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A Local Wild Photo Short: Milkweed Tiger Moth Caterpillar(s)!

In addition to the hearty appetites of monarch caterpillars, you may have noticed a fuzzier little dude (or two… or three…) chomping at the succulent leaves of the milkweed plants this past summer. You can see one in the background in this photo:

monarch caterpillar and milkweed tiger moth caterpillar / Jessica Woken, 23Aug2019

A monarch caterpillar hangs from beneath a partially eaten milkweed leaf. A milkweed tiger moth lurks in the background. / Jessica Woken

I was struck speechless (and grossed out) by a herd of newly hatched milkweed tiger moth caterpillars all hanging out (literally) on the underside of a milkweed leaf not too many weeks ago. Here’s that creepy-crawly image:


Yuck. But we can at least rest in the knowledge that these fuzzy guys will eventually morph into the beautiful milkweed tiger moth (aka milkweed tussock moth). You’ll know it by its brownish-gray wings and strikingly gorgeous body stripes. It almost looks like its wearing a long orange and black striped stocking… just in time for Halloween!

A Local Wild Photo Short: Monarch Caterpillar

The milkweed around my home is being voraciously eaten by a variety of larval insects, evidenced only by the slowly disappearing leaves on the big plants. I’ve been keeping my eye out for a monarch caterpillar and — hooray! — I have been rewarded with my persistence by this healthy little guy hanging upside-down from a leaf.

monarch caterpillar and milkweed tiger moth caterpillar / Jessica Woken, 23Aug2019

A monarch caterpillar hangs from beneath a partially eaten milkweed leaf. A milkweed tiger moth lurks in the background. / Jessica Woken

Behind the monarch caterpillar, you can spot another, hairier variety of milkweed caterpillar lurking: A milkweed Tiger Moth! I’ll be doing a column on that creepy-crawly very soon, so please keep posted!

A Local Wild Photo Short: Ragweed

Top: Goldenrod. Bottom: Ragweed

If you’ve been sneezing as much as I have lately, you ought to know that the ragweed is in full bloom! So, bust out the tissues and allergy meds, because the next few weeks are bound to be a doozy. 😬😵🤧😷💊

And, remember: Don’t blame the yellow goldenrod! Read more about the pretty yellow herb and why it’s impossible to have an allergic reaction to the fine yellow pollen it puts off.

A Local Wild Photo Short: Mulleins Away!

Up, up, and away it grows!

An update on the growth of my front yard mullein since the original column came out just a few weeks ago when it was barely a fuzzy bundle of leaves standing a foot tall. Look at him now!

My mullein stands proud at just over 5 feet tall. They grow up so fast.

My mullein plant has shot up to about 5 feet tall with a little cone of not-yet-blossomed flowers at the top of it’s stalk. The stalk itself grows thicker as the plant grows taller.

I’m looking forward to harvesting the seeds so I can scatter them throughout my garden and yard, hopeful for a plethora of furry mulleins next year!

The Local Wild: A Local Wild Salad Bar: Dandelions & Greens.

Before anyone out there goes to war with their lawns, I want to touch on healthy eating. Specifically, healthy eating that starts in our yard.

The last Local Wild column addressed the twelve-spotted ladybug’s adoration of early blooming flowers, specifically the oft detested dandelion. Before anything else has even begun to bud, dandelions are blooming and ready to provide a healthy meal of pollen and nectar for these native ladybugs and other critters. Already, fields and yards are showered in bright yellow flowers and no doubt homeowners are getting their weed pullers and herbicidal sprays prepped, too.


Dandelions aren’t just “for the bears”! Packed with nutrition, dandelions are an excellent food source for animals—like bear and twelve-spotted ladybugs—emerging from their winter hiding. /Eric Danley via Flickr © 2014

But—not so fast! Before you do a clean sweep of dandelions from your yard, consider that this so-called weed is worth a few bucks: dandelion greens are readily found at farmer’s markets and in “wild”-type salad mixes at the grocer; online, you can buy organic dandelion greens for anywhere from $2-$4 per bundle,[1] which is more costly than common herbs like cilantro or parsley.

