Saturday, August 1, 2009

Raising Monarch Butterflies

It's been 9 years since our family first discovered the joy of raising Monarch butterflies. It all started in the summer of 2000 when I was reading an article in a "Family Fun" magazine, showing how families can have fun watching Monarch butterflies grow from the egg stage. All we needed to do were to hunt for these eggs growing on milkweed plants. And as luck would have it, we happened to have milkweed plants growing on our property.

I'm not sure how the milkweed plants made it onto our property, but I believe it may have something to do with the landscaping we did earlier in the Spring season, when my co-worker offered to landscape our front yard. He had owned some farmland in Barrie and was willing to transport some large rocks and stones to our place to create a Rock Garden for us and that's probably how the milkweed plant became a permanent fixture in our front lawn. Thus, a butterfly garden was born!

The first year we raised Monarchs was an absolute delight! We were utterly amazed to have witnessed both the spinning of the larvae (caterpillar) into a chrysalis as well as the emerging of the butterfly from the chrysalis. Over the years, we have shared this wonderful experience with family, friends and co-workers and except for the ones that were afraid of bugs, they too were enraptured by this miracle of nature. So, nine years later, we still have not tired of this wondrous activity and have recorded the stages again to be enjoyed for years to come.

Here's an adult butterfly looking for a good place to lay her eggs.

In the first week of egg-hunting, we found 5 eggs and 1 baby caterpillar on these milkweed leaves. Can you spot the 5 teeny tiny butterfly eggs?

Here's a close up of one baby bug and one unhatched egg.

Here are 2 older caterpillars chasing each other, after they have shedded their first layer of skin.

Here's a more grown up caterpillar hungrily munching on the milkweed plant. It's so much fun to watch them grow bigger and bigger each day and they are rather cute when they are nibbling away at the leaves, bobbing their little round heads with the springy antennae moving about.

When the caterpillars get all fat and juicy, they are ready to spin a sticky web on a sturdy spot and happily hang upside-down for the next 20 hours or so. If you time it right, you can catch one of these little guys perform the caterpillar dance as they wriggle out of their last piece of skin to reach the chrysalis stage.

As the day goes by, the chrysalis will become a shimmering green, studded with golden dots around the top and bottom of the chrysalis. It ends up looking like a beautiful piece of jade and gold precious gemstone.

Notice this chrysalis has pieces of tape stuck on either end of the stem from which it is hanging? That's because we had to perform a rescue operation to save it. What happened was that I had wanted to toss out the last of its poo and the partially-eaten leaf from the container when I noticed it was ready to hang upside down. What I didn't realize was that it had woven a web inside the lid in such a way that when I opened the lid, I inadvertently destroyed the webbing. I quickly replaced the lid but the damage was done. This poor caterpillar had to start all over again to re-attach itself to another spot. Unfortunately, it re-attached itself to a very low part of the leaf stem which was still inside the container which meant there would be no room for the chrysalis to form. Fortunately, both my hubby and Derek did a great job to delicately lift the stem up and taped it sturdily to the underside of the lid to allow for the proper transformation into a chrysalis. Phew!

By about the 10th day, the green chrysalis will turn very dark until it becomes black. At this point, the Monarch butterfly is just about ready to emerge.

When the butterfly first emerges from its chrysalis, the wings are still wet and tiny. The butterfly will hang in this position for a few hours to allow the wings to expand to its full size.

We like to keep the newly emerged butterflies in a fish tank for a day or two just to admire them for a bit before releasing them.

Here's Derek picking up one of them.

This is a male butterfly. You can tell it's a male by the thinner black stripes and the 2 black dots found on the 2 lower wings.

The second one is a female. Female Monarchs have thicker black stripes and no black dots.

The female butterfly didn't want to leave so fast and stayed around for awhile.

She must have been pretty thirsty as she stayed for quite some time taking in the nectar from a purple cone flower.

The male butterfly took off almost right away. Hmmm.... isn't it such a guy thing to do, to take off at the first possible chance! Can you see it flying off into the wild blue yonder just beyond the roof-top? Bye bye butterfly. Hope you have a safe journey flying to Mexico where you can breed more butterflies. We'll be looking forward to seeing the next generation flying back up to Canada to breed some more next summer.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Staycation

Ahhhhh.... Summer-time. I Love Summer. I especially Love Summer and Vacation Time. For my Summer Vacation, I stayed home and enjoyed all there was to enjoy right here in my own home, backyard, front yard, and the Richmond Hill/Markham/Scarborough area. Come join me as I recount some of the hi-lites from my Summer Staycation.

According to Wikipedia, a staycation is a neologism for a period of time in which an individual or family stays at home and relaxes at home or takes day trips from their home to area attractions.

