‘Tis the Season For: Pumpkin Picking Tips.

  • One of the most abundant and popular items seen everywhere this time of year is the PUMPKIN.  It comes in lots of sizes and shapes and is used to flavor everything from desserts, to coffee, and even soup.  Here are some FUN FACTS about this seasonal favorite as well as tips on how to choose a good pumpkin:
  • Pumpkins originated in Central America.

  • Pumpkins are really squash… members of the squash family.

  • A pumpkin is a fruit. Most people think of it as a vegetable.

  • Pumpkins are 90% water. 

  • The largest pumpkin ever grown is 2,323.7 pounds.   You can see it here:  http://www.pumpkinnook.com/giants/giantpumpkins.htm

For more fun PUMPKIN facts visit: http://gardenersnet.com/fun/pumpkintrivia.htm

How to Select Perfect Pumpkins:

Select pumpkins that are completely orange. A partially green pumpkin might not ripen any further.  Be sure it is not too heavy to carry safely.  You might want to bring along a wagon to carry your pumpkin(s).

Use medium pumpkins for carving into a Jack O Lantern. Small pumpkins are better for cooking and baking.   

A ripe pumpkin has a hard shell that does not dent easily when pressing on it with a thumbnail.  Examine the entire pumpkin carefully for soft spots. If you find even one soft spot, try another pumpkin.

If you don’t plan on cutting your pumpkin into a Jack-O-Lantern, it will last well into Thanksgiving and beyond.   

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Digging For Fossils in Our Own Backyard.

Several weeks ago, my husband and I had the rare experience of digging for fossils.  Thanks to the Edleman Fossil Park at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, people from all over the country  – and world – can find, and keep, treasures from the Cretaceous Period.  The park –  located in Mantua, NJ – was once covered by the ocean, so the marine fossils are easy to dig for and worth a family trip.

 

 

You won’t unearth dinosaurs since they were land animals, but the marine life we found was still pretty cool.  We dug for under two hours and found the remains of  oysters, brachiopods, sponges,  bacteria “poop”,   and a rare blue mineral called vivianite.  There is also a stream for shark tooth hunting.

The fossil park has two public “dig days” each year but the spots fill up fast.  More than 400 schools are on a waiting list for class trips.  But for all your little – and big – paleontologists out there, it’s a rewarding place to begin a life-long love of pre-historic things.

http://www.rowan.edu/fossils/

Alive and Well: Our Monarch Butterfly Project

I’ve posted a few times about our efforts to help save the endangered Monarch Butterfly.  By planting milkweed, the insect population will lay eggs and produce the caterpillars that make the next generation.  While these butterflies might be attracted to other plants like the popular Butterfly Bush, they ONLY LAY EGGS ON THE MILKWEED. AND THE CATERPILLAR ONLY EATS THE LEAVES OF THIS PLANT.  

Perhaps because we’ve had such a mild fall, the last Monarch cycle occurred just a couple weeks ago.  And, I am happy to say, we “hatched” SIX butterflies this season- up from TWO last year.

That may not seem like much, but  every bit adds to the total.

 

After the caterpillar is done feeding, it attaches its chrysalis underneath the siding of our house.  We went out and checked them each morning and one day…three weeks ago…we found this:

It’s a small effort, with such a beautiful reward.  Long may these lovely creatures live!

To learn about the monarch and how you can help save this endangered species and to get free milkweed seeds to plant for next year visit: http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm

Marilyn Ostermiller Presents: Under the Radar Low Profile National Parks, Part 2

This is the second of a two-part series focused on 10 of America’s lesser known national parks. The first part was posted June 26.

Outdoor activities ranging from sedate to high adrenalin can be found at America’s National Parks.

Want to go canyoneering? Zion National Park has become one of the premier places in the country to participate in this exciting activity that combines route finding, rappelling, problem solving, swimming, and hiking.

Want to meet a dog sled team?  Alaska’s Denali National Park’s kennels are open year-round, hosting the only sled dogs in the country tasked with helping to protect and patrol a national park.

Looking for a “road less traveled” experience? The following five National Park are relatively undiscovered compared to the ones that attract millions of visitors annually.

