Monday, March 31, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sweetness!

My mom came down for the weekend, so we decided to celebrate Elowen's birthday.  Friday, we had a short school day and spent the rest of the day getting ready.  Larkin made pinwheels, blew up balloons, and made a gorgeous, intricate card.  Miah and her friend helped make window stars, tissue paper flowers, and decorated plastic animals.  Rohan helped with the balloons and making supper.  Zahana helped with the  cake. 
 photo 59225178-e3c4-4794-b9ee-a64b3a24ec9a_zps56879174.jpg

I pulled down the paper snowflakes (yay!) and now the dining room and living room are decked out in rainbows.  It's so happy!
 photo f9ae2e5b-cb9b-41c3-a398-be364e288946_zpsefd29e74.jpg

 photo 66a19fb3-383f-4082-9bcc-3de7c1b044bd_zpsff0a6b19.jpg

Somebody brought in some daffodils!
 photo 86095b47-ac5f-4ed1-91e7-198b8b0aac6d_zps83769b4d.jpg

I had intended to make a layer cake, but both boys wanted to carry the cake to Elowen, so I just frosted them separately.  Even though I made the cakes with white flour, sugar, and sprinkles, I couldn't bring myself to use food coloring.  Had to have rainbow though, so I used these instructions to color the frosting.  Spinach for green, turmeric for yellow, carrot for orange, beets for pink, and blueberries for purple.  (I had planned on doing purple cabbage for blue and purple but ran out of time.  I'd still like to try it some time though, because I bet the color is better.)  I was pretty scared when I was making it.  I thought everyone would be disgusted.  I told Zahana we'd keep it a secret until everyone had eaten.  I was happily surprised when everyone was raving about how pretty and yummy the cake was, and most people had seconds.  Then Zahana told our little secret.  There was some mild shock and disgust at that point, but it was OK then.  The frosting, by the way, is butter, cream cheese, and maple syrup with a little raw milk - so yummy!
 photo 2429c4a1-60cf-46a5-b9a5-4a981ff0ddfb_zpsa3b23181.jpg

Birthday girl! xoxoxoxo
Everybody showed her how to blow the candles, so she did it, then said, "Uh Oh!" when they went out.
 photo 52e8c4ac-260b-44e8-9691-099f0a766d2d_zpseb8a56d7.jpg

 photo 817332d7-c1e3-4210-8c2b-eff660b6d371_zps8920c422.jpg

 photo 5fe6bfb2-a5d2-4d3b-a993-dc399a2fa71f_zps3a574cf1.jpg

 photo 77758be7-11ea-4459-99d7-f5aca55674f3_zps4d8d2594.jpg

Miah's friend joined us.
 photo 0d7623b4-232d-4a58-9c27-dd7affca4e6c_zps6a2f027c.jpg

 photo 6612e5b6-0d68-4174-b7f4-3a2d7e27a7e5_zpsf8de616f.jpg

Elowen really understood what was going on during present time this year and was fun to watch.
 photo c5b1526e-dd99-441a-a131-28f17a27a72a_zps87189d53.jpg

 photo 8fb71e44-6e4d-4ec1-9797-9ef9eace26aa_zps29c78f8a.jpg

Since my mom and I have our birthdays this month too, there were lots of presents to open.  I got a stack of field guides - the new Sibley Birds, Sibley tree, and flower guides specific to the Smoky Mountains.  Rohan carded a rainbowy wool batt for me, and my mom brought lots of goodies.
 photo 1f5223f3-1ae3-4759-aad9-bf755e95a491_zps8a429731.jpg

 photo b047fbb7-1b98-4945-84a3-511c4f1f6cb4_zps54715a5a.jpg

 photo 77127a58-be21-4224-a744-c6ea04099b86_zps93c64cb9.jpg

A couple neighbor boys popped in and helped celebrate, which I'm sure Elowen enjoyed; she really likes the little boy in red - kinda funny.
 photo 67def6ae-001e-4264-a1f1-e4a7aa22869f_zpsdfe5c890.jpg 
My sweet little one, love of my heart!  What a joy she is!

