The View From The Front Porch


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This summer we’ve been spending a lot of time on the front porch. It’s Forest’s go-to location to hang out and play, mostly because he likes to run around barefoot and we like him to wear shoes in the yard here because of snakes, so the porch is one place he be without shoes. I tend to wear minimal footwear around the yard as well but I’m (generally) more observant than he is when traipsing around the yard.

So, he plays on the porch or if the cars are out of the carport he plays under the carport where he can more easily ride his bikes and trikes. When we bought him a balance bike two years ago for his second birthday I had hoped he’d have graduated to a pedal bike by now. There’s a couple of things with that, one that we haven’t pushed him to ride it as much or really guided him to ride it in the street on a consistent basis, and the other is that riding on our rocky driveway isn’t really easy. The other thing is Chris and I don’t ride bikes. Ours are hanging in the storage shed and probably haven’t been ridden (rode?) in ten years.

One thing Forest and I do enjoy playing on the porch is basketball. And by basketball I mean, we pile up all of the balls that could possibly fit through the hoop and either we take turns shooting or I sit from a comfy chair and try to shoot from there while he fetches the ball. I wonder how many more years I have of him fetching the ball(s) for me??? Other things that get enjoyed with on the front porch are blowing bubbles or its sibling game, spilling the bubbles accidentally-on-purpose, and digging rocks up from either the trench between the porch and the flower bed (where the rain falls off the roof) or from the cactus bed. These rocks get reallocated to the dump truck and spread around on the porch, to Chris’ grumbling dismay, or piled into areas around the beds near the porch.

Aside from some spurts and sprints of gardening time, I have been able to slow down and just sit on the porch. This year in the garden has finally felt less harried than the previous three summers so that when I do have the lull between garden chores I’ve been opting to just sit and watch. The hummingbirds have been back in the garden for over a month now and the peak migration will be starting up here in the next few weeks. Butterfly activity is increasing as is other pollinator and insect populations, taking advantage of late summer blooms before the slump towards fall.

And most of all, I just enjoy watching where the light falls on the garden during different times of day.

More Summer Lepidopterans


I’ve been attempting to slow down a bit in the garden and just sit and be still and that has included sitting on the perimeter blocks to watch butterflies. It’s been a lesson in working my stealth mode photography skills as well as a lesson in not reaching out to pull weeds constantly. In my attempts to learn a bit more about what is using the garden and when, I’m getting my camera out and taking photos to document it all. The other day I was weeding out the strawberry bed and had this tiny insect on my hand that I couldn’t identify. It was possibly some sort of leaf-footed insect but had the coloration of a peppermint shrimp and was very tiny. Hopefully I can find it or another like it again and figure out what it is!

Until then—leps, lots of leps!

But first, we’re going to start with the most prolific and showiest species at the moment, the gulf fritiliaries.

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Let’s take a quick intermission from all of that bedazzled orange and enjoy a non-lepidopteran, the common whitetail dragonfly, Plathemis lydia. Definitely our most common dragonfly in the garden.

Now, back to the gulf frits…

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I recently, finally, bought a butterfly book. We have Butterflies Through Binoculars for Florida and while there are some overlaps for sure, there are definitely a lot of species that don’t show up in that book. So I bought Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. Two things I’m noticing in that book is that there isn’t a lot of diversity in my region specifically—though if you head west towards central Texas you get a little bit more of a chance for seeing neo-tropicals from Mexico or other northern species. The second thing I’m noticing—there are a lot of skipper species!

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I had to keep flipping and flipping before I was finally able to identify this species, a clouded skipper. This one played hide and and seek with me on the salvia for awhile before hopping over to the false nettle. It appears their larval food plant is primarily weedy grasses—so I’ve got that covered!

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Now this one I had seen before in Florida but I had always just given it the generic ‘checkered skipper’ name but this is a tropical checkered-skipper. Confined to the lower south and Florida, this particular butterfly’s larval host are mallows. And boy, do I wish I could grow some mallows for it. The deer think mallows are their own favorite food source, so mallows have to hidden well or not grown at all in my garden! Though, I do have the okra behind the fence in the edible garden, I wonder if the skippers would like that? Hmmmmmm…

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In Florida I was familiar with seeing the phaon crescent on a fairly regular basis so I initially thought that was what this butterfly was. But that bright yellow on the bottom of the wings changed that idea. Turns out this is a pearl crescent! Their larval host are asters and I do have some of those around the yard. I’ll have to keep an eye out for odd caterpillars.

