I don’t know if I’ll ever write a book about Margaret Morse Nice, but now that I have visited the land where she lived and studied birds, I feel more connected to her.
I visited Columbus, Ohio in late April 2021 and made the effort to get to Tuttle Park, which was once the property she called Interpont. Tuttle Park basically covers the 60 acres where she and her family lived. Thanks to help from Sheila Fagan, Community Outreach Coordinator, from the Columbus Audubon for doing the research to discover this.
My son and only explored a tiny section of the park, but I was able to add a life list bird, a blue-grey gnatcatcher. We saw numerous other kinds of birds: swallows, robins, cardinals, a hawk launched itself from a branch above our heads, ducks, geese, cormorants, a Carolina wren, starlings, goldfinches, and more.
We had a delightful time exploring the woodsy banks of the Olentangy River.
When I write nonfiction, I love to visit the important places in the story whenever possible. It helps me hold the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the place in my mind as a I write. I love feeling connected to the place.
Margaret Morse Nice studied many kinds of birds. Her nonfiction book, The Watcher at the Nest, “almost single-handedly initiated a new era in American ornithology and the only effective counter movement against the list-chasing movement,” according to Ernst Mayr. We were watchers at a nest, too. We saw this robin building a nest.
The Watcher at the Nest focused on song sparrows. We only heard a brief song sparrow song in this visit. I had hoped to see some, and photograph them. I imagined I’d be seeing the descendants of Uno and 4M, the birds she studied. The tantalizing bit of song will do until I can visit again.
We did get to enjoy a lovely Carolina wren singing its heart out. And I know there’s more to discover in this lively park!
What’s the word for when you’re learning about one topic, you need to learn about several other things to help you understand the main topic?
I’m learning a lot about birding. This means I also have to learn the names of local trees and plants so I can better understand what birds are in a certain habitat. And so I can tell people “the bird is in that oak tree.” AND so when people say “It flew into that privet bush” I know where to look.
But birders don’t just look for birds. We listen. I’ve been learning a lot of bird songs. I need to know not only what birds sing which songs, but what sounds aren’t bird songs.
So I also needed to learn the sounds that chipmunks, squirrels and frogs make – because they can make sounds that sound like birds.
Recently, I wrote a book about plastic pollution in the ocean. It’s called Ocean Plastics Problem and it’s part of the Max Axiom and the Super Scientists Series. I had to learn a lot about chemistry to be able to explain how plastic is made and why it’s such a problem in our oceans.
I had a similar experience trying to write my forthcoming book The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci.In order to understand how he describes the way heart valves work so that I could explain it to young readers, I had to learn all about the physics of flowing water.
There’s got to be a word for the kind of chain-reaction learning, or connected learning, that comes with exploring a new topic. WHAT IS IT?? Do you know??
Do you want to write poetry, but think you can’t? Try not really writing poetry. Try finding it.
I like reading poetry and I like trying to write poetry, but I’m no expert. Poetry can be intimidating. It can be hard to think of the right words. There are a few ways you can write poetry without writing poetry.
My middle son recently did a cut-and-paste poetry. He cut words out of magazines.
You can also try blackout poetry. My kids did this in school for years. They used pages from books, but I will use anything. The backs of receipts, junk mail, whatever.
Need some ideas for bored kids? Many years ago, I sold an essay to Family Fun magazine about a “what to do” idea cube. My kids took an old box and covered it with construction paper. They wrote six ideas, one of each side of the cube. They rolled the cube and voila, they did the activity. Give it a try if your kids are bored. Here are some ideas of what to write on the cube.
Try a new food.
Cook something for someone else.
Invent a recipe.
Invent a character. Describe what they like, don’t like, how they look, their fears, their loves.
Draw a map.
Create an invention.
Trace a shadow then fill it with a new drawing.
Make a map out of natural elements (leaves, twigs, rocks, etc.)
Make a portrait with natural elements.
Close your eyes and listen to sounds outdoors. Write down what you hear.
I don’t usually write gift guides, but I thought this list of best gift ideas for 2021 might be useful as we eventually leave lockdowns and create our new normal lives.
Life after 2020 isn’t going to look like life before 2020. In a lot of ways, that’s wonderful. REALLY wonderful.
During the past year, there were lots of changes in our daily lives. Some too big. Some small, but still important. Eventually we will be seeing friends and family again. We will be celebrating and giving gifts.
Here are some ideas for things that we really learned to appreciate during the past year, and can make life enjoyable in and out of lockdown.
Finders Seekers is a subscription to puzzle games. This is perfect screen-free fun for families like ours that enjoyed escape rooms before the lockdown. Send it to friends who loving doing puzzles that aren’t jigsaws.
BarkBox – did your friend get a Covid puppy like we did? Is your puppy a super-chewer like ours? When you don’t want to go to the pet store, BarkBox is a great option. Especially the SuperChewer subscription. Help your friend keep their pup happy and their shoes un-chewed.
Misfits Market – Yes, sometimes I did a lot of stress eating. And also we baked a lot. So to balance that out we started a subscription to Misfits Market. We love the fresh fruits and vegetables and the fact we can customize our boxes. So a gift to Misfits Market is a healthy way to nourish the one you love.
Libro.fm – Give this gift to the reader you love. If their library and bookstores closed like ours did, they will love this. Reading is a daily activity in our house. We need books. But we don’t buy books from a giant online bookseller. We try to support Indies. Libro.fm gives you ebooks AND supports Indie bookstores.