And it’s no wonder dandelion greens go for a pretty penny: they’re packed with amazing nutrition! Each ¾-cup of cooked greens contain as much as 7,212mcg of lutein, an essential for eye health and key nutrient for significantly reducing the risk of developing cataracts.[2] They’re also stocked with calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, K, and folate (a B vitamin of particular interest to pregnant women). Consuming dandelion (especially the pollen-rich flowers) can also help alleviate seasonal allergies by naturally building up your body’s immunity.

nutrition facts-dandelion_freshdirect-com

Nutrition facts of dandelion greens. So much good stuff!

While the entire dandelion plant is edible—from the ugly root all the way up to the pretty flower—most people don’t take the time to dry the roots to make tea or bother with using the flower to make a muscle ointment (dandelion flowers have “mild analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, making them an excellent addition to products designed for sore muscles”[3]). It is a lot of work, no doubt! I, myself, prefer to focus on the easy-to-pick greens, which should be harvested early, before the flowers pop up, to avoid extreme bitterness. If harvested young enough, the bitterness isn’t overwhelming and the vegetable’s flavor is similar to the that of endive, radicchio,[4] or arugula, other bitter greens found in many store-bought salad mixes.

Much of the bitterness can be cooked out to a large degree. Like other bitter greens that are popularly eaten cooked (e.g. kale, collard greens), dandelion greens can be blanched or braised to make them more palatable, or cooked with a flavor-heavy, fatty protein, like bacon. If you prefer your greens raw—as in a salad—you can soak them for 30 minutes or more in ice-chilled water.[5]

I won’t detail through each of these, but here are a few other offerings from the local wild’s salad bar that perhaps you didn’t know were edible. (As always, get a positive and certain identification of plants before collecting and consuming them. If you’re unsure, best to let things growing in the local wild stay wild!)

  • Stinging nettle
  • Creeping Charlie
  • Pheasant Back (Dryad’s Saddle) mushroom
  • Morel mushroom
  • Garlic mustard
  • Broadleaf plantain
  • Pineapple weed
  • Red clover

Consider growing dandelions as an addition to your veggie or herb garden!

If you’d like to try your hand at [intentionally] growing dandelions as an addition to your veggie or herb garden, harvest current plants from an untreated yard or field and transplant them to a more appropriate location.[6] (Stay away from dandelions growing in sidewalks, parking lots, and at the edges of roadways, as these areas, even if not sprayed with herbicide or fertilizer, contain runoff and contaminants from vehicles or maintenance treatments (e.g. sidewalk salt or de-icers).) Use a weeding fork to loosen the soil around the root, then pull the whole thing out and relocate. Dandelions are durable and incredibly resilient, so harvest—and eat them—frequently! Cheers to your good health!


A big “thank you” to the Beacon of Cannon Falls for allowing me to post this column on my site.

[1] Pricing: $1.99-3.99/lb, depending on area.

[2] “Keen Green Vision”. URL: www.dole.com/Articles/keen-green-vision. 01April2013.

[3] “12 Things To Make With Dandelion Flowers”, The Nerdy Farm Wife. URL: https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/12-things-to-make-with-dandelion-flowers/. Undated.

[4] Fleck, Alissa. “Can You Eat Dandelion Greens Raw?”, Hearst Newspapers, LLC (SFGate). URL: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/can-eat-dandelion-greens-raw-4710.html. 17Dec2018.

[5] “How To Mellow Out Bitter Veggies”. Plated.com. URL: https://www.plated.com/morsel/mellow-bitter-veggies/. Undated. ©2019

[6] For more details on transplanting dandelions, visit https://tortoisegroup.org/transplanting-dandelions.

The Local Wild: Mosquito Season

While we’re still in the thick of the wet, muddy havoc of Winter Melt-Off 2019—and the Cannon River is still receding from its escape from its banks—the minds of optimists are deep in dreams of warmer spring and hotter summer weather. The ongoing joke claims Minnesota has only two seasons: Snow and Construction. I thankfully don’t drive often enough through construction zones to have it impact my life in such an acute and disparaging way, but I do have my own, rural version of our state’s two-season condition: Snow (there’s always snow) and Mosquito.

