Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lizard Skeleton

A testament to our hot dry weather.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grass Spider

Outside our kitchen door, I stumbled upon this web. Usually I find grass spiders (Agelenopsis) in our Canyon Prince grass with tunnel webs looking like a thick gossamer funneling into a black hole.

I was surprised to find this enterprising grass spider using a vacant bolt hole as it's tunnel. The web is not particularly sticky.

When prey stumbles into the web, the grass spider darts out quickly to grab it and bring it back to it's hole. We searched all day for earwigs to feed to the spider. With our hot dry weather, our typically abundant earwig population was no where to be found.

Agelenopsis identified using the Audubon Society Pocket Guide: Insects and Spiders.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Annals of Small Improvements

We fixed a gifted pocket shade that we like to take to the beach. It's a great shade for napping kids. One of the tent poles splintered. We finally found some replacement poles, cut them to size and rethreaded the shock poles.

Back in action. This small repair inspired another.

While camping, we noticed our tent had a hole. We fixed it before it was too late.

Ready for our next adventure. Although we are slowly outgrowing this tent.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Encouraging Native Bees

At a recent Backwards Beekeeper meeting the subject of native bees and the potential competition with honey bees was discussed. Then just the other day, this came in our email update from the Theodore Payne Foundation (TPF). I would link to it but it appears to only exist in email form. The picture above is from Casey Burns who I assume is a TPF Member. Lisa from TPF sent the email but most of it was written by Matthew Shepard from the Xerces Society. I couldn't find a link to his article either however while looking I came across these other really fantastic resources:

Learn how to make nest-boxes for wood-nesting native bees.


Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms

Here is the email from Lisa at TPF:

For homes for native, wood-nesting bees, Casey Burns has found that 3/16" diameter holes are the most popular with the bees in our area, but a variety of sizes in encouraged. (Please see the photograph, courtesy of Casey Burns.)

For a little more info about the importance of native bees as pollinators and how to help them, here's an excerpt from the article "Nests for Native Bees" by Matthew Shepard, from Pollinator Conservation Information of The Xerces Society:

Native bees are a vital part of our environment. They ensure healthy wildflower communities and harvests of fruit and vegetables. Bees are suffering from the fragmentation and loss of their habitat and extensive use of pesticides.

Although flowers that provide nectar and pollen are important for bees, a lack of nesting sites is probably a greater threat to native bees than a lack of flowers. Unlike butterflies and other pollinator insects, bees make nests in which they create brood cells for their offspring. In many modern landscapes, a desire for neatness has usually resulted in the removal of bare ground, dead trees, and untidy corners of rough grass-all important nesting sites for bees.

The good news is that there are several easy ways in which bee nesting sites can be made. Providing suitable nest sites is a simple thing that we all can do to improve our gardens, parks, and wild areas for these important insects.

Nesting sites for solitary wood-nesting bees: The great majority of bees nest on their own, many in holes in wood. With wood nests, providing a range of hole sizes between 3/32" and 3/8" (2.5 mm to 10 mm) in diameter will support a wide range of bee species. All of these types of nest need to be placed so that the open holes face the morning sun. Not only will this warm the nests earlier in the day so the bees will become active, but it will also prevent them from overheating in the hottest part of the summer afternoons.

Nesting blocks. Bee blocks can be made by drilling nesting holes between 3/32" and 3/8" in diameter, at approximate ¾" centers, into the side of a block of preservative-free lumber. The holes need to be smooth inside, as deep as possible, and closed at one end. The length of the lumber is not critical-8" or more is good-but the lumber should be at least 4" deep. This block can be fixed firmly to a stake, fence, or building, or placed in a tree.

Twig bundles. Some plants, like teasel and bamboo, have naturally hollow stems. Cut the stems into 6" to 8" lengths. Be careful to cut the stems close to a stem node to create a tube with one end open and the other closed. Take fifteen to twenty stem pieces of a variety of internal diameters and tie them into bundles with the closed ends of the stems together. Fix each bundle to a stake, fence, or tree with the stems horizontal to the ground.

Logs and snags. Get some logs or old stumps and place them in sunny areas. Those with beetle tunnels are ideal. Plant a few upright, like dead trees, to ensure some deadwood habitat stays dry. On the southeast side of each log, drill a range of holes. Make the interior of the holes as smooth as possible. Bees don't like rough holes and may avoid them.

For more info, please visit the website of The Xerces Society,

In the original Casey Burns gives his email and phone number - email us if you really want to call or email Casey a message - I don't want to post that here.

If I have any of the attributions wrong or anything else for that matter, either email us or please let me know in the comments.

Cross Posted on the Backwards Beekeeper's Blog.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kid's Camping Highlight

It's all about the marshmallows for the little guys.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Northern & Central CA Trip Photo Essay

Natural Bridges beach in Santa Cruz.

Quesadillas from Tacos Moreno.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium "water tent".

Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Pedestrian foot bridge at Pfieffer State Park.

Lord of the Flies camping.

Two crows and a Stellar's Jay.

River lounge options. Waded the waters and enjoyed.

A view from the back seat through the lens taken by our oldest son.

Home again and already thinking about our next adventure.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Juiced Watermelon

Eric's quick thinking solution to quickly restock our juice supply and keep our army marching.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bedtime Interrupted

Our normal bedtime ritual was interrupted by this house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata).  It scurried across the bathroom floor as we were getting ready to brush teeth.  We stopped, caught the critter and pulled out our National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America.

