Thursday, December 20, 2012

Squirrel and Bird Nest Study

Bare trees reveal squirrel nests. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012.

Last month, we spent a lot of time exploring the world of fall, seeing treasures revealed when the leaves fall off the trees. One unexpected sighting was a massive squirrels' nest, in a red oak near our driveway.

Our discovery led my youngest son to request that we re-read The Burgess Animal Book for Children (BABC), from the beginning. If you are following along in BABC, this study would accompany the section on squirrels (the third "study" in the book).

Read along for a nature study on squirrels nests, which includes many ideas we've used over the years.


Our favorite animal study read-aloud!
Sometimes our natures studies happen by accident (such as our discovery of this squirrel's nest). Other times, a read-aloud piques our interest. Our favorite nature study read-aloud is The Burgess Animal Book for Children. And it fits perfectly as a read-aloud if you are using the Exploring Creation through Zoology series, which focus on animal classification, as the BABC chapters are laid out to introduce children to animals as they are related to one another. And who doesn't like Peter Rabbit?

If you want to fill a book basket with books to go along with this study, here are some of our family favorites:

  • The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, by Beatrix Potter (my youngest brother was a big Beatrix Potter fan)
  • Miss Suzy, by Miriam Young (my own childhood favorite) 
  • Rakkety Tam (Redwall Series #17), by Brian Jacques (a favorite of my eldest son)
  • Nuts to You!, by Lois Ehlert (all my kids loved Lois Ehlert's collage illustrations - a great thing to try for your creative arts connections, if you use the "Five in a Row" approach to homeschooling)
For our squirrel nest study, we just enjoyed Chapters 4-8 of  The Burgess Animal Book for Children. Again!

My little guy grew up surrounded by technology, and enjoys reading books on our NOOK Color. The e-Books compatible with the NOOK are available at Barnes & Noble. We noticed that there are several free ones with great photos of squirrels:

If you don't have an e-Reader, you will love the NOOK products. (My youngest son uses it to listen to Pandora, watch videos, read books and do research). There are many apps available for our favorite online resources (Pinterest,,, etc), so it functions as a nice little mobile device when we don't want to carry the laptop.

Lesson Ideas:

Gray squirrel nest (c) Kim M. Bennett 2012
We discovered the squirrel nest as one nest among three we found the same week: the other two were an oriole nest and an unidentified warbler nest. So it made sense to compare the three nests as part of our study.

We studied the two bird nests on the front porch (the squirrel nest, of course, was WAY up in a tree), discussing their similarities and differences, but you could also use a double bubble map (see "Comparing Nests: The 'Same and Different' Center" for examples of how to use a double bubble map with individual students or groups of students, or in a classroom).

We love the Exploring Creation series, and are using Land Animals of the Sixth Day this year. Pages 113-118 cover "Mouse-Like Rodents," including the squirrels. The material is very much like that of the BABC.

Nest of the Northern Oriole (c) Kim M. Bennett 2012
Our other "go-to" resource, the Handbook of Nature Study, discusses the nesting habits of red squirrels on p. 235. We have mostly gray squirrels in our area. Red squirrels like forests with more evergreen trees -- our forests are mostly oaks and maples.

Click image for more info.
When we first started homeschooling several years ago, I read that many homeschoolers used this book as part of their homeschool nature study work. I borrowed it from the local library, but soon decided that it was well worth the approximately $25 it costs to buy a used copy on the Internet. Buy it!

Other Resources:

My son and I created a set of notebooking pages to use in conjunction with our squirrel study. Since he was already working on another writing project, we mostly used the organizing tools (have I told you before that my son is NOT an avid notebooking enthusiast? He would rather fill notebooks full of action stories, so I choose my battles carefully...)

Nests, Nests, Nests!, a 25-page resource. $1.95
"Nests, Nests, Nests!" reviews the e-Book that we created to go along with this study. This set includes both primary and regular-ruled science journaling pages focusing on animal nests, as well as a variety of framed pages for thematic writing, note-taking or nature study. Organizers for studying and comparing nests of different animal orders, coloring and copywork pages, and game cards for sorting and classification tasks make this set versatile, perfect for direct instruction or independent learning tasks. You may also download a free sample of some of the pages.

