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Bike Ride on a Fall Afternoon

Bike Ride American River Trail 3

Last Friday Mr. B and I had the desire to get outside and enjoy the slightly cooler weather. He decided on a bike ride and it turned out to be the perfect thing to do together. Sometimes it is hard to find common activities that my teen and I can share but so far bike riding is still on the list.

We chose a mostly flat route along the American River, starting out with not another bike in sight. The photo above shows what the trail looks like as it meanders through the oaks near the river. This time of year the weeds are all dry and brown but the sun on the oak leaves is a fragrance that always reminds me of summer.

Wild Turkeys - American River Trail

We came across a flock of wild turkeys and stopped to watch them scratch around at the edge of the pavement. You can’t tell very well in this image but they have blue heads. Their feathers are sort of glossy and they walk with a funny strutting sort of movement. It is always fun to find some interesting nature study subjects when we are out enjoying the day together.

American River with oak

We looped around at the Natomas Dam after checking for salmon (none), and then we were right alongside the river for quite a way. We stopped to admire the water and the trees. As we stood there, the rowing team from Sacramento State University rowed up the river in their skinny long boats. They were moving pretty fast and Mr.B said he wouldn’t mind being on the rowing team. Hmmmm.

Bike Ride American River Trail 1

We were out riding for about ninety minutes and then we met my oldest son for dinner. It was a wonderful way to spend a September afternoon and evening. I love the homeschooling lifestyle.

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Sunflower Summer: Squeezing Out the Goodness

This is most definitely the summer of the sunflower. We have had full bloom for so long now and the last of the varieties has started to bloom.

Lemon Sunflower Garden
The Lemon Sunflowers are just radiant and the bees are happy to have a new snack spot. We have been cutting them and bringing them inside to enjoy on the kitchen table.

Sunflowers August
The colorful sunflowers are amazing to look at up close. The seeds are so dark black and the petals look as if someone painted them on with watercolors…deep brown and burgandy.

Sometimes I go through a phase where I am all about words….writing, talking, sharing. Then there are times when it seems like things are just in pictures….colors, images, impressions. I think I am in one of those times right now and I just take hundreds of photos, am attracted to video, and need to make sketches and watercolors of everything I see. There just is not enough time to capture it all…..I know I will cycle around again and be ready to write more about my thoughts. My brain is certainly thinking all the time and there are many things I would like to share but in the meantime you will forgive my lack of writing and just enjoy my images instead.

I will be full of images soon… last hike at Yosemite coming up this weekend with a friend, a girl’s weekend. One last real month in the colors and liveliness of the summer garden. There are stacks of books waiting to be organized and enjoyed as we prepare for our homeschool year but they will wait until the last drop of summer is squeezed out of the season.

Enjoy your August day!

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Hiking in the Sierra: Cascade Falls at Lake Tahoe

What did Harmony Art Mom do for her 27th Wedding Anniversary?

Cascade Falls trail hiking up

Hiked to a waterfall!

View from the Cascade Falls Trail

My dear husband and I took a day to hike up to one of our favorite spots at nearby Lake Tahoe. The trailhead is at Bayview Campground and the parking can be tricky. We caught someone as they were leaving and got a spot in the shade.

Hiking Cascase Falls Trail

The trail is not steep or very long but there are sections that are covered in granite rocks that you need to scramble up on or over or around. There are plenty of spots to stop and take in the view as you hike along.

Cascade Falls July 2011

We hiked to the Cascade Falls and then sat and just enjoyed each other’s company and the solitude for awhile.

Wildflowers Trail to Cascade Falls

The wildflowers were blooming along the trail and this one was abundant.

7 16 11 Cascade Falls Tallac and Nature Journal (11)
You actually hike to the top of the waterfall so there isn’t a really great place to take a shot of the whole waterfall at one time. Here is a section of it.

Trail to Cascade Falls
We hiked back down the trail in the late afternoon and then made our way over to Tallac Historic Site to have a picnic (including a special slice of cheesecake for each of us).

Wilflowers - Lupine and Paintbrush
I worked in my nature journal recording the wildflowers we saw earlier and my husband did some reading until we decided we better take an after dinner walk to burn off some of the picnic calories. I love the long hours of a summer evening and this time we found a place that I want to bring the kids back to.

Promenade Lucky Baldwin Hotels Tallac
This promenade in the middle of the forest was the connecting sidewalk between two turn-of-the-twentieth-century hotels. The hotels are long gone but the promenade remains. We tried to imagine what it would have been like to stay at one of the hotels way back then.

