A Bird’s Eye View

At the end of June I noticed a robin standing on the rail of our deck, which caught my attention. I found it odd to see the robin standing there so calmly. As I watched it, it flew up and landed in a nest that was perfectly situated in the large blue spruce just outside the dining room window. I was thrilled to see this and it appeared the nest was specifically designed for viewing. Once I stood on a dining table chair, I had an ideal view of something I’d never witnessed – the birth of baby robins.

A robin lands on the rail of our deck and intrigues me.

First, for about two weeks, I watched the mother sit on the eggs in the nest. She took turns tending the nest with the father, a larger robin. The two parents would swap sitting duties. When I’d go out on the deck to attempt to take a better photo, either the mother or father robin would fly at me with a wild screech and I’d run back into the house. This is the reason most of my photos are fuzzy; they’ve been taken through the dining room window.

Close-up of mother robin on nest in tree.

This is the POV from the dining room window.

It took about two weeks for the eggs to hatch and I was unable to get a photo of the eggs. But imagine four beautiful blue robin eggs at the bottom of the nest. I would look at the robins and the nest many times during the day to see what would happen next. And then, finally, the baby birds hatched. They looked tiny and very tired and it was easy to see their four heads poking up.

Here’s a shot of the four babies snuggled into the nest, which was the perfect size for everyone. One baby droops its head along the outside of the nest.

Here is another photo of the babies.

The babies grew quickly and I was amazed at their progress. Closed eyes began to open and the critters found their chirping voices as the parents would bring them worms. The parent robins would fly off, only to return with a bounty. The baby birds would burst straight up and open their beaks seemingly starving for food. They continued to grow in this well-orchestrated process. One day it rained and the mother bird hunkered down and seemed to flatten out over her babies like a feathery umbrella.

The mother robin protects the four babies from the rain.

Day after day the feeding process took place. More and more feathers dried out and I wondered if everyone would have enough room in the seemingly crowded nest. But they always did. The four babies could also flatten down into the nest for protection.

The four babies are growing.

Sometimes one of the parents would head off to the spa for a needed break.

A nice getaway.

Standing on the side of the nest was the next major step and I noticed the largest baby robin did this. I would watch as the mother or father robin would fly off and land in a nearby tree, encouraging the babies to follow suit. Eventually, there was the first brave soul.

Standing on the edge of the nest and contemplating the universe of sky and trees.

Baby after baby flew off until there was just the smallest robin alone in the nest. I wondered if it had been abandoned. When I told a good friend about the last lonely one she wrote, “I think he’s the careful one and will live the longest.”

Alone but not forgotten.

And then, as nature would have it, everyone zoomed away. All that was left was the well-made, well-placed nest. Perhaps we’ll look for round two.

Empty now, but we’ll see what happens.







The Boulder Life

Living in Boulder since 1995 has been an amazing experience, especially when it comes to hiking. I never tire of finding a new trail through the Rocky Mountains.

A beautiful view at NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Walks down to Viele Lake are frequent and it’s always interesting to watch the many geese who find a home there.

Geese at Viele Lake.

The cows never cease to hold my interest.

Cows at Shanahan Ranch in Boulder.

I love close-ups of the Flatirons and long shots of the mountains.

The Rockies from a distance.

I truly love it here. Thank you Boulder.

The Goats at Viele Lake


Over the past 20 years or so, I’ve spent many happy hours trekking around Viele Lake in South Boulder. Set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountain Flatirons, the lake has always reminded me of a setting one might see in Switzerland.

I’ve found the best times to visit the lake are early mornings and early evenings when the critters are active and the light is streaming through the trees and on the water. I’ve seen all sorts of animals at the lake including geese, heron, deer, fox, squirrels, leaping carp, turtles, birds, dogs and cats.

This summer, one day before the Fourth of July, I was surprised to see a herd of 40 goats and two llamas grazing in a fenced area near the lake. Thrilled, I had to find out what was going on. I phoned the number on a fence sign and soon met Emily McMurtrey, owner of Mutton Mowers LLC located in the nearby town of Longmont.

Emily McMurtrey, owner of Mutton Mowers LLC, stands with her herd.

Emily McMurtrey, owner of Mutton Mowers LLC, stands with her herd.

About two and a half years ago, Emily decided she wanted to go into the goat grazing business and bought a rescue herd of 18 goats from a Boulder family. Previously Emily worked as a water resource technician with Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks; she has a background in environmental studies and was also active in 4-H growing up.

