Dec 122017

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One of the top news stories currently happening has to do with wildfires in California.  Strong winds, previous droughts, hilly terrain, these all make it very prone to large fires which can be difficult to put out.  Fires are not new to that part of the country. If you live there, then fire is a natural part of the environment and most likely a part of your day in ways you may  not always think about – choice of landscaping and building materials for example.

If you do not live in this particular area, you more than likely do not think of how prone that environment is to fire.  It is doubtful you think of it at all.

Then it is plastered all over the television, newspapers, internet, and radio broadcasts.  You could not get away from it if you tried, and everyone seems to have an opinion.

That seems to be the way it goes with natural resources.  They are all around us, we live in them yet rarely talk about them or think about them.  Till something goes wrong.  Or you are out of conversation at a family holiday meal.  Then either everyone has an opinion, often a very strong one, or are ignorant on the topic, yet still have an opinion.

Fire is not the only natural resource which brings out strong feelings.  Wolves do the same thing.  Especially if you live in one of the western states.

As one who does not reside in the west, nor grew up there, my view of wolves is from a natural resource professional standpoint – balance is a good thing; putting back what we took out can only help begin to bring back that balance.

While this sounds great on paper (0r the computer screen), at what point in the past are we aiming to return to?  Before the government began the campaign to eradicate wolves from the forests?  Before Europeans began settling the continent?  At the end of the last ice age?  Which of these is the ‘ideal’ and which is the one we should aim for?

If there is one thing we, as humans, should have learned a long time ago it is this – we do not know everything.  Often we find things more of a mess when we try to ‘fix’ them rather than letting them be.  We act with what we think is the vast knowledge gained by experience or with the newfound scientific research of the era.  Only later, we find out we were wrong.  By then, life has moved on.  Reality has adjusted to the change.  Now a new question arises – should be try to fix what we broke, or let nature take its course and fix things on its own…if possible.

This is what happened with the wolves, a path which author Nate Blakeslee walks through in American Wolf: a true story of survival and obsession in the west.  As with every piece written concerning real life events, the lens through which activities are reported can make a difference in the conclusions reached – was the reintroduction a good thing or not?  Were there more benefits or outweighed by the consequences?

Spoiler – Blakeslee is not a cattle rancher. He is not a hippie.  He is not a government employee.  What he is is an author who took the resources he had and pieced them together, showing both sides of the story.  Or trying to, rather.

The majority of the book seems to follow one particular NPS Ranger, Rick McIntyre.  Understandably so, as Rick too copious notes on the wolves for many decades, almost from the beginning of their reintroduction.  These, combined with notes from other wildlife observers, researchers, and park records gives a large picture of the packs’ reintroduction and growth into the Yellowstone National Park. While a lot of this information aims to be scientific, unemotional, and unbiased, it is written largely from a group of individual who love nature and wanted to see these wolves succeed.

The other side of the coin – hunters, guides, and cattle ranchers may also love nature, though may be affected differently by the wolf reintroduction.  Wolves are a natural predator.  They were at the top, or near the top, of the food chain when they were targeted for eradication.  It is only natural to then assume there would be loses and adjustments in populations of other animals once they were reintroduced.  To help offset these losses, the state governments set up programs to pay for cattle losses due to wolves.

What these programs did not cover were loses in elk to hunt for food, loses in revenue from reduced stays at hunting lodges, and the loss of having to sell property that may have been in a family for generations because the family could no longer earn enough to support themselves in such a rural setting.  While these are loses that can be felt, often they are much harder to quantify.  Even Nate had trouble finding someone to talk openly with him concerning the negative aspects of wolves.  It took him several trips, and a lot of reassurances concerning not using his real name, for him to gain the trust of a local hunter/guide.

Over all, American Wolf: a true story of survival and obsession in the west  gave a fairly balanced view, though I believe it leans more toward a pro-wolf stance.  Perhaps this was the way I was reading the information, the fact that the majority of the information came from those who spent time watching and tracking the wolves, or that information from those negatively impacted by increase in wolf populations is harder to find.

In all, I believe it was a successful reintroduction, with more positive than negative results.  Only time will tell.


I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Nov 252017

No worries, we did not go on a hike through the forest on this very popular hunting day. Instead, I said, “Teeth brushed? Good job. Now out we go!”

Kid #1 : “Where are we going, Mom? What are we going to do?”

Kid #2: “Why? I don’t want to go.”

Me: “We are going outside, to the yard, to…play.”

Kid #2 was encouraged a bit more than Kid #1 to go outside. In the end we all got out the door, Kid #2 followed my promoting/example to climb a fallen tree, played for about 10, then disappeared back inside.  Kid #1 would not climb with us, but stayed outside with me for over an hour, walking through brambles, and observing wildlife.

