What Makes Sunsets So Spectacular?

Sunsets can be spectacular in Tucson, Arizona. Bright colors predominate, such as the red one above. Sometimes, they’re dark red, sometimes orangish-red like on this night.

Why are these sunsets red? Because of particulates in the air. The colors of a sunset are caused by the scattering of light’s wavelengths. Stuff in the air like dust, smoke, pollution, and water change the intensity of the light, i.e. scatter the light. However, the wavelengths don’t scatter equally.  The short wavelengths, blue and violet, scatter away easily, so we can’t see them. The other colors of red, orange and yellow are able to make it through.

The dust from the Sonoran desert monsoons can enhance the red color. It’s good to know that the dust has a positive purpose.

Even though our sunsets result merely from light scattering, their brilliance can be quite enjoyable.

photo of sunrise in tucson az

The same scattering effect happens at sunrise. The light at sunrise has even farther to travel through the air because the sun is low on the horizon.

It’s nice to know why the sky can be so colorful. Understanding the science doesn’t diminish our enjoyment of the bright colors at all, does it?

The Sonoran Desert has inspired me to write many fun science books. Check them out on the My Books tab today.

A collage of book covers indicating the categories of books at elaineapowers.com
My Books By Category

There’s a Rainbow in that Dying Cactus

The saguaro pictured above is dying. I was curious about where the colors were coming from. I learned the green color in the photo above is, of course, from chlorophyll; the orange is carotenoids and the purple in the rainbow is betacyanins.

Plants live and die like all living organisms. Some die of old age, but some die when they are young, like this saguaro. A rainbow of colors is revealed as the cactus dies. This is a similar process to what happens to the deciduous tree leaves that change color with the coming of winter, but I wondered what pigments are found in cacti.

The green is chlorophyll, present in the stem for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process which converts light energy into chemical energy that is used to fuel the plant’s activities. As the chlorophyll fades away, the other pigments are revealed.

Associated with the chlorophyll are the yellow to orange carotenoids. As the green chlorophyll degrades, the carotenoids become visible. These pigments act as photoprotective agents as well as additional light-harvesting pigments, enhancing the light collection for photosynthesis.
The nice purplish colors seen here are the betacyanins, reddish to violet betalain pigments. These pigments may act as a screen, protecting the plant tissue, and may also serve an an antioxidant. Fungicidal properties have also been suggested. Betalains are most obvious in the cactus flowers and fruits, such as the yellow-orange betaxanthins and red-violet betacyanins.
So, the rainbow-in-death colors seen in this saguaro are produced by the pigments revealed as the green chlorophyll is reduced.

Book Note: If you’d like to learn about another fascinating Sonoran Desert plant, I wrote Queen of the Night: Night-Blooming Cereus, about the beautiful plants that bloom once a year, all on the same night, usually in July. The blooming is a big deal here in Southern Arizona and something fun and mysterious to learn about. I love to write fun science books (I believe the learning stays when it’s fun), so I wrote Cereus in rhyme. Check it out here.

image of yellow green book cover about the plant Cereus
The Night-Blooming Cereus: An Amazon No. 1 Book!

 

Photo of night-blooming cereus in Tucson AZ
Photo courtesy of ThisisTucson.com

The Box-Tortoise

Photo Above is Amarillo the Redfoot Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)

In some of my books and videos, I mention box turtles, genus Terrapene. These are amazing turtles that, because of a hinge on their bottom plate–the plastron–can fold up to protect their heads and limbs. No predator can grab an arm if it’s tucked inside a hard shell. You can read about this ability in Don’t Call Me Turtle! When you read this book, you’ll discover the many differences between turtles and tortoises.

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise
Voted 5-Stars by the
Preschool Crowd

Even though only box turtles have the hinge to fold up, that doesn’t mean there aren’t box-tortoises. I have several in my house! Look at the photos below to see what I mean.
a redfoot tortoise

Rose the Redfoot Tortoise fits in her box

Cantata the Sulcata Tortoise  (Geochelone sulcata)
But Cantata the Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) does not! She is a big girl!

