Monday, March 28, 2011

One Year Blogoversary*

Today marks the one year anniversary of Polliwog on Safari. Google Analytics tells me I've had more than 2600 visits from more than 1150 unique visitors from 54 countries.

Thanks to all of the readers who've dropped by, commented, or shared this blog with others. Special thanks goes to those who've tweeted, linked to me from your blog or Facebook account, or otherwise helped spread the word.

As a special thanks to my readers, I'm offering you the chance to win a copy of The Green Hour by Todd Christopher. (I'll pay to ship it anywhere in the U.S. Readers outside the U.S. will need to pay for shipping).

Here's how you can win:
  • "Like" my new Facebook page "Michelle Cusolito, Writer"
  • "Subscribe" to this blog. (Bloggers may want to "follow" with Google Friend Connect) A new gadget on my sidebar allows you to follow by email. All you have to do is enter your email address on the right. Leave a comment or send me an email to let me know you're a subscriber.  michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)net.
  • Tweet about Polliwog on Safari
  • Post this contest on your blog. (Again, leave a comment or drop an email. Google Alerts should notify me but sometimes posts are missed.)
  • Share a link to Polliwog on your Facebook wall. (If we're not FB friends, send me an email or leave a comment to tell me you did it). 
Every action you take earns you another chance to win. I'll put your name into a hat for each action and draw one winner.

This will be open from today until midnight EST on Monday, April 11th 2011. On Tuesday, April 12, 2011,  I'll post the winner. (I will post your name or handle only).

Thanks again readers!
    * I heisted this word from Melanie Linden Chan. I'm not sure if she coined it, but I heard it from her first.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Big Day for Wood Frogs?

    Long time followers of my blog know I look forward to the wood frog migration every year. It usually happens on a warm day following a rainy day or days.
    Last Wednesday, we had rain. On Thursday, the temperatures were in the high 50s, so my kids and I went searching for frogs. All was quiet when we reached the pond, so we sat and listened for a while. By the time we left about 30 minutes later, quite a few wood frogs were clucking. YAY, we thought. The day has come! By Friday, mating should be in full swing.

    That night I sent a Facebook invitation to all of my friends in Rochester called, "Wood Frog Adventure." I invited them to meet at my house at 3:30 and start walking by 3:45. The goal: get to the frog pond to observe and hear the frogs. Three families joined us for a total of 9 children, 4 adults, and 1 dog.
    The kids ran ahead...

    We reached the pond in a noisy mass... the dog got ahead of the child holding the leash and jumped in the water... and we heard nothing.

    Not one cluck.
    Not one croak.
    Not one splash.

    On a usual migration day, the sound is deafening. In fact, our human presence doesn't usually bother them. On this day- nothing.

    Did that phase the kids? Of course not! There were murky pockets to investigate.

    And tree bridges to explore. 

    And plans to be made.

    What the plans were, I have no idea, but shortly after this tete-a-tete, the kids ran off together.

    Before we left the pond, we did hear a few clucks, but nothing as impressive as last year. Did it matter? Heck no! We had a great time exploring the woods together. The can be tricky. Even when you think you know what will happen, nature doesn't always cooperate. That's the beauty of it, really. If you keep looking and keep exploring, you'll still enjoy nature and get to know it's rhythms.

    What changes have you been noticing this spring? Be spontaneous. Grab your kids and hit the trails. See what you can discover together.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Three (or Four) Season Harvests

    A few years ago, friends bought a house with a cold frame. They're not gardeners, so they gave it to me. I'm still perfecting the planning involved it making the best use of my cold frame, but this year the weather cooperated and provided a great crop.

    For those who don't know, a cold frame is basically a small un-heated greenhouse that relies on sunlight for warmth. Many gardeners use old window sashes for the tops. (Note: Beware of lead paint if using old sashes). Last year, we harvested greens until early January when a hard frost killed everything. While the weather was tough in the northeast this year, with snow on the ground from December until yesterday, snow is an excellent insulator. Several feet of snow kept the temperature in the cold frame just right for our crops.

