Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fewer Clothes = More Laundry

I seem completely incapable of packing for a trip without also tackling something else. Sometimes it's housework, that pile of unfinished projects lying in the corner, or cleaning out my closet. I'll pretend that the act of packing clothes today has prompted me to rethink some of my wardrobe instead of this actually being another form of procrastination. At any rate, I now have a pile of clothes lying in the corner, waiting to be donated to a charity.* (Obviously it's not the corner occupied with the unfinished projects, of course.)

The pants that don't fit well? Tossed. That t-shirt in an odd color of green? Tossed. The fifteen year old pair of shorts? Tossed. The shirt that never seems to go with anything else in my wardrobe, but has hung in my closet for the past five years? Tossed. The skirt I never wear? Yep, tossed.

This act of cleaning has made me realize a few things about myself.

1) My husband's choice of wardrobe colors has begun to affect my own and I didn't realize how many neutral or earthy colors I typically wear now. Steve is a computer programmer and cannot be held responsible for this as programmers naturally tend to wear clothes in the "mulch" family of colors, but I need to get out of this rut.

2) I should not be allowed to buy another brown shirt for at least a year.

3) I really don't have anything considered marginally professional left in my closet. That's okay as long as I keep working as a part-time/seasonal/contract hire, but at some point I might want to rejoin the truly gainfully employed, who don't have the luxury of working in their pajamas or that aging yet beloved t-shirt.

4) I'm still smarting over my mother's suggestion that a new professional wardrobe for me might only entail a new pair of jeans and a flannel shirt.

Anyhow, these are points for me to mull over. In the meantime I suddenly I have more room in my closet. And I don't have to avert my eyes and keep pretending that I don't see those clothes that I really needed to do something about. Being able to jettison clutter is a wonderful feeling. However, experience has taught me that purging my closet often results in having to do laundry more frequently. And now I have even fewer things to chose from to pack for a weekend trip, and it was my desire to avoid having to pick out clothes that led me to clean out my closet in the first place.

*For the record, everything I donate to charity is clean and usable. The fifteen year old pair of shorts will not be donated as they are somewhat out of style. Why bother? Please read this previous post:

Sunday, June 17, 2012


A few years ago I fell in love with heucheras, also known as the coral bells. I have a few splashy ones, mostly green leaved varieties with dark wine-colored veins or with silver patches on the leaves. One has carmel leaves with a reddish underside, while another is a dark burgundy with pink splashes on it. I made sure to bring them all with me to the new house when we moved several years ago. Additionally we have a few of the native coral bells growing wild on our property. They're pretty spindly and have unremarkable coloration to the leaves, so I've left them to themselves in the woods but it's always fun to run across one.

Last year my heuchera varieties bloomed their little hearts out. While these varieties are grown largely for their foliage and not for their tiny white flowers, the solitary bees loved them and I just let them do their thing well into late summer. Heuchera pollen must be brightly colored because I often saw these little bees with bright orange pollen in their leg "baskets" that they use to collect it.

Then I neglected to cut the spent flower stalks and they went to seed. Much to my surprise, I had volunteer heucheras coming up in various places this spring. And the parentage of these volunteers is to anyone's guess.

These crosses are not so much the love child of two consenting adult plants as the whim and fancy of the solitary bees that visited the blooming parents. Most of the seedlings appear to have green leaves with some silvering.

But a few also look like this, with more of a greenish-wine background overlaid with silvering and with dark veins. I'm curious to see if the foliage coloration will change as the plant matures.

It's entirely possible that the bees transferred pollen from my horticultural varieties along with some from the native plants nearby. One of my volunteers has already flowered, so who knows what might show up next year?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Name is Tree, and I Approve of This Message.

Yesterday in the Insect ID Lab we opened a box of promotional materials sent to us by the Don't Move Firewood campaign run by The Nature Conservancy's Forest Health Protection Program. Many invasive pest species can be transported around the country on the firewood that people bring with them on vacation. Emerald ash borer, Asian longhorn borer, and Walnut twig beetle are just a few of the insects of concern. There's also a dozen or so pathogens that can be transported on firewood, including oak dieback, butternut canker, and thousand canker disease. Want more information about firewood and the danger it presents to our forest and urban trees? Please check out the campaign's website at

The promotional materials included the usual swag....informational cards, wrist bands, even some really cool temporary tattoos featuring emerald ash borer. But what really caught our eyes were the forest green water bottles that feature the Don't Move logo.