Most exciting moment? When Kid #1 almost stepped on a sleeping opposum.

We then proceeded to look closer at it, talk about why it was there, and discuss if it would live through the night. (Looked as if it had been in a fight.)

While walking around, I realized there were no older cousins in their lives who have challenged them to do things or show them what might be possible. I tried to think of how I used to play with my younger cousins and do similar things. Not sure it hit the mark, but the kids “explored” areas of my parents’ property they had never been in…while staying out of the woods.

Even though we were not in danger, it did feel as if our every move was being followed…

After our fresh air jaunt, we came inside and did what had to be done – cheer our alma mater on as they battled their adversary in a very important game.

Best pre-game show I have seen in a long time.

Sep 092017

If you have watched any television, turned on a radio, or walked past a newsstand in the last few days, you will have seen or heard about the current weather events taking place along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Ocean.

Hurricane Harvey was a massive, unexpected, force which has disrupted a huge area and hundred of thousands of people.  Hurricane Irma has been just as destructive, if not more-so, and she is not done yet.  Most consider these natural disturbances a catastrophe.

In terms of humans, I completely agree. Having lived in the Houston area, it is even harder to see the images and realize the scale, knowing that the images do not do it justice.  I was there when Katrina hit New Orleans and many of those residents fled to Houston.  Hearing their stories and seeing their struggles, literally face-to-face, did more than any news image could.

Hurricane Harvey and Irma are natural disturbances on a grand scale.  Thankfully, most disturbance of nature are that so intense.

Scaling back a little, let us take a look at a “disaster” from a different view point.

Consider a week of spring rains across the Midwestern states.  The rains have saturated the soil, thereby sending water flowing into local streams and rivers.  The streams and rivers can only move so fast, yet the water keeps coming.  Water levels rise, resulting in typical yearly flooding into fields, woods, yards, roadways, etc.

Eventually the rains end and the streams are able to carry the excess water into the rivers and down to the ocean.

What is left?

If you were to go look at the stream, you might notice a lack of sticks in the bed…you likely had to step over a line of them along the bank in order to get down to see the stream bed itself.  Perhaps the tall tree, whose roots used to stick out into the stream, is now lying across the stream, branches dangling in the water.

Down in the field, you notice grasses matted down, covered with detritus and debris. Temporary rivulets left lines as the water receded, creating low areas in a once flat field.

Is this a catastrophe or a rejuvenation?

As this natural disturbance is a seasonal, regular occurrence, what might look like a catastrophe to the local ecosystem at first can actually turn out to be a much needed and depended upon rejuvenation.

Where the tree fell, more light is reaching the forest floor.  In a year, this area will be covered with plants who need more light, rather than shade, to grow.  Birds who like to nest and eat along the edges of forests increase in population, and end up eating more of the insects flying near the water.

In 5 years you will not even be able to see an opening in the forest canopy.

The sticks in the stream, which used to catch leaves and block flow are now out of the way.  The water has been able to create a smoother bed and deeper pools.  While the dangling limbs from the tree provide shade and protection, the cleaned out stream bed means there are also more crevices under rocks, more places to hide.  The deeper pools are cooler than the shallower edges, helping regulate the stream’s temperature and aiding aquatic life who need cooler temperatures.

Was this natural disturbance a catastrophe or a change for rejuvenation?

While many in the news label occurrences like this a natural “disaster”, I think that is not always the case.  Without disturbances, a system becomes too similar – population diversities decline, species who can not survive in those conditions die or become extinct, and the system as a whole may loses its ability to handle a disturbance when it does happen.

The idea that natural disasters are not always bad, or disasters, is what Seth Reice talked about in “The Silver Lining: the benefits of natural disasters“.  I had picked up his book at a library book sale, the picture of a field/forest fire on the front having caught my attention.  Yes, I was initially judging a book by its cover. 😉

What I found inside was a great explanation of what happens during a natural disturbance, how we as humans perceive the results, why these disturbances are actually needed, and the observable results of various “disasters” years later.

Even better was the flow of the book.  It was not weighed down with technical terms, but written so even someone without an understanding of the science behind it could follow along easily.  My background in biological sciences and ecology only aided in understanding further what he was talking about.

While everything he mentioned was not new to me, it was a great reminder that there is not always one way to view what is happening.  We need to take headlines with a grain of salt.  The new agencies are in business to sell papers or gain ratings, while telling a story; hence the use of catchy headlines.  After all a headline saying “Forest Utterly Destroyed By Fire” is more likely sell a greater number of (non-academic) papers than “Forest Fire Allows Pine Trees To Reseed.”

