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I'm a children's book writer, a campground owner and a special education teacher's assistant. It makes for a very busy year with lots of writing inspiration.
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As I headed to the trail cam last Wednesday, I heard a scurry-type sound in the bushes. Two of them actually. As I rounded a bush, I saw a fox kit crouching low.
I crouched too.
Then I backed up slowly, slowly, and sat high on a banking looking down.
The little fox kit surprised me. He didn’t run back for the den. He didn’t hide. He continued to root around the tall grasses and piles of dead branches that had been left behind after the landowner did some tree cutting.
Every now and then, the kit would look at me.
Right in the eye.
When I didn’t move, he’d go back to rooting around.
He ate grass and found little caterpillars . . .
And while I don’t have images of it, I suspect he ate them for lunch.
I never did make it to the trail cam. I didn’t want to upset his home . . . or his backyard, so to speak. I sure hope they stick around for a little bit though.
I like knowing they’re around.
A couple weeks back, I visited Poland Community School to talk to students in K-6. This school holds a special place in my heart, because my two children attended school there. Many of the students had fabulous questions and connections, some of them camp with me during the summer, some I met for the very first time.
All of them were super, duper nice! I felt like a rock star.
Just this week, I received a packet of letters from Ms. Conley’s class. Oh, how I loved reading them!!
A few of the letters urged me to write about snakes. I have jotted this down in my Idea Book . . . can’t you see Cooper and Packrat with one? I can!
Some other suggestions were for me to write about owls, and dogs. Hmmmmm- I think Ms. Conley’s students are on to something here!
I love the many pictures they drew, too!
A huge THANK YOU to Ms. Conley’s class! You’ve made my day a little brighter with your lovely notes!
After the second owlet branched from their nesting spot, we lost sight of them for awhile. My campers would stop by the office to ask, “Have you seen them? Are they okay?” To which I had no sure answer.
Until quite by accident, I stumbled across them in the most unlikely place – on a dead tree on the very edge of the lake!
Through tree branches, I watched and took photos.
They watched me, too.
Once, a large raptor flew overhead and I could tell the minute one of the owlets saw it.
I pointed my camera upward just in time to catch a glimpse of an osprey. For the thousandth time, I wondered why on earth these young owlets, who could barely fly, were in such an open, exposed area.
When the danger passed, they went back to taking turns napping again.
The next day, they were gone yet again. Deeper into the forest this time, one of my employees tells me. Thank goodness! I’m not too sure I like the look that osprey was giving them!
While hiding behind a bush with my 500mm camera lens, I captured video of this fox kit chewing on grass. I didn’t know they did that! What great research to show students when I do school visits.
The only chance I’d have all weekend to get out on the lake was early, early Saturday morning.
Sleep in an extra hour . . . get out on the lake . . . sleep in . . . get out on the lake . . .
Yeah. There was no contest.
My first stop was to check on the nesting loon, as many campers mentioned hearing them call Friday afternoon. Just seeing her on the nest, had me breathing a sigh of relief.
I snapped a couple photos, and just when I’d decided to move along, she rose back to push the grasses up against her egg.
I sure hope this one hatches!! It would be wonderful to have a loon chick on the lake again.
I dipped my paddle in the water and turned to head down by the state park area of the lake (there’s a cove down there that’s always humming with birds when the sun comes up) Suddenly, I noticed something splashing in the water on the shoreline. Using my camera like binoculars, I zoomed in just as it took off . . .
Sure wish I’d seen it sooner to get photos of it bathing!
I followed . . . at a respectful distance of course. The eagle landed on a branch and hung its wings to dry.
He preened for quite awhile. As I looked around, I realized the nest was in sight from his perch.
They are ever watchful of their little ones.
It was such a beautiful morning to be out on the lake, gliding along, listening to nature rising with the sun. I’m looking forward to many more mornings just like this one . . .
Want to see some owlet cuteness??
And some more?