Emily took her rescue goats to her father’s farm in Loveland, Colorado, where he owns a miniature horse and pygmy goat. Her family used to have horses at the farm, so there were corrals ready to go. In time, she added 22 more goats to her herd. Some of her goats were adopted from Mountain Flower Dairy in Boulder.

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Emily contracts grazing sites with Boulder’s Park and Recreation department, and Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks department. Her company specializes in small acreage grazing where her goats can mow down invasive weeds. These weeds are often difficult to get rid of because of a dearth of natural enemies, or they’re located on hillsides where it’s difficult for people to come in with weed whackers or mowers.


Emily’s cheerful attitude was refreshing because her workload sounded exhausting. She said she’s more or less a “one woman show,” and does everything from transporting her goats, to setting up protective electric fences, to providing water and food for her animals. She’s very careful her goats are healthy and happy. “I try very hard to make sure that my animals are not anxious, have lots of food, have plenty of water and feel safe,” Emily said. “That makes them very easy to fence.”

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With a large rubber mallet in hand, Emily sets up electric fences around the perimeters of her pastures. “The fence is my initial guard against coyotes, bears, and mountain lions,” Emily added. “My secondary defense, if anything were to get into the pasture, would be my llamas. Llamas are pretty great at being predator aggressive. They make an initial alarm noise, which is a high-pitched hum. That alerts the goats that something’s going on. If that predator is still coming towards the herd, or advancing on the herd, the llamas will charge, kick, spit, you name it, to try to get that predator away.”


Emily says she has never been injured by her goats she describes as “very gentle.” However, she has been bitten and spit at by her llamas.

Her herd is seen twice a year by Colorado State University veterinary students. “There’s not a lot of things that will make goats sick,” she added. “They’re considered ruminants similar to a cow; they have multiple stomachs and can digest a large variety of plants such as poison ivy. They like choices.”

She uses a large trailer to transport her goats and llamas. Transporting her herd is one of the most challenging aspects of her business and she often has help herding the goats toward and into the trailer.

Emily loves being outdoors, working with her goats and heading up Mutton Mowers. “I can’t have a bad day when I’m around my goats.”



Book Talk for Kids

Photo: Courtesy of Mrs. Courtney Hauser

Photo: Courtesy of Mrs. Courtney Hauser

Coming up with ideas for books is a natural part of an author’s life. It can be as challenging as it is enjoyable. Children can also take part in this creative part of the writing process.

In a recent school visit to West Tualatin View Elementary near Portland, Oregon, I had a wonderful opportunity to talk with students in Mrs. Courtney Hauser’s third grade class. I was so impressed by all the students—they were curious, attentive and courteous. Students asked great questions and were eager to learn more about my work as an author. I was also impressed with Mrs. Hauser who was very thoughtful and helpful.


For the visit, I brought in copies of Gandhi for Kids, Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids, and Earthrise, and gave brief overviews of each book.

I hoped to make the visit interactive, so each student received a worksheet along with a yellow “idea” booklet.

The worksheet was titled, Creating Book Ideas for Kids-Mahoney, and students could fill out the worksheet that used the “who, what, when, where, and why” formula for coming up with their own book ideas.


In addition, students were encouraged to illustrate the cover of their own yellow “idea” booklet.

Photo: Courtesy of Mrs. Courtney Hauser

Photo: Courtesy of Mrs. Courtney Hauser

Students could keep these booklets to jot down ideas for books they might have in the future. I mentioned that many writers often carry a small notebook or journal with them at all times to write down fresh ideas that pop up.

                                                      6. SECOND BOOKLET   4. STUDENT BOOKLET
The idea for the booklet activity originated from the “Make a Great Ideas Box” activity in Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids. For this activity, young readers learn about decorating a recycled box to store their own great ideas!



Nellie Bly Makes History

Best Nellie bly      BEST LOGO NHD copy

National History Day is a creative way to make the subject of history accessible, interactive and fun. Every year nearly 600,000 middle school and high school students from around the world compete in NHD and bring to life all sorts of key issues and individuals. Contests are held throughout the U.S. and at various international affiliates. Students first compete at a local level and can then move on to state and national levels.

National History Day began on April 11, 1974 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The idea originated with CWRU History Professor David Van Tassel who thought the subject of history was often taught in rote and boring ways. He wanted to make history more exciting and engaging for students and teachers.

In 1980, NHD became a national and annual event that featured the theme, “The Individual.” Since that time, history projects have continued to showcase an annual theme for its relevance to ancient or recent history. A few themes have included “Trade & Industry,” “Conflict & Compromise,” and “Liberty: Rights and Responsibilities.” The theme for 2016 is “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange.”

