Tag Archives: books

More Virginia Critters (I Need a Better Field Guide!)

Last year I posted about the interesting creatures we encounter around our home in central Virginia. This spring is proving to be just as much of an adventure. In fact, we have several mason jars circulating as temporary homes for some of the ones we find. So far this year we’ve caught several different moths, including the caterpillar of the Tussock Moth that we identified using our National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders.

We also recently caught a neat looking frog that was snoozing inside an open bag of potting soil. (I wondered why the soil moved after I scooped a shovel full into a planter, then took another look and found him.) We only kept the frog for a half hour or so, but found one just like him (maybe the same one) the next day hanging out on our back deck. We caught him again and D had fun watching him for a while. He also liked putting the frog, in the container, in the little compartment on the back of his tricycle so he could take it for a ride. 🙂 I think this frog was the same kind we found hanging out by our grill last summer. According to my National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, it may be a Cope’s Gray Tree Frog.

This weekend we discovered several new critters, starting on Saturday when the kids wanted to ride their jeep in the driveway and were waiting patiently for Daddy to clear a dead tree he had cut down out of the way.They helped him clear some of the wood and were checking out the ants and other bugs that were in the dead tree trunk.

Finally, Daddy got all of the big pieces out out of the way and the kids could rough-road it over the rest of the debris.

Along the side of the driveway we found a skink that seemed like he was a bit dazed. Perhaps he was hanging out in or around the dead tree when Daddy cut it down? The skink stayed in the same spot for quite a while, allowing me to get a few pictures. I looked it up in my field guide and I think it’s a Five-Lined Skink. These guys usually move really fast, so I think this one was definitely out of it.

Later on the kids were playing and just as I was taking a photo of my son, he looked up at the side of our house and calmly said “Mommy, there’s a Black Widow spider over here.”

“Mommy, there’s a Black Widow spider over here.”

Sure enough there was.

I took a look around and found another one nearby.

I’ve told him before to watch out for the black spiders with the red dots, and to let us know if he sees one. Obviously, he was listening. 🙂 These critters were definitely too close for comfort, so I got rid of them.

The last interesting critter of Saturday was a colorful millipede that we found walking across the driveway. Not sure where he came from or where he was headed, but he was neat. We didn’t touch it, but we did observe it for a little while. Based on an online search, this millipede appears to be an Apheloria virginiensis. Good thing we didn’t touch it; according to some sources, it can secrete a cyanide compound as a defense. (Yikes!)

On Sunday, it was the same story… more animal encounters! Most of them were spotted by my son, and again, he was quick to point them out to me. First, it was a black snake hanging out in our driveway. (May 8 update: Based on my online searches, I think this was a young black rat snake. Still not 100% sure, though.)

Then, there was another skink hanging out in a flower bed. I looked this one up too, and apparently it’s also a Five-Lined Skink. The other one is a juvenile and this one is an adult.

Lastly, as if the two Black Widows perched on the side of our house wasn’t alarming enough, D spotted this monster on the house in the same area the following day. Its legs spanned about four inches, front to back. I wasn’t able to positively identify this spider using my field guide, but I think he was probably a wolf spider. He made me nervous, being on the house and so close to where the kids play, so I got rid of him too.

I have much respect for, and enjoy, the National Audubon Society Field Guides, but I think I need to get something more specific to Virginia, or at least the mid-Atlantic, rather than all of North America. The NAS field guides just don’t seem to be comprehensive enough. The frog, Black Widow and skinks were in the field guides, but the millipede, snake, and brown spider were not; at least, I didn’t find them. However, I suspect the snake we saw may have been a subspecies of one shown in the book. Nevertheless, I will be shopping for some additional references. If you have a recommendation for a good field guide, or another resource for identifying animals (or even plants), I’d love to hear it!


Book: Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook

Last year I really wanted to start a garden, but I was very inexperienced and even a little intimidated. Despite my beginner status, I dove right in and got through the season with a lot of trial-and-error and a lot of inefficiency. I wanted to do better this year, yet there seemed to be so many things to learn and I didn’t know where to start.

This past winter I was browsing the book section at a local Plow & Hearth and found the Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by father and daughter team, Ron and Jennifer Kujawski. It’s exactly the type of gardening book I had been looking for: one that would break a year’s worth of gardening down into small, manageable tasks, telling me what to do and when to do it.

I’m pretty much a beginner gardener and I think this book is great for beginners. The Kujawskis break down the Handbook into weeks before or after the last frost date. So, all you do is find your last frost date and then fill in the dates at the top of the first page in each section of the book. For example, one section says “9 weeks before average date of last frost”. Since my average date of last frost is around April 16, I grab a calendar and count backward 9 weeks from April 16 and put that date (February 13) at the top of the page in the handbook. In that short section, the Kujawskis tell me which seeds to start around February 13 (eggplant, peppers, and some herbs), how to design a crop rotation plan (with a table showing a typical crop rotation plan), and how to be prepared for a dry season (by making a DIY rain barrel out of a garbage can, as well as few other recommendations for prepping the garden). They even provide a list of drought-tolerant vegetables.

If you want a garden but don’t know where to start, or you have some some experience but you want a little guidance on how to improve your gardening practices, consider the Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook! Aside from being a great gardening guide for what-to-do-when, the Handbook has a lot of excellent bits of garden-related information, tips, and tutorials. It’s been my go-to reference so far this year. The authors even encourage you to scribble notes in the margin, take the book with you to the garden, and get dirty (you and the book)! As they put it, “If after the first growing season, this book has no soil smudges or pencil marks, you probably didn’t have enough fun.”


