Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tomorrow I am submitting a Wildlife Management Plan to our county tax office. This is something the state of Texas encourages for a couple of reasons. First, it helps preserve land in its natural state when so much land is being cleared for urban development. Second, studies show that a rural citizen use less state funds than the average urban citizen. Therefore, the state of Texas allows rural land used for wildlife to receive a devaluation. This reduces taxes, not on the home, but on parts of the land not used for a home or agriculture.

Eastern Phoebe eggs in the nest on our front porch.

Eastern Phoebe Fledglings. The one in front has attitude!

This one is difficult to see, but right in the middle of this photo is a Cottontail Rabbit.

Green Anole

Red Headed Woodpeckers

We have a beautiful property and as a science-curious family, we have always enjoyed finding and learning about the animals that share our land. We are filing for the exemption this year and have been working hard to prepare the Management Plan required by our county office.  I have talked with our county tax office and our county wildlife biologist to make sure I am providing all of the required information. I was given a form to either fill in or use as a template for my plan. The form seemed to focus mostly on managing property for deer, and our primary focus animals were birds and small animals, so I chose to write my own plan. Now I am nervous.  


Coming in for a landing at the feeder.

Woodhouse Toads

We haven't identified this frog yet. But this photo and the one above gives a clear picture of the different body shapes between frogs and toads.

I am nervous because my plan turned out looking like an end of year school project combined with a scrapbook. I find it beautiful! But I am concerned that my tax office will pass it around and laugh! So to take my mind off my worries, I decided to share some of the photos I included in my plan. They make me smile, I hope you enjoy them as well!  

Luna Moth

Imperial Moth


Friday, January 30, 2015

Of Soil and Seeds

I have had more gardening failures than successes, and once again, I find myself perusing seed catalogs, researching companion planting, and digging through the county extension office’s gardening webpage. 

Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying, but it seems I cannot resist the gardening urge. I've asked questions of local nursery employees and chatted with local gardeners in the grocery line. I tell myself “One of these days, I WILL be a Gardener!” -as if there is a specific level of success that allows me to use the title.

This year, for the first time, I realized that I have arrived. In fact, I ‘arrived’ a long time ago. I am a Gardener. It has nothing to do with my success at gardening, and everything to do with my drive to keep trying. So this year I will build on my successes and learn from my failures and do better than I did last year. 

 Philosophical ramblings aside, I will tell you what that means for me this season. Last year, I used four 4 by 8 foot garden beds and only planted basic summer crops. Here is what I did wrong:
  •          I stuffed everything I could into those beds with no regard for nutrient requirements or root space.
  •   I used a mixture of topsoil and compost, but filled and mixed these the same day I planted my seed.
  •  I accidentally left water on all night the day I planted. All of the compost washed to the bottom of my sandy topsoil and compacted in a thick layer and was not accessible for roots.

What I did right:
  •   I bought good seed.
  •  I kept weeds under control.
  •  I managed pests fairly well. 

After reviewing last year’s garden and my records from previous gardens, I have made some changes.

  • First, we are testing the soil. We bought a simple kit and we are testing soil Ph, and Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium levels. In addition, we researched the best Ph levels and nutrient levels for each plant we are planning to grow. To the best of our ability, we are working to increase or decrease soil nutrient levels to provide our plants with the best growing medium.
  • Second, we are researching companion planting. Maggie and I studied charts and created graphs showing which plants complement or harm other plants we intend to grow. Our gardens are planned based on these charts.
  • Third, we are starting earlier. We have already tilled the spot for the summer gardens, and have prepared the raised beds for early, cool weather plantings.
  • Fourth, we are going bigger. I only planted a few of each seed last year and we never produced enough for a whole meal. This year we are planting more vegetables, more herbs, and more flowers. The goal is to have enough to eat and some to share!

  • Finally, we are doing it ‘by the book’. We are reading the seed packets, following suggested planting dates, and sowing seeds on a weekly basis instead of all in one weekend. I bought a grow lamp and actual seed starting medium (instead of potting soil) and I am starting my own seeds this year.

Basically, I am doing everything I can to have a successful garden - I am learning, working, and persevering. And that, I think, is what makes me a Gardener.

What are you doing in your garden this year? 


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Great Johnstown Flood

I feel like I should reintroduce myself, since it has been so long since I wrote anything on my little blog. But, I'll skip that for now!

Jamestown Flood Museum. This was the original Carnegie Library - Andrew Carnegie later donated libraries to towns all over the United States.
We aren't living in Pennsylvania anymore - we are back home in Texas! That is part of why you haven't heard from me in a while. BUT, my husband will still be working in PA on occasion and this last week was one of those occasions! We drove up to spend a few days with him and while he was on a job, we headed to Johnstown to learn more about the Great Johnstown Flood.

FRitW in front of the back wall of the museum. This wall of debris is designed to show what the flood looked like bearing down on Johnstown. 

We learned about so much more than just the flood! There are tons of things to do in Johnstown, but we only had a few hours, so we tried to get the cream of the crop as quickly as possible.

This display used lighting to show the timeline and path of the flood. 
Johnstown, Pennsylvania is best known for the massive flood that occurred May 31, 1889. More than 2000 people died when the South Fork Dam broke, sending millions of gallons of water down the valley towards Johnstown. Other communities along the way were destroyed or spared depending on their elevation and the path of the flood. As the flood approached Johnstown it had the force of Niagara Falls barreling down the valley and carried with it debris from trees, buildings, and the dam itself. It cut a path through downtown Johnstown, where the townsfolk had settled in on the second floors of homes and buildings in anticipation of the typical floods that occurred somewhat regularly. However, the townsfolk were not prepared in any way for the force and size of this flood, and as a result, one tenth of the population died.

