Monday, January 22, 2018

Listen to the Sounds of Monarch Butterfly Wings in the Cerro Pelon Reserve in Mexico!

I just learned of a project that allows you to hear sounds in various locations around the world. Called Locus Sonus, it is a French-based research network that focuses on the relationship between sound and space. It had its beginnings in 2005, and works in cooperation with several research labs throughout the world, including the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) in Chicago.

While I don't entirely understand their goal or purpose, what I do know is that they set up listening devices using open mics in places in order to capture their soundscape. Mainly an artistic endeavor, it relies on technology and science to operate.

Why am I interested in this? Because one of the locations where a microphone is located is in the Cerro Pelon monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico. By tuning in to this particular channel, you can hear the sounds of monarch butterfly wings, birds chirping, and wind through the trees in the location where the monarch butterflies were first found in their wintering location in 1975.

Click on graphic to enlarge soundmap. To go to the site, click here.

The listening map is located here and you can find the Cerro Pelon mic in Mexico and click on it. You'll want to have your sound turned up to its maximum level in order to hear the low level sounds.

The listening equipment is solar powered, so there will be times when no sound is being transmitted (at night, for example, which will be indicated by the darkened areas on the map) and the volume may vary. It's very new, so there will be times when equipment adjustments are being made. During those times, the microphone may not appear on the map. Check back later. It will be worth it!

Taking it all in at Sierra Chincua sanctuary, March 3rd, 2017.

Having been in a couple of the monarch sanctuaries myself, I can confirm that yes, it's very subtle, very quiet, which is the beauty in it, especially when you're in its midst. Just as in the actual location, you will not hear loud anything streaming through the microphone and you might be underwhelmed by what you hear. But make no mistake, you can hear those delicate wing flutters.

When the sun is out, the monarchs can be seen fluttering about, like
these, in El Rosario sanctuary on March 2nd, 2017.

Because the monarchs are much more active on sunny days, this will affect what you hear when listening in. If it's cloudy or rainy, you won't hear the sounds of butterfly wings, because the monarchs will be clustered together on the trees with very few, if any, flying around. So if you don't hear them at first try, go back and give it a listen on different days at different times. I got lucky and heard the wing flutters the first time I tuned in. 🦋


Saturday, January 20, 2018

How the Lifesaver Plant Got Its Name

Winter is a time when most of my houseplants get the most love they're ever going to get. That's because if I want to keep these plants - mostly tropicals - they have to live in the house with us during the winter and I generally pay more attention to those things that share my living space. We're in Zone 5b here and it gets way too cold for them to stay outside year round.

These begonias do well in the bright shade of the pergola, but need to
go inside for the winter.

One day, in the summer of 2016, I went nursery hopping with my good friend, Shelley, and while I showed some restraint as we visited various places, only buying what I needed for a photo shoot for a trade industry magazine article I was doing, I found something I couldn't live without. It only cost a few dollars, but we all know that when it comes to plants, cost often has little to do with our buying decisions.

I'd heard about the lifesaver plant many years ago and had seen photos of it - such a cactus-y looking thing with surreal candy blooms. I wondered if those flowers (I felt funny even calling them that) really looked as plasticky in real life.

But now here it was, right in front of me, and oh boy, yeah. It really did look like its photos. So I bought it. In the time since that day, it has taken turns growing in the house, in the conservatory, and outside during the summer. It seems to be a happy camper no matter where it is. You've got to love a plant like that.

Here are the growing stats:

Common name: Lifesaver plant
Botanical name: Huernia zebrina
Plant type: Succulent
Zone: 10
Light: Full sun
Water: Let dry thoroughly between watering, then soak. Tolerates neglectful watering.
Height: Under 6 inches 
Bloom time: Intermittent

FUN FACT: Huernia zebrina belongs to the same family as milkweed -  Apocynaceae. But no, monarch butterflies don't use it as a host plant. 😉

For ideas on how to use houseplants that coordinate with your personal style and decor, see my first book, co-authored with Jenny Peterson: Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants. (2013, St. Lynn's Press)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Return to Mexico and the Monarchs

I haven't yet blogged in detail about my visit to the monarch sanctuaries in Mexico last March, and I promise I will, VERY soon. That was a trip I will never ever forget, and not just because of what I saw, but because of what I felt. Seldom in my life have I been moved to tears by the very sight of something so  magnificent.