Nov 252016

Here is another post from the past.  This seems like just yesterday, but was actually from almost 3 years ago! Wow, we had not even finalized their adoptions at that point.  What a different time in our lives that was.  Of course, the kids did not let that slow them down …

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars

A walk to the garden to pick parsley resulted in finding parsley plants that had been eaten.  Not all the leaves were gone yet, but it was close.  The culprit?  The little green guys in the dish above.

At the time of finding these guys, we didn’t know what they were.  I actually almost squished them, or threw them out into the grass.  Just before my impulsive move I realized that this would be a great thing to look up online.  An Impromptu Nature Lesson!  I love unplanned distractions of this sort.  Usually.

  • What caterpillars were these?
  • What did they become?
  • What did they eat? (Were any of my other plants in danger of being eaten?  Did I need to do a thorough search of them too?)

After searching ‘Caterpillar Identification Images’ we quickly found what we were looking for.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars 2

While looking at the caterpillars we found out that if you poke them, these small yellow ‘V’ shaped things came up from their heads.  Out of respect for science {clears through} we had to do an experiment to see what exactly made them do this.  After a few trials it was decided that the best way was to make move them by poking them.  Oh, and the more you poked them the quicker these yellow ‘V’ things appeared.  Then I decided we were bordering on being mean and we stopped.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars 4

The search revealed that:

these were caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

they use parsley, dill, fennel, and carrots as host plants – the Apiaceae family

Knowing that the caterpillars would turn into butterflies and not eat the rest of my garden I breathed a sigh of relief.  The next thing was to put them in a jar to see if we could keep them till they were butterflies, notice the changes along the way, then release them.

In the basement I had some old 1/2 gallon jars that were the perfect size.  With a bit of hesitation I also cut a handful of parsley.  As I only  have two plants and had been using them for cooking, this was a sacrifice.  In the name of Science though I took a deep breath and proceeded.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars in a Jar 3

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars in a Jar

The kids loved seeing the caterpillars on the counter.

After a few days I realized that we didn’t have the supply of parsley needed to sustain our little colony of caterpillars.  They had a voracious appetite.

In the end one caterpillar started to make a cocoon, but didn’t finish before his energy supplies ran out.  After that I decided to let them fend for themselves in the yard, and so released them back to the wild.

Next time, we’ll only keep one or two.

Further Study – Just this morning I was looking up a bit more information on this caterpillar/butterfly and came across a great post at Ecosystem Gardening.  It was very helpful to find out that I don’t necessarily need to plant a flowerbed border of parsley to attract these butterflies and caterpillars in the future.  Carole references information she found from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  So, yes there are native parsley plants you can add to your garden to attract these beautiful butterflies.

As a side note, I have been to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  It truly is amazing, both the center and the amount of information they have.  They have a love for what they do and it shows.

May 312016

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nature center tree bird pond

Though it is summer, we are continuing certain parts of our school days.  This includes reading a poem of the day, an aspect whose impact I had underestimated.  I had put off adding this as part of our morning routine for so long, assuming I would have to force the kids to listen to the poems.  As it turns out Jack really loves to hear them, usually.

Recently we finished the The Child’s Garden of Verses and moved onto the Oxford’s Book of Children’s Verse in America.  That is where we came across the following:

Robert Of Lincoln – Poem by William Cullen Bryant
Merrily swinging on briar and weed,
Near to the nest of his little dame,
Over the mountain-side or mead,
Robert of Lincoln is telling his name;
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Snug and safe in that nest of ours,
Hidden among the summer flowers.
Chee, chee, chee.
Robert of Lincoln is gayly dressed.
Wearing a bright black wedding-coat;
White are his shoulders and white his crest,
Hear him calling his merry note:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Look, what a nice new coat is mine,
Sure there was never a bird so fine.
Chee, chee, chee.
Robert of Lincoln’s Quaker wife,
Pretty and quiet, with plain brown wings,
Passing at home a quiet life,
Broods in the grass while her husband sings:
Bob-o’-l ink, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Brood, kind creatures; you need not fear
Thieves and robbers while I am here.
Chee, chee, chee.
Modest and shy as a nun is she,
One weak chirp is her only note,
Braggart and prince of braggarts is he,
Pouring boasts from his little throat:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Never was I afraid of man;
Catch me, cowardly knaves, if you can.
Chee, chee, chee.
Six white eggs on a bed of hay,
Flecked with purple, a pretty sight!
There as the mother sits all day,
Robert is singing with all his might:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Nice good wife, that never goes out,
Keeping house while I frolic about.
Chee, chee, chee.
Soon as the-little ones chip the shell
Six wide mouths are open for food;
Robert of Lincoln bestirs him well,
Gathering seed for the hungry brood.
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
This new life is likely to be
Hard for a gay young fellow like me.
Chee, chee, chee.
Robert of Lincoln at length is made
Sober with work, and silent with care;
Off is his holiday garment laid,
Half forgotten that merry air,
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Nobody knows but my mate and I
Where our nest and our nestlings lie.
Chee, chee, chee.
Summer wanes; the children are grown;
Fun and frolic no more he knows;
Robert of Lincoln’s a humdrum crone;
Off he flies, and we sing as he goes:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
When you can pipe that merry old strain,
Robert of Lincoln, come back again.
Chee, chee, chee. 


