Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Aliens on the Milkweed

I had been keeping an eye on our milkweed in hopes of taking a monarch caterpillar to school. I was surprised this weekend to find our milkweed had instead a large hatch of these alien caterpillars.


Though they are new to me, they are so showy that it was not overly hard to ID them as milkweed tussock moth caterpillars. Here is a closer look.


And even closer…


Aren’t they awesome? Absolutely spectacular?

They look like they would sting, but I could not not find that information, so I dashed off the question to IFAS. The response was that while they do not have the ability to sting, some people are apparently sensitive to the hairs. As someone who is sensitive to some spider web, I decided not to chance it. I took one to school and we hope to see it make its cocoon. It will be a brown moth. Such a plain little adult from such a flashy juvenile! I guess most of us went through a rebellious stage when we had a few wild hairs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It Is Time For the Four O’Clocks To Go

Once upon a time, when we first moved here, there was a smallish sweet gum tree right in the middle of where I had determined a small lawn should grow. So B and the boys cut it down, leaving a stump. One of us thought that might be a good place to grow some Four O’Clocks. (What were we thinking?) Four O’Clocks, while pretty and fragrant, once planted, are FOREVER. We had the the yellow ones.

Eventually, B cut up the stump and what was left was burned, becoming our burn pile site. So any sticks and clippings and invasives and such that were not shredded in B’s big shredder, were piled on top of the below-ground-level stump and periodically, burned. This, however, did nothing to deter the Four O’Clocks.

When we began preparing to have our concrete poured for the new screen porch, B spent three hours one morning, dealing with burning the pile. When it was down to only ashes (and Four O’Clocks!), he let it sit until the next weekend. He dug out all the Four O’Clocks that he could find before he moved some sod, from where the slab would go, and used it to cover the burned area.

Take a look at some of the roots he dug out. You probably already guessed: they are Four O’'Clocks. This helps explain their persistence and toughness.


And so we were not be a bit surprised when about a dozen popped right up through the lawn this week.


Four O’Clocks are forever so I will be forever pulling them out of the grass.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mailbox Monday: Another Barking Dog

This time, instead of a boy, the dog has chased a raccoon up the post! It is cut from sheet metal.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

School Prayer

One of the kids spotted this praying mantis hanging around between the rain gutter downspout and the brick wall. They are such cool guys---the kids and mantises! The head has such maneuverability. It was obvious when it was looking at you.



I read that the closest relatives of praying mantises are roaches and termites. Our school has had its share of those, too. Once, I came to begin a new year and discovered that termites had been munching on my Lincoln Logs while I was gone. And roaches? Well, we do live in Florida.

I also read that they can bite.

As the mother of two sons who are involved in prescribed fire (controlled burns) for healthy forests, I was interested to read that some praying mantises in Australia and Africa have the ability to molt and turn black after a fire in order to have better camouflage in the charred area.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Raising Gulf Fritillaries

Earlier last month, something was said about butterflies, and I casually mentioned that we could grow a butterfly. It is not an uncommon school activity and I was rather surprised at the lack of knowledge I met with this year’s kindergartners.

So as I do every year, I went in search of passion vine, where I know I will find bright orange spiky caterpillars and, if I look very carefully, eggs. I brought them in on Tuesday after Labor Day.

Long ago, B constructed this cedar framed pitched screen roof that fits a standard aquarium. Caterpillars are messy and paper towels in the bottom makes cleaning up their frass (caterpillar poop) easier. The two orange paper cut-outs are the beginning of our graph of the butterflies released.


Here is a fuzzy picture of a chrysalis hanging from the cedar.


They also will form them on the glass or even on the passion vine.100_8851

This past Friday, we had our first two adult butterflies. 100_8835

We looked at them with magnifiers and then released them in our garden outside our classroom door. The butterflies will often step right onto my finger to remove them from the tank.


When they are ready, they take flight.


Sometimes, it is a little first flight. This one went to the ground…


before it got its bearings and flew for its first meal as a butterfly.


The kids were looking at its long tongue.


Take a look at a couple of the results of the writing generated from the activity. In the first, a pre-writer noticed lots of details, like the pitch of the roof and spikes on the caterpillars.


This student has good sounding out skills and will soon learn that our writing goes from left to right and down. He wrote, “The caterpillar is going to change into a butterfly.” This child had no experiences with growing a butterfly before. He was so excited when I said we could grow one.100_8854

There will be lots of changing going on in our classroom this year.

Friday, September 25, 2009

More Green Guys

The Sunday before the screening began, I was out cleaning concrete splashes off the vinyl siding and was distracted by two green anoles.


