In the Chrysalis

Nothing says Spring like overnight snow.

 

Happy Spring!

When I think of Spring, I think of chrysalises/cocoons and the butterflies/moths that will emerge from these protective shells—the pupa stage. What I didn’t realize is that the shed skin of a pre-butterfly caterpillar hardens around it to form a chrysalis. But the caterpillar of a moth has to spin silk to make a cocoon to protect itself.

  

A challenging time like the one we’re facing now is a chrysalis from which we will all emerge at some point. Instead of shed skin or silk, the walls of our home are our borders, since many states have issued a stay-at-home order. Consequently, we’re going through a lot of different emotions: fear, anger, dread, despair—you name it. Many of us have felt the hardening effect of those emotions. I know I have. I’d much rather feel joy or peace. I know you would too.

What’s really helped me in these chrysalis days are texts from friends who write to encourage, share a funny meme, a song, or a Scripture like this:

Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  [The next verse provides the answer.]

These daily check-ins remind me that I’m not alone, despite the social distancing mandate.

As a result of all that has happened, I mentioned in this post that I’m giving away two crocheted child Yodas like the one below. The winners of those crocheted child Yodas are Shari and Lyn!

Because of the state-mandated lockdown, I contacted the winners ahead of time so that I could get the Yodas in the mail to them before the 5 p.m. stay-at-home order went into effect this past Saturday. I am currently making two more Yodas. If you’d still like a Yoda, please email me or comment below. I will try to get them sent whenever I can.

Photos by L. Marie.

Nesting

A while ago, I watched Dancing with the Birds, a documentary on Netflix about the courting habits of male birds. One of those birds, the Macgregor’s bowerbird, is well known for building an elaborate bower to attract a mate. I love that! This bird uses sticks, leaves, rocks, and colorful objects to create the perfect bower. According to an article on the San Diego Zoo’s website, “Bowers are not nests.” They are really courting areas. The female is responsible for building a nest for offspring.

      

The male weaver bird has the same goal as the male bowerbird. This bird, however, builds an actual nest using a weaving technique. But some species of weaver birds build nests in a group and have their own little neighborhoods. (See this article for more info on these amazing builders.)

When you think of nesting, what do you think of? This?

Or, perhaps you think of the efforts that people awaiting the arrival of their babies go through to prepare their “nests” for their little ones. I think of that too, but I also think in general of someone making a home warm and cozy, particularly in the winter when the weather is too cold to venture out. Warm, soft fabrics of differing textures, conversational seating, adequate reading materials, and other comforts, come to mind (like the Anthropologie pillows in the photo below). I also think of having the essentials on hand (besides the usual food staples): coffee, tea, chocolate, and cookies.

Speaking of soft fabrics, I saw this pattern on Yarnspirations.com and immediately thought of nesting. Wouldn’t you love to be wrapped in something like this blanket below while lounging on the couch? No? Just me then? Perhaps I’ll make it someday.

In these days of enforced nesting, with many of us anchored to home, I have been choosing craft projects to do. Before I knew about the latest crisis worldwide, I stocked up on yarn.

Speaking of which, I have an unusual giveaway just because it’s nice to get free stuff every once in a while, especially in challenging times. If you’ve heard about or seen the Disney Plus show, The Mandalorian, you know about this little guy:

I found a crochet pattern by Vivianne Russo online and have been making these. They are about five inches tall. I’m giving away two. Comment below if you’d like to be entered in the drawing to receive one. Winners to be announced sometime next week!

Henry is nesting with his new friends, the Yodas (for want of a species name, this is what everyone is calling them) and their guardian unicorn.

Macgregor’s bowerbird and nest from somewhere on Pinterest. Weaver bird from network23.org. Crocheted blanket image from yarnspirations.com. Pillow from Anthropologie’s website. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Brother, Sister, Me and You and Other National Geographic Kids Books

It’s not every day that I get to welcome to the blog one of my awesome grad school advisors. But here today is the one and only Mary Quattlebaum! She’s here to talk about the National Geographic Kids books she wrote, which were published by Penguin Random House, and include Brother, Sister, Me and You.

      

  Author photo by Michelle Rivet

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Mary: 1. I am the oldest of seven kids.
2. My favorite food is popcorn.
3. One of my favorite jobs was as an 18th century tavern wench for Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
4. All the dogs I’ve lived with as an adult have been rescue dogs, in one way or the other. One dog, Charlie, even conveyed with the house we bought, because the owner was going to put him in a shelter.

Mary with her elderly border collie Shine. Photo by Christopher David.