American Alps

North Cascades National Park, located about three hours drive from Seattle, offers serious mountaineering. Beat generation author Jack Kerouac captured his impression of the park in the 1958 novel, “The Dharma Bums,” where he wrote, “I went out in my alpine yard and there it was … hundred of miles of pure snow-covered rocks and virgin lakes and high timber.”

The park also offers accessible trails and short, scenic strolls, and steep, grueling hikes. Mammals native to the park include mountain goats and wolverines.

Annual visitors: 20,677

Glaciers Abound

North Cascades National Park, Washington encompasses more than 300 mountain glaciers,  127 alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. The Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a popular starting point for the 400 miles of trails that meander through the valleys and cut through the mountains with switchbacks and rocky terrain.

Annual visitors: 20,677

More Than Meets the Eye

Nevada’s Great Basin National Park boasts dense forests filled with 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. Visitors who venture underground at Lehman Caves will find an ornate marble cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites and more than 300 rare shield formations The park’s Great Basin is one of the darker spots in the country at night, making it a place to marvel at the Milky Way and constellations, away from the light pollution encountered by city-dwellers.

Annual visitors: 116,123

Photo Credit: National Parks Service

At Great Basin National Park in Nevada, rimstone dams cover the cave floor in the Cypress Swamp.

 

 

Discovered by Fur Trappers and Gold Miners

Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park comprises 30 lakes and 900 islands that once were traversed by Native Americans, European explorers, fur trappers and gold miners who navigated the U.S.-Canada border in birch-bark canoes. Much of the park can be reached only by water. The Kettle Falls Hotel, built by a timber baron in 1910, is the only lodging within the park.

 Annual visitors: 238,313

Keep an Eye Out for Gators

Congaree National Park is in South Carolina, near Charleston and Colombia. Canoeing or kayaking Cedar Creek takes visitors past some of the tallest trees in eastern North America. Along the way, they are likely to see river otters, deer, turtles, wading birds and even an occasional alligator

Annual visitors: 87,513

Before you go to any of the 59 national parks, visit nps.gov to check for any current warnings about conditions at the park, such as trail closings.

If you are planning to travel with children, the following books, suggested for 8 to 12 year olds, may be of interest:

  • National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide USA Centennial Edition: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes, and Cool Activities from Coast to Coast!
  • National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas: Maps, Games, Activities, and More for Hours of Backseat Fun Paperback.

 

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

How to “BEE” Kind to Bees.

For thousands of years, honeybees have transformed flower nectar into that wonderful sweetness called honey.  Not only is honey a delicious treat in recipes or to sweeten a cup of tea, it has many medicinal properties as well.  Due to its sterile qualities, doctors used it as wound dressings during the civil war.

Honeybees are important in another crucial way – as pollinators of our food supply.  The USDA estimates that “about one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honeybee pollination”.  Some crops, such as almonds, rely completely upon honeybees for propagation.

So what, you might ask?  Honeybee populations are dwindling worldwide from a combination of factors that contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder. This happens when worker bees leave behind a colony with only a queen and a few immature bees, resulting in death of the colony. Currently the main factors are thought to be: viruses, parasites, management stressors, migratory stress and pesticides.  To view a film on CCD: http://www.vanishingbees.com

Honeybees are one of many indicators of a healthy environment.  A disturbance in their life cycle, could be a symptom of larger issues.           

HOW CAN WE HELP?

  1. Buy organic to help reduce pesticide use.  Refrain from use of pesticides in your own yard and garden.
  2. Plant pollinator-friendly plants such as bee balm and red clover.
  3. Buy local and single producer honey to support small scale bee keepers in your own community.
  4. Enjoy the wonderful taste of local honey in your own recipes.

BEE KIND TO BEES…Our Food Supply Depends on it!

 

Under the Radar: Low Profile National Parks Part 1, by Marilyn Ostermiller

More Americans than ever plan to vacation with their families this summer, according to a recent AAA survey. Many of them are going to America’s national parks. The Great Smoky Mountains expect about 10 million visitors this year, compared to five million each at the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.

Looking for a “road less traveled” experience? Five low profile national parks, based on the number of annual visitors, are listed below.