It was a perfect anniversary day….hope to do it again sometime!

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Nighttime Critters – Our List from the July Newsletter

Summer evenings outdoors….with our chiminea.

We have been working on our July Newsletter Nighttime Critter Challenge all month. I wanted to post a little of what we are observing and learning to give you an idea of how you can pick a few things from your area to study in the evening hours.  I will update our list after the end of the month with any new finds.

Our most predominant nighttime critters of interest are the Brown bats that come every single night to fly in our backyard. I wrote about them back in May as part of mammal study.  For the July newsletter challenge for Nighttime Critters, I decided to share a few of our other nighttime visitors of interest. This study was sort of on-going because when the weather is hot, we tend to drag sleeping bags out to the back deck to sleep in the cool night air. We all lay awake and listen and watch as the nighttime settles in around us.

Shooting stars, satellites zipping across the sky, the moon, the swaying trees in the breeze, and the night sounds all entertain us as we wait for sleep to come.

Great Horned Owl Nature Journal
Fill In The Circle and Fill In With Color Example – Poor owl sketch…he has such a crooked beak.

One of the things that we have discovered sleeping outside on hot summer nights is that we have quite a few great horned owls in our neighborhood. We can hear them calling back and forth right after the sun goes down and then again at around 5 AM. Here is a link to and if you click the sound button, you will hear the two types of sounds we hear from our owls: Great Horned Owls. We have yet to actually see them but they are out there…no doubt about it.

We also are serenaded by crickets when the temperatures get just right. It is amazing how you don’t hear any crickets and then all of a sudden it is as if someone turned on a cricket soundtrack and they all chirp at the same time. The lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study gives a great illustration showing the parts of the cricket and an excellent explanation of how he “sings”. (Lesson 82)

 “The wing covers are much shorter than the abdomen and beneath them are vestiges of wings, which are never used. The male has larger wing covers than the female, and they are veined in a peculiar scroll pattern. This veining seems to be a framework for the purpose of making a sounding board of the wing membrane, by stretching it out as a drumhead is stretched.” Handbook of Nature Study.

Turn in your copy of the Handbook of Nature Study to read much more in the lesson explaining this interesting creature.There is such a simple explanation of the mechanics of the crickets chirping that it is perfect for sharing with younger children. The crickets and the frogs compete in our neighborhood for the winner of the “background” noise. It seems as if one or the other is singing their little hearts out.

We smell skunks quite a few nights a week. Sleeping outside we hear rustling in the garden and I think it is the skunk. I know they dig around the base of the birdfeeder outside our window but over the years I have decided that if he leaves me alone, I will leave him alone. Here is another entry where I talk about our nighttime visitors.

Nighttime Critter LIst - Outdoor Hour Challenge
List from the July Newsletter. I cut it out and taped it inside my nature journal.

One last nighttime critter we have had around the neighborhood is the raccoon. Our neighbor has been sharing how they keep forgetting to bring in the dog’s food dish at night and the raccoon has decided that it makes a easy snack taken just outside their patio door. We have had our share of raccoons in the yard over the years but we haven’t seen any lately. Here is an entry sharing one raccoon experience: Raccoon Visitor.

Well that gives you a taste of what we have around here in the evenings. I just thought of something else I need to put on my list….moths.

I look forward to reading about your nighttime critters. Don’t forget to post your entry and then submit it to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival before 7/30/11 for a chance in the July Newsletter giveaway!

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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Out and About This Week: Mountains and the Ocean

The best thing about summer is getting to be outdoors everyday. Where we live in California we can do day trips to just about any sort of environment you can imagine.

Here are a few images from the last week.

Kayak Day at the Lake

The boys took some kayaks out at a local lake…..not too hot and we went early.

7 10 11 Fallen Leaf Lake with Lupine

Fallen Leaf Lake is an hour’s drive from our front door and we took the short hike around the edge of this crystal clear alpine lake last weekend. The lupine was divine and the sky was equally as awesome.

7 10 11 Sierra Wildflowers

The wildflowers were amazing! I love getting the chance to experience this Sierra Nevada habitat.

California Coast Drive

We took a day trip to visit an elderly relative and we took the “long way” home along the California coast. The wildflowers were blooming here as well.

See what I mean? Northern California is such a gift to those of us who live here. Our job is to take the opportunity and get outside!