Unfortunately, not all the tortoises fit neatly in their box. Some can only get their heads in! Sorry, Cantata – you need a bigger box!

Check out the fun and educational turtle and tortoise workbooks on LyricPower.net.

What Does 2021 Hold?

If you’re familiar with Facebook, you know they often have games for people to play.  Every now and then I can’t resist and participate. After the difficulties of 2020, I was curious to see what 2021 might hold for me.  I swept over the letters with my eye looking for words hidden within. I was surprised and pleased with the result.

The first four words I saw were:  creation, self-care, power and breakthrough.  With the pandemic this year, I’ve been working on marketing the educational aspects of my books and workbooks and have noted for students learning at home that I hope my work adds some fun to their learning activities. I haven’t had any message-breakthroughs yet, but maybe next year, that will change. Maybe the focus and intent of my efforts this year will finally create results in 2021.

On days like today, we can say we truly don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that taking care of ourselves and our loved ones is important. Enjoy the word search and for 2021, I wish you and yours health and happiness . . . and creativity.

Elaine A. Powers
Elaine A. Powers, Author
Lyric Power Publishing LLC

Beauty in Unusual Places

With social distancing, I’ve been spending more time observing at my house. Maybe it’s the isolation, but I’m finding beauty in unusual places. Because of the drought this summer (no monsoon rains in 2020), my grass dried up and the outdoor-living tortoises ate more plants than usual since they had no grass to graze on. I discovered that they had eaten an entire aloe vera plant. It had been quite a large specimen. Now, all that was left was this stump.

I find the geometric organization of the leaves interesting and artistic. I don’t know if the root is still alive, but I’m hoping it is and new growth will come up when it rains again. Until it grows or dies away, I will enjoy this unusual offering of nature and my tortoises.

photo of an aloe vera plant
Now in a pot!

This is an intact aloe vera plant, protected by a clay pot, so the tortoises can’t eat it, too!

book covers turtle or tortoise
To learn about the differences between tortoises and turtles, with fun science books, check out these books by Elaine A. Powers.

 

Drawn to the Amazing Singing Wind Bookshop

Bookshop Photo by Erika Clary

Writing a book is often the easiest part of “the book business.” Unfortunately, due to the hours lost to writing, the author then has to market her work, even, in our times, if she is traditionally published.

As scary as it is to go to bookstores and ask the manager or the book buyer to consider selling my books, I have met some very interesting people along the way. When I was searching for selling opportunities, many people suggested I contact Winn Bundy at Singing Wind Bookshop.

I was not familiar with Singing Wind Bookshop. It was located in Benson, AZ for many years. I knew where Benson was, so I got directions and headed out. Singing Wind was not in the city limits of Benson, but in the surrounding territory. Driving through the open spaces, I wondered where the directions were taking me. Finally, there appeared a sign on a dirt road: Headquarters for Books about the Southwest.

Photo of dirt road outside of Benson, AZ
Photo Courtesy of Paul Vanderwiel

That dirt road took me to an amazing place. The Singing Wind Bookshop was located within Winn Bundy’s ranch house. And yes, it was a working ranch. As I entered the bookshop, I was greeted by a dog, and a gray-haired woman, who insisted on giving me a tour of the shop. That was a requirement – you had to have the tour.

I was used to book shops with organized sections: Fiction, Self-Help, Science, History, etc. Singing Wind was uniquely organized by Winn but it was organized. She could find any book that she stocked in the multitude of literary works contained in the rooms.

It was a magical place where you could spend hours among an unusual array of books, many I doubt I’d find anywhere else. She truly had the best collection of books about the Southwest.
After I had selected several must-have books, I approached the manager about stocking my books. I first offered her Don’t Call Me Turtle! She was non-committal, saying Winn would have to approve it.

I was thrilled when Winn told me that she thought my book was great and wanted it for her bookshop. I knew then I was a success as an author. I had Winn Bundy’s approval.

