Charcoal Making

We recently began a 4H group in our area which has opened up some new opportunities for us.  One new opportunity is primitive studies. Charcoal making initiated the series.  One of the fathers of the group taught the class.  Everyone had a can filled with a various type of wood-MDF, plywood, pine, oak, black maple, cedar, cherry and cotton (not a wood, but we did make charcoal with it).  We placed them in the fire and waited…and waited…and waited.  Initially, we only saw the steam come out of the containers.

Next, the wood went through pyrolysis.

Finally, the wood turned into charcoal.

The class was absolutely fascinating.  We saw how tar is a byproduct of burning (and had a lesson on how tar can coat your lungs from a burning cigaret).  We are looking forward to using the coal to smith some iron next!!

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Trip to Salt Lake City

When the kids turn 10, Nick told them that they could pick out a spot to visit.  Sims chose Puerto Rico.  Sawyer originally chose Italy, but this was not in the budget.  She got a surprise trip to the Florida Keys.  Parks turned 10 in 2016, but he didn’t know where he wanted to go.  Over the past year, he finally decided that he wanted to visit the western United States.  Thus, we headed to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Nick and I visited there 18 years ago and loved it.  We were excited to share the city with the kids.  We headed out on a Tuesday morning and arrived Tuesday evening.  After a long day in the plane, we checked into our air bnb, found a local restaurant for some dinner, and hit the grocery store.

Full Moon Super Moon

We arrived in Salt Lake City as the moon was coming up. It was a full, super, blue moon. It was amazing! (Not a great photo as it was taken in the car as we were going down the road)

While in Salt Lake, we took the kids skiing.  We had a blast watching them hit the slopes.  They have all skied since they were about 3 or 4.  However, they learned in North Carolina-a big difference from Utah!  They all rocked the slopes!  We may have ruined them forever. 🙂

We also found several skate parks in the area for Parks to play at.  He brought his scooter along.

We also headed out to the actual Great Salt Lake and learned some of the history and science of the area.

Overall, a fun and very relaxing trip.  The weather was perfect for hanging out-not great for snow fall, but there was enough snow on the mountains to enjoy the skiing.  These days are going by too fast!  It is times like these that I realize how quickly the time is going.  I love that I get the opportunity to share these memories with my kids.

Friday Hike-Hill Trail

Yep, you read that correctly!  We finally got up and outside to hike.  It was about time.  Friday Hikes got lost somehow this school year.  We decided that not getting in the woods is contributing to us all getting sick more often this year (forest bathing-as it is called-has been found to improve the immune system).  Thus, we sent out a text to a group of our hiking buddies to see who was up for a hike.  We got a few takers and met up with some friends along the way.  Our youngest hiker even showed me a new spot in the park.  I thought that I had hiked all of the park, but I was wrong.  She showed me(and the rest of the hikers) a fun spot tucked in the woods complete with a ravine and a creek.

The Return of the Monarchs

Back in June, we released monarchs that we watched morph from tiny eggs into amazing caterpillars and finally, into magnificent butterflies.  Throughout the summer, we kept an eye out for any monarchs returning to our garden.  We saw many butterflies but no monarchs.  We were all slightly disappointed that all of our work in the butterfly garden to attract monarchs was not working.

And then came September!  Sawyer came running in to tell us of her find-monarchs landing on the milkweed!

 

Now we watch as daily, five or so monarchs flutter around our garden in preparation for their long journey to Mexico!

The Hungry Little Monarch Caterpillar

At the end of April, we visited the butterfly garden that we planted at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve.  We were ecstatic to see monarchs in the garden!  Not only did we see monarchs but we gathered the eggs.  At this time, I had no idea what we were getting into.

So the caterpillar nursery began.  After about a week, twelve of the fourteen caterpillars came into the world.  These hungry little guys ate and ate and ate!  They initially measured a mere 1 mm long!  After two weeks of nibbling away at the milkweed leaves, the caterpillars were about the size of my son’s pinky finger!

I started getting concerned that I would not be able to keep up with their appetites!  They are veracious eaters.  Initially, I thought that they would only eat the leaves, but the ended up eating every bit of each stalk of milkweed that I placed in with them. One afternoon, I started calling around to find milkweed to feed them, but lucky for me I found them forming Js at the top of the enclosure.

