Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In the "Click"

Recently I bought a little bird bath and staked it outside our bedroom patio.

I found it at a charity antique store and I just love it.  On either side of the basin are little metal birds.

I want to put a bird feeder in that area too, but it's hard to keep the chipmunks out.  I told Todd that I was going to grease the shepherd hook pole so they'd slide right off.  I'm still working on that theory!

I've been admiring the ferns, which are full and beautifully bronzed, all around the house.

I planted a few hostas...

...but honestly, it is really difficult to plant here.  I learned in my Master Gardener class that South Carolina once had about 25 inches of prime topsoil, but people planted so much cotton that they ruined the soil, and it blew away.  What's left now is the 'hardpan' that was once deep beneath the topsoil, and it's hard clay.

Digging a single hole and putting a plant in is like sliding them into a tough clay pot - their roots are unable to penetrate it.  You have to dig really wide and really deep so that the roots can spread and become strong enough to go deeper.

Surprisingly, we have some really vigorous worms here that seem to be able to pierce the clay with no problems.

Every morning, I've noticed lots of black beetles on our front porch.  I wonder if they're drawn to the porch light at night.

Oh, and the mosquitoes are out!  This one posed nicely for me.

His feather antennae told me that he was male.

After a recent rain, I found little slugs all over the garden.  This one was climbing on one of my vines.

Slugs' eyes are at the tip of their antennae...just like in cartoons!  ;)

The ladybug larvae are gone, and now I'm starting to see the mature ladybugs.

This one is having a leisurely time, cleaning its wings after a nice rain.

I've seen quite a few spiders, which you'd expect, since we live by the woods.  I think this one might be an immature lynx spider.  They don't build webs, but lay in wait for insects on plants.

They're quite hard to see and I was lucky to find this one.  He was almost translucent in the sun.

Another favorite is the Venusta Orchard spider.  They are quite lovely, with their black-tipped green legs and jeweled abdomens.  They build small webs between shrubs.  Venusta is latin for "charming" and "beautiful", and I would definitely put them in this category.

The most amazing insect I've seen so far here is the Eastern Eye Click beetle.  At 2 inches long and with amazing coloring, he's quite a charmer.

Eastern Eye Click beetles have 2 false eyes on their pronotum to warn off birds and other predators.

Eastern Eye (and other) Click beetles are so named because they are able to bend their bodies and make a dramatic clicking noise.  They are also able to "bounce" about six inches off the ground while doing so, which is another tactic to frighten off predators.

Seen horizontally, the false eyes are still prominent.  The real eyes are quite small and located a few centimeters above the false ones.

I've been thinking about starting an insect collection and this was the most tempting potential acquisition yet, but I just can't bring myself to kill insects for the collection, which is a pretty crucial part of the process. 

I hope to see more of these and other insects as summer progresses!

Speaking of summer, Todd and I have started eating supper exclusively in our little sun room.

Regretfully, these photos were taken on a cloudy day...but at least you can see the basics of it.  We have shades that pull down over the screens to keep the room cool.  One bamboo couch...

...one small table to eat on, and another for work (both built by Todd)...

In the corner, another door opens into our kitchen and living room.  I keep a big fern here, and I like to keep the doors open for nice ventilation.

It overlooks the little pond behind the house, and we just love it.  It's pretty sparsely decorated, but that's what we like.  We don't plan on adding any additional furniture.  The animals love it too, and they are often found sniffing the breeze through the open screens...or catching a few rays behind the computer in my office.

I hope you're enjoying the warm weather.  Have a great week!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shoots and Roots

Another week, another walk through the garden.  The japanese irises are still blooming nicely.  They make lovely, though short-lived, bouquets.

A row of small neat bushes, formerly anonymous-looking, started putting out spiky pink flowers.

Up close, they're so beautiful.

I was delighted to see a small patch of lungwort.

These spread nicely and love shady areas.  Only two plant are blooming and I'm going to leave them alone this year.  Next year, I'll dig some up and move them to the front yard.  They have small, jewel-like flowers that I really enjoy.

I've loved seeing hostas pop up in unexpected places...

Pretty vines with variegated leaves...

Even lilies!

I normally don't pay much attention to the back yard beyond the driveway.  It's mainly overgrown with ivy and just reminds me of all the work we need to do there.  But I did notice this beautiful bush had bloomed.  At first I thought it was spirea...

...but the flowers aren't quite right.

I'm absolutely delighted with it!

I'm also excited at the way the "Golden Carpet" sedum is cascading over some of the stone walls.

I picked some to try to start roots, so I can plant it in other parts of the yard.

I've had good luck with this method.  Several weeks ago, I put some "Autumn Joy" sedum leaves in soil and kept it moist.

One leaf died, but four survived.  I saw a tiny green sprout at the base of one of the leaves and knew they were ready for a transplant.

The others didn't have sprouts, but resisted when I gave them a gentle tug.  Sure enough, they'd formed roots.

I repotted these and several other sedum that had rooted.

These sedums cost around $7, so I was pleased to be able to multiply my 'stock' for free!

Creeping Jenny, too, is easy to propagate in water, and is one of my favorite green plants.  It should root in a glass of water within a week!

The little Carolina wren eggs on our front porch have hatched.

Mama seems to only visit the nest at night, but I guess she knows what she's doing!

I've been seeing some interesting insects, like this mystery creature who watched me through the glass while I worked this week...

I've seen some beautiful spiders, like this one (type unknown) who made a tidy nest between some bushes:

And this funnel web spider, who made a clever ground web that hinges on a stiff, dry magnolia leaf:

I'm keeping an eye out for more!

I've made some cards recently, and although the pictures were taken quickly and in poor light, hopefully you can get the general idea.