The female left and I took some shots of her guy.


100_8591 100_8598




Here’s lookin’ at you, kid! (Isn’t that eye gorgeous?)100_8592

And then it was time for me to get back on task. See ya!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Follow a Swallowtail

I followed this beauty around our backyard. It was huge!






What a gift to see this butterfly feeding and pollinating in our garden!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

B’s Buttermilk Biscuits


B cooked us some hamburgers out on the charcoal grill and, not wanting to waste perfectly good coals, mixed up a batch of scratch buttermilk biscuits that he baked in the cast iron Dutch oven outside. Hot coals on the top of the covered Dutch oven and more underneath--- and before you know it, you are eating hot buttered biscuits with honey for dessert. The man’s amazing!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday Snake Sunning

We went for a Sunday drive through the National Forest before hunting season gets going in full swing. We used to have a great map of the dirt roads that we pretty much used to shreds. B looked for it ---and will have to look again to see if he can come up with it for future trips. But for this one, we went winging it and while we were never truly lost, as we stayed on the same numbered road and could tell we were going mostly south, let’s just say, most of the time, nothing really looked familiar until we eventually ended up at a paved road on the west side of Crawfordville in Wakulla County. Then we knew exactly where we were. Ironically, the place is called Lost Creek.

At any rate, along this long, long dirt road, we only met one other car and eventually we came upon this moccasin sunning in the road.


B spotted it first. I saw the classic brown face stripe through the binoculars before he even stopped the truck.


Our best guess was that it was about twenty inches long, though we didn’t try to get out the measuring tape. It posed for me for a minute before turning completely around and heading for the brush beside the road.


Look at how it was moving so fast, it had lifted its midsection up from the sand.

100_8829 And that was the end of this tale!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mailbox Monday: The Spring Pines Sculpture

My sister took this photo of a mailbox near her home. Here is what she wrote about it:

Note the little boy who has been chased up the pole by the dog.

He has dropped his book bag at the base of the mailbox.

Don't know the sculptor or the owner. They also have another, larger sculpture in their front yard at the entrance to Spring Pines.

Mailbox in Spring Pines 2

Another amazing mailbox! Thanks, sis.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Doe! See Doe!

These are not of wonderful quality, but the pictures were taken in poor light up by the house while the deer was across the cul-de-sac. The cool thing is that while  we  have lived here twelve years, we had never seen a deer in our cul-de-sac. We used to be able to hike through the woods at the end of the road and saw tracks there so we knew they were about.  But it has been a long time since it was gated off and we have respected the owner’s wishes and stayed out.


The deer was browsing on some mulberry branches,


while keeping an eye


and both big ears trained on us.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Frog Deporchtation

We have always been rather entertained by the frogs that would stick on our glass doors at night, eating the bugs attracted to the light shining out.


We knew that they spent their days in the crevice over the doors in the track, usually, mostly hidden.


But now that the screen porch is up, I am not willing to share this space with the frogs and, besides, there aren’t supposed to BE bugs for them to eat. Last night B took two out the screen door and, tonight, he took out another.


I’m wondering if it will be like the clown car at the circus: they just keep coming out of that tiny space.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let There Be Light—But Not TOO Much

We knew when we built the screen porch that we would change the porch light for several reasons.


Number one: it was fairly ugly. Number two: the compact fluorescent drove us crazy with how slow it was to warm up. Number three: it shown right into our eyes with no mercy.

Very blah.


So on Sunday, we took a stroll through Lowes’ light fixture section and found what we wanted ---and it was about rock bottom price: always a plus!


The hardware matches the bronze screen frame and porch furniture. The shade directs the light down, instead of directly into our eyes. And I love the tiny bubbles in the glass!



Nice job, B, putting it up!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Dream is Finished---But Really Just Beginning!

So Tuesday the contractor came back and finished screening the roof on the screen porch, officially a “pool enclosure” without the pool. As usual, I only saw the finished results and was at school during the work. He finished in the rain, so I was a little surprised when B sent me an email that it was done and paid for. Wednesday, the county inspector came and approved the work. Woo-hoo!!


We are very pleased with the quality of the work. The concrete is 20x20. The sides are 8’ tall and the roof peaks at 12’.




Just a final look at the “before” with the little deck that was only big enough for three chairs:


We had supper out on the porch on Tuesday night and sat out after our evening walk until almost bedtime, listening to the barred owls, frogs, cicadas, and crickets. The stars were bright enough, even with the neighbor’s porch light, that we could see many.

It is just what I dreamed: a place to be outside ---without the bugs bothering us.