Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cabin by the Lake

We stayed in a cabin for the first time during our visit to Lake Ouachita State Park (Arkansas) this spring break. Sharing the fully equipped 3 bed room cabin with the family of a friend, made the stay extra fun: Justin and Nick got to play with Tom, Emily and their cousin - a college student; cooking during the vacation was kind of fun for Lily since she shared the cooking responsibility with Tom's grandpa.

The cabin

We were pleasantly surprised by the neatly prepared 2 story cabin. The living room has 3 sofas and 1 small TV. The dinning area is adjacent to the living room, where an 8 person dinning table sits. The Ouachita Lake is right outside the north-facing dinning area window.

The cabin has 3 bedrooms, two in the first floor,one in the loft,two bathrooms, one on each floor. The first floor bedroom each has one full bed, and the second floor has two full beds. We will need at least 1 person sleep on the floor. Since Justin and Tom decided to sleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor, Nick chose to sleep on the floor as well, just to be close to the actions of the big boys.

The fully equipped kitchen has basic utensils, stoves, oven, and microwave - which would allow us to cook gourmet meals, bake cookies and make popcorn.

There is a deck to the cabin, right on the shoreline of Lake Ouachita. It is a perfect place to enjoy breeze from the lake, the chirping of birds or just for some fresh air.

A feast for every meal!

Both families brought a lot of food: meat, rice, bread, vegetable, fruit, chips and drinks.

Our breakfast was quite sophisticated - we would have congee (rice porridge), mantou (steamed buns), scrambled eggs, pickled turnips and bacon for one morning. The next day we would change mantou to youtiao (fried bread stick). We then switched youtiao to baked tortillas! I exclaimed at the first breakfast "We eat better here than at home!!" Only the fourth and last breakfast, we had more common food: cereal, milk, bread and fruit.

Each dinner was a big project. Lily and the Grandpa would take more than an hour to prepare and cook all the dishes. In addition to common dishes (bean sprouts, sliced potatoes, celery, bok choy, peppers, bean curd ..), we would also have a platter of BBQ rib, or beef, or chicken!! Grandpa would worry at the start that there would not be enough food for 9 persons. He would then worry about if we could finish the food after cooking. Despite all the snacks and drinks before dinner, we finished almost all the food every day.

It was fitting that we watched food channel reality show "Chopped", which featured 4 chefs cooking a full course meal - appetizer, main course and dessert.

Card games and Popcorn

The first night, after a delicious meal, the boys were immersed in games, while Emily was watching TV by herself.

After half an hour or so, "Let us play cards" - I suggested. Emily, her dad, Lily and I started to play, later Nick joined us.

Next day to entice our big boys away from games or silly children's show on TV, Lily added popcorn to night snack, and they came over to play. When all of them were in the play, one bag of popcorn was not enough!

The Fire

Another pass time the boys and girl had was to play fire in the grill.

We did not use the outside grill at all. Playing fire began on Sunday, when Justin and Tom started wood fire in the grill to dry their wet shoes after kayaking.

It was cold the next day, Monday. All of us stayed inside the cabin after a morning hike on the caddo bend trail. When Tom's cousin suggested they start a fire outside, all the kids, including Emily, stopped whatever they were doing, went outside, trying to ignite firewood from a fire starter, fallen leaves, pine needles, pine cones...

Finally the firewood was on fire, the boys and girl grilled chicken and potatoes from the fire before dinner. They ate the grills with their dirty hands and had a lot of fun!

The Shoreline

The cabin's location, provided good view as well as easy access to the shoreline.

Skipping stone on the shoreline was another pass time for the boys and girl. Justin was quite interested in skipping the stone. After a few days practice, he could skip a stone on the water with 4 to 7 bounces consistently. Nick's passion was to collect good sticks for weapons.

The adults, joined the children skipping stone occasionally. They were more likely just strolling along the shoreline, to enjoy the view, or to chat, or to exercise. The splendid sunset pictures were captured when Lily and I strolled along the lake after the fourth dinner.