    Last week, once enough snow had melted, we looked inside and were pleasantly surprised to find spinach, swiss chard, arugula, mesclun mix, beets, carrots, parsley, and rosemary still growing. They're not the huge leafy plants we get in the late spring and early summer, but they're tender, local, and fresh. We enjoyed a lovely meal of brown rice and tilapia atop fresh arugula. What a treat in early March! Knowing they had planted and harvested the very arugula that arrived on their dinner plates, my kids ate every bite and wanted more.

    If you think you'd like to try your hand at four season vegetable gardening, I recommend the book Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman

    Now is the perfect time to plan for your fall/winter garden. If you want a cold-frame, you'll need time to purchase it and install it or build it from scratch. You'll also need to plant in it by late summer. The plants need sufficient time to grow before the cold weather arrives. Little growth happens during the winter months- rather you harvest what has already grown.

    For the locavores in my readership, this is a perfect way to enjoy fresh, local greens all year long without the added environmental impact of transporting them from somewhere warmer or having to heat a greenhouse. If the word Locavore is new to you, check out my previous post, The Locavore Way.

    Like I've mentioned before, you don't need to be the perfect gardener to get good results. Don't let perfectionism stop you from jumping in. My kids and I were pretty haphazard about planting our cold frame and we planted our seeds a bit late- it was nearly September. But we watered them well and the weather cooperated. We ate greens until December when it was first covered in snow. Then we left it buried until last week. I'm sure we could have had more productivity if I were better organized, but even one salad in the middle of winter is fantastic! Give it a try. And let us know how it goes.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Spring is in the Air

    Can you feel it? I'm seeing the signs...

    Wood frog found under a log
    Red-Tailed Hawk by Rick

    How about you? Have you been outside to look for them? If not, take a step outside. Enjoy a bit of nature. Look for sprouting bulbs, leaf buds, robins, etc. Tell us what you see.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Big Night for Salamanders

    In my very first blog post titled, The Big Day, I described the spring emergence of wood frogs and their race to a nearby pond to procreate.

    That time of year is upon us again and wood frogs are not the only animals that migrate this way. Here in the Northeast, spotted salamanders also emerge this time of year and seek nearby water for mating. I'm wondering if salamanders use the same vernal pools as our wood frogs. I hope to set out one evening soon when the conditions are right and see if I can find some. Perhaps you'd like to do the same!

    To learn more about spotted salamanders and their migration, read this wonderful book by Sarah Lamstein.
    From the author's website:
    “During the first warm rainy night of spring—
    Big Night—spotted salamanders by the hundreds
    crawl out of the woods and down to a natural
    pool across the road. There they will breed and
    lay their eggs.

    Evan and his parents know the salamanders need
    their help. Crossing a road at night is dangerous
    especially for small amphibians. The family slows
    the traffic. They carry salamanders across the
    road. But the cars keep coming, and the hour
    is late. How can the family help these delicate
    creatures cross the road in safety?

    Evan has the solution…”

    In addition to Evan's story, the book includes lots of factual information about spotted salamanders and suggests additional resources.

    For teachers and homeschoolers who'd like to use the book with students, Ms. Lamstein's website offers a classroom guide.

    For those who live in eastern Massachusetts, Ms. Lamstein will be appearing at Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, MA this Saturday (March 12th) from 1-3 pm to talk about spotted salamanders. She suggests the migration may happen this weekend if the conditions are right. Watch for rain and temperatures over 40 degrees. I've found that in my neck of the woods, the wood frog migration happens on a warm sunny day (50 degrees or higher) that follows a day or more of rain.

    Have you experienced spotted salamander or wood frog migration? This may be the weekend for both. Please share any sightings.

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Museum of Science Overnight

    Last Saturday, my family slept at the Museum of Science with my son's Scout pack. This was not my first museum overnight. During my 10 years as a grade 4 teacher, I organized 10 overnight trips for our fourth grade students (The last few years we brought 170 people). To say I loved those trips would be an understatement. When other adults were worrying about the late night, sharing public bathrooms, and sleeping among a bunch of strangers, I was anticipating the fun and learning to come. I'm like a kid on these trips. Besides, who wouldn't like the opportunity to sleep with a T-Rex, or near a wave tank, or in an indoor playground?

