Monday, October 23, 2017

September and into October

September flew into October and we are finally enjoying our fall break after the first eleven weeks of the school year. 

We managed to keep up a constant stream of hatching butterflies during September. It was so fun to have nature right in our own dining room and watch everyone's excitement when a new chrysalis or butterfly appeared.


Andrew turned 15 on the last day of August. He's had fun being on the JV soccer team at Covenant. Soccer occupies all of his spare time. Andrew is most excited right now because the varsity soccer team has made it to the State championships! 


September saw the final golf matches of Rachel's high school career. I will miss my two-hour vacations twice weekly in the fall (i.e. time on the golf course).

Cousin Olivia managed to come to a match one afternoon!


 I started up my art classes the first week of September and had five classes running for six weeks! It was a lot of fun, not to mention a lot of work, and I can't wait for the next round of classes to start. I'm going to have a short session in November and then start up longer sessions in February and April.


I loved watching the kids get excited about nature and then see how they translated that to artwork in their sketchbooks.

We had a beautiful rainbow one evening. September was unusually hot and we had to have our air-conditioning running most of the month. We were all glad when rain finally showed up and the weather cooled down a bit.


 We took our traditional trip to the apple orchard and enjoyed the company of friends!


Rachel sang and played violin in the fall music concert. She loves choir so much. (She is fourth from the left in the front row.)


It's hard to believe this is Rachel's last year of high school. College applications have been sent and now we have to wait to see how everything pans out!


Everyone loves when cousin Olivia comes around. Laura has to make up for not having a younger sibling.


James had a milestone birthday at the end of September -- the big 13!


Instead of a birthday party we planned a day trip to Chicago to visit the Art Institute. We specifically went to see the armor collection but enjoyed lots of other artwork as well!

I loved seeing this self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh in person. The colors were so vibrant!


And this was my favorite of the various Monets on display:


The armor collection was pretty incredible and definitely enjoyed by all!


We have been studying Rome in school so it was fun to see some amazing Roman mosaics.


The kids really loved the collection of miniature rooms in the basement.


After the museum we walked around a bit and enjoyed some of the iconic displays/works of art that are around.


It seems this "bean" appears in everyone's pictures:


While sitting on a bench watching the kids play at the fountain I looked down and saw the most beautiful reflection in a puddle. Amazing where one can find beauty......


James thoroughly enjoyed his special day out and I think he can't wait to go again!


Another visit from Olivia!


Of course everyone wants their turn to hold her!


 This year the fall foliage has been hugely disappointing -- especially following on after the incredible fall we experienced last year. I took this two weeks ago. Many of the trees turned brown and dropped their leaves due to the lack of rain in September. I suppose we can't have an incredible display every single year.


Grandpa stopped by with a present for James' birthday -- just what James was hoping for.


And so we made it to the end of another school term.


It's hard to believe that the holidays are just around the corner -- only seven weeks to go after fall break until we hit winter break. It makes going back to school just a little bit easier!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Nature Journal: Plein Air Painting

Over the past two weeks I've done several "plein air" painting outings down to my Secret Beach. Plein air is the fancy term for outdoor painting. It was popularized by Claude Monet and his Impressionist friends in the 19th century. We have our own hero of plein air painting here in Indiana -T. C. Steele (whose home can be visited in Brown County). 


When out in nature, it's hard to narrow down a subject from everything that is in our eyesight. In class we talked about choosing what we feel inspired by or emotionally connected to. We also practiced using view finders and the Rule of Thirds.


I loved taking the classes out of the classroom and into nature to sit and compose their drawings!


One class was even blessed to discover a newt!


It's so nice and peaceful at the Secret Beach. However, there are a number of hickory and black walnut trees around so every now and then one thinks a group of boys is throwing things our way!


James decided on a grouping of autumn leaves.


I chose the river bank to paint today.


One of my favorite nature writers is Gladys Taber and this week I finished reading her autobiography:

 (Harvest of Yesterdaysby Gladys Taber)
In this book Taber tells the story of her life from her birth in the late 19th century to her growing up years in the midwest and her eventual settling in Connecticut and Massachusetts. She tells of her college years during World War I and how she survived the flu epidemic that followed. We learn about her marriage and eventually her purchase of the Connecticut farm that would become so prominent in her writings. I always enjoy hearing how writers/artists began their careers and what influences in their childhood play a part in their later life.

I've just finished the first session of my Nature Journaling classes and have a two week break before the November session begins! (More information on my classes can be found here: Westside Art Workshop).

One more day of school and then fall break begins! I hope to be able to have a little more time than usual to enjoy the beauty of fall!

Please note: this post contains affiliate links.




Thursday, October 5, 2017

Nature Journal: Seeds

Last week we drew seeds in our nature journaling class. Everyone took a brown paper "lunch bag" and filled it up with any seed they could find while we were on our hike. One child managed a blue Solomon's Seal and two discovered Jack-in-the Pulpit -- quite hard to find in our woods. We even found a seed head none of use had ever seen before (see bottom of post).

I loved drawing the seed outlines with a sharpie. Such great results from such a small amount of effort.