We had a whole week to observe this owlet from a distance. He slept, he preened, he picked at his toes.
Come Thursday though, he wasn’t sitting on his usual tree . . . he’d gone. Fledged.
I know I’ll check that tree every time I walk by now, hoping he’ll return.
Opening weekend at our campground came and went, with plenty of campers checking in to help us rake and clean up the campground. Campfires blazed at night, kids road bikes and reconnected after the long winter. The talk among the sites was on how many eaglets we had this year and whether or not the loons were nesting yet.
Everyone went home on Sunday, and when Friday rolled around, they all returned. I went out on the lake to check on the loons and the eagles. I chatted with readers and campers. I booked reservations and it seemed like a fairly normal day until out of the blue, my husband texted: “Come quick and bring your camera!”
I thought perhaps there’d be a snapping turtle laying eggs. Or a chickadee nest. Or an oriole’s hanging nest.
I was in for a shock!
It was a pair of Great Horned Eaglets!
Twenty six years we’ve owned this piece of property. In all that time we’ve only seen Barre Owls who stalk my bird feeders.
The campers only noticed this pair because a good piece of the nest fell, and someone looked up to find these adorable owlets looking back at them. They never heard a peep or a hoot the weekend before. Owls can be silent. Very silent.
The day was gray, but I got the best pictures I could. Then I ran home to research. It turns out, their nest disintegrating is normal. And they rarely return to the same place to nest again.
The next morning, one of my little campers came to the office with her phone. She’d woken up and looked out her camper window to find one of the owlets on the ground looking up at her! Again, I did some research and found that owlets on the ground is not necessarily a bad thing either. This helps them strengthen their leg muscles, and their beaks and talons will help them climb to a new perch. The best thing we can do, I reassured her, was to keep our distance.
(That owlet hasn’t been seen since, but I believe I’ve heard it)
The owlet left in the tree is branching, venturing further and further from the trunk of the tree.
It might even be flying short flights, because Diane, the woman who works in the office with me, couldn’t find the owlet twice now, but when I went down a couple hours later, it was in the same tree. Only on another branch.
I’ve been down to visit several times now, keeping my distance, while using my long lens and my camouflage cloak. This little one alternates been napping, preening and watching. But I haven’t heard it make a sound yet.
Nor have I seen an adult. But I’m not worried. My research says the adult is perched in a nearby tree, all part of the plan for this little one to take flight and hunt for itself.
(side note: owlets can eat 13-16 mice per night at just 3-4 weeks old!)
I’m so fortunate to have had a chance to see these great raptors live and up close. I hope they stick around for a little while.
Every Spring the campers and I stand lakeside with our binoculars and cameras pointed at the eagle nest. The big question is . . .
Is there one eaglet in there?
I’ve been taking pictures for a little over a week now, and I kept seeing this
and this . . .
and this . . .
and even this!
And while that was all beautiful and interesting and full of inspiration . . . it wasn’t what I was looking for.
Finally, today, I saw it!
And then . . .
I’m so excited to find we have two eaglets this year!! It’s going to be fun to watch them grow.
Just a couple days ago, I was lakeside, when suddenly, the female eagle cried out several times. I looked up, down, and all around, but I couldn’t see anything more than a lone goose, swimming along in front of their island.
Then she stopped and looked up expectantly.
And I saw him, in the distance. He circled and circled and circled the nest, eventually coming in for a landing.
He stood watch while she ate and cared for the eaglets.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating . . . eagles are great parents!
Today was the day Mrs. Shanning and I had set aside for our students to vote.
Not for their favorite ice cream.
Not even for Class President!
But for something waaaaay more important . . .
to choose the winners of the Cooper and Packrat Book Trailer Contest!
Mrs. Shanning and I went over the expectations first, reminding our students of their own book trailer projects and keynote presentations; the work, thoughtful creativity and time that goes into getting just the right images and messages across, without having too long a video.
And of course, it had to be original and fun!
