Life Returns with the Blossoms

Peach tree blossoms by the entrance to Tower Hill Botanic Garden

The first third of the year has flown by. Determined to not let April slip through my fingers before I posted a fresh blog entry, I have emerged from my hibernation ready to enjoy the longer days. It is time to start  gardening, walking labyrinths, and writing about my adventures.


For the past three months, home-schooling my daughter actively has taken much of my time. The hours we have spent together have been joyous ones, filled with all of the things we love. Some of the highlights have included:

Cooking and Baking

My daughter received Paula Deen’s ‘My First Cookbook’ as a birthday gift from her grandmother in September, and has made her way through a large amount of the recipes in this collection.This evening she is cooking the Meat Stew recipe. Other recipes she has tried over the past few months include Sloppy Joes, Egg Salad, and the “Bulls Eye” open egg sandwich.

Online Science Classes

My daughter took 2 online classes with science educator Gloria Brooks, known as NatureGlo to her students. Marine Biology II and Nature Connections were the subjects. For marine biology she prepared and gave a live presentation about seahorses. She also created a seahorse mask and talked to our UU congregation about how seahorses have become endangered. For Nature Connections, she began keeping a naturalist’s journal, in which she has drawn and written a number of entries.

A picture created with wooden tiles shaped like triangles and rhombuses

Hands-On Creativity

The classes that my daughter has attended with our home-schooling coop include one focused on The Human Body, one about Maps and Biomes, and one she is currently involved in that is explores the  history and physics of Flight.

In addition to constructing models of things she is studying, she loves to put together puzzles, build with Legos, and make pictures with tiles, like the one in the photo above.


She is working her way through the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. She just finished The Battle of the Labyrinth and is waiting for a library copy of The Last Olympian to become available. Riordan’s books have inspired her to read more stories based on Greek Mythology from the Daulaire’s book, and to listen to tapes about the subject.

Florida Vacation

In the tank with the fish at Sea World

In March, the two of us traveled to visit my aunt and uncle in Florida. We visited Sea World, Homossasa Springs Wildlife State Park, Crystal River Archaeological Site, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Sea World. At Sea World, she saw live sea horses and sea dragons, and had her picture taken with tropical fish inside their tank.

Looking forward to Summer!

In the next month we will be sliding into our summer schedule, which will include swimming, painting, and more reading. We hope that you will enjoy a fun season of sunshine and warm weather wherever you are.


If you have enjoyed this blog, you are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.


Places to Visit and Books to Read

Pine needle icicles

January is often a good month for appreciating fond memories of the past year as a springboard for jumping into the year that is about to unfold before us. The year 2013 is only a couple of weeks old and the rest of the year is full of possibilities. A good way to start the new year is having some useful information about those possibilities.


This post is a list of recommended places to visit if you are ever in Massachusetts, and several books to read on the beach if you happen to visit during the summer. They are links to review articles I have written about these places and books. I hope that you have a chance to enjoy them as much as I have.

Young puppeteer playing at the PST



The Puppet Showplace Theatre

The Puppet Showplace Theatre in Brookline Village, MA, is a local treasure trove of live family entertainment. It is accessible by the Green Line Trolley from the center of Boston, and has cafes and parks  nearby.  My husband and I took our daughter there often when we lived around the corner.

A magical place to be in the heart of Boston

Fairy Shop sign outside the entrance



The Hope Fairy Shop

Located on Newbury Street in Boston, this shop is a magical place to visit for children of all ages. The owner is very personable and the shop is delightfully decorated. Customers are sent off with their purchases wrapped with fairy dust and flower petals.

Logo of New England Magic in Salem, MA



New England Magic

Salem, Massachusetts is rich with history. A trolley ride around the town is a fantastic way to learn more about the people who have lived there. The town is also full of museums, shops, and cafes. New England Magic on Essex street deserves to be on your list of shops to browse.