The vacation

We limited our outdoor strenuous activities to ~ 6 hours, so we could have some leisure time: cooking and enjoying gourmet food, collecting sticks, skipping stones, playing with fires and taking in the picturesque lake and its surrounding.

We also had good sleeps - lights were out around 10pm for the children and adults, we usually stayed in bed after waking up - a rare leisure for working parents. Good food, good sleeps, Many of us gained a few ponds after the vacation.

We were talking about gonig back even before we left!

It was a wonderful vacation.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Glimpses of Lake Ouachita

The photos of Lake Ouachita ("Wash-i-ta") at Arkansas state park website impressed me so much last year, I wanted to visit there. But it was late to reserve a cabin or a campsite then, we went to Millwood State Park of Arkansas. This year we planed early and made reservation of a cabin in late January!

The trip

Day 1: Sunny to Cloudy. Sunset lake tour
~ 5 hour drive to Lake Ouachita; arrive in early afternoon
check-in and stroll around; sunset lake tour

Day 2: Cloudy. Kayaking
Paddling on the lake for the whole day and stop on small islands

Day 3: Rainy to Cloudy, Cold. Hiking
Caddo Bend Trail (4.5mile), strenuous

Day 4: Cloudy to Sunny. Dam and Brady Mountain (outside the state park)
Visit the Blakeley Mountain Dam and spillway in the morning
Visit Brady mountain to have a different view of the lake

Day 5: Sunny. Hot Spring National Park
Historic District and Grand Promenade Trail. Drive home

Glimpses of the Lake

The man-made Lake Ouachita has many fingers or coves, with tall pine trees lined along the shoreline. Its main body is long and narrow, and is dotted with many islands.

The marina at Lake Ouachita State Park offers many types of boat - kayak, canoe, motor boat, party barge ...which enables visitors to explore the lake on the water

The White flowers of dogwood, which dotted the shoreline of Ouachita, and islands, brighten our views

Many boulders at Lake Ouachita tell its million year stories.

Kayaking on the lake is the best way to explore Lake Ouachita

Birds on the islands seem to be nothing more than sparrows - but a closer look indicates otherwise. there are many type of birds by the lake - woodpeckers, cardinals, song birds, northern mocking birds ....

When it was cold, the cozy cabin showed its charm

A view from Brady Mountain revealed the serenity and grace of the lake in a afternoon Sun.

Sunset at Lake Ouachita was splendid.

Note: map of the lake was from google map.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


"A World for Butterflies: their lives, behavior and future" by Phil Schappert, a Lepidopterist (i.e. butterfly biologist) at University of Texas, has five chapters: 1. Why butterflies?, 2. Butterflies of the World, 3, A world of Butterflies, 4. A butterfly's world, 5. A world for butterflies? It has over 300 pictures of butterflies and is an excellent read for butterfly lovers.

Butterflies endear me with their bright colors, beautiful patterns and fluttering wings, but I really knew little about them. This book helped me to know them a lot more in a fascinating fashion. This post is composed from notes I took from reading the book.

Butterfly - general facts

Butterfly is an insect! It has a 3 part body (head, thorax and abdomen), 3 pairs of joint legs, and compound eyes and a pair of antennae.

It is a close relative of moth. Main differences between a butterfly and a moth include - butterfly is diurnal - flying during the day and moth is nocturnal - flying at night; butterfly has "clubbed" antennae -each antenna ends like a knob, moth has saw edge antennae that tapper to a point.

Butterfly's main food is nectar from flowers. So they help pollinate plants, just like bees do.

Butterflies' life span is usually short, typically in weeks, but there are species of butterflies that live up to a year.

There are over 18,000 species of butterflies. They are all over the world, except Antarctica.

(an owl butterfly, picture downloaded from )

Butterfly Life Cycle

Butterfly's life cycle has 4 stages: eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis and butterfly.

