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“Hello! I am so glad to be here today, as we are going to talk about science - one of my favorite subjects!"

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Professor Wizzywig, and I work for the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County. I enjoy helping young people discover a love for science, art and the world around us.

What’s this you say? Talking science to young children? Why, yes indeed! Who better to want to engage in a little trial and error as a method for learning? Who else would want the opportunity to use their eyes, hands, and feet to explore something new? Children, of course! And the Children’s Museum’s very purpose is to nurture curiosity, ignite imagination, and cultivate creativity!

Let's make observations! What can you do while exploring the Children's Museum?

Play! Did you know that play is an important process in the intellectual development of young people? With exhibits and activities to engage young minds, children of all ages find new ways to engage in learning. My goodness! There are more than 15 hands-on physical science, art, and cultural-based exhibits, you say? Are those bubbles I see? Is that music I hear? How is that Styrofoam sticking to that box? Children, you are so right to say there is much SO much to see and discover!

What do you think your parents are saying about the Children's Museum?

Why, I’ve heard parents say they like to bring their little people to an unstructured place where hands on learning is encouraged. One father even shared that his own curiosity keeps him coming back to see what new inventions the Children’s Museum and I will unveil. A mother said she and her children explored the exhibits for more than two hours – clearly science lovers in the making!

Now who do you think supports the Children's Museum?

Did you guess the answer? You are correct if you answered that you are the supporters of the Children’s Museum! Donations from families like yours, grants, and support from groups like the Junior League help us to set up our “Museum on the Go” displays. Most excitingly, we are working to find a permanent home – maybe even next door to the Schulz Museum!  If you’d like to help us out, think of making a donation before the winter holidays- I’ve got a special friend who promises to match every dollar we bring in. Talk to my colleagues at the Museum if you’d like to help us further!

Where can you find the Children’s Museum to conduct your own experiments?
Ahh. I’d thought I’d peak your curiosity about science! Come out and try your own hand (or foot!) at one of our tables. Our next “Museum on the Go” exhibit will be hosted by the folks over at the Great Handcar Regatta on September 27th in Santa Rosa's Old Railroad Square. You can also find us at other locations by looking at our calendar.

I’d love to meet you and tell you the answers to question such as: Does it really take ‘ten hundred breaths’ as one of the children guessed? If we were measuring with elephants, how many elephants would we need?

The Children’s Museum offers more than interactive exhibits. I like to do special workshops and demonstrations with children as well. Some children even invite us to their birthday parties! We always have great fun!

Well, I must get back to my lab to do a few experiments.  It's been so nice visiting with you today.  Hope to see you at the Children's Museum of Sonoma County.  Toodles!

Luckily, this magical place is not "far, far away" - but located close by in rural Santa Rosa. Travel out in the country, down a small lane where rainbow pinwheels line your path. Look for sunflowers beckoning you to come into the enchanted gardens. Find Gail, lovely conductress of said magic. There she'll be with her warm smile inviting you to follow a trail through her hydrangeas, splash in paint, or make suds in an old laundry bin. Smiling Tree Farm offers wonder, excitement, and ample opportunity for a child's discovery.

Bryles and I ventured out to Smiling Tree Farm for our first time today.  Gail offered us a free class to come and check her out, and luckily I brought my camera!  We were wowed by our experience, which centered around an earthworm theme.  Our adventure began with a walk through Smiling Tree's willows, veggie garden, and exploration of two fish ponds.  To his particular delight, Bryles quickly discovered a collection of metal construction trucks in a gravely corner.  Other families trickled in until Gail rang a copper garden chime calling everyone to gather in a small meadow for circle.  After singing and learning about our projects for the day, Gail welcomed the families to enjoy the farm or explore the project tables. 

I was impressed by her casual air and the way Gail encouraged the children to come to their own experiences at their own pace.  It didn't take long for Bryles to discover the paint table where a "naked" cardboard "worm" waited for his artistic touch.  After a bit of focus, he was happy to try the swings, splash at the water table, and play trucks again.  He dabbled at digging for earthworms with the other children, but never quite completed the worm house building activity Gail set up at another project table.  With the laundry tub calling for him to make bubbles, who had the time?