March 24th Hike

 photo cc1b6213-82f0-4bda-a857-832f33c2aec9_zps3d4da821.jpg
My friend, Tiffany, took us hiking to White Oak Sinks last week.  We had never been, and it was quite a treat.
We saw some of the first wildflowers of the spring. Sharp-lobed Hepatica
 photo f7ddf3f0-eba7-4fc8-b89d-d8f839d904ab_zps0d408b61.jpg

Spring Beauty
 photo fd2fbe20-c380-4686-997a-f4b892cbe998_zpsbbc9099d.jpg

 photo 14a64900-0565-4108-a94a-85ac7b93892b_zpsea1e0af3.jpg

 photo 6c5af740-4b74-49a6-b94b-913cfbf0716b_zpsa566d4fe.jpg

The rattlesnake plantain wasn't blooming yet, but the leaves are always pretty.
 photo b1fc21d8-155d-4575-8fc0-e3ef8484a877_zpsb394d412.jpg

We saw a few other little critters.
 photo 1cb9fc41-8dbe-40b4-ad66-15708c0c88f9_zps66a64f59.jpg

Zig-zag salamander
 photo d0f145ea-7566-4e69-8d52-7c637fdaf7b9_zpsfec6c6e8.jpg

Bat cave
 photo 8990743a-872a-4a01-b773-739525b2db61_zps86d31734.jpg

Elowen peeling an egg into a baggie for a snack.
 photo 08e42dc4-fcf4-49e1-9786-106c75d39139_zpsdcd6b918.jpg

Thanks, Tiffany!
 photo d440dc3e-20e6-49a6-9947-2329327d2eaa_zps88c8bbba.jpg

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Today I took Miah to record data on salamander egg masses in Cades Cove.  We went with a more experienced volunteer.  My favorite part was watching Miah being her mature, confident self, so different than I was at her age.
 photo 81ad911f-651e-42cd-9525-587261ca91b8_zpsdadf13f5.jpg
There were 201 egg masses in the first pond, all at various stages of development.  We also saw a pileated woodpecker, wood ducks, red-shouldered hawk, a wren, and a bird we weren't able to identify.  A white-tailed deer ambled right past us. 
When we were done at the ponds and had eaten our sack lunch, we learned how to record data on a phenology plot.  There was nothing going on yet plantwise, but we saw promises of soon-to-be-emerging buds and blooms.  One aspect of the phenology plot is listening for birds.  I don't know bird songs, but our guide pointed out the calls of robins, juncos, and a blue-headed vireo.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah was home with the other kids.  Yesterday he built a fence around the garden to keep the chickens out, and today he tilled it for me.  In the snow.
 photo ed0fdb2c-1e21-499b-b607-948c1e90c2b2_zps166c96fd.jpg
Soon . . .

Thursday, March 20, 2014


 photo 4b8223d5-7cad-4a83-a89d-337920742be2_zpsde127742.jpg
It's the first day of spring!  And sunny!  Is anybody else HAPPY?!!
(photo by Rohan)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Day in the Mountains

Miah and Larkin were able to go to Tremont's homeschool day earlier this week.  They spent the day playing and learning outside with their friends and two of my favorite people, Dawn and Tiffany, their teachers.  They were there seven hours, so I took Zahana, Rohan, and Elowen hiking.
I think we can call this Elowen's first real hike.  She's always been in a backpack or stroller before.  One day a couple weeks ago, she suddenly decided she wanted to walk like everyone else when we're out and about.  So she walked.  We went nice and slow.  She collected rocks, waved a stick around, picked up leaves, and was delighted to swing these gumballs back and forth.  She was so precious to watch.  It was raining the whole time (but warm), and she didn't care a bit.  We didn't get very far but it was a memorable walk.
 photo 12806ee8-23f4-4237-b0d1-ec6f5080cf84_zps46a78ec6.jpg

  photo 83a626ba-873b-46d1-a2be-550c813198cd_zpsa0e57638.jpg

Rohan found a snail.
 photo 9ca69c5e-d1f6-412e-942d-60993b35b31a_zps5860ed74.jpg

Enjoying the green!
 photo b61152de-35f7-4b13-b88d-40a249a05980_zpsaee26431.jpg

Rohan kept insisting that I take him to see the frog eggs.  He had lots of questions when we got to the little pond.
 photo e3f03be4-ad84-4455-8dec-e50690178828_zpsefbf6f15.jpg

He also made sure I took pictures of his special finds so he could put them on Project Noah.
  photo d1d8135e-3096-4fd7-9e24-3355d060fe96_zpsc7a0eda3.jpg

  photo a201b0e1-d8cc-46c3-b2eb-8212573dcf39_zpsf40d48c9.jpg

  photo 7fefafbd-f6a3-4398-b275-6578609bddde_zps52a2252a.jpg

 photo 74627c4e-d7b7-4fb8-becd-55a4756dde18_zpsd6711e7a.jpg

I liked these mossy buttress roots and wish now that I had also looked up so I could ID the tree.
 photo 957a066a-f7f4-40c3-98ae-5ed822ed8f86_zps72cd8650.jpg

We weren't far from Cades Cove so we drove up there for lunch.
  photo b373ab9c-dbd6-4e78-a27e-baec4423d34d_zpsce2a4edb.jpg