I was amazed that this cattlewoman in the middle of the wide open spaces of Southern Arizona knew so many authors around the world. We were working on school programs together when Winn’s health deteriorated. It would have been such an honor to work with her and the students. She did incredible work to promote literacy from her ranch house bookshop. If you like to read more about this remarkable woman, here is a great article in The Arizona Daily Star.

Don’t forget to purchase your copy of the Winn-Bundy-approved Don’t Series by me!

book covers Dont Series
These best sellers are written in rhyme, making learning science fun!

To Illustrate or Not? Yes–Absolutely!

In the above illustration from Don’t Make Me Rattle! the reader can see the heat-sensing ability of rattlesnakes.

I’ve been at odds with some of the ideas of traditional publishers lately.  First is the preference to avoid rhyming in picture books. Personally, I feel picture books should always rhyme. I don’t think Dr. Suess would be as popular as he is without the rhyming. He even made words up!

Another disagreement I’ve had with publishers is over illustrations. I hire illustrators to create bold, brightly colored images. Now, a study from Carnegie Mellon says children’s books should have fewer illustrations!

And the authors of this article say to keep it simple: Streamlining book illustrations improves attention and comprehension in beginning readers (by Cassondra M. Eng, Karrie E. Godwin & Anna V. Fisher). They found that reading comprehension was enhanced by the removal of extraneous materials, such as illustrations.

Despite their conclusions, I think illustrations are important in children’s books. We are very visual animals and use our color vision extensively.  Bright colors appeal to young children and color is known to affect moods and behavior.

Okay, I understand that if children only have words to read, they will concentrate on them and have better reading comprehension. But where is the joy of reading, the excitement of opening a book, delighting in the illustration, then delving into the words? If you let a child choose a book to read, it will usually be the one with the bright, colorful pictures.

I realize that the illustrations in my books are what attracts buyers, but then they do enjoy the words—especially the rhyming words! I get letters from kids and adults about this. Colorful illustrations and quality text work together to improve not only the reading but the interest in reading.  A minority of teenagers today read for enjoyment. If the love of books isn’t ingrained in the early readers, interest in reading will fade as they age. The content of the words is enhanced with a skillfully rendered picture.

And, to be honest, the illustrations aren’t only for the children. Adults appreciate them, too, just like the rhyming!

If you want to enjoy colorfully illustrated picture and adventure books, and believe as I do that illustrations keep the kids reading, visit My Books here at ElaineAPowers.com and Our Books at Lyric Power Publishing LLC to check out our wonderful science-based, illustrated, rhyming, FUN, educational books.

Book Note: Here’s a direct link to Don’t Make Me Rattle, which is full of scientific information about rattlesnakes, with fantastic colorful illustrations’ and ALL of the science is written in rhyme to help the student remember the facts. How about that!

infographic complete book description of book Don't Make Me Rattle

John Bendon’s Works of Art Are Also Important Scientific Records

In my work as a citizen-scientist helping on iguana conservation projects, I had the privilege of meeting the very talented artist, John Bendon, of the United Kingdom. You don’t have to take my word for his talent – some of his drawings are included in this post.  A few years ago, I purchased a couple of his drawings at a fundraiser.  The detail in the drawing is incredible. These are more than accurate scientific drawings—they are works of art. I purchased the prints because of their beauty but didn’t know the story behind the drawings. At a recent conference, John gave a talk. I learned the background of these animals.

John was in the Galapagos on South Plaza Island which has both land (Conolophus subcristatus) and marine (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) iguanas. He came across the animal depicted above and suspected that this iguana was actually a hybrid of the two species. The scale patterns of the iguana he was studying didn’t match either of the other species. Instead, the physical characteristics seemed to be a mix of the two. This lizard has a bit of the yellow coloration found in the land iguanas but also the black coloration of the marine. The head shape is different, too. Fortunately, John was able to reproduce the detail of the scales and head in his drawings. These drawings are not only works of art but important scientific records.

illustration of a marine iguana by John Bendon
The head of a marine iguana by John Bendon

For more works by John and the causes he supports, visit https://www.iucn-isg.org/publications/

For children’s books that include iguanas in the stories, visit My Books at elaineapowers.com.

