A Cup of Morning Coffee

Maggie likes to sit right next to me when I am working. She matches my “Strega Nona” mug perfectly. Lol.

My office is one of my happy places these days. It is so full of life in here, my lizards, my butterflies, the plants. The scent of dill and fennel from the caterpillar tanks remind me of being in my garden, and combined with the green wallpaper, the desk, the carpet, it just feels so peaceful in here.

I’ve thought a lot about my “happy places” this week. It’s been a rough week honestly, with lots of ups and downs, emotional moments, and frankly just all topsy-turvy. I’ve had to actively seek out those places and things that can ease my soul this week, fitting them in where I could. Time spent in here definitely is one of those places.

Another is outside in the butterfly garden. I love just being near all that beauty, observing the insects that are buzzing around, going about their own little lives in this place that I have created for them. And if I have a glass of wine with me in the evening, even better. I can’t wait to expand the garden next year honestly. We start small with our projects, and add on every year, and the garden is no different, a work in progress.

But I guess I am not all nature all the time. And especially this week, when our house has been so hot and humid. Our air conditioner is being fixed tomorrow thank goodness, but we have been either huddled in our bedroom with the portable unit, or sweating in the rest of the house. I needed an escape this week, and for me that is either the library (more on the library Wednesday..) or… Target.

I needed to be away. Out. Alone. Anonymous even. Not mom, not Erin. Just some lady walking around Target throwing various items into her cart, wandering the aisles looking at stuff. Plus, it is air conditioned. I also needed to be not hot.

Later this morning, we are visiting another of my happy places, one we haven’t been to for over a year. In fact, it was the last place we had been before lockdown March 2020. The nature center at our favorite metropark. We had celebrated Wyatt’s birthday, then boom, lockdown. During that time they were closed, they did a whole renovation to the interior, so today when we go, it is going to different looking, but still the same place. With the same people who work there who have become friends over the last twenty years, which is how long we have been going there. I am excited to visit and see the changes, and catch up with our friends, to watch the birds out the big windows, to explore the new displays. We are heading there soon, as soon as I finish up this coffee and we all get dressed. I can’t wait!

How about you? Where do you escape to? What are your happy places?

The Weekend Vibe

I felt like we lived in this car most of the weekend! We kept busy for most of the weekend, whether it was time spent outdoors, with family, and sometimes just taking a ride around. I apologize, this will probably be a long post with lots of photos!

Friday morning we loaded up the car with our new little red wagon, a cooler of water, my backpack of snacks, and headed off to the zoo! We were meeting my brother Devin, his wife Chrissy, and my niece Dino Girl. Thank goodness it was a cooler day, it has been so hot and humid in Michigan it’s like a swamp out there. But Friday was practically perfect.

Whenever we go out we have to make choices on how Wyatt will get around. A backpack carrier? And with me or with Billy? A stroller? I hate that these options limit his independence to practically nothing, but he outgrew his wheelchair over the past year and the way insurance works, if we were to get another one we would practically insure that he would never get another walker again. So, we are trying to work around that since he is working on walking and can use a walker, just not well enough for a trip to the zoo. And not to be negative on here since I hate doing that, but my husband took him for a stroll around the neighborhood the other day in the stroller and was stopped by someone asking what Wyatt’s “issue” was. They also let Billy know that Wyatt was eligible for therapy services, like he hasn’t been in them since he was six months old. So frustrating. I get that the person had good intentions but frankly it wasn’t her business. And now I feel super self-conscious taking Wyatt out that way, I don’t like people staring at him. It will more than likely happen his whole life but I want to be able to make things as easy as I can for him when I can. I’m his mom. I can’t help it. Anyway, Thursday night it clicked that we could use a wagon. So, Billy headed out at 8pm to find one. And delivered like the awesome dad that he is. I felt like the wagon would first, blend in, and second, I was positive my niece would crawl in there at some point too, giving him company and making him feel less isolated. And it was so much easier to take him in and out, he could move around a bit, and it folds down into a bench seat as well. Win-win. There were a million wagons at the zoo too, just like ours so I feel like if he looked around, he wouldn’t feel as different.