I had hopes that the record-breaking freeze would wipe out most of this year’s mosquito population, only to be corrected by a friend who said the mosquito population will be in full-swing, if not extra potent, this year due to the resulting wetness of the still-lingering snow. Even folks in Georgia are expecting bad mosquito populations this year, so it’s not just us Mid-Westerners suffering.[1] Drat.

I have my own, rural version of our state’s two-season condition: Snow (there’s always snow) and Mosquito.

In my last Local Wild column, I discussed the snow midge, a wintry mosquito doppelganger. Midges are unlike mosquitos in that they have no biting proboscis, don’t carry disease, and, other than being annoying when they swarm, are harmless to humans. However, like midges, mosquitos are surprisingly hardy over-wintering insects.

Exactly how a mosquito endures cold weather differs by species, but most of them will go into diapause—a state akin to, though different from, hibernation—when temperatures drop below 50°F. According to Pestworld.org, “The mosquito responsible for transmitting Zika…overwinters in the egg stage. … [Eggs stay] in water-holding items [and] enter a state of diapause, a process that suspends their development during the coldest months.” For some species, adult females die after a final spout of winter egg-laying and the eggs go into diapause; adult females of other species may not die, but will instead hide (in the ground, a tree hollow, a barn, etc.) and go into diapause themselves.

Diapause is activated by hormones that pause an organism’s development until better conditions ensue. Adult female mosquitoes who go into diapause can extend their usual 6 to 8-week lifespan to up to 6 months, allowing them to wait out most winters unscathed and ready to propagate when they warm enough to awaken, like this week when we’re expected to hit 50+°F.

But enough about the wonders of mosquito over-wintering. What about how to control them in the spring and summer?

Cannon River overflow_Jessica-Woken_21March2019

Standing water from overflows of the Cannon River could result in unanticipated ponding, creating massive breeding grounds for mosquitos. / Jessica Woken

First, the obvious: Get rid of any standing water or containers that might catch and hold water, including recesses in the ground that may turn into long-standing puddles.

Next, kill or deter the existing mosquitoes by use of chemicals, electric zappers, or a combination of natural methods, like chickens and plants.

If you’re not one to spray vast areas with pesticides and are hesitant to invest in an electric mosquito trap—they can range from $50 to $900—consider planting (in a garden), potting (around the house), or pruning (native plants) the following to help keep mosquitos at bay:

  • Plant or pot: Citronella, lemongrass, lavender, peppermint, basil, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, marigold, chrysanthemums, garlic, catnip
  • Prune: Wild Mint, Sweetgrass*


Wild Mint. Image: Wikimedia Commons. Lazaregagnidze (photographer), 11July2011.

As a bonus, mosquito-repellent plants offer up a side of landscape beautification as well as opportunity to attract beneficial insects we actually want around, like bees and butterflies.

Keeping chickens may also help control the mosquito population, as the birds will do their able share of eating as many mosquitoes as they can. (I’ve seen members of my own flock race across the yard in hot pursuit of a mosquito snack.) Some researchers believe chickens may be the next big thing in mosquito control and malaria prevention![2] Keep in mind, though, that having chickens can also backfire if their run is prone to muddy puddles or the coop isn’t kept clean and dry, both of which serve as excellent mosquito housing.

Good luck, and Happy Mosquito Season! (I think?)

*Author’s Note: Sweetgrass is a natural insect repellent traditionally used by Native Americans. It’s key chemical, coumarin, is also the special ingredient that makes Avon’s ‘Skin So Soft’ a popular insect-repellent lotion![3]


[1] Walker, Doug. “Mosquitos could be a big problem this spring.” Rome News-Tribune, 01Mar2019. URL: http://www.northwestgeorgianews.com/rome/news/local/mosquitoes-could-be-a-big-problem-this-spring/article_905cd592-3c47-11e9-a80d-3fa27c05430e.html. Accessed: 21Mar2019.

[2] Horowitz, Kate. “Could Chickens Be The Mosquito Repellants of the Future?” MentalFloss.com, 20July2016. URL: http://mentalfloss.com/article/83461/could-chickens-be-mosquito-repellents-future. Accessed: 21Mar2019.

[3] “Using Sweet Grass To Repel Mosquitoes”. CBS MN, 19Aug2015. URL: https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/08/19/using-sweet-grass-to-repel-mosquitoes/.

