July 1, 2017

Un BEE-lievable! Learn about the Buzz.....

The bee hive that hung off my floorboard.....

The bee holding box is on the far right.
The vacuum doesn't harm them!

Last month I noticed what looked like bees floating in and out of a hole in my house. I called a friend who happens to be a bee expert. Sure enough, these were bees, and I hired him to take a look and see what was abuzz.
These snaps and videos show what he found in the floor of my daughter's old bedroom--a hive about six weeks old. It took all day for two men to tear up the rug, listen for bees with a stethoscope,  smoke the bees to make them sleepy, trim away the floor, and then remove the hive.

The bee vacuum you see gently swept the bees into a holding box to keep them safe. Wow...I was blown away!

The background noise is the bee vacuum. Even during lunch break, the vacuum ran in order to keep them air-cooled in their holding box.

The hive was shaped exactly to fit a space under the floor. Birds had pulled away insulation and nested in there last year or so -- thanks to a hole made by a woodpecker sometime before that!  Mother Nature at work in my house....
Once the hive was collected and all the bees removed, the beekeeper drove to another neighborhood where the hive found its new home. Isn't that cool?

The damp stuff is nectar in the hive! 

Blogger Jeff Bogle has a fun "Honeybee Smelling Activity" to do with youngsters at PBS Kids... http://www.pbs.org/parents/adventures-in-learning/2015/05/honey-bee-smelling-activity/  

What's more, check out this colonial pastime developed by my co-blogger Brandon Marie Miller for George Washington for Kids!

June 5, 2017

Backyard Nature Science Activities for Summer Fun

The following is a guest post post from author Colleen Kessler.

Getting your kids outside as often as possible can go a long way towards improving moods, creativity, and can even make them smarter. For real! In his books, Last Child in the Woods and Vitamin N, Richard Louv shares research that details the innumerable benefits of getting outside and enjoying nature.

Summer is the perfect time to get outside with your kids.

The cool thing is that you don’t have to take your kiddos hiking in the woods, riding the rapids, or climbing mountains to give them the benefits of nature. You can do so many thing with them in your own backyard — yes… even if you’re a city family and backyard means the lot behind your apartment building.

There are always things to explore.

In my new book, 100 Backyard Activities That Are the Dirtiest, Coolest, Creepy-Crawliest Ever! I share super-simple ways that your kids can become backyard biologists and learn loads and loads about the nature found all around them. Most of the activities can be done with simple things you’ll easily find around your house, and the kids can even do them themselves — giving you time to catch up on your summer reading while they’re happily engaged.

Check out some of these fun ideas from the book:

Those are just a small sampling of the activities your kiddos will find to keep them busy all summer long in the book. They’ll spend a chapter learning all about being a backyard biologist and what it means to observe carefully and engage in the scientific method. Then, they’ll become backyard entomologists, learning about bugs of all sorts. They’ll try their hand at backyard herpetology, ornithology, and ecology too.

Seriously, hand them this book, give them access to a bunch of recyclables, and then sit back while they learn all about biology without leaving their own backyard — summer fun AND learning all rolled into one.

May 1, 2017

Plant a Garden

by Brandon Marie Miller

Ah, spring. Trees bloom and leaf out, flowers dot gardens with color. Thunderstorms rumble and sometimes, even a bit of late snow flies. As life renews itself in spring, my mind jumps ahead to summer gardens-- Flowers, fruits and veggies.

When I researched my biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson I learned how much both men loved their gardens. They ordered bulbs and seeds from Europe, traded plants with friends and grafted plants together to create new ones. Both GW and TJ grew a huge variety of vegetables and herbs. Jefferson experimented with 330 varieties of more than 70 types of vegetables. Washington planted cherry, fig, apple and pear trees as well as trees of pecan and hickory nuts.
Kitchen garden at George Washington's home, Mount Vernon
Are you ready to get your hands dirty? We have several blogs about gardening-- check them all out! See my blog from February, 2014 to learn how to grow a plant from a cutting. Check out the activity below-- PLANT A GARDEN-- and try out your green thumb!
Garden path at Jefferson's home, Monticello

March 5, 2017

Women and World War I

Next month marks 100 years since the United States went to war again Germany and the other members of the Central Powers in the Great War – later called World War I. This month, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Hence my post: to introduce five young women whose war stories I share in  In the Fields and the Trenches: The Famous and the Forgotten on the Battlefields of World War I.

ène Curie, daughter of the groundbreaking physicist Marie Curie, served as an x-ray technician along the Western Front, driving her “petite Curie” vehicle with portable x-ray equipment to diagnose soldiers’ injuries. Still in her teens, she confronted both the French Army and its doctors in order to carry out her work.                                                                                                         

Katherine Stinson Otero, America’s “Flying Schoolgirl” crisscrossed the US and Canada in her plane to entertain crowds and sell Liberty Bonds. She ached to fly for the US Army but was forced to settle for driving an ambulance in France.
Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., ran a YMCA for American doughboys in Paris. She was one of few American wives allowed to serve in France.