The resources also include copywork, which you can see to the right. We chose scripture from Genesis, as that we are using Genesis through Deuteronomy and Ancient Egypt, from Simply Charlotte Mason, for our Bible Study curriculum, and are currently reading Genesis. We are used to using scriptures for copywork, since that is what is used with the Exploring Creation texts.

Discussion Ideas:

Here are some of the discussion questions we used when studying about nests (I've marked each one to show what science discipline it relates to -- physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, or engineering, technology and the application of science):
  1. What types of materials do different types of animals use in their nests? (L)
  2. How do these materials differ from one another? How are they the same? (P)
  3. What makes these materials useful for nest-building? (E)
  4. What different ways do animals build their nests? (L)
  5. How are different kinds of animals adapted to obtain protection where they live? (L)
  6. How might natural phenomena (such as winter storms) and human activities (such as tree cutting and clearing for building) cause changes in animal nesting behaviors? (E)
For those of you with children at multiple ages in your home, these questions follow a general progression from K to grade 4, as you move down the list. But don't get stuck on that -- my son (a fourth grader) was fascinated with seeing (up close) the actual materials used for each nest, and for different parts of the nest (for example, the warbler nest was a very tight cup of birch bark, leaf pieces and grape vine bark, but it was lined so neatly with tightly packed pine needles -- fascinating. Learning is what you make of it.

Unidentified warbler nest from M's collection. (c) Kim M. Bennett 2012

Inside lined with tightly packed white pine needles. (c) Kim M. Bennett 2012

Outside was formed with bits of bark from paper birch. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012

We Love to Share...

This post and our ideas was shared on the Outdoor Hour Challenge and Simple Science Strategies Blog Carnivals.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Love One Another...

Monday, November 19, 2012

My First Ten Book Additions to Shelfari!

I discovered Shelfari on a friend's blog just moments ago...

So my weekly edition to the Top Ten Tuesday Blog Carnival is my...

First Ten Books on Shelfari!

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

These happen to be the books we are using for homeschool studies (with the exception of two, which don't show up on Shelfari). If you are new to homeschooling, we would highly recommend these as additions to your library.

Now that I know how to "work" Shelfari, I will be adding other books that we have read (or are reading) for homeschool. So check back often!

Look for the widget on the sidebar (you can't miss it -- it looks like a bookshelf!). Or check out the widget in this post (below). Want your own bookshelf? Check out the link at the bottom of the widget. It's so easy, and updates as you add books. You can filter what is visible by tags (in case you only want your bird books to show, for example), by whether they are on your wish list or are ones you already have read... Very versatile.


And We Have a Composter Winner!

Thank you to participants in last month's Rafflecopter Giveaway of an All Season Indoor Composter, by UncommonGoods... and the winner is...

Kathy Schoenherr

Stay tuned for an after-the-holidays giveaway. And have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

~Kim @ A Child's Garden

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ten (10) Fall Nature Studies: What the Leaves Have Kept Hidden

Fall sunrise in Connecticut (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011

We have been enjoying exploring what the leaves of summer have been hiding from us for the past several months. Here are some of the surprises and interesting finds from the past week or so -- each one a potential in-depth study for the next month.

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

1. Lichens & Mosses

These can be harvested to make terrariums, even in the fall. Interesting questions that can be explored, even in the cold seasons:

  • Do mosses really grow more on the north sides of tree trunks?
  • What kinds of lichens grow in my area? Where do they grow?
  • What is a lichen, exactly?
  • How is the life cycle of a moss like that of a seed-bearing plant? How is it different?
  • How do mosses and lichens fit in an ecosystem? Are they producers (they are green, after all)? Are they consumers? Are they decomposers?

Barbara McCoy has a great lichen and moss study at the Handbook of Nature Study.

British soldiers lichen (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012

2. Bark & Vines

Last fall, we took advantage of an unseasonably warm day in early March to take a "bark walk," studying the vines and bark of the trees on the nearby Blue Trail. Either one of these could be a huge study. We ended up focusing on the many faces of the ubiquitous poison ivy on our bark and vine walk.

Poison ivy, or other bark & vines, make a great fall nature study. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011

3. Owls

We have been enjoying hearing the owls of Connecticut, right in our backyard, for the past couple of weeks. We are all early risers, so we are serenaded each morning, from about 4:00 a.m. until sunrise, by great horned owls and long-eared owls, and regularly encounter owls silently swooping over the roads when we drive in the evenings.