Gifts Had, Shared, Multiplied.

In addition to being a stay-at-home mom and writer (as if that weren’t enough), I’m a musician. As I prepare to leave the Minnesota chill for our annual Christmas trip to Grandma’s House in California, I’m putting together a song list for a Los Angeles County drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility ministry I’ll be performing at on Sunday, December 23rd. This is my first time volunteering to provide a worship experience at this rehab ministry, or even a place remotely like it. I don’t know what to expect, if I’ll enjoy it, if I’ll walk away heartbroken or inspired by the people in attendance, if I’ll do it again. If… anything.

Regardless of those answers, I’m already feeling the benefits of my heart offering to the Kingdom’s cause. No, not some self-satisfaction with my own generosity (how vain!), but a quiet joy—a fulfillment of my call to worship—in knowing I am utilizing a talent built within me by God and offering it out to others in a way that only I uniquely can.

I’m already feeling the benefits of my heart offering to the Kingdom’s cause: A quiet joy—a fulfillment of my call to worship.

Perhaps that is part of what accepting Jesus into our lives is about: Not about accepting gifts from outside ourselves, but accepting, and using, the gifts within us that, in their use, gift others.

Pastor John Piper of Minneapolis implores: “lay down all your idolatry and false worship to find your ultimate satisfaction in a God who finds his glory in your satisfaction. Such a world have we been given.” Amen!

This season, I wish everyone a plethora of gift exchanges! Not only an abundance of blessings from gifts received from others, but also the intimate, private blessing, healing change, and quiet joy the use of personal gifts provide to ourselves.

Merry Christmas to all!


Thanks to the Beacon paper of Cannon Falls, MN for allowing me to share this message on my page.

Ref: Piper, John. “Worship: We Get Joy, God Gets Praise.” Desiring God, 26June2017, www.desiringgod.org/messages/gospel-worship/excerpts/worship-we-get-joy-god-gets-praise.

Baby Steps: Starting Out Anew

In January, I declared a new motto for Mountain Owl Ink in 2017: See Farther. You probably don’t know that when I created that motto I had no idea I’d give birth to my first child in a few short months. And, how appropriate, because I’ve come to realize there is little that makes you see farther into the future more than having a child.

Then, on November 17, just over a month after my son was born, I had recuperated from childbirth and gathered enough of myself together to reflect upon 2018, the year I’ve come to call The Baby Year. And, like my 2017 motto, I’ve just come to realize that the name takes on a double meaning:

Not only is 2018 the first full year of enjoying my literal baby, but it’s also a time for me, in my “baby” stage as a new mother, to reevaluate myself and make changes. It’s a time for Mountain Owl Ink, in light of those changes, to restart itself in infancy and move forward in baby steps.

Taking Baby Steps

When my son takes his first steps, it will be something new. I’ll be amazed at how he’s developing. I’ll be happy and proud and slightly afraid as I am faced with the reality that he’ll forevermore be increasingly mobile.

At the same time, to him his first steps may not be much of a shocker. He would have been working toward that goal for a while, his whole life, in fact. After all, before he stepped out, he’d have been working on looking around, at rolling over, at sitting up, at standing, all these things would have happened before he took that first step out.

So, while I, the outsider, may be shocked at the development, to my son it’ll be something he’d been (more or less) planning on and pursuing for some time. It will be exciting, I’m sure, but it won’t be a surprise.

His developmental leap, from my perspective, will be just another “baby step” for him.

What Baby Steps Mean

In this light, baby steps are those small leaps forward that we take that go largely unnoticed by the outside world. They can be internal (emotional, mental, or spiritual changes within us) or they can be external (physical changes or material achievements, like a diploma or accolade), just as long as they bring us closer to a preconceived goal.

As an example, when I decided to wake up every morning and get dressed as if I were going to an office (even though I worked from home), that was a mental change I made even though it materialized as me wearing different clothes. But, did it matter how I dressed to the outside world? No. Absolutely not. Nobody knew that I was in office wear while puttering around my house. Did anyone notice I wore heels while I did laundry or vacuumed? No! But I certainly did. That was an attitude change — an internal baby step — that brought me closer to a preconceived goal (that is, taking my business seriously and not just as a hobby).