Blue Moo: 17 Jukebox Hits From Way Back Never

Cover of Boynton's "Blue Moo"

 Blue Moo: Seventeen Songs from Way Back Never

If you are ever at a beach party with a portable CD player, Blue Moo is the book for you. The illustrations are by Sandra Boynton and the songs are by famous artists from the 1950s and 1960s, composed in the style of those decades with child-friendly lyrics.


Book cover of "Chocolat"


Chocolat, by Joanne Harris

The characters in this enchanting book will take form before your very eyes, and you will close the book craving chocolate forever more. The movie, starring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, and Judy Dench, is equally enchanting.

Item inspired by van Gogh


Leaving Gan Gogh, by Carol Wallace

This book began as an M.F.A.  thesis. It was later revised for publication as an art-inspired novel. The story is told from the perspective of Dr. Gachet, who befriended him toward the end of his life. It is ideal beach reading for all those who love this post-impressionist master.

Beautiful places are important to conserve for people to spend time in.  Pictured is a swing at Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, MA

Tree swing at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Chartities That Reach Around the World

My final inclusion in this post is a review of some organizations that I support, and recommend to others, so that those active in them may continue their important work.

May your year be filled with adventures that make happy memories!


If you have enjoyed this blog, you are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.


“Happy Halloween!” from Captain Jasmine of the Pirate Ship “Starry Night”

Happy misty Autumn to all of my readers! I hope your harvests have been plentiful, that you are recovering safely from hurricane Sandy if she passed through your town, and that you are ready to sit down with a mug of warm cider to read about a very special person.

In the spirit of Halloween, or Samhain, I am presenting a colorful character that I have created, named “Captain Jasmine.” She is the captain of the pirate ship Starry Night, which sails the seven seas restoring property to the poor that has been taken from them by dishonest seamen. When there is nothing to restore, the crew of the Starry Night spread justice, peace, and hope through food, storytelling, and art.

Following are links to the adventures of Captain Jasmine and her crew. Learn more as you navigate the seven seas of the world wide web. Happy sailing!

surf over rocksOf Pirates and Orphans

The crew of the Pirate Ship “Starry  Night”  lays out a feast at sunset for a grateful band of orphans. They do this at least once a year, and it is an eagerly anticipated highlight in the children’s lives.

bottled golden sunshine (tea) reflected on the ship's deck

 Of Pirates and Artists

The crew of the pirate ship Starry Night brings storytelling and art to the lives of children and teens in seaport towns. The art is hung in boat houses and shops, so the youth are engaged in constructive activities that contribute to the beauty of their towns. In this adventure, the crew also finds a small group of shipwrecked teens on a deserted island, fixes their boat, and restores them to their homes.

The "Gardener's Jolly Roger" that my daughter created for me with my gardening toolsThe Pirate Gardener’s Jolly Roger

The pirate princess of the Starry Night, daughter of the great Captain Jasmine, makes an appearance to describe how she created the likeness of the “Jolly Roger” flag with her mother’s gardening tools. Her mother shares a “gardening shanty,” which she was inspired to write in response to this honor.

Generous Captain Jasmine makes her crew welcome at her home by the sea when they are not under sail, and entertains them with storytelling and music.

If you have enjoyed this blog, you are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.

Winter Carnival at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Row of ice sculptures at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

On Saturday, February 25, 2012, my daughter and I enjoyed a few afternoon hours at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden Winter Carnival. Because the day was typically New England – windy with scattered snow flurries and intermittent sunshine – we spent most of our time inside.

Flower-like ice sculpture at Tower Hill

Festive Displays and Activities

Special events offered guests a chance to enjoy nature on many levels. Our first encounter came by meeting some alpacas on the way in. We also saw ice sculptures by the turtle fountains. There was a demonstration on how to make one of your own by a local ice sculptor, along with sheets that outline the process for guests to take home and try themselves. Since we did not arrive in time for the demonstration, I took the sheet for a future at-home winter project idea.

pine cone bird feeder tied to the railing of our back deck


Inside, there were 2 rooms for making things from recycled/re-purposed materials. My daughter made a white paper snowflake, a “chia pet” that will grow grass as hair, and a pine cone bird feeder. Later in the week, she hung the pine cone feeder from the railing of our back deck and scattered the seeds that did not stick across our backyard.