Clusters of monarchs in the El Rosario sanctuary, on March 2, 2017

When I left Mexico, I knew I wanted to return sometime, but I didn't know if that would be a reality or not. And then I got a message a few days before Christmas from Jim West, owner of Craftours, the world's largest touring company in the craft industry. He asked me this:

"...we are working with the SAVE THE MONARCHS FOUNDATION and we are interested in knowing if you would like to be our special guest for a tour in Mexico when we actually go to a monarch sanctuary and see hundreds and thousands of these beautiful monarchs."

Well...ummm...let me think about that. FOR TWO SECONDS!

To make a long story short, yes, I will be returning to Mexico to see the monarchs, along with 18 other people. I will be their go-to person for questions and information about the monarchs. I'm really glad that I've been there before, because that gives me background experience along with the information I've learned over the years, in order to help make the trip more interesting and enjoyable.

The Sun Man in the Cosmovitral

I'll be there February 19-26 and will be visiting three sanctuaries this time. El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, which I visited last March, and a third, Piedra Herrada, which I've not yet seen. We'll be going to the Cosmovitral in Toluca, which I've also seen, and is one of the most unique botanical gardens in the world. But we'll be traveling in and out of Mexico City this time, so visiting that city will be a new experience for me.

With just one month to go before I head out, I'm starting to get pretty excited about it all, and I can't wait to share my enthusiasm with my fellow travelers. I'll be sure to keep you posted when I go, with photos and updates via Facebook.

You can read more about the trip here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Visit With Sue Grafton, Author

In June of 2016, garden communicators from GWA Region III had a two-day get-together in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. One of the highlights of the garden tours was a visit to the home and gardens of author Sue Grafton, whose home is just east of Louisville.

If you aren't aware of who Ms. Grafton is, perhaps you've heard of her books. She's the prolific author of the "Alphabet Series" of detective novels. Beginning with A is for Alibi in 1982 and ending with Y is for Yesterday in 2017, she wrote the series after a 15-year career writing screenplays.

When we sat in Grafton's sunroom that Friday afternoon, listening to her share writing methods and anecdotes about her writing career, we didn't know that she already was battling cancer.

On December 28, 2017, we were saddened to hear that Sue Grafton lost that battle and passed away at her second home in Santa Barbara, California.

Those of us who had the privilege of spending that day with her began reminiscing about it. I realized I'd never written a blog post about the visit, so I'm righting that wrong here and now.
When I heard a couple of months prior that we were going to be visiting Sue Grafton's home, I immediately bought a copy of the first book in her famous series. Though many who attended that day were already fans of her writing, I had yet to read a single book she'd penned. Detective novels aren't my favorite genre (that would be historical fiction), but I wanted to read at least one before I met her.

A is for Alibi was a good read. By the time I got to the ending, which was worded brilliantly, I could understand how and why people were so enamored with her writing.

Of course, I took my copy of her book with me for her to sign, which she so graciously did. I gave her a copy of my own first book, Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants, as a hostess gift.

Sue and her husband, Steven Humphrey, purchased their beautiful home in 2000. The property encompasses nearly 30 acres and was the former estate of hardware mogul William Belknap. The home was built in 1911, and Belknap named it Lincliff. Situated along the Ohio River, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Author Sue Grafton welcomes garden writer and author, Barbara Wise,
to her Louisville home.

We started our visit with Sue welcoming us into her home, where we then settled in for a fun and informative chat with her. She explained how she approaches her writing and encouraged us to be less inhibited in our own writing.