I loved the mental imagery, as well as the inclusion of the various calls of the bobolink bird.  Learning bird calls makes knowing which birds are around a lot easier, as often they are hidden from sight or too far away to see clearly.  The children have learned a few birds, but there are many more to go.  Even I do not know as many as I should.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great site to hear the different calls of the Bobolink. They contain samples from the east, central, and west birds, as well as the ‘pink’, ‘buzz’, ‘see-yoo’, ‘zeep’, ‘quip’, and ‘chunk’ sounds.  They also have a flight song and a complex countersinging round.

Librivox’s recording of Chapter 25 of Through Fairy Halls of My Bookhouse also contains the first two stanzas of the much longer poem.


Mar 052016


What to do with four boys, ages 6-8, who have been insde all day and are ready to drive everyone crazy? Send them outside of course.

The cold, misting rain had stopped and supper was eaten. Pottys breaks had and coats put on. Out the door they ran. Bird feeders were visited, a slow-to-move bird was observed, and a pail was picked up.

A quick tap and “You’re It” is all it took for a 30 minute game of tag to ensue. It would have kept going but for the signs of future wars appearing on the horizon.

The council of 4 Boys and a Girl then convened by the swing to tell stories, laugh at jokes containing bodily sounds, and learn to implement Brotherly Love to those you are not particularly feeling love towards right at the moment.

Sounds of anquish at having to return to the confines of indoors were made quieter by the promise of cake and ice cream.

Some building time, teeth brushing, PJ adornment, and a wonderfully drawn out bed time story led to the end result.  I now sit here listening to the night time sounds of the country, along with music mothers like to hear – snoring of little heads in bed.

I am just as exhausted and plan to join them in The Land of Mod very soon.  Night.

Jan 262016

Science Kids on the Loose

Sid The Science Kid: Growing Plants takes a look into a preschool classroom or daycare as kids plant and compare lima bean plants.  This short video shows kids how to plant a seed.  The kids then take a look at plants grown from seeds, started at various times in the past; some are seedlings and others are almost a foot tall.

If you are looking to do something inside with your kids when you actually want to be outside in the garden, starting plants on a sunny window sill is a fun activity.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.  Gardening is always an adventure.

Dec 022015


Today was the day to head to a local nature center for Jack’s monthly class.  When I signed Jack up, I had visions of time spent outside, meeting new friends, a break from doing things at home, etc.  That reality has not come to fruition.  Instead I have a kid very reluctant to go each month, who has trouble staying in his seat, and has a love/hate relationship with another kid in the group.

When we first started going, I stayed out of the class and sat with the other moms.  My hope was to gain knowledge and encouragement.  I tried several times, but never seemed to fit in with the group.  Finally, at month 4 I decided to join Jack in the class.  He was having trouble with interpersonal relationships, but I was not ready to give up.  By being in the class I was able to see more clearly where the issues were coming from.  It took a few times, but today went better.

While Jack has not really made friends, I finally did.  Another mom was also sitting in on the class and we started talking.  We seemed to click almost immediately.

She gave me some insight into the personalities of the other kids and the cliques that were going on.  This helped so much in knowing how to respond to Jack and address some of the issues.

Today I made the decision not to sign him up for classes this Spring.  It was a choice that has made me sad, as I really wanted this to work.  Perhaps switching to a different day will work better, but I am not willing to put him through this again.  I asked Jack’s opinion, to see if my conclusion was on point, and found that he was very okay with not signing back up.

The class moves fairly slow, is loosely supervised and is inside for over 30 minutes, the kids sitting at tables, before heading outside. All things that lead to a bored Jack, which then leads to a kid who finds ways to entertain himself (often ways that also get him into trouble) or runs away because he does not know how else to respond.

