Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Andy: Monarch caterpillar to butterfly

This is the third year in a row that we've raised a monarch butterfly from a caterpillar, and I still can't get enough of watching it happen.

Between late July and mid-August, we start checking out clumps of milkweed, looking for a monarch caterpillar.

They look like this. Logan named him Andy.

Then, we put him in our bug observation box, and once or twice a day, we empty out the poop (they eat and poop a lot) and put fresh-picked milkweed leaves in there for him to munch on.

After a few days the caterpillar will make a chrysalis. Last year I stayed up super late one night because I happened to catch the transition from caterpillar to chrysalis. It was really weird and wild to watch! For some reason I don't seem to have any photos of it. All I can think of is that we were getting ready to move. I don't have a lot of photos from this time last year.

Anyway, they'll climb up to the top of wherever they are and kind of attach themselves and hang upside down, making a sort of J shape.

After maybe a day, (this is the wild part I got to see last year) their skin splits and they whip about until the skin falls off in a little black blob and they look like a green wormy thing and then they harden into a bright green chrysalis with yellow spots on it.

Here's Andy after he made his chrysalis.

Then, yesterday, his chrysalis started being a little more transparent, so I figured he'd hatch today.

This morning, I found that you could clearly see the colors of his wings through the chrysalis, so I knew he was coming out soon.

We had some errands to run, but I didn't want to miss the emergence, so we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, I decided Andy was just going to have to come along with us, so I packed up the bug box and we headed out to the car. Right before I touched the door handle I heard a small cracking sound and looked to find Andy was being born.

It's an interesting process to watch. When they come out, their wings are very small and kind of crumply and their bodies are big and fat. I haven't looked it up but I assume the fluid in their body gets kind of pumped out into the wings to help them expand.

Then, the butterfly kind of just has to hang around for a while and let his wings dry. I figured it would be good to put him on the beautiful butterfly bush my mother-in-law got me for my birthday.

So, he hung around and his wings plumped and I took a hundred thousand photos. I don't much like the macro option on my camera (times like this I really miss that little ole Pentax Optio M40 that I dropped in the sand) and got far more blurry photos thanks to that and the fact that there is a breeze today that was making the bush wave a little. I still managed to get some pretty shots, though.

Then we bid Andy adieu and left for town. A couple hours later, we came home and he was still on the same spot on the bush. As I stepped out of the car, he opened his wings and took off in flight for the first time, landing high up in the neighbor's spruce tree. I had to use my zoom and my hands were shaking so I couldn't get a great shot of him up there.

Anyway, that's Andy's journey from free caterpillar to captive caterpillar to captive butterfly to free butterfly. Have fun in Mexico, Andy! Stay away from the tequila!

Tomorrow, we get to watch his little sister Sandy emerge!

The CCC in Michigan

As residents, campers, hikers, nature lovers and travelers in and around the wonderful state of Michigan, my family has visited many a site that was touched in some way by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC.

However, although I have seen signs indicating the CCC had been there and had done something, I was never sure what that was.

A little over a month ago, I saw that a man named Bill Jamerson was going to be coming to the local library to do a musical presentation about the CCC. I wanted to attend, but we were out of town at the time, so I missed it. I contacted Jamerson and he sent me a copy of his Dollar-A-Day Boys CD so the boys and I could hear some of his tunes.

The songs were interesting. Each told a story, and I wanted to learn more, so I checked his book, Big Shoulders, out of the library.

Well, I LOVED it. It told of a fictional character, Nick Radzinski, who went from getting into trouble on the streets of Hamtramck during the Great Depression to becoming a hard-working man at a CCC camp in the Upper Peninsula. The story, with the exception of a rather exciting fictional ending tale, was based on the real-life CCC experiences of a friend of Mr. Jamerson.

It was one of those books that made me sad when I finished it, because I wanted it to keep going on. It put a real, likable face on a piece of Michigan history that many have forgotten, or never learned about.

According to Wikipedia, "The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18–25.

A part of the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments.

The CCC was designed to provide employment for young men in relief families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression while at the same time implementing a general natural resource conservation program...

During the time of the CCC, volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas...

Despite its popular support, the CCC was never a permanent agency. It depended on emergency and temporary Congressional legislation for its existence. By 1942, with the war industries booming and the draft in operation, need declined and Congress voted to close the program."