Caught the first Monarch butterfly of the season fluttering around my butterfly garden.

Here's the Monarch butterfly laying eggs on the milkweed plant. I will be doing a separate post on the Monarch Life cycle again later this month. Every summer, we continue to be fascinated by the miracle of watching a butterfly egg hatch into a caterpillar, watching the caterpillar spin itself into a beautiful chrysalis and then finally transform itself into a pretty butterfly. AMAZING!!!

We started off the week by visiting Chapters Indigo where everyone picked up some books for summer reading. I really enjoy reading about Zen Philosophy. In a "Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilbur did a great job summarizing and integrating the ideas of some of the greatest thinkers and sages throughout the ages as well as the various religions and scientific theories in an attempt to explain how we evolved from the Lowest Level of Nothingness into the Highest Level of Nothingness. Very thought-provoking.

Sadly, one of my cousin's mom had passed away and Dick and I attended the funeral on the weekend. This is the garden area of the funeral home. I wish I had taken more pictures of the event but I didn't want to break any funeral visitation etiquette. I found it interesting that there were Buddhist Monks chanting and singing while saying some prayers during the ceremony. I also found out that my parents' burial plots are located not too far away from my cousin's parents' plots. It got me thinking about my own passing but I still can't decide what's best: underground burial or cremation? Well, maybe some other options will come up before I make my final decision.

After the burial, we were invited to a dinner reception to be held about an hour and half later. To pass the time, my sister suggested we visit J-Town which was only 2 blocks west of the restaurant where the reception was going to be held. J-Town may be the only truly Japanese Shopping Centre, run by Japanese vendors, filled with all things Japanese. Kevin points to a poster advertising their upcoming Sidewalk Sales. Hmmm... better keep some of those dates open for a future visit(s).

Here we are enjoying a peaceful Japanese Zen Garden at J-Town.

Here are some of the exotic snacks on display.

There were many interesting samples on offer to entice shoppers into buying some of their delicious treats, including miso-marinated tuna, yellowtail fish, different seafood dumplings, seaweed salads, and come crispy-deep-fried duck liver snack. Of course, I tried them all and they were all very yummy.

The sales clerk even gave the kids some very creamy chocolate pieces to sample. Lucky for us, the kids gave them up to me and my sister to try. The piece wrapped in pink was strawberry flavoured. Hmmmmmmm.... so so good.

In the Chinese tradition, each guest visiting a funeral home receives a packet filled with a piece of candy and some spending money. The money, usually a loonie, can only be spent on buying something sweet to be consumed on the same day to counter the sadness of losing a loved one. I ended up buying two $1.00 treats at J-Town (the Peach Gummies for Dick and the White Chocolate Macadamia Nuts for me).

I also ended up buying this Rice-filled Squid Snack for a buck.

This is what it looks like on the inside. Very very tasty.

You guessed it. I liked J-Town so much, I went back again the very next day to pick up on some more of their specials.

As the sign suggests, J-Town = Sweet, Eat, Smile, Laugh and Talk. So Kuku and so Kawaii.

Lucky for us, we went shopping on a "Surprising Sale" Day!!! Woohoo!!!

Look, Anpan Man buns!!! So very Japanese.

We picked up some more Japanese delicacies. Marinated baby octopi and marinated seaweed & squid. They were excellent. The best part was that these were going for half price because we arrived one hour before closing time.

Stocked up on fresh Asian ingredients, our family made some Fresh Rice Rolls to bring to my parents.

We also brought along these are waffle-like cute little fishie treats filled with a delicious red bean paste. Dick pan-fried them first to give them a more crispy flavour.

My sister and her kids dropped by to visit and we had an Asian Themed Party.

We made more fresh rice rolls. The fresh picked mint and thai basil from my garden added a unique and refreshing taste to the rolls.

My sis made some home-made bubble tea. She made 3 different flavours: strawberry, mango and green apple. I made some mandarin orange flavoured jelly cubes the night before as an added fun ingredient.

Here's the spread.

My sis also brought along some freshly picked raspberries from her garden. Apparently raspberries are very easy to grow. Her neighbour had given her 6 raspberry twigs to plant 2 summers ago. They have spread so quickly, she now has over 20 bushes lining her property. She has been busily getting other neighbours and friends to take some of these bushes away.

Here's Colin hunting for some red currants. He found only a small handful. We'll have to wait a little bit longer to harvest them.

My niece and nephew are re-enacting a scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in front of our mini bamboo forest.

Meanwhile, my sister is weaving together a bamboo wreath from some young bamboo twigs.

We ended the afternoon of fun by baking some ice-cream shaped cookies. Even though Derek missed out on this get-together (the poor guy had to work that day), we made a turtle cookie just for him.