 

book cover illustration with two lizards
The Lime Lizard Lads, Gene and Bony, LOVE exploring their island home, where the bravest thing possible is to go see the Dragon of Nani Cave.
An Adventure Tale For Readers Age 8+
48 pages
Fun and Colorful
Illustrations of the many animals they encounter, including the Dragon! By Anderson Atlas

Interested in Becoming a Citizen-Scientist?

Recently, I posted on my social media about a citizen-scientist opportunity that you could do from the comfort of your home. This project was through Zooniverse.

For an iguana study, people were needed to look at photos and count the iguanas they could see. The scientists took the photos and cut them into little pieces. The resulting 25,000 images were shown 20 times. Four thousand volunteers participated. Two thousand to 10,000 images were classified each day.

photo of chopped up images of iguanas

In some images, the iguanas were challenging to find, while in others they were more obvious.

photo 2 of chopped up pics of iguanas

If you’d like to participate in scientific work, Zooniverse needs help with other projects. This work can be safely done from home, no traveling required, and you can contribute to important conservation efforts.

Book Note: And if you’d like to learn more about the remarkable large lizards called iguanas, grab a copy of My Unit Study on Iguanas from Lyric Power Publishing today! It’s on sale until 12/31/20.

Graphic image book cover about iguanas
Thirty pages of Iguana information and fun activity sheets for grades 2-4. Includes coloring pages, fact sheets, T/F about reptiles, parts of an iguana coloring page, compare animal traits, name matching, count and classify, reptile spelling page, life cycle of the iguana cut-and-paste activity, ecology word problems, iguana word problems, creative writing prompt, opinion writing exercise, mean, mode, median, and range worksheets, counting iguanas, histogram worksheet, grams-to-pounds worksheet, trace the words and color, short i sound, create an iguana puzzle.

Nature is the Best Holiday Decorator

I usually travel during the December holidays, so I don’t do much holiday decorating. A garland and a lighted ball is sufficient for me. This year, due to the pandemic, I’m staying home and I’ve been trying to decide if and how I’ll decorate. I don’t really need decorations to feel the holiday spirit.
photo of golden pomegranate treeThis morning, I found the holiday colors I was looking for. I don’t need an evergreen tree in my house – I have a golden tree in my yard. This pomegranate tree comes complete with its own red fruit ornaments.
And instead of a star, I’ll top my tree with a hummingbird.

hummingbird in tree
Nature is the best decorator.

Book Note: How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird is a humorous tale about the dangers of trying to photograph a hummingbird. I was fortunate that this particular hummingbird cooperated with my photography efforts.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants
and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit.
Maybe a permanent one.”
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.

Humans Have Always Moved Animals–Let’s Do So for the Right Reasons

At a recent conservation meeting in the Caribbean regarding iguanas, there was discussion about establishing additional colonies on islands, so that the lizards would be protected from human-caused threats. The selected islands included their historical homes and new, safe places.
Of course, moving animals is nothing new. Mankind has been moving and introducing animals to new locations throughout history–but rarely has this been beneficial to the native species. Pigs and goats, released to be eventual food sources, have been introduced to islands as natural “livestock pens.” Sadly, livestock often destroy the islands’ ecosystems.
In recent times, iguanas have been moved by people from one island to another, seemingly just because they can. Maybe it happens because the lizards are so attractive and people want some in their previously iguana-free zone, but they are also taken as a food source. Iguanas have been eaten for centuries, although they are now protected from hunting and consumption. Others may think they are helping the iguanas achieve more genetic mixing by adding individuals from one isolated populations to another.
Consequently, scientists prefer to ensure the safety of the iguanas and the island’s environment when translocating them.
Setting up a new community of iguanas is more than just grabbing a few of them and dumping them on their new home. Iguanas are selected by sex, age, reproductive fitness and health status.
Of course, the islands are carefully pre-screened before the iguanas are collected. There must be proper food, no invasive animal species, like mice and rats, den sites and perhaps most importantly, nesting sites. Once the appropriate candidate iguanas have been selected, captured, and examined, they aren’t just plopped onto the island. No, they must wait until the food they ate on their home island has cleared their guts. Iguanas are important seed disperses, but bringing foreign plants onto the receiving island must be prevented. Islands need to be protected from invasive plant species as well.
The possibility of increasing the ranges of critically endangered iguanas is exciting. It’s worth the years of planning that goes into making these projects realities! If you’d like to participate in these efforts, please donate to your favorite conservation organization, or volunteer as a citizen scientist. But don’t pick up an iguana and toss it onto another island!
Some organizations involved in iguana conservation are the International Iguana Foundation, IUCN Iguana Specialist Group, International Reptile Conservation Foundation, The Shedd Aquarium, The Trust of The Bahamas, and The Trust of the Cayman Islands, to name a few.