It took a lot more effort (i.e. patience) to draw the Osage Orange as it has such an intricate pattern. I love these huge, brightly colored and strongly scented seeds.

The children's pages were wonderful! I love seeing how each one chooses to illustrate our theme.

Look at these fantastic line drawings!


I think all of us were drawn to the brightly colored berries.


The table was a huge mess of seeds and papers!


Black walnuts were also very popular. By the time the class ended we were all standing around with a nut cracker cracking hickory nuts and sampling the insides!


One day we chanced upon a tiny hill covered in these seed pods sticking straight out of the ground. Thanks to someone on Instagram we later identified this to be the seed head of Wild Leeks, also known as Ramps. I'll be returning there in the spring!

The seeds were just gorgeous -- so blue they were almost black and perfectly round, just like  exquisite pearls. In fact, I wouldn't have minded a brooch made to look like this.


 Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane
This book is one that I just finished reading and thoroughly enjoyed. The author goes around Britain to the "flatlands," "uplands," "waterlands," "coastlands," "underlands," "woodlands," etc. searching out the native word descriptions of each place as well as introducing us to authors who are particularly acquainted with these lands, not to mention describing his experiences in such places.

Each chapter contains a lengthy list of words used to describe the landscape -- words that are becoming rare and even extinct in their usage. Words like "haze-fire" (luminous morning mist through which the dawn sun is shining), "slunk" (muddy or marshy place), and "cockle" (ripple on the water caused by the wind).

MacFarlane impresses upon us the beauty of language and of nature and the importance of preserving the one and experiencing the other. Definitely worth checking out if you are a nature lover!

If you are local, and are interested in signing up for one of my classes, check out my Facebook page: Westside Art Workshop.

And now it's nearly time for our first October weekend! Hope you all enjoy some beauty wherever you are!

PS: PomPom is hosting a Nature Journal link-up so you can check out her blog for more nature posts.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Collecting Seeds



It's the time of year for seeds and there are so many different kinds gracing the garden or dotting the paths through the woods. At this time of year I get a sort of anxiety to get out in the garden and collect my flower seeds before it's too late. Year after year I keep my cosmos, zinnias, and marigolds going this way.

Out in the woods the ground is covered with black walnut and hickory nuts. If you failed to notice them underfoot you might hear the "thump, thump" of them falling nearby. Dark brown seed pods are hanging from all the redbud trees and the first acorns are dropping beneath the oaks.

We are distracted by the hot weather (90F) but if it were cooler we'd see the squirrels running to catch the falling nuts and store them away for winter. If we were children we could collect all these native seeds and pretend to have a "shop" where we sold them: nature's free toys. (This year we are all stuck inside with the air conditioning.)

Maybe next week when the temperature falls again it will seem more like fall and we can go out and collect our treasures and have that squirrel-ish feeling of getting ready for winter.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Consider the Monarchs


We are studying monarch butterflies in our nature journaling classes this week. Their incredible life cycle and migration story are captivating and awe-inspiring. These delicate creatures of beauty, seemingly so vulnerable, will soon make a 2,500 mile migration journey to spend the winter in Mexico. It might take them almost 2 months to get to Mexico, traveling 50-100 miles a day and as high up as 11,000 feet. But they will find their way to the very same tree their great-great-grandparents roosted in last year!

Understanding the monarch generations opens up a whole new appreciation for what is happening right now. There are four generations of monarch butterflies that hatch each summer. The first generation, the children of the Mexican migration, hatch in April/May on the first shoots of milkweed that appear in spring. Those butterflies will live only 2-6 weeks and lay their eggs for the second generation. The generations continue over the course of the summer until September and October (right now!!).


The butterflies that are hatching right now won't die after 2-6 weeks. They are going to live 6-8 months! It will be this fourth generation that takes flight sometime soon and heads south for the winter.

I have two chrysalises hanging in my kitchen right now -- I watched their mother lay them, as eggs, on the milkweed out front. She was probably from the third generation and will never see Mexico. Her life may not be as full of adventure but her life is crucial to the unbroken link of generations. Her eggs hatched, the caterpillars grew (2,700 times their original size) and now the fourth generation is preparing to hatch and fulfill its destiny.


 Did you know it's easy to tell a male and female monarch apart? Google a picture -- the male has prominent black spots on it's hind wings. I can't wait to see if we have males or females in our chrysalises.

It's taken four years of waiting to find these first monarch caterpillars on my milkweed plants. Next year I plan to add butterfly weed and swamp milkweed to my garden in hopes of attracting more monarchs. The presence, and proliferation, of monarchs is a good indication of how other pollinators in the area are doing -- low numbers of monarchs doesn't bode well for pollination in general.



The life of the monarch brings the great theological topic of God's providence right down into practical gardening terms -- God's providence is his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. Think about every variable in the monarch yearly cycle and how vulnerable the butterflies are. Yet God provides for this cycle to continue year after year, putting that instinct into the 4th generation to fly to Mexico. If God cares for the seemingly insignificant butterflies how much more is he caring for you and me?