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Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Variegated Fritillary Butterfly Project: Day 11

I had a bad feeling the other day but wasn't 100% sure.

Today it was confirmed.

Our first Chrysalis is dead.


See how it has broken open and is all yucky inside.  Looking down in it's hollow and gross.

We are sad.  Never having raised a Variegated Fritillary caterpillar before, I wasn't sure what the changes in the chrysalis would look like.

But… unlike other chrysalis' we have had in the past, this one did not move… at all. And the entire darkening from one end to the other, instead of becoming translucent had me concerned.

Nature isn't always fair.

Our other two are beautiful and doing very well. Wiggling like crazy if you come ever so near them. I am relieved.

Too much disappointment for the Jelly Bean.

Here is Chrysalis # 2 yesterday… look at it's stunning patterns:

And here it is today… see the wings?

Chrysalis #3 attached to the jar and is very wiggly. If you even touch the jar it starts going crazy.

Of course, being in the jar, it's been difficult to photograph. It's markings are much more subtle…

Anxiously waiting…

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Variegated Fritillary Butterfly Project: Day 9

We are still waiting…today is day 7 or 8 (depending on when you start counting) since the chrysalis was formed. It sure looks close to opening.

This was last night...

And this was five minutes ago…

Previous Posts:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Variegated Fritillary Butterfly Project: Day 8

Please click on all photos for larger views,
I've uploaded much larger images than usual
so that you can really see the details.

We're eight days into our Variegated Fritillary Butterfly Project.

If you missed the first post, you can read about it here.

This is our first time with this caterpillar, therefore we did not know much about their lifecycle. I could not locate much online about it. So watching this one has been a big thrill because we did not know what would come next.

Look how big that caterpillar is after only three days of chowing down on violet leaves!

It's amazing how much they eat.

And poo.

On Wednesday, this one began to weave some webbing on the jar. For whatever reason these caterpillars wanted nothing to do with sticks.

By 2 am on Thursday morning, it attached himself to the mesh cover at the top and was beginning to form a chrysalis. (I'm sorry for some of the blurry photos throughout, it's very difficult photographing through a mason jar.)

By Thursday morning we awoke to find the chrysalis about two thirds formed. Incredibly beautiful isn't it?

And here it is fully formed by late afternoon.  Those orange looking spikes are actually a glittering gold. The overall chrysalis has a beautiful pale green sheen to it. Very iridescent. Unbelievably beautiful.

I cannot tell you how amazed we were to find another large Variegated Fritillary caterpillar Thursday morning when we went foraging for violet leaves to feed the other caterpillar!

Since I was up late working, around 2 am, I peeked in before I went to bed to find one of the other two caterpillars had attached themselves to the mesh and was in the early stage of chrysalis forming.

At this point, I had removed the other chrysalis and pinned the mesh to my curtain where it has been hanging in my window.

This is caterpillar number 2's partially formed chrysalis.  Amazing right?

It gets better…

Yesterday afternoon [Tuesday], a full 4 days after chrysalis number one had completely formed, changes began to happen again.  You can see the top is darkening and the color has faded from pale green to a creamy whitish color.

… and this morning's changes. Look carefully, do you see the wings?

Over the course of a few hours this afternoon, these changes occurred...

For size, see how tiny it is compared to my finger?  When the caterpillar formed the chrysalis, you can see where it left behind part of it's body and shrunk into this smaller, more compact shape. 


This is where it was right before sunset.  It's completely dark and translucent now with barely a little creamy color left all the way down at the bottom where the head is.

We are anxiously awaiting for it to emerge. I only hope that it chooses to do so when we are around. If so, I'm going to try and catch it on video.

I've got three Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis's right now. The third caterpillar formed it's last night, attaching itself to the side of the jar. I need to photo it, but I did not want to disturb today as every time I moved the jar it would frantically wiggle all over the place.

Yes, the chrysalis' do move!

So now… waiting, waiting waiting...

Falling out of the nest...

Help! I've fallen out of my nest!

Poor thing. Momma was nearby and being very attentive. She was constantly herding this little one around and feeding it. After a few hours I no longer heard them outside, I'm hoping that nothing ominous happened.

Kind of how I'm feeling right now… a little knocked out of my nest.