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One of my new favorite butterflies is turning out to be the long-tailed skipper. They are easy to identify with their long tails and their iridescent blue-green is spectacular when the sunlight hits it directly. A subtle beauty flitting about the garden!

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And lastly, a butterfly I’ve been waiting to see in the garden for several years now, a pipevine swallowtail! I noticed it nectaring one evening after work and I wasn’t sure which swallowtail it was—they confuse me with their similar markings and then their inability to sit still so I can id them—so I took some photos and video and proceeded to go down the Google Images rabbit hole while I was grilling chicken for dinner that evening. Sure enough, it was a female pipevine swallowtail and then I knew I had to go and search for eggs on the pipevine.

I ended up finding several clutches of eggs on the pipevine that covers the lattice where we keep our riding mower. I cleaned up the butterfly tent and trimmed off the parts of the vine where several clutches of eggs were and put them in the tent. A few days later they hatched but as the days went by I was noticing they weren’t really eating. And then I started seeing dead caterpillars here and there—tiny little 1st instars. I didn’t think much of it at first until I went back out later and saw more dead and then I did some more digging online.

Last year I had asked Chris if he remembered which species the pipevine was because we’d lost the tag long ago. He thought it was the ‘Dutchman’s pipe’ or ‘the common one’ but at that time I had looked up the flowers of the native ones and they definitely didn’t resemble the flowers of what we had. I never really took photos of the flowers for some reason—I can’t find any at least—but I do remember what they looked like. Anyway, last year when I was looking up about the pipevine species I had thought it was either going to be A. gigantea, A. grandiflora, or A. elegans. This was based on the leaves at the time because I didn’t have a flower to compare. And I had come across information that gigantea was toxic to the pipevine swallowtail caterpillars (though I think polydamas caterpillars will eat this particular species). I’d filed that info in the back of my head but because we had never seen a pipevine swallowtail I wasn’t too worried.

Well. Here we are and all of those cute caterpillars hatched and then died. I’m going to take a good guess that what we have is the gigantea. It looks like elegans may be toxic to them as well. I found more eggs on the pipevine and brought them in and will keep a close eye on them and as soon as they hatch I will transfer them to my A. fimbriata leaves. I don’t have a ton of that plant but am now induced to get more or start more from seed. It does well in part-shade as a ground cover and we could definitely use it to fill out some shadier areas of the garden in other areas. I also started A. watsonii from seeds a friend gave me and I have two plants already in the garden. Chris bought a larger pot when we were at our local nursery last weekend and since it is a southwestern pipevine it might work well in our non-irrigated cactus bed.

So, this tragic sequence of events has me looking into alternatives to the current pipevine and possibly discussions on keeping the plant or replacing it with a more butterfly friendly species. It is gorgeous but I feel really crappy about enticing pipevine swallowtails to lay eggs only for their progeny to meet their demise.

Still waiting on monarchs to return—it was around this time last year they started showing up so I’m keeping my eyes open.

Paddling Juniper Run


One of the items on our list to do before we moved away from Florida was to paddle the Juniper Run in Ocala National Forest. Chris and I did paddle that run in 2009 and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s within the Juniper Prairie Wilderness so it doesn’t take much for you to feel as if you are in a very remote location. It rivals the feeling of being in areas of Big Cypress National Preserve or paddling the Turner River in Big Cypress/Everglades. The next time we’re in SW Florida I think we need to revisit the Turner River again.

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When we began planning out our limited time on our own in Florida before our Disney trip, Chris brought up the idea to do the Juniper Run again. I loved the idea but was also nervous about taking Forest due to its remoteness. I mean, the same thoughts go through my head while we’re out hiking with him but at least when we’re hiking somewhere, usually we’re within an area that has cut-offs and short cuts to road access or other ‘outs’ in case something happened. Being on the Juniper Run meant truly having to continue paddling downstream to the take out if something happened.

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I spent a bit of time trying to figure out if this was water hemlock or a look-alike. I still haven’t decided. Anyone??? It was very prevalent along the creek.

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The other thing was, could he even go? The website didn’t really state an age restriction but Chris called to verify and there was some potential issues at first due to his weight and their life jacket sizing for kids. We weighed him and he was with a couple of pounds and we called back and they thought he would be ok with their jackets. Our other option was to bring our own jacket for him. The only thing we could do was hope for the best and if we got turned away, we got turned away.

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Luckily it all worked out. We got canoe the rented and our life jackets and made our way down to the canoe launch. Something else to keep in mind while paddling this trail is you cannot bring anything that isn’t reuseable. They do check. So, repackage your items into reuseable containers and don’t even think about disposable plastic bottles. You are entering a wilderness area and they want to keep it as pristine as possible. That said, we did encounter a couple of pieces of trash along the way and scooped out some trash if we were able to.