Book Note: Want to learn more about these wonderful creatures? Go to My Unit Study on Iguanas at Lyric Power Publishing–it’s 30 pages of fun activities and coloring pages for $1.47 until December 31, 2020.

Graphic image book cover about iguanas
Thirty pages of Iguana information and fun activity sheets for grades 2-4. Includes coloring pages, fact sheets, T/F about reptiles, parts of an iguana coloring page, compare animal traits, name matching, count and classify, reptile spelling page, life cycle of the iguana cut-and-paste activity, ecology word problems, iguana word problems, creative writing prompt, opinion writing exercise, mean, mode, median, and range worksheets, counting iguanas, histogram worksheet, grams-to-pounds worksheet, trace the words and color, short i sound, create an iguana puzzle.

The Mystery of the Cleaning-fiend Tortoises

Above image is of Cantata, an African Spurred or Spur-thighed Tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) and a member of my family

Is this a species thing?

I have several species of tortoises roaming about my house. Tortoises are not potty-trained, so every now and then I have to mop to clean the floor. After sweeping and spraying the spots, I mop the floor.  Most of the tortoises move out of the way, running away to find a safe place.  Not the sulcatas. No, they must not only be near the area that is being cleaned, they must be in it! Do they think there might be something tasty being collected? Do they feel the need to supervise?  Being mopped or swept with a broom has no effect on them.  They just won’t be moved aside.

I first noticed this annoying behavior with my large male sulcata, Duke.  At 150 pounds, he can really be an impediment to cleaning.  He usually ends up outside until the cleaning is completed. He paces in front of the door until he is allowed back in.  Then he inspects the cleaned area – why, I am not certain.

Recently, I discovered my newly rescued female tortoise, Cantata, enjoys the same activity. She’s never met Duke, so he didn’t train her. I was mopping the tortoises’ communal basking place, and sure enough, she had to be right there, in the midst of the soapy water.  The other tortoises had skedaddled, but Cantata would not move away. At least she’s physically easier to move, at only 40 lbs.

I would love to know why sulcata tortoises are cleaning fiends!

Sulcatas are native to sub-Saharan Africa and do well in deserts. Above, Cantata is enjoying a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pad.

Book Note: I have a redfoot tortoise, Myrtle, who was often called Myrtle the turtle. One day, fed up, she communicated to me that it was time to write a book about the differences between turtles and tortoises. That was it–the book came to me in rhyming stanzas, and it turned out that kids and their parents loved the science woven into a rhyming book! It’s a lot of fun to read, the rhymes make it easy to remember the differences, and the little scientists in your life will love it. You can read about Don’t Call Me Turtle! here and it is available for sale at Amazon.

infographic for children's book Don't Call Me Turtle!

 

You’ll Never Guess What the Latest Pet Is!

With social distancing and domicile isolation, people are turning to animals for companionship. Dog adoptions have increased and even I bought a second horse. However, new family members haven’t been limited to limited to the usual animals, like dogs, cats, birds, or fish. The newest fad pet is a SNAIL. These mollusks are showing up on social media engaged in a variety of fun activities.

Snails are low maintenance animals, a perfect buddy during quarantine. They aren’t noisy, so the neighbors won’t complain, and their housing needs are minimal. Two snails are not enough for most enthusiasts but don’t worry, snails are very prolific.