Anyway. Once that was out of the way, we were golden for the whole day. Zebras, lions, giraffes, rhinos, camels, tigers – they were all out and about and looking cute. Zebras are Wyatt’s favorite (and mine) and I was excited to see them so close this time!

However, we all seemed to love the Amphibian House the very best. I guess our family does love its little creatures!

I also got super excited about this turtle in the marsh system outside. And this bee!

Saturday we stuck closer to home. We loaded up our little wagon again, this time with picnic supplies, and had a little picnic in the park. Later on that night we had drinks with my brother and fam, plus my dad and stepmom too.

It was so hot and sultry out this weekend, and I think we were all remembering our many trips to New Orleans – which inspired Billy to make a cocktail. Which he never does. And I rarely drink at all, if ever. But it was good, y’all. Also, my new favorite summer wine made an appearance. The drink Billy made is called a Gin Basil Smash, and it is so light and refreshing and citrusy. And actually so is the wine. (Loveblock, Sauvignon Blanc)

Sunday morning, and we just kept on rolling. We took a drive around Detroit, specifically Belle Isle and the farmer’s market area of Eastern Market. Eastern Market was closed so I was able to grab photos of the beautiful street art.

From here we headed to Belle Isle for a total change of scenery…

And someone got a little sleepy.

It was a busy, full weekend, full of people and sights and things that I love.

I hope you all did something or talked to someone that made you smile over the weekend!

Our Butterfly Project – Post #2

So at last count, last update here I had three huge mongo Black Swallowtail (BST) caterpillars, and three tiny bebe caterpillars. I also had one Luna Moth cocoon. Things have changed.

Last Wednesday, we had mom’s night at my friend Kelly’s house. Besides having a blast with my crew, l left with four monarch caterpillars and one tiny BST caterpillar. Kelly has been rearing butterflies and caterpillars for years, but she is getting her kitchen entirely remodeled and couldn’t take these littles in right now. So I took them home!

This is what they looked like last Wednesday when I brought them home.

This is how they look today, a week later.

They are getting so big! I will be running around getting milkweed to feed them multiple times a day soon, as they will start munching through the leaves faster and faster. Then they will go into chrysalis! Monarchs have a beautiful chrysalis so I am excited to see them.

As for the black swallowtails, we have all but one in chrysalis! Their process is a bit different. They find a spot, and it happens slowly, where a monarch is sort of quicker and more explosive. I took pictures at four intervals of one of the BST’s going into chrysalis, and it is pretty neat. They pick a spot, glom on, make a silk string sling, and then sort of turn into the chrysalis slowly. I am not sure of the science behind it but it is crazy to watch.

As for our Luna Moth cocoon – it hatched! They only live a few days, and have no mouths. They only live long enough to reproduce and that is it.

We kept it in the enclosure for a day or two then released it on the night of the full Strawberry moon – it just felt appropriate for a Luna Moth. It was also International Fairy Day, and I was thinking – if it were hundreds of years ago, before scientific understanding of creatures, and I saw one of these moths, I could see myself thinking I was maybe seeing a fairy. A little fanciful, but can you see it too?

So as of today, we have four hungry monarch caterpillars, five BST in chrysalis, and one BST baby that is growing! I am hoping that by next Wednesday’s update I will have a few more chrysalis hanging around!

If you missed the first post, you can find it here!

Our Butterfly Project – Post #1

If you read here regularly, you have probably heard about our butterfly project. This year, I wanted to raise and release butterflies. Monarchs in particular, but I am also raising Black Swallowtails as well. I have read that statistically, 98% of Monarch eggs never make it to butterflies, due to predation and parasitism (did you know wasps can and will lay eggs inside butterfly eggs caterpillars, and chrysalis? You can wait all that time and have a wasp emerge.) As for Black Swallowtails, 1 out of 100 eggs make it to butterflies. And many people have decided to try to give these pollinators a helping hand – and this year I am trying as well.