Reading Big Shoulders and listening to the songs (my boys especially love "It's Tough to be a Rookie" and "Fire Fightin' Tree Plantin' Blues.") made me want to learn a little more about the CCC, so last week, when Jordan and I drove up to Grayling to meet up with my parents and pick Logan up after his stay with Grandma and Grandpa, we decided to stop off at the CCC Museum near Higgins Lake.

It turned out to be a fun, educational pit stop. My boys and I learned a little more about the CCC and this particular historic site.

Here is a sample of what a standard CCC barracks looked like

The packing house (couldn't go in this one)

The boys loved checking out the fire tower, even though they couldn't climb all the way up.

They thought the ice house was cool too (no pun intended!)

You can see Jordan looking at the example of the sawdust insulation. Logan thought it was neat that they cut the ice out of the lake and packed it in sawdust, and it stayed frozen all summer!

They also both liked the Cone Barn, where seeds were taken from the pine cones for planting. They had fun checking out the various machinery, like the pine cone tumbler.

And they liked the statue of the CCC boy.

Jordan was afraid to stand up on the pedestal.

Mr. Jamerson also made a PBS documentary film about the CCC called Camp Forgotten. I haven't seen it yet, but sure want to.

You can find out more about the CCC on Wikipedia.

Here is some info about the CCC Museum in northern lower Michigan.

And here is where you can find out more about Mr. Jamerson and purchase his book, CD and DVD.

I want to thank Bill, not only for inspiring me to learn more about the Civilian Conservation Corps, but also for his years of research and his work in sharing this fascinating slice of American and Michigan history with schoolchildren and other eager learners across the state.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Toddler bed time!!!

Way back at the end of March, I was debating whether it was time to move Jordan to a toddler bed.

I decided that since he wasn't climbing out of his crib, it would be a good idea to keep him confined for as long as possible, especially since I have an escape artist on my hands.

Well, last week, Jordan finally decided to start climbing out of his crib... or at least trying to.

The first time was at nap time, and he got stuck on the rail. He was halfway in and halfway out and couldn't seem to figure out how to get back in OR the rest of the way out.

Looks pretty uncomfortable, no?

Then, that night, he did it again. I was awakened by Jordan hysterically screaming "get out! get out! get out!" I ran to his room and found him perched like a little bird on the side rail. He was holding on with his hands and feet and just couldn't figure out what to do next. It was the middle of the night, so no photo!

I did something I swore I wouldn't do... I brought him to our bed where he happily slumbered for the rest of the night.

Isn't he precious? I didn't get any sleep though, because he's not only a bed hog... he somehow sprouts about a hundred extra feet for kicking when he sleeps. Ugh.

So, that night, Hubby put together the little toddler bed. Isn't it sweet?

We put Buppy (the puppy Pillow Pet) and Ees Hose (the musical seahorse) and his froggy quilt and afghan on his bed to make him happy, and then it was bed time.

To prevent escape, I put a baby gate across his doorway. It thwarted him for all of two seconds.

That first night, he escaped a couple times, and then I parked myself outside his door. It took probably 20 minutes for him to decide to get in his bed and stay there, but there he stayed, all night long.

The next couple nights, he went right down at bedtime. No escaping. Slept all night.

Even though I know he can easily scale the baby gate, I'm leaving it there for now, if just to mildly discourage middle-of-the-night house roaming. I've also been very careful to lock the doors and turn on the burglar alarms at night!

The toddler bed seems to be a success thus far but for one thing... naps.

Yes, you guessed it. The arrival of the big-boy bed has also been the arrival of nap-free days. He just won't stay there to nap.

He still needs to nap and goodness knows I still need him to nap, but this just might be the end of that.

I am still going to keep trying. Maybe once Logan's in school next week and there's no distraction? We'll see. At least he's been sleeping solid 12-hour nights!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I hate cancer

Hate is a strong word.

I've been dealing with that issue lately, as my six-year-old has taken to screaming "I hate you so much" at his little brother when they're fighting over something. And now, the little one has taken to yelling "hate you so much" at ANYONE anytime they do something he doesn't like. It was fabulous when he said that to my neighbor the other day, for no reason. I was so embarrassed.

So, I have to figure out a way to teach my kids that they shouldn't say hate to other people, because it's an ugly word.