Then we reviewed the rules about copyrighted material, making sure to ask permission if need be, listing sources, and making sure the entries had the author, illustrator and publisher’s name within them.
Then we watched.
And watched again.
Our students then voted. And I must say, many of them said it was a very, very hard decision. Each and every entry was amazing in its own way. Having made book trailers themselves, they knew the hard work and thoughtfulness that went into them. Bravo!!!
Now . . .
Without further ado . ..
Here are our winners!
Drum Roll Please!!
Third Place -(There was a tie!)
Mrs. Richard’s Group 2 and Group 3
4th grade students at Rumford Elementary School
3rd Prize: A wildlife calendar signed by the author (to each group)
Mrs. Richard’s Group 1
4th grade students at Rumford Elementary School
2nd Prize: 1 copy of Mystery of the Missing Fox
and a wildlife calendar signed by the author
Mrs. Graffam’s 4th grade class
Hebron Station School, Hebron, Maine
1st Prize: A classroom set (15 copies) of Mystery of the Missing Fox
and a wildlife calendar signed by the author
Congratulations to all the winners from me, Mrs. Shanning, and our 7th and 8th grade students!
Now excuse me, as I go back to watch them all again!
I was staring out my back window, sipping coffee, when an adult fox wandered through our campground maintenance area. I set my coffee cup down so hard, liquid sloshed over the sides onto the table.
“Quick! I need my camera! Where’d I put it?” I cried, running from the campground desk to my writing closet and back again.
“I didn’t have it last,” my husband teased. He never has it, actually.
Eventually I found the camera, and sighed with relief to find the fox still there. Which in itself was a little surprising, because we don’t see them often and when we do, they’re passing through.
Turns out, this one was doing more than passing through.
It was collecting a cache. Stored food – hidden days, weeks or even months before.
I slowly, slowly, slowly, opened my window, which was three stories up from the fox’s location. It looked up, but when I stilled, it went right back to searching.
Eventually, it found its prize and pulled it from the earth.
Then chomped on it for awhile.
I took photo after photo after photo! It was gorgeous. And a learning experience for me. I’d written about foxes and their caches in Mystery of the Missing Fox, but had never seen it first-hand.
More importantly, I believe its being so close to the house, is that perhaps the kits have been born. My trail camera should show me in mid-April, when the first kit emerges from the den into the sunlight.
Once the cache was eaten, this adult didn’t stay long.
It continued on its way, back toward the den.
I’m so glad I saw it, when I did.
Our eagles seem to be doing well, in spite of the 50+ mph winds taking place today.
I sure hope she doesn’t get sea sick up there!
On Monday, I visited Hebron Station School, and as I walked in the front doors, I was met by this wall mural . . . and I knew I was in the right place.
Honestly, don’t you just want to live here?
Cindy Petherbridge, the District Elementary Librarian, met me and we set up my equipment for my talk with K through 6th grade. Having a little time to spare, she asked if I’d like to see the library. I think I may have done a little happy dance. I just LOVE peeking into libraries.
And it just so happens I love turtles, too! Isn’t this one adorable?!! Cindy said it was made by a local artist for their school.
I want one.
As the Hebron Station students ate their breakfast, I talked to them about the inspiration behind Cooper and Packrat’s adventures. We talked about camping, hiking, kayaking and how my photography is my research tool.
We talked about the behavior I’ve seen first hand ~ of loons, eagles, foxes, turtles and the subject of Cooper’s fourth adventure – bears.
They were an amazing audience with great connections and questions. The ooooohed and aaaaahed at all the right moments. I had so much fun answering their questions.
After my presentation, we talked to 4th, 5th and 6th graders about Cooper and Packrat’s Book Trailer Contest (open to all teachers and librarians, BTW) You can find out more about it here.
As I was packing up my equipment, students wandered over to talk to me about the contest. I reminded each one, they had my permission to use any and all photos on my website for this project. Some students talked to me about their own photographs, which would be even better! What amazing ideas they shared!
