Monday, July 21, 2008

Poison Ivy, Virginia Creeper, wild blackberries

Here's my first entry for the 100 Species Challenge:

1. Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), a good one to be able to identify. It's trickier than you might think. This site shows pictures of poison ivy in all seasons, and in its most common and some uncommon forms. These pictures show creeping poison ivy and climbing poison ivy in my yard. We've got some climbing poison ivy with big, fat, hairy vines. One of the neighbors called it "Old Man's Beard."

What I knew: Leaves of three, let it be.
What I learned: It looks a lot like Virginia Creeper, except Virginia Creeper has five leaves. It looks a lot like wild blackberries, except wild blackberries have thorns and serrated edges. The berries of poison ivy are a good food source for birds.

2. Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

We had this in our yard in Florida. It climbed up palm trees, fences, and the Norfolk Island Pine. It died back in the winter, even in South Florida. I had to keep cutting it out of the Norfolk Island Pine so it wouldn't kill the tree and topple it. The gardener I talked to at the North Carolina Botanical Garden didn't seem to think Virginia Creeper was a problem plant. There's plenty of it in our yard here, too.

3. Wild Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)

We had wild blackberries growing across the street when I was a kid. Mom would dig all our winter clothes out of the closet so we wouldn't get scratched by the brambles, and we'd go out to pick berries. We would eat bowls of blackberries with milk and sugar, and Mom would make blackberry jelly. When I grew up and started doing my own grocery shopping, I was shocked at how much blackberries cost for just a little, tiny container. And we used to get all we could eat, free.

There are some big blackberry canes in our yard here, and little sprouts popping up everywhere. I've only picked one tiny berry, though. I think most of the brambles are in too much shade to really flower and fruit well. Or maybe we can blame it on last summer's drought, or the fact that all the bees are disappearing. Maybe I can encourage some of the canes that are in sunnier areas. The state of North Carolina would probably rather I didn't though. We're one of several states that considers blackberries to be noxious weeds. Weeds or not, some states have wild blackberry festivals. If I get a decent crop of blackberries in my yard, I'll have my own festival, and invite all my friends over for berries.

Meet Ozzie

Our friends Dan and Dina had their baby a week ago. Ozzie was born 5 weeks early, but never had to spend time in an incubator or have supplemental oxygen. He's a beautiful, healthy little boy -- with Down Syndrome. Dan and Dina were overwhelmed by the news, and Dan has started a blog, Down with Oz, to "chronicle the experience of stepping into a new world". All your thoughts and prayers are appreciated as they face the challenges they will find in that world.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

100 Species Challenge

I saw this on a blog I visit occasionally. The idea is to get to know 100 plant species in your immediate area. There are a lot of plants in our yard that I only know as "flowers" and "trees". Blogging about them regularly will give me a little kick in the pants to get to know them better. Here are the official rules.

The 100-Species Challenge

1. Participants should include a copy of these rules and a link to this entry in their initial blog post about the challenge. I will make a sidebar list of anyone who notifies me that they are participating in the Challenge.

2. Participants should keep a list of all plant species they can name, either by common or scientific name, that are living within walking distance of the participant's home. The list should be numbered, and should appear in every blog entry about the challenge, or in a sidebar.

3. Participants are encouraged to give detailed information about the plants they can name in the first post in which that plant appears. My format will be as follows: the numbered list, with plants making their first appearance on the list in bold; each plant making its first appearance will then have a photograph taken by me, where possible, a list of information I already knew about the plant, and a list of information I learned subsequent to starting this challenge, and a list of information I'd like to know. (See below for an example.) This format is not obligatory, however, and participants can adapt this portion of the challenge to their needs and desires.

4. Participants are encouraged to make it possible for visitors to their blog to find easily all 100-Species-Challenge blog posts. This can be done either by tagging these posts, by ending every post on the challenge with a link to your previous post on the challenge, or by some method which surpasses my technological ability and creativity.

5. Participants may post pictures of plants they are unable to identify, or are unable to identify with precision. They should not include these plants in the numbered list until they are able to identify it with relative precision. Each participant shall determine the level of precision that is acceptable to her; however, being able to distinguish between plants that have different common names should be a bare minimum.

6. Different varieties of the same species shall not count as different entries (e.g., Celebrity Tomato and Roma Tomato should not be separate entries); however, different species which share a common name be separate if the participant is able to distinguish between them (e.g., camillia japonica and camillia sassanqua if the participant can distinguish the two--"camillia" if not).

7. Participants may take as long as they like to complete the challenge. You can make it as quick or as detailed a project as you like. I'm planning to blog a minimum of two plants per week, complete with pictures and descriptions as below, which could take me up to a year. But you can do it in whatever level of detail you like.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I had to go to the Swarm office to pick up some paperwork for Scott, so I figured the girls and I might as well check out the children's museum across the street, which recently reopened. We brought Stephen, too, because it's more fun for Mary that way. The Kidzu museum is mostly geared toward pre-schoolers right now, but they're hoping to expand and add more big-kid exhibits. Mary and Stephen had the most fun in the kitchen area, making pretend recipes and serving them. Audrey liked the kitchen best, too. The museum had some dress-up items available, so you can do everything wearing a fairy skirt or construction vest, or whatever suits your fancy. On the way out, Mary and Stephen were raving about what a great time they had and asking if we could come back after lunch. The lady at the front desk heard them and asked if we would mind filling out a survey. For "suggestions for improvement" Mary thought the museum should be bigger and have more exhibits for all ages. The lady said, "That's exactly what we're hoping to do."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Exploring around town

Audrey and I walked along the nature trail from our neighborhood to the community center one evening after supper. It didn't take as long as I thought it would. We played on the playground and ran up and down the big hill until the sun was almost setting. I had to carry Audrey piggyback on the way home, and it was a 15 minute walk.