Seems like everything happens all at once around here. I was just getting back on track last week after traveling for 3 weeks and without warning, every graphics job I had on hold (many for weeks) all were ready to go within the same hour.


Of course, this all happened right after I made all the phone calls to get our kitchen remodel started.

Which means I have been on the verge of complete insanity.

Making final choices, running around ordering appliances.

[Word to the wise… NEVER take a wound up four year old shopping for a dishwasher. NEVER. And don't let anyone tell you different. You smack them right in the face if you need to.]

Making blueberry butter on a stove that was half in the middle of the kitchen.

I'm not kidding.

And working.

And caring for caterpillars. Lots and lots of caterpillars (yes I promise as soon as I post this caterpillar update is next… it's pretty awesome… I'm just sayin').

And planning the jelly bean's birthday party. Which was to be for Saturday, but only ONE person could make it, so I had to make a total panic re-plan and book a whole new party for Sunday. Mentally exhausting.

I'm exhausted.

At least I think I am. I'm too tired to really know for sure.

So anyway, I've got about a bazillion caterpillar photos to edit.

I owe you a better post than this afterall...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Something is wrong with my vehicle's outside thermometer?

Give me blazing heat & humidity, a cell phone, and Photoshop and this is what I do…

I'm in complete crazy chaos right now… but at least my sense of humor is intact.

Stay cool everyone...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Butterfly tragedy...

We're in total butterfly mania right now!

I've got ANOTHER butterfly project to post about as soon as I get done editing all of the photos, but today, sadly, we had a butterfly tragedy.

This beautiful Tiger Swallowtail flew right in front of my vehicle, and despite my frantic attempt to miss it, it fluttered right back in my path.

Poor thing ended up lodged in my windshield wiper. I drove about a quarter mile before I could find a safe place to pull over.

By that time, it's wings were so badly damaged it could not fly. Then, while dislodging it, I accidentally pulled off one of it's legs….. :[

I tried to release it. It would fly about 2 feet then land right back in the middle of the road.

Crazy me stopped cars to run back out and pick it up.

So... I did what any other person would do… I put it in the car with me, where it sat on my purse…

And looked out the window…

We will try to feed it by putting some fruit out, but it will surely not survive. Poor thing.

I feel terrible.

Tonight we all took turns holding it, the Jelly Bean was in awe.

I think butterflies are one of this planet's most beautiful creatures.
I am sad that I hurt one today.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Variegated Fritillary Butterfly Project

Ok, I know what you're thinking…. 'The What???'

The Variegated Friti… huh?

We're talking caterpillars today... and one of my favorite summer projects!

If you are looking for something amazing to do with your kiddos,
this project is simple, rewarding and downright oozing with awesomeness!

Our 2009 Black Swallowtail Butterfly
Two years ago, the Jelly Bean and I, found a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on the parsley in our garden. So naturally, we brought it home and continued feeding it. We watched the entire process, and it didn't take long! We ended up with a beautiful chrysalis, which turned out to be an end-of-the-season, overwintering chrysalis.  So we put it in the garage, and when spring arrived, brought it back indoors, where it hatched!

We released it onto the parsley on our deck and now, every year, we find BS caterpillars in our parsley plants.

Inspired, I painted some quick watercolors of the caterpillar and chrysalis…

©2009 Christine Mercer-Vernon | sold

©2009 Christine Mercer-Vernon | sold

But we're not talking about Black Swallowtails today…
we're talking about Variegated Fritillaries!

HE, while pulling weeds yesterday, in particular violets (I know I was a little upset, since I'm already thinking ahead to next years violet syrup), found this super cool looking caterpillar…

I quickly Googled it and figured out that we had a pretty cool little butterfly in the making.

Jumping on the opportunity, we quickly put together our little mason jar habitat…

  • One wide mouth mason jar, at least pint sized, although quart sized jars are better (if your host plant is large, choose a larger jar)
  • Screw on canning lid (open center)
  • Mesh fabric, we used snippings from our garden frost blankets
  • One stick for chrysalis to attach to
  • Ample supply of Caterpillars host food
  • Piece of tin foil to wrap the plant bases in with a little bit of water (keeps them from wilting)

In this case, violets are the host plant for this Variegated Fritillary, we know this because this is what we found the caterpillar actively eating (we also looked it up).

What do the butterflies look like? 