I started by visiting a local nursery that is all about butterflies. They have tables of plants, labeled by butterfly. The plants are organic, raised without pesticides by the garden center owners themselves. If you get plants with pesticides, you will unfortunately kill your cats (caterpillars). So it is important to make sure your plants are clean and safe. They all have preferred food – monarchs only eat milkweed, but black swallowtails are not as picky. They have a wider selection to choose from, and easy to grow plants too, like parsley, dill, fennel, carrots, rue, and lovage. They will eat and eat and eat and it feels like you have to keep feeding them constantly – probably because you are. They also make a big giant mess too – caterpillars also poo a lot. (although their poo is called frass)

That photo at the top is how our project began. Three tiny tiny little cats. In their first stage they are wee little things, and black and white, as a natural defense against predators (who think they are just bird poop. so much poop here in this post) As they grow they are yellow and black, and seriously it will be overnight that they change.

Tiny wee baby. Although, they start off much smaller. Almost like a speck of dirt if you aren’t looking. Don’t put these babies in with big caterpillars either, they will be munched and eaten. I learned that the hard way, poor number four was lost to the belly of a caterpillar.

And like I said they eat like crazy. So you have to make sure you have enough to sustain the population you bring in. Right now I am doing ok – I have six caterpillars but three are tiny and three are about to go into chrysalis, so I only have to worry about feeding those three bebes.

I like to see what pattern they are. Some are more black, some more yellow. I didn’t expect that. I expected uniformity. I love nature.

You sort of get an idea of when they are going to go into chrysalis. They start wandering around, going walkabout I call it, and then for a final treat they expel a bunch of waste from their bodies. It’s gross but I guess they don’t want to drag that on to the next stage.

Today, I had to upgrade their tank. I now have three little tanks going – one tiny little one that I call the nursery for the very smallest, a smallish tank (pictured up top) for when they get a bit bigger, then a huge mongo one for the huge mongo caterpillars. I lucked out, my in-laws found that tank on the curbside for the garbage and grabbed it for me. Free giant tank!

Black Swallowtails can stay in chrysalis a really long time. Like years. So that is something to consider if you are thinking about raising butterflies. And to be a more butterfly friendly, it is recommended as well to have your tanks (rather than small jars) somewhere that experiences a day/night cycle and natural temps. And then know, that you will be their slave, feeding them constantly, which means cutting the leaves from your garden and bringing them in, putting them in water, probably twice a day. And cleaning up after them. They are the messiest. My friend recommended the paper towel method and so far that is working. It makes it so much easier. I use little Oui yogurt jars for my water and put foil over the top to stick the plants in.

So far, no monarchs. But I have my fingers crossed!

If this is something you are interested in, there are groups all over – I am in a local butterfly group on Facebook, and also a forum on Reddit which is good to see setups and read what other people have to say. I would suggest doing some reading on it or trying a pre-made kit situation (Insect Lore has a good one on Amazon), and you can get the feel for it. It is worth to see them eclose or find them flying about. I will do another update later, after my first cats eclose – hopefully they do at least! Another good resource is Save Our Monarchs as well.

So far, we are enjoying our journey. Wyatt loves them and will kiss the tank. It is a fun way to feel like we are doing something for the planet and the natural world.

For the Love of Bugs

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It’s that time of year again. The time of year where I post lots of photos of bugs and talk about bugs. I am not sure how our family became so buggy about bugs but we did. I will still scream and run in fear from a centipede though. They just are so big and have so many legs and move so fast – ugh just thinking about them gives me the chills. But other bugs for the most part (I guess not ticks or mosquitoes either!) are fascinating. I dream of seeing the synchronous fireflies every year – maybe next year! This year though I will content myself with seeing the insects that visit the garden and also the ones that live with us – our Ghost Mantis Poe, and our five (so far) Black Swallowtail caterpillars. And I guess our luna moth cocoon too.

So far no monarchs. But my milkweed is just beginning to bloom so hopefully soon! And man caterpillars eat so much, it literally really is like the Very Hungry Caterpillar up in here. And also, they make a mess of frass – that is caterpillar speak for their poo.