A few days ago, the girls and I went to the community center. We drove, because it was a hot afternoon, and I didn't want to have to carry them BOTH back! It's less than 5 minutes by car. The nature trail is unpaved, okay for mountain biking (unless it's wet), but I wouldn't want to try to drag a kid in a wagon over that trail, and it's not something Mary could ride her scooter on. We played in the learning garden for a while and picked up some information about the pool. The next day we decided to go for a swim during the open swim (non-lesson) time. It's an indoor pool, but one of the walls is all windows, and the roof lets in some natural light as well, so it doesn't look as much like a pool in a gym as I thought it would. It's very close to our house and relatively cheap compared to the private swim-and-racquet clubs around here, but the water was COLD!!!!! We didn't stay very long because the girls started shivering too much. They were glad to get into the nice, hot sun outside.

Another place we went this week was the Forest Theater. It's one of the places we can walk to from the trails near our house. We stopped by, in the car, on our way home from the community center. The girls had a great time walking up the sides and down the steps. There are some towers to explore on each side of the back row, and another stone area that might serve as a box office or projection room, we weren't sure what. The stage area is just dirt, so the girls used their heels to dig messages in the dirt. The night after we moved here, there was a storytelling show at the Forest Theater, but it was pouring and thundering, so we decided not to go. I'll have to keep an eye out for other family-friendly plays and shows there, though.

Girl Scout water safety badge

Last week, we met some members of Mary's new Girl Scout troop at a pool near here to work on a water safety badge. The head lifeguard, who is also a kindergarten teacher, taught the girls how to rescue someone, how to tread water with your clothes on, and how to make a flotation device out of your pants. It was nice to meet some of the girls and moms we'll be seeing more of this year. This week, we ran into one of the families from scouts at the library, and we recognized each other. So, in addition to the friends we already had here, we're starting to meet new people.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

art update

When I was cleaning the living room, I found this piece of paper. Apparently, she did a rough draft before transferring the design to her feet. There's Ladder-Boy on the right. We've been telling and telling Mary not to leave pens around where little sister can find them and scribble where she's not supposed to. But this was Scott's paper and pen, so now I know who the real culprit is. At least now she's old enough to know the difference between paper and walls.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Birdwatching, part 2

I took the wreath off the front door to put a flag up for the 4th of July. When Scott was hanging the wreath back up the next day, he said, "Didn't you notice there was a bird's nest here?"

Somebody built a nest on the back of the wreath and laid a small, brownish, speckled egg in it. Maybe it was my mystery bird. We'll have to see who shows up when the egg hatches.

One giant leap forward in artistic ability

Suddenly, Audrey has progressed from scribbles to more representational drawings. I'd just prefer she draw on paper .......

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Today Audrey and I went to the Wild Bird Center to get a bird guide. Some of the birds here are familiar, like cardinals, mockingbirds, and mourning doves. Others, like robins, are birds we haven't lived with but know from the book Mom gave Mary for Christmas a few years ago. In fact, there's a robin that sits in a tree in our front yard singing, "Cheer up, cheerily cheerily, cheer up!" over and over and over. Some birds are completely new to us. As soon as I opened up the guide, I recognized the brown and white bird that was singing on our front porch railing the other day, and found out that it's a brown thrasher. But now, as I'm looking through the Cornell All About Birds website I'm thinking maybe it wasn't a brown thrasher. The brown thrasher is a bigger bird than the one I saw, and its song is different. None of the other brown striped birds on the ID card sound like the one I heard. Next time it shows up in my yard, I'll have to see if I can tell what it is.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I went outside to take garden pictures and heard a crashing as this big deer bounded away. She jumped over the creek, then stood still and stared at me. I zoomed in as much as I could and took a couple pictures. She's mostly in the shadows, but you can see her eyes glowing.

Here's what else is in our garden:

really tall red flowers


mint, sage and chives

flowers that look like fireworks. I saw a hummingbird near them the other day.

Here are some garden flowers in the kitchen.

I'll have to find out the names of all these plants that grow in North Carolina. I called a landscaper who used to work at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and we're going to schedule a time when he can come over and walk around the yard with me and tell me about what grows here and how to take care of it (or get rid of it, if it's poisonous or invasive).

The living room is now a cardboard-free zone!

Here's a picture of the front part of the living room.

And here's the back half. They used to be two separate rooms, but the previous owners knocked down the wall between them to open up the space. Scott found a nail on the wall above the fireplace, so he hung up the picture of May. The blue, red and black in the painting look great with the red couch, blue pillows, and black chair. This is the view from the kitchen pass-through.