Raising Monarchs

raisingmonarchbutterflies

There is a sticky milkweed patch that grows by the side of our house. All summer long it grows and grows and hosts a variety of pests. Wasps, spiders, flies, aphids, beetles- the so-called ickiest of invertebrates and arthropods. There is only one reason I will not let my husband “deal” with the plants -the monarch butterfly.

Year after year, the monarch butterflies return to our patch to deposit their tiny, cone-shaped eggs on the underside of the leaves. For years, I have assumed the eggs successfully hatch into feasting caterpillars. Healthy caterpillars who eat and eat, grow and grow before enclosing themselves into a beautiful chrysalis, and then finally emerging into butterflies. I hadn’t given much thought to the whole process other than we were doing a good job keeping the milkweed there and the beautiful monarch kept  returning and visiting.

At the end of August, I stumbled across some information about the monarch butterfly population declining and the fact that only 10% of monarchs make it from egg to adult in the wild. I read about people collecting the eggs, raising the caterpillars. and then releasing the butterflies in hopes of helping the monarch population to return and increase.

In previous years, I have raised painted lady butterflies in classrooms and in homeschool lessons. I knew a good amount about process of metamorphosis but only witnessed it with painted lady butterflies. And with painted lady butterflies, the caterpillars are purchased online and then come in little containers with an all you they eat buffet! Raising monarchs from eggs found outside was a different thing.

But, I was curious. Could we too raise monarchs successfully from egg to adult? Could we play a part in helping the monarch population increase? Since introduced with new knowledge, every time I walked by our milkweed patch after that, I looked at the milkweed plants in a different way.  I noticed more and more caterpillar bite marks on the leaves and then a local naturalist pointed out some monarch eggs. He advised us to check the plants at night to see if we could find any caterpillars. The first night we went out caterpillar hunting we were successful. Not only did we find eggs and we also found one tiny caterpillar. We brought it in with the leave it was munching and placed it into our mesh butterfly habitat (the one we used with the painted lady butterflies.) Then we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, our hopes were met with sadness, even with the best researched care, the caterpillar died a few days later.

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It was easier for us to see the butterfly eggs and the caterpillar activity at night.

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First caterpillar found- RIP Little One

We did not want to give up. Over the next couple of days, we went out again, collecting five eggs. In my research, I had learned that caterpillars eat A LOT of milkweed. The experts advised to be intentional not to take any more eggs than caterpillars you could feed. Looking at our milkweed patch, there was only so much fresh and new leaves available.

One of the coolest things about the butterfly egg is how you can tell when the caterpillar will hatch. When you see a black dot at the tip of the clear egg, you know the caterpillar will hatch within 24 hours. Like clockwork, this happened with every caterpillar and out of those tiny eggs came the tiniest little creature who right away began eating. First it ate its egg case and then moved on to the tender underside of the leaves. Then it never stopped eating.

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When the tip of the tiny egg turns black, you know the caterpillar will hatch within twenty-four hours.

Our caterpillars grew quickly. And they only stopped eating to molt. It was hard to figure out if and when they were molting into a new instar (they molt five times- called instars.) The information and picture cards from the Nebraska Game & Parks were extremely helpful during this process, as well as these other resources :

Monarch Raising Guide

and this awesome field guide the Commission for Environmental Cooperation

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We were constantly referring to these Butterfly Life Cycle cards from Nebraska Game & Parks: https://outdoornebraska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Lesson-Plan-Monarch-Life-Cycle-Sort.pdf

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Having available milkweed was NO JOKE! And the caterpillars ate a tremendous amount as they grew. We quickly went through all the young plants in our patch and then I needed to scout out (and take) milkweed from the side of the road and in abandoned parking lots. To keep the milkweed fresh, I took the the plant by the root (or the part I needed if the plant was too large) and then placed the stem through a styrofoam cup (for stability) over the top of a cut water bottle (water for plant.)  Another thing to note, the tremendous amount of eating produced a tremendous amount of caterpillar waste- or frass. The butterfly habitat needed to be changed daily.  Raising monarchs is a time commitment.

