Yarn Along {snippets & a chick pic!}

I’ve only had time to read snippets of most of these books in the past week. And my knitting on June’s Bitty Breezy has amounted to even less than a snippet–a snip? Like one row, maybe two. I ordered a few skeins of Quince & Co yarn several months ago when my pregnancy was confirmed–all in the Frost (gender-neutral) colorway. Hoping to start something for this baby soon…still having a really hard time getting my hands to want to knit anything.

Blue on Blue by Dianne White is a lovely book. June has asked me to read it to her everyday. The words flow much like the illustrations. A small family farming beside the sea in what I perceived to be Maine. I picked it up at the library without flipping through it, thinking it was about the prairie. I wasn’t too far off–the prairie rolls so much like the sea.

Soul Gardening is always enjoyable.  It’s like a Motherhood hug.

A Chicken Followed Me Home! was also picked up for June, but all of my kids have enjoyed reading it as they prepare for Fair this week.  No chickens being shown due to the bird flu outbreak, but Coralee & Merritt will both partake in the “Poultry Quiz Bowl” that is being substituted for the Poultry Show on Friday morning.  The book is very informative (& accurate).  Each page contains not only the story (a Rhode Island Red hen followed you home!), but also a set of facts pertaining to an aspect of chicken care.

Darwin’s Armada by Iain McCalman because I am obsessed with Darwin & have been for over a decade.  Homeschooling Coralee has only furthered my interest.  I have literally only read three pages of it, so I can’t really give a thumbs up or down at this point.  The book begins with a very detailed description of Charles Darwin’s death & funeral preparations.  It’s quite fascinating only several pages in to be sure.

What to Knit When You’re Expecting: I NEVER check out knitting books anymore…Ravelry, with it’s insane amount of free knitting patterns, has basically made this pastime obsolete for me.  This book caught my eye from the display shelf at the library last week & most of the patterns really are quite enchanting.  I hope to knit something with my Frost Quince from this book soon.

IMG_5195[1]And look at The Real Frost!!!  She’s grown so big!  June calls her “the big chick.”  She peeps like crazy.  I love her feathered feet.  We are almost 100% certain she is a Belgian Bearded d’Uccle (bantam) in the Porcelain color.  Fingers crossed “she” really is a she!

Joining in with Ginny.



Birds, Butterflies, & Treehouses :: A Saturday Well-Spent

(This post is a trifle late to print.)

A couple weekends ago–on July 11th–we had planned to spend the day in central Iowa on an Iowa Young Birders trip, but the trip was cancelled due to stormy weather. We were already packed up, in the car, & on the road when we got the cancellation call & since we’d already blocked the whole day out for the trip, we figured we’d head west anyway.

First stop–a birding spot in the southern part of our county (Benton) that Coralee & I have been meaning to visit for several months. Officially it’s called the Iowa River Corridor Central Wildlife Management Area-Hwy 21 Access. It’s a large hodge-podge swath of various public lands cobbled together along the river, surrounded by agricultural fields.  We picked up a fantastic county bird–Dickcissel.  It looks a lot like an Eastern Meadowlark, but smaller and more sparrow-like.  We counted 5 separate individuals & all were singing loudly & beautifully near the road.  Photos below were digiscoped by Coralee through binoculars, so a bit blurry.


We had planned to eat lunch in Ames, Iowa (home of Iowa State University) at the Great Plains Sauce & Dough Co.–one of the first places Brian & I went on a date together in the spring of 2000.  The kids do not particularly like the pizza nor the atmosphere & always roll their eyes when we dine there (about once a year), but, hey, we were young & fun once, too!  We arrived in Ames a bit early for lunch, so went over to ISU’s Reiman Gardens.  The butterfly house was the highlight of the stop without a doubt.  June LOVES butterflies & could have lived in the building, I’m sure.





We then toured the outside gardens for about an hour.  The kids loved the current exhibit–InTREEguing TREEhouses.  According to the website, visitors can “[e]xperience the beauty of the natural world from a new perspective with this interactive outdoor display featuring treehouses scattered throughout Reiman Gardens. Each playhouse showcases the talents of local architects and artists, and are inspired by a unique cultural or social event.”IMG_5079[1]


World’s Largest CONCRETE Gnome!


Our favorite treehouse–The Aviary.  It featured several pieces of artwork designed to resemble the real nests of various bird species.



Before we departed the Gardens, we checked out the butterfly/moth incubator.  June was entranced.IMG_5158[1]


Our last stop was the site of the planned Iowa Young Birders trip.  We didn’t get much chance to bird here due to the insane heat & humidty by mid-afternoon & also the proximity to June’s naptime.  It appears to be an excellent birding hotspot, we’ll have to visit again with more time (& less heat!).IMG_5160[1]

I think we made the most of a day interrupted! 🙂

Bluebird Nestling Confirmation!

Merritt & I have determined the nestlings in our bluebird box are, indeed, Eastern Bluebirds! Yay! Last year in this box all five hatchlings were eaten by something & the nesting attempt unsuccessful (obviously). This year, one egg has not hatched yet &, being as it is about Day 13 or 14 post-hatching, that egg is a dud in my book.

