Got Squirrels? Read On.

Now that winter is here, we are in full bird feeding mode.  And, along with the birds come their friends the squirrels.  Instead of trying to chase these critters away, why not help scientists better understand them.  Whether you live in a city, the suburbs or a small town, squirrels are part of our landscape.

You and your kids can help researchers understand squirrel ecology by submitting your observations of the animals to the PROJECT SQUIRREL site.   http://www.projectsquirrel.org

Advertisements

Just Add a Whale by Beth Ferry + Win a Free Copy

Writers are always asked where their ideas come from. Sometimes I know exactly when and where an idea originated.

I heard a song.   I saw a squirrel.    I read a really cool word.

I try to remember now, because, as I said, writers are always asked.  I get many of my ideas from word play, because that’s my favorite kind of writing.  But I have never gotten an idea from a piece of art.

Until now.

In March of 2015, I was lucky enough to see these adorable pieces by Lisa Mundorff.

Lisa and I share the same agent, so I was given the opportunity to create a story based on these pictures.

Since it was something I had never done before, I was excited.

This sounded fun.  And easy!

I wrote one story about penguins and rainbows.

Then another about rainbows and penguins.

And another.

And another.

And you get the idea.

I wrote in rhyme.

I wrote in prose.

I wrote a short story, then a long one.

Ultimately, I couldn’t do it.  I just didn’t have a story in me about penguins and rainbows.

Weeks passed, then months.  5 months to be exact.  Then I thought about a whale.

Why?

No matter how hard I try, I cannot think why I thought of a whale, but once the whale popped into my head, I knew I had a story.

And I wrote it!

The whale was the key; the unexpected character that changed the direction of the dead end I was cruising down.

In August 2015, Lisa read it and liked it.  So did our agent!

Lisa sketched out the story and then in January 2016, we sold A Small Blue Whale to Knopf.

It is a story about a whale searching for a friend, who just happens to be those silly rainbow-chasing penguins.

So ultimately, I did write a story about penguins and rainbows, but it took the addition of the whale, something new and unexpected, to make the story come to life.

Writing this book taught me that whatever I assume is going to be easy will never be easy. And things that I assume will be hard will actually be hard!  It also taught me to think a little bigger, even if that bigger is a small blue whale.

Beth Ferry is a picture book writer who lives near the beach in New Jersey. She is the author of numerous picture books illustrated by amazing artists. Her titles include A Small Blue Whale, published October 2017 as well as Stick and Stone, Land Shark, Pirate’s Perfect and Sealed with a Kiss which will be published for Valentine’s Day 2019.    

Would you like a signed copy of A SMALL BLUE WHALE?   Let us know in the comment section and I will enter your name.  If you share this post of Twitter or FB, I will enter your name again.  Reblog it, and get a third entry.   The winner will be chosen at random on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.  US residents only, please.

 

‘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.   

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!