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. 
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I pulled down the paper snowflakes (yay!) and now the dining room and living room are decked out in rainbows.  It's so happy!
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Somebody brought in some daffodils!
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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!
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Birthday girl! xoxoxoxo
Everybody showed her how to blow the candles, so she did it, then said, "Uh Oh!" when they went out.
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Mmmmmm!
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Miah's friend joined us.
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Elowen really understood what was going on during present time this year and was fun to watch.
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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.
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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.
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My sweet little one, love of my heart!  What a joy she is!

March 24th Hike

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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
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Spring Beauty
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Violets
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The rattlesnake plantain wasn't blooming yet, but the leaves are always pretty.
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We saw a few other little critters.
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Zig-zag salamander
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Bat cave
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Elowen peeling an egg into a baggie for a snack.
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Thanks, Tiffany!
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Today

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.
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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.
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Soon . . .

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy

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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.
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Rohan found a snail.
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Enjoying the green!
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Rohan kept insisting that I take him to see the frog eggs.  He had lots of questions when we got to the little pond.
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He also made sure I took pictures of his special finds so he could put them on Project Noah.
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I liked these mossy buttress roots and wish now that I had also looked up so I could ID the tree.
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We weren't far from Cades Cove so we drove up there for lunch.
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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.
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The Sinks, just a little turnoff on the road, but we hadn't seen it before.
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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.
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These are wood frog eggs.  Several frogs will lay their egg masses together to form a large raft.
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The jellylike mass at the edge of the pond is a raft of about 75 wood frog egg masses.
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Jeremiah got to do the last pond.
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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.
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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.
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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.)
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The trail was lined with rhododendron, not yet in bloom.  This one was being eaten by shiny little beetles.
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Galax
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Eastern Garter Snake
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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.
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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
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The ground in old growth forests is very hummocky.
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I love all the moss and ferns that grow on everything.
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A couple of big tulip poplars. It was so nice to be able to spend the day together!
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