El Space: You’ve written a ton of books for kids, including your rhyming Jo MacDonald series and other picture books like Mighty Mole and Super Soil, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, and Pirate vs. Pirate, as well as your Jackson Jones novel series. Today, let’s talk about the National Geographic Kids books you wrote in the last few years: Brother, Sister, Me and You; National Geographic Kids Chapters: Hero Dogs; and National Geographic Kids Chapters Together Forever: True Stories of Amazing Animal Friendships! Many of your stories feature animals and the environment. Please tell us why that was important to you.

 

Mary: I’ve always been curious about the natural world, probably because I grew up in the country. And now there’s the added concern about the effect of climate change and pollution on the environment. Humans are deeply connected to other species, historically and in the present moment; we’re all part of an ecosystem. With my books—whether fiction or nonfiction—I guess I try to bring that connection to the fore and celebrate it. Plus, animals and plants are pretty amazing! Did you know that beaver kits help to care for younger siblings? And that a female guppy gives birth to live fry—sometimes 200 within a few hours?

El Space: Wow! I did not know that! How did you come to write nonfiction? What is the research process like for each project?
Mary: First of all, congratulations on your forthcoming nonfiction books! I’m looking forward to reading them!

El Space: Thank you. 😊
Mary: Now to your question: I’ve always enjoyed research, and for years I’ve written freelance articles for The Washington Post and other publications. But I had a palm-to-the-forehead moment when I wrote my Jo MacDonald books and realized the pleasures and challenges of writing narrative nonfiction for kids. Now, I’m doing both narrative nonfiction and straight nonfiction books. The narrative nonfiction chapter books often involve interviews—similar to what I do as a freelance journalist—as well the usual deep research into primary and secondary sources for traditional nonfiction.

   

El Space: I always roll my eyes when someone comments that writing a book for young children “must be easy.” What were the challenges of writing these books?
Mary: Well, when writing nonfiction, one big challenge is to ensure the accuracy of each fact, while presenting it in a way that’s going to engage kids. So, writers are always thinking carefully about sound, rhythm, sentence structure, etc. For Brother, Sister, Me and You, for example, I wanted a range of animals—not just cute mammals—and I wanted strong verbs so that children could act out the movements of the featured animals. So, I watched a lot of animal videos to make sure those verbs were accurate as well as fun. I also went to a pet store and looked at a tank of guppies to make sure that those little fish did, indeed, “flash with finny flicks.”

El Space: You teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts and you review books for The Washington Post, Washington Parent, and probably others I’m forgetting. How do you fit everything in?
Mary: Writers with families seem to juggle so much—deadlines, family responsibilities, teaching! Now, that my daughter is in college, time pressures have eased a bit, which makes for more time to walk the dog and garden—or at least think about gardening 😊—and to watch Schitt’s Creek. And I have to say, it’s a pleasure to work with motivated writing students who want to learn and grow, whether in Washington, DC, where I live, or at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had a great time working with you, L. Marie, and I’m thrilled for you with your forthcoming books.

El Space: You are making me blush, Mary! When I was a student, you told me to experiment with poetry based on the prompts in The Aspiring Poet’s Journal by Bernard Friot. I copied this quote from a handout you gave me: “The book gets one thinking not just about words on the page but about ‘seeing’ and experiencing the world in a creative, ever-present way.” Why is the exercise of writing poetry helpful for novelists or nonfiction writers?


Mary: So glad you’re still exploring poetry and wordplays! For me, anyway, there is nothing like the reading and writing of poetry to encourage a deep awareness of and appreciation for the possibilities of language. Every word and every mark of punctuation is important, sound and rhythm are paramount. And the writing of poetry seems to call for an attentiveness to the world, an alertness to the extraordinary in even ordinary moments. Dogs seem to be wonderful models for living in the present moment. I love seeing how our dog takes in his surroundings, with curiosity and gusto.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary: I’m now beavering away on an animal-related early-reader project.

Thank you, Mary, for being my guest!

Looking for Mary? Look no farther than her website! If you subscribe to The Washington Post or Washington Parent, look for her book reviews.

Looking for Brother, Sister, Me and You or any of Mary’s other books? Check your local bookstore, Amazon, Dawn Publications, Indiebound, or Barnes and Noble or your own doorstep, since one of you will be given a copy of this book or any of Mary’s books of your choosing simply because you commented below.

Since this week I will feature another wonderful author, I will announce the winners of both giveaways sometime next week!

The Squeezamals and Henry’s bear wonder when Mary will write a book about their friendship. They’re animals . . . sort of.