By the way, if you don’t k now your average date of last frost, there are several online sources for finding it. You could do what I did and try the frost date listing at Victory Seeds, or go straight to the National Climatic Data Center for the most comprehensive (and also most confusing) data. (Keep in mind that your last frost date isn’t an absolute; it’s just an average, so you could still experience a frost after your last frost date.)

Four Years

We recently celebrated the fourth anniversary of the day my baby boy was born. When I think about it, it seems to have gone by pretty swiftly. It’s amazing, really, when you think about how far a little human comes in four years. They start out a completely helpless ball of mush, and a short four years later you have a small jumping, running, story- and joke-telling person on your hands. How amazing is it that they learn all of these physical feats, as well as language and communication in such a short time? These are the types of things that fascinate me. If you find it remarkable too, you’d enjoy a book that I read a year or so ago called The Scientist in the Crib. (It looks like there is probably a newer version than this one available.)

My little man is friendly, caring, silly, and full of energy. Among his favorite things are: the color green, macaroni and cheese, “milk to warm up”, chocolate, trucks (especially the Hess trucks that his Nana is collecting for him), art, trains, the Backyardigans, Lightning McQueen and Mater, reading books, and doing puzzles. His first word was “ball” and he’s always been interested in playing with soccer balls, baseballs, basketballs, etc. I think he’ll be old enough to play in the local soccer leagues this year, so in the spring we’ll see if he wants to do that.

I love my little guy. I get sad when I think about his baby and toddler days being past us, but I really enjoy the conversations we’re starting to have. He’s smart, thoughtful, and has a great memory. (When I asked him what kind of birthday cake he wanted this year he described–in detail–his birthday cake from last year and said he wanted another one just like it!) He’s full of love and he’s affectionate with his little sister. I’m starting to see the “big brother” come out in him and it’s endearing.

I found this little interview on Pinterest and thought we would do it with Dec on his birthday. Here’s what he said. (We’ll see how his answers change next year!)

  1. Q: How old are you? A: “Three.” (After asking him a second time, because this was the wrong answer, his answer was “nothing”.)
  2. Q: What is your favorite color? A: “Green.”
  3. Q: Who is your best friend? A: “Ashton, Gavin and Spencer.”
  4. Q: What is your favorite animal? A: “Lions and tigers”
  5. Q: What do you want to be when you’re all grown up? A: “Nothing.”
  6. Q: What is your favorite movie? A: “Alvin and the Chipmunks”
  7. Q: What is your favorite book? A: He didn’t answer this one clearly, but we think it’s his Disney bedtime book.
  8. Q: What makes you happy? A: “Daddy.”
  9. Q: What makes you sad? A: “Scary things.”
  10. Q: What is your favorite food to eat? A: “Peanut butter and jelly.”
  11. Q: What is your favorite song to sing? A: “Row, row, row your boat; twinkle twinkle little star, and I’ve been working on the railroad!”
  12. Q: What games do you like to play? A: “Angry Birds, Bug Smasher.”

My newborn baby boy

4 years later!

Sleep, Baby, Sleep!

I’ve been shopping around for a cheap, low-height table that I can convert into a sensory table for the kids. That basically involves cutting a hole in the top of the table big enough to drop a shallow plastic tub into. So, since I’ll essentially be destroying the table, I obviously don’t want to spend a lot on it. I’ve been checking Craigslist with not a lot of luck. I’ve also popped into three different local Goodwill stores to see what they have. While I still haven’t found the right table, I did find another goody that I couldn’t pass by and I’d like to share. Read on.

When my first child was a baby, we had some sleep issues. At one point, when he was around 10 months old, we’d put him to bed, only to have him wake up every two hours after that, standing up and crying until we came in and helped him back to bed. It was torture on all of us. We didn’t rush in to his room at every cry, and we tried to wait to see if he’d fall back to sleep, but I wasn’t totally comfortable with using the Ferber (“cry it out”) method. Our routine, which felt a bit like whack-a-mole (though no one actually got whacked) continued until I discovered Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. This book was a godsend! Shortly after diving into the book to find a solution to our sleep problems, I did what the author recommended (which was to put my son to bed about two hours earlier than we had been), and we all began sleeping through the night. Since then, I’ve continued to reference that book for every stage of development that my children have reached, because their sleep requirements and schedules change as they grow. Furthermore, anytime anyone I know complains that their child isn’t sleeping through the night, I recommend this book. It’s a great reference. It helps you understand children’s natural sleep rhythms, and it helps you troubleshoot to improve the quality and quantity of your child’s sleep. I so love this book that I’ve given it as a gift at two baby showers.

Though I’m happy to lend out most of my pregnancy and child-rearing books to friends, I can’t bring myself to lend out my copy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child because I never know when I might need it. However, while at Goodwill shopping for a table, I found a copy of this book, practically brand new! I couldn’t NOT buy it, even though I have a copy myself. So, I bought the Goodwill copy–for pennies, basically–and I’d like to pass it on to someone who will hopefully find it as useful as I have. If you are a sleep-deprived parent of a baby or toddler, or if you’re an expecting parent, and you are interested in having a copy of this book, be the first to leave a comment here to let me know and I will mail it to you (free, of course). Like I said, I paid little for it, but I have found the book so useful that I couldn’t leave it sitting on the shelf at Goodwill. I just want to share the love. 🙂