Ultimate Wilderness

 Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was created to preserve and protect 8.4 million acres of the diverse Arctic ecosystems of Alaska’s Brooks Range. It serves as the headwaters for six wilderness rivers. There are no facilities, roads or trails. Visitors should come equipped to backpack, hike, camp and cruise the rivers. Transportation in and out of the park, usually by plane, must be pre-arranged.

Annual visitors: 10,047

Photo Credit: National Parks Service:  A Student Conservation Association volunteer stands on the Continental Divide in the Brooks Mountain Range, which divides the continent north and south.

Sunken Ships: Isle Royale National Park is a remote island in Lake Superior near Michigan’s border with Canada. Cars aren’t allowed in this wilderness of forests, lakes and waterways where moose and wolves roam. There are dive sites where visitors plunge into the lake to explore several shipwrecks. Ferry is the only way to get there and camping reservations are required for visitors who want to spend the night.

Annual visitors: 18,684

Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink:  Dry Tortugas National Park is a cluster of seven islands 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. The “Dry” in its name came from the Spanish explorers who determined the sea water surrounding the islands was not fit to drink. “Tortugas” is the Spanish word for the sea turtles that build their nests in the protected sandy shores.  The waters around the islands particularly appeal to snorkelers because their coral reefs teem with interesting marine life.

Annual visitors: 70,862

South of the Equator:  National Park of American Samoa, Territory of American Samoa, is 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. It is America’s only national park south of the equator. Rain forests and extensive coral reefs are its main draw. Visitors should pack snorkel or diving gear; air tanks can be rented. The only land mammals are three types of bats, among them the fruit bats with three-foot  wingspans.

Annual visitors: 13,892

Newest National Park:  Pinnacles National Park in California was designated the 59th national park in 2013. It dates back millions of years ago, when multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form the land encompassed by this 26,000-acre park. Rock climbers and hikers are drawn to it. Another attraction are the condors. About 30 of them are tagged, but fly freely.

Annual Visitors: 206,533

A sequel to this blog post, scheduled for July 10, will acquaint readers with five more of the less-traveled parks around the country. The U.S. National Parks Service provides extensive information about the 59 parks it operates  including trip planning information. https:www.nps.gov

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

 

 

 

Like Bugs? There’s a Museum For That!

As much as we adults lament the “peskiness” of insects, they are endlessly fascinating creatures and worthy of respect.  Without insects, our food supply would be in grave danger. These mysterious creatures are fascinating to children as well.

If you and your children want to learn more about insects, check out some of these INSECT MUSEUMS dedicated to bug fans everywhere.   You can make it a stop on your summer vacation.

  1. Oregon Zoo, Portland: Has an African millipede that’s 9 inches long (HUGE for an insect).  http://www.oregonzoo.org
  2. Los Angeles National History Museum: Insect hynts, puppet walks and cooking demonstrations with bug chefs.  Try BUGABOO BROWNIES made from mealworm flour.  http://www.nhm.org
  3. Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Insect Village: Mechanical Insect displays and walking stick bugs among the highlights.  http://www.pacificsciencecenter.org
  4. Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Zoology Dept: Largest collection of Praying Mantises and Dung Beetles.  http://www.cmnh.org

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  5. Butterfly House and Insectarium,Texas Discovery Garden, Dallas: Huge variety of tropical and near-tropical butterflies.  http://www.texasdiscoverygardens.org
  6. Fossil Beds National Monumnet, CO: Largest collection of insect fossils in the world. http://www.nps.gov/flfo
  7. Museum of Life and Science, Durham, NC: Though not an insect, Orb-weaving spiders are the main attraction.  http://www.lifeandscience.org
  8. Insectropis, Toms River, NJ: Interactive exhibits and a place to donate living bugs you don’t want to keep at home.  http://www.insectropolis.com

9. Butterfly Wonderland, Scottsdale, AZ: The largest butterfly pavilion in the US.   http://www.butterflywonderland.com

10. Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, Philadelphia, PA: Touch, eat, and learn about our multi-legged friends.

http://www.phillybutterflypavilion.com

Why not “scratch your itch” and learn more about insects.