Pirate buddies, helping to pull the wagon
I am a big fan of the Texas Renaissance Festival!  I love the costumes, the people, the food, the rides, the entertainment, the music, the parade, the themed weekends, the competitions, and the autumn feeling in the air!  This year, we had plenty of tickets at our disposal thanks to Urban Dealight, a daily deal site.  Our family visited the ren fest FOUR times!! We even spent one night camping out!  This season was a blast!

Our first weekend was Pirate Adventure!!  Arrrggghhhh!!!! Riley wore his pirate costume, learned out to sword-fight, and enjoyed seeing the sights from his very own "sailboat"....his trusty Radio Flyer wagon!  
Learning to sword fight!
The next time we visited was for Roman Bacchanal.  Henry sat this one out so we brought along a friend instead.  We had a great time shopping, enjoying the elephant ears and smoothies, and listening to Tartanic - my favorite band at the festival!  Riley was mesmorized by the music and entranced by the belly dancers!  
Our last visit was an overnight stay in the family camping area for Celtic Christmas.  We had an amazing time!  It was so nice to be able to stay on the grounds overnight and not feel rushed to get home for bedtime.  We discovered our new favorite food in La Fiesta, popped into a few stores we hadn't visited in previous trips, and enjoyed the amazing fire show in the evening.  There were fire dancers and fire breathers...it was well worth staying for!  

The next morning, we woke up to a downpour!  It was raining quite hard all morning, eventually letting up enough to allow us to leave camp and head into the festival.  We knew that it may rain and yet we did not prepare ourselves at all!  We bought ponchos and still managed to have a great time.  
Sopping wet in the pouring down rain!
The best part of our final visit to the Renaissance Festival was the King's Feast!  The feast is a 2 hour affair with 6 courses and live entertainment.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  We began with a fruit and cheese plate, which was probably my favorite course.  That may just be due to the fact that I was starving as we hadn't eaten anything all morning!  The second course was a shrimp & noodle soup followed by a "cleanse the palate" course: berries with mint! The 4th & 5th courses were veggies and SIX types of meat: sausage, corned beef, prime rib, bbq pork, chicken, and of course, a turkey leg!  I tried a little bit of everything, though I certainly did not finish all of it!  The final course was a creme brulee followed by a very entertaining song "Get the fork out of here!"
I mentioned that Riley had a pirate costume...but what about Henry and myself?!?  We, too, have costumes only I failed to get a photo of us wearing them this year!  For shame, I know!!  However, I do have one photo from the Halloween party we went to this year:
Each year for the past 4 years, we allow ourselves one big purchase to go towards our costume.  This year, we bought Henry's boots and my leather skirt.  I love wearing our costumes!  They are quite comfortable and so much fun!  I also enjoy dressing up like a woodland faerie for the festival from time to time.

Hanging out in the water garden
I hope that you get a chance to go to the Texas Renaissance Festival or even a ren fest near you!  They are so much fun!  If you can make it out sometime, here are my favorite things to see & do:

  • The parade at Noon each day
  • Arsene
  • Tartanic
  • Circa Paleo
  • Sound & Fury
  • Glassblower
  • Nativearth
  • Lost Island
  • Green Man Games & Books
  • Fruitful Endeavers
  • eating anything "on a stick" - salad, bacon, cheesecake, steak, strawberries, you name it - it probably comes on a stick!
Pirate Adventure - 2010
~This repost is from November 19th, 2009 and was first found on my old blog which can be found here

~The next National Wear Red Day will be on February 3rd, 2012.

Many people don't know this about me but I have an extra hole in my heart!!  Today is the anniversary of the day I became whole-hearted on November 19th, 2007.  A tiny, umbrella shaped device was placed in my heart to cover the hole and my life was changed immediately.  Last February (Heart Awareness month), I wrote the letter below about my experience so that I could share my story online for national Wear Red Day (2/05/10 next year).

February 3rd, 2009

I grew up thinking I wasn't very good at sports, I was a bit lazy, and I especially hated running. In college, I started having more regular chest pains, especially after exercising. I tried swimming and got out of breath easily. Many different doctors had many different explanations: exercise-induced asthma, old chest injuries, etc. I just learned what I could and couldn't do and got on with life. 