Book covers courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum, her website, or were found at Dawn Publications. Book spread courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum. See above for more photo attributions. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Time Out

On July 21, I headed with some friends to a cabin near Danbury, Wisconsin. The cabin is owned by the family of a friend and sits above a private lake. Sweet. We spent the weekend lounging on the deck with our favorite books, playing games (dominoes, bean bag toss, badminton), swimming, and touring the lake via pontoon boat. I don’t have permission to show the cabin. But here is the view from the deck.

  

In the mornings, I sat on the dock on a chair that swung out over the water, sipping my coffee and listening to the occasional call of the loon. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of loons. They kept diving underwater.)

  

Loons were particularly active at dusk. This is the cry we heard over and over.

While on the boat, I saw a bald eagle soaring high above. He never flapped once. Just glided across the sky. But he moved fast. I was never quick enough, and he never came low enough, for me to get a closer shot. So, here he is.

On July 23, we headed to St. Paul, Minnesota, with a brief pit stop at Stillwater. I deeply appreciated this city because of the large amount of bookstores encountered in just a few blocks. The photo at left shows the Stillwater Lift Bridge.

  

We visited the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul.

   

   

Our main objective was to check out the Japanese Garden. So lovely. The bonsai trees were amazing.

  

Later we checked out other sights around St. Paul.

   

We couldn’t get inside the James J. Hill House in St. Paul. It was closed when we visited.

   

On Tuesday, we headed to the Mall of America—the biggest mall I’ve ever seen in my life.

  

That afternoon, we headed to downtown Minneapolis. Yes, the statue below is from The Mary Tyler Moore Show from the 70s.

   

If you’re a Vikings fan, you know what this building is (below).

All in all, a good time was had by all.

Photos by L. Marie.

Something to Crow About: My 510th Post—A “Caws” to Celebrate

I forgot to check when I reached the five hundred-post milestone. That was actually several weeks ago. Whoops.

Recently, one of my grad school classmates reposted a comment on Facebook about some crows at a wildlife facility that said, “Caw,” to imitate the humans who said that to them. Someone who worked at the facility explained that the crows mocked the humans who assumed that crows only said, “Caawwww.” I was so fascinated by that remark, that I decided to search out videos about crows, especially after hearing a crow calling out as it flew by my home.

I wound up watching a twenty-two-minute TED Talk on crows and ravens by John Marzluff, a professor at the University of Washington.

I totally get that you don’t have twenty minutes to watch a video. But the first few minutes at least are worth watching, because the way a crow problem solves in a clip Marzluff shows is fascinating.

Around the fourteen-minute mark, Marzluff plays an audio clip of a raven saying his name—Edgar (ha, how fitting). But here’s a different video of a raven saying hello.

With all of this talk of corvids, of course I think of City Jackdaw, Andy’s blog, since jackdaws are in the crow family.

It’s interesting that crows and ravens are usually portrayed as sinister in literature. Think of “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and the many, many fantasy novels that mention them or feature them on their covers. This post lists several. Like this novel.

Even Raven, a member of the Teen Titans superhero group, is the one with dark powers. And there’s the Crow, a dude brought back to life by an unusual crow to seek revenge.

The fact that crows eat carrion probably edged them toward the dark side in the minds of many authors. But I think they get a bad rap. I watched a video of a crow saying hello to a squirrel, which seemed kinda sweet. You can watch it here.

Maybe it’s time for crows to get a break in literature. I’d love to hear of some stories where crows or ravens did something cool. Oh wait. I know one. It’s this one.

What do you think of crows? Please comment below, especially if you know a good story about crows or ravens.

Another place for cool facts about corvids: https://www.sciencealert.com/crows-ravens-corvids-best-birds-animal-intelligence

Crow photo from pubicdomainpictures.net. Raven from Teen Titans image from wallpapercave.com. Six of Crows book cover from Goodreads.

Why Being Weird Can Sometimes Work

When I was in third grade, I was told that girls were scared of bugs. At least the boys at school who ran up to me with grasshoppers in hand believed that. But I wasn’t, which put a damper on their enthusiastic decision to chase me with said grasshoppers.

I watched the boys visibly deflate as I calmly looked upon the terrified grasshoppers clutched in their fists, instead of screaming and running. Some of them thought I was weird because I was not afraid. Others wanted my friendship, because I was not afraid.

What they hadn’t reckoned on was me having an older brother who inspired me to collect grasshoppers. Between us, we filled a jelly jar with them. (Mom was not thrilled.)