Over the next few days, Cindy and her colleagues will use this opportunity to put together a Book Trailer Boot Camp to teach students about copyright issues and how to use copyright free images in their creative works. Then the students will start brainstorming a plan . . . a script . . . and a book trailer.
I can’t wait to see what they create!
I think I may have witnessed our eagle laying an egg!!
The behavior was something I hadn’t seen before. When I arrived, the female was sitting on the back edge of the nest facing me.
As I watched, she turned. Her body straightened. Then she cried out sharply, once, twice.
She did this a couple of times. I was too far away to see what might be happening, even with my camera. But I didn’t spy any predators, or the mate.
Eventually, she turned back around to face me.
She began picking at the nest, before slowly making her way into it . . .
and sitting in the position I know so well. On the eggs!
I went back an hour later and she was still sitting low on the nest. The eggs are here!!
From the time I was a student myself, and through the twenty five years my children have attended school, I’ve always admired teachers and librarians. Working as an Ed Tech these last five years has only made me love them more. They put so much of themselves into their classrooms, their lesson plans and their relationships with students and peers. They quite often work late, and go into their classrooms on the weekends because it’s quieter then and they can accomplish more. They chaperon dances because their students ask them to. Teachers and librarians wipe tears, advise on friendships and counsel on “dating”. They create a writing club, coding club, guitar club, or sewing club, and give up their lunch time to oversee it . . . all because there seems to be an interest.
Me on the left and my best friend Holly, in sewing club.
Me on the left and Holly, learning to sew.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that impress me most, how they’ll personally buy books, paper, staples, or pencils for their room, because the budget has been frozen. And no, pencils aren’t expensive. Unless you go through 5 packs of 50 every three days.
More than anything, my author self enjoys meeting educators on their own turf, in their element, within their classrooms and libraries. I learn something new every time. Get inspired every time. Make new friends every time. And I always hope that I too, give back something every time.
But alas, the duties of my campground and my own teaching job, keep me from getting out into the educational world as much as I’d like. Even finding time to post on Facebook and Twitter can be challenging, especially if I want to get some writing done! I’m blessed to teach in a district which encourages me accept a few school visit invitations each year, and I take advantage of that. But I also don’t want to be away from my own students too often. They may be middle-schoolers, and they don’t often show it outright, but they miss me when I’m away.
Truth be told, I miss them, too.
So, I’m constantly searching for new and fun ways to connect with my readers and to support the educators who support them, without having to leave the classroom too often. And if I can include my own students and school in the process, it’s a win-win!
Recently, when Shannon introduced a book trailer project to our students, and we realized how much they were learning from the process, we had an ah-ha moment. What if we created a contest using book trailers? What if we tied it into the release of Cooper and Packrat’s third adventure? What if our students were judges?
And knowing how valuable books are to educators, what if the winning classroom received a set of Mystery of the Missing Fox?
I’ve created a special page for Cooper and Packrat’s Book Trailer Contest – so we could keep all comments and FAQ in one place. Islandport Press, Shannon, and I hope you’ll enter for a chance to win a classroom set of Mystery of the Missing Fox.
We can’t wait to see what you come up with.
I had such an amazing time with Buxton Elementary’s 3rd grade classes last Friday! I was going to Skype with them for Read Aloud Week, but instead surprised them with an in-person visit. Hearing their gasp of surprise . . . Priceless!
I brought photos to show the inspiration behind the book . . . photos of the campground, loons, eagles, foxes and the animal I’ll weave into book four.
And then I read Chapter 1 of Mystery of the Missing Fox.
Connecting with readers is one of the most important jobs I have. I only wish I had more time to do it!
As we have, for many, many years, my family and I went to visit my in-laws on Sanibel Island, Florida for our winter break. It’s a home away from home. I love the beaches. The restaurants. The kayaking.
And the wildlife.
