet looks the way they wish.
  7. Invite your child to display their arrangement wherever, and however, they like. {In my gal's classroom, the vases are placed on doilies. At home, we often tie a ribbon or fabric scrap around the neck of our vessel, usually a mason jar.}