Tag Archives: nature

A Beautiful Day for a Hike

It’s been so warm outside! It’s almost impossible to come up with an excuse to NOT be out there. Last week the four of us went to a nearby park that has a small network of trails. My son LOVES this sort of thing. He loves to lead the way while we follow. My daughter also enjoys being out in the woods, but we’re usually slow to get our act together on the weekends and we didn’t get to the trails until almost lunchtime, which is always followed by a nap for my daughter. So, she was starting to fade and we had to carry her much of the way. (I confess, part of me really looks forward to when we drop that afternoon nap!)

Of course, I had to bring my camera (much to my husband’s dismay, who said “Next time we go hiking, no camera!”) I guess I’m just not smooth enough with it to not let it slow us down. But I know if I hadn’t taken it, I would have been wishing I had. So, it’s always better if I take it along… “just in case”. ๐Ÿ˜‰

It wasn’t long after we set off that my daughter asked to be carried. (Why do I always forget to bring that Ergo?) We took turns carrying her, but she got a special treat when Daddy put her on his shoulders.

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Everybody follow while big brother leads the way!

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The hikers share the trails with horses and their riders, so much of the trails are a bit muddy and heavily trodden, with horse “droppings” for us to dodge along the way. It’s not bad, but you do have to watch where you step. Little sister was happier walking in the drier stretches.

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But she still wanted at least a little help getting around some of the muddy spots.

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My son didn’t mind the mud. He was having a blast!

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“Daddy, take a picture of me and D!”

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Hiking around a bend, we came upon a small stream. The kids love to explore streams and big brother’s favorite thing to do is to jump over them.

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“I told you I could jump over it!”

Little D mostly just looked around and watched with curiosity…

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At one point she was mesmerized by a large pile of horse doody on the trail.

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I’m not sure what she spotted overhead, but it must have been interesting!

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A little wooden bench along the trail makes for a nice break and photo-op. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Little D started to lose steam, so it was back up on Daddy’s shoulders!

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When we got back to the parking lot, my son insisted that we sit at a picnic bench to have a snack break before heading home. So, that’s what we did. Then we went home for the rest of lunch and nap time.

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We’re really loving this warm weather. However, whenever Mother Nature feels like sending some snow our way… at least enough to pack a few snowballs or make a small snowman… we’re ready. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Simple Things: Missing Summer

I haven’t blogged in quite a while. I think I just got tired, but I’ve also been missing it. Just needed a little break, I guess. I tend to work that way. I’m very passionate about something for a while until I burn myself out. Then I move on to something else, and eventually find my way back when the time is right.

It’s been a mild winter so far, which I have mixed feelings about. I don’t mind the mild weather, except for the fact that I find the unseasonably warm conditions (a la global warming) unsettling. Despite the light-jacket-weather, I finally took the kids to get snow boots, in anticipation of a heavy snow that we’re bound to get at some point in the coming weeks.

I don’t think I have the winter blues, but I do miss the sights and sounds of summer. I also just upgraded my Photoshop Elements software and bought some textures and brushes from 2 Lil’ Owls Studio today, so I wanted to play with some photos I took back in July. It’s a bit of a cheat for the “Simple Things Sunday” link-up, but I didn’t think anyone would mind. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Then I did a little more playing with a Florabella action and got this, which I like even more.

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Simple Things Sunday: Trailblazing

Daddy got a new tractor recently and today he went into the woods behind our house (which we don’t often venture into because of the undergrowth and abundance of spiders, ticks, and chiggers) and cleared a walking trail for us! Afterward, three of us took a walk and used clippers to clear some of the smaller branches that were blocking the new path.

Little Buddy was excited to sit on this rocky outcropping and wanted me to take a picture. I took a few of him looking at the camera (saying “cheeese…burg…eeerrrrrrrrr”), but this one is my favorite. Our neighbors have a similar outcropping that they call “Rock Mountain”, so I asked D what he wanted to call this rock. He said “Smile Rock”.

I’m looking forward to adding some fun elements to the trail… maybe some faces on trees, or a log-stump table and chairs. Eventually maybe we’ll put in a rope web between a couple of trees to climb on. So much possibility! I’ll have to revisit my “outdoor play” board on Pinterest to see what else we can do out there. Do you have any ideas? I envision lots of walks and scavenger hunts with the kids back there, now that we can get around a little easier. Thanks, Daddy!

Simple Things Sunday: Magical Mushrooms

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I guess we’ve gotten carried away with the summer. We’ve been busy working on a playhouse for our kids, so that’s been taking up a lot of our free time lately. (More on that later.) The garden has also been a bit of a disappointment this year, so I haven’t had much to share in that arena. I made some rookie gardening mistakes that have made keeping up with its maintenance, with two small kids around, pretty hard to do. (More on that later too.)