This year, I got wind of a new place to hang out. Bunche Beach, just over the Sanibel flyway, in North Fort Myers.
The place didn’t disappoint. Pelicans dove for their food as pesky gulls tried to steal it.
A large Great Blue Heron basked on the beach.
While taking a day cruise to Cabbage Key, I was able to see dolphins! They follow the cruise boats daily, without the captain changing course at all. The louder we cheered and clapped, the higher they jumped and the more they rolled.
Even the little ones.
When our time came to an end on the beach, Dave and I folded up our chairs and picked up our bags. I turned to find this guy waddling out from the treeline behind us.
I dropped my chair and raised my camera to get that one shot above. He scurried away so fast, I never got another.
Dave and I laughed. I picked up my chair and we walked along the shoreline toward the entrance and parking lot. A few feet later, a gentleman called to us. “Hey!” he yelled. “Check your bag.”
I looked at my camera bag, but he was pointing to the bag Dave had. In it, we’d brought sunscreen, towels, and books.
The man came closer to show us pictures he’d taken on his phone. “When the two of you took a walk, it came out of the woods.” The picture he showed us, was the raccoon standing on its hind legs, looking into our bag! I wish I’d thought to ask him to e-mail me the picture. It was adorable.
That raccoon, has now inspired a subplot in Book 4.
You never know quite where inspiration will strike.
I bought this super, cool Seuss t-shirt for two of the three events I have next week.
One is on Saturday March 5th ~ a DR. SEUSS BREAKFAST & CHILDREN’S BOOK FAIR in Oxford, Maine, which is being held in honor of Read Across America Week.
I’m the guest author and will read from my books and my favorite Dr. Seuss books, throughout the event. Reading aloud is one of my very favorite things to do!! I’ll have my wildlife photos on display and my books for sale, too.
The best part though? Each child attending receives a new book! And they can bring outgrown books to swap for others. I absolutely love this!!
A huge thank you to the Norway-Paris Kiwanis Club, and the Norway Memorial Library for inviting me. I can’t wait!
Price: $6 for breakfast (Kids 12 and Under are Free)
(pancakes, French toast, eggs, sausage, hash browns and beverages)
Time: 8AM – 11AM
At The Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School dining room
FMI contact Mary Anna Palmer at 539-4800 or Diana Mclaughlin at 744-6006.
Oh, and the second Read Across America Event – I can’t talk about that one yet. It’s a surprise. Shhhhhh!
So imagine this – it’s a gray, gray Saturday. But I’m lucky enough to be sitting inside a warm, sunshiny colored room, writing away with friends, Cindy and Mona. Around three o’clock, we all sat back and commented on what a great session it was. I personally added about 2300 words to my first draft! I was satisfied. I’d done what I’d come to do, gaining momentum on the first draft of a new story . .. . aaaaand gotten some face-to-face time with two of my favorite writers.
Noticing that I’d brought my camera with the big lens with me (I never go anywhere without it), Cindy asked if I wanted to go find the Snowy Owl.
“Nah,” I replied, looking out the window. “It’s gray. It’s spitting rain. I’m not experienced enough to have had much luck with gray day photography -”
“Let’s go,” Mona said, jumping up. “I love gray day photography!” Her enthusiasm is always so catchy! The next thing I know, we’re all piling in the car and driving to the spot where Cindy and her daughter had spied the beautiful raptor a couple weeks before.
Now, I have a confession to make. Whenever I encounter wildlife, or a beautiful setting unexpectedly, I get teary. The first time I saw triplet eaglets . . . my first loon chick . .. fox kits . . . a gorgeous full moon rising up through a purple sunset sky . . . .
Very geeky of me, I know, but I do.
This time was no exception. As we neared the location, Mona gasped and said, “Look!”
My eyes filled, to see this magnificent creature fluffing up and preening at the top of a light post.
We slowly and quietly got out of the car and the Snowy Owl glanced our way with it’s yellow eyes.