The usual lifespan for a snail is 2-3 years.  Unfortunately, in my house it is significantly less, since slugs and snails are favorite foods of Trevor Box Turtle.

Yet, I find it interesting that people are embracing snails as pets. I’ve learned some interesting things about them that would endear them as companion animals.

      1. Snails have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell, through which they will recognize you.
      2. They like to have their shells rubbed.
      3. They will eat out of your hand, actually in your hand and enjoy the warmth of your skin.
      4. They like warm showers and baths.

Snails are the perfect pet: quiet, small, self-renewing, with colorful shells, slow moving so they won’t get away, and those eyestalks are so cute!

What do you think?

Book Note:  Just in case you or your youngster would like to learn more about turtles, I wrote a book about the differences between Hickatees and Sea Turtles. It’s fun to read and full of great turtle information!

a dark green book cover: Hickatees vs Sea Turtles
Do you know the differences between
the land-dwelling Hickatee and the
ocean-dwelling Sea Turtle?
Learn about them inside.
Reading Level:
Ages 6+
Written in Rhyme
45 Pages
Wonderful Illustrations
of the Native Hickatee Turtle
and Sea Turtles
by Anderson Atlas
Learn all about the endemic Hickatee turtle who has so many troubles–well-meaning humans who throw them to their deaths into the ocean, cars that run over them, loss of land to lay their eggs, and cousins pushing them out.
Shows physical traits and the differences between these land-dwelling turtles and the sea turtles that do reside in the ocean.
Make friends with the Hickatee today!

 

November 30th is National Mousse Day

Mousse is an interesting word. It looks like “mouse,” a rodent, but is pronounced “moose,” like the largest member of the deer family. When I think of mousse, I think of a light, pudding-like dessert, especially if it’s chocolate. A mousse is a soft food made with air bubbles to give it a light, creamy texture. A mousse can be sweet (the way I like it) or savory. Mousse means “froth” in Old French, but also “scum!”

Mousse has few ingredients: a base, an aerator, the flavoring and an optional thickener.

Sweet mousses are usually made with whipped egg whites and/or creams and flavorings. These are typically chilled and served as dessert.

Savory mousses are made from meat, fish, shellfish, pate’, cheese or vegetables. Hot mousses can get their fluffy texture from the addition of beaten egg whites. I’ve never eaten a savory mousse but now I am intrigued. Here are some recipes if you’d like to celebrate.

There is one more kind of mousse that you might be familiar with, the foamy hair product called mousse. With so many types of mousse, it might be confusing. But one thing I do know: don’t use chocolate mousse on your hair!

Book Note: I think I once heard Curtis Curly-tail mention that though he does not appreciate fluffy mousses, he thought Tabby, the Five-Finger Fairy might. Next time I’m in The Bahamas, which I am greatly missing about this time, I will see if I can find Tabby and ask her. In the mean time, she is quite the ambassador for The Bahamas and for friendship, including cross-species friendships, which I am all for! Check out this heart-warming story of what friendship means and how we can make a difference in the lives of others.

a book cover about Tabby the five finger fairy and Cleo a bahamian boa
Tabby, the Five-Finger Fairy, who comes from the Five-Finger Tree, Tabebuia bahamensis, loves the native plants, animals and people of The Bahamas. She makes friends wherever she goes!

It’s National Native American Heritage Day on November 27th

The day after Thanksgiving is National Native American Heritage Day. Legislation was passed to commemorate Native Americans and encourage people to learn more about the cultures of the people native to this continent. However, a recently published study showed that we can learn much more from Native Americans, who well-preserve their lands and the habitats of the animals that live on them.

Above image of a Native American Man, possibly taken in 1899, is courtesy of David Mark of Pixabay.

a photograph from a mountain overlooking the Great Basin
Image of the Great Basin National Park, home to Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe tribes, is courtesy of David Mark from Pixabay

Even though this study was done in Australia, Brazil and Canada, I bet it would be true in other lands, too, including here in the U.S. The article, The Vertebrate Biodiversity on Indigenous-Managed Lands in Australia, Brazil, and Canada Equals that in Protected Areas, is linked here.