I gave my contact information to the ‘new’ mom friend and hope that she calls at some point.  As for Jack, I am going to search for other activities to engage him in.  I am thinking of having a day each week for a field trip somewhere.  It might be a trip to the museum, to a different library, the local state park or even a night of camping.

This may have seemed like a very clear decision.  My trouble came with my internal battle.  I love nature.  I love nature centers.  I want my kids to love nature.  I really wanted this to work and feel like a failure that it didn’t.  Did you notice all the ‘I’ sentences there?  Yup.  Once I realized it was me holding on to this idea, it was easier to let go of it.

This was a great reminder that a nature center is not the only place I can take the kids learn about nature.  For their whole time living here I have been doing exactly that, except without the reluctance and emotional breakdowns.

Oct 222015


outdoor education campingGeorge’s school has parent-teacher conferences Friday, therefore he has no school.  My husband has a paper or two to write, as well as several to read this weekend.  The weather has been nice lately, so I though I would take the kids to a local park to go camping.  I could ‘rough it’ a bit with them, allowing them to learn different skills without my husband being focused on, well, having to focus and be comfortable.  The weather is not too hot nor too cold at this moment.  We may do some winter camping this year, but I am going to hold off on saying for sure one way or the other.

Okay, perhaps ‘roughing it’ is pretty overstated.  We will still have a tent, a lantern, fire starters, maybe even a camping stove.  I plan to take the cooler and flashlights, and a shower house will be nearby.  It isn’t like we are hiking into a national forest … we will work up that.  🙂

So, tonight (Wednesday) I figured I should go online to make sure the campground is not full or such.  I felt silly doing it, as this particular campground is often more empty than full.  Turns out it was a good move.  Two sites were available for reservation!  Hmm.  Not exactly the solitude I thought we would have.  Okay.  Plan B … what is Plan B?  I asked myself the same question.  Seems I was a bit too confident that others would not like camping in this weather.

After deciding to go to another campground a bit further away, and looking at some details on their website, I realized the problem.  This is the last weekend many of these campgrounds are open.  My timing could have been worse, I could have waited another weekend and found most of them closed. 🙂

Plan B, as it stands right now, entails me telling the boys tomorrow afternoon what the plans are for the weekend.  Then we will get things together. And yes, it is going to be ‘we’ not ‘me’.

  • I will help them pack their own bags.
  • We will put together their own mess kits.
  • We will gather and load all the other supplies into the car.
  • Then we will pick up the house to leave it in good shape.

Friday we will head out right after my P-T conference and drive to the campground.  If all goes well some of the first-come-first-serve sites will still be open.  If not, then on to Plan C – find some reserve-able sites that are not reserved yet or look at one of the other local campgrounds. I will take that info with me just in case.

Once we get a site, camp needs to be set up:

  • The kids will help set up the tent.
  • They can unload their stuff and arrange it inside the tent.
  • Camping chairs need to be set up.
  • Firewood will be stacked outside the car?

I am thinking we will not take our bikes this weekend as it may be fairly crowded.  Though, there is a trail they might be able to ride on … I need to sleep on this one.

red bicycle

Once things are arranged at camp, a trip to the visitor’s center and a trail hike will be in order.  This is a great opportunity to reinforce some of the geography/map reading skills we have been working on, as well as nature study which I have been slacking on.  George will love getting to participate in the ‘home school field trip’ … sometimes it is all about the marketing.

Other plans for the weekend are:

  • An area-wide singing time at a local church Saturday afternoon.
  • Putting together and cooking meals.
  • Making banana boats for dessert; one of the kids does not like s’mores.
  • Star gazing.
  • Reading around the fire.
  • Story telling.
  • Singing/teaching camp songs.
  • Knot tying?
  • … and other activities I need to remind myself of in the Girl Scout materials I used to use to teach other adults this stuff.  Wow, that seems almost to have been a different life.

night sky stars

I am hoping the theme for the weekend will help them stay focused and regulated.  This is the first time I am going to take them camping by myself.  We usually meet up with my parents to go camping.  While we normally sleep in a tent, my parents sleep in their camper and have more of the things that make it nicer to be living outside for a spell.

They also have years of experience doing this, so can often help us avoid certain pit falls.  Though I do remember a camping trip as a kid where tent poles were forgotten.  We got pup tents out of that trip.  Another trip held a week of constant rain for us.  There was not much we could do, but were glad for the air mattresses under out sleeping bags, as it kept us out of the nightly river that ran through the tent.  The lesson from both of these?  Take things as they come and do not get bent out of shape.  You can deal with almost anything for a few days.

AND just in case, always know where the local hospital is.  That was lesson learned on a different trip, but I will spare you the details.

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Linked up at The Modest Mom.