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Hungry, hungry caterpillars!!

Two weeks from hatching, the now two-inch long caterpillar was ready to pupate. The clear sign of this change is when a caterpillar spins a silk “button” on the top of the habitat and hangs in a J-shape. I have to admit feeling a bit sad at this stage- all the care, all the milkweed hunting trips, all the cleaning, I knew I would not see the caterpillar in this form again. The feelings lasted only a few moments as nothing stays the same, everything changes, and when the thought of the beautiful butterfly that would emerge and we could set free, things were quickly better.

As the caterpillar pupates, it turns greenish, and basically splits, spilling its guts, and hardening into a chrysalis. There is a time lapse video at the end of the post where you can see this process from start to finish.

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J-shape! Getting ready to turn into a chrysalis.

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The chrysalis is a minty green color, with what looks like pure gold spots. Absolutely beautiful!

The caterpillar stays in its chrysalis for 10-14 days before miraculously emerging into beautiful butterfly.  At then end of the four week process, all five of our eggs made it to adult butterflies!!

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A few of our butterflies lingered on our fingers, hands, and jackets, testing our their wings before they flew away giving us the most amazing up close view of their gorgeous wings before taking flight!

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Out of the five caterpillars, four were females and one was a male.  Here’e a quick identification to tell the difference.

This entire experience was amazing and I am so glad to have shared it with my kids. We nature journaled each stage, sketching and creating watercolors. I had the older girls write about their experience and my Kindergartner created a book. We entered their completed work into the fair and they won Honorable Mentions. It was definitely a big time commitment but I think well worth it. And I believe we will consider doing it again next year. 🙂

 

BUTTERFLY BOOKSHELF:

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BUTTERFLY BENEDICTION:

May the morning sun caress you,
The rains of change refresh you,
And the gentle breeze of His Spirit
Lift the wings of your transformation.

By: Richard D. Breen

 

 

 




Nature Print Eggs with Natural Dyes

natureprinteggs

This week we are learning about Romania and I wanted to find a craft to tie into our studies. I searched online for Romanian crafts ideas and pictures of leaf print eggs caught my attention. The eggs are dyed in natural dyes (which also tied in nicely with our medieval studies) and finding the little flowers, ferns, and tiny leaves to imprint on our eggs added to this week’s nature studies. Multi-subject lessons are the best! I’m not sure how Romanian these eggs are but they were fun to make and they are absolutely beautiful.

Just a few words to keep things real, this project was time consuming. From boiling the eggs, preparing the natural dyes, patience with the egg designs and waiting for the colors to come through, and the mess (oh, the mess!! see end of post) this is not your average-throw-a-color-tablet-in-a-cup-of-vinegar-and-add-an-egg type of thing. BUT if you are adventurous and like a good creative-challenge, this project is for you!!! (And my four year old stayed with us and enjoyed the project the whole time, so if he can do it…..)

Materials:

  • white eggs (hardboiled)
  • tumeric
  • beets
  • coffee
  • red cabbage
  • white vinegar
  • water
  • nylon knee highs
  • small hair elastics
  • small flowers, leaves, clovers
  • papertowels

Directions:

1.) Boil the eggs and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2.) Search outside for small flowers, interesting leaves, ferns, and clovers. Cilantro and celery leaves would also work.

2.) Make the natural dyes. I followed Martha Stewart’s directions for dying eggs naturally.

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3.) Decorate the eggs. We noticed the condensation on the eggs (from being in the refrigerator) helped the leaves and petals stick better. If the eggshells were dry, we added a little moisture to the leaves to help keep things in place. This cut down on frustration levels for those with little hands. 🙂

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4.) Cover decorated egg with nylon. The foot of a knee high works great but since we only had two per package, we had to create our own “foot” with an extra small elastic. Pull nylon tightly around the egg to hold things in place.