We even got to watch one of them form its chrysalis.  It was absolutely amazing.  Then for another 10 days or so, we had 12 gem-like chrysalis hanging in our kitchen.

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We went away for the weekend and came home to an amazing sight!

We had several dark colored chrysalis and several butterflies!  We observed them for a day and were entranced by their beauty.  We watched several of them emerge from their chrysalis and grasp onto the edge of the chrysalis as they dried their wings.  When all twelve had emerged and dried, we brought them out to the garden and released them.  It was a bittersweet moment.

Hopefully, we will get the opportunity to find more eggs this summer so that we can tag them.  Monarchs migrate to Mexico each year.  The generation that we released will lay more eggs here and their offspring should be the ones to make the journey.  We will let you know if we get to do it again!

Wacky Wednesday-Landsford Canal State Park

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Over the years, I have made a list of the places that I would like to visit near by.  We live in a very unique area.  We are between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.  We have a lot of really amazing opportunities nearby.  Landsford Canal State Park has been on my list for a while.

The park is known for its rocky shoals spider lilies.  I have heard that they are beautiful when they are in bloom.  So back in August, we put a plan in place to visit the lilies in May-little did we know that we would be contributing to our Wacky Wednesday list!

This trip required some preparation.  We had eight people kayaking so we had to rent a U Haul trailer in order to get the kayak down to the drop in point.  The park is on the Catawba River which has a fairly slow current typically.  We put our kayaks in one by one.  The kids immediately went off exploring.  Unfortunately, on our way to catch up with them, my friend hit a rock and capsized her kayak.  We spent an hour trying to get the water out of the kayak with out getting taken by the current.  Once we got back underway and found the kids, they were playing on some rocks and a fallen tree trunk.

The downside was that their kayaks got hit by one of our paddlers.  Paddles, life jackets and kayaks went floating down the river.  Another rescue effort-I retrieved all of the items and got them to the kids.  We were off again.

We found out quickly why the area is called rocky!  The adults got stuck on rocks almost every 30 feet or so.  The kids flew right down the river.  Luckily, most of the river was shallow enough that we could get out, dump out the water and get back in.  It sounds much easier that it was!  The current was far from slow as we had anticipated.

By the time that we made it to lilies, we were exhausted and ready to get off of the water.

Of course we always learn things from our trip and here is our list from this trip!

  1. Not only check the weather but also the water depth/current.
  2. Take a pump (using a McDonald’s cup takes a really long time to get water out of a kayak)
  3. Have your plan in place before people get in the water (uhm, where did the kids go? Oh-they are WAY OVER THERE!).
  4. Rope is always useful when paddling-why didn’t we bring any?
  5. There is a reason that there are different types of kayaks.  Lake kayaks are not meant for any type of white water, or rocks, or current.
  6. Laughter works much better than freaking out when stuck in a bad situation (we spent a lot of time laughing because it is all we could do in our minds.  We helped a lady who also hit a rock and began freaking out.  She could not calm down.  We all realized from her example how important it is to remain calm in order to problem solve.)

I am positive that we learned a lot more from the trip, but this is all that I can come up with right now.  We decided that next week, we will stick with something closer to home!

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We made it back all in one piece!

Monarch Butterflies-Follow-Up

The monarchs are here!

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In November 2015, we worked on a monarch butterfly garden at our local nature center.  The kids worked extremely hard on the garden-ripping out poke weed, prepping the soil, planting a ton of plants in the milkweed family, watering the garden and trying to figure out how to keep people off of the area.  You can read about the garden building in this post.

Last spring, the garden did not come up!  We were shocked.  All of the hard work and nothing came up.  Obviously, we did not have any monarchs visiting the garden.  Imagine our surprise when after our hike this week, we checked on our garden.  It is flourishing!  The plants came up so well that we may transplant some of them to another area in the nature center.  Now plants are exciting, but monarchs are even better!  We observed a monarch laying eggs on the leaves.  Next we will collect the eggs and help them hatch in a safe place.  Unfortunately, monarch eggs rarely make it due to other parasites and insects.  We are hoping to tag some of them too so that we can watch their migration!