Baby steps mean you’re working toward improvement, whatever “improvement” means for you. And, when you can track those steps, you’re better able to see how far you’ve come — and how much farther you have to go — to reach a goal you’ve set for yourself.

But that brings up the question…

Can baby steps backtrack?


When my son starts walking, he’ll undoubtedly fall down. He may just bump down onto his heftily padded rear end (thank you, fluffy cloth diapers!) or he may topple forward and hit his head on the floor.

After such disappointment (and pain), he may not think that walking is as great as it’s hacked up to be. Nobody really wants to face plant on the floor. Nobody wants to be disappointed after putting in so much work and effort.

But he WILL keep trying, because that’s what babies do. They don’t obsess about what happened last time; that’s a grown up thing. Babies just keep on keeping on.

And that’s what babies can teach us: To stop obsessing about “last time” and just keep on. Sure, we’ll face road blocks, disappointments, backtracking, bumps, pain… but those are ways to learn to baby step better, not reasons to avoid baby stepping at all!

Let’s Learn from Babies

So, 2018 will be MOI’s Baby Year. I’ll be starting over with a fresh perspective about what I want from me, about what’s important to me and how I might get there (a little of this I already shared in my last post).

As a result, MOI will be shifting gears. I already know that that’ll involve working more on my own projects and less on being hired out to work on other people’s publishing dreams.

I also know that Le Mieux will be taking a temporary pause while I create a clearer path for it’s development (can you say website and swag?) and movement forward. That’s a sad thing to admit, but sometimes we need to backtrack in order to baby step forward. Nobody knows this better than writers, who sometimes have to face the difficult task of tossing a few pages in order to change the story and make the whole of the book better.

More to come… See you in the new year!

Is 2018 YOUR baby year? If so, what changes do you foresee making for yourself, your business, etc.?

Asking For Money: Why We’re Afraid To Do It and Why We Shouldn’t Be!

A contact of mine — let’s call her Nancy — mentioned something that happened to her:

A freelancer she’d hired with whom she’d become friends with during the course of a project started sending vague ‘What’s up’ texts.

“It wouldn’t have been awkward,” Nancy said, “if they actually had something to say or share, but it was just text-y small talk. You know, ‘What’re you doing?’ and ‘How’s things?’ We don’t small talk in person. Why would we small talk on text?”

Even though emotions are notoriously difficult to decipher in texts, “I knew something was up. I could just feel it.”

Turns out, she was right.

As a result of some recent life drama she’d completely forgotten to issue payment on the freelancer’s latest invoice. She knew she was the one to blame for the slip and apologized, saying she’d pay them right away — “I was mortified. How could I forget to pay them?” — but the freelancer was also apologetic… for bringing up the subject in the first place!

“That struck me as weird,” Nancy said.

And, I agreed: It is weird. But also, sadly common.

Why Are We Afraid To Ask For OUR Money?

Can you imagine your telephone company apologizing for asking you to pay your bill? Of course not! They’ve provided a service with the expectation that they’ll given money that is, in a way, already theirs.

So why are so many freelancers shy about asking to be paid? Just off the top of my head, maybe they’re worried they…

  • #1: Won’t receive future work from that particular client if they nag for payment.
  • #2: Will be told their work isn’t any good and that’s why they’re not being paid.
  • #3: Have a client who never actually intended to pay.

There may be others, but these three particular fears stand out. However, when broken down, they’re actually pretty pointless. Here’s why.

Worry #1: Fear of No Future Work

Has it ever happened that a client will not offer more work if you nag for payment? YES. However, the keyword here is “nag.”

There is a critical difference between professionally asking for payment (even professionally demanding payment) and nagging about it. The latter involves whining, complaining, pleading, insulting the client, and other annoying dialogue that will only manage to get you blacklisted and not respected (or paid).

If you’re sure you’re being professional and the client is still playing hard to get, consider this:

Do you want the kind of client you have to wrestle money out of at the end of every project? If your answer is “no” (and it should be!), then just get payment ASAP for what you’ve already done and let them go their merry way.

Then there’s this: If your fear of not getting rehired is getting in the way of you asking for payment, then freelancing simply isn’t for you. Sorry, guy.

