Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Today the girls and I took a field trip to Portage, the city built around the 1.4 mile land-hike between the Fox River and the Wisconsin River.

We began our day with a stop at the Mackenzie Center, a nature education center adminstered by the DNR. What a gem! I had never been here, but the girls and I loved it!

As we walked in, Daisy , looking up through the forested area asked, "How do you know if a maple tree is a Sugar Maple?"

Ever quick on my feet, I answered, "Why, you just look at its nametag, of course!"
The girls were very intrigued by the rocks from which the welcome center was built. They all came from local fields and were the diverse rocks I grew up with--granite, basalt, sandstone, schist. Around here, all they know is the yellow flint-type rock we have. How did all these rocks come to the local fields, you ask? Why, the glaciers thoughtfully brought them!

Next up was the wildlife exhibits. And unexpected perk of this field trip (we hadn't planned on stopping here, really) was to see all the wildlife that once roamed an unsettled Wisconsin.

There were bison and deer.


Coyotes (not pictured) and cougars.

Yay! A turkey vulture!

Owls, hawks and an eagle. See the eagle's nest? It's huge!

The most social badger we've ever seen.

There was also a bobcat, fisher, porcupine, raccoon, gray and red foxes, a skunk, a possum. At each display was a little plaque with an imprint of the animal's footprint. The girls were delighted by these and checked out each one.
All of the animals were either injured or captive-born and are unable to survive in the wild. While it looks like conditions are not optimal (small cage settings with cement floors), the cages were clean and all the animals looked healthy.

One of the wardens actually showed up to do some cleaning while we were there and answered a bunch of questions for us. I was curious to know how long the animals lived there and surprisingly, many of them had outlived their in-the-wild lifespan at this center already. Overall, the place was well-done.

In another area of the center, there was a real 120 year old log cabin being used to house a logging display. There was a display of the maple syrup process and a huge ancient log (almost 300 years old from the time it was a seedling!)

The girls found this rebar wigwam. It was messy, so immediately they set out to sweep it clean with branches they found.

Our next stop was in Portage at the Surgeon's Quarters, the only remaining building of Fort Winnebago. It's located at the exit point of the Fox River at the portage. Marquette and Joliet were here.

It's a nice little tour, filled with amazingly old and wonderful things. My favorite was a beautiful sampler in PRISTINE condition made by a 12 yo girl in 1802!

We also visited the Indian Agent house where we had a nice, private tour by a nice homeschooling mom (she was the docent of the day). My favorite thing about this place (we were here with Rose Bud when she studied WI history) is the 200 year old elm tree in front of the house. When we arrived, the tree doctor was just delivering the estimate for the tree's triennial (is that the word? Every three years) IV treatment to prevent Dutch Elm disease. The tree's 2 siblings have already died from it, but this one remains spectacular and healthy! Here is a nice pdf telling the story of the Kinzies, the Indian Agent house (scroll down) and the Elms.

A nice bit of Wisconsin history can be found in the book Wau-bun, written by Juliette Kinzie in 1832 of her life at Fort Winnebago and as the wife of the Indian agent at Portage. It is considered the earliest written history of this part of Wisconsin.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Science: Birds

If you're reading the new posts from the top, start here: Science: Snakes

Our new property is blessed with birds of all kinds: Robins, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Grackles, Bluebirds, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, Chipping Sparrows, Barn Swallows and Mourning Doves, to name a few.

We are also blessed with evergreen trees. Little ones. Christmas tree sized. In fact, one lovely specimen will become our Christmas tree next winter.

Anyway, Rose Bud loves to nose about wearing her scarf. Last weekend she went nosing about for bird nests. So far she (and Daisy) have found 3 robin nests and two chipping sparrow nests.

We've already watched one robin's nest hatch, grow up and fly away. It was built on an old wooden step-ladder leaning against the chicken coop, so it was super easy for the kids to see into. This one had 3 eggs, only two of which hatched. (the last egg is still in there----ewww!) Another nest was WAAAY up in a hole in our big tree. The third robin nest is in a big pine tree by the driveway.