    This most recent trip did not disappoint. Our overnight schedule included an evening program, a design/ engineering workshop, a lightening show, a late night snack, an Omni show about dolphins and a live animal show (scorpions, hedgehogs and boa constrictors, anyone?) We also got to experience the exhibits when the museum was closed.

    I know this isn't exactly a "get out in nature" kind of experience like I normally encourage. During a long, cold, New England winter, however, it's a nice change of pace. There are also several exhibits that specifically relate to natural topics and there's a live animal exhibit.

    If you live in New England, I encourage you to organize an overnight for your class, home-schooled students, or scouts. Sure, you'll wake up exhausted, but you'll also have a unique, fun learning experience with your kids!

    Have you ever experienced an overnight like this?

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    RACE- Are We So Different?

    "[Racism] is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look."
                          ~Robin D.G. Kelley, Historian, quoted in the exhibit

    On Sunday, I visited an exhibit at the Museum of Science titled, RACE-Are We So Different? This traveling exhibit spoke to so many issues that are important to me. Issues that are hard to put into words.  Issues that, when written about on a blog, can be misunderstood when not worded exactly the right way or placed in their proper context. Issues that I will continue to speak up about because they are so important.

    In a previous post about the book A Beach Tail, and a later post in response to a conversation happening in the blogosphere, I tried to express my feelings about the lack of books about "People of Color."  Even as I wrote those posts, I struggled with word choice. Who was I to label someone else's identity? Yet, I attempted to do so because I had to convey my point somehow and the only way to do it was to use terms that readers would understand.

    I am not an expert on race. I am a person who is deeply concerned about people's ability to identify themselves however they choose and to be treated equally and with respect. I am not identified as a Person of Color, African American, Latina, Asian-American, or any number of other artificial labels that can be placed on a person's identity. When labeled, I am called Caucasian. I have always been uncomfortable checking that box on official forms. I pause every time. Not because I am not proud of my heritage but because I do not want be labeled and boxed in. Does anyone?

    The exhibit put words to many things I already felt and illuminated some ideas I did not fully understand or could not explain. For example, 

    "There is no gene for “race.” There are no qualitative genetic differences between perceived races. (Emphasis added). However, it is possible to trace geographic ancestry using DNA. Since humans expanded out of Africa, genes have changed in small ways in every part of the world. Each of these small changes is a marker for a person’s ancestors who lived where the changes occurred. To a geneticist, these changes are like mileposts along a path, leading first to the people in a local place and then back to the African source. Each genetic change tells only a small piece of the story about human history. A scientist must look at many pieces of DNA to get a reliable story."

    Biologically, there is no such thing as race.

    If someone had asked me if there is a gene for race I would have said "no." But I had honestly never considered the question in quite this way. I knew that DNA traced all of our ancestors to (East) Africa, but for some reason I never put quite a point on the question of a "race gene."

    I think I am fairly well-informed person. I read tons. I talk to lots of interesting people. I move outside my comfort zone and travel to places many people will never see. I've analyzed my own experience of race and culture while living in the U.S. versus living in the Philippines. I relish the differences of culture and the sameness of humanity. I pay attention.
    I have so much to learn.

    I soaked up as much as I could from the exhibit, though I want to go back and spend more time. I strongly encourage you to do the same. For my local readers, the exhibit will be at the Museum of Science until May 1st. It's also at the Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC until May 8th. For readers in other states, an exhibit tour schedule is available here. For those who do not have access to the exhibit, much (if not all) of the content is available online at the RACE- Are We So Different website. There's  a special section for kids age 10-13. and a variety of resources for families, researchers, and teachers. Please learn more and spread the word about this important project.

    One final quotation from the exhibit:
    "Race is the least important aspect in determining character, yet it is often the most significant factor in how we are perceived."