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Watercolor Quick Sketch in the Garden

5 19 11 Daisies in a Pot

I have been sharing my hopes for a colorful “artist’s garden” to sit and sketch in over the summer. I am impatient for all my flowers to start growing but I was inspired this morning by my colorful blooming flowers on the back deck, waking to the sun and warmer temperatures totally lifts my mood and urges me to step outside.

The hummingbirds were darting in and out of the feeders hanging from the eaves on the back of the house and the bees were buzzing among the flowers. It was peaceful. I brought my new favorite art supplies and my nature journal to do a quick sketch and watercolor. Honestly this page took me about twenty minutes start-to-finish, including deciding what to draw and finding a comfortable spot to sit.

Gerbera daisy journal (3)
I made a quick sketch with my Prismacolor marker and didn’t worry too much about exact proportions or numbers of petals. I think that is the difference between art and taking a photo….if you want an exact representation you really should just take a photo. I was going more for capturing my mood and the vibrant color.

Gerbera daisy journal with field watercolor set
I used my little field box of watercolors. I shared this set of watercolors with some friends at a nature study presentation a few weeks ago and they were amazed at how small and light this little box is in real life. I am going to start carrying this in my daypack when I hike so I can add some quick color to my nature journal when I am out and about. It even includes a small brush and a vial to carry some water if you need it. (I rarely carry water for watercolors when I hike since I usually have a water bottle or there is a stream or creek to scoop up some water for my art.)

The paint colors are so vibrant! I filled in the sketch with some watercolors with a sort of  “sketchy” style where I don’t worry too much about filling in the edges perfectly and if I color outside the lines that is okay too.

Watercolor Daisy Nature Journal
I came back with my Prismacolor marker and just outlined the petals again to sort of clean up the edges. I added a date and a caption to complete my page.

gerbera daisy journal (1)

This is my first garden sketch in what I hope will lead to a whole book full of colorful sketches.

Here are the links to the supplies. The watercolors are a little pricey but these paints seem like they are going to go a long way….lots of color for a little amount of paint. The Prismacolor marker set is one that I reviewed awhile back. There is such a great variety in this little set and I have been using mine weekly and have yet to use any of them up. You can read my review HERE.

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Here Comes the Sun and Fog

Sunrise in American River Canyon With Fog

My love of hiking and really seeing our surroundings has rubbed off on my dear husband. This is his image from his early morning hike last week. He many times hikes at sunrise, usually with a buddy. We have had lots of fog and this particular morning the fog was sitting just over the river in the winding river canyon.

What a great gift from him to share his view! Believe it or not, the road you see in the photo is the “highway” to his “office” up in the woods. Don’t you envy his commute?

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More Than a Gesture…Priceless

Autumn Leaf on My Chemistry
My son left me a gift….he knows how to cheer me up.

I have been busy doing some second term planning and this means a few hours a day sitting at the desk and computer. My boys have noticed that I start early and push myself to just get it done. They have been working on their favorite projects like waxing snowboards, playing basketball, working on model airplanes, taking long walks with the dog, and visiting with family.

I came out to work on chemistry planning and found this beautiful leaf sitting on the text, a gift from my seventeen year old son. Priceless….

I think nature study has made a special bond in our family and I love the way my teenage boys can see beauty in the simplest of things. I hope that in my way that I am helping your families to build that bond and love in nature study.

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – December Mini-Challenge and Notebook Page

Outdoor Hour Challenge December Mini Challenge

My whole impetus for starting this blog was to share how our family finally cracked the book open and started implementing the ideas that Anna Botsford Comstock wrote about so skillfully in this book. The entire Handbook of Nature Study is to help parents/teachers to be better nature study guides.

Autumn Trees and Sky

The breath of fresh air, the moving about outside, the getting to know better our own backyard…these are the joys of the Outdoor Hour Challenge. The most successful families involved in the OHC are those that embrace the idea that getting outdoors as a family is important and worthy of our time. The OHC is the vehicle for getting us outside, hopefully giving us something interesting to learn about. If we skip the preparation work and don’t read the pages in the Handbook of Nature Study, we are missing out on the simple ideas that Anna Botsford Comstock shared in the pages of each lesson.

White Crowned Sparrow in the Birdfeeder

We can all use some refreshing ideas from time to time and I am encouraging every single participant of the Outdoor Hour Challenge to spend a few minutes over the next few weeks to read the pages from the challenges below…you will not be sorry. Read with a note pad or highlighter to create some of your own points to remember as you go outdoors with your children this winter. I have listed some of my favorite points below.