Poe got out the other day and we didn’t know it until our cat Maggie spotted her – and tried to kill her! We knew we were having a hard time finding her in the terrarium, but she blends in so well that it is easy to overlook her. Well, Maggie found her crawling around the office and I had to dive into action, having a bit of a freak out as I did so. I had two cats in there with me and I was a little nervous to grab Poe, but I did it! They are super low maintenance if you are thinking about adding a small critter to your home, FYI. Lol.

This love of insects has started to worm its way into our lives in other ways too, as our likes tend to do. I find myself looking at different home decor items that are insect themed, or at educational items and toys and books for Wyatt. (which is always good no matter the topic!) I am sharing a few favorites here – and believe me when I say I could have added so much more!

Grasshopper hat || Pollinator Box || Ladybug Stapler ||

Great Ladybug Art Print from Janet Hill Studios || Wooden Snail Carving

I have always loved grasshoppers and that hat is so adorable! I can totally see myself or even Billy wearing it around. And I just added a pollinator box to my pollinator garden. Mine only has spaces for Mason bees though so I need to get another one that allows for different insects. And as I use my office more and more, I am personalizing it bit by bit – and this ladybug stapler and wooden snail would be perfect in there. I can’t resist a snail! It would fit right in with the rest of the crew that actually live in there – a snail, caterpillars, two lizards, a mantis, and a cocoon, at current count. And I seriously love Janet Hill. Her style of artwork is amazing. I love the vintage feel, the beauty, the colors. She has series of paintings too, that all go together, like the Kidnapping of Edward Pink, or the Miss Mink or Miss Moon collections. She has cards, books, so much. Sigh. There is an element of playfulness that I adore in all of her work. I can’t speak highly enough of her art! She does occasionally sell the original art prints but they sell for quite a bit and also sell in minutes. I can content myself with the prints and cards and books for now.

Little Kids First Big Book of Bugs || Wooden Bug Stampers || An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth ||

Bug and Insect Floor Puzzle || The Backyard Bug Book for Kids || Butterfly Pavilion

I could literally go on and on about different books that would fit here. I decided to narrow my list down to three, three of my favorites. Except now that I say that I can think of like ten more favorites. Anyway, these are also three that Wyatt loves to read and flip through over and over, so we will go with his choices. I love Extraordinary Ordinary Moth for focusing on some creatures that maybe are overlooked – plus we saw a hummingbird moth in our garden the other day, and have our own luna moth cocoon. And the Butterfly Pavilion kit makes getting started raising caterpillars and butterflies a little easier, if you are interested in trying it out first. I still have our mesh habitat, plus another one I ordered, that I use now with our wild caught caterpillars from the garden. I am still learning how to raise them and it has been a fun journey, finding their host plants and checking on them daily. So the butterfly kit is a great introduction to the whole thing. The stampers and puzzle are just fun!

When I started this post it was storming here – now the weather has changed and I can hear our cardinal friend outside singing. I am planning on finishing up some things in the house and then heading out back to check for new caterpillars. Who knows what Wyatt and I will find out there, we just need to look closely!

Spring to Snow..

We had so much fun on Sunday! The day was beautiful, not too warm, the sun was shining, and we decided it was a good day to go on a duck hunt. Not a literal duck hunt, but a duck hunt to find ducks and identify them since we had studied them the week before.

We started with dabbling and diving ducks, out in the wild. And found three whole mallards at the park. So, we hopped back into the car and headed off to Calder Dairy Farm. They have a pond there and usually have a ton of ducks and geese.

And it was a success! We were surrounded by ducks and geese – and other animals as well. Billy and I were like little kids, so excited about the calves and baby goats, the bunnies, just all of the life around us!

