A Tallahassee Gem

FullSizeRender (1)

Solitude along Lake Talquin. This was my view on a hazy December morning as I sat, enjoying my coffee in the company of hundreds of ducks.

A few years ago, my husband and I discovered Lake Talquin State Park, just outside of Tallahassee on Highway 20. This Florida State Park is small, does not boast much in the way of amenities, and is probably visited mostly by fishermen looking for a quick opportunity to fish without going through the effort of putting a boat in the water. Of all our visits, only one time have we encountered another family at the park and the occasional fisherman only a handful of times. We are typically the only people there, soaking in the spectacular view.

While you cannot camp or rent canoes & kayaks, you can throw an amazing party! Upon arrival, the first impressive scene is the covered picnic pavilion, easily built to accommodate very large groups. A party of 100+ could very comfortably enjoy this area without being crowded. Near by is a large, clean and well-maintained bathroom facility with additional uncovered picnic areas in-between. On the other side of the pavilion is another covered area which contains several large built-in grills.   In front of the grilling area is a circular fire pit with substantial seating. This is the perfect place for a family reunion or other large celebration. While we have dreamed of hosting a party or celebration, we have treasured this space as a favorite spot to take our children.FullSizeRender (3)

The nature trail is 1.2 miles, with native plant, tree, and wildlife information posted along the trail. The path is dirt, covered with leaves much of the year and not many hazards as far as roots or inclines. It is an easy and safe walk which is perfect for young children to become accustom to being in the woods and exploring, as well as for parents to feel comfortable letting kids wander a bit. There are numerous varieties of fungi growing on logs and trees, which my kids always enjoy finding, especially Mercy, who is always on the lookout for fairies!

FullSizeRender (2)

These informative signs are found all along the nature trail, sparking conversation and encouraging exploration.

Along the water’s edge there is an incredible boardwalk which is easily the most appreciated aspect of the park. The steep bluff is not incredibly high, but is prohibitive in most places for traversing down to the water’s edge. This boardwalk allows visitors to walk just above the water’s surface, taking in the magnificent views of the lake. Even though I have visited many times, I continue to be moved by the shear size of Lake Talquin. It is a tremendous body of water. Little wakes moving across the surface, splash under the boardwalk, creating a continuous rhythm; the perfect backdrop for listening to ducks, geese and various birds calling around the lake.

We have been fortunate enough to have a few wildlife encounters in this park, too. White-tailed deer are commonly spotted on the trail or on the drive from the park entrance to the parking area. This is also a fantastic spot for birding as there are easily observed native water birds as well as woodland birds. Of course, squirrels are also abundant. Additionally, while this sighting did not occur inside this state park, I did watch a black bear darting into the Lake Talquin State Forest, just a bit down the road from the entrance to this park.

One other tidbit – go now!  The best time of year to enjoy North Florida hiking and outdoor experiences is Fall and Winter. Spring boasts some serious beauty, as well as wild blueberries in these areas, but as the temperatures rise in late spring/summer so do the tick, mosquito, and fire ant encounters. So, even if you have to bundle up, I hope you will visit this great little park soon.

FullSizeRender

The leaf covered trail, leading to Lake Talquin.

Leisurely Learning

We just completed our first month of Kindergarten.  I say that loosely because what happened this month doesn’t look that much different from what happened last month, or the month before.  However, it may feel different being that I received confirmation that my daughter is now officially enrolled in Florida Unschoolers and we are officially homeschooling.

There was an opportunity for this month to be truly hectic, as this the official start of school season which is the start of a wide variety of activities from gymnastics and choir to cooking, sewing, and art classes, homeschool co-ops, Girl Scouts, etc.  I have the wonderful problem of living in a community that offers so many activities for homeschooled children, that we are forced to narrow down our choices.  But for my sanity and the well-being of my family, we chose carefully to ensure that there are still moments for mud pies, tea parties, lunch dates, walks in the woods, and pajama days.

PhotoGrid_1411155332966

Getting into the swing of things with a new routine takes time and I feel like we hit our stride this week.  We had morning smoothies, completed craft projects, shopped for “school supplies,” had time for reading on the couch, in addition to making it to all of our scheduled activities.

We have two days a week that we don’t have any outside obligations related to homeschooling and those are probably my favorite days.  On those days, we picnic, go to art galleries, libraries, parks and spend time at home playing, working, and baking.  Earlier this week, Mercy spent three consecutive hours in her mud pie kitchen – creating a menu, setting a table, and inviting us to join her when her restaurant finally opened for business.  During this play time, I worked in my office while she discovered worms, caterpillars, and a frog who decided her mud pies looked irresistible.

  IMG_20140913_181101             IMG_20140927_121015

A group we belong to, The Young Naturalists, studied birds this month by reading books together, examining feathers and bird habitats and at the end of the month, each child gave a presentation on a bird they chose to study on their own.  At her art class, Mercy learned about the artists, Georges Seurat, Albrecht Dürer, Salvador Dali, and Marcel Duchamp and had the opportunity to create art in the style of each artist. She hiked trails and played in near by creeks with a friend while they learned about an invasive species, the air potato vine, observed the effects on the environment we were in, and collected a bag full of the potatoes to help stop the vine from spreading further.