Another photographer came to introduce himself to us and told us how he’d come and found this Snowy Owl perched in the middle of the field. Right before we’d arrived, it had flown toward him to perch on the light post in the middle of the parking lot.
I’d like to think it knew we were coming. Okay, that’s impossible, I know. But the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We spent close to an hour standing there, ooohing and aaaahing. I snapped photo after photo, hoping I’d be able to capture it’s beauty.
I’m so glad I have friends who are willing to push me to try . . . not letting me listen to my own doubts. This Snowy Owl was a wonder to behold.
And as it turns out, I did get some pretty good photos. Gray day and all.
Back on November 1st, I’d promised to keep you updated on our eagles as they got closer to nesting season.
Well, that time is here.
Yesterday, I donned my snowshoes to trek to the lake. The very first thing I do, is take a picture of the nest to compare.
Here’s the nest last April. The nesting eagle had been quite upset at a juvenile eagle who’d been flying around the lake that day.
Here is what I saw yesterday . . .
They’ve been adding a stick here and a branch there.
Every year I worry about the weight. The wildlife biologist who’d come to band the eagles a few years ago had said it weighed approximately 700 to 800 pounds! Can you imagine!?
I saw no sign of the eagles that day, but they’ve been here. These pictures prove it.
I’m looking forward to documenting our nesting pair this year! To give you a timeline, they were sitting on eggs March 24th last year. I happened to be at the lake during one of their mating attempts a few weeks before that. And the eaglets were born a week before we opened the campground May 1st. We still have a few weeks to go!
But it’s worth the wait.
Sometimes I like play in the snow, when I’m stuck in writing my manuscript.
It helps me think.
And this winter, I’ve taken to making little snowman friends for my bird friends.
I think they get along famously.
The birds seem to like dinner anyway. Although they seem to think it’s take out.
But they always come back to visit.
And they bring new friends with them.
I’m sure I’ll be stuck more than once this winter. It happens to all writers, especially in first drafts. Feeding the birds, watching and waiting for them to show up, is another way I clear my mind so I can think clearly and work out all the kinks and dead ends in my story.
But I have new friends to help me get unstuck now. This is going to be a fun winter with the camera!
I had a chuckle today, when this nuthatch showed up at the Snowman’s photo shoot.
I thought he’d be great addition to the Snowman’s friends. But, alas, he pecked on the poor guy’s head.
He stomped his feet, kinda like, “Hellooooo? Anybody in there?”
Then he eyed Snowman’s little friend.
Eventually, he saw the seed.
But in his greediness, he slipped and fell!
It scared him so much, he took to flight . . .
and our poor friend, the snowman . . .
just fell apart.
That nuthatch was NOT a very nice friend!
I collected the SD cards from the trail cameras this past weekend. I had my fingers crossed the whole way down and back, hoping for some fox footage.
And I got lucky. There was only one video and this is it . .. .
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At Whittier Middle School, I get to be a part of great things. Recently, Mrs. Shanning’s class and I connected with Ms. Loy’s Kansas Classroom during a Skype visit. We gave them all kinds of facts about Maine, as they were about to launch into Cooper and Packrat’s Mystery on Pine Lake adventure.
We sent some postcards and a calendar with Maine animals to help them connect to the story . . .
and our beautiful state.
And this week, we’re connecting again! Through www.edu.buncee.com, we’re making Virtual Valentine’s with a camping and nature theme! Oh my goodness, they’re so much fun . . . I quickly became addicted. You start with a background picture from their stock, or upload your own (I used my own photographs of the campground). Then you add text, stickers, audio, and animation. Pretty cool!
Here are two of the Valentines we received from the class. Each student was assigned one of our students and vice versa.
Check out the foxes! And the tents! Those campfires? They flicker! The hearts? Float on the wind.
Technology in education is amazing! Our students have learned so much by connecting with the students in Kansas . . . their small world is growing leaps and bounds!