Last night, one of the baby pine robins flopped himself out of the nest. It's just about ready to fly, so it wasn't any terrible crisis. But the kids were so interested to follow it on it's adventure. It hopped and flapped its way around the house. At one point, they lost it in the flower bed and so gave up. But later, Rose Bud saw it again from her bedroom window and they all watched it hop to the safety of a bush near the original next where the mom finally brought it something to eat.

The Chipping Sparrow nests are so tiny! Their nests are both in very little pine trees. One has four teeny tiny naked birds with just a bit of silly fluff on their heads. The other nest had four tiny eggs.Here she is, chipping madly at us while we photograph her eggs.

The barn swallows have been desperately trying to set up residence in the (drumroll....) barn, but have been foiled repeatedly by Mr. GT. He likes to keep the door shut. I think they're finding a crack to sneak in, but I get his point. They do make a mess.

The orioles had two nests here last year. Once the the foliage has come out, the nests are almost impossible to find unless you know exactly where they are. But in the winter you can see the little sling nests hanging out at the tips of their branches. We think we've found their new nest by watching where they fly in the big tree.

The bluebirds, we hope, are nesting in the bluebird house, although we fear it is actually the Red-Wing Blackbirds. In any case, nest or no, the bluebirds insist on remaining in our yard. Lucky for us.

At this new place, we miss the Indigo buntings and the cardinals, the nuthatches and chickadees. But in their place, we are enjoying the bluebirds and the barn swallows.

Oh yeah, and then there are the vultures. The raccoons seem unable to cross the road and remain alive around here and being out in the open, the turkey vultures make short work of them. It's fun to drive around the curve in the road and come upon two huge vultures picking at the carcass. Mmmmm!

Next up, pollen and another dead thing.


We have been hitting science hard around here. In fact, it's pretty much all the kids have been doing lately.

You do remember they are, um, unschooled for science, right?

They are ALL having a blast poking around here and nosing around there exploring the world outside.

Here are some of the highlights:

It started with Kerala, Nonny's dog barking her head off one day. Banana Boy ran up the hill to see why and discovered Kerala had found a snake. A big one. A really big one. Probably this one: Fox Snake (Pine Snake) By the time Mom got up there, it had slithered away. Drat! I never get to see snakes!

It took about 2 weeks, but Friday, Mr. GT called out "SNAKE!" He had almost just run it over with the wheelbarrow coming back from the garden. It too, slithered off into the grass. Mrs. GT, determined to get a glimpse, went marching up the hill and nosed around.

"SNAKE!!" she yelled, and everyone came running. Mr. GT took one look and said, disgustedly, "That's not my snake."

It was, in fact, a whole NEW snake. Mrs. GT had found a Brown Snake (DeKay's Snake). Cool! I found my own snake! When it had had enough of us all peering at it, it slipped under the daylilies. Pepper tried to spread them apart to see it again. We call her Pepper-No-Fear.

Saturday (the NEXT day), Rose Bud called out, "SNAKE!" She had found another fox snake, in the front yard this time. It was also much smaller than the first one.

Two hours later, Mr. GT yelled out, "SNAKE!" He had one in the garage. It zipped out to hide under a pine tree. We think this was the same fox snake as the front-yard snake.

Rose Bud and I went shopping. When we came home, we had just missed a giant fox snake. Daisy had seen it winding through the grass from her upstairs bedroom window, so they all came out to look at it. That one disappeared into the flower bed (look out, Nonny!) and could have been the original up-the-hill giant snake.

Towards evening, Mr. GT again hollered, "SNAKE!" (how come HE always finds them?????). He had a little one on the cement under his trailer.