In addition, there are five competition categories for history projects including: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website. Students are encouraged to conduct original research via primary and secondary sources.

When my daughter was in middle school years ago, she and a classmate gave a presentation about the history and activism of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility. My son gave a solo presentation about Guglielmo Marconi and the radio. This year, I started thinking about National History Day once again.

In January, I was delighted to receive an email from Wendy Martinez, an eighth-grade student from Kings River Union Elementary School in Kingsburg, California (Tulare County).

Wendy Martinez a.k.a. Nellie Bly Photo: Courtesy Wendy Martinez, 2016

Wendy Martinez a.k.a. Nellie Bly
Photo: Courtesy Wendy Martinez, 2016

Wendy told me she was working on a NHD project about early investigative journalist Nellie Bly and she wanted to interview me about my book, Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids. We soon set up a time to talk over the phone.

I learned that Wendy was an experienced and accomplished NHD presenter. In 2015, she, Jairo Aguilar, and Matt Dunn from Kings River won the group performance prize for their presentation, “The Unlikely Union of Three: Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Fred Ross.” The three students traveled to College Park, Maryland, to compete at the NHD national level.

This year, Wendy gave a solo performance about Nellie Bly titled “Nellie Bly: Exploring Investigative Journalism, Encountering Dark Corners of Society, and Exchanging Words for Actions.” The focus of her performance was about the ten days Nellie Bly spent at Blackwell’s Insane Asylum for Women in 1887. Nellie feigned insanity and was committed to Blackwell’s as an undercover reporter to investigate the abuses at the institution. It was a gruesome ordeal. When Nellie was released from Blackwell’s, her newspaper articles helped bring about change.

Best Nellie
Photo Credit: New York Public Library

Photo Credit: New York Public Library

After reading many books about Nellie Bly, Wendy also traveled to Los Angeles with her mom to view the 2015 movie “10 Days in a Madhouse,” written and directed by Timothy Hines.

Wendy chose to feature Nellie Bly for NHD because she admired Nellie’s spunk and determination. “What fascinated me the most was that she was doing all these incredible things where women at her time weren’t allowed to – and she still did it anyway,” Wendy said. “I know that her investigations also inspired me to do more because she saved a lot of people from Blackwell’s and she showed that women could do anything.”

Wendy was a finalist in the Individual Performance/Junior Division of Tulare County’s National History Day, and she also won a Tulare County Historical Society Madeline Franz History Day Scholarship. This past May, Wendy competed at the state level in Sacramento and said, “I was in the top nine of California, but sadly I am not going to Nationals.” The final Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest for 2016 will be held from June 12-16 at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Wendy sees the relevance of Nellie Bly’s story in our world. “I think her story is very important because people are still being mistreated today,” Wendy said. “And when you look back at Nellie Bly’s investigation at Blackwell’s, she made a difference to so many lives – not just the patients, but also the outside world too.”

National History Day has support from a wide range of individuals, foundations and corporations, and offers students various awards and special prizes from a number of sponsors including organizations such as: The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Library of Congress, and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Wendy appreciates being able to participate in National History Day. “Before I was in History Day, I was very very shy and I couldn’t really talk to people. So, when I joined History Day and started getting the feeling of it, I could speak in public and I could also interview people and go deep into research on my project.”


All Things Fairy

Best Maeve at fair    Flowerpot fairies.

When KGNU News Director Maeve Conran isn’t busy sending news stories over the airwaves, she’s often creating fanciful fairies at home.

Born and raised in Dublin, Maeve loved reading about fairies as a child. “I always liked fairy books,” Maeve said. “I remember a pop-up book I had that had fairies in them and I loved the intricate details in the book. I would spend hours looking at them.”

She added that fairies are a big part of Irish mythology. “There are things called fairy forts or fairy circles that you see around the countryside.”

Remains of a ring fort near Clanabogan, Ireland. Copyright CC Wikimedia 2005, Kenneth Allen

Remains of a ring fort near Clanabogan, Ireland.
Copyright CC Wikimedia 2005, Kenneth Allen

Fairy forts are the remains of ancient earthen mounds called ring forts that were originally designed to protect a farm’s livestock or crops from predators or invaders. Today there are an estimated 60,000 fairy forts in Ireland; many are simply small mounds encircled with stones. Irish legend warns it is often wise to protect these forts. “I have friends who grew up on a farm about an hour and a half outside of Dublin,” Maeve said. “They had a fairy fort on their farm and their dad would never plough over it.”

