Raising Monarchs

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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

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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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2016: Year in Review

There have been times in my life when I’ve had an overwhelming sense to do everything I can to remember the moment. Sometimes the moments have been big, life altering events like my children’s births or the death of a loved one. Other times the moments are found among mundane everyday tasks. Moments that stand out as special, holy gifts. In good and bad moments, I have commanded myself to stop, take a good look around, listen, and pay attention to the people who are with me. Then I pray. I pray my careful observations will become a memory or a lasting impression on my heart in which I can always feel.

Over Christmas break, we traveled to my brother’s house where we gathered with my family. Our family lives in several different states making times when we are all together very rare and special. It was loud and crazy. There was food, a lot of food. There was dancing, singing, praying, and playing with the kids. And food, more food. There was a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of love.

While we were together, I couldn’t help but think about what it was like for my Grandma, Mom and Dad, to be surrounded by a family they started. A bittersweet mix of the golden memories of the past and forging new ones in the present to be remembered for a future time. Missing loved ones and celebrating life in their children and grandchildren. A job well done, children reared, overcoming hard times and celebrating the good times. All this wrapped up in this thing called life.

One night my brother-in-law called us into the living room to watch a video he put together of clips he had taken of his family throughout the year. He captured the big moments and the small ones and masterly put them together complete with touching music. With my family, I watched a year fly by in about three minutes. I was struck with how much of our daily worries and what we think is big stuff, really isn’t and how the small touches, details, and love in life are really what mean the most. All those little moments collected together to mean something very big. It is not the things or even the places, it’s the people that make life worthwhile and meaningful.

My brother-in-law’s video inspired me to reflect back on my year. I went through hundreds and hundreds of pictures and picked out the most meaningful captures. When I look at these pictures, I see a common theme. My word for 2016 was community. These pictures represent so many of the special communities I am part of. God has richly blessed me through this word and my heart is so full thinking of His kindness and His gift to me in people. I was going to add captions but then changed my mind. For those of you who were with me, I hope these pictures spark a special memory or a special moment for you. Thank you, thank you all for being a part of my life, praying for me, and inspiring me to be the best woman, mother, and leader I can be. I love you dearly!  Happy New Year! ❤

January- Subways and Skiing

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February- School, Snow, Sunsets

 

March- Family

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Road trip to my brother’s house where we met up with my sister, my parents, and Gammy. We do not get to see each other often so these trips are important and special time.

April- Wonder and Discoveries

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May- New Friends and Callings

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June- Overcoming Fears and Heights

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July- Gammy on the Go

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August- ADVENTURE

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September- New Beginnings

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October- Incredible Opportunities with Incredible Women

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November-SHINE…Together

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December- Home is Where the Heart Is

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family

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Here’s to 2017….

2017


Beginnings

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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.

 

 

 

 


Leap Day Activities


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Thirty days have September,

April, June, and November;

Thirty-one the others date,

Except in February, twenty-eight;

But in leap year we assign

February, twenty-nine. -unknown

Happy Leap Day! Every four years, a day is added to our calendar making the year 366 days instead of 365. But why does this need to happen?

In simplest terms, the calendar is supposed to match the solar year- the length of time it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun. The Earth’s orbit takes 365 days and about 6 hours. Those extra 6 hours gradually add up so that after four years the calendar is out of step by about one day. Adding an extra day every four years allows the calendar to match up to the solar year again.1

We started the leap day by talking about the calendar, months, and the seasons. This gave me a great opportunity to read one of my favorite books to the kids, The Year at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen.  This book tells the story of the happenings on a farm over a one year time period. Month by month, the book walks the reader through the changing seasons and how those changes are experienced by the farm animals and the people living at Maple Hill Farm.  The words and the illustrations are beautiful.

You can watch a video of the book being read here: http://www.watchknowlearn.org/Video.aspx?VideoID=35246&CategoryID=9477

The Year at Maple Hill Farm

After the book, I brought my children’s attention back to the date by using a wonderful freebie from Just Reed. You can find the Leap Year FREEBIE in her TPT Store.  It includes a few great calendar/math activities and an easy to understand explanation of a leap year. My children found it fun to think about how old and what grade they will be in when future leap years come bounding by.

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To wrap up our morning, I made up a game called “Hide and Go Leap.” A few years ago, I had purchased die-cut frogs from the dollar store and actually put them in a place where I could find them for future use. (Yeah, me!) I labeled 29 frogs with the numbers 1-29, hid the frogs throughout the house and then asked the kids to find them.

Hide and Go Leap

Once all the frogs were found, the kids had to “leap” them into ascending numerical order. This was a little too easy for my second grader, so I had her practice skip counting by 4’s while the younger two “leaped” the frogs into place.  You do not have to wait every four years to pull out this game. It could be used any time of the year with any number of frogs.

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A good lesson plan always includes reflection and evaluation. Before moving on to our other work, I had my girls tell their Daddy two things they had learned. I was impressed with what they could recall and I was glad that to have had a fun start to our day.


100 Things to Pray For (A 100th Day of School Activity)

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I realize that most of us have already hit the 100th day of school mark and the celebrations have already been held. But I want to share with you a project that can be done any day of the year.

I love the 100th day of school-the fun with math, the activities, the achievement and celebration of learning. My girls love it too. Every year, I try to come up with some new ideas to celebrate the milestone.  This year, I came up with a few but this was the most important one.

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I may have mentioned before how much I love prayer time with my children. It has become one of my favorite parts of our homeschool mornings. About a year ago, I took the time to write the names of our family and friends on cardboard hearts. I threw all the hearts into a small container. Each morning, we would each pull a heart from the bucket. The name on the heart was the person we prayed for throughout the day.

Our prayers have not and are not limited to what heart we pull from the container. We always pray for who/what has been placed our own heart and pray for the big, small, and those things important to each of us.

A few month ago, I started to find the small container needed a bit of refreshment. There were so many more people, things, and requests that had not been written on a heart. An idea was born.

I grabbed some chart paper and numbered it 1-100. The kids and I sat at the kitchen counter and in no particular order, started shouting out 100 people/things to pray for.  (If you see your name and wonder why you are not closer to the number one spot, now you know why. Position does not equal importance. 🙂 )

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After the chart was filled, I took 100 bottle caps and wrote the numbers 1-100 on them. I had come across a treasure trove of odd and ends in our church attic and these caps were perfect for this purpose. You do not not have to use bottle caps though. Numbered paper or cardstock works great too!

100daysofschoolprayerAfter all the bottle caps were numbers and collected into a big bowl, we took turns pulling a cap from the lot. We read the number and referred to the chart to see who (or what) we would be praying.  The first day we did this, I pulled #61- MOPS.  It just so happened that I had a MOPS meeting that afternoon. MOPS got some extra, extra, extra, extra prayers that day!

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We have incorporated this prayer chart and bottle caps into our homeschool morning routine. Over the next few months, I would like to have the kids write “100 Praises and Answered Prayers” or “100 Blessings” or “100 Good Gifts.”  I think that would really help to emphasize thanksgiving and praise in our prayers.

If you have toddlers at home, please include them in praying out loud. I absolutely include my two year old. He loves to be part of this special time. He watches and listens to us as we model prayer for him. And when its his turn to pray, his prayers are sweet music to my heart. I know that the prayers of all of us are pleasing to God. (Revelation 5:8)

Here are a few verses on the importance of praying for others:

“Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV

 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,” 1 Timothy 2:1 ESV

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16  ESV

 “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”  Matthew 5:44 ESV