Her husband, Steve, gave a tour of the gardens, but we were also allowed to roam her property at our leisure.

The gardens were formal in design, which complimented the Georgian Revival style home. It was Steve who took on the restoration of the gardens and he did his research, discovering that John Olmsted, nephew of Frederick Law Olmsted, designed the original residential layout.


About 20 years after the home was built, it was landscape architect Bryant Fleming, designer of Nashville's Cheekwood Estate, that created the gardens. Steve had access to the original plans and used them to guide his restoration.

Steve became interested in gardening before Sue, and he taught her to appreciate the finer points of landscaping. Besides the tailored gardens on the property, they grow edibles too, such as potatoes, asparagus, and an assortment of berries. I don't recall seeing that part of their gardens, but our time was limited enough that we couldn't take in the entire property.

At the time of our visit, Sue fielded a question about what she would do once the final letter "Z" was finished in her series of Kinsey Milhone adventures. Since she had just finished writing Y is for Yesterday, which was released three months after our visit, she still had plenty to think about for Z is for Zero, slated for release sometime in 2019. But she said she had no writing plans past "Z."

When news reported Ms. Grafton's passing, her daughter, Jamie Clark, spoke on behalf of the family:

“She was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

GWA Region III meeting attendees.
The region includes Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin,
Michigan, and West Virginia.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 Happened Like This

There's no better way to get back into the blogging habit that just starting. I've intended to do this countless times and always got interrupted before I could finish. Now here we are, at the beginning of another new year and I'm long overdue for an update! I've tried to keep up with many of you as you traversed your busy year too, but I know I've missed some of your adventures. Why does life have to move along so quickly?

This blog post is longer than I usually write, but I'll try to briefly recap what I've been up to, with some more detailed blog posts later.

January brought a bathroom remodel that was a year later in coming than we'd planned. We only have one full bath in this house, and it had been 25 years since the last update, so this was kind of a big deal.

I was pretty happy about the updated bathroom, but the really exciting thing that January brought was the culmination of months of work towards the formation of a specialized license plate for the state of Ohio that would benefit the monarch butterfly. It officially was available for sale on January 11th and I was right there at my local BMV when they opened, to get mine.

This gave me great satisfaction, because it shows you don't have to “be someone” to get things done. With the sale of each monarch organizational plate, Monarch Wings Across Ohio will receive $15 for monarch research. As long as 25 plates are sold each year, they will keep it available to anyone who has a licensed vehicle in the state of Ohio.

Monarchs cling to oyamel fir trees in the Sierra Chincua monarch reserve
in the Transvolcanic mountains of Central Mexico.

The end of February found Romie and me heading south to Mexico to see the monarchs in their overwintering grounds. Beth and Ernie Stetenfeld from Wisconsin joined us for the six-day trip, and I can't say in a brief paragraph what a wonderful experience it was to fulfill this bucket list item. So there will definitely be a few more posts about it. ushered in a much anticipated spring and all of a sudden, it was April. This was a roller coaster of an emotional month, as my second book, THE MONARCH: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, was released. On Earth Day, April 22nd. The Paulding County Carnegie Library hosted a book release party and the event was very successful and a lot of fun.

The Paulding County Carnegie Library threw a fun and fabulous party
celebrating the release of my book.

Later that same day, my 102-year-old grandma passed away. We knew it was coming, and she lived a wonderfully long and full life, but it doesn't make it any easier. In fact, it might be harder, because when you've had a grandma like her for nearly 60 years, you really can't imagine your life without her. But we do have hundreds and hundreds of memories to cherish.

This photo of my grandma and me was taken on Christmas Eve 2016, two
days before her 102nd birthday. It's the last photo I have with her.