The 'stone bridge'. This bridge held through the flood, but unfortunately captured the debris which led to a fire and 80 more deaths. The fire burned for 3 days. In the background is Cambria Iron Works (which was featured in the Iron and Steel Gallery)

There is much more to Johnstown than just this flood though. We learned about the flood at the Johnstown Flood Museum, located in the first Carnegie library ever built. Then we moved on to the Heritage Discovery Center to learn more about Johnstown before and after the flood.

In the water room of the Children's museum. We built multiple dams and flooded the resevoir. None held and multiple little yellow, foam houses were washed away!

The Heritage Discovery Center is a conglomeration of museums within one building. Our favorite part was the Johnstown Children's Museum on the 3rd floor. We learned about floods and dams, coal mining, the steel industry, and the town of Johnstown in general.

The coal chute slide!
A couple of random coal miners (aka FRitW and MT) working hard in the coal mine. Maggie helped too - but she didn't dress up!

Our second favorite area was the first floor and the exhibit "America: Through Immigrant Eyes". In this exhibit, we chose an immigrant and proceeded through the displays as that person. We tried to choose characters similar to each of us - either in age or station, and that helped make this exhibit more personal. MT ended up with Anna, a 9 year old Slovakian peasant girl (no boy character was available),  FRitW chose Josef, a 12 year old Polish peasant boy, Maggie had Maria, a 19 year old Italian girl who had come to Johnstown with a promise of marriage, and I chose Katerina, a Hungarian goose farmer coming to meet up with her husband, who had arrived 3 years before. We had cards that interacted with the displays. This was very interesting! (Apparently I was too involved in being a goose farmer to remember to take many photos...)

12 year old Josef might have been put to work in a coal mine. Here we separated slate from coal in the immigrant exhibit.

Third favorite was the Iron and Steel gallery. This area basically told the story of steel production through an interactive film made just weeks before the Cambria Iron Works shut its doors in 1992. The movie was informative and quite interesting! (But I didn't take any photos at all in this area)

It is very hard to explain what an Incline Railway is if you have not seen one. The wheels of the cars are built at an angle so the car remains level. We have been on the inclines in Pittsburgh, but they are more like a trolley car, with benches to sit on. This incline is open, with one small bench. It is designed to hold one car, 6 motorcycles, or 60 people. 

We finished our trip to Johnstown with a ride up the steepest Incline Railway in the world. This incline railway helped, in later floods, to save lives by getting people to higher ground. We ate supper at the top and enjoyed some beautiful views!

At the top of the incline railway looking down over Johnstown.

Note that Johnstown is in a 'bowl' completely surrounded by mountains except where the river enters. 
Eating at Asiago's Tuscan Italian Restaurant. We were the only ones enjoying the balcony, probably because light rain was falling now and again.  ~grin~


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When Dad and I were surfing the web for information on Kinzua Dam, we discovered that there are a number of trails in the area that would be worth exploring. This area of the Allegheny Mountains has thousands of huge boulders deposited by glaciers during the ice age (this is called a moraine). Our kids naturally assume that we will hike at least one trail anytime we take a roadtrip, so we made note of a couple of particularly interesting ones in preparation for our fieldtrip.

The first one we tried was Rimrock Overlook Trail.  AMAZING!!! I love it when our plans turn out to be just as incredible as we hoped!

There are lots and lots of stairs.

But the view was worth every step down! This is Kinzua Lake (also known as Allegheny Reservoir).

Another tourist snapped a photo of our family.

Heading down even more stairs to the area below the overlook.

These stairs were narrow and MT wasn't too sure. You can barely see, but Mossy was absolutely
not thrilled either - Dad had to carry her  down and back up.
These pictures don't show how very long this stairway was.

The stairway went on and on and on.

This is the view from the bottom. If you look close you can see two people looking down at us
from the overlook.

The forest was beautiful and the rocks amazing.

We spent more time down here in the quiet than we did at the overlook itself.
Both areas were beautiful!

Back at the top of the trail, the kids enjoyed the moraine.

The second trail we explored is called Jake's Rocks Overlook. This is the
first overlook. The Kinzua Dam was visible from the second overlook, but somehow I didn't get a photo.

More huge rocks and boulders in the moraine. It was a beautiful walk!


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Search Continues: Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny Reservoir

After our visit to Kinzua Bridge in June, I posted a photo on Facebook. A friend asked if we had visited the Kinzua Dam. Um, no... There isn't even a body of water in Kinzua Bridge State Park besides Kinzua Creek.  But she said she had visited there frequently as a child. So, Dad and I decided we needed to find this dam. An internet search moved us in the right direction. It is about an hour from Kinzua Bridge State Park and as far as I can tell there is no connection between the dam and the bridge other than the name. But, the dam is one of the largest dams east of the Mississippi, so it seemed like a good addition to our Friday Fieldtrip.

Kinzua Dam is on the Allegheny River and creates the state's largest inland lake, Kinzua Lake. We walked out on the dam and found some amazing views!

Looking out on Kinzua Lake

MT looking over toward the Allegheny River

The ladies in the background gave FRitW & MT some bread to throw for the gulls flying overhead.

Maggie captured this shot of a rainbow forming on the back side of the dam.

Looking down the Allegheny River. The trees were so colorful!

Dad and the boys watching the gulls above and the fish gathered below.

A view of the back side of the dam.
I love this view as we are leaving the dam. 

Kinzua Dam was definitely worth the side trip!