Habitat loss due to non-native human development has resulted in losses of species at such a level it is being called a “Sixth Mass Extinction.” Many countries haven’t managed to protect land as agreed in existing international treaties. The authors of the above study explored whether land management could be enhanced through partnerships between indigenous communities and government agencies. They found that the indigenous-managed lands had more vertebrate species than protected areas in all three countries. Interestingly, the indigenous-managed land also supported more threatened species. The authors suggest that partnerships with indigenous-managed lands would help the countries in reaching their goals for biodiversity conservation.

This article did not surprise me. I drove a friend around the Salt River area of Arizona. She was looking to buy some land for a house to retire in.  As we drove through the San Carlos Apache Reservation, we noted the forest was healthy and very attractive. My friend was delighted since the plot she was interested in was just outside the reservation. However, as soon as we crossed the border, the quality of the land deteriorated rapidly. It was obvious the Native Americans were much better stewards of the land.

Unfortunately, as with Native American heritage, the wisdom of their environmental conservation practices is either lost or ignored by us. Let’s celebrate Native American Heritage Day and commit to partnering with indigenous people in protecting the land before it is lost forever.

Book Note: Conservation of land and animals is a subject dear to my heart. Please take a look at the books in the Conservation area of my website that weave science education into stories. We have come upon a time when it’s important for all of us to learn what we can do to help preserve the remaining species on this planet–and the planet itself. As they say, we only have this one home planet.

Also, until November 30th, my book publishing company, Lyric Power Publishing LLC is having a 50% off sale on a workbook about the ROCKS that make up the earth. It’s a great time to give our workbooks a chance. They’re comprehensive, educational and FUN. My Book About Rocks is 43 pages of interesting activities and it’s only $2.50 until November 30, 2020.

book cover for workbook "My Book About Rocks"

Forty-one pages of information, worksheets, and activity sheets that will give students in grades 2-5 an all-around understanding of rocks and minerals and how they are formed. Includes three word searches, a crossword puzzle, opinion essay writing, group chart activity, cut-and-paste the rock cycle, check lists for collecting rocks in the field and sorting and classifying them in the classroom. Homework project: How to build a sedimentary sandwich, with full instructions.

Writings Tips for Creating Realistic Settings

We live in a very visual world. Our entertainment is mostly visual: TV, movies, videos and, of course, our cell phones.

Above Photo courtesy of Hans Benn of Pixabay.

When you write a story, however, you must create the setting for the reader through words alone. This can be challenging. For instance, the setting for a story includes a full moon. Is that enough information? Unfortunately not.
Look at the photos below.

photo of a full moon with dark trees in the firefront
Photo courtesy of Gerry Sprie

This photo was taken by my friend, Gerry Sprie. This could be a dense forest, or the woods on a foggy night. I envision this setting being used for a scary story, perhaps for a Halloween tale, but for others, it might be a romantic moon in a lush forest.
The trees in this photo are very different than the trees in the next image. The setting below seems more confining, as opposed to openness of the taller trees and the clearer view above. I feel a bit claustrophobic with the photo below.

Full moon peeking between trees

Full moons don’t appear only at night. Sometimes, the moon rises when the sun is still out. That setting is much different from the previous one.
Daytime moons can be varied as well.

Full moon showing in daylightThe moon here is rising above a majestic mountain range, while the one below is entangled in a ground level tree. Of course, the tree and mountains are part of the setting as well, and can help set the scene you’re writing. One gives a feeling of a wide Western vista, and the other is grounded. I might even write that the rising moon is snagged in the branches of a Palo Verde tree.

Full moon early risingA full moon provides many elements for a story: illumination for the nighttime activity, the effect of the full moon on the tides and possibly behavior, tying in the local cultural beliefs associated with full moons, or it could even mark a time of year. So many possibilities.

For practice, try writing descriptions of these photos or some photos of your own. Will the reader see the scene in her mind’s eye? Will you transport the reader to your story’s location to experience what the character is experiencing? What does the sky look like? Is there a breeze? What odors does he smell? What sounds surround him?

