Thursday, April 30, 2009

More Monarchs

We've now had four monarch caterpillars leave the garden to pupate. The first three left and we could not find them, although we searched high and low. Then this guy decided to stick around. It reminded me of the end of Charlotte's Web where one of Charlotte's newly hatched babies decides to stay in the barnyard instead of flying away, much to Wilber's delight.

We watched him carefully until he did this.....

All that night we kept checking on him as an incredibly strong thunderstorm moved in with 60 mph wind gusts, dropping nine inches of rain in around two hours. The next afternoon (of course while I was at the grocery store :( ) he did this!

The wait has begun!

Here is a really neat site to read all about "How Caterpillars Work". Check about halfway down the page to see the photo that shows all the steps of the monarch forming his chrysalis. It's amazing!!!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Turning Our Backyard into a Place to Encounter Nature

An observant child should be exposed to things worth observing.
Charlotte Mason, Home Education, Volume 1, p. 69

The parents' first priority should be putting as much of nature as possible within the child's notice.
Volume 1, p. 96

We are so fortunate to have such amazing nature trails just a ten minute drive from our home, and we have already seen and learned so much there. Yet, I want my boys to be exposed to much more: nature they can experience on a daily basis. I have come up with a basic plan to turn our small suburban backyard into a place my children can encounter, observe, inspect, study, identify and explore nature and all its wonders (or at least more wonders than we currently see anyway ;) ) ! Not a small task for a relatively tiny backyard that already contains a trampoline and swing set.

Two weekends ago we, quite by accident, started a butterfly garden. I had small contained area of our yard that was filled with ground cover before we got Wrigley, our 14 month old Golden Retriever. The ground cover died from constantly being trampled and the space had turned into a mud pit. I had the idea to start a container garden but hadn't done anything towards that end.

Then my sweet neighbor brought us a baby milkweed plant she started from seeds. We wanted to plant it and see if we attracted any monarchs. That is until I woke up last Saturday to find most of the plant (still in its original container sitting in my kitchen) already devoured by three tiny monarch caterpillars that had just hatched. The boys and I trekked off to a local nursery looking for more food for these voracious eaters.

That's when I got the idea to turn that entire area into a (tiny) butterfly garden! There is a butterfly garden at the trails I mentioned, another at the Houston Zoo and one more at the elementary school by us. We love exploring these, but I had never considered having one in my very own backyard!!! The owner at the nursery kindly showed us around and led us to several plants that would attract a variety of butterflies. All these plants have gone into four planters, two large and two small, in that once muddy mess. TaDa.....

Here are the plants we started with in case anyone else gets the itch to start their own butterfly garden! :) Btw, I just googled "How to attract butterflys to your garden" and "Houston" to come up with the list I worked from.

milk weed, Penta and Salvia (victorian blue)

dill, fennel and Sedum (summer glory)
The back of this pot is empty waiting for a passion vine
to arrive at the nursery.

yellow shrimp plant and canna
And not pictured in the final pot is more milkweed and Sedum (voodoo)

Below are our first two friends. The top caterpillar came on one of the milkweed plants I bought and the bottom one hatched in our kitchen.

And yesterday, as a birthday present to dh (Happy 38th, Sweetie!) look what a mommy Monarch left us...

More eggs. I have counted seven new eggs so far!!! And look how big and fat this little guy has gotten...

He was the smaller of the two up above!

We still have a way to go but it will be a labor of love and a work in progress in the coming weeks, months and hopefully years. I'll be sure to show more photos as our tiny garden progresses. We are making certain to obtain only milkweed that hasn't been sprayed to keep our monarch friends healthy, too. The fun thing is that, because our plants are not sprayed, we will (and already do) have aphids. We will need to get lady bugs to eat the aphids and the lizards will come out from everywhere to eat the lady bugs. How fun!

My next goal before summer gets underway is to start a compost pile. I have been looking up ideas for how to do this successfully with kids, a dog and a small backyard. By starting a compost pile we will reduce the amount of trash we are adding to the landfill and creating yet another place in our yard for more creatures to call home.

I also want to add a few bird feeders to our yard, but I want to research and be sure to only add feeders that will attract species that will not eat our butterfly friends. We have no trees in our yard so I will hang feeders off our garage.

Lastly I want to start a garden next spring. I plan to till and start preparing beds in the fall. For the past few years I have said time and again that I am dying to start a garden but I just haven't made the plunge. The one time I tried to grow tomatoes seven years ago was a disaster and still has me gun shy to try again. Still, even if we fail this first time, it will be such a learning experience for all of us!

If anyone has other ideas for how to attract more wildlife to our tiny yard, I'd love to hear it. Except putting in a pond. A two year old and a dog who loves water would not make a pond a happy thing in our yard!