This calf licked Wyatt’s hand and he wasn’t quite sure how he felt about it. They are rougher than you might imagine! He did enjoy giving it pets though, same as Billy and I. We love Calder’s Dairy Farm – they are a working farm and have been since 1946. The best thing about them is that you can visit 7 days a week year round. They have a viewing room for the milking, and you can interact with some of the animals. I mentioned in another post about how important this is for those who don’t grow up in a rural area. Visiting these small farms allows children to experience these animals first hand, to pet them, feed them, wonder at them. To see their food chain, and to know it. Definitely not something you can do on a factory farm!

I’m fairly certain this sign was put up just for me.

As you can see, we did find more ducks! We left so happy, and with fresh milk, butter, and ice cream!

Monday was another beautiful day, and Wyatt and I spent part of our school day outside, learning about wildflowers and just enjoying the flowers and apple blossoms and birds.

Today though…. where did spring go??

I hope this second winter only lasts a short time. I am so worried about our apple tree, and all the little creatures being born, the tadpoles in the ponds, the insects that have emerged. Hopefully this will be very short cold snap.

Winter Hikes

We are winter hikers; we wait all year to get back out there in the cold and snow. There is just something so invigorating about being in a winter wood, the chill temps, the quiet. On New Years Day, I walked the woods alone; Wyatt had fallen asleep in the car on the way to the trail, and Billy offered to stay back so that I could wander. The only sounds I heard were those of the birds, tweeting and chirping, birds of all kinds. Robins and cardinals and blue jays, various woodpeckers – a chipmunk ran in front of me, scampering into the undergrowth. I had my eyes scanning the trees, looking for the long – eared owl that has been spotted there, but didn’t see it unfortunately. When I headed back to the car, Billy told me that he had been watching all the birds as well, from his warm cozy seat. They were simply everywhere.

We took two more hikes that week, one at our favorite trail system, just to get outside and stretch our legs, get some fresh air. The woods were quiet that day, we didn’t see a single soul, nor see any signs of life at all. The birds and the animals must have been huddled up against the cold, wondering just what we were thinking, hiking around out there.

We also trekked out to Belle Isle one morning, and took a walk around the half frozen pond. It was like being in the Arctic, but not as cold and minus the polar bears. Although I did spy some tracks in the snow on the ice; can anyone identify them? I am thinking maybe fox, but identifying tracks is something I haven’t mastered.

It was a beautiful walk, almost magical near the marshy spots and the cattails.

And what better way to end a cold walk in the snow and ice than with hot chocolate and car snacks?

The Wild Hunt

A week ago I had an idea that very quickly snowballed and took shape – a Wild Hunt. I wanted something similar to geocaching, but for my fellow outdoor loving, hiking friends and family. When I mentioned it to Billy, we just started coming up with ideas left and right and started working on it immediately.

We quickly printed out this invite for the two family teams we were inviting, respectively named Team Veggiesaurus Rex and Team Unicorn Sparkles. We were Team Corvid, because Wyatt really enjoyed our ravens unit the other day and even picked a raven/crow costume for Halloween. We distributed them on a Wednesday, and gave them the basics: On the following Saturday we would text them a set of coordinates at noon, and the race would be on. There were three locations, and teams needed to put the clues back in place after finding them so that the other team could continue to play.

We really leaned into our team name too – Billy carved out a rough feather from a chunk of wood to use as a stamp for our clues, and it turned out really cool.

Early Saturday morning Wyatt, Billy, and I headed out to hide the clues. We had to start in reverse order in order to get the coordinates to put on each note, so we started with the spot we were going to hide the treasure. It was a very cold morning, especially near the water where we ended up. It wasn’t our first choice of a spot either actually – we got to the area where we planned to hide it and saw that one of the participating family’s car was there too – meaning they were somewhere in the woods! We had to change it up at the last minute and try to do it fast so that they didn’t see us; it added an extra sense of adventure and urgency!

It’s hiding spot was the stump – it turned out better than our original plan. After hiding it well, we scurried back to the car and headed to location #2! Wyatt was feeling a little tired and we were running short on time so Billy ran it out to the spot on the trail while Wyatt and I waited in the car.

Then it was on to spot one, the starting point, and this time all three of us trekked out to the spot together.