We use the Apologia Science Exploring Creation series with our youngest son, and found that All About Birds, a web page from Cornell Univerity's Laboratory of Ornithology, makes a great accompaniment to the Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day textbook. Read more about owls, and hear owl calls.

In the November edition of the Simple Science Strategies Newsletter, we feature books in the One Day series, by Jean Craighead George, nature writer and children's author. Here is another novel, with a nature theme, that was always a favorite of my students and my own children, by the same author. Click on the image, for ordering information.

 Barnes & Noble, $16.00

4. Buds

When I taught horticulture students at The Ohio State University, we had three plant identification courses: woody trees and shrubs (a fall class), evergreens and winter identification of trees and shrubs (a winter class), and herbaceous plants (a spring class). In the winter, we would revisit previously learned trees and shrubs, only using their habits, twig markings and buds to identify them. Very challenging!

Winter buds can be very colorful, as well. Certain shrubs and trees that bloom very early in the spring can be cut in the late fall and winter, and brought inside to force the blooms open.

Champaign County (Illinois) Cooperative Extension Service has a nifty pocket guide on winter identification of trees and shrubs. The .pdf is full color, and also teaches about leaf and bud arrangement (did you know that there are only a few woody species with an opposite leaf arrangement?).

Colorful buds challenge our identification skills in fall and winter (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011

5. Fruits and Berries

I love cutting wildflowers to bring inside after our nature hikes. In the fall and winter, I cut branches with fruits and berries, or colorful buds, instead. Last fall, I cut some multiflora rose branches with "hips" (berries), and put them in a vase on the kitchen windowsill. They rooted! No wonder it is an invasive species...

If you are a birder, it is interesting to notice which plants attract birds to your yard in winter. Some plants, like hollies and winterberries, are full of bright red fruits, but the birds only eat them very late in the winter and early in spring, when they absolutely have to. Others, like blueberries, barely get a tinge of blue before they are stripped bare by all kinds of wildlife.

If you decide to study the fruits, download a set of my "Apple a Day" notebooking pages to go along with your study.

Colorful fruits and berries brighten the fall landscape. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011

6. Old Birds' Nests

We often suspect that we have nesting birds in the yard, because we see mom and dad and their little ones coming to the feeder in the summer, or we watch adults zipping back and forth with wriggly snacks in their beaks.

In the fall, when the leaves have fallen, we can often spot exactly where the nest was, as its hiding place is revealed. Sometimes, fall and winter weather, such as our recent hurricane, blow nests from their hiding spots, so we can study them up close.

One fall, my older boys collected a series of nests on our screen porch. This is a great nature activity when the outside world seems to be sleeping. A word of caution: do not bring the nests inside, as most wild birds are full of mites, which infest the nest, and are definitely NOT something that you want to wake up from their slumber in your house, as they warm up inside. Consider getting a field guide just about nests, to add to your field guide collection. (I love the Peterson guides... Click on the image for ordering information. )

Barnes & Noble $20

Did you know that...
  • Robins use grass and mud to make their nests, but the amount of mud varies with the weather, from nearly all grass if the weather is dry, to full of mud, when things are rainy?
  • Great-crested flycatchers almost always include a snakeskin in their nest cavities? (No one really knows why)
  • A male Northern oriole starts his nest, a bag of woven grass that hangs high in a tree, and uses the beginnings of the nest to lure a female as a mate?
  • Tufted titmouses line their nests with fur, even plucking hair from unsuspecting animals as they go about their daily affairs?
  • Hummingbirds make their tiny nests from lichens and spider webs?
  • Bald eagles add branches to their massive nests each year, until the sheer weight of the nest, or bad weather, topples it?
  • Crows, normally raucous and boisterous, fly silently to their nests, to avoid detection by predators?
  • Blue jays like to weave colorful bits of trash and other "finds" into their nests?
  • Mourning doves create a disheveled nest from loosely piled twigs and leaves?
  • Turkey vultures lay their eggs on a bare rock ledge?
  • Towhees create a nest in a leaf-lined depression on the ground?

Our oriole friends hide their nest high in a tree -- Hurricane Sandy blew last year's down for us to study. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012.

