Friday, September 30, 2011

Mystery Caterpillar, Part 2

Our mystery caterpillars have entered the next phase of their metamorphosis. We now we think they will turn into moths rather than butterflies because these look like cocoons rather than chrysalids:

One "cocoon" is on the edge of the butterfly house.

The other is on the underside of a leaf. I returned it to the butterfly house upside down after photographing.
We still haven't consulted guide books. My husband already identified it and sent me the link, but I haven't read anything yet. I'm still watching closely to see what I can learn on my own.

Do you think you know what it is? Please share.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: India

When my husband and I decided to have children, we also decided we would scale back our usual travel. No more camel trekking in the Sahara or hiking the Inca trail--we would stick to US or maybe European travel. That all changed in 2008 when our friends invited us to their wedding in India.

We thought long and hard about whether we wanted to travel that far to a place so new to us with our then 5 year old and 2 1/2 year old children. In the end, we realized we couldn't say no. Truthfully, we weren't certain it was the right decision (If that's ever even possible) but we were certain we'd always regret it if we didn't go. How right we were. I cannot imagine how much we would have missed if we had said no.

I'm certain I'll write about this again. I have written about this particular trip and its wonderful long-term impact on our family many times in my journal but I can never quite find the words to exactly express it's magnitude.  For now, I'll share some photos to make my point.
We shared meals with our friend's family in Hyderabad, India

Our son and our friend's nephew became fast friends and danced at the bride-making ceremony.

Part of the wedding festivites included shopping for our clothes.

We participated in a Hindu wedding
We shared meals, stories, and cultural traditions. Six months later, our friend's parents came to stay with us during the American wedding that happened in our back yard. We shared more stories, photographs and cultural traditions. Our friend's parents asked us to call them Auntie and Uncle. They started to feel more like family than friends. (This could be an entire post.)

Over the years we've skyped with our friend's family and the two boys skyped by showing each other their latest toys over the internet. "Look, my John Deer Tractor."

Now, three years later, our friends have returned with their family. This time, Auntie, Uncle, our friend's two sisters, and his nephew came.  Our house is in a constant buzz. Someone is always cooking...
Learning to make chapatis.
Or eating...

Locally grown corn, anyone?
 Or celebrating birthdays...
 Or cooking again...
Auntie never grilled before so we posed the photo for fun.
 We keep asking each other for recipes. Most often we say the same thing...there is no recipe... I just cook it from scratch with what I have.

And, the two boys picked up right where they left off 3 1/2 years ago. Our friend's nephew even got to experience a visit to an American school.

(Photo added 1 October 2011)
None of these things would have happened if we didn't throw our fears to the wind and take the travel leap with our young children. Now we wonder why we ever worried about traveling outside of the US or Europe with our kids.

What risks are you afraid of taking? What might you and your kids gain by taking a leap?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall Meals

By now, you know how much I love and appreciate locally grown produce. My kids like it, too. They're far more willing to eat food they grew themselves or purchased from a local farmer. I've posted many recipes that use seasonal produce grown in our garden. Here's one that made use of some beautiful delicata scquash from a local farm- Lucky Field Organics.

My sister originally cooked a variation of this recipe. It has now become a staple in our house during the fall and winter months.

delicata squash (I used two)
olive oil
tamari (Find it in the Asian section of your supermarket)
maple syrup (Get the real stuff)

  1. Delicata are oblong shaped, kind of like a fat cucumber. Slice them crosswise to make rounds about 1/3 inch thick.
  2. Scoop the seeds out of the rounds leaving all of the flesh and skins behind. (A teaspoon or small knife works well). My son likes to do this job. Unlike other winter squashes, the skins are tender and delicious.
  3. Spread the squash rounds out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. You may want to line the tray with foil as clean-up can be messy.
  4. Drizzle them with olive oil, tamari, and maple syrup. I used about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon each of tamari and maple syrup for the two squashes. Start with a little. You can add more as needed during cooking. Too much tamari, however will be too strong and make the squash salty.
  5. Bake them in the oven at 375 degrees until the squash is golden brown, tender, and carmelized.
Vegetarians: You can use this same recipe with tempeh. Slice the tempeh about 1/4 inch thick and proceed as with the squash. Add some steamed kale and you've got a meal!

My kids happen to love sweet potato fries with this. Peel and slice the potatoes into fries. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bake as with the squash.

Do you have a favorite fall/winter meal?

Related Posts:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Morocco

When my husband and I traveled to Morocco with friends, we visited some of the usual places. We toured Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, navigated the medina in Fes, and rode the Marrakesh Express from Fes to Marrakesh. We also visited the neighborhood where my great-aunt lived before she married my mom's uncle and moved to the States.

Toward the end of our trip, a guide picked us up at our hotel in Marrakesh and drove us over the Atlas mountains, through the moving making- town of Ouarzazate (Movies such as The Mummy were filmed there) to the village of M'Hamid. We ate a late dinner, then loaded up a land rover and drove to our campsite in the Sahara Desert.  After sleeping on blankets on the sand, we packed our bags and set out on a camel trek. Exciting stuff, right? Sure enough. The stuff of great stories (Can you say runaway camel?) But here's the thing. The stories I most like to tell folks who want to hear the more intimate stories of Morocco involve moments of connection with the locals or my friends and husband, not stories of high adventure.

