June 1, 2020

Solace in Nature

by Brandon Marie Miller

My usual blog posts discuss American history. Today, I feel more than ever the ache that we desperately need to learn our history, confront it, and do better. We face hard times. We are in the midst of a Pandemic. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. We are also in a fight for justice and equality in our streets that has been going on for centuries. Why can't we listen? This has happened over and over again in our history. People are hurting.

This month I'm going to write about the tiniest thing we can do to find a moment of clarity. Get out in nature. That's all. Feel the sun, smell the rain. Engage all your senses. I know I'm lucky. I have a front porch, flower beds, herbs and vegetables I grow. I watch rabbits, squirrels, birds, lizards, and chipmunks in my yard. Sometimes a deer strolls through, or a raccoon, or opossum. A few minutes outdoors works wonders for our brains and bodies. It's how we humans are wired. This is important for all of us, but especially for children.

I'm sharing an activity from the book WILDLIFE RANGER, a colorful and fun outdoor guide for kids. Mary Kay Carson wrote the book and her husband Tom Uhlman took the photos. The book is a wonderful escape into nature with activities to help protect the wildlife in a child's own backyard, their own block, or the park they visit.

Enjoy and stay safe.

May 5, 2020

Parents & Kids: For the Record...Track Your Quarantine

My note to parents during these strange days of Covid19.

Ask your kids to track their days living under quarantine. Why? 

The future.

(I know: working from home and teaching your kids is asking a lot.)

Ask your children–of all ages including teens and college kids, to make a record of these days. There are lots of ways to get it done:

o   Old-fashioned journaling.
o   Write letters to oneself to be opened in 25 years.
o   Make a podcast diary or a video diary…even younger kids can do this with some help.
o   Make a time capsule in a shoebox. Add small trinkets, tagged with their meaning. Or take pictures and either print them out or have them made at the drug store. Tag them with a caption. Or add the family’s favorite quarantine recipe.
o   (For that matter, make a quarantine cookbook!)
o   Write random thoughts on sticky notes or notecards and put them in an album or a shoe box. Be sure to put the date on each.

Whatever works for your child is best. Years from now, when young people ask your grown-up kid how it felt to be alive during the Great Quarantine of 2020, there will be that notebook, or time capsule or album or thumb drive.  All will be fine examples of

Primary sources

Primary sources, what nonfiction writers like me count on to add spark and color to our work, can be more than words. They can be things. My fav is the notepad my grandpa used in when he was a young World War I soldier. Another is wartime sheet music that’s 100 years old. And, of course, Grandpa, aka bugler Frederick Urban Logan, striking a pose with his friend Oscar Longhar.


April 6, 2020

Upcycle a Coffee Tub to a Nest Box for National Wildlife Week

by Mary Kay Carson

Happy National Wildlife Week 2020, America! April 6-10 is this year's week for appreciating what's wild around you. As the National Wildlife Federation says: Embrace the wild life!

Spring is the perfect time to take notice of wildlife. Every day brings a new songbird returning from southern climes or a creature awakening from winter's long sleep. My new book for young people invites kids and families to help local wild animals by improving habitat right in our own backyards. Wildlife Ranger Action Guide has bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian, and invertebrate identification pages as well as fun projects for creating wildlife habitat near you. You can be a hero for wildlife! 

Here's a fun project from the book that's easy and simple to make with materials out of the recycling bin.  Enjoy, be well, and celebrate wildlife no matter where you are.

March 14, 2020

Isaac Newton's Take on Social Distancing & Making a Plague Mask

Coronavirus. In this week of people socially distancing themselves by working from home, the Washington Post ran a story about Isaac Newton and what happened when he left his studies at Cambridge as the Plague swept across England beginning in 1664. Here’s the link: https://buff.ly/39JEcl2/

 Newton used his time in isolation at home in “Woolsthorpe” to put all his university learning to work.  As I wrote in Isaac Newton & Physics for Kids, His Life & Ideas with 21 Activities.

            Newton used his two years at home to let everything bubble up inside his head.  All he had learned at Cambridge about natural philosophy and mathematics now fermented like yeast in the bread and beer he had for breakfast. During the day, he could look into the garden and watch apple trees blossom into fruit that ripened and fell to the ground. When it rained, he could wonder why rainbows appear. At night, he still watched the heavens for stars and planets, just as he had when he was a boy.

(For more about the Plague in Newton's times, click here.)

Newton escaped the plague at Woolsthorpe, but in other towns and cities, doctors wore plague masks to escape the Black Death that plagued their patients. Here’s how to make one:

February 3, 2020

Who Made George Washington's Breakfast?

by Brandon Marie Miller
(Activity: Make Hoe Cakes)

1799, Mount Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington

Enslaved cooks Lucy and Nathan rise well before dawn to begin meal preparations-- coaxing embers into flame, lugging buckets and heating water. Nathan replaced the Washington's former male cook, Hercules, who ran away to freedom in 1797. Butler Frank Lee, also enslaved, sets the table in the family dining room which is painted a deep bright green, the former president's favorite color.

The kitchen at George Washington's Mount Vernon

George Washington prefers a simple breakfast-- hoe cakes, a corn meal pancake, with a cup of tea. Lucy has prepared the hoe cake batter the night before. Her mother, Doll, had also been a cook at Mount Vernon for many years. Doll was one of the enslaved people the widow Martha Custis brought with her to Mount Vernon when she married George Washington. Lucy's daughter Patty may be one of the assistants, learning kitchen skills at her mother's side.

Mrs.Washington arrives in the kitchen to check preparations and at seven o'clock the Washington family sits down to eat. Food is carried from the kitchen, a separate building, to the main house.Washington likes his hoe cakes dripping with butter and honey. It is a soft breakfast for a man who has painful issues with his false teeth.

The dining room at George Washington's Mount Vernon
After breakfast the table is cleared, pots and pans cleaned. Mrs. Washington discusses dinner plans with Lucy and Nathan. Enslaved gardener, George, brings in fruits and vegetables grown in Mount Vernon's gardens. Lucy, Nathan, and their assistants face a long day ahead, chopping, cooking, roasting, baking bread and cleaning up. The Washingtons nearly always have guests and family to entertain. Lucy and Nathan often prepare large quantities of food.

George and Martha Washington benefitted every day from the care, comfort, and labor of enslaved people they owned like Lucy, Nathan, Frank Lee, Patty and gardener George. And though George Washington freed the slaves he owned when he died in December 1799, the Custis slaves Martha brought to the marriage were not freed.