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5.) Give the eggs a natural dye bath. The longer the eggs soak, the more vibrant the color. We left the eggs in the dye for a minimum of an hour. See Martha Stewart’s directions for time and color suggestions.

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6.) Cut off the nylon and peel off leaves and flowers. (We patted the egg dry with a paper towel before we cut the nylon. I am not sure if this make a difference in color but it made the eggs less slippery to work with.)

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7.) Observe and enjoy!!!

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And the promised TRUTH…(BUT it was worth it!!!)

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NEVER and NEW

 

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We start our fifth year of homeschooling on Labor Day. It’s hard to believe I’ve been homeschooling for this many years (half the number of years of my public school teaching experience.) It’s amazing to see how quickly my children are changing, growing in beautiful ways, and learning to embrace the unique person God made them to be.

It feels like yesterday when each hour, each season of babyhood and toddlerhood seemed to have no end. I walked around in a constant state of exhaustion. I was barely able to think beyond the diapers and bottles. Some dreams were put on hold, some dreams exchanged with dreams of a good night’s sleep. Survival mode seemed to be the most common mode of my life but this was also a time of great thriving. There was joy, growth, excitement, and a lot of love in between the surviving and thriving. Love so powerful it was the fuel that kept me going. As time kept going, things got “easier.” I still hoped for more sleep but my foggy mind started to clear just enough to think in complete sentences again (not in paragraphs, just sentences…) In this time, new opportunities presented themselves to be explored, embraced and be experienced. New dreams were born.

Right around the time my daughter turned three, I started to think more seriously about what education would be like for my children and what my future place in education would be. I remember walking through our church with two homeschool moms and declaring something to the point of “I will never homeschool my kids.” One of the ladies laughed and looked to the other and said, “She will. Just wait and see.” At the time, I was irritated that someone would dare think they knew me better than I knew myself but I also knew there was truth (and love) in her statement. The next few years proved her right! After much prayer, MANY discussions, and more prayer, we decided to homeschool and I found not only what education would mean for my children but also what it would mean for me. A new teaching position in a new setting. My kids, my home. A position I feel I was being prepared for long before the thought of homeschooling ever crossed my mind.

Fast forward five years, homeschooling is without a doubt one of the best decisions we’ve made for our family.  It is also one of the more challenging things I’ve taken on. It is a full-time commitment, often requiring much sacrifice and patience. LOTS of patience. Patience and grace with my children and patience and grace with myself as we all are challenged to learn, grow, and try new things. Education is a whole person, whole family, all-areas-of-life experience in our home.

At the beginning of each school year, I pray about a verse to focus on, memorize, and pray God will use in mighty ways in our lives. This year, our homeschooling theme verse is:

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

ISAIAH 43:19 (ESV)

It’s a new season, a new school year, new ideas are flooding my head, new dreams are being placed on my heart. In school, we have a newly organized school room, a new “schedule,” new books, new crayons (LOVE the those new crayons,) new skills to master, new challenges to accept, new ways to learn. I feel like this is a start of all things new and I’m praying we would be able to perceive the new things God is doing in our lives in very new, tangible ways. Here’s to a great new year and all it holds!!

 

(PS. And just so I do not mislead people, I still wish I got more sleep and there are still days of survival mode living. BUT when those days come around, we are learning to close the books and eat some ice cream. Ice cream is the magical cure for many things. 🙂 )


Advent-“Unwrapping the Greatest Gift” Day 16-17-18-19-20-21-22-23-24-25 Craft Ideas

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The most wonderful time of the year is here. A time of anticipation, expectant waiting, and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. One of my family’s favorite ways to be reminded of the treasures and gifts of this season is reading along with Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping The Greatest Gift. 

Last year, my girls and I crafted an ornament each day to correspond with the daily advent readings from the book. This post is the last in a series of ornament/craft ideas which I have created and collected. You can find the complete collection for Day 1-2Day 3-4-5-6Days 7-10, and Days 11-15 by clicking on the blue links.

