Not Even a Goodbye

Chrysalis one successfully emerged while I was at work Friday.


The chrysalis started going through the stages of showing wings and then gradually getting darker on Wednesday. It was absolutely black Friday morning before I left the house.


Articles indicated that the newly emerged butterfly would need 4-5 hours to dry and strengthen its wings. I could keep it in the enclosure for one day, if I provided fresh flowers.

As I was unsure about how long the butterfly had been out by the time I got home and it was going to be dark in a couple of hours, I gathered some fresh flowers to provide sustenance for an overnight stay.

Olivia was fascinated by the movement she saw up on the top of the bookcase. The butterfly opening and closing its wings was intriguing.

Early Saturday morning, I coaxed it on to a bloom and out of the enclosure. There was no sticking around for photos or tearful farewells. Butterfly 1 out and off to Mexico!




Monarchs, Murder, and Milkweed

This is a bit out of order with the other posts since I’m already at my second chrysalis, and raising three new caterpillars that MomBert insisted that I take from her milkweed which was covered in wasps. Yes, wasps will snack on chubby, slow caterpillars.


Chrysalis 2: Those are not light reflections. The chrysalis actually has metallic gold dots and a gold line at the top. So pretty.

This summer I purposefully planted four butterfly gardens at points in the front and back yards. I grabbed seed packets marketed for that purpose then mixed in sunflowers, dill and curled parsley for the swallowtails, and added varieties of milkweed and swamp milkweed in hopes of attracting monarchs.

Typically, I see a ton of swallowtail butterflies and find their caterpillars munching away in groups on the dill and parsley.


Swallowtails: egg to butterfly

However, the few swallowtail caterpillars I found disappeared quickly. I wasn’t sure why, but leaned towards placing blame on the influx of praying mantis. This was their summer! Usually it’s a treat when I find just one adult mantis every few weeks, but this summer babies were popping up everywhere on a daily basis, including my “pet” mantis who grew with the same sunflower for almost two weeks.


I had a very minimal hope that any monarch caterpillars would show up and survive the possible praying mantis murder plots. The monarch butterflies passed through sampling the coneflowers, and butterfly bushes, but that seemed to be the extent of their visits.


Understandably, I was amazed when I found the first monarch caterpillar about two weeks into August. I was crouched down weeding by one of the milkweeds and realized that I was eye level with a distinctive pair of “horns.” I made the same noise that I would have coming face to face with a snake or a giant spider…but the happy version.


That is its skin in the bottom right. The swallowtails eat their sheds for protein, but apparently monarchs are too good for that.

I whipped off the gardening gloves and ran in the house for my camera and max lens. Who has a hundred pictures of the same caterpillar? This girl!


Sadly our relationship was short lived. I absolve the praying mantis community of any wrong doing because now I blame STINKBUGS!

The very next day, I went out to check on the caterpillar, and found it being shanked by a stinkbug! It turns out that one of the smelliest, most annoying bugs is also aggressive! It was stabbing my poor little ‘pillar, and literally evacuated it’s stinky bowels while I watched. Somebody got squished right after these pictures.



I was sad over a caterpillar. Ridiculous! All I wanted to do was try to help the monarch population and that little guy or gal had been my only candidate.

Striped surprises were to come. A few days later I found almost a dozen caterpillars of varying sizes on my largest swamp milkweed plant. However the number changed from day to day. Had they moved on? Were they eaten? I had no idea, but started investigating what I would need for an indoor habitat.


I had mixed feelings about bringing some of the caterpillars indoors. I wanted to help, but did not want to be responsible for any deaths. So I started with only three who were all the same little sliver in size. One wasn’t even showing its stripes, and another had only one set of horns. Unfortunately, one of the three did not keep up with the growth of the others and  appeared to have some physical issues, passing away after the other two had grown to almost three inches and had gone into chrysalis. Articles said to expect some fatalities. Hopefully things will go better with the remaining residents. I should have my first butterflies towards the end of next week.

I Don’t Know How to Answer That

How was your summer?

I don’t know how to answer that. 

I’ve always hated that line of questioning. How was your weekend? Your break? Your whatever? I’m not completely convinced that anyone really cares how my time was spent. It’s a knee jerk social convention that I am guilty of employing myself. 

The asker just wants the other person to respond with “Good” or “Fine”, or possibly with a short but interesting anecdote. Often the question is a jumping off point for the asker to launch into a story of his or her own. “Oh, well let me tell you what happened to me. You’ll appreciate this!” Chances are good that I won’t, but by all means proceed. 

Much as we may or may not appreciate witty vacation stories, no one REALLY wants to know how it was if it was bad. Unfortunately for others, it is completely within the scope of my personality to stop people in their tracks with exactly how bad it was. 