The artist in me could not resist the chance to create something myself, so I made a snow man by decorating a toilet paper tube.

Scientific Discoveries

When my daughter and her friend were finished making crafts, they wrote down the names of as many plants as they could  while they were there, inspired by the scavenger hunt sheets that the staff gave to visitors as we entered the lobby of the main building.

Dragon Tree leaves at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

One favorite plant found in the greenhouse known as the Orangerie was the “Dragon Tree,” which grows leaves of several colors, and adds a splash of hope for spring in the middle of the winter.

Discovery Corridor

Other science displays related to local flora and fauna were set up along the corridor between the main lobby and the back doors to the outdoor exhibits and trails. One table was set up with labeled bud-bearing twigs from various tree species, and magnifying glasses for studying them. Pictures of those trees were displayed in collage form on a board that stood in back of the samples.

Another table was set up with jars of “scat ” (poop) and the pictures of the animals that the scat samples came from. Young guests were challenged to attempt matching the scat to the animals that they thought produced them.

Look, Mom, I've grown antlers!

My daughter’s favorite table sported plaster animal tracks, a mouse nest in a protective plastic container, and pictures of local wild critters caught on camera doing what comes to them naturally. Along with the tracks, which my daughter enjoyed looking at and rearranging, were the deer antlers and jawbone. The staff allowed children to handle and study them, so my daughter could not resist trying them on for size.

Whose mouth is wider, mine or the deer's?

A Fond Farewell

At the end of the day, my daughter’s excitement of nature made it difficult for her to leave, but we know that we will return soon.

On our way back to our car, my daughter petted the alpaca llamas one more time, sporting the image of one on her cheek.

You are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.

A Fruit Wreath for our Feathered and Furry Friends

Sharing the Harvest

If you are wondering what to do with all of the fruit you have stored for the winter, look no further. There is a way to give back to the birds and other creatures who have helped fertilize your garden or orchard. Make a fruit wreath for them.

fruit wreath hanging from our hydrangea bush to feed the animals

A Winter Solstice Tradition

The hours of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth have reached their lowest level. The birds and other critters have less daylight to find food in their natural habitat. Why not help them out a bit, since they are fellow creatures that deserve the best chance at survival as we do? They have sung songs to us or entertained us with their antics. Our lives would be much less charming without them. The least we can do is feed them when they need it most.

my daughter stringing fruit onto craft wire to make the wreath

Solstice Fruit Wreath

My daughter and I have recently made a fruit wreath as part of a nature education class that we attended with our home-schooling friends. We strung cranberries, apple wedges, and pieces of orange onto wire and hung it on a branch of our hydrangea bush in our back yard. For a full description of how to make this wreath, please visit my article on hub pages, titled A Winter Solstice Tradition: Make a Fruit Wreath for the Animals.

You are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.

Apple Tasting Tour at Tower Hill

Apple Season

Apple harvesting season in New England is a long one. It lasts from early summer to late in the fall. The fruit has always been a symbol of both wisdom and an abundant harvest, since they are packed with nutrients and there are so many ways they can be enjoyed. This blog is a tribute to this versatile fruit.

Festival Tour

In the middle of October, my husband and I brought our daughter to the apple festival at Tower Hill Botanical Garden.  While she was off petting alpacas with a friend and her mother, we took an apple-tasting tour through the S. Lothrop Davenport Preservation Collection of heirloom apple varieties, led by a cadre of knowledgeable garden volunteers.

Weaving Around the Heirloom Apple Tree Collection at THBG

Apple tree orchard at THBG.