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I took the bow of the canoe and Chris manned the stern while Forest sat in the middle. We let him dip his hands in on occasion but for the most part we aimed to keep his hands out of the water because of potential pinch-point issues when we wandered too close to a log or other obstruction.

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Chris paddled off and on primarily letting current of the stream push us along. Being out there was incredibly relaxing and I was so thankful we were out there in the wild as a family. Forest got antsy a few times but he was still trying to catch up on sleep from our travel a few days prior, and late nights and early mornings since then. Honestly, it was a rough 11 days for him sleep-wise with the time change and our busy schedules. After lunch he did end up falling asleep in the middle of the canoe. We hadn’t really put sunscreen on because it was such a shady area and of course he fell asleep on the latter section of the run where the canopy opened up and the sun really let itself in! I attempted to cover him up with his hat and hoped for no major sunburns.

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For lunch we had stopped at Publix to pick up sub sandwiches. If you haven’t had a Publix sandwich you are missing out! They are better than a Subway sandwich and hold a lot of Florida memories for me! Just smelling one brought back many field events from my job in Florida as well as swamp tromping for orchids. I’d wanted a chicken tender sub but it was too early for the tenders to have been prepared when we stopped by the store so I had to make do with a turkey sandwich. So good!

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Quintessential Florida.

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At one point along the paddle thunder boomed in the near-distance. We could see the sky darkening a bit and hoped for the best but there wasn’t much we could do being out there other than to huddle under a tree for a bit. Thankfully the thunderstorm moved away from us and we were spared any rain.

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Forest woke up as we were in the middle of being caught on a rock in the middle of a small rapids. The boat hung up on the left side of the rock with the current pushing the back of the boat around. For a few tenuous seconds I thought we might flip over but we managed to rotate around and ride the rapids backwards. After we straightened the canoe back out, the experience made me think that we’d done the same thing the first time we’d run the creek. I tried to go back and see if I wrote about the experience but couldn’t find anything in my pre-Wordpress archives that really detailed the trip back then.

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When the creek opened up into a more marsh-like setting we started seeing alligators and turtles along the banks. Forest was less groggy by then and able to enjoy the paddling adventure once again. I’d wished we could have gotten out to swim–away from the alligators of course–but that’s another rule of this run, no swimming!

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And then, like that, we were back at the take-out location on Highway 19. It was a glorious morning and early afternoon along the creek and it all ended so quickly! I think if we lived in the area I’d be going several times a year. If you are out exploring the state or live in Florida, make this a priority on your list of adventures!

That Time I Was On A Podcast(s) Part II


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Hey there! I’m around but July has been a busy month at work and the last week and a half even busier—which has meant working from home after hours, something I am extremely averse to do unless absolutely needed. Once I emerge from the fog of all of that I promise to return and wrap up posts from our trip to Florida, summer gardening, and continued writing here.

In the meantime, I wanted to write a quick update and to let y’all know I was on two podcasts recently. The first was back in May on The Beginner’s Garden Podcast with Jill McSheehy. That episode is here: Organic Gardening in the Southern Garden. And today an episode I recorded at the end of May is out on A Sustainable Mind with Marjorie Alexander: Environmental Podcasting, Gardening, and the Florida Trail.

And you can read about the first time I was on a podcast here.

More soon!

Formosa Lilies | Flower Friday


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The Formosa lilies have finished blooming for the season.

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I noticed a few differences this year than in previous years. For starters, they didn’t grow nearly as tall. Usually they grow at least 6′ tall. This year they hovered between 4-5′ which made them the perfect height for deer chomping. I took a photo of two blooms at lunch and came home to find them devoured by the deer.

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The other thing I noticed was that I didn’t have as many plants as previous years, mostly from pulling too many seedlings (the plant is a prolific seeder) and I think some of the roots from the established plants got dug up and moved by the prowling resident opossum.

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The lilies are definitely a centerpiece of this section of the garden so I will let a few more seeds fill in the area once again and maybe get them to be a bit more robust next year.

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This post was definitely an attempt to not bunch up allll of my garden photos into one post for July! We’ll see if I can manage to spread a few more posts out but considering it is the 27th, expect a round of garden photos once again!

April, May, June, July 2018 Book Report


Eek! I didn’t mean to go four months without a Book Report here! Soooo, obviously that means I have a lot to catch up on…here we go!