But I hate cancer.

Hate it.

Cancer haunts me.

Every single day I think about it. I feel like I'm just waiting for my sentence. My dad had it twice when I was younger and my mom is still having treatments against the ovarian cancer she was diagnosed with last year. It was a crappy year for her. (She's doing well now, in case you're wondering. Full recovery expected. And she has normal-looking hair again. AND she can eat food again. AND she can keep up with her grandsons, which is saying a LOT.)

So anyway, with my family history and all the scary statistics out there about 1 in 4 people getting breast cancer or skin cancer or whatever cancer, I feel like I'm in a waiting game. I feel fairly certain I will be one of those people. It doesn't help that both times I've gone for a skin check at the dermatologist, I've had a mole hacked off. It also didn't help that when I was pregnant with Logan, I developed a fast-growing suspicious fibroadenoma that I had to have cut out of my boob. (It ended up being non-cancerous, but tell that to someone who's wide awake on an operating table with a six-month-pregnant belly sticking up, who then has to wait a week to hear the results of the biopsy. Friggin' scary.)

So yeah, age 35, three biopsies under my belt. All good outcomes, but every single time, I wonder, is this the one?

But what can you do?

Well, I SHOULD use more sunblock. I'm bad about that.

But I DO maintain an active lifestyle and while I eat a few too many treats (I'm working on it) I do try to include lots of healthy produce and whole grains in my diet.

Just in the past week or so, two sources of cancer-fighting diet information came across my radar, so I thought I'd share with you, my beloved readers.

The first is this article from Women's Health Magazine which includes some decent tips.

The rundown:
eat less fat, don't remove the yolk from your egg, eat cabbage, eat spinach and other leafy greens, eat blackberries, eat lowfat dairy products, eat salmon and other Omega 3-rich fish, eat whole grains, drink hot green tea, get your vitamin D, use lemon and orange zest and eat lots of colorful fruits and veggies.

The other is a great blog called Fight Cancer With Food. It's written by a girl who lost her mom to cancer, and now she's doing what she can to help others prevent it through healthy eating. The tagline on her blog is "One simple girl, sticking her finger up at cancer."

That's how I feel.

Anyway, she's got some great info on her page. Look at "My anti-cancer plan" at the top of her blog. She's done a lot of research on the topic. It seems pretty sound (though I'm not so sure about soy.)

So, yeah, check out this information and use it to help yourself if you want. I plan to try to make better choices.

I don't want that phone call.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Piloxing review

On Monday, my gym will be starting its annual week-and-a-half-long maintenance shutdown, so I'll be forced to either take my workouts outside or turn to my limited workout video collection.

While I love running, I simply can't do it every day. The wear and tear on my body is too much. But I don't have that many DVDs to do at home that are all that great, either.

However, I recently got the chance to review a DVD that I found to be fun AND a good workout: Piloxing.

So what is Piloxing? Well, it's a mix of Pilates and boxing, but it's more than that. There was ballet-style stuff mixed in there, too, like barre-type plies and other leg work. Let me tell you, I took ballet classes and this stuff is great for elongating and strengthening your leg muscles and feet!

The motto on the Piloxing DVD is Sleek-Sexy-Powerful, and each of those are worked into the DVD.

Some of my workout DVDs feature instructors that are SO ANNOYING. Chalean anyone? I love the TurboJam workouts but that chick makes me bonkers. I've heard the same about Jillian Michaels, but I can tolerate her. Anyway, I thik Viveca Jensen is kind of fun. It seems like it would be a good time to take a live class from her.

So, yeah, the workout is geared toward women. And yeah, the box has pink on it. But don't be fooled... it's not a sissy workout. It's an hour long, and alternates between Pilates and boxing exercises, with some dance thrown in for fun. It changes up often enough to keep you from getting bored---something that's hard to do for an hour-long DVD, I think! I tend to start checking the clock around 20 minutes when I do DVDs at home! Well, Piloxing kept me interested.

Some of the exercises--particularly the Pilates ones--were quite challenging, I thought. Perhaps it's because I've never done a lot of Pilates before. The one Viveca calls "serve the platter" comes to mind. It's a leg move, done balancing on one leg. Let me tell you, that stabilizing leg and foot is screaming by the time you're done with that one!