The garden staff gave us long blue sheets with a chart printed on them, along with a pencil.  The chart was organized by the order in which they ripen (Early, Mid-Season, and Late), then alphabetically within that classification for easy reference. On the sheet we could take notes about their flavor, etc. The information already given included the apple species’ date and place of origin, and their primary use: culinary, dessert (eating straight), or all purpose.

Box of Esopas Spitzenburg apples, a favorite of Thomas Jefferson

A Plethora of Varieties

Some of the trees in the orchard were too tall for the staff members to pick, and they mentioned that they have been acquiring more dwarfs (the root stock) so that the fruit is easier to harvest without the need for tall ladders. As we meandered among the fragrant trees, the staff graced us with the fascinating history behind them, as well as some of their nicknames. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple variety was the Esopas Spitzenburg Some believe this to be true, and others are unsure of whether this variety had been developed by the 18th century.

A ripe Seaconk Sweeting apple

Seaconk Sweeting

Of those that were picked, the flavor of the Seacok Sweeting was our favorite. The sweetness of the taste sent us to heaven. We could make a hearty daily snack of one for the rest of our lives.

wedge of a Seaconk Sweeting

A Slice of Paradise

Not only is the skin of the Seaconk Sweeting a beautiful green color, with a pinkish tint, the inside was crisp and rich, and smelled as heavenly as it tasted.

Basket of Baldwin apples

The Baldwin

Although our favorite dessert apple was the Seaconk Sweeting, we also liked the Baldwin. Our guide gave us a tip that it stands up to baking, and I wanted to buy one that I could use to bake an apple crisp from scratch with my daughter.  So I bought 4 Baldwins to bake that dessert with, which disappeared at the speed of light from the baking dish. Don’t think it ever had a chance to cool.

Baldwin apple with a kitchen towel that I purchased at the THBG gift shop

Grafting Classes at Tower Hill Botanical Garden

Membership at Tower Hill Botanical Garden has its benefits, and one of them is a newsletter of classes that are held there each season. One  such class is hands-on Grafting with scions from their heirloom collection. Next time they offer this class, I will make sure the am there with my gardening gloves on.

Membership Benefits

Tower Hill Botanical Garden also has a very large collection of resources in their library, which members may borrow. Members also enjoy discounts in their gift shop. Managed by the Worcester Horticultural Society, Tower Hill is a treasure worth keeping alive.

You are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.

Critter Walk

A Walk in the Woods

Last  Friday morning, my daughter and I joined a science class with Heather, one of the directors of our local Hands-On Nature program in Berlin, MA. We met with some of our home-schooling friends and walked in the woods, collecting critters to study up close through magnifying glasses. We also collected the resources we needed for making a worm farm in a jar.

The exposed roots of a tree that fell in a recent hurricane

Two children walking across the trunk of the fallen tree

Life in a Forest

As we walked along, some of the things that we discovered included a broken down fort made of sticks, a natural jungle gym of tree branches, and a toppled tree with its roots made visible above the ground.



The children were excited about climbing on top of  these giants, testing their sense of balance, and observing their features more closely as they spent some of their youthful energy.


jelly fungus on a stick.


We also found sticks with jelly fungus on them. The fungus feels and looks a bit like seaweed or kelp.

the potato-shaped mushroom



Other fascinating finds included a mushroom shaped like a potato and a Doll’s Eye (actaea pachypoda) berry plant.


The "Doll's Eye" berry plant (actaea pachypoda)




2 salamanders in a jar



The Critters

close-up of the tiny frog in a jar

Both the adults and children looked under rocks and logs for the worms. Also found were 3 salamanders and a spring peeper tree frog. When we returned to Heather’s home, we observed the critters in special jars with air holes and tops that doubled as magnifying glasses. After carefully observing them,  the children drew pictures of them.  After we thanked the critters and said “goodbye,” Heather set them all free – with one exception. We made homes for the worms in the jars that we brought, and took them to our own homes.

My daughter's Science Journal report about the worm farm she created.

Keeping Records

When we arrived home, my daughter drew a picture of her worm farm in her science journal, labeled the separate layers in it, and wrote a short report about the process.