I’ve decided to start adding some books from the library (or our own library) that Forest and I enjoy. I’m starting to try to go at least once a month with him. The trick I’m employing is to renew the books online immediately after we get them so that we have them for that full month instead of two weeks. So far it is working!

Forest Books:
Box Turtle by John Himmelman: This was an ARC from Net Galley and Forest loved(s) reading this on the Kindle. It tells the tale of a box turtle born in the 1880s or 1890s as it lives through present day. It starts out and there are passenger pigeons and ends with the woodland it lives in becoming a protected space, after development has swooped in. You kind of have to explain the story a bit as you go along and point out important things in the story as otherwise little ones might not catch the context.

T-Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur by Smriti Prasadam-Halls: This library find tells the story of a vegetarian T-Rex, who is made fun of for being into vegetables and goes off on his own to explore what being a vegetarian T-Rex means. It ends with his friends and family coming together to find him and accept him for his veggie ways! Cute and bright book!

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert: We have some other Lois Ehlert books and they are stunningly and uniquely illustrated. This one was no exception and Forest loved it! It’s about a Leaf Man who blows along the wind and goes through various leaf illustrations. I may have to get this book for him to have he enjoyed it so much.

The Raft by Jim LaMarche:
This was a sweet book about a boy who goes to his grandmother’s on a river for the summer and after he complains about having to do chores he ends up finding a raft on the river that he uses to have adventures. It’s one of those books that you wish was your own childhood, lazing about rivers, running wild with the animals.

The Other Ducks by Ellen Yeomans: A somewhat silly book but also educational at the same time, The Other Ducks focuses on two ducks, presumably a male and female—the male seems to be a bit of a dunce—who live on a pond up north and wonder about “The Other Ducks”. They find the other ducks in reflections of themselves on the pond and eventually realize that they can fly and follow the other birds migrating south for the winter. When they return they’ve brought their brood of baby ducks back with them. It’s a cute book!

Read:

North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott and Jenny Jurek: In 2015, ultra-runner Scott Jurek set out to break the Appalachian Trail overall FKT with his wife Jenny as support. The last time it had been set was in 2011 by Jennifer Pharr Davis with her husband Brew as support. I was excited for this book because I had enjoyed Eat and Run by Scott and likes his writing style—plus Appalachian Trail! A loved this book! A couple of things—it alternates between Jenny and Scott’s perspectives. And because of this it gets confusing at times, with jumps in time. They aren’t big jumps, but while Scott’s chapter may have been taking place in West Virginia and Maryland, the next chapter of Jenny’s would drop back down into northern Virginia and I’d be thrown. This was an ARC from NetGalley so I can only hope that they cleaned this up for the final.

I have to say, I’m glad we hiked in the era on the cusp of social media. It was there but not many people had smart phones. There were no constant updates. The nature of the FKT is a bit trickier because of the need to document the journey and it has gotten more public as time has gone on, with people wanting to meet up with these folks attempting FKTs to hike with them. And Scott is already super well-known that this made it even more of a problem. Jenny ran into some creepy people—even people who may not have been meaning to be creepy but were definitely intruding and not knowing boundaries.

I enjoyed the thrill despite knowing the outcome—that he’d barely beaten Davis’ record. And now Jurek’s record has been beaten in 2017 by Joe ‘Stringbean’ McConaughy who did it unsupported. Which is an amazing feat because the unsupported recorded was 54 days and held by Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson.

Highly recommend reading this if you are into hiking!

Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers by Leslie Halleck: This was an ARC from NetGalley and I’m a follower of Leslie’s on social media so I’ve been seeing her progress and general information on growing with lights on social media for the last year or so. This is definitely a book for serious indoor gardeners, with an in-depth look at the science behind light and how it affects plant growth for different kinds of plants. Honestly, it was a bit beyond what I was interested in and I ended up skimming through a lot of the book. We use grow lights in the late winter to get a jump start on some seeds for spring, and Chris does use some lights for some of the tropicals when he keeps them in the man cave, but we’re not into the massive indoor gardening #plantparent type ethos that is popular right now. Definitely a book for people interested in a comprehensive look at lights and growing plants indoors.

Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home by Boyd Varty: This was an audiobook choice back when I was really deep into a project at work and needed something other than podcasts. I loved this book, especially as an audiobook because it’s read by the author and he has a wonderful South African accent. I knew nothing about the author or his family but I did do some Wikipedia-ing and Googling after to catch up—they are well known in the eco-tourism world. And as I learned in the book, had a tv show on Disney back in the 80s or early 90s. It would have been something I would have watched!