Maeve moved to the U.S. in 1995 and worked in a fish cannery in Juneau, Alaska, where she met her husband. Years later, her interest in fairies reemerged when her oldest daughter, Sinéad, got a book about fairy houses for her birthday. Maeve, Sinéad, and youngest daughter, Rosie, soon decided to build fairy houses in their yard. This was the beginning of an imaginative journey that encompassed reading, writing, artwork, and eventually doll making.

A few notes from neighborhood fairies.

A few notes from neighborhood fairies.

After initial research on how to make fairy dolls and “all things fairy,” Maeve said she started to create  a number of whimsical fairies for friends and neighbors. “I saw a tutorial on YouTube on how to make these type of fairy dolls and used them as inspiration to create a wide variety of dolls including mermaids,” she added. Many of Maeve’s fairies are placed in miniature flowerpots.

It’s been a relaxing hobby. “I love picking out the hair for the fairies, choosing colors of the flowers for their dresses, and then braiding their hair and adding little accessories like crowns,” she said. “My daughters like to pick out the colors for the hair and flowers – and tops of the fairies too.”

Colorful choices.

Colorful choices.

Maeve decided to take part in a recent craft fair at her daughter’s elementary school and says her Flowerpot Fairies were a hit. She also added mermaids to the mix, carefully crocheting the mythical sea creatures’ tails. For more information, go to: flowerpotfairies@gmail.com

Maeve's enchanting mermaids.

Maeve’s enchanting mermaids.



SCBWI Nonfiction Summit

1. CCH

Last Saturday, children’s writers from across the Front Range stepped into the Chautauqua Community House for a daylong workshop about writing nonfiction for kids. The event was sponsored by the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Four panelists shared a great deal of information and advice.

2. panelists

RMC-SCBWI summit coordinator and writer Kim Tomsic introduces the panelists. From left to right: Laura Perdew, Terri Farley, David Meissner, Carolyn Yoder.

Carolyn Yoder, the senior editor of Calkins Creek Books, gave two insightful presentations. Calkins Creek is the U.S. history imprint of children’s publisher, Boyds Mills Press. With her wonderful wit, Carolyn talked about her lifelong love of research and reading. One of her favorite books as a child was Elizabeth Blackwell: Girl Doctor, a 1961 nonfiction book about the first woman in the United States to receive her medical degree. Carolyn said the standards of research keep going up, and writers need to conduct impeccable research. She talked about the importance of well-written back matter, including solid bibliographies and source notes. Her afternoon presentation was an overview of a day in her life as an editor. She added that when a writer sends in a query, she likes to know why the writer is the best person to write the book, how the book is different from other publications, and why the writer is passionate about the subject. Her advice? Make books relevant for young readers today. Make emotional connections with readers. Be cognizant of what needs to stay in or go in a manuscript. Remember the importance of storytelling, and think about why the subject is important.

3. Digging Deeper

David Meissner is an award-winning author of numerous educational books for young readers. He is the recipient of the 2014 Golden Kite Award for his book, Call of the Klondike, the true story of two prospectors who search for gold in the Klondike region of the Yukon in 1897. David’s presentation titled, “Digging Deeper—How Authentic Research Leads to Authentic Writing,” included an overview of the firsthand research he conducted in the writing of this book. With a tent, backpack and five days of supplies, David hiked the Chilkoot Trail. This is the exact trail where thousands of men, women and children walked great distances in harsh weather in search of fortune during the Klondike Gold Rush. It was a fascinating presentation, especially when David talked about the possibility of encountering a Grizzly bear along the way.

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Laura Perdew has published many books in the educational market with topics such as bullying, eating local foods, food advertising, animal rights, Internet addiction, the Green Movement, the history of art, and the history of the toilet. She also published a book titled, Kids on the Move! Colorado. Laura talked about how she cracked the educational market after being asked to take a writing test. She passed this test and went on to write book after book. Laura taught middle school language arts and social studies for years. Today, in addition to being an author, she is a writing consultant at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Terri Farley, the best-selling author of the Phantom Stallion series, turned her attention from fiction to nonfiction with her newest book, Wild at Heart: Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this award-winning book features many beautiful photos of wild mustangs photographed by Melissa Farlow. Terri, who taught language arts and journalism at the middle school and high school levels, talked about the journey of writing Wild at Heart and horse activism. She also gave very helpful writing advice.

5. Flatirons