There many ideas on the internet for Bible story crafts. Below are some of my original ideas, borrowed ideas, and ideas inspired by talented artists and bloggers. Credit for any borrowed idea is noted below the picture. If you decide to make and share one of my craft ideas, I would to love to see it. Tag me on Instagram or send me a link to your blog post.

day16advent

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Materials: card stock, markers, scissors, glue (hot glue), clothespin

I loved this craft idea from His Wondrous Work and thought “Why not turn it into an ornament?” I printed the templates on two pieces of colored card stock (one piece skin- tone and the other gray) and then carefully cut them out. The whale needs to be sticking out beyond the clothespin so Jonah can pop out without getting stuck. Make sure you line up the whale and Jonah on the clothespin before gluing the pieces down. I had to move the whale further up the clothespin in order to make the pieces fit properly.

http://www.hiswondrousworks.com/JONAH%20and%20the%20GREAT%20FISH%20Craft.pdf

day17advent

Materials: can, black card stock, twine for wrapping around the can, sand, paper-piercing tool , glue

Wash and dry a small can (I used an Old El Paso Chilies can.) Wrap and glue twine around the outside. Create a cityscape with black card stock. It took me several trials to get the right size city to fit into the can. Once I had the correct size, I used a paper-piercing tool to created the windows and doors. Using sand and glue,  I made desert at the bottom of the can. Then, I folded the bottom of the city so it would stand upright and glued the city to the sand.

For added effect, hang the ornament near a small tree light to add background light.

cityscape-ornament

day18advent

Materials: pipe cleaners, gems, hot glue

To make the crown, I followed the directions listed at the link below. After the crown had its basic shape, we “blinged-out” our crowns with faux pearls and gems.

http://littleinspiration.com/2014/01/diy-photo-prop-crown.html

day19advent

Materials:  toilet paper roll, silver paint, sharpie marker, gray card stock, Stampin’ Up Dimensionals.

Paint the toilet paper roll silver. While waiting for the paint to dry, cut out the top of watchtower from gray card stock paper. Once dry, draw bricks and a door on the tower with a Sharpie or black paint pen. Put Dimensionals around the top and wrap the tower paper over the Dimensionals and around to a close. This will give the paper a small lift and make the shapes have more depth. Hole punch and string to hang.

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Materials: Chalkboard paper, silver glitter gel pens or paint markers.

At back-to-school time, I had bought a chalkboard banner from Target’s dollar spot. For this ornament, I cut apart the banner and used one of the circles to write on and decorate. Super easy and cute.

Here are other craft ideas for Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story.

http://biblecraftsandactivities.com/crafts-for-zechariah-and-elizabeth/

day21advent

Materials: sandal template printed on colored card stock (see link below); something to lace with (twine, small ribbon); hole punch.

For today’s reading and craft. I decided to focus on “Prepare the Way” rather than “Thunder in the Desert.” This adorable sandal craft template has easy directions to follow which are found at the link website below. The sandal is a bit large (it might fit a toddler) for what you might think of as a traditional sized ornament but in our house the bigger the better. 🙂 It is really cute and great for lacing and shoe tying practice.

http://www.jesus-without-language.net/john-the-baptist-matthew-3-make/

day22advent

Materials:  1 rounded clothespin, 3 regular size popsicle sticks, 2 half-popsicle sticks,  half of a pipe cleaner for halo, 1 white feather for wings, paint, glitter

Paint the top of the rounded clothespin as a head with hair. (I made the angel one-sided so the side not seen does not have to be painted perfect.) Paint the bottom half of the clothespin white. Paint all the popsicle sticks white and sprinkle glitter over them while the paint is wet. Once the paint is dry, hot glue the two longer popsicle sticks on the back of the rounded clothespin. Glue them close together but slightly angled away from each other. Glue the third popsicle stick on top of the other two, directly in the middle. Glue one “wing” (half-sized popsicle stick) on at a time. Then take the feather and hot glue into place over both of the wings. Make a small ring for a halo. Glue in place.