You probably realize by now that I was a weird kid, driven by curiosity. For example, I wondered why grasshoppers hopped. Why did they spit a brown liquid that looked like the tobacco juice my elderly tobacco-chewing relatives spit? (I know. TMI.)

(Apparently, others called this liquid “tobacco juice” too. Look here.)

Years later, after I had been an adult for a while, a publisher specializing in educational resources needed someone to write curriculum for elementary school-aged kids about insects, amphibians, and other animals. Guess who was asked to write it. Yep. Weird me.

Sometimes weirdness has unexpected benefits.

Lately, I’ve been viewed as weird for not having cable or even a working TV. Nowadays, books are my TV. Well, books and YouTube videos about Pokémon, movies, or new toys.

   

This is what’s on TV these days.

Being without a TV has helped me to better understand the characters in a book I’m slowly working on. I have more time to think about the questions I have concerning their lives and motivations.

Being without a TV also has enabled me to work on my paper crafting. For example, I’ve decided to do the same scene in different seasons. Winter (below right) is mostly done. I’m working on autumn now. I’m taking liberties with the colors, however. Instead of having a gray bench with a snowflake throughout the seasons, I decided to change the bench for each season. I need to draw and cut out hundreds of leaves to scatter on the autumn scene. After that, I will tackle spring and summer.

Some might view this activity as weird. But who knows where this weirdness might take me in the days to come.

In what way(s) have you been designated as “weird”? How has being weird worked for you?

Grasshopper from freeimages.com. Grasshopper in a jar from commons.wikimedia.org. Other photos by L. Marie.

Life Off Camera

Happy Eclipse Day—the first total solar eclipse in 38 years that we’ll be able to see here in the States! Some friends traveled to Carbondale, Illinois for this occasion since that’s the place where it can be viewed the longest.

Try as I may, I’m not always able to capture, via my phone’s camera, all of life’s amazing moments. Like the time aliens took over New York, but were stopped by the Avengers (thus freeing us to all have shawarma at the end). Or the time when the evil peace-keeping robot (what an irony) threatened to destroy the world, and the Avengers had to help out again.

Okay, those events happened on the big screen, instead of in real life.

But I can’t help thinking of last week when I witnessed a territorial fight between two male hummingbirds. I immediately thought of Jill Weatherholt, a blogger/author you undoubtedly know. Lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t think of her because of the fight. Jill has shown me photos of the hummingbirds around her house.

I was seated near the balcony at the home of some friends after their hummingbird feeder had been refilled and placed on the balcony. The usual ruby-throated hummingbird soon landed on the feeder. Let’s call him HB-1. I mentioned “usual,” because one of my friends told me this hummingbird usually came to the feeder. But this day, a rival came too—HB-2.

Oh no, he didn’t!

Oh, yes he did!

Pretty soon, tiny wings beat the air even faster, while long beaks jabbed. After a bob and weave, HB-1 got the better of HB-2 and forced his rival to fly away. Sadly, my phone was nowhere near me at the time, so I did not get pictures.

Nor was I able to capture something that happened at a birthday party I went to recently. The birthday child was a little girl who turned one. Over forty kids were present. One of the games they played was one involving a box wrapped with about fifty layers of wrapping paper. The kids sat in a circle and passed the box around, each unwrapping one layer, hoping to be the one who reached the last layer. That kid would have the privilege of claiming what was inside the box.

The kids gave that box the care and attention a neurosurgeon would give a patient. Every time the kids thought they’d reached the end of the wrapping paper, still more layers would appear. Without knowing what was in the box, they were fully invested in solving the mystery of what was inside. I was the one tasked with picking up the discarded wrapping paper, so I didn’t have a free hand to snap a photo. But I loved the fact that the kids were riveted by a wrapped box, rather than some expensive video game. (Lest you think I dislike video games, let me admit to you now that I play them. Just sayin’.)

Neither of these moments has the awe-factor of a solar eclipse, I know. But life has these little moments of mystery and wonder—moments too quick or too powerful to capture on film. Like the time a two-year-old hugged me around my knees. Like the laughs I shared with friends last week. I’m glad I was fully present, enjoying those moments, instead of fumbling for my camera.

But I was able to capture this butterfly not too long ago. He sat still, allowing me time to photograph him (though I wish I’d managed a closeup).

What moments have you enjoyed recently that took your breath away, but that you weren’t able to record on your camera?

Solar eclipse image from Wikipedia. Avengers poster from nzgirl.co.nz. Hummingbird from free-background-wallpaper.blogspot.com. Wrapping paper from zazzle.co.uk. Monarch butterfly photo by L. Marie.