The book covers the Varty family through the generations as they establish the Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, covering the trials and triumphs that came with establishing this reserve, living in the bush, working with various tribal people in the region, and what it was like growing up in a remote part of Africa on this reserve. I definitely recommend this book, particularly as an audiobook!

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: I started this book over a year ago and put it down at some point because other books were capturing my attention, however I knew I wanted to come back to it and finish it. A collection of short stories, this was part of the reason I couldn’t read it straight through. Once you read a story it was easy to put the book down and meander back to it later. That said, Gay is a great writer, though maybe not quite my style. I did enjoy Bad Feminist and Hunger is on my to-read list, but Difficult Women as a set of stories really produced a theme: sex, abuse, and some really bizarre stories. At first these themes were fine to read with interesting characters but as the book continued on I couldn’t help but think, “Is this all this book is about?” It seemed like to be a ‘Difficult Woman’ you needed to have these issues when there are plenty of so-called ‘Difficult Women’ with other themes in their life. And the ‘Difficult Women’ part is that women are treated as being difficult for going against any kind of mainstream thought process on how a woman should be.

The book fell short. I think I gave it 3 stars. Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking this.

A Year of Forest School: Outdoor Play and Skill-building Fun for Every Season by Jane Worrell: Another ARC from NetGalley. It had a UK bend towards it based on some of the plants and language. I’ve been intrigued with the idea of forest schools over the last few years for Forest but we don’t have any of these options near us, maybe in downtown Houston. Not a trek I want to make. The book had some great ideas on incorporating the forest school themes into say a homeschool or unschooling experience. I will probably flip through it on occasion to get more ideas.

The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War by Jane Rosenberg LaForge: An ARC from NetGalley—I struggled with this book. I almost didn’t finish it. It really could have used a re-write and some editing. The theme was intriguing, magical realism set at the end of WWI in England. But it was too forced and sometimes incoherent to understand. There’s an American teacher and a “Hawkman” in this town in England. The Hawkman is a destitute and shunned former soldier from the war and through a variety of flashbacks, which partly make it confusing, we find out he’d left his troop to find some food and do some scouting without permission but then gets captured by the Germans and is a POW for a few years. When he returns after the war he’s basically considered a deserter and treated as such. The American woman befriends him and shelters him in her house on the grounds of the college she’s teaching at, despite the upper class not liking this. They form a bond and love but not necessarily marital love, and she comes down with consumption (and there’s some confusing flashbacks with her family) and then supposedly dies and turns into a bird. There was too much metaphor and again, incoherent sections that it just never made sense.

Seed, Grow, Love, Write by John Markowski: John was on my garden podcast back in 2017 and he’s since published two books, this being one of them. He sent me a draft to review before it went to press and I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the book! John is a gardener in New Jersey and known as The Obsessive Neurotic Gardener and this book chronicles a lot of his beginnings of gardening, sharing with how he got his start which is how many people start learning to garden–by taking care of the lawn. He brings a lot of great humor to the book and the essays are all something you can relate to as a gardener. I hope that he’s able to get a ‘real’ publisher some day or maybe a column in a newspaper because he brings a fantastic wit and humor to garden writing.

Hummingbird by Kimberly Angle: I picked this up at the library while Forest was playing in the kid section. This is a juvenile book but could tinker into the YA set for some readers. The cover is what enticed me and it has been a long time since I’ve read an juvenile novel. For a good portion of the book I thought it was set in the 1970s Georgia on a farm but later they mention Rollerblades and that jetted that time frame up to late 80s or early 90s.

Twelve year-old March Anne lives on the farm with her brother, father, and grandmother. She’s got a good set of friends and living a great life on the farm, helping out where she can, when her grandmother falls ill. The book is about learning the truth behind some of the adult’s stories, deciphering what is held as lore and figuring out the kernels of truth behind it, and then learning to adjust as her grandmother’s illness progresses.

If you’ve got a late elementary of middle schooler, I would recommend this book. Even an adult would enjoy it—I did!

The Romanov Empress by CW Gortner: If you enjoy Allison Weir or Philippa Gregory novels and like reading fictionalized stories about royal houses over the centuries, you will enjoy this book. An ARC from NetGalley, this tells the story of the Romanov dynasty from the perspective of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna aka: Dagmar of Denmark who was the mother of Nicholas II. Nicholas the II as you may recall was murdered along with his family in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. The 100th anniversary of their murder was last week.

Now, I did know some of the history surrounding Nicholas II and his family having watched some of the documentaries regarding the search for their burial site after their murder. I didn’t realize there was more controversy surrounding that until I started looking up information as I was reading the book. I also didn’t really know much else about the family prior to Nicholas II so this book was an interesting and informative story to read.