As I got married, moved, bought a house, landed a career, and moved on into the "adult world", I started having more chest pains, usually with stress. With my new adult life came health insurance so I insisted that I find a doctor who could tell me why my chest ached, sometimes so severely it would cause me to gasp in pain. We wanted to start a family but I refused to do so until I knew I was healthy. A simple EKG revealed that something abnormal was going on in my heart. Further testing was required, revealing symptoms that the doctors were very concerned about. I received a phone call that brought my life to a stand-still: the doctors let me know that my heart could have a serious condition that would require surgery very soon but we would do an MRI for more details to narrow down the problem. Upon hearing that something was seriously wrong with my heart, the one organ that seems so vital to our lives and well-being, I became very scared. I was only 26! How could I have a heart defect!? 

Fortunately, the MRI revealed the lesser of the heart defect/disease evils - I had an Atrial Septum Defect - something normally detected at birth (blue babies), but somehow mine was lying hidden until now. This hole in my heart was causing a recirculation of blood, not allowing all of the much needed oxygen to make its way to the rest of my body - hence the many life-long symptoms I had displayed: easily tiring, easily running out of breath, 2 flights of stairs feeling like 4, and oddly -clubbing in my fingernails. My whole life I thought I wasn't very good at sports and that I was lazy - to find out my body had simply had to work around the lack of oxygen was sort of a relief in a weird way.

Ok - now what? We repair my heart as soon as possible. Thanks to modern medicine & a terrific surgeon, my chest was not cracked open (perhaps it was best to wait out those 26 years!) and the almost quarter-sized hole was repaired intravenously, with teeny cameras and tools, in an out-patient procedure and one miserable night in the hospital (I wasn't allowed to turn over and then stand up for HOURS afterwards).

In only a couple of months, my body had quickly responded to being whole-hearted, allowing me to breathe easier (stairs aren't so bad!) and work out harder in the gym - even the fingernail clubbing went away. I came out on the positive end of a heart problem, very lucky indeed!! I am somewhat of a "novelty" as my cardiologist said; my health profile (age, weight, gender, etc) doesn't fit this type of diagnosis very often so he is keen on keeping tabs on how my heart progresses over the years. My husband and I try to be more health-conscious, attempting to eat better and work out more. We are now expecting our first baby and are very happy to know that everything is going well and so far, my heart is still doing great. 

~Franny Zollinger
age 28

11/19/09 - Added note - my heart was GREAT for the pregnancy!  My cardiologist said everything was fine and I shouldn't have anything to worry about. 

11/19/11 - I still have an echo done on my heart and visit the cardiologist once a year.  Everything is still going great!

Learn more:
April 2011
June 2011
November 2011
Last April, we hired Organoscapes to create a butterfly garden for our family.  It has been such a joy to watch it grow, bloom, and attract wildlife!  As you can see by the photos above, it has flourished and grown as wild as I had hoped!  A few plants died off and I trimmed back others, but for the most part it has been doing wonderfully!

We have enjoyed going out and looking for butterflies, observing a variety of bees, & hoping to find caterpillars.  Along with learning about the pollinators, we have also been learning about how ladybugs like to eat aphids.  It has also provided a nice place to teach Riley about gardening since that isn't a regular hobby of mine.  

A Few Tips for a Successful Butterfly Garden

In order to have a more successful butterfly garden, it is important to offer plants that provide food for the adults (nectar plants) as well as food for the caterpillars (host plants).  A great way to learn about what plants will work best for you is to check with your local arboretum or check out field guide books from your library.  Here is a great website I found that provides free Pollinator Friendly Planting Guides.  You enter in your zipcode and it will provide you with a ton of info for your region including who is native to your area, the plants they like, when those plants bloom, and how much sun they will need.

Butterflies, males in particular, will also need a source for supplemental salt & minerals.  They usually get these nutrients from mud puddles, which can lead to a behavior called "puddling".  You can provide your own puddle by setting out a terra cotta saucer and filling it with sand/gravel.  Pour in a bit of water to moisten the sand and add a few flat rocks or shells to provide the butterflies a place to bask in the sun.  You can also sprinkle a small pinch of salt to help attract the males.  

There are some butterflies that are attracted to overripe fruit - which is a super cheap way to bring them to your garden! Save your old bananas, strawberries, oranges, etc and set out on a tray in your garden.  You can also make your own nectar, much like you would for hummingbirds.  Get more details on feeding butterflies here.  

We have only seen two different caterpillars in the garden so far - a Monarch on the Milkweed and a Wavy-Lined Emerald on the Denver Daisy.  The Wavy-Lined Emerald (which I cannot find my photo!) is a really neat moth caterpillar that camoflauges itself by taking bits of flower petals and gluing them to its back for disguise.  I noticed this particular caterpillar because I saw a purple flower moving on the yellow & brown Denver Daisy!  He chose the wrong colors to hide on his current food choice!  
Monarch Caterpillar
If you have a butterfly garden, be sure to leave a link in the comments - I would love to see yours!  Happy Gardening!