During my holidays, I was happy to spend more time tending to my garden. Here's my black raspberry bush. Not too many berries for this year. Maybe next year, we'll have a larger bounty?

At least the gai lan (chinese broccoli) were ready for harvesting. I dug them out and re-seeded. They take about 2 months to grow from seed. So I'm hoping we'll get another harvest by mid-September.

The bunch on the left is from my garden. The bunch on the right came from the Chinese supermarket. We cooked the home-grown bunch for dinner tonight and it tasted good. The stalk near the bottom was a bit woody but became more tender closer to the top.

So far, the sugar pea plants which looked so promising in the spring have been a big disappointment for me. Of the 9 pea plants I started from seed, none of them survived the transplant. Even when I re-seeded directly into my backyard, only 1 lone plant made it but even that one surviving plant doesn't look too strong.

Same with the ox-heart tomato plants. I had 4 really strong looking plants started but due to heavy winds from several severe rainstorms, it doesn't look like any of those tomato plants will make it either.

I'm now pinning my hopes on the grape tomato plants. I started out with about 12 or 13 of these plants, of which only about 5 or 6 are still standing. I sure hope they can withstand today's heavy windstorm.

So now my summer staycation is coming to an end. I really enjoyed staying up late, sleeping in, staying in my pjs for as long as my hubby will allow me, relaxing, indulging in all my favourite activities like gardening, reading, paper-crafting, cross stitching and cooking. Much as I wish I could retire for good tomorrow, I'll just have to be satisfied that I got a taste of what my retirement life will be like in the not-too-distant future while I still get paid to enjoy my time off from the 8-4:30 grind. Make that the 7am-6pm grind when commute time is included. Geez, 11 hours a day, 5 days a week, wasted, not doing things I'd rather be doing. Yes, Early Retirement is looking better and better all the time. Soon, very very soon....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day!

Like most Canadians, I'm not all that patriotic. I'm not one to fly the Canadian flag proudly nor brag about Canada. Canadians may not be exciting nor flashy, but for the most part, we are quite a happy bunch and don't feel compelled to tell the rest of the world how great Canada is. Nevertheless, I will say this much. I'm ever so glad to be a Canadian!

My family came to Canada over 40 years ago from Hong Kong and I'm extremely grateful to call Canada my homeland. Aside from the weather, I really have no other complaints. Canada offers many things that very few places in the world can offer. Some of these most cherished things are: a high level of Freedom, abundant clean land with lots of open space and much of it still in its natural state, a stable government, and particularly in Toronto, a wide diversity of cultures that get along so well together because of our high level of acceptance and respect for each other (the Envy of the World, really). I could go on but these are the main reasons I feel so fortunate and I do love living here.

So, no fireworks for me tonight, no flag waving, no singing of the National Anthem. I'm thinking maybe it's time for a new National Anthem anyways. You all have to admit, "Oh Canada" is a rather boring anthem. The words sure could use some updating. I'm not so sure that too many of us would really "Stand on Guard for Thee". It sounds too militaristic.

I did spend Canada Day enjoying my favourite activities like gardening, cross stitching and other crafts. To commemorate the day, I made an Origami Box with pages from the LCBO booklet. Here's to Good Ole Canada.

I also took time out to visit the local Farmer's Market.

There were lots of fresh produce to sample.

These all tasted mighty fresh.

Some booths offered freshly made baked goods.

I haven't had a soft butter pretzel in ages.

One of the very friendly vendors offered me a large piece of white nectarine to sample. Even though there were "Foodland Ontario" logos everywhere, I found out that these white nectarines I picked up were actually from the USA. Oh well, maybe later in the summer, there will be more Ontario Farm produce. We only have a very short growing season, after all.

Here are some very tropical looking plants I'm pretty sure aren't native to Ontario. A Pineapple Plant and some Banana Plants?!?!!

These are some of the goodies I picked up. Nectarines from the USA, a cheese and tomato foccacia, a soft German Pretzel, some Greek pastries. (see what I mean about the diversity).

I couldn't resist and picked up the Pineapple Plant. Unfortunately, the pineapple is not edible but if I can manage to keep it alive for the long term, it should make for a great conversation piece.

It'll feel right at home next to the Mimosa Plant, another tropical plant that is native to South and Central America. That's why I love Canada. I can easily enjoy so many foreign items from faraway places right here in my little corner of Canada.

This is as Canadian as I got to celebrating Canada Day. Enjoying a butter tart topped with strawberries and Cream. According to Wikipedia, A butter tart is a type of pastry best known as a Canadian treat. The strawberries came from my very own Canadian Garden and the whipped cream is made by a company called Saputo, based in Montreal, Quebec. Can't get more Canadian than that. Happy Canada Day Eh?