Dagmar came from a poorer royal household in Denmark and of course she and her sisters and brothers all went off to become part of other royal houses. Her older sister married King Edward VII of England, before he was king of course. I did a ton of information look ups as I read along, trying to figure out the links between all of the royals and aristocracy and to figure out who survived the Russian Revolution. All I kept thinking was that if the attempt at a constitutional monarchy (instead of the autocratic/absolute monarchy that was going on) that was being made by Alexander II (Dagmar’s FIL) had gone through, man, what a different world Russia might be today.

Loved this book!

The Power by Naomi Alderman: This has been a digital hold for months and it finally came in so I knew I had a limited amount of time to read it. Raved about online from many venues, I had a love/hate relationship with this book.

Told from the perspective of several different characters, both male and female, it is a sort of history of present day for those five thousand years in the future. One day, girls of a certain age, around their teens, develop this power to project electricity from their hands. Eventually they figure out how to share it between other women, mostly older ones who hadn’t developed the power, and of course there are some anomalies with some males being able to develop this but by far it is a female power. You can imagine what would happen if women were able to have a power stronger than a man’s…they begin to slowly revolt for all of the wrong-doings done to them.

There’s one main character, Ally/’Eve’, who has a stronger power than others and is also hearing the voice of God/Goddess, who leads her to basically reconfigure Christianity and other religions into a female centric dynamic. There’s war, blatant murder, chaos, some story lines that involve a man who had been working to chronicle all of these uprisings and political/social changes, and has to go into hiding. He’s been sending his work to a woman he trusts and of course, she publishes everything of his as if it were her own. He feels the anger and frustration that all too many women feel today in our patriarchal society when they don’t get the credit for their work. But where these kind of allegories go right, so much else just falls apart with this book.

There are loose ends, conflicting story lines, and a point in which makes no sense that women would take the power like that into the direction it went. Of course at the end of the book the main narrator, Ally/Eve is left realizing some of her mistakes and that it is better to start over. We’re lead to believe a large cataclysm occurs and thus, five thousand years in the future they are learning how the world was before the power came into being and they are lead to believe that men have always been subordinate and in the home.

It’s an odd book. I feel like it could be cleaned up and streamlined a bit and turned into an interesting movie or Netflix series. I was definitely disappointed I didn’t enjoy it was much as I had wanted.

Currently Reading:
Fascism: A Warning by Madeline K. Albright: Just picked this hold up from the library—a timely read.

Fannye Cook: Mississippi’s Pioneering Conservationist by Dorothy Shawhan: An ARC from NetGalley—so far so good!

Afternoon Ramble at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center


Let’s reverse a few months and blow off some dust on a draft post I’ve had sitting here since May and head to Nacogdoches and the Pineywoods Native Plant Center. The last time we were here was in 2014, though I feel like I’ve been to Nacogdoches since then and haven’t dropped by the Native Plant Center.

Chris was working in Angelina National Forest and so Forest and I drove up over a weekend to visit him. On our way we stopped at the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, which I had only really seen at night when Chris and I went for a Zoo Brew event in 2013. Chris got off work and we meandered around the wetland area adjacent to their nursery area at the Native Plant Center and then proceeded to go for a jaunt on the trails. It was mid-May so heat and humidity was just ramping up, though still tolerable for short hikes. Oh, I’m longing for cooler weather, though not so much that I want to speed time up yet. I’m noticing signs for that tilt towards autumn, however.

I identified as many of the plants here as I could, though if you don’t see an id on a plant outright (not the woodland scenes) then I couldn’t figure it out. Give it a whirl if you think you know what it is!

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Maybe Joe-Pye weed? Eutrochium fistulosum

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Chomped up hibiscus

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Passiflora incarnata in bloom

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Nursery area

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Long leaf pine in its Lorax phase

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Physostegia correllii

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Giant coneflower, Rudbeckia grandiflora

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Wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa

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Baptisia, maybe alba?

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Elderflower, Sambucus canadensis

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Iris virginica

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Virginia creeper creepin’.

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Arisaema dracontium, green dragon

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More elderflower

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Green dragon

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Oakleaf hydrangea, which I’m dying over because I just dug up what was left of ours, it was just a couple of inches tall and a few leaves. It tries to grow back every year but the deer find it and just ravage it. It’s going to have to stay in a pot on the potting bench or get re-homed.