She also worked on her handwriting, completed several mazes (one of her top choices for handwriting practice these days), practiced spelling words on her own such as “mud” and “watr,” and completed several math manipulatives specifically relating to spatial recognition and perception.

Because I work full-time, it is essential that I keep our schedules clutter free.  There are some weeks that I do not have the flexibility needed to do all the things on my agenda.  But having my husband as a stay-at-home dad, and trying hard to not over-commit, we are typically able to juggle things around and accomplish our goals.

This easy flow we achieved and general good-feeling about how things are coming together will fade and then will resurface. I will still have days when I wonder if we are doing enough and nights that I stay up too late researching all the things we should be tackling in Kindergarten.  But I will remain committed to leisurely learning, to not rushing from one activity to another, and to taking time to soak up our days, and enjoy one another.

Before bed tonight, Mercy told me she was curious to know if the banana she ate for breakfast today might have been pollinated by a bat.  Well, that is very likely. Now, I’m wondering about that, too.

First Day of Kindergarten!

Today is the day!  Last night, the night before the children in our county return to school, I told my husband that this was going to be a big day, a really big deal. He agreed that for some families, today would be a really big deal.  I assured him that for us, it is a big deal, too.  This is it.  Our daughter will never have another “first day of Kindergarten.”  Maybe that helped drive home the idea that our child is officially “school age” and that is a milestone worth recognizing and celebrating.  The choices that we have made regarding what her educational experience will look like are not relevant to the fact that our sweet girl who, as it seems, just yesterday was toddling around in her papa’s boots, wearing his glasses and declaring a sweet potato her baby, is now, officially (according to Florida State law) a school-aged child.  I like to think of this being important for all of the warm-fuzzy, reminiscent reasons.  But there is another side to this.  It is important because now that our child is five and a half years old, the government not only wants to know how we are raising our family, but wants to have some input, too.  I can appreciate this for the simple fact that it stems from the now widely-accepted concept, that all children deserve a right to a quality education.  

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Mercy, raising her hand to say she is “present” for the “First Day of Kindergarten,” and hanging with her friend, who she plays and learns with every week as part of their homeschool routines.

We are fortunate enough to live in a relatively home-school friendly state where we can educate our child in the ways that we have decided are best for her and for our family.  I have read many stories of families in other countries, fleeing to America simply so that they may educate their children themselves and this has made me very grateful for the opportunities we have.  

We homeschool year round, but introduce more structure during the traditional school year.  Mercy and I have spent the past couple of weeks talking about the things that she would like to learn this year in homeschool.  I have spent most of my “down time” researching options and narrowing our choices to ensure that we are not over-saturating our lives with to-do’s.  I am very happy with our starting place and I feel confident that it is truly a starting place, as I am certain that what our homeschool looks like will change and grow as my daughter does. 

The start of our “First Day of Kindergarten” began with Mercy, baking a fresh batch of her Sunrise Breakfast Cookies while the rest of us prepared for the day. Several days ago, Mercy decided that she wanted to create her own recipe for an oatmeal breakfast cookie, and so she did.  We researched other oatmeal cookie recipes and documented the common ingredients (this would have been a good opportunity to use a Venn diagram, even, but we just talked about what we read).  Mercy then took the common ingredients and used these as a basis for her cookie recipe.  Every day since then, she has made a new batch, continuing to tweak her recipe each time.  She has enjoyed hitting up the bulk section at our local Bread & Roses Co-op to get small amounts of new seeds, nuts, and dried berries to try in her cookies.  

photo 1 (2)

Mercy, 9am, “First Day of Kindergarten,” still in her PJ’s practicing measuring, counting, mixing and baking skills.

The current cookie recipe looks like this, but I am sure it will continue to morph for a while.  I would love to tell Mercy that some other people liked her cookies, so please, give it a try, with your own additions and substitutions and, of course, let us know what you think!

Mercy’s Sunrise Breakfast Cookies (Vegan & Gluten Free) 

2 cups quick oats (gluten free for us, but this is optional)

1 mashed banana

1/2 – 1 cup applesauce (this determines how soft or crunchy your cookie will be, so go with what you like)

several shakes of cinnamon

a handful of dried blueberries

a handful of golden raisins

a heaping teaspoon full of hemp or flax seeds

two teaspoons full of chopped almonds

a shake of salt

Preheat oven: 350.  Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well incorporated.  Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop mixture onto a cookie sheet. (We lightly coated cookie sheet with olive oil).  Bake 20 minutes or until bottom is crispy.  Let cool slightly & enjoy! 

photo 2 (2)

Porter, enjoying a warm Sunrise Breakfast cookie

I hope that, whatever educational choices you have made for your family, that your first day has been just right.    