The house centipede is found throughout North America and is a friend that feeds on household pests.  We released the centipede outside in hopes it might get to work feasting on ants.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nature Observation Subject: Squirrel

These two spent the good part of the morning side by side in quiet observation of a not-so-quiet squirrel. May the three never meet.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Trip Preparations

Yellow Seahorse photo from Monterey Bay Aquarium

We are preparing for a trip to northern California for an end of the summer camping trip. While we are there, we plan to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. When I think of aquariums, I think of this one. I'm excited about sharing this wonderful place with my sons.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rock Wall Repair

After Eric's bathroom cabinet fix and subsequent spontaneous knob upgrade, we were talking about the sense of achievement in repairing the little things. In our house, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the looming large projects nagging for attention. Why fix the cabinet when the whole bathroom needs to be overhauled? How much time do you want to spend on something that is a temporary fix?

Sometimes it is the small repairs that encourage the bigger repairs. Buoyed by Eric's work, I was inspired to fix our river rock wall. The rock fell out ages ago and was carefully quarantined from being incorporated into other river rock projects.

The boys and I thoroughly cleaned the rock and hole. Glued the rock with cement glue and created a shim.

She's still holding.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Gallon Jug Explosion

I'm back on the search for a wide-mouth gallon jug after last night's Ball jar explosion. I poured hot water in it (The jar was room temperature. I've done it before.) and it just kept pouring all over the stove and floor. Fortunately, I was able to avoid the hot water. I'm brewing two gallons of kombucha at a time now. The other gallon jar fared just fine (the one that came with the house). The jar that broke was the one recently purchased from Michael's.

I have many good leads on where to find my next kombucha brewing jug thanks to Ramshackle readers. My first quest will be for a gallon jar of pickles. I've got a scoby waiting for a home.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Knob Upgrade

Our backwards beekeeping comrade Sue posted a good idea in the comments on yesterday's post: Why not use the rest of the branch to make knobs since what was on there already was so darn ugly?

While the original fix wasn't really about aesthetics but more about my toes and avoiding a trip to the store, and buying stuff and all that, Sue makes a good point.

Riding the wave of enthusiasm from the previous success, when I got home last night I sprang into action. The very same branch was cut into knobs, screws were scavenged, backs of drawers countersunk and a new aesthetic emerged.

Voila! Okay, it's still ugly as hell but it's kinda cool the knobs are little branches isn't it?

Thanks Sue, we like it a lot more this way.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cabinet Fix

We have a cabinet in our bathroom that swings open and hits your toes when you brush your teeth - at least we did until Monday. I've been thinking about this fix for a while but finally got around to cutting a little piece of a Toyon branch from our yard to make a crude latch.

Here it is on our modest home made 1950's era home made custom cabinets with the Formica veneer pulled off (it was flapping months after we bought the house and Julia finally just ripped what wasn't well glued down off).

Here's the latch in the down position - cabinet closed. I used a screw that had a smooth shank near the top so that the piece of wood could move freely without threads in the way. I also counter sunk the screw head so that it doesn't catch on anything.

Here it is in the up position - watch your toes!

It is so satisfying to actually take the time to fix something like this, something that has been needing it for a long time. Afterward I always get new motivation to take care of as many of those little nagging problems as I can before I fall back under the spell of the bigger things I need to work on or worry about. The lesson for me here is that small wins are very important.

Oh yeah and the latch is 100% biodegradable/compost-able, is an extremely local natural product, is made from reused hardware, and was for all practical purposes free (1/2 hour of work).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bird Song Books & Bird Watching

The company behind the fabulous Bird Song books, becker & mayer!, read about my post about The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Western North America and the fix I made to the missing battery cover. Jessica generously sent over a copy with a cover in tact and the more detailed Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song. My family and I are loving it. Thank you, Jessica!

Photo by my oldest son.

With the arrival of the books, we've enjoyed a great wave of bird watching. As I was hanging up laundry, I noticed a California Thrasher. Typically, there are hard to spot because they hide under lower shrubs. I saw the usual cluster of mockingbirds, scrub jays and darting woodpeckers.

In the afternoon, a Turkey Vulture flew over head. I think the vulture was displaced from the fires. It's the first one near our house I've seen in seven years of living here.

At the Arroyo Seco, the kids and I saw a Western Bluebird and an energetic little yellow bird with distinct eye rings. I'm not sure what it was. Very bright yellow. Small. Curious. It perched on a tree above the boys and me while I listened to a local treasure hunter share about his hobby.

I'm hoping our luck holds out, and we'll spot a California Condor. Eric spotted one many years ago resting on a power line off of Calgrove in Santa Clarita.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Birthdays


Labor Day is always a busy weekend as we celebrate two Labor Day birthdays. Prior to the birth of my sons, three years apart, I always mixed up Memorial Day with Labor Day. Never more. Now I know Labor Day is in September. My sons are literalists.


Cute dogs and cats came to the party.

The littlest puppy.

Fun projects were assembled and decorated with gusto.

Handmade cards were proudly presented and delightfully received.

Such a sweet day. One of many starting five years ago when our oldest son entered our lives and we embarked on the amazing journey that is parenting.