Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's a Record!

WHILE walking home from school one day, we noticed a proliferation of one type of insect on the grass under a particular maple tree. Looking somewhat like a firefly, we took note of its markings and looked it up at home. It was a box elder bug, a true bug which feeds predominantly on box elder trees and also maples.

We've since seen this bug many times, always under maples. They are not especially fast moving, which makes them attractive to Alexander. Every time we see them he tries to outmatch his own record of how many he can hold in his hand at any one time without any flying away or being squashed. I try to share his joy while secretly encouraging escape.

Despite the occasional mishaps, the bug does now have the honour of having renamed this route home from school. It is now called "Box Elder Way".

Monday, August 29, 2011

Birthday Butterflies

LOOKING back through old posts, I'm reminded that Emma received a "bug hotel" for her third birthday. Now rather the worse for three years of weather, it has nevertheless provided much interest to us and a home for many insects.

I'm not sure if it's coincidence that one of Alexander's favourite presents on his third birthday was a butterfly net and bug collection box! He has spent hours outside trying to - often successfully - catch various insects, which he then stores in his special jar with a magnifying lid. Happy birthday little bug catcher!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Next Plague?

LAST year we noticed a great number of insects we hadn't seen before in the park. Little green/brown bugs, they looked a little like ladybirds but had a distinct triangular shape, the head much narrower than the tail end. They congregated in great numbers on the kudzu, were easy to pick up, flew away just as easily and didn't smell too good when squashed (accidently). It was Megacopta cribraria, otherwise known as the "kudzu beetle".

Alexander was delighted to discover them today in our garden too, on wisteria, which prompted me to research them. This little bug was first seen in the US, or in the Western hemisphere at all, in October 2009. It was discovered right here in nine counties in north Georgia and in a year had spread to over 60 counties. Now Megacopta is also a resident of North Carolina and South Carolina. The rapid spread is particularly worrisome to agriculture, since the bugs are voracious eaters not only of kudzu (which grows equally fast and does not seem to be unduly damaged by the pest) but other legumes too - especially soy beans.

Soy being, in my opinion, one of the most heinous of all crops in terms of contribution to the proliferation of cheap processed "foods", I had a fleeting thought that this little beetle army might be on a divine mission to save us from ourselves...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Preserving Herbs

IT'S funny what things we take for granted that children know. A few weeks ago Emma and Alexander helped me harvest mint, rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil and Thai basil in our garden then bundle them and hang them up to dry. Today we were preparing old glass shop-bought herb jars to store them when Emma suddenly looked at me with a mixture of astonishment and revelation: "Mama, you mean herbs in the garden are the same thing as herbs in jars?"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Black Walnut Adventures

I was recently introduced to the Eastern Black Walnut tree juglans nigra through its fruit, which hung heavy and green, like smooth golf balls. Parts of last year's crop that the squirrels had spared lay dried in the grass, but the fresh new fruit smelled fresh, almost citrusy. Evan, the tree owner, advised that the nuts are very difficult to open. He may as well have thrown down a glove.

Back home the children and I tried to crack it. The husk came off relatively easy with a knife. Immediately the flesh began to oxidise and turn brown. After rendering inoperable a heavy-duty and formerly rather nice nutcracker, we conceded that black walnuts are, in fact, rather hard to open. We also noticed that my hands were turning various shades of yellow to dark brown and black, as was the counter top, and ... it didn't come off. Emma wondered if this is why it's called black walnut. We took the stubborn nut outside and pretended we were hunter-gatherers, smashing our dinner open with a rock. Success! Tasty, but hard-earned. No wonder they are so expensive to buy.

Having already discovered the dyeing properties, we then decided to dye something for real. Using a piece of white cotton fabric, the result was an earthy dark brown. Not a colour en vogue this year, but it would be perfect for camo gear. Thank you Evan for inspiring an afternoon of fun and discovery!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Twilight Magic

TWILIGHT is one of the most magical times to be outside. To observe the sun inch lower and lower with perceptible movement brings a sense of oneness with time. We have been taught of the earth's rotation around the sun, yet to many these are mere words; whereas experiencing a sunset (or sunrise) forges a deep inner connection to this cosmic reality. Images of the sun going to bed are not just for children; experiencing the dusk is to remember the beauty of the day, breathe out and prepare for rest.

Animals too favour the beginning and end of the day. As I sat with a new group of friends with the magnificent backdrop of the setting sun, for a short while the trees came alive with birdsong. It gradually darkened and the evening grew still. Then, a deer gingerly stepped out of the bushes followed by another. As we continued our gathering, the does moved closer browsing in the long grass for shoots and fallen fruit. Their babies followed and the usually shy animals munched away, stopping now and again to nurse or bleat a message to one another. I was entranced. For this special time between day and night, deer and people shared time and space.

Photo credit:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Lorelei Calls

HAPPY sixth birthday Emma! We had great fun preparing for her mermaid party - designing a menu, painting underwatery paintings to hang up, planning activities and decorating with strips of blue and purple crepe paper, which waved delightfully when the ceiling fan was turned on.

On the big day, it was hard to contain their excitement. Six little girls and one little brother made shell necklaces, played musical mermaid rocks then sat on their rocks for a tea of seaweed, kale chips, tuna crackers and "rainbow fish" cake. Outside, water beads awaited discovery in the paddling pool, and finally a treasure hunt for a take-home mini treasure chest of sparkling gems. The theme continued until her actual birthday two days later when Emma received her present from Mama - a beautiful mermaid of her own!