7. Rock Walls

Living in New England means there are plenty of old rock walls around. The Puritans and other early European settlers found that planting and building anywhere in the Northeast meant dealing with the stones and boulders left by all those glaciers from the Ice Age. They placed these stones, called glacial erratics, in rock walls around their homesteads, where they remain to this day.

Rock walls teach about the settlement, and geology, of New England. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011

$16.95, Barnes & Noble
Stone Wall Secrets, by Kristine and Robert Thorson, and illustrated by Gustav Moore, is a beautifully illustrated book that teaches about the geology of New England, and the culture of the ubiquitous stone walls of the area. Author Robert Thorson, a geologist at the University of Connecticut, has been studying the stone walls of New England for decades, learning about the people who built them and the bedrock which created them. It's a great "go-along" for a fall study of stone walls. For more information on this book, click on the image, at left.

8. Mounds and Pits

In September, we learned about the "One Small Square" strategy, a technique for making observations about the plant and animal life, as well as the abiotic factors, in an ecosystem. This strategy can be used to examine the differences between two unique microecosystems: mounds and pits.

Mounds and pits are formed when trees topple over then decay, over time, creating a mound where the exposed root ball once was,  and a pit where it pulled out of the ground. These two areas often have different soil structure, and different plant and animal life. Autumn is a nice time to begin a study of mounds and pits, examining them when only evergreens are growing, and repeating the study on a monthly basis. Consider using the fall and winter months to map out fallen trees or mounds and pits, for future study. Practice using coordinates to map them out.

Mounds and pits form when fallen trees decompose. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011

9. Cones

This month, one of our studies involves comparing and contrasting evergreens and deciduous plants. Among the evergreens you will likely encounter in your studies are the cone-bearing plants, or gymnosperms. Cones make for an interesting nature study in the fall, as each type of gymnosperm has a unique type of cone, and the cones, themselves, change over time.

We like to collect pine cones from the white pines in our neighborhood, and make peanut butter and seeds feeders for our bird feeding station -- read about this in "Winter Bird Feeding."

Collect pine cones for autumn decor or making bird feeders. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011

10. Animal Tracks

Last week, we had our first snow storm of the season, when Storm Ari dumped 4-12 inches of snow over the state of Connecticut. Enjoying our first snow day, my youngest son and I went outside to re-load the feeding station and clean snow off things in the backyard.

We delighted in looking at the dainty little bird tracks in the snow on the hood of the gas grill, and the scuffle of prints over prints under the feeders.

Muddy ground or snow-covered surfaces provide an opportunity to study animal tracks. Check out "Follow Those Tracks!" for more information about tracks, scats and signs left behind by animals.

Study animal tracks by making plaster casts or taking photographs. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2010


These are just some of the many studies we have been drawn to in the fall. We would love to hear about your fall finds, and the things that caught your eye as you explored outdoors this month.  Please make sure that you link up your blog post on the November Simple Science Strategies Blog Carnival.  Add a link to this post and the blog carnival in your blog post, too.

Have a great fall!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Great Giveaway! The All Season Indoor Composter

As we get our second batch of compost fired up, our first is processing in a new bucket out on the back patio, and awaiting its new home in the pit in the pit behind our stone wall. We, as many of you, are preparing for Hurricane Sandy, and I spent the morning taking in anything loose and cleaning up things that needed to be cleaned up, anyway.

Good news! I have another composter that I can give away to one lucky winner. It's a real gem, and you will love it.  If you missed my review of it, you can read all about it in my last post:

Adventures in Composting: The All-Season Indoor Composter

The All-Seasons Indoor Composter, $48 at UncommonGoods.

Win It Here!

This contest will last two weeks. Complete the first step to unlock additional entry options. 
[This contest is only open to US Contestants, per the sponsor ... but check back for future giveaways open to all!]

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 22, 2012

October 2012 Reader Survey

I thank you for being a reader of A Child's Garden, my nature study blog. Would you be so kind as to give me some feedback on your experience on this blog?

The survey is only 8 questions. You will not be asked to sign up for anything (if you do, please email me, as that means the survey link is broken). All information is anonymous. I want to make your experience the best that it can be, and appreciate the information that you have to share.

The survey will remain open for one month, then results will be tabulated.

No ads, just information for me. Thank you!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Adventures in Composting: The All-Season Indoor Composter

I am so excited! I just emptied my first batch of pre-compost from the All Season Indoor Composter, by UncommonGoods...