For me, the workout targeted my legs much more than upper body, HOWEVER, I should add that they did not send me the weighted gloves to try for this review, so that could make a big difference.

So, anyway, I enjoyed the DVD, found it challenging and will definitely keep it in my workout rotation, especially during the gym shutdown and when Hubby travels for work and I'm unable to go to the gym.

To learn more or to order your own Piloxing workout or gear, visit the official website.

Disclosure: I was sent the Piloxing DVD at no charge for the purposes of this review.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad

I love history. Especially local history. My boys love trains. I also love doing things together as a family with my husband and sons. My boys and I love reading, too. So, it was absolutely perfect for us that the Lapeer District Library rewarded my boys (and any other kids who participated) with a free pass to Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad upon completion of the summer reading program.

We do the reading program every year. For many kids, it's a good way to keep them reading during the summer months. My kids would already be reading, but this gives them the chance to earn prizes for it. It's merely a bonus.

This year, the prizes were great. The kids had to read 10 books on their own or have 30 read to them, and they had to check in at the library four times (different weeks) during the program. My kids read their required books in the first week or two, but they didn't stop reading. I even participated in the adult program, and while I didn't win any of the prizes, I still got to read some great books. It was nice to have "quiet reading time" with the boys every day.

After they were done, the kids each got a cool yellow T-shirt, they got to choose a free book, a free ice cream cone at Dairy Queen and a free pass to go to Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad on Aug. 13. Quite the haul for doing something they enjoy!!!

Aug. 13 dawned with some rain, but we waited it out and went after the storms passed, and we ended up with great weather for our visit.

Crossroads Village is a collection of historic buildings salvaged from the area and collected into, well, a village. There is an old school house, a train depot, homes, a blacksmith shop, a barber shop, a gristmill, a cider mill, a barn, a chapel and much more. Each building is full of historical artifacts and there are people playing the roles of, say, the homeowners. You can go into the Buzzell House and the women will tell you about life "way back when." Out back, in the yard, there is an actual garden with vegetables growing as if someone was really living there. There are farm animals in a pasture near the barn. The blacksmith works in his shop, showing visitors how it's done. At the sawmill, from time to time they'll start up the old machinery and saw some logs into boards.

There are working hand pumps the kids can try out.

At the school house, there are swings.

In an old barn, they had a broom shop, and Logan got to try out a handmade broom. He wanted to come home and make one of his own! Hmmm... This could be a good thing!

There is a building with an elaborate setup of model trains. Hubby had to hold Jordan up to see it, and he didn't want to leave that building!

There are gift shops where you can find fun things like old-fashioned toys. The boys each got a wooden flute to play. They were only $1.99, not a bad deal for a working musical toy! The kids love playing tunes on them!

Anyway, It's just a fun place to explore and learn about how things used to be.

Of course, for the boys, the highlight of the adventure is the Huckleberry Railroad train ride.

We've been on the train ride a number of times. Every year, we go for the Halloween event and the kids get to trick-or-treat through the village, play in a big strawbale maze and ride the "ghost train." It is SO much fun!

They also have special events for Christmas though we've never gone for that.

Back to the train...

We have never before had the opportunity to ride in the caboose, but this time we got lucky. It was great!

Cabooses are Jordan's (and my) favorite part of a train. They're just so neat! So, we climbed aboard and had a seat for the 40-minute train ride.

I discovered the conductor also rides in the caboose, and after the trip, Logan and Jordan each got a chance to sit in the conductor's seat. They thought it was pretty cool.

They also got to climb up to the top seats for a peek out the high windows.

The train trip wasn't included in the free pass, but I think it was worth the money for how much the kids enjoyed it. The trip goes through the woods, along Mott Lake, and across a couple regular roads, which the kids found exciting. Little fact: The name Huckleberry Railroad came about because the train went slow enough that people could jump off, fill a hat with the huckleberries that grew wild along the tracks, and jump back on the train to enjoy their snack.

We visit Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad a couple times a year. I love that there is a place like this within about a half hour of our house. It's a special outing for history lovers, train lovers and families. I remember visitng there on field trips as a schoolkid, too.

I'm sure we'll continue to visit Crossroads as the boys grow. Perhaps we'll visit for Christmas this year. I hear the lights are pretty spectacular!