PS. I am still learning this whole flower thing, especially what in the world needs to be capitalized and what doesn't. If I goofed, please email me so I can correct it! :) Thanks!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Something with Strawberry Jam!

I mentioned in a recent post that dh has lost over 20 pounds in the past seven weeks! One of the the many things we've learned is how important it is to start each day with a serving of what they call "dense protein" to kickstart your metabolism. Dh typically eats an egg and three egg whites mixed with different veggies each day. Unfortunately, I despise eggs and the only way I will eat them is in an omelet filled with veggies (carmelized onions, roasted red bell peppers and sauteed mushrooms) and covered in salsa. That way I can't taste the eggs. ;)

Cottage cheese is another dense protein but one that dh wouldn't touch. I went to one of my favorite sites,, and seached "eggs and cottage cheese" to try and find something we could both eat that would still fit on the plan. The result is this yummy dish we've added to our breakfast rotation. They remind me of crepes yet you would never know they are made from primarily eggs and cottage cheese and just a drop of flour and milk. Best of all, I top mine with the homemade jam I mentioned in my last post! :)

Golden Pancakes
adapted from

6 eggs
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup milk (skim, 2 %, almond, soy or rice will all work)
1/4 cup grapeseed/canola/other vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

In a blender combine all ingredients.
Process on highest speed for one minute.
Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto greased hot griddle or non-stick skillet.
Flip when bubbles form on top; cook until other side is golden brown.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Strawberry Picking

Doubtless God could have made a better berry,
but doubtless God never did.

~William Butler

* This post has been edited to include a link to the blog where I got my recipe to make strawberry jam! Thank you Produce Stories!!! :)

There is a farm about 45 minutes from us where you can pick your own strawberries for only $1.50 a pound. The boys and I have been twice. We had never done anything like this and we had soooo much fun. The first time we came home with five pounds of luscious berries. Two weeks later we returned on a mission and brought home 2o pounds! We gave some to friends, ate a ton, froze lots for smoothies and I made homemade strawberry jam. Wohooo!!! It was the first time in my life I ate something that, to my knowledge, had come out of the ground that very same day. Here are some photos!

We talked about the stages of the strawberry plant and Thatcher wanted to take photos of each stage we found!

And here is the jelly I made. :) Pretty good first attempt by a city girl who has never canned a thing in her life - or never picked fresh food from a farm for that matter! I chose to not use pectin or gelatin to make it more "jellyish" but only used strawberries, grated apple (for natural pectin), lemon juice and agave nectar. It tastes wonderful and now I have eight jars of this yummy goodness to last us hopefully until next year - once I add my blueberry jam to the collection when blueberry season starts in June anyway!

I searched online for a solid hour for a recipe using no sweetners but agave nectar and finally found this gem of a blog: Produce Stories. Her recipe for jam was so easy and it tastes incredible. My first batch needed the full 3/4 cup of agave but the second batch needed only 1/2 cup. Happy jam making!!!


Monday, April 13, 2009

Life in Progress

I am in the middle of so much right now I can hardly keep it all straight. It is unusual for me to be engaged in so many things at one time as I prefer to finish one book/project/job completely before moving on to the next. Right now that is not to be. ;)

My bookshelf is often a microcosm of what is going on in my life - what I am learning, where I am growing, my struggles and joys and right now that is most definitely true. Typically I am working on one book at a time, but again, that's not life right now. God seems to be stretching me in many directions at once. Here is what I am currently reading:

Daily Reading Bible: Through the Bible in a Year (ESV)

The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome by Tony Attwood

Social Skills Training for Children and Adolescents with Asperger's and Social-Communications Problems by Ted Baker
along with The Social Skills Picture Book by Ted Baker

Grace Based Parenting by Ted Kimmel

Home Education, Volume 6 by Charlotte Mason

As for life in general, we finally had a new roof put on our home after Hurricane Ike did some significant damage to ours back in September. We've had sick kids, cars to get fixed, errands to run, waaaay overdue haircuts and all sorts of other distractions. In addition, dh is on a fourteen week "Wellness Program" with our doctor and is required to eat six times a day. Very few processed foods are permitted which means I have been cooking tons more than normal - and I already cooked quite a bit! It's all worth it as he has lost 2o pounds in six weeks. Yahoo!!! I've had friends in the past who said to me, "We just had so much to do that we didn't get to school this week." I would always shake my head and think, "Hmmm. How exactly does that happen?" Well now I know! This past two weeks has found us outside the classroom more than in it.

It has not all been drudgery though. We've been strawberry picking and started a butterfly garden in the middle of all this busyness! Life is good, even when it is sometimes hard. Does that even make sense? ;)


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Hope your Easter was wonderful! Here are just a few snapshots of our day in between the rain spurts. ;)