We made a point to get to know our guides. One guide was deaf, so we watched the signs they had developed to communicate (no ASL there) and did our best to communicate with him. One night after dinner, our guides gathered around a campfire a distance from us. One man had improvised an instrument- he was drumming on our water jug while the others sang along quietly in Arabic. We asked if we could join them. After a while, we shared that our friend used to be a drummer so he played some of his American rhythms on that same water jug. We also bonded with our friends while suffering from “Traveler’s D.” I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. Working through some level of adversity together can bring people together. I also reconnected with an exchange student who had lived here in Massachusetts 6 years before. My husband and I visited his home and met his wife and daughter.

One of my favorite moments, however, happened on our drive back to Ouarzazate. Our guide, Mokhtar, and I opted to sit in the way back seat of the land rover. Working with a mix of English, Arabic, and French words, we began telling each other our cultural stories. I wish I could remember all we shared that day. What I do remember is that it went something like this…

Mokhtar told a story. I said, “Oh! We have one like that!” and I told him a fairy tale from my childhood. Which lead him to a story from his childhood and so on. We went on like that for at least half an hour. It felt like time simultaneously raced ahead and slowed down to a crawl- what experts call “flow.” The storyteller in me was reinvigorated that day, for sure.

Mokhtar still has a special connection to our family. The night of the drumming, Mohktar gave us and our two friends Arabic names. The name he gave to me is the name we gave to our daughter. (People who know me personally, please note that I do not share my children’s names on this blog for safety/privacy reasons. Please don’t put it in the comments. Thanks.) 

Mokhtar started as our guide but became a friend. For years, we communicated via snail mail and email. Now we message or IM on Facebook.

So here’s my point. Sightseeing is nice, but don’t get sucked into the trap of racing from one attraction to another. We saw lots of tourists in Morocco. They’d arrive on giant tour buses clutching their purses, fearful of pickpockets, only to be herded from one site to another. I’d venture to say they left Morocco knowing no more about the country than when they arrived.

Slow down. Stop and meet the locals. Ask about what’s important to them. You’ll likely find their desires are the same as yours.

How about you? What stories do you have to share about meeting the locals in your home town or from across the globe?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mystery Caterpillar

My family has been nurturing a small section of milkweed in our perennial garden (that is slowly taking over the garden) hoping to attract Monarch Butterflies. Year after year, we search the plants looking for caterpillars we can watch go through the magical process of metamorphosis. Sunday, my kids and I went in search again. We found lots of leaves that had clearly been eaten. Yes, we thought,  maybe this is the year! We searched and searched. We found ladybugs. We found beetles. We found Dragonflies. No Monarch caterpillars.

Then, on a terrifically eaten plant that had nearly no leaves left, we found a caterpillar!
That's no Monarch caterpillar, but I think it's pretty cool. So do my kids. My son said, "It looks like a bottle brush!" After more thought he said, "Or a pipe cleaner!" Quite a colorful bottle brush, don't you think?

 After a more searching we found another, and another. So off we went to get our butterfly house.We carefully placed two caterpillars in the house along with lots of fresh milkweed leaves. We'll replenish those leaves daily until the caterpillars make their chrysalids.

I'm sure you're all wondering, "What kind of caterpillar is it?" We don't know! My kids weren't terribly motivated to find out so I didn't look. As I mentioned in last Friday's post about Birds of Prey, we learn so much just by observing, we don't necessarily need an ID. I'm sure they'll want to know at some point, then our field guides will come out and more investigations will ensue. For now, we'll watch and wait.

Take a walk around your yard our neighborhood with your kids this weekend. See what you can find. In my neck of the woods, there's loads of insect activity this time of year that's easily visible. Dragonflies zip about. Grasshoppers spring everywhere. Katydids croak their end of summer song. See what's happening in your piece of the world. Then come and share what you saw. Also, let me know if you take any photos you'd like to share. 

Related Posts:
Teachable moment: Caterpillar Investigation
Caterpillar Investigation, part 2
Caterpillar Investigation, part 3
Caterpillar Investigation, part 4
Top 10 Ways to Promote Science Inquiry

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Travel Tuesdays

For Earth Day, I posted some favorite photos I've taken of natural places around world. Response to that post was positive and several people asked me to share more of my travel experiences.

I initially liked the idea, but upon thinking about it more, I couldn't see how sharing my experiences would fit with my blog's mission. Sure, I enjoy sharing my travel experiences, (Who doesn't?) but I don't want this blog to be about me. Rather, I want it to be a place for you to get ideas for things to do with your kids or students. I also don't want to send a message that you need to travel to all kinds of far away places to apply some of the lessons I've learned through my travels. I strongly encourage you to travel outside your home country to gain a broader perspective, but that may not be possible. You can be a traveler in your own state or region. That's the kind of traveler I was this summer.

After much contemplation and reading over the summer, I finally found a focus. This quotation clinched it for me:

 "Remember that many would love to travel to gain a broader perspective, but cannot. Find creative ways to bring home the value of travel by giving presentations to groups of curious people not likely to have passports."