But, if you’re willing to bravely face the “Pay me” discussion, there are

Ways To Reduce Your Anxiety Over Getting Paid

  • Write a Contract and include an arbitration clause.
  • Write a Contract and include terms for an upfront deposit.
  • Write a Contract and set terms for payment at project milestones, like:
    • Setting up an escrow account in a money handling service like PayPal, or
    • Directly arranging the work through a site like Upwork, where escrow is already a fixture in the system.

I mention WRITE A CONTRACT multiple times because doing business without a contract is just asking for trouble. Contracts are Freelancing 101 and, if you don’t have one handy to present to clients at the start of every job, I strongly encourage you to draft one now.


Incorporating details like an arbitration clause, upfront deposit terms, or payment deadline terms can help payments stay on track and on time and leave your worries to more critical matters… like just doing a good job on the project!

Worry #2: “Your work isn’t worth it.”

Let’s consider what “freelancing” means in the first place.

By definition, a freelancer is “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”

No commitment to any one employer? It sounds so… freeing, doesn’t it? ::wink:wink:: But that also means that the employer (or client) also has no commitment to YOU other than those terms they’ve agreed on and are legally held to (you know, via your contract).

There are two good reasons to nix this worry in the bud.

First, if payment is dependent on TIME (i.e. $/hour), you should get paid for work done even if the client doesn’t like the end result. This is part of the hourly arrangement: pay is largely independent of product (unless, of course, the product is grossly disastrous, in which case you should let the client keep their money).

Flat fee arrangements are tougher to negotiate, as they more strongly imply a product-dependent payment system (“I’ll pay you for 5 hours spent writing XYZ” vs “I’ll pay you $100 for an article on XYZ.”).

Either way, consider including one or both of the following in your contract(s):

A. Require an upfront deposit (e.g. 30% or 50% of the full fee, or the equivalent of 5 hours of work) before you even begin. This encourages the client to feel vested in you and the project and offers them the opportunity to show they’re serious about holding to their end of the bargain.

B. Use an Escrow service. Arrange escrow through PayPal or set up the job through a writing brokerage, like Guru, Upwork, or Servicescape (though, beware: ServiceScape demands a steep 50% commission!).

The main trouble with using a writing brokerage is that if the client hasn’t used it before they’ll have to set up an account and learn how to use a new platform, which they may not be eager or willing to do. In this way, PayPal is easier because the client doesn’t need an account to deposit funds into a PayPal escrow.

Finally, let’s say the client really did intend to pay you and they are dedicated to the project. What gives? Well, it’s time to ask yourself a hard question:

Is your work worth paying for, or not?

Either you produce a good product or you don’t. Unless the client can point out glaringly obvious reasons why they shouldn’t pay you (e.g. outlandish editing mistakes, blatant spelling errors, or an article that’s off-topic) clients may use the excuse “I don’t like it” to see if you’ll let them off the hook.

Why would they want to get off the hook? Two reasons come to mind:

  1. They changed their mind about the project. Maybe jumped the gun and hired you before thinking it through, or didn’t realize that a writing project is actually a lot of work (for them, lots of reviewing and approving your work). Or…
  2. They didn’t realize how much it would cost and are facing sticker shock. (See “Hard Truth #3” HERE.)

Don’t give in: Neither of these excuses are your fault and you still deserve your money! Be firm about receiving payment, about the amount due, and about your end product, especially if the client had many chances to cancel the job or make changes along the way that would have alleviated the above two problems.

Worry #3: The client never intended to pay.

Unfortunately, this does happen. And it doesn’t feel good because you realize you’ve basically been scammed. In fact, one of my first clients hired me to write a few product descriptions for $10 apiece. After I submitted the work, they fell off the map.


Look, some people will do this. Why? Because some people are jerks. And even with safeties in place to protect yourself, something as small as $100 due won’t get you much attention in small claims court or be worth the trouble of hiring an arbitrator. In my case, I wrote it off as a learning experience and a monetary loss on my taxes.


At the end of the day, a solid contract with clear terms and expectations from both parties will help alleviate anxiety over all aspects of payment, from initial deposit to milestone payments to final invoice.

Other than that, all you need to do is provide a product worth paying for.

Have you had any experiences with non-payment? Share your stories — and solutions — in the comments.