We’ve gotten a lot of rain over the past couple of weeks. Seems like every afternoon we get a thunderstorm. When the rain is plentiful around here, so are the mushrooms. I actually bought a field guide to mushrooms, but haven’t used it nearly as much as my reptiles/amphibians or spiders/insects field guides. But I do enjoy the sight of the colorful little mushrooms that seem to pop up out of nowhere.

I spotted these three orange mushrooms growing at the base of a tree near our driveway today.

I wanted to get some photos of them, and my son came along. But for some reason he decided to throw rocks at them while I photographed them, eventually breaking one of them. I was pretty disappointed, as I had asked him several times to stop, but he didn’t. So, I let him know I was disappointed, which must have made him feel bad because he insisted on leading me to another group of mushrooms he had found earlier today. He said they were “so tiny and cute” and he was sure I’d like to photograph them just as much.ย  At first I just wanted to put the camera away, but he was persistent, so I followed him and he led me to this amazing little patch of beautiful mushrooms.

How magical are these little mushrooms? I loved photographing them and I couldn’t help imagine myself as a tiny person, creature, or even a smurf, hanging out underneath them. (Seriously, where’s Smurfette?) So, I took about 20 pictures of them, then kissed and hugged my son and thanked him for showing me the special patch of mushrooms he found today… they were much more fun to photograph than the three I started with!

Simple Things Sunday: Sunflower

We’ve had some crazy weather lately… extreme heat and a “derecho”, which I’ve never heard of before. The weather was so strong Friday night that I considered waking the kids and heading to the basement. Though the lights flickered several times, and we lost power for a moment or two, we didn’t lose power long-term. It turns out that many people in our community are without power, so I guess we were lucky.

We did have two casualties in the garden. The two biggest sunflowers that I had growing in the garden were laying flat on the ground Saturday morning. One was open; the other had a head on it but hadn’t bloomed yet. I decided to use the downed open sunflower and get some macro shots. They’re hard to photograph from 6 feet over your head, so might as well seize the opportunity and not let it be a total waste. ๐Ÿ™‚

Notice the ant at the bottom right.

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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!

The Children’s Garden


Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature,ย 
open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers,ย 
and the mystery of life.ย 
–ย  R. Search

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Since I joined Pinterest last May I’ve been pinning oodles of activities for the kids to do. Most of them are sensory-based play ideas, crafts, or games. I’ve also been pinning a lot of garden-related inspirations. One of the projects I’ve been planning to undertake that crosses over into both of these categories is a children’s garden.

My kids enjoyed being in the garden last year, and my son especially enjoyed planting the seeds and watching them grow. So, when I stumbled upon the pins for children’s gardens on Pinterest, I thought “how perfect!” What better way to teach them patience, tenderness, creativity, and a love of nature, then to have them plant, cultivate, and harvest their own flowers and vegetables!

Our garden is pretty big; I could have easily carved out a corner of it for them. But instead, we decided to give them a garden of their very own. My husband had some extra 4×6 boards left over from a recent project, and he was already planning to rent a trailer to haul a load of mulch and composted manure for our garden and flower beds. So, we figured while he was at it, we would also get a scoop of garden soil for a new raised bed for our kids.

My son was so excited at the idea! When I asked him was he was going to plant in his garden he first said “my truck”. Then I said “well, what type of plants do you want to put in your garden?” To that he replied “a big leaf tree!” Hmmm… for some reason we weren’t quite on the same page. At the risk of having my son expect that he’d be cultivating a tree that would bear miniature dump trucks, we decided to move forward with their garden.

This past weekend Shane was hard at work putting the boards in place. I scraped the top layer of sod off the garden plot, and then we filled it with the new garden soil. It was nice, dark, rich-looking soil! We mixed a little bit of composted manure in there as well. The children’s garden is just 4 feet by 8 feet, but I have a feeling that with the rich soil in there, their little garden plot may do better than ours!

4' by 8' children's garden at the end of the main garden

The day after we prepared the bed I took the kids out to plant their first seeds. For his early spring crops, Big D chose to sow snap peas, spinach, lettuce, rainbow carrots, and purple kohlrabi. When we first got out there with the kids’ garden tools (that I bought at Michael’s for $1), they both played in the garden like it was a sand box. (I’m sure that won’t be the last time.) I gave them both seeds and they sprinkled them,… then did some digging,… the sprinkled some more seeds,… then threw some dirt around,… and stomped all over the garden.

I’m not sure which plants will grow or where. But I’m sure something will come up. I tried to help them plant the peas a little more thoughtfully, since we had to sow those a couple of inches below the surface. Either way, I’m sure they will be thrilled when they start seeing little plants sprout up in their garden. We’ll also transplant some of the seedlings we started indoors later on when the weather is warm enough.

I can’t wait to see how their garden progresses! Hopefully they’ll grow to love their garden as much as I love mine!