After lunch, Elowen needed a nap, so we went for a drive up to Newfound Gap.  We arrived to find that the weather had changed drastically.  Cold, rainy, windy, so we didn't stay.  But the kids thought it was fun that we were up in a cloud.
 photo 0246b572-cbc3-4b6e-93ac-39dac74d3e8f_zpse18e72e2.jpg

The Sinks, just a little turnoff on the road, but we hadn't seen it before.
 photo 2777a997-d3ac-4b9b-82e1-a8bbf8f01f06_zpse65f5e58.jpg

 photo 0eed7529-68ca-44be-9d3e-e9795790348a_zps827ff425.jpg

 photo 179bfa53-b3a3-4911-bf19-18f4d18f5c83_zps3bf9b4c2.jpg
It turned out to be a long, cold, and rainy day, but we were happy to get lots of fresh air.  And Miah and Larkin had a blast.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Date With Nature

Tuesday, Jeremiah and I had a date.  We dropped the kids off early at a good friend's house and drove to Tremont.  We couldn't have asked for better weather.  At the moment, it's snowing, but on Tuesday it was 73 and sunny.  Perfect.  So perfect.
At Tremont, we joined a more seasoned volunteer who showed us how to find and evaluate egg masses in ponds.  We monitored three sink hole ponds on the Findley Cane trail.
These are spotted salamander eggs.  We had to count the masses and identify which stage of development they were in.  For the first two ponds, I donned chest waders while Jeremiah recorded the data I called out to him.
  photo 1ea5bc2e-41f6-44d1-a85a-5067d6a252fc_zps892ea429.jpg

 photo 5574fec0-0803-4023-a307-5eac98584876_zps8889965b.jpg

These are wood frog eggs.  Several frogs will lay their egg masses together to form a large raft.
 photo ee2e37e7-59d6-4c8d-8c4c-bc9c6992be94_zpsfd15bc36.jpg

The jellylike mass at the edge of the pond is a raft of about 75 wood frog egg masses.
 photo c03d4161-574d-437f-b3d0-2e1dde735a0f_zps7f2de625.jpg

Jeremiah got to do the last pond.
 photo 0753f91b-29b6-45e3-8093-52492bcbaf08_zps93fbaa45.jpg

He found a dead wood frog on the bottom of the pond.  The large thumbs indicate that it's a male.  When mating, a male will put his arms around the female and link his big thumbs together.
 photo 15066029-2a87-4839-99d7-c694a211fb0b_zps6e4a90d4.jpg

The white spots are a waxy substance secreted by the hemlock woolly adelgid.  This invasive insect has killed a lot of hemlocks in the park.  To counteract this infestation, rangers have drenched many hemlocks with a systemic insecticide, injected others that were near water (to prevent the chemicals from getting in the water), and released a predatory insect to control the adelgid population.
 photo 8d54e103-adad-4c31-834c-31dd54b6a05f_zps2bbfe726.jpg

After a morning of frogging fun, we drove over near Cosby to hike the Albright Grove Loop Trail.  We only had two hours to hike, so we had to move fast.  (That's 2.9 miles one way.)
 photo 4aae4e02-4897-4dd4-9f0d-6ab16d22ee5d_zps6d9aa9d7.jpg

 photo ce5247b9-3678-4d6a-85a6-3d2c672ef829_zps08dd6c63.jpg

The trail was lined with rhododendron, not yet in bloom.  This one was being eaten by shiny little beetles.
 photo 50366662-a342-40fb-bb5d-eb0d0f3e171c_zps292bd940.jpg

  photo 54671fd5-8739-4fdb-8151-c784dfa75b57_zps720e795d.jpg

Eastern Garter Snake
 photo 72d7ee7f-5fe7-4f21-9f74-6b70b66c3a1a_zpsa7b5f58c.jpg

There were butterflies!!  I was so happy to see them!  This one is an Eastern Comma, I think.  I don't know butterflies that well yet.
 photo 7b50ccca-3e51-4aaa-ad7f-caaf7982e7ff_zps2115ee9b.jpg

The goal of this particular hike was to see the old growth forest in the loop section of the trail.  We made it to the loop but didn't go all the way around, since we were running out of time, but we did get to see some big, old trees.
A rather striking birch
 photo a9e43fb5-9449-4dfe-8c7d-af3059240afc_zps8a083c88.jpg

The ground in old growth forests is very hummocky.
 photo b784d212-229e-4ee7-be41-799056140a99_zps5cf52c92.jpg

I love all the moss and ferns that grow on everything.
 photo becc18f5-6cb9-4731-8826-0591f921a52f_zps3ba42d00.jpg

A couple of big tulip poplars. It was so nice to be able to spend the day together!
 photo 8d07fc7d-d533-49f2-91a1-7639f8072be6_zps8c679db5.jpg