This photo (below) is our confirmation of bluebirds–see the tinge of dark blue on the top of the wing near the nesting material?  This would be a sleeping male.  Close discernment of all the photographs I took this morning makes me believe we have 2 males & 2 females in the box.  It is normal to have more females than males in a bluebird brood.  An excellent resource can be found here to determine nestling ages & typical bluebird development.  We’re going to stop monitoring the box up close from here on out as we don’t want to cause an early fledging of the nestlings.  We’ll watch from the driveway.

My front flower beds have become a pollinator paradise this past week as most of my daisies, coneflowers, dill, etc have bloomed fully.  I love how dill just seems to appear wherever it wants after the first year of seed planting.  It really fills in the nooks & crannies of the gardens around here.  We plant Grandma Einck’s from Seed Savers.


IMG_4975[1]I have never had as many Red Admiral butterflies in my yard as I do this summer.  They appear to prefer the coreopsis we have planted behind the garage, but I spotted one among the purple coneflowers this morning.  I considered raising Red Admiral caterpillars with the kids–until I learned this species uses stinging nettle as a host plant.  We have an abundance of nettle in our yard (explains the abundance of Red Admirals!), but I’m not going near it no matter how stunning the butterfly.  June fell into a bunch of nettle the summer she was two, face first, & looked pretty nasty for a week+.

Any baby birds taking up residence in your yard this year?

Monarch Rearing Update

Last week I posted about the kids collecting 10 Monarch eggs from a milkweed patch up the road. Below is our set-up as of yesterday. We currently have 8 monarch larvae in the tank munching on common milkweed.

We modeled our set-up this year after the lead naturalist’s rearing tank at Fontana Nature Center (where Coralee & I both volunteer). It has worked out wonderfully!  [Big shout-out to my father-in-law: thank-you for the tank, it’s perfect!!!] The dead pine needles in the bottom seem to keep everything much more clean than any other bedding we’ve used in the past. Keeping the milkweed cuttings (the monarch caterpillar’s food source) in old plastic containers filled with water also cuts down considerably on milkweed harvest trips.

After we collected the eggs off the undersides of several plants (a female monarch tends to only lay one egg per plant & she will lay about 100 eggs total–that’s a lot of milkweed!), we placed damp paper towels in the bottom of several plastic containers (one per child) & then placed the leaves with the eggs on top & sealed the container.  Yes, seal the lid.  Don’t worry about air intake–as the naturalist told us during our training last year, the leaves put off enough oxygen for the brief stint in the container (3-4 days at most).

Close-up of a monarch egg.  The eggs are cream-colored, almost a pale yellow.  Usually found on the underside of young milkweed leaves (the top of the plant is your best bet, usually one that has not flowered yet).  The shape is more oblong than circular & sports ridges.  Better egg photos here.IMG_4924[1]
Incubation in progress.IMG_4925[1]

This is a photo of an egg not ready to hatch (see smaller leaf) & one of Merritt’s that was just about ready to hatch (see bottom of larger leaf)–notice how it has turned darker?  It hatched within a couple hours.IMG_4927[1]

This is the first larva to hatch (one of June’s).IMG_4926[1]

And now here we are today.

Several second larval instars on each leaf. IMG_4929[1]

The kids are very excited for bigger instar stages–makes photographing more interesting, too!  These guys are so tiny!

Good description of the instar stages found on the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project’s webpage, second instar page here.

I asked the lead Fontana naturalist last year if the Monarch butterfly actually needs people to collect eggs & rear them artificially–she said no, but it’s a good education tool & doesn’t hurt.  What does the Monarch butterfly really need?  MORE HABITAT.  MORE MILKWEED.  Especially in Iowa where we live…’Roundup Ready’ cornfields do not a monarch habitat make…and continually mowing the ditches all season long doesn’t help, either.  The rural ditches are some of the best places to find milkweed in Iowa now as most fields are planted fence row to fence row here.  Planting milkweed (be sure it is a species native to your area), setting up a Monarch Waystation, or monitoring a patch of milkweed are all great ways to further the cause to save the monarch!  I recently learned there is an Iowa State University-funded project taking place in my county to plant large native prairie strips among the corn in hopes of providing viable habitat for not only pollinators, but also birds & other native wildlife.

Gives me hope that all is not lost, yet. 🙂

Yarn Along {with chick}


I’ve made it to the bottom ribbing on June’s Bitty Breezy.  We have chicks now–three in all.  This is Frost (Coralee’s chick) hanging out on our dining room table with me (& Coralee) this morning.  (We moved the chicks to their garage digs last night so cute photo-ops in the house are less frequent now.). Her Porcelain coloring is getting prettier each day & more feathers are coming in.  My older kids have become a bit obsessed with Tintin comics lately.  I was reserving said books at the library for them online and the search function also produced this book by newcomer Hannah Tinti.  It has amazing reviews, so I checked it out, too.  Hopefully I can start it this week.

Joining in with Ginny.