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day23advent

Materials:  card stock (glittery silver, gray for the saw; brown or wood colored for handle); handsaw template (see link below), scissors and glue

I saved the image of the saw pattern found from the website below and made it smaller in a word document. I made it so two templates could fit on my page. Then I traced each part of the saw, glued it together, and punched a hole for the string. The hardest part of this craft was tracing and cutting out the teeth on the saw blade.

http://patternuniverse.com/download/saw-pattern/

day24advent

Materials: white card stock, paper punches (circle and ovals), straw or raffia, brown paint

Cut the card stock into a circle. Paint hand with brown washable paint and stamp off toward the side of the circle. Add “hay” and make baby Jesus with the punched shapes. Add a cute, little face. 🙂

day25advent

Materials:  glittery gold scrapbook paper, fabric scrap

It’s Christmas! In consideration of Christmas day and all that comes with it, today’s craft is a very simple one. Cut a star out of the gold scrapbook paper and a red cross out of the fabric. Glue the cross on the star and hole punch.


Beginnings

beginnings

I wonder how many “firsts” or beginnings there are in life. First breath, first step, first love. Beginning of the month, beginning of a new school year, beginning of hopes and dreams. If every day brings a fresh beginning and every end a start of something new, the number of changes and adjustments we make through our lifetime must equal an infinite number.

The beginning of our homeschool year started on a high note. The first days were excellent. Our schedule flowed smoothly and we were excited to dive into new books and curriculum. But as things often go, the novelty soon wore of and by Thursday reality hit. Summer was over and the idea that a good part of our day would be consumed with schooling started to sink in. We were exhausted from reigniting parts of our brains that seemed content to linger in vacation mode.

Grumpiness and discontent started to weasel their way into our Thursday morning activities. Short answers and ungracious responses added to the rocky start of the day. With determination, I pushed through my planned activities and the lessons. The activities and lessons I was so sure we “needed” to cover. My kids tried to keep up but the whole day felt forced. This was not why we homeschool or how I like to teach or how I wanted my children to learn. We managed to get through the day but I decided to call a time out and push the reset button. Friday was going to be different.

My Friday lesson plans looked like any other day of the week but it was my expectation of what “needed” to be completed that was different. The pace was led by my kids. If one subject was dragging on or frustration levels with a new skills were rising high, we stopped and moved to something else, returning to the subjects and tasks later. We spent more time on science and read alouds, which we all enjoy, and we focused on our attitudes. I was convicted of my role in modeling a good attitude and gracious responses and my children soon followed suite. I am not saying that it was a perfect day. Curriculum still needed to be covered and some difficult skills still needed to be mastered but there were other things needed to be addressed first. The foundation of an ideal learning environment needed to be rebuilt, one that included a whole lot of grace and a lot of love.

With every new beginning, I think it is important to remember these things:

1.) Make space for grace. Give grace to yourself, to your co-workers, family members, strangers, whoever else may be joining you in a new start. Beginnings and starts require change and adjustment. Adjustment takes time. There may be new things to learn and new ways of doing things. Shifts in mindset may be required too. Allow grace and patience in the process.

2.) Take time to breathe. Deep breaths. It sounds simple but few people take more than a few deep breaths a day. Deep breathing helps your muscles to relax and delivers oxygen to all cells in your body. It also helps attention and concentration. For an even better and more impactful result, pray while you are breathing!

3.) Stop and reflect. Contrary to popular belief, we need to pause, stop, and rest. Allow time for reflection and think what can be done differently. Ask yourself, what is my role? How can I use my gifts, talents, and personality to help improve this situation or make this adjustment easier?  Can I be a good role model for others even as I make mistakes and am learning through the process? Focus on the good things. There are always good things to find.

Now in our second week of school, skills are getting more difficult and the amount of curriculum to cover is increasing but there is a sense of peace. I am trying to keep a gentle pace to our day. We are still adjusting, slightly mourning the loss of summer, but we know there are some new exciting things are to come.