I first learned about UncommonGoods during a Mother's Day Pinterest board competition last spring. Because some of the pins were to come from their products, I had the chance to browse their online catalog. They were certainly uncommon, and right up my alley!


So when I was offered the opportunity to try out a product in return for writing an honest review of it, I had already started a wishlist. I found so many interesting, fantastic gift ideas here!

I was fascinated with the composter, for several reasons:

  1. I've been a "composter" for decades -- just feel good returning things to the earth...
  2. I currently use a small roaster with a lid to store compost prior to heading to the compost pile, and tend to pile it then set the lid on top of the pile, instead of emptying it promptly. Yuck.
  3. I need something that will fit under the sink, since my counter is too crowded for a countertop storage container.
  4. I was in the middle of a homeschool unit on mushrooms, fungi and other "composters" and the kitchen composter fit right into our studies.
A wonderful man named Rocky sent the composter to me, with a refill of the bokashi that fuels it. And the rest was history!

Here's our composting story...

The All-Seasons Indoor Composter, $48 at UncommonGoods.

The Composter

The composter isn't really a "composter." Composting is an aerobic process: bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes that love air break down the vegetable products into an organic material that you can use to amend your garden. In the All Season Indoor Composter, the process actually is fermentation, not composting, and is anaerobic: it depends on you depriving the microbes of oxygen. (See this YouTube video for the difference -- not sure about his claims that compost piles create environmental toxins, but he explains the difference between the two process well. The Compost Guy provides a little more balanced presentation of traditional composting vs. bokashi composting).

So why is this important?

How you use the composter, and how it's constructed, actually keep air out. (Those of you who compost, and are used to turning the pile to aerate it, will understand the difference).

The composter, itself, is a neat bin (about 5 gallons in size), with a tight-fitting lid, a handle and a grate that keeps the composting products from the liquid which collects with the fermentation process. The composter comes with a bag of bokashi, a mixture of wheat bran and molasses which is "inoculated" with fermentation bacteria, which break down your compost in the bucket. Rocky sent along a second bag of bokashi, but I didn't need it. The composter fit perfectly under my kitchen sink.

The All-Season Indoor Composter fits neatly under your sink.

Bokashi - the Fuel for the Composter

A little about bokashi (from my research)...

Bokashi is a mixture of wheat bran, molasses and a special blend of microbes called "effective microorganisms," or EM, for short.  If you read reviews of composters such as this one, some folks talk about the odor of the bokashi. Do you want to know what it smells like?

Cattle feed.

If you're not a farm girl or guy, it's hard to explain. It's sweet smelling, a little like taking a big sniff in a box of guinea pig pellets, but stronger. That's all. Not nasty. Very alfalfa-y.

Bokashi, the fuel that powers the All-Season Indoor Composter.

In fact, I'm thinking that, with the exception of the microbes, the mix is probably a lot like most animal feeds. My dog was very intrigued with the smell of the bokashi blend as I prepared the bucket.

You can make the mix yourself, or (conveniently) purchase bokashi refills from UncommonGoods, for $12.00.

Filling the Composter

It is extremely easy to use the composter:

Put a layer of bokashi on the bottom of the composter.
  • Remove all packaging from the composter.
  • Add a generous handful of bokashi to the bottom of the composter, taking care not to block all the holes in the bottom grate. 
The grate at the bottom of the composter lets the liquid that accumulates during the fermentation process drain out of the compost, and into a separate part of the composter. From what I'm able to read, this was an improvement based on consumer suggestions.

    Any kind of vegetable and meat waste can be added.
  • Add your organic waste to the composter.
The directions say that you can add the following items: any vegetable scraps, and small amounts of meat scraps. You are not supposed to add materials that have already begun to spoil.

What I added: stale cereal, vegetable scraps, used napkins and paper towels, coffee grounds and filters, small amounts of paper, egg shells.

Stir the mixture after each addition of waste.
  •  Dust surface of waste with more bokashi, then stir with a spoon to coat all.
The directions say to cut everything into small pieces. I didn't -- I wanted to compare what it did with materials that I would put into my compost pile as is. I know if I have to chop my garbage, I won't use the composter.

I was not brave enough to add meat scraps to the composter this time.