Eggs - a female butterfly lays egg(s) on a host plant. The egg is fertilized as it is laid. During copulation, male butterfly deposit spermatophore, which contains sperm, salt and nutrients, to the female. The female will inject the sperm through a small opening on top of a egg.

As egg ages, larva growing inside. The larva eats the inside of the egg as it grows. Right before the egg hatches, the eggshell is almost transparent.

Caterpillar - When an egg is hatched, a Caterpillar emerges from the egg Shell. Caterpillar is essentially an eating machine - eat, defecate and grow. It has a limited expandability of the exoskeleton, so it grows in the form of molts, or shedding skins to become bigger.

Chrysalis -it is essentially the final stage of the Caterpillar molting stage - in this stage the Caterpillar weave silk case to cover itself. The metamorphosis, change of shape and appearance, of the caterpillar into a butterfly. During this process, a caterpillars body is slowly taken apart, "at the same time, imaginal disks, regions of previously undifferentiated cells that act as organizing centers of the adult tissues, begin to directing the assembly of the butterfly body..."

The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, is a wonder of life.

Butterfly -it is a stage for reproduction. Some Lepidopterist called butterflies " flying sex organs". Two phases of a butterfly's life are particularly amazing. The time right after its eclosure and the time of courtship and mating.

At eclosure, a butterfly is very small and shrunken because its wings are still wet and not expanded. Before the butterfly can fly, it will first pump body fluid through its veins to expand it wings, and them displace the fluid to dry its expanded wing. At the end of this process, the butterfly can fly. It is interesting to note that butterfly does not grow any in size

Butterfly's courtship and mating is interesting, fascinating and colorful, it warrants a separate post to cover.

(to be continued)

Note: Several weeks ago when I went to local library with kids, a book titled "Butterflies: Decoding Their Signs and Symbols", on a display rack at the entrance with library staffs' recommended books , drew my attention. It turned out not be the book I thought it was, but it did provide many useful references on butterflies. A couple of weeks later, I borrowed the book " A World for Butterflies: their lives, behavior and future" by Phil Schappert, a Lepidopterist (a.k.a. butterfly biologist) at University of Texas.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Golden Snub-Nosed Monkeys

Golden snub-nosed monkeys have thick fur and they live in China.

A Golden snub-nosed monkey is born in freezing temperatures at the top of the Qin Ling Mountain. They mature at age 7, but its life span is unknown. There are about 20,000 of these Golden snub-nosed monkeys. Their appetite consists of seeds, fruit, and leaves and sometimes lichens, twigs and bark.There are only this much since logging, humans settling down and hunting for their fur, bones, and meat have rapidly reduced their numbers.

Golden snub-nosed monkeys are used to cold climates and rocks, sometimes water even. However they still live in trees like other monkeys, approximately 90% of their lives. The monkeys are white-yellow when juvenile but they will turn a dark gold when older . Their faces are blue, their teeth are sharp like fangs. Other than that they look very similar to humans. Their faces are thought to combat cold and frostbite.

A Golden snubbed nosed monkey may live in groups some topping 400 monkeys. Very big groups can usually have 3 miles of territory. Some of them guards the territory fiercely as others collect food. Females raise their young ones; as the little monkeys grow up, they start helping out, including defending the group. However there arer some who are solitude as the rapid decrease of their population occurred. Large groups of monkeys drive off dangerous predators.

The Golden snub-nosed monkey’s scientific name is Rhinopithecus roxellana whose name was inspired by the snub- nosed concubine of a 1500s sultan.

There are other snub-nosed monkeys: only 2,500 black snub-nosed monkeys, 900 gray snub-nosed monkeys, 300 Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys, and only 200 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys. So, golden snubbed nosed monkeys are actually doing well comparatively speaking. I hope to learn more about this interesting species of monkeys.

Note: This is a reading summary of an National Geographic article by Nicholas. The picture is downloaded from