Shipt – We used Shipt before the lockdown and were so grateful for it during the lockdown. Give it to a friend and help them stay safe and save home if we have to (hopefully never) again. But even when the lockdown is lifted, Shipt saves so much time. You can shop carefully off a list and double-check the pantry. AND you can request reusable bags!
Duolingo – Did your friend cancel a vacation? Are they making a list of places to visit? Help them spend some time learning the language before they go. (Bonus: if your friend is helping kids study a language during virtual school, this is good practice.)
Air Fryer – we love our Ninja Air Fryer for cooking all the fruits and veg we buy from Misfit Market and Shipt.
A Really Good Coffee Maker – I use Aeropress, but there are lots of great options. If you can’t meet up at the cafe, at least enjoy great coffee at home.
Indoor Herb Garden– There’s a good chance people will continue cooking at home more after lockdowns. Make it more flavorful with an indoor herb garden. These don’t have to be fancy, you can buy some or make your own. It’s a gift with great taste.
A Ring Light – Help your friends and family look great on all the Zoom calls that will inevitably continue after lockdown.
An iPad stand – So many to choose from – pick your favorite. Maybe a handmade on from Etsy. Nobody needs to hold their iPad while doing school or work from home.
Some Great Headphones – My kids love the HyperX Cloud Alpha over the ear headphones, but we also use AirPods. These will still be useful after lockdown ends.
Tushy – No more toilet paper shortages. Seriously. Try it. Give it as a gift, especially to the person who wants to go green and eliminate waste while they are…eliminating waste. (Toilet paper uses up paper and comes wrapped in plastic. Not very earth-friendly.) Your friend’s tushy and the earth will thank you.
A Doorbell camera – Let your friends or family watch for those deliveries from the comfort of the couch.
Sonicare Toothbrush – For awhile, we could not go to the dentist. But when we could go back, the dentist reminded us how important a good toothbrush is. Sure, you might not want to give this to your office co-worker. But to someone really special, a Sonicare toothbrush is a gift that will make them smile.
Outschool – Again this is something we used before the lockdown, during the lockdown, and will use after the lockdown. Outschool not only helps with academics, it inspires curiosity and lifelong learning. It’s a gift that pleases parents and kids.
Kiwi Crate – For the hands-on learners, Kiwi Crate is a great option when school is closed – whether due to lockdown or summer break. It’s also just FUN. I had a subscription for myself for awhile and loved the simple, satisfying science-based crafts. Give this gift, get thanks.
Highlights for Children – Not all fun happens on screens. Even if the dentist closes, you can still get Highlights for Children at home. And you can get entire books of Hidden Pictures and other puzzles! The joke books alone kept us laughing. And who doesn’t love getting mail? Give a gift subscription that will be the highlight of their celebration.
AllTrails Pro – Lots of folks spent more time outdoors in 2020. Hopefully they keep it up after lockdown. For those who aren’t super experienced hiking nearby (or not so nearby trails) a subscription to All Trails Pros helps them stay safe and have fun.
A Bird Feeder – Did your friend start watching birds like a zillion other people? A lovely bird feeder (especially an oriole feeder that can hold oranges and grape jelly) would be a great gift. Find an Audubon Near You and shop their store!
Cornell Bird Academyclasses – For the friend who really got into bird watching, there is nothing like learning about birds from the Cornell Lab. A gift certificate to All About Birds will have your friends crowing with delight. (Not sorry.)
Did you receive a great gift in 2020 that you know will still be perfect in 2021 and beyond? Let me know. I need some ideas!
A taste for sweets (and for adventure) leads Michael on a fantastic quest to retrieve a unicorn horn. Will he make it out of Sweetlandia with his sugar-coated prize, or wash out in a fudgy wave of failure? Find out more in this graphic novel!
Dill is a fairy who loves to bake. His recipes are tried-and-true. His flavors are on point. There’s only one problem–everything he bakes is a disaster! Will his new friend, Ada, help Dill win the Fairyland Baking Contest? Or will Dill’s latest creations turn out to be big, burned mistakes? Find out in this graphic novel!
Meet Mei, a mythical mermaid midfielder on the lookout for a new teammate! She scouts Megan, a human who’s got the skills on land. With a helpful magical tail (and a little practice), Megan swims onto the field. Will she become the next undersea soccer star? Find out more in this graphic novel!
I’ve baked lots of things that taste better than they look. But about a week ago I baked something that looked better than it tasted.
It was my first meringue pie, and it did look very nice. I was so proud.
But it wasn’t quite as sweet or spiced as I hoped. It was a tad too bland, I think. And the cream was overwhelming.
I feel deflated.
I didn’t have any trouble with the mechanics of baking the pie (for once!). It was honestly pretty easy to make the crust, the cream filling, and the meringue. Nothing burned, turned, or curdled.
But when they were all combined, the result was just…blah.
Sometimes we write stories like that. The mechanics are there. There aren’t any grammatical errors. There are characters, some kind of an arc, and an ending.
But without that salivating something that adds the irresistible flavor, the something that sends you out of bed for just one more slice… it’s disappointing.
Not everything we bake or write will be perfect.
But each time we practice, we learn to master the basic elements so we can focus our creative energy on adding more flavor. Something unique that will set it apart. That perfect combination of sweetness and spice that makes each bite unforgettable and each page utterly turnable.
So I’ll try again. I’ll add more spice. Maybe a tad more sugar. Something unique – maybe something not even in the recipe that I love! Something to make it stand out. And I’ll add that into my story, too.
P.S. – if you’re stuck on a story, I highly recommend trying to make cream on the stove top. Cream requires constant stirring so I find myself forced into meditative thinking. It’s mesmerizing and helped me imagine a new start to an old story.
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