My beautiful friend died this summer. That’s how it was. 

Yes, I did some fun things and had adventures. I could pull out an amusing anecdote if needed. Heck, I was at the beach with my family for the first time in five years when she passed. I wasn’t there for her alcohol soaked bedside vigil at the hospital with her family, and all our friends and a red wagon full of booze. I could only post photos and memories to the Facebook group from afar, going back as far as possible in my digital archives. So how was my summer?

I hovered around the idea of emailing our school staff and begging them to pinky swear not to ask each other the dreaded question. After all, our friend and colleague’s fight against cancer had been the entire school’s fight for nine months. But my reputation as the person who says the inappropriate thing or the snarky thing stayed my hand. Somehow it would have come across wrong. As school started, inevitably the question was asked even by people who had been directly active in her care. 

So I’ve tried to be a good kid and answer with stories of caterpillars, zip lining, yardsales and the like. But a part of my brain screams about her as I tell those stories. 

Particularly today. Her sister reminded us that it was a year ago today that everything changed. What she had spent most of a year thinking was sciatic nerve pain hobbling her movement, was an insidious creature absorbing her hip bones and building tumors up and down her fragile spine. It was so wretched and evil that doctors wouldn’t be able to identify its source for another six months. 

Running its course, the cancer immobilized her, then teased her and us by letting her build back the strength to walk unassisted again. It took her hair. It took her appetite and stole her taste for favorite foods. She could no longer stand chocolate. That’s a horror story. It played with creating new lesions and growths in different parts of her body just to keep the doctors guessing. For a while it gave her a lazy eye and double vision. And in the end, it sucked up her ability to get enough oxygen on her own, and her dream of seeing her two-year old at Disney. But all through the ridiculous ups and downs, and loss of dignity, she smiled her gigantic Disney princess smile. A smile that had a little bit of the villainess behind it. I couldn’t have loved her as much without a little wickedness being there,and a shrieked “RIGHT!” and cackling laugh in response to my own sarcastic commentary. 

She was a life-long cheerleader, positive but not a Pollyanna. Where I would have been the worst and grumpiest patient, she was gracious to all. She gladly absorbed all the tributes, signs, tshirts, videos, and projects created in the name of keeping her strong; or more likely keeping us strong as we powerlessly watched everything happen. 

There had to be times when she just wanted a private life instead of constant well meant bombardment. Times when she was overwhelmed by the pain and the fear of what was happening. She must have leaned on her mother, sister, and husband’s shoulders in those moments. I only had a few moments like that with her. As always, she worried about other people, not wanting to make them uncomfortable by talking about how she really felt or things like planning her will. She was more often in the role of comforter. 

The first time I visited her after the diagnosis and initial surgery, I cried because all the pain killers made her voice sound strange. Of course, she just kept saying,”I’m sorry. It’s okay.” As if this was her fault. It’s a cliche, but I’ll never feel like I did enough or visited enough or did all that I could for her. But I desperately cling to the idea that she was mine. 

The last time I visited her with a friend, she was groggy and in and out of a very disturbed sleep during the visit, not really aware of us until we were leaving. When I told her I loved her as I kissed her goodbye for the day, she managed to make eye contact and mumble a “love ya” back. 

So that’s how my summer was. 

Dad. Dad! DAD! DAD!

I love my obnoxious shrieking goldfinches. They never fail to make me look out the window just to make sure no one is being murdered. At the cost of a potential nap, they got me again.

I looked out to find that Dad Goldfinch was in charge of dinner for two…


…possibly three babies.


The babies were nonstop! They kept up a constant chatter all while frantically flapping their wings. The trials of single parenthood.



We Have Chrysalis!

Thursday night the biggest “cat” left the milkweed and attached himself to the flap on the inside of the zipper of the enclosure. 

Given his size and the amount of days that had passed, I guessed that this was a sign of the next stage. However I really hoped that he wouldn’t get too attached to the zipper. Most reviews of this enclosure said that their caterpillars attached their chrysalis to the top of the cube.

Not my guy though! At 6a.m. Friday, he was hanging in what one article called the “pre-pupal j form.” Still on that damn zipper. 

When I got home around 4:30 he was still there, but even more squished in on himself. Barely an hour later when I checked back, there was a bright green chrysalis! It looks like a carved piece of jade with ridges and lines that create a blend of caterpillar and future butterfly. 

In 9-14 days, if things go well, I should have a butterfly! I hope the other two hurry up as Ohio’s weather is being influenced by Harvey. It was 60 degrees today! That doesn’t seem like butterfly weather. 

In other news, Miles still asserts that he is the baby.