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Indian plantain, Arnoglossum plantagineum

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Texas trailing phlox, Phlox nivalis subsp. texensis

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Echinacea sanguinea, sanguine purple coneflower

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Stokes aster, Stokesia laevis, another plant I wish we could keep but the deer chow.

If you find yourself in east Texas this is a great stop for plant nerds!

Silver Springs State Park


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After we left the Ocala National Forest, we drove towards Ocala and made a stop at Silver Springs State Park. It’s taken me some time to rack my brain and then look at Google Maps, but Chris and I had been here before in maybe 2007 or 2008. I recall a trip to Potts Preserve to look for orchids and maybe geocache and then a driving up to Ocala to geocache and I feel like we did something else in Ocala but maybe not. But, I did remember being somewhere near the town of Silver Springs because when we arrived there in June I definitely remembered the area.

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A quick look at the map had me realizing on our previous visit we were at the older portion of the state park on the south side of the Silver River. Because, as we learned this time around, the main area where the glass bottom boats were used to be a private facility. And it looks like that when you pull into the area as the parking lot is expansive and there are giant signs that are decidedly not reminiscent of a state park. I think the tour guide said that the state purchased this portion of the park five or six years ago, so definitely after we’d left Florida.

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Since we’d missed going on a boat tour earlier in the day and the sky had cleared up with the storms moving off into the Atlantic, the late afternoon was turning out to be rather pleasant. Being mid-week, the park in this section was rather deserted. After paying the entrance fee to the park and the fee for the glass bottom boat ride on the river, we meandered along the Old South-esque storefronts. I’d be curious to know what was in there originally but now there was a small outfitter for diving and snorkeling, a gift shop—the previous gift shop must have had a lot of items in it because the state park was really trying to stretch out what it had throughout the store, a small nature center, and a quick cook restaurant and ice cream shop.

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The glass bottom boat tour turned out to be really cool! The tour itself wasn’t as long as I expected based on what we paid, I thought we would go down the river more than we did, but we did see several of the springs that create the Silver River, which drains not far downstream into the Ocklawaha River. Only about five other people were on the boat with us, including another kiddo, and the boat operator seemed slightly bored after I’m sure having to repeat his spiel multiple times that day.

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The most interesting parts were an old dugout canoe from a tribe before colonization, and then what is suspected to be a boat from one of the Spanish explorers in the 1500s. And considering the commercial aspect of this part of the park historically, I can’t believe either of those are still in tact!

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Chris took a video but it was too long to upload to Flickr and I haven’t gotten it up on to YouTube yet. Maybe I’ll share the link when I get it up there! Stopping by Silver Spring State Park was a great end to our long day across Florida! We topped it off with dinner at The Mojo Grill which had a diverse enough menu that we ate there both nights in Ocala!

Summer Lepidopterans


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Long-tailed skipper, Urbanus proteus

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Long-tailed skipper larvae—aka: the bean leaf roller!

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Between the lull of monarch seasons—I’m awaiting their return but we did see one at the zoo the other day—there is plenty of other activity in the lepidopteran world. Here’s just a sample–I’m seeing plenty of others I just don’t have my camera on me lately. And these are all phone photos–I’m sad to admit I’m blogging with phone photos!!! Time to pick up the big camera or even the point and shoot a bit more than my phone.

I noticed a beautiful butterfly bouncing along the agastache on the side yard garden last week. I took a few crappy phone photos in the shadowed filled area over there but knew I wouldn’t do anything with them beyond maybe identifying the butterfly later. But then I moved towards the main area of the garden and it (or another one) fluttered over into the sunlight on the banana leaves and offered up a much better photo opportunity.

I still have not bought a good butterfly book for our region so I ended up pulling out my Butterflies through Binoculars: Florida book and flipped to the skippers. A long-tailed skipper! Sweet!

Then, in the garden over the weekend I saw some bean leaves rolled up. I peered in and remembered seeing them last year and I even looked them up last year but I hadn’t put two and two together—my bean leaf roller was the larval stage of the long-tailed skipper! They are also utilizing the same bean plants they used last year, the ‘Dragon Tongue’ beans—the other beans I have aren’t being used. Very interesting!

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Possibly Brazilian skipper, Calpodes ethlius

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For several weeks now Chris has been telling me something is rolling up in the alligator flag, Thalia geniculata, down by the pond. I hadn’t ventured down there until one evening while Forest was painting at the picnic table. I took a few photos but didn’t open up a leaf nest enough to really get a good photo. My quick search online suggests this is the work of the Brazilian skipper. I’ll have to do some more stalking down by the pond with a better camera soon.