After about an hour of open play and projects, Gail corralled the group again for a snack. She offered children a turn at her apple peeler, then handed out apple slices. Later, she offered fresh veggies and herbs harvested from her garden. This lady must have a magic wand up her sleeve as she had Bryles gushing over fresh basil and tarragon!

Gail Saunders says that opening her home, Smiling Tree Farm, is a natural extension of her past 30 years working with children and families.  Gail's dynamic approach to serving families is a unique mix of yoga, children's music (Music Together teacher), cooking, child development, and a deep love for little people.  Her experience shows!  Children immediately gravitate to Gail as her warmth and gentleness are magnetic, and help her accomplish her goal of offering a "natural and non-pressured environment in which to explore and learn."

Smiling Tree Farm is currently offering activities for 2-5 year olds as described here.  While I carefully budget my dollars and make few weekly commitments, I am happy to pay $20-$23 for this rich experience!  We walked away feeling refreshed by the farm, loved by Gail, and full of ideas about how earthworms help our garden.  Catch Bryles and I in next week's class or join us in September at Smiling Tree Farm for enchanting classes featuring baking, sewing, painting, and crafting. 

Have some fun and hit Doran Beach before summer runs out for you too!  This coastal destination is unique in that it offers ample parking, flat terrain, and bathrooms close to the shoreline. Parents lugging kites, sun umbrellas, picnic baskets, and sand toys - not to mention the kids - love this county run section of sand. The $6 parking fee is worth every penny! Better yet, buy a park pass and get free parking and entrance into this park as well as Spring Lake and other great Sonoma County parks!

"I found a sweet elder tree with TONS of berries that are starting to ripen!" writes Sono-Ma Karla Gormley to our craft circle.

Next day, our kids happily gathered up buckets and baskets, while we loaded the bike stroller and prepared for a walk on a trail near Karla’s house. These kids are their nature loving mamas’ children, anxious to find wild treats as we were!

Little did we know we’d discover elderberries, grapes, and blackberries on our short walk on the outskirts of a Windsor subdivision. Like the little gnomes in Children of the Forest, our kids listened to our cautions about what to eat, touch, or leave alone- all the while learning lessons about the wild world we hope they’ll hold onto for life.

The elder tree was loaded with berries! With a couple of three-year-olds and a one-year-old babe, we did some quick picking before they lost interest. As we picked bushels, we talked about our plans to make natural home remedies for winter colds and sore throats. Bryles and I started this process by putting a healing basket together including his warm bear, Epson salts (good for family foot baths – see Mothering Magazine May June 2009 article and this inspired group), salves we made last summer, and a few other herbal or homeopathic concoctions. These elderberries will be a key ingredient in my “wellness” drops – a recipe by Rosemary Gladstar or this recipe I found at "Home Grown Farming."  These tried and true serums have been used by wise women for centuries, but are finding a new place in my home...

There are many lessons we can stand to learn from the women in our past and current lives. A mother of aged-twenty something children chatted with Karla and I as we all plucked blackberries today. This mother talked about her lovely children who went away on young adult adventures, but recently found their way back into her nest for short reprieves from life’s stresses. She eyed our young children throwing rocks, squealing for more berries, and generally surrounding us in a flurry of activity. She reminisced on her earlier days of mothering three children under four years old.

I asked this experienced mother to share her stories on Sono-Ma.  Many younger mothers search for the wisdom of those who’ve made it to her stage of mothering adult children. She hesitated and said that she doesn’t talk about the hard times of parenting.

Why not? Karla and I sometimes enter a virtual confession stall and admit that we find mothering a challenge (to say the least.) Both of us have shared that we’ve felt inadequate next to other mothers who seem to sail through sleepless nights and continue to dote on their children with the utmost of patience. I’ll go ahead and admit that lots of times I feel overwhelmed, over needed, under slept, consumed by back pain, and filled with an urge to run away to hide! I constantly write this letter in my head, “Dear Mom. You had five children, and made it seem like you loved every minute of mothering. What was your secret?”

I don’t know if the wise woman we met will share her stories, but I hope she will! Mothering is all things: sweet, awful, fulfilling, draining, the best and the worst. I need more stories about some of the down and dirty to learn how to balance myself.  Are their other moms who hit lows and highs?  Please share!