Who couldn't use another water bottle? But it's the slogan on the other side that was really interesting.

Yep, that does indeed read, "Be a good neighbor. Leave your firewood at home. That's What Tree Said."

Huh? This boggles my mind on several levels. I don't remember personally approving this message although I certainly support it, but mainly I just didn't know that my opinion carried so much weight.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Black Widows and Not So Black Widows

A couple of weekends ago I was cleaning out a storage locker that we use to store the covers for our patio furniture on our back deck. I was concerned about a couple of paper wasps that had taken up residence in the locker and didn't see this spider until after the wasp nests had been dispatched. (Yes, there was more than one paper wasp nest. I'm surprised they tolerated each other in such close quarters.)

This is, I believe, a Northern black widow (Lactrodectus variolus). I say "I believe" because 1) I'm not a specialist of spider taxonomy and 2) I'm identifying this spider from my photos and not the actual specimen. 
Mature female Southern black widowsLactrodectus mactans (the spider we think of as the "classic" black widow), are usually a shiny jet black with just the infamous red hourglass mark on their abdomens, but males and immature female L. mactans do have markings similar to these pictured here.

So why do I think this is L. variolus and not an immature or male L. mactans? The body of this spider was about a half inch in size, suggesting that it was a mature Lactrodectus female. Mature males are only about half that size. Again, the white bands on the dorsal side suggest L. variolus, but there's a better way to distinguish between the two species.

The red hourglass marking on the ventral side of the abdomen is incomplete in the Northern black widow. In contrast, the hourglass is complete with both triangles touching in the Southern black widow. My spider doesn't have a complete hourglass with both triangles touching, so I think this a Northern black widow, L. variolus.

Initially it may sound funny that the Northern black widow can be found in southwestern Virginia, but there's a good deal of overlap between the ranges of the Northern and Southern black widows. In fact, the Northern black widow can be found as far south as Florida and as far west as Texas, while the Southern black widow can be found as far north as parts of Canada. We have both species on our property, with a healthy population of Southern black widows in the stone block wall edging our driveway.

For more information about Lactrodectus spiders, Bugguide has great information on the genus Lactrodectus on their website and you can also find some terrific pictures there, too. And if you have any burning questions regarding these spiders or if you think you have one in your house, please contact your local extension agent for more information. Don't think you have a local extension agent? Don't be silly, they're in all 50 states of the USA and you can find yours here at the USDA website

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ally, Papaw, and Papaw's Boat

It was a chilly morning in May but Ally demanded a boat ride. They didn't get far from the dock before Ally decided she had had enough.

No matter. Sometimes if you're lucky enough to get on the boat, then you're just lucky enough.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Birthday Cakes

We celebrated Ally's fifth birthday last weekend. Lately she's been talking about how her favorite color is "lavender blue with sprinkles." I just happened to find lavender and blue sugar sprinkles in the cake decorating aisle, along with some shiny pink sugar flakes, and that's how we wound up with this cake for birthday number five.

Yes, it was rather florescent and the frosting got a little crunchy, but Ally loved it. (FYI, seven minute frosting will turn into meringue if you beat it long enough. Who knew?)

I've made Ally a variety of cakes for her birthdays. Some were prettier than others, but all have been fun.

There was a ladybug cake for her first birthday in 2009. It was strawberry flavored with pink frosting. It was so warm that day that the frosting began to melt and I didn't dare remove the wax paper strips because I was afraid that it might take off the frosting.

Ally didn't care.

In 2009 I made a monkey cake. It was a banana cake with chocolate frosting. Design wise, I think this one was my best so far.

In 2010 I made a simple vanilla cake with chocolate frosting decorated with butter flies and a flower. 

That's the year Ally learned about licking frosting off the beaters.

Last year we were at the beach, so I made a beach birthday cake. The "sand" is crushed graham crackers over a marshmallow fluff frosting (yep, marshmallow fluff straight out of the jar).

The shells are real, but I did run them through the dishwasher before putting them on the cake.

Again, I'm not sure Ally would have cared.