Elsie Janis, a famous actress, raised her own money to tour France to entertain the troops, whom she lovingly termed “my boys.” She once arrived at a show standing on the cowcatcher of a locomotive. (My Aunt Jan was named for Elsie.)

Helen Johns Kirtland, American photographer who went to the trenches on her honeymoon and snapped memorable photos of the war and peacemaking afterward.


I’m sharing an easy activity: tap—or point and click—your way to some top websites on World War I. Imagine my surprise when I looked at Grandpa's draft card—it's transcribed incorrectly.  Frederick Corban Logan, as recorded, was actually Frederick Urban Logan. Someone at the National Archives couldn’t read old fashioned cursive! 

Library of Congress portal https://www.loc.gov/topics/world-war-i/

“World War I: Online Offerings” from the March/April 2017 Library of Congress Magazine https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2017/02/world-war-i-online-offerings/

100: First World War (United Kingdom) http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war/

The National Educational Assoc. offers a wide-ranging set of links to useful website to help target your research http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/60045.htm/

A private individual has built FirstWorldWar.com/, admittedly non-academic but worthwhile. http://www.firstworldwar.com/about.htm/

Take a family trip down memory lane by ordering the war record of your World War I soldier: https://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww1

Find your loved one’s draft card here: https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1968530

January 31, 2017

Eve, Tracing The Life of An Enslaved Woman

by Brandon Marie Miller

[Activity: Search Runaway Slave Advertisements]

Eve was an enslaved woman owned by Peyton Randolph in Williamsburg, Virginia. Her master was set to serve in the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia when he died in October 1775. As delegates gathered to discuss how Great Britain had enslaved the American colonists, Randolph's will was read. Randolph bequeathed possessions and land to his wife Elizabeth. He left her other important property, as well: "Little Aggy & her children, Great Aggy & her children, Eve & her children, Lucy & her children to her and her heirs forever."
The Randolph house and outbuildings in Williamsburg, Virginia

Eve was a valuable slave, worth 100 pounds, a sum that spoke to her training and skills. She probably worked as Elizabeth Randolph's personal maid. She sewed and mended, dressed her mistress, lit the fires, ran errands, and relayed Mrs. Randolph's instructions. Eve was on call 24/7 and probably slept outside the Randolph's bedroom door, or maybe even in the bedroom.

As British authority crumbled in the colonies, many royal governors fled, including John Murray, Lord Dunmore, of Virginia. Before he escaped to a British warship, Dunmore issued a proclamation in November 1775. He promised freedom to indentured servants and slaves who left rebel masters and who "are able and willing to bear Arms, they joining His Majesty's Troops."
Lord Dunmore's Proclamation
Virginia Memory, Library of Congress

Dunmore's Proclamation did not include the old, sick, women, children or slaves of loyal colonists. But thousands of Virginia's enslaved, including Eve and seven others in the Randolph household, took a chance for freedom. By July, 1776, however, four of the runaways had either been caught and returned or forced back by an outbreak of smallpox in Dunmore's crowded camp. Eve was one of the people returned to Elizabeth Randolph. In 1780 Elizabeth wrote her will, and along with silver candlesticks, blankets, and curtains, wrote, "I give to my niece Ann Copland a Negro woman named Eve and her son George to her use and after her death to her Heirs." [Learn more about Elizabeth Randolph's will at

As Americans fought a war for liberty, slaves remained in bondage. In October, 1781, Eve ran away again with her fifteen-year-old son. They fled to British general Lord Charles Cornwallis's army at Yorktown, only a few miles from Williamsburg. Here, George Washington's army, aided by French troops and ships, defeated Cornwallis. As British supplies dwindled, the redcoats drove runaway slaves out from behind British lines. Thomas Jefferson estimated 30,000 enslaved people had run to Cornwallis, and out of these, 27,000 died of disease.

Eve survived. But George may have died. He isn't mentioned in an advertisement Mrs. Randolph's nephew placed in a Virginia paper in February, 1782: "TWENTY DOLLARS REWARD FOR  apprehending EVE, a Negro Woman slave, who left York after the surrender; she is about forty years old, very black and slender, has a small mouth for a Negro, and a remarkable mole on her nose...."

Eve's escape to freedom was short lived. Between the February 1782 advertisement and July 20, 1782, Eve was caught and returned to Elizabeth Randolph. On that July date, Elizabeth added a codicil to her will. "Whereas Eve's bad behavior laid me under the necessity of selling her. I order and direct the money she sold for may be laid out in purchasing two negroes Viz, a Boy & Girl I give to my niece Ann Copland in lieu of Eve, in the same manner that I had given Eve."

Eve's two attempts to run away, though sadly unsuccessful, prove how strong was an enslaved human being's desire for freedom.
Read more about Eve and other enslaved women in my book
Women of Colonial America, a New York Public Library Best Book For Teens

ACTIVITY: Try reading some selections of runaway advertisements in colonial Virginia. What do they have in common? Description of the enslaved? How much reward is offered? The name of the person placing the ad (the subscriber)? Clues to where the runaway might be found? How is the enslaved person shown as a piece of property?