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Nessus sphinx moth, Amphion floridensis
*This is a video, if you are reading via email or a reader, it may not load. Click through to watch.*

On my way back from the pond I noticed a moth fluttering around the yard. It was distinctive enough to find in my moth book and I knew it was a hummingbird/hawk moth of some kind so that narrowed it down to the Nessus sphinx. Very cool! Looks like the host plants for these are grape vine, pepper vine, Virginia creeper, and pepper plants. Another interesting find!

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Saddleback, Acharia stimulea

This beauty I did not see in person, much to my sad dismay. Chris texted it to me while I was desk bound at work while he was in the field. Sometime he sends me photos from the field and I’m always jealous of the things he’s finding. *I need to get out of the office more*.

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And these sweet things are decidedly not lepidopterans, however they have been very adorable to watch around the yard the last few weeks as they chow down on plants. I took this as I pulled into the driveway after work one day. There are five, one is on the other side of the fence.

The gulf fritillaries returned in mid to late June and have been laying eggs on the passiflora vines. I’m starting to get caterpillars, too, and have decided to try to raise a few. I have three late instar sized caterpillars and one second instar caterpillar. If these do well I may scout out for more until the monarchs arrive.

The June Garden | 2018


*Photo Heavy*

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There’s been a definite jungleization of the garden since the beginning of June photos I took. The cucumber photos I show here are now a massive tangle of vines, threatening to over take each other with a few vines wanting to just have a run of the bed. Which is fine, I suppose I’ll be eating a lot of cucumber salads over the next few months. It’s just too bad the tomatoes aren’t on the same page—or rather our climate isn’t on the same page.

Actually being able to enjoy the garden this year has been wonderful. Ooo, as I’m writing this from our dinner table I’m watching a momma deer scope out of the leaves on the ground under the mulberry. There are at least five fawns in the vicinity of the yard and plenty more around the neighborhood. Future garden chompers that are just really too adorable for their own good! I’ve been tossing the tomatoes over the fence that the leaf-footed bugs or the birds get to before I got to them in hopes the deer will enjoy a tasty treat.

Ok, back to the enjoying the garden bits…so, yes, I’ve been enjoying the garden more the last few weeks instead of constant weeding, though I’m still doing my fair share. Between the mimosa weed and the chamberbitter out in the edible garden, it will always be a battle of constant vigilance. It looked good before vacation but I knew it would all come back because the seeds, in particular from the chamberbitter, are embedded by the millions in the garden thanks to letting it get out of control the summer of 2015. I am working to put down some new mulch on the paths that hopefully I can get wrapped up in the next week or two so I’m hoping that will help. I put down new mulch on those paths in October/November of last year and it has decomposed a lot as well as washed away in the mini-flood back in May.

I did start fall tomatoes before we left for vacation. I’m giving it once last try. Every garden article in Texas talks about fall tomatoes but I don’t know many people who have great success. I suppose it would be the people on the coast who have milder winters than the rest of us. The problem usually means that it stays too hot for too long which means the tomatoes start flowering later and by the time there’s any inkling of a tomato forming we get a cold front or freeze. It wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t getting a freeze…even if it was dipping into the high 40s but warming to the 60s during the day would be ok. But nope. Not happening. So, I’m trying a northern variety this year, Red Siberian, which supposedly can handle light frosts. We shall see. I need to get them in the ground in the next week or two so they can get established.

The flower garden is doing well. The milkweed I’ve sown is establishing itself despite being chomped by milkweed beetles constantly. I was surprised how quickly some common milkweed grew from seed. As well as what I’ve determined to be green antelopehorn milkweed. I had collected the latter from a random seedpod I found while hiking—the main part of the plant was long gone—so I didn’t know what it was until it grew up. Neither will be big enough to sustain the monarchs when they come back through, though, but next year they will be. I will have to keep an eye out for eggs and caterpillars when the mommas come laying or else they will be chowed to the ground! The whorled, tall green, and short green milkweed have germinated and are all around 3-4″ tall but they aren’t as robust as the other plants. They’ve also been eaten heavily by the milkweed beetles. (Does anyone else have to correct themselves and not write beatles? Hah!)

The gulf fritillaries returned about two weeks ago and now eggs have been laid and I am spotting caterpillars. I am going to attempt to raise those and see how they fare in the tent. Maybe just five to start. I havw one in the cage right now. I did learn quickly that the passiflora vine cutting has to be in a floral tube or else the plant wilts and dries incredibly fast. No caterpillar wants to eat crummy food! We’ll see how it goes.

Now, to get out and do some more gardening in July!

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