Children scooping the bottom soil layer into the jar for their worm farms


Worm Farms

Worms eat food scraps and turn them into nutrient-rich soil. Their castings (poop) are a naturally fertilized soil that is ideal for feeding house plants and for beginning gardeners to enrich their growing soil. Please read about the step-by-step process for creating your own worm farm in my article titled Home Science – How to Make a Worm Farm on Hub Pages.

You are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.

Kindergarten is for Growing Children

Construction paper and paint collage

Throughout my life, I have been under the impression that the definition of Kindergarten is “a Garden of and for Children.” It is a place where the natural curiosity of children is nurtured, where they are encouraged to grow in their ability to get along with other children, and the materials they will need to express the knowledge they glean through interacting with their world  are provided for them: colorful paper, crayons, markers, paints, glue, safety scissors, stamps, stencils, games, seeds, soil, flour or sand to trace letters in, a variety of materials to build with, etc. They need lots of play and sunshine, and even a little rain and snow, to grow – not time with computers. This was my experience as a Kindergartener, and I had hoped that it would be my daughter’s. She did enjoy some of the playful, hands-on, nature of Kindergarten, and her teachers were lovely, but there was so much “busy work” and computer time that could have been replaced by movement or a hands-on craft project.

The Physical World Rules!

An abstract playground design made from construction paper

In the interests of “No Child Left Behind,” the federal government, along with many state departments of education, has become rather unrealistic about what each grade level should be expected to achieve. Younger children who are entering school need to be given a chance to meet their world on their own terms, and their strengths used to foster learning. One of their strengths is the high level of natural energy that they possess. So why is it that in the twenty-first century, young children with a plethora of natural energy are forced to sit in chairs at desks with so much less time to move around than students who have spent time in Kindergarten classrooms before them? They may be able to achieve more, but there is a cost to pushing them forward too soon. Leaving some of the writing for first grade in favor of experimenting with physics through games and meaningful materials may be met with greater excitement. Kindergarten is a time to explore with one’s whole being!  It is meant to be a “garden of experiences.” Past field research has proven that children learn better when they have a chance to exercise at least an hour or two each day. This includes yoga. Or, why not create a labyrinth at school that children may have a chance to walk each day? I am sure that the teachers, as well as their students, would love those options better!

Basic Human Social Relationships

Three-Dimensional "Arboretum Garden" made with recycled materials during Spring Break

Interaction with others is vital to the developing brains of children. Fellow students and teachers are the people who will give them the experience of learning what it means to be human through working together on projects, sharing, taking turns, and working out differences with respect. Play is the form of learning they do best. It is through interaction with others that children learn empathy, ethics, and diplomacy.  This type of learning is seldom quantifiable on an individual basis, so the time for it has been shrunk. Yet this type of learning takes time and is vital to the future of our students. Important life opportunities and true career success is dependent upon the quality of our relationships with each other. Moving to the next stage of one’s learning depends as much on social relationships to those who hold the open door to meaningful opportunities as they are on the skills that the individual brings to them!  The foundation for a successful and fulfilling life for our children is laid out while they are still very young. Let’s make Kindergarten a place for these relationships to strengthen.

Lego house with yard

A Kindergartener’s World Is Three-Dimensional

Sitting in chairs at desks is not as important as getting down and dirty with the materials that are part of everyday life, both solid and liquid. They are meant to listen to stories, tell stories, act out stories, and express themselves through the arts!  Keeping a small daily journal is good, but prefabricated pencil-and-paper “busy work” is not necessary. Sitting in front of a computer only delays growth of brain cells, it does not help them. The so-called child-friendly, “educational” programs that are used as a replacement for one-to-one interaction do not add to knowledge. They are just more “busy work.” What Kindergarteners learn from more readily is creating things with their hands and observing how things work, drawing their observations and writing a just few words about them. The materials they use are most meaningful to them when they are made by the students themselves.