Oh, and then there was the dead Northern Red-Belly snake. Rose Bud was nosing around in the mud made by the backhoe with her bare feet (you'd think she'd learn!) and found this tiny little snake that had been killed by the diggers. Sunshine enjoyed carrying this one around, all stiff from the sun, draped over a stick.

Up next, Birds.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Being a Pioneer in Wisconsin

We're moving into the time in Wisconsin where there is much more to read. We've crossed the 1800 threshold and we're reading about pioneer families. There are so many wonderful stories that take place in Wisconsin.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder Everyone knows Laura, right? Well, she lived in the town of Pepin, WI around 1875.

First Farm in the Valley
(and sequels) by Anne Pellowski This is a WONDERFUL series, based on the author's own family who were of Polish descent and lived near Dodge, WI (Winona, MN was the nearest large town) beginnning in the 1870's. Each book in the series is about a different little girl in a succeeding generation of the same family. They are wonderfully descriptive and charming, much like the Little House series. Here is a link to a better review than I can write.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brinks Everyone knows Caddie, too, right? Caddie was also a real person and the stories handed down in her family about her adventures are retold in this book by her granddaughter. Caddie lived in Dunn County, WI in 1864.

On the other side of the state, Laura's Ma, Caroline lived in Brookfield, WI, near Milwaukee. Her adventures are told in the Caroline Series of books by Celia Wilkins.

The Journey of Emilie tells the story of the hard life of a girl who emigrated to Sheboygan, WI from Germany in 1855. It's not a terribly well-written story, it's part of a series called The Immigrants' Chronicles, a fairly page-mill series, but it shows the hardships of immigrant life.

We also found Pioneer Girl: The Early Life of Frances Willard by Clara Ingram Judson is a story written in 1935 about a family who moves from Ohio west to Janesville, WI. It is a charming little story with wonderful old-fashioned illustrations by Genevieve Foster

Friday, May 8, 2009

Please Pray for Noah

Please pray for sweet little Noah now. He is very, very sick.

I have been following his blog a long time. His parents own a homeschool company from which I bought things many times.

They all need your prayers now.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

To the Farm!

By Banana Boy

On my field trip, I went to a farm and I saw cows. It was scary when we saw the cows when they were milking. But it was cute when we saw the kittens and baby calves.

At the end I got to eat 3 cutted string cheese in half.

We got to feed the big cows. We fed them hay.

We got to feed the calves. I fed them with a bottle. In the bottle was milk. Max, Brennan and Abi and I fed the baby calf with one bottle. It was really hard because the calf was pushing the bottle against my stomach. I petted it.

When we saw the milking cows, a cow was pooping and it sprayed on my lip.

The End.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Field Trip!

Hurry! The train is coming!Wyalusing State Park. The train is crossing the Wisconsin River. From this bluff, you can see the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.
Plaque commemorating the spot (below this bluff) where Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet first entered the Mississippi River from the Wisconsin River.
Next stop was Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien. We WERE the tour group, so we had a very private and special tour. The tour guide even let us have an up close peek in several rooms.

After the tour of the house, we went to the Fur Trade Museum. The girls got to see a felt beaver hat -- the real thing! The displays reiterated everything we have read about this time and we got to see a "trading post" and they had fun spotting all the trade goods inside. There were displays showing the the life of the Navtive American changed because of the fur trade.
It was also so cool to touch a real beaver pelt.
Villa Louis is located on St. Feriole island, so after the Fur Trade Museum, was crossed the road to play in the Mississippi River.
It was only at 11 feet.
The kids had fun finding shells on the shore. How many interesting little shelled animals live in the river!
Homeschooling. Where you can take a field trip to see what you've been reading about.

Update to "The Monsters"

Last time in "The Monsters"....

The plan to distract the monsters with a play was unsuccessful. They were entertained, but not frightened away.

Plan 2 was hatched and the idea was to put the monsters to sleep with a song.

and now, The Title is "The Monsters" continued:

I know. Let's make them asleep. Good idea, but how will we do that? I know, let's do a song. We can do a lullaby: "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."