Our butterfly garden plants:
  • Mexican Orchid Tree (nectar)
  • Golden Shower Thryallis (nectar)
  • White Mistflower (nectar)
  • Blue Mistflower (nectar)
  • Blue Porterweed (nectar)
  • Mexican Butterfly weed aka Milkweed (nectar & host)
  • Pentas - Starburst/Ruby Glow (nectar)
  • Denver Daisy (nectar & host)
  • Sunflower (nectar)
  • Dill (host)
  • Fennel (host)
  • Passionflower (nectar & host) - in our back yard, not the butterfly garden
  • Turk's Cap (nectar) - waiting to be planted near the garden in the front yard
A couple notes: All of the Denver Daisy died off early on, but the Purple Porterweed & Pentas flourished!  I had to cut back the Porterweed to make space for the other flowers and the Orchid Tree.  I also took out a lot of the Blue Mistflower as it was not looking very good.  I plan to relocate some of the Porterweed and plant a few coneflowers and perhaps some other, smaller flowers to fill in the gaps.

A few of our wildlife visitors:
Helpful links:
Riley received a cute little Roly-Poly Playground for his 2nd birthday over the summer.  Unfortunately, the drought had caused all the pill bugs to go into hiding and we were unable to find any occupants for his new toy.  

After discovering a pill bug at the Arboretum earlier this week, Riley really wanted to find some at our house.  I decided that since we have been enjoying more rain recently, that perhaps they may start showing up again.  We searched in the usual hiding places - the cracks between the sidewalk and the yard were the dead grass makes a tasty snack for pill bugs.  No luck.  We searched in the butterfly garden and underneath a few logs.  No luck.  Much to Riley's delight, we were finally able to locate a few small pill bugs hiding under a rock in a shady corner of the backyard.  Hurray!
We carefully placed them in their new playground, complete with slides and climbing structures, and Riley enjoyed watching them crawl around for quite awhile.  I decided we should keep them around for a few days and asked Riley if we should build them a home for them to live in.  He became very excited!  He started doing a bit of shrieking and dancing and was very happy to help me carry the container outside to collect some dirt and leaf litter.  

We set them up in a recycled plastic container with a layer of dirt, dead grass/leaves, a tiny sprinkling of fish flakes, and a small bit of greenery and fruit from the fridge.  I'm not sure how long I will be able to keep them alive in captivity so we will most likely send them back to their home outdoors after a week or so.  In the meantime, we will have fun enjoying their company in our home as our guests.
Roly-poly, pill bug, sow bug, potato bug, woodlouse...what are these little creatures?  There are many common names for the pill bug and its cousins.  They are all a type of woodlouse - the only crustacean that can live exclusively on land.  Crustaceans??  That's right!  The pill bug is related to crabs, shrimp, and lobsters.  (Click here to see a GIANT deep sea woodlouse!)  

Among woodlice, you are more likely to be familiar with sow bugs and pill bugs.  The main difference between the two is that a pill bug rolls up and sow bugs do not.  Although they live exclusively on land, they still require a habitat high in moisture.  They have gills, like all other crustaceans, and require a moist environment to breathe.  This is why we weren't able to find any around our home this summer - no rain, no pill bugs. 

Pill bugs are not normally considered pests as they primarily eat decaying matter, but occasionally they will eat young plants.  They are primarily nocturnal, can live from 1-2 years, and the mothers keep their eggs in a special pouch on their abdomen.  
If you choose to keep your pill bugs as a temporary pet, please do your research and remember to be careful with them - they may have a hard exoskeleton but are still easily crushed.

Learn more about pill bugs:
These reusable cozies are a great way to transport your kids'  snacks and sandwiches.  They are made from laminated cotton - a BPA/Phthalate free fabric that has been tested food safe by the CPSIA.  Not only are they safe for your family, they are easy to wash!  You can machine wash them on cold and tumble dry low, but I recommend line drying them to keep away wrinkles.   You can go check out my snack cozies available for sale at The Young & Restless Boutique!
  • Measurements ~roughly 14.5" x 17.5"
  • Learn more about oilcloth vs laminated cotton here
  • Coming soon: Reusable snack bags!
Sleepy Little Dragon is now on Flickr!  Go check it out here

In other news, I have begun to sell my handknits at a local children's consignment store: The Young & Restless Boutique!  Hurray!  My first items for sale and I'm already thinking about what to make next!
(Pattern adapted from Sucky Thumb Mitts on Ravelry by Marianne Cant)