Husband + Daughter = Ozymandius, almost (De Cordova Sculpture Park and Art Museum)

Play at Home, Too!

No Matter what path you take to your child’s Kindergarten education, playing with your child will be a great way to find out what is happening inside them each day, and keeping the family bonds strong.

Playful Parenting by Larry Cohen is a great book to read if you’d like to know more about that.

Links to Meaningful Education

Below are some online links to more information and examples of learning that uses the strengths of young people in their educational plan

Physical Education and Learning

Kindergarteners and Learning

Robert Fulghum, and others, about Kindergarten

The Race to Nowhere

Hands-On Homeschooling

De Cordova Sculpture Park and Art Museum visit

Have a Happy Year!

You are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.

It’s Time for a Hearty Harvest!

Our backyard veggie garden full of tomatoes, squash, and corn

It is the middle of August, and we are cruising for September, Indian Summer, and a harvest of plenty for the soups we will make when the air grows crispier and we need something to warm us.

In the meantime, it’s still summer, and there are plenty of veggies to harvest for making scrumptious salads. Last night, I made a batch of pesto for my husband and I to eat with our cheese ravioli.  On Tuesday night, I made a vegetable stir fry with squashes, string beans, carrots, a pepper, and an onion from our backyard beds.

Urban Community Gardeners in Boston seem to be enjoying an abundant harvest, as well.

My daughter delights, as I did when I was a child, in eating the veggies right out of the garden. We don’t use pesticides, so it is safe for her to do this. Those that  have dirt on them are washed with well water from our hose.

She informed me that she has grown tired of eating salads each night with dinner, as she is munching on kale and reaching for a string bean. After snacking on greens, she moves on to pick some cherry tomatoes to feast upon. I grab and rinse a carrot for her to munch on. She does her best Bugs Bunny imitation as she takes a bite.

Harvesting Berries and other Fruit

Blueberry bush full of ripe berries

Along with vegetables, fruits are also ripening on bushes, trees, and vines, and are ready to pluck and eat.The blueberries on the bushes by our co-housing community’s common house are ripe and ready for us all to enjoy.

Our community peach tree, 100% harvested

Luckily, the berries are abundant and more grow and ripen as we pick those that the bush has given us already. This is not true for the peaches. They ripened the week that I was away in Virginia, and when I returned, they had all been harvested. I think that I will ask someone to set a couple aside for me next year. They must  have been very good peaches, given how fast they were eaten up.

A Writing Exercise

When I was working long hours downtown Boston earlier this month, my daughter wrote down a list of veggies that I asked her to pick for me to eat at work, since I left early in the morning and returned home after dark. She wrote the list out with paper and pencil, and asked about the spelling when she was unsure. From a home education perspective, this was an excellent, practical writing exercise, and I saved the list in her work sample folder.

The Gourds of Late Summer and Early Autumn

Baby Watermelon growing on our vine

While she was visiting her grandmother in Virginia, I sent her a picture of the baby watermelon that has formed on the vine in our garden bed. It really is adorable, and we look forward to watching it grow and ripen. Cucumbers are also beginning to form on their respective vines and I look forward to cutting them up into salads.  I am sure she will want to eat them plain, just peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces, and that is just fine with me.The butternut squash that are beginning to grow will be the basic stock for my soups, along with the carrots and the onions.

Pesto Recipe

Below, I will share with you the ingredients in the Pesto recipe that I blended together in my food processor last night:

1. Handful of basil leaf stalks, washed thoroughly.

2. Place basil leaves in the bowl of the food processor as you take them off the stem. I also added the leaves from a stalk of kale  to sweeten the mix.

3. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

4. Add about 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

5. Add a tablespoon or two of Parmesan cheese.

6. Add a handful of shelled pistachio nuts (or pine nuts).

7. Blend thoroughly in your processor, and voila! You have your pesto.

8. Toss the pesto in the pan with the (drained) pasta you have cooked.

Bon Apetit!

You are invited to visit my home page and order my book, The Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruits and Berries: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply.