Sap’s Running!

It’s Maple Weekend in New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  For the folks who run maple farms, this time of year means long, long days (and nights) at work.  For the rest of us, it means gorging on pancakes and maple candy and getting a chance to see the whole process up close.

If you’ve never been to visit a maple farm, you might not realize that when trees are tapped, the stuff that comes out isn’t thick and sweet — it’s more like ice water than syrup.

It has to be boiled down to make the sticky syrup we love on our pancakes.  Stepping into the sugar shack, where they do that boiling, is like being covered in a big maple blanket on a March morning.

Here at the Parker Family Maple Farm in West Chazy, workers will put up about 6,000 gallons of syrup before the season ends.   Spring is always slow to arrive in Northern New York, but this is one of the sure signs that it’s finally on the way.

Poetry Friday – Farewell Winter Edition…

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

   -from “Reluctance” by Robert Frost

Frost wrote this poem with autumn in mind, but for me, his words are just as relevant in late March.

When it comes to the end of winter, I am in a happy, catch-a-snowflake-on-your-tongue minority.  I am a hanger-on. 

This is a good thing where I live, way up north on Lake Champlain, because winter does some serious hanging-on in these parts, too.  Lots of  people have started complaining about that.  But I still find myself hoping for one more fluffy snowstorm, even as the calendar stares down April.

On Monday, E and I drove into the Adirondacks in search of enough snow for one last cross country ski outing.  We found it at the Paul Smiths Visitors Interpretive Center – a site with miles and miles of beautiful trails.  This one was our favorite –

A bridge stretches all the way across the marsh, and then the trail loops around the other side.  We spotted snowshoe hare, deer, fox, red squirrel, and fisher tracks along the way.

Soon, the tulips will bloom and the ice will clear out of the lake enough for kayaking, and I’ll be excited about that.  But this week, it was a gift to have one more winter day in the woods.

Spring in the Adirondacks…

…looks strikingly similar to winter in the Adirondacks, don’t you think?   But I swear I took this photograph today.  We spent our holiday on the slopes at Whiteface Mountain, under Easter-egg blue skies.

And here’s our version of the traditional Easter egg hunt.

Ready… Set…


I hope your weekend was fantastic, too, whether your eggs were hidden in a patch of daffodils or in a snowbank like ours.

best tracker

Thankful Thursday

A busy Thursday, too!  Tonight, I’m thankful for:

  • Members of the drama club at Colchester High School who were my technology saviors during my school visit today. These kids know their stuff, and I bet they’re amazing on stage, too. Tonight’s their opening night for The Actor’s Nightmare and Lovers.  Break a leg, and thanks for your help!
  • Colchester 8th graders on the Odyssey and Quest teams — a fantastic, interested audience this morning.  My visit was part of their studies leading up to a big class trip — one team to Cape Cod and one to Boston.  My 13-year-old self is officially jealous.  My biggest class trip in school was to the local apple orchard.
  • Another group of high energy, enthusiastic kids here…

…at Brandon’s Neshobe Elementary School.  I spent an hour and a half with kids in the after-school program. That’s a long time for anyone to listen at the end of the day, but these kids were terrific and had great questions.

At the end of the day, I was thankful for a weather map that looked like this…

…and made the clouds look like this. 

Snowstorms over the Adirondacks and Green Mountains left me driving through a little corridor of sunshine along the shores of Lake Champlain.  It was absolutely stunning.  I started the day worried about slippery roads, so this peaceful drive home was the perfect way to end it.

A visit with Linda Urban

My middle school students had a fabulous day with guest author Linda Urban (

), talking about A Crooked Kind of Perfect, writing, setting goals, and having the courage to follow dreams.  If you ever — ever — have an opportunity to host Linda at your school, sign on the dotted line without delay.  She’s an amazing presenter who left kids laughing as well as feeling inspired and appreciated.  I took lots of photos, but I think this one might be my favorite –

Linda  spent our after school  period signing books in the school library, answering questions from kids, and listening — really, really listening — to their ideas about her book and their own goals and dreams.  Thanks, Linda, for a fantastic day!

 Tomorrow, I’ll be on the other side of the author visit, sharing Spitfire and presenting my Revolution program to middle school kids in Colchester and students in the after-school program in Brandon, Vermont.  I’ll post on our 18th century adventures later this week!

Studying Spitfire

Julia Miller, a teacher in Peru, NY, has put together a phenomenal web page to go along with her unit on my historical novel Spitfire.  And — better yet — she gave me permission to share it so other teachers can use the resources she’s pulled together. Click here to check it out!

Most teachers who have written to tell me they’re using Spitfire in the classroom are working with students in Grades 4-8, but Miss Miller’s students are in high school. They’re taking a class that I wish had been around when I was in school — Local History and Literature — and I promised a special shout-out to them on my blog. So…

Hi there, Peru High School students!  Miss Miller tells me that you have a list of questions to ask about Spitfire, the history surrounding it, and how I researched and wrote it.  Ask away!  To post a question, click on “Leave a Comment” and type your question in the comments box. You can sign it with your initials if you’d like, but please don’t include your full name for Internet safety reasons.  Give me a day or two to reply to your questions, and then check back here for my responses.  I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

Guess who’s coming to lunch…

My middle school students are getting a dream team of visiting authors this month. 