When I was writing my book, I consulted with Dr. Lincoln Brower, one of the world's foremost authorities on monarchs. He's in his 80s now and is a research professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. I wanted to meet him and personally give him a copy of my book, so I asked if I could do so. He graciously invited me to his home so Romie, my mom, and I planned a trip for May. We spent the afternoon with him and then we all went to dinner. Meeting him was one of the highlights of my year.
I enjoyed my conversation with Dr. Lincoln Brower when I visited him in
his Virginia home in May.

On this same trip, we stopped in Pittsburgh to visit my publisher's offices – St. Lynn's Press. We learned that the office space was previously held by a company that my husband's employer does business with on a regular basis. It was a “six degrees of separation” moment!

Me, with my St. Lynn's Press #TeamMonarch: Holly Rosborough, Chloe Wertz,
and Paul Kelly. My editor, Cathy Dees, was away, in California.

While in Pittsburgh, we also visited Phipps Conservatory, took a night trip to a location overlooking the city that I learned of from Atlas Obscura, and had dinner with friend, Jessica Walliser, author of several books and radio show host.

Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh

Downtown Pittsburgh at night, as seen from the West End Overlook

We then headed a bit south, where we visited the Flight 93 Memorial. Mom and I had been there twice before, but it was Romie's first time. It's a moving experience, no matter how often you see it.

Continuing on south, we headed to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, for that visit with Dr. Brower. After overnighting at Sweet Briar College's Elston Inn, we kept going south.

My grandma was born here in 1914. Called Ravenwood, it was built in 1849.

Because we were close enough to Crewe, Virginia, birthplace of my grandma that had just passed away, we wanted to try to find the house where she was born. We knew it was still standing. After a really interesting series of conversations with locals, we found it. I wish we would have been able to share the experience with her.

Jacqui Knight, from New Zealand, was an absolute delight, and she came
to the Paulding County Master Gardeners plant sale before continuing on her
journey. I was selling and signing my books at the sale.

Also in May, I was thrilled to have a visit from Jacqui Knight, Trustee with Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust. Jacqui lives in Auckland and was in the U.S. on an ambassador trip, visiting key locations in our country for gathering information about the monarch. She visited Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, where she met MW founder, Dr. Chip Taylor. She also stayed with Dr. Brower in Virginia, and was working her way back west when she spent a night with us. 

Just a mile from us, power lines were knocked flat by straight line winds.

We showed her some good old Paulding County  straight line winds, complete with a power outage! Since we had no power, we drove to Van Wert for supper. We didn't regain our power until late that night, but since  you don't need electricity to talk, Jacqui and I had some good conversation about the monarch we both love so much. New Zealand has its own small population of monarchs.

The U.S. Botanic Garden is situated on the National Mall, near The Capital.
See the dome of The Capital just left of center?

Flingers at Hillwood Estate, home Marjorie Merriweather Post.

June brought the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, this time held in the Washington, D.C. area. I'll have more later on the gardens we saw, but one of the highlights of the Fling is getting to be with garden blogger friends that we may only get to see once a year, as well as meeting some for the first time.

This is just part of the spectacular rock gardens at Chris Hansen's home.

We weren't home very long when Mom and I took off again, this time to Holland, MI, where we visited Chris Hansen, breeder of the popular SunSparkler® and Chick Charms® sedums. His gardens at his beautiful home are captivatingly designed and I wanted to spend oodles of time looking at the hundreds of varieties of rock garden plants he has there.

Susan Martin's property is almost entirely in shade, so she has surrounded
her home with a carpet of texture and a kaleidoscope of greens.

We spent a few days at Chris's home, but we also got to visit one of our favorite garden centers, Garden Crossings (why can't all garden centers be like this?), Chris's Garden Solutions business site, the Walters Gardens display gardens, and we also got to have dinner with Susan Martin, as well as visiting her lovely woodland garden.

Always a must-visit at Cultivate is the Peace Tree Farm booth.

July always means a trip to Columbus to attend the Cultivate trade show, where we get to see all kinds of new plants and garden products, as well as talk with industry people. We're fortunate that this is held in our backyard and is an easy trip to our state's capital. Being a member of GWA (Garden Writers Association) has its perks when it comes to this show, too. (Free admission!)

We saw a myriad of garden ideas in the private gardens of Buffalo that we
toured at the GWA Expo and Symposium.

The busy summer wasn't over yet. The annual GWA Expo and Symposium was held in August in Buffalo. Mom and I drove up for it and not only did we get to see some of the fabulous gardens that are part of the famous Garden Walk Buffalo every summer, we took a day and went over the border into Canada, to see Niagara Falls and some gardens there. I'll share more of that in another post, too.

Thanks to our Canadian neighbors for the red, white, and blue display!

Later in the month, Romie and I drove to Nashville to experience the total solar eclipse with our friend, Barbara Wise. I love spending time with Barbara and this was made extra special because of the eclipse. If you've never experienced seeing it in totality, you really must put that on your bucket list. It's nothing like seeing a partial eclipse. Trust me.

August begins the tagging season for migrating monarchs, and this year, we raised and tagged more than 100 monarchs and sent them on their way to Mexico. It was a great year, and all signs point to the numbers in Mexico being up when they do the count down there for the winter.

Speaking of monarchs, at the end of August, we were host to Butterbiker Sara Dykman, who was on her way back to Mexico and was passing through our area. I spearheaded arranging to have her speak in Ft. Wayne at the University of St. Francis as well as our local elementary school students. 

Sara Dykman, a biologist from Kansas City, as she's leaving a two-night
stay at Our Little Are.

Sara recently completed a 10,201-mile round trip from Central Mexico to Canada and back again, following the monarch migration, all on her bicycle, spreading monarch awareness all along the way. She's the only person to have done this.

The time together is never long enough. 💕

We were excited for September to arrive, because our exchange student from Ecuador, who lived with us in 1993-94, Karina, came for a visit, with her husband and two little boys. It was the first time our daughters had seen her since she last visited in 1999. Needless to say, we had an absolute wonderful time and it was fabulous to have her sleeping under our roof again.

Photo courtesy of Jean Persely.
I had a few speaking engagements this fall, including one at the Monarch Festival in Ft. Wayne, IN. Romie and I also traveled to Midland, MI, in October, where I spoke to a wonderful group of Master Gardeners and others from the community.

Also in October, Romie,  grandson Anthony, and I drove down to the Cincinnati Nature Center to hear Monarch Watch founder, Dr. Orley "Chip" Taylor, speak about monarchs. Though we'd exchanged a few emails prior to this, we'd never personally met. 

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Turner

Healthwise, the fall wasn't great, as I battled strep twice and bronchitis, but things slow down during that time anyway, with the exception of the holidays. By the middle of November, I was able to get together with several of my fellow dental hygiene classmates (IPFW – Class of 1977), some of whom I hadn't seen for nearly 40 years.

It's amazing how you can be apart for so long, but once you're back
together again, it's almost as if no time has passed at all. (Almost.)

That's pretty much it, along with some book signings and a lot of interviews for podcasts, radio, and TV shows. (More about those later.) It was certainly a busy year, but also a fun one and 2018 is looking pretty good, too. 

My next speaking engagement is the regional Perennial Plant Association regional meeting in Chicago at Morton Arboretum on February 3. I'll be sharing the program schedule with Doug Tallamy, author of the bestselling Bringing Nature Home. Yep, I'm name-dropping and I'm a tad bit nervous about the whole thing, but I'm also looking forward to meeting him and hearing him speak.

Now that you're caught up, I'll do my best to share some details of these fun activities in future posts. And I promise not to go AWOL for so long either. If you're a long-time reader, thanks for hanging in there with me, and if you're new to Our Little Acre, welcome! I encourage you to look through the archives for gardening ideas as well as my ongoing adventures with monarchs. 

And I've got some exciting news on that monarch front! Stay tuned!  🦋

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