Add an additional layer of bokashi before sealing the bin.
  • Each time you add waste, coat the layer with a generous amount of bokashi. 
  • Stir after each waste addition.
  • Push down the compost to push out extra air.
  • Add another dusting of bokashi before sealing.
Don't be skimpy with the bokashi -- it contains the microbes that keep this process going without rot organisms, that cause bad smells.

Seal the mixture with a plastic bag or a plastic plate.

  • For added air-tightness, cover the compost with a plastic bag or plate, to keep air out.
I tried a nicer looking styrofoam plate, but didn't find that 1) it covered the whole surface of the compost or 2) sealed the mixture as well.

Oh, well...

  • Put the composter under the sink.
I have to say that I never noticed ANY smell from the composter. It seals extremely well. And I didn't use it exactly as the directions said (but DID use it the way I know I would use it):

  1. I tossed the materials into the bin, then added bokashi and stirred it at the end of the day, but not with each addition.
  2. I probably didn't always get the lid on tightly.

The Finished Product

After about 10 days, the composter was full (that seems typical for a family of three). The directions said to let the material process an additional 5 days before removing from the bin, so I did. Here is what we had after that:

The "tea" -- liquid that accumulates with fermentation.

The directions say that you can drain off the liquid periodically using the handy spigot at the bottom of the composter. I suppose this is more of an issue if you use a lot of juicy products (but they say to not add too much liquid to the composter, so...).

Anyway, this is all that accumulated in our bin (about 1/2 cup). I filled the rest of the little container with water, and used the mixture to water my rosemary plant.

The compost, after 15 days of processing.

After the 15 days, the mixture is not yet done. The directions tell you that you have to now bury the mixture in the ground to finish the process. I haven't done this yet (we just emptied it this evening), and wonder what I will do in the winter (you don't dig anything in the ground here in New England, in the winter).

I was impressed with the amount that the melon rinds, eggs shells and cucumber peels broke down. Good stuff.

Another view of the finished product. Nice, huh?

What I'd do next time:

  1. Dig the hole for the finishing of the compost ahead of time, so I could just dump it in the hole when I'm finished.
  2. Try to compost everything organic: paper from the office shredder, paper towels and facial tissues, shredded newspaper (why? because I normally compost all these things -- if I can't compost all the things I normally compost, I'll be disappointed).
  3. Try adding meat scraps to the compost.

The empty bin.

The directions tell you not to add anything that already has begun to spoil. That was a little disappointing. There's something a little ironic about throwing the rotten cucumber that hid in the back of the crisper, in the garbage, instead of in the composter. I think I might try it in the composter next time. I'll let you know what happens.

The smell at the bottom of the bin wasn't as pleasant as the top. But it wasn't as bad with the bokashi as most rotten stuff smells. 

My Recommendations

The All-Season Indoor Composter provides a spacious, odor-free way to store your compost inside until you can get it into the compost pile or pit. The bokashi makes the food waste break down much more quickly than it would in an empty container on your counter, and the pre-compost product breaks down to about 1/2 its starting volume during the finishing process in the bin. Although you have to then bury the product outside before using it as compost (it's not finished yet), the bin at least provides a convenient way to collect these scraps without mess, smell or pest problems in the house.

If you like feeling good about returning organic materials to the environment, then the All-Season Indoor Composter,  from UncommonGoods, is a perfect addition to your "green" living routines.

Mine is being refilled for another "go-around," even as we "speak."

Other Things on My Wishlist at UncommonGoods

There are so many great unique finds for girls at Uncommongoods -- I am particularly fond of the Periodic Table Building Blocks, being a science girl and somewhat of a geek.

But, their picks for guys are just as intriguing: a President Block Set (my history-loving youngest son would go bonkers over that), and the older two (who are former Rubix cubers and chess masters) would appreciate the Lab Test Games.

For myself, I love the one-of-a-kind garden accessories, in particular the Apple Anchor Hummingbird Feeder and the Butterfly Puddler. I know these would be perfect in my garden -- we get a zillion hummingbirds (they come to anything red or shiny), and the orioles and bluebirds eat fruit left out for them in the yard. I also have noticed many butterflies drinking out of the "puddles" in plant saucers, so the puddler would be a pretty addition -- like a stepping stone with a dual purpose.

I'll have to wait until spring for those things... sigh. I so miss summer already.

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