Handbook of Nature Study Reading Suggestions
Challenge 1: Pages 1-8
Challenge 2: Pages 23-24
Challenge 3: 16-17
Challenge 4: 10-11 and 13-15

“In nature-study the work begins with any plant or creature which chances to interest the pupil.”

“In nature study any teacher can with honor say, ‘I do not know’, for perhaps the question asked is as yet unanswered by the great scientists.”

“No child should be compelled to have a nature journal”

“…but in nature-study, the observation of form is for the purpose of better understanding life.”

“It is a mistake to think that half day is necessary for a field lesson, since a very efficient field trip may be made during the ten or fifteen minutes at recess, if it is well planned.”

You don’t have to go farther than you own backyard because “nature study is science brought home”.

To help us implement some of the ideas we read about, I have included a December World Notebook Page as part of this entry. You can use it to record your outdoor time over the next few weeks.


Free Notebooking Pages SamplerPlease note I am an affiliate for and I receive a small commission for every purchase you make after clicking my links. I hope that you find their products as valuable as I do!



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Searching My Heart: Nature Study

8 31 10 Garden Flowers in Vasees

The last few years with the Outdoor Hour Challenge have been a wonderful way to intensify nature study in our family. I know for a fact that if I had not been writing and sharing so much on this blog that our nature study might not have been so enriching and consistent. The community that has developed surrounding the Outdoor Hour Challenges has encouraged our family tremendously in our attempts to keep a love of nature study alive…I could not have done what I have done without many, many faithful readers and contributors to the Outdoor Hour Challenges.

On the personal side, Friday is always looming for me with another challenge to post and then there is the need for me to post our results. After much thought and reflection, I see our family skipping many opportunities for nature study that come up each week because it is not the assignment for the week. I feel more and more like nature study is a job and not the joy I want it to be.

8 31 10 garden
I have two years left with my sons at home. Two years for them to have me as their nature study companion and me to have them as a captive audience. I don’t want to miss the chance to make nature study a meaningful part of their lives, not just another school assignment.

Nature Journal Zinnia
I also realize that I am miss the balancing part of my personality, the artistic side. I look at my art supplies sitting so near but I know my hands are busy with the computer and my heart is divided. I have one son who has a creative soul and I need some time to spend with him not only in developing his love of beauty through nature study but lots of free time and play with paints and other art supplies.

8 31 10 garden coneflower
So after much thought, reflection, and prayer I have decided a few things will change, if not in practice at least in my attitude. I am wise enough to know when I need to shift gears and make a few changes. I think that comes with turning 48 years old this year….yes, I am really close to the half century mark.

The blog will not look much different for you dear readers until perhaps January once the Autumn Challenges are completed. I have some amazing ideas to work on in the meantime and I will share my list of things that I brainstormed regarding the blog and the Outdoor Hour Challenges below. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me:


To Summarize My Thoughts and Intentions
  • I will still be here this season with the Autumn Series of Outdoor Hour Challenges, posting on Fridays and sharing lots of great stuff with you and reading what your families are up to as you complete the Autumn Challenges. You will still have my complete support and attention.
  • I will be posting the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival on the first of the month. There is nothing but joy associated with this project.
  • There will not be a new 2011 Winter Series of Outdoor Hour Challenges ebook. There are already two complete series of challenges available both in ebook format and listed on the blog as the Winter Wednesday series. I am still contemplating whether to write a new Winter 2011 Art and Music Appreciation ebook.
  • I will still be sharing what our family does with the Handbook of Nature Study as the opportunities arise and our nature study takes shape again.
  • Rest assured my brain is still formulating a new idea. The idea has been simmering for quite some time and I may be ready next spring to actually share with you some exciting new ways to more creative nature study and journals.
  • I have two new products to review and a giveaway in the works. Stay tuned for that in the next month or so….you will not want to miss them.

There is plenty to do around this blog to keep any family busy for a very long time. I just took an inventory of what is available on the blog sidebar for you to use with your family.

52 original Outdoor Hour Challenges
8 Bird Challenges
7 Crop Plant Challenges
Autumn 2009 Challenges =10
Winter 2010 Challenges =10
Spring 2010 Challenges =10
Summer 2010 Challenges =12
Autumn 2010 Challenges =10 (not listed yet but they will be over the next few months)
Winter Wednesday Challenges =9

That is a total of 128 challenges you can complete with your family!

So, there you have my thoughts for the week, month, and rest of the year. 🙂

I love what I do here on this blog and I am not going anywhere, just taking a different approach.