A birthday card for a cousin, stamped, using sewing thread to 'anchor' the paper-cut balloons:

Another birthday card with a center cut-out:

The candles are double-sided and suspended on white sewing thread so that they can rotate.

I've done little baking, but I can pass along this modified "healthier cheesecake" recipe that I toyed with recently.  It's not exactly cheesecake, but it's close enough to pass the test with me when I want something sweet and relatively guilt-free.

No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake
Modified from Ezra Pound Cake

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (9 full crackers)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup pumpkin puree
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 eight ounce packages of Neufchatel cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Mix your crust ingredients and press into a 9-inch pie pan.  Bake for about 7 minutes, and let cool completely.

To make the filling, combine pumpkin, butter, neufchatel cheese, vanilla, spices, and salt and beat until smooth.  Stir in sugar 1/4 cup at a time and combine well.  Spoon into graham cracker crust and chill thoroughly.  

You can adjust the sugar if it doesn't taste quite sweet enough.  It's a unique flavor but by my second piece, I was hooked!

Hope you give it a try.  Have a great week!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Creature Comforts

I love the life I'm seeing outside every day.  Not too many butterflies yet, as we're in between flowering plants, but I've seen evidence of them.  This wing is from a Tiger Swallowtail:

I've seen our resident heron in the pond:

...and in the driveway just below my office window!

I'm happy to report that the anole lizards are out!  I saw a few over the winter when I walked over the leaves in the backyard, where they had their little nests, but I'm glad to see many out sunning themselves on a pretty regular basis.

They're only about 6 inches long and Tabitha was able to catch one fairly easily when she escaped through the patio doors this week.  She brought him back into the house to toy with before the kill, but I think I rescued him in time. 

More and more turtles:

And, of course, we have our beaver.  I see him nearly every day, bringing twigs and branches to the nest he's so thoughtfully building on our bank.

Todd bought some chicken wire to wrap around our trees for protection!

I've been seeing these strange creatures all over for a couple of weeks. 

They're about an inch long, with a strange, spiky back.  I found out that despite their size, they're ladybug larvae!  After this stage, they pupate and become the ladybugs that I'm so familiar with.  Speaking of ladybugs, do you know where they got their name?  In Europe they were called Our Lady's Beetle, referring to the Virgin Mary, who was frequently depicted in a red cape.  That became Lady's Beetle, and we here in the states changed it to "ladybug", even though it's a true beetle.

Speaking of beetles, this may be the most amazing one I've ever seen.  It's over an inch long and absolutely shimmers in the sun.

It's a Caterpillar Hunter Beetle, and was brought over from Europe at the turn of the last century to deal with our gypsy moth infestation.  They are wonderful to have in your garden since they eat all sorts of pests and grubs.

I left a bundle of roots in the back yard...

It is absolutely swarming with bumblebees!

They're chewing on the roots.

Bumblebees can nest in the ground or in grass clumps, so I wonder if they're excavating a new home?

I've been keeping an eye out for spiders.  I was rewarded this week with not one, but two of my favorite spiders - the daring jumping spider.  I know that I've gone on ad nauseum about them, but I'm so fascinated by the different types.  One is even called the audacious daring jumping spider - so charming!  I like the idea of an audacious spider.

This particular daring jumping spider has a lovely downy coat of a soft grey color:

...while this one has a hard abdomen streaked with yellow.

As different as they are, they both have the typical eye pattern - the line of eyes wrapping around the front and both sides of the head.  Here a female - easily identified because the chelicerae, or fangs, are not the telltale iridescent green color - holds up her front legs to warn me that she's a very dangerous spider and not to be trifled with!

Speaking of spiders...I've been keeping an eye out for a fairly common spider here, the black widow.  We have a white plastic deck railing on the back of the house, plus a small landing and stairwell off the sunroom, and it was absolutely gritty and grey with dirt after the winter.  It showed up slug trails nicely, but was disgusting to touch.  It had spiderwebs everywhere and big clumps of dead leaves.

It took hours of scrubbing to get it clean.  As I was cleaning, I was nervously making a mental note of everything I knew about the black widow spider:  "Makes messy webs.  Shiny black with hourglass shape on back?  Under abdomen?  Hides in leaves.  Bite can kill."  I couldn't believe it when I looked up and saw a black widow spider casually clinging to the side of the house.  I looked closer.  It was bigger than I expected, with no hourglass shape, but it was shiny black and had some kind of markings.  I normally leave our spiders and insects alone, but I killed this one with my broom.  I found out later that the size indicated that it was probably a female, the most venomous sex.  Apparently they aren't aggressive, though, but I still don't want to be too close to them!

I am keeping an eye out for more creatures every day!

I was pleased to see a bed of Japanese irises rise from the side of the house like magic this week!  The bed looked like this earlier this spring:

I wasn't sure if they were daylilies or irises...or something else...but I'm so glad they're in bloom!

They're such a nice, vibrant color.

I haven't baked - at all.  I've been so busy with my regular routine, plus work, plus the upkeep of the house and the yard, that Todd has been eating an awful lot of loose meat sandwiches and tortilla chips.  I hope to get back to baking soon, once I've gotten things around here in "maintenance mode".  However, I have been knitting and making cards in little snatches during the week.   One card that I made recently for Mother's Day was especially fun. 

I took a big lilac stamp and a hydrangea paper punch:

I stamped the image and then cut out flowers from various sheets of purple construction paper.

I filled in the purple border with the flowers:

...then made a little banner for the top.

This idea, sadly, was mainly cribbed from Pinterest.  But when things calm down, I plan on creating some things from scratch!

Now it's time for me to get a little yard work done before the house cleaning, supper prep, and eBay work.  I don't mind the work, though, especially when this is my canopy:

Have a great week!