The Acquisition of Chickens

After sending out seven emails to independent poultry farms and getting zero response to my requests to attain (purchase) adult hens who are ready to “retire from their farming duties,” I reached out to Greenfire Farms, a rare poultry hatchery.  It took sometime, but eventually, we were able to make arrangements for me to “rescue” four adult hens from their farm.  I was informed that the hens could not be used as layers and that they are not good meat-birds.  I understand that in the past, this farm had a practice of “selling their culls” to people who wanted backyard chickens and were not concerned about having a show-quality bird.  I am assuming that this is the nature of our transaction, although I didn’t ask too many questions.  I made sure that Jenny, the proprietor, I presume, understood what I was aiming to do – attain chickens who would otherwise be culled or processed for meat.  Once I arrived at the farm, Jenny said to me, “You really are saving them, it’s so great.”

Once I arrived at the farm, I was struck by how beautiful it was.  Beneath the towering oaks which shaded the perimeter of the property, there were numerous rows of well-designed wooden chicken runs with interior coops, all built on the ground.  I was met with the immediate sound of crowing roosters and the smell of “the farm.”  I grew up on a farm, so I know this smell well and it instantly took me back.  Jenny and her assistant, Coral, were incredibly warm and welcoming as they walked me over to one row of cages, built up off of the ground by about three feet.  There were anywhere from 2-10 adult chickens in each cage which donned a hardware cloth bottom.  Jenny explained each bird’s breed and egg color to me, as we walked around this section of the farm.  These birds had been separated from the other birds who were being utilized in the continuation of the Greenfire farming business.  I chose four – although I very much wanted to bring home many more.  They were all beautiful creatures.  Sunflowers, Isbars, Stryians, all of these names were new to me, so I made my choices by instinct and tried hard not to think about the fate of those I left behind.

 

I brought along a large dog kennel in my car and the birds I’d chosen were placed inside.  I also had my one-year-old, Porter, with me who was rightfully freaked out by the birds frantic fluttering in the car.  Fortunately, that did not last long and the birds settled down for the 30 minute car ride.   They didn’t even get riled up when Porter, who hates car rides, began screaming in five o’clock rush hour traffic.

photo 5

Our chicken coop and run.

I arrived home with the birds, greeted by my husband who helped me transfer them to their new home in our backyard.  They eventually wandered out of the dog kennel and began exploring, although they were very hesitant and suspicious of any movements from us.  We left them alone in the run, giving them time and space to adjust.

That evening, just before the sun set, I went out to put the chickens in the coop for the night.  They were not interested, to say the least.  It was an adventure.  Mercy’s chicken, Shirley, decided that flying out of the run and seeking shelter under a giant cast iron plant would be a better option.  I could barely see her, as she just perfectly blended in with the golden-brown vegetation and mulch.  I did, eventually, spot her and get her back inside with the rest of the chickens.

photo 2 (1)

Mercy, identifying which bird is Shirley. She named her chicken weeks before they ever arrived.

It would be two more days before the chickens came to demonstrate comfort in their new residence by exploring, eating treats brought to them, and dust bathing.  Mercy, and I sat on the swing set just outside their run, watching them dust bathing and we felt that they must be feeling happier and more comfortable.

During that time, the chickens were named.  My chicken is Fern, a fluffy Stryian.  My husband’s chicken is a lace-capped Isbar, Dinashaur.  Mercy named her Stryian, Shirley, and we named Porter’s black and green Isbar, Slayer.  So far, Slayer seems to be ruling the roost, although, Shirley is giving him a little challenge here and there.

photo 2

This is Shirley and Fern is in the background.

I would like to encourage anyone looking to obtain chickens to try to find a rescue option.  Our society is appalled by puppy and kitten mills and legal action is taken against harming these animals.  Sadly, chickens and other farm animals, who demonstrate the same level of intelligence and emotion are often not considered to be worthy of humane treatment and are permitted to live in abusive and negligent environments.  I understand that rescued birds may be past their “laying prime.”  But they will continue to lay eggs for many years to come.  I, personally, don’t care if we ever get an egg out of our four tiny feathered dinosaurs in the backyard.  They are our companion animals and I look forward to watching them live out the rest of their lives in peace.  I am extremely grateful to Greenfire Farms for the care they provide their chickens and roosters and for working with me to help make my tiny chicken-rescue dream come true.

photo 3

Dinashaur is my husband’s bird. She is sweet and inquisitive.

photo 4

Slayer, our black-metal bird. She seems to be ruling the roost so far. These Isbars are said to lay green eggs.

Getting here.

I have considered writing a blog for several years and have only dabbled in writing about singular elements of my life such as running or social activism.  I have recently been inspired to document and share aspects of our lives as a whole, including our journey in raising and homeschooling our children, incorporating nature and art into our days, my personal and professional commitments to social welfare, specifically children and animals, and our efforts to lead peaceful lives.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESi

Thank you for reading.