You've seen plenty of them but probably did not know what they were called, here's a little rundown, you can read more on Wikipedia

  • The butterfly…
  • photo courtesy of
  • Found in North & South America
  • Have 2-3 broods per year
  • Hosts plants vary, a full list can be found here, but violets are common
  • Very difficult to approach, the butterflies fly low and swift and do not rest for long
  • The seriously stunning Chrysalis…
  • photo courtesy of


Hands down, this is a great project to do with your kiddos. It's very easy…

  • Keep the caterpillar stocked with a fresh & ample supply of it's host plant (they eat a LOT)
  • Clean out the caterpillar poo from the bottom of the jar daily

Yes, I did say caterpillar poo, there will be a lot, it will astound you how much.

Marvel at the process. It's amazing and breathtaking to watch the chrysalis being formed.

Be ready for the hatching too, it happens FAST! Our Black Swallowtail overwintered, but information I found listed about 14 days as the time it spent in a chrysalis. I cannot find any time span for this caterpillar so we will be on a vigilant watch.

If you ever wanted to be up close with a butterfly, this project will get you there. When they hatch, their wings must dry before they can fly.

If you handle them delicately, so not to damage their beautiful wings, they will easily sit in your hand or crawl up your arm (more photos tomorrow, as I have another surprise).

The coolest part, is that we found a second one, now we have two… double fun!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gluten Free Garlic-Lemon Chicken with Corn & Summer Squash Penne

Now that I'm back, I thought I'd come out swinging, and head into the weekend with a great summer garden recipe that I've been making for a few summers.

If you can say that title three times fast, I'll personally make this for you.

(you know that was a total joke right????)

I found the original recipe years ago in an old magazine (of which I don't remember the name) we were hacking apart in an art therapy group I used to lead. I had it for years before I finally decided to tackle it.

Like many magazine recipes the photo was gorgeous but it called for a ridiculous pasta that could only be found in a specialty catalog and, of course, not gluten free, plus a few other ingredients that I seriously questioned, such as a jalapeno chile pepper.

Forget that!

I added the chicken to add some protein and adjusted quantities of many of the ingredients, in addition the original recipe called for scallions, I decided a little shallot was much better suited.

When sweet corn starts showing up at our local farm stands, I can't wait to make this. Seriously! I crave it!

Sneaky kiddo trick:  Serve it up with just the yellow squash cut into pieces the size of the corn… top with parm and they won't know they are eating squash!

If you are local to York, definitely try some of Flinchbaugh's sweet corn for this recipe.

Personally… it's the sweetest corn I've ever had.

If you grown your own, even better!

The taste is a nice mild blending of flavor that doesn't overpower the vegetables. The corn and summer squashes go great together. I love that it has that comfort meal feel without the heaviness.

Time-wise, you can make this pretty quick if you get your ingredients together prior to starting.

I would not recommend putting this one together on the fly.  Cut down your corn and prep all the other ingredients beforehand and this will go smooth.

Although… my kitchen always looks like a corn volcano exploded
by the time this is ready to serve.

Don't be dismayed by the ingredient list for this recipe, it's not as bad as it looks, it goes together quite quickly. If you easily get overwhelmed, pass the chicken duties to your significant other or prepare the chicken first, then cover and set aside.

NOTE:  I used a 12" cast iron skillet and cast iron grill pan for this recipe, if you do not, you may need to adjust cooking temperatures, you do not want to brown or burn your veggies.

Gluten Free Garlic-Lemon Chicken with Corn & Summer Squash Penne
[printer friendly]

  • 3 cups Gluten Free Penne Pasta ( I use Tinkyada's brown rice pasta)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp Coconut Oil (or Grapeseed or EVOO)
  • 1 7-8" Zucchini, halved & sliced 1/4" thick
  • 1 7-8" Yellow Squash, halved & sliced 1/4" thick
  • 5-6 ears Sweet Corn, cut corn from cobs, no more than 4 cups
  • 1 small Shallot (or 1/2 large), finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup Chicken broth/stock
  • 4 Tbsp Butter, divided
  • Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese for topping
  • 3-4 Boneless Chicken Breasts
  • 1/2 fresh lemon, juiced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper

Begin by marinating your chicken in a glass or stainless steel bowl: juice of 1/2 lemon, 3 minced cloves garlic, pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.