~Rick Steeves, Travel as a Political Act p. 202 

This blog offers a nice forum for me to share. Next week will mark the official start of my new series, Travel Tuesdays. In this series, I'll share a photo, story, or anecdote about my travel experience.  I'll also share a lesson I learned from that experience and offer ways it might inform your work (and play) with children.

I hope you'll join in the conversation. Share your thoughts about travel. Ask me questions. Suggest future topic ideas. If you've traveled and have a story to share, let me know. I'd love to welcome you as as guest blogger.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Birds of Prey

Last July, my family spent a week on Mount Desert Island. The cottage we rented was a short walk from Seal Cove. We explored the cove on our first morning there.

Taken from my journal:
"We noticed some kind of raptor/bird of prey roosting in a dead tree. Because of it's proximity to an estuary and the fact that it was in a dead tree, we initially thought it was a juvenile osprey. It was backlit by the early morning sun so we couldn't discern it's coloration. We first noticed it by it's quick, high calls, 'eeww...eeww...eeww.' A resident asked if we knew what it was. When I suggested an osprey, she said it wasn't that and suggested it might be a red-tailed hawk. That didn't seem right because red-tails make a high-pitched noise like 'SCREEEeee' with the pitch falling as it calls. We went back to the books, literally."

The primary book we consulted was Raptor! A Kids Guide to Bird's of Prey by Christyna M. LaubachRene Laubach , and Charles W. G. Smith. This is a terrific book for the young naturalists in your home or classroom.

 My family and I spent the entire week observing these birds and trying to identify them. We used our powers of observation.

 Here are some things we learned:

  1. On day one we saw one bird. We thought it was learning to fly and noted that it flew from the dead tree to the same area in the woods behind the tree. We could hear other birds in that area and wondered if they were other young birds.
  2. Over time, as they each apparently learned to fly, we realized there were 4 fledglings. We later saw what we thought was a parent because it was larger.
  3. Initially, they flew from the dead tree to the area that seemed to hide their nest, and back to the dead tree.
  4. By day 2, all 4 were out flying. They were flying all around, landing in various trees, and even soaring occasionally. All the while they made a terrific racket. "Ewwww...Ewwww...Ewww!"

After about 24 hours, we thought maybe they were Northern Harriers or maybe Merlins. From the book we learned that Northern Harriers have a white rump so we set about to see if we could see a white rump.

We talked to the locals (As you know I am prone to do!) They told us the parents had appeared in April and no-one knew what they were. One neighbor told us they're not usually there and lots of the neighbors were puzzled. She had visited the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Guide and thought maybe they were Merlins. Merlins are very small hawks, so we weren't sure that was right either. Our main problem was that we were observing juveniles. Their size and coloration can be very different from adults.

When we were in Acadia National Park, we talked to a ranger to see if she might help us. Without photos to share, though, we had limited luck. The mystery continued.

We watched those birds every day. My kids would come running to tell me to get my camera out when they were passing overhead. Indeed, I ultimately got a few pretty good shots. Here's a sampling (click to make them larger):

Ultimately, we left without identifying them. Honestly, though, we had the most fun observing them and photographing them. Identification would have been nice, but we wouldn't have learned any more about these birds by reading books than by watching them ourselves.  After all, how do you think scientists learn what they learn?

As I've written before, naming a species is often less important than making your own observations. Many people stop paying attention when they learn the name of something and even stop learning about it. Or, they immediately refer to books, thereby turning over their learning to the "expert" who wrote the book. I encourage you and your children to practice becoming experts on the animals and plants in your own backyard, neighborhood, or rooftop. I'm a writer and educator, after all, so of course I encourage you to read books, but watch closely to see what you can learn on your own first.

So, what kind of birds are they? That's my question for you today. Does anyone know? 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene

If you live in the US, you know that the eastern seaboard was hit by a hurricane last week. By the time it reached us here in Southeastern Massachusetts it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, but we still had lots of wind damage. We were without power, running water, or cell phone signals for 5 days, which explains my blogging absence. (I had scheduled a Wordless Wednesday post in advance which is why that appeared).

Despite the inconvenience of the storm, we were just fine here. Lots of people in New York and Vermont suffered far worse conditions than us.  And let's not forget the millions of people around the world who work much harder  than we do in the US to get their basic necessities. Sure, it was an inconvenience to have to go out for water every day. But I was able to drive my car 1/2 mile up the street to a friend's house and use her hose to fill my 5 gallon jug. People all over the world walk miles to get water and have to carry it home on their heads. I feel exceptionally lucky to have this basic necessity delivered to me through pipes in my home.

So, here I am ready to get back to blogging regularly. Next week, I'll begin a new weekly series called Travel Tuesdays. I'll also continue with Wordless Wednesdays. For now, at least, I plan to make Friday a "catch-all" day. I'll blog about whatever catches my fancy that week that fits with my blog's mission.

What kinds of posts would you like to see? Please leave a comment or email me at michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)com. I welcome your input. I want this blog to be useful and to create a virtual community here at Polliwog.