Then all we had to do was send out the group text with the reminder to leave the clues and to text me only when they found them. And they were off! They both found the first clue, no problems. But the second clue gave them a bit of a challenge – and they ended up looking for it together before Billy needed to call with a hint..

From there the teams headed off to the final spot, and the treasure! I love that they actually found it at the same time. I had a surprise for the kids – two treasures, one for each team, as I did not want any disappointed little treasure hunters!

The treasure itself was pretty simple but enough for little girls – some tiny little animals, and an assortment of polished crystals and such, like jade and moonstone. The teams decided who was going to do the next round, and we are all looking forward to it! We had a blast setting it up, and our friends had a great time doing it. Apparently the kids were so excited, which made me so happy as that was my goal all along.

And onward to the next Wild Hunt!

Weekend Vibes..

We had a fantastic long weekend together – it was a nice combo of lazy and active. Lots of reading, sitting around, playing games, but also exploring – and even some socially distanced social time!

On Saturday a few friends and I got together for some 6-8 feet away drinks and conversation. I put on a dress, my new necklace, slipped on sandals and off I went. We even all brought our own beverages and glasses so that we didn’t touch things others had touched – and so Kelly didn’t have to wash a glass. It was so nice to just see their faces – and I was so relaxed, watching the birds. And this was the very first time I had been away from Wyatt since March 12. I probably could have curled up on the outdoor couch and taken a nap, I became so comfy. I have taken to naming my friend’s homes lately (I blame all that British tv), and I have decided Kelly’s house should be called Refuge.

Then Sunday and Monday we spent pond dipping, as part of our homeschooling for the week! This week is all about ponds and frogs so we were hoping to catch some minibeasts in our catch and release beach aquarium. We only managed to find an aquatic snail in the water, but we did spot a Northern Water Snake, two turtles, a Great Blue Heron, a ton of Red-Winged Blackbirds, heard a bullfrog, and a little American toad! We brought the toad home as our guest for a few weeks, then we will let her go. Wyatt has named her Uh-Oh. the funny part is my brother found a toad yesterday and brought it in as a pet for my niece (who named hers Cupcake). But it all started with Kelly who found one last week and brought it in to avoid the cold snap. Her toad is a beast! They named her Theodora.

Later Monday evening my brother invited us, my mom, and my sister-in-law’s mother over for a socially distanced bonfire. It was so very nice to be near my family again, even though I itched to hug them all! Again, we all brought our own drinks and cups. What a strange new world we live in. Regardless, it was so fantastic to see their faces and talk to them, and not through a screen! Wyatt was so happy too, and just kept pointing to everyone and saying “Wow”. It was his first time seeing his family in months, and even though we were apart, it was wonderful to be sitting and talking together.

It was nice to be back exploring and seeing people again, no matter how we had to do it.

A Day of New Life!

Yesterday was a big day around here! We had 6 of our 9 butterflies emerge from their chrysalis – and they couldn’t have had better timing.

It is butterfly week here this week, and Wyatt and I had just settled in to do some work after reading the book Butterfly Birthday. Butterfly Birthday celebrates the beginning of spring and also the birthday of all the butterflies that eclose in the book during the party. So, we read our book, got situated on Wyatt’s lesson, and I glanced down to see a butterfly! Our first butterfly made its appearance minutes after reading our book. Lol. We had to take a break to celebrate – with cake!

We just happened to have some left from Mother’s Day – strawberry with vanilla frosting and sprinkles. Yum!

It’s so cool to us that you can see them as fully formed butterflies within the chrysalis before they emerge. Nature is so amazing! This was the first one born – the one in the chrysalis was the third.

It was a day for new life all around – my seeds are starting to sprout, also something to be excited about! I am most excited about my pumpkins today – I have always wanted to grow our own mini-pumpkin patch. I hope they make it!

My little sprouts! Pumpkins, watermelon, squash, lettuce, and basil all have made their appearances. Outside, the radishes are doing well! We are still waiting on some but this is a great start!

Spring was certainly making itself felt around here yesterday, and with it, a happy hopeful feeling as well.