Mix well and set aside. Preheat your grill or cast iron grill pan (this is what I used)

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook just until done, do not overcook.

Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. 

Rinse one time quickly… do not rinse off all of the starch, set aside

[ I do this while prepping my other ingredients and grilling my chicken, then wait until it's done to continue ]

Begin grilling chicken. Grill both sides until cooked through.

Either complete this first, or if you are a good multi-tasker, go ahead and begin the rest of the recipe, just don't forget to keep an eye on your chicken!!

Set cast iron skillet on stove, set heat to medium, add coconut oil.

When it starts to melt, add shallots.  Continue to sauté shallots until almost translucent.

[If your pan begins to get too hot remove it from the heat and keep sautéing, return to the heat when temperature decreases. I do this a few times to keep the shallots from scorching versus trying to play with the burner temp.]

Add squashes and increase temperature to medium high, stirring very frequently so they do not brown, and until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes, undercooking is better at this point.

Do not cook through as there is more cooking to go. You want your squash to be tender but not soggy when completed.

Add garlic, 2 Tbsp butter, a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper, the chicken stock, and the corn.

Stir frequently and continue cooking until the corn is tender. This will vary by pan/stovetop, mine took about 6 minutes.

Add your cooked pasta, remaining two Tbsp butter and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking liquid.  Stir well and cook until heated through.

If your pasta absorbs all of the liquid, then add the remaining 1/4 cup. Sometimes mine does, sometimes it doesn't.  You don't want it dry. It will take on a light sauce-like feeling but not be dripping wet.

Serve topped with Fresh Grated Parmesan cheese and topped with the Lemon-Garlic Grilled Chicken.


  • Don't let this sit in your cast iron pan, it will continue to cook! Transfer to a large bowl and cover until serving.
  • If you cannot locate pastured organic boneless chicken breasts, then use leg portions or bone in breasts. Our local store does offer an organic line of poultry, although I still prefer to order from local farms.
  • This can easily be turned into a vegan dish, by replacing the butter and cheese with vegan substitutes, and obviously the chicken too!
  • I've considered adding several herbs to this dish, but really it's the mild flavors that draw me to it each summer, the herbs would completely change it.
  • This dish refrigerates and reheats well!
  • Enjoy, and if you make this, definitely drop me a comment!

This post is linked to Real Food Wednesdays over at Kelly the Kitchen Kop… Go check out some of the other great real food recipes…

FYI… did you know that this blog is available for the Kindle? No need to print out a recipe when you can easily view it from your Kindle!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Girl's Weekend...

Three weeks and four weekends later… my incredibly busy traveling stint is done.

I'm relieved.

It was great, don't get me wrong. But wow, next time, I need more breathing time between departures.

There are little piles of stuff EVERYWHERE in my house that need sorted, cleaned and put away.

I'll be back to regular postings shortly but today I'll share a few details of the last of my three trips…
available in my store:

Oh yeah, that's right.

No Kids. No Cooking (altthough I treated the girls to my homemade bacon cheese fries). No Cleaning. No Guys Allowed.

It was two and a half days, but it's my only truly free time each year.

We're not too wild and crazy. It's more about relaxing… and maybe a little drinking.

Mornings start with breakfast and coffee…

Evenings require beverages...

And some time playing Just Dance and Rock Band (I totally rocked the drums) on the Wii while sipping margaritas…

There were dinners by the bay…

Our traditional, annual crazy hat & sunglass photos (I'm thinking of adopting this look)…

And relaxing time at the beach (ok I admit this is not my favorite part, I spent most of it doing some power walking with one of my friends)…

And shopping. Lots of shopping. Of which I can bear no proof of. [insert snickering]

I can say that I have the most awesome girlfriends as they all helped carry my heavy cast iron cookware purchases to the car. :]

While past years yielded more clothing purchases, this year I have our household just right with clothing and I'm not one to over-purchase, so I spent time looking for much-needed kitchen items.

It was an awesomely fun trip that I look forward to every year. I'm already counting down for next years weekend away.

Remember that logo at the top?

Yup, I designed that. Some girls sported tees with it on, of which I forgot to photo, and I had this super awesome tote made, which I forgot to bring. grrrr.

Since our trip is over, and I'll surely make an updated version for next year, I've made it available in my CMVStudio store, which can be found here.

So… I've got laundry to do...
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