This Wednesday, Linda Urban (

) will spend the day with us, talking about A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT and her writing life.

And on March 31, Loree Griffin Burns (

) will visit to talk trash — TRACKING TRASH — with our middle school kids.

Are you jealous yet?

Meanwhile, HUGE congratulations are in order for both Linda and Loree today!   Both of their books have been selected as finalists for Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award.  Kids in Vermont will read as many books from the list as possible, and then they’ll vote to choose the winner next spring.  For the full list of 2008-2009 DCF titles, visit the blog of Steve Madden, librarian extraordinaire at Camels Hump Middle School.   It’s a fantastic, fantastic  list — one that will make you want to be a Vermont student, too. 

Friday Five

Five things I did this week…

  1. Wrote another 6150 words on my new MG novel – I broke the 27,000 mark tonight, and I love where the story is going. 
  2. Met the illustrator of Spitfire for the first time.  Her name is Martha Gulley, and she’s not only talented but so, so nice.  She’s doing chapter illustrations for my new book, Champlain & the Silent One, right now. Waiting to see what she does with it is like waiting for Christmas.
  3. Talked with librarians and teachers about some school visits I have coming up this spring and cooked up a brand new historical writing workshop to fit one of the school’s requests.  I’m pulling together diaries, artifacts, images, period food and games, and it’s going to be so much fun!
  4. Read Love and Other Uses for Duct Tape by 

     and felt like I was in high school again.  It was funny and sad and wonderful.  And I was reminded that the tiniest sensory details can make a book shine.  The rip in the vinyl seat of a pickup truck.  A crack in the sidewalk that looks like New Hampshire.  I loved this book.  It’s the kind of YA novel that most of my middle school readers aren’t ready for just yet — more of a high school title — but it will be well worth the wait.  Thanks, Carrie!!

  5. Picked up tickets for the family to see The King and I at Chazy Music Theater.  My friend Andrew is directing this play, and you should go, too.  Unless you live in California or Iceland or something. Then I understand.  But you’ll still miss an amazing show.  

Have a great weekend, everyone!

I’m baking tonight…

Nope – not chocolate chip cookies, even though I love them.  Not brownies or cupcakes. 

My oven is loaded with hardtack!

Hardtack, also called ship’s bread, is a very hard, dry cracker or biscuit that was a staple of the Revolutionary War sailor’s diet.  Made with just flour, water, and sometimes salt, it’s incredibly cheap, and it lasts forever as long as it doesn’t get wet. 

I have two school visits coming up next week, and I always like to let kids taste some of the food that the characters eat in my historical novel Spitfire.  Most students take a tiny piece of hardtack, bite down on it, discover it’s like eating petrified wood, and grimace.  A few always end up liking it, though – hanging around for extra samples when the presentation is over.  These kids, I figure, probably would have made the best sailors.  They probably like sleeping on the floor, too.

Many sailors and soldiers got into the habit of tapping their hardtack before they bit into it.  This was to knock the weevils out of it because the bread often became infested with bugs.  Other men preferred to soak the bread in their soup or coffee and then pick the bugs out with a spoon.   But wait!  Kids in South Burlington and Brandon… I don’t want you to worry if you’re reading this. Even though my hardtack can’t compete with chocolate chip cookies, I guarantee it will be insect-free.

Nonfiction Monday – Steel Drumming at the Apollo

As an English teacher, I’m always looking for ways to bring nonfiction to my reluctant readers.  These are kids who haven’t discovered reading for pleasure, and many of them are boys.  If I’m lucky, I can sell them on a novel by Walter Dean Myers, Joseph Bruchac,  David Lubar, or Jack Gantos…but nonfiction?  Good luck.

That’s why I was so excited to see a review copy of Steel Drumming at the Apollo from Lee & Low Books.  It’s nonfiction, in the form of a photo essay that follows a group of high school musicians from Schenectady, NY as they compete in a series of Amateur Nights at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.  As soon as I read the premise of this book, I was hooked — a group of city high school kids who get to play at a place so rich in history and so symbolic of the Harlem Renaissance.   Text by Trish Marx and photographs by Ellen B. Sinisi tell the story in vivid color, featuring details of the competition and the kids’ preparation for it, profiles of the young artists, and backstage snapshots at the Apollo.  The photographs and text bring the young musicians’ steel drumming to life.

The book even includes a cd of the band’s music, tucked in a pocket inside the back cover. And these kids can play!  Their story will be an inspiration to other city kids who dream of making it big.  Steel Drumming at the Apollo is a terrific choice for kids who need a fun, accessible introduction to nonfiction.  They’ll be singing its praises and dancing along as they read.