*Note:  elderberries are not edible unless processed in a tincture or cooked - do not let your children eat them raw.

If the last post "Community to Can: Turning Summer's Bounty into Winter's Delight With a Little Help from your Community - Links to Canning Classes and Resources Included", got you thinking - get moving now to get your free local blackberries!  This delicious, local treat is in high season.  Your little one will have a purple chin and sticky fingers in a matter of minutes.  You can fill a bucket and dream of blackberry cobbler.
Scott loves my cobbler so much, he agreed to spend a hot morning walking and harvesting berries with me on the Joe Rodota trail.  I was grateful for his willing attitude (even given his stomach's motives), as we hit the trail in celebration of our ten year wedding anniversary.  Do other people hire a babysitter and do these things on significant dates, or are we just fools for homemade dessert?  

Acutally, the Laguna de Santa Rosa always gets my vote for as a dreamy destination. We've made it our special place for taking long walks on Mother's Day, leisurely family bike rides, and getting away for adult power rides for other "dates." Sonoma County locals are truly blessed to have this huge, natural lagoon in our backyard. Joe Rodota's paved, flat trails cut quietly through wildflowers and expanses of open fields. Cranes, dragonflys, and finches dart about. Lizards laze on boulders, and squirrels scatter as people stroll by.

This piece of wild world crowds out the distractions of modern civilization.  It's just the peace I need to quiet my soul and realign my priorities.  Priorities like nurturing my relationship with nature.  Finding more blissful moments with my husband....  and making the time to feed my family slow food - like gooey blackberry cobbler... Convinced?  Here's a recipe link that is sure to delight!

This is the season for putting summer's bounty up to save for a winter time treat!  Preserving food is a centuries old tradition and art that can still serve you in your kitchen today.  Gather apples scattered from the orchard's floor and make pints of cinnamon spiced apple sauce, or turn your tumbling tomatoes into rich spaghetti sauce.

Where to find bountiful, low-cost or free produce:

  • Freecycle - post a wanted add for produce and offer to glean produce for Freecycle users
  • Your neighbors yard
  • Buy Seconds at the one of Sonoma County's Farmer's Markets - vendors sell flats of over ripe or damaged fruit for very cheap deals - I've bought a flat of heirloom tomatoes for $1.50 and a flat of peaches for $5.  This fruit needs to be preserved immediately, so get to the Farmer's Market early and plan to go straight home to jar or freeze the fruit!
  • Walker Ranch - offers box deals at their Ranch and $1 a pound apples at the Santa Rosa Farmer's Market    (707-823-4310 10955 Upp Road, Sebastopol)
  • Other local ranches that sell Gravenstein Apples featured in a recent Press Democrat Article
  • Blackberries - find these surrounding local creek paths such as the Joe Rodota Trail
  • From your own backyard - learn to plan your own fall vegetable garden at Harmony Farm's upcoming free course on August 8th at 12:00.
Looking for a canning class?

Saturday, August 8th:  Harmony Farm's Customer Appreciation Day will include a "Canning your Harvest" class at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm.  Call 823-9125 for more details.

Thursday, September 10 at 6:30:  Sebastopol Hardware Center  offers a Food Preservation Class with Wendy Krupnick.  Learn how to can, freeze, dry and more!  All canning supplies will be 20% off after the class.  Call (707) 823-7688 for details.

Need a few good canning or preserving resources?

Check out the Sono-Ma Store or your local library for books such as:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Recipes in Back of Each Chapter)

There is also much to be found at your local library branch.  Sono-Ma friend, Karen, and I both had a pile of canning books in the reserve stacks in late May. 

On-line links you'll find helpful include:

Utah Education Network's Food Preservation "On-line Course"

Food Storage Guidelines for Consumers by the Virginia Cooperative Extensions (availble as a pdf with a great food storage chart you can plaster to your freezer here.)

Need Canning or Freezing Supplies?
Pick up what you need while you check out Harmony Farm's Customer Appreciation event and courses on August 8th - or any other day of the year.
Ace Hardware is also a reliable source for jars, lids, pectin, etc.  Ball canning jars are great for use in the freezer as well.  Find these supplies at Ace stores at locations such as:  Sebastopol, Windsor, Healdsburg, Bennett Valley, and Sonoma.

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