The goal of the writer is to utilize all the senses, pulling the reader into the story as if she was there. Have fun with this and remember to keep at it. Practice does make perfect with writing!

Book Note: I have very much enjoyed writing to bring alive the flora and fauna of The Bahamas and the Cayman Islands in my adventure tales written for 8-12 year-olds. The characters are critters who seem to be experts at making mischief. I hope you will consider these educational adventure tales that have the science of the islands woven into the stories. In other words, readers learn about the wildlife in these locales in a fun way. In my book, Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia, an endangered species threatens a protected environment–and the reader gets to choose the ending he or she believes will best solve the problem. I believe science should be fun, and I hope you will agree.

colorful children's book cover with a curly-tail lizard riding on the back of a hutia
This is a special story for readers who like to solve problems. It takes Curtis Curly-tail on his second adventure, but is based on real ecological events taking place on Warderick Wells Cay in The Bahamas.
The hutia are endangered rodents native to the islands. Some are transplanted to Curtis’s cay, and Curtis meets his new friend, Horace. When the scientists come back to check on the hutia, they find that the native shrubs are almost gone, due to the hungry hutia.
But Curtis and Horace do not understand what is happening when the hutia are captured and put into cages. Curtis decides to do everything he can to help Horace and his family.
It is you, the reader, however, who must decide how the story will end. How do you solve a problem when an endangered species threatens a protected environment? There are three endings to the book. Which one will you choose?
Or, will you come up with another solution?
Lesson plans for teachers are also
available at iginspired@gmail.com.

November 20th is National Absurdity Day

On November 20th, absurdity is celebrated by being whacky, for example. It strikes me as absurd that on November 19th, we celebrate carbonated beverages with caffeine day. One day later we can expand and include other absurdities.

Some might think it is absurd to write a book. Some days, writers think so, too! Or go to Caribbean islands and spend all your time chasing large lizards that are not happy to be part of a scientific study. I often visit islands with gorgeous beaches and never actually get in the ocean – now that is absurd!

Absurdity and ridiculousness keep life interesting. What is absurd? The illogical, unreasonable, the crazy, zany and the nonsensical. November 20th is the day to accept life’s absurdities and perhaps create some of your own. Have some fun with it. Let your absurd side run free . . . if only for a day!

Book Note: An absurd moment did hit one day when I was thinking about a recent visitor to Arizona and a story began to unfold in my mind. The scientist in me included Sonoran Desert flora and fauna in the story (with a glossary, no less!), but the comedian in me caused the story’s impolite visitor to stumble from one desert danger to the next, while trying to photograph a hummingbird. Even though I write mystery novels in addition to my FUN children’s science books, I did not kill off the visitor. But the number of his injuries might give him pause when thinking about returning, right?

For a good (and educational) laugh, check out How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird. Your kids will enjoy the absurdities; you could even read it to your little ones–it is illustrated.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit. Maybe a permanent one,.” the visitor said. Whatever could he mean?  A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.           For All Ages Reading Level Age 8+ 26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 19th is National Carbonated Beverage with Caffeine Day

When I saw that November 19 was National Carbonated Beverage with Caffeine Day, I immediately thought of my favorite soda, Mountain Dew.  I prefer the light citric crispness of Diet Mountain Dew.  I was attracted to the name, slang for moonshine, and its bright green color, of course. The color reminds me of green iguanas.

Mountain Dew was created in the 1940s by Tennessee brothers Barney and Ally Hartman as a mixer for liquor. I’m not surprised since I like to mix Diet Mountain Dew with flavored vodka or rum. The current version of Mountain Dew was released in 1961. My favorite form, diet, didn’t come along until 1988.

Over the years, there have been many debates between lovers of Coca-Cola and fans of Pepsi Cola, but I will always Do the Dew!

Book Note: To have fun learning all about the big lizards, Iguanas, and other reptiles, check out Lyric Power Publishing LLC’s workbooks and activity sheets. Click on My Unit Study on Iguanas to go directly to the download page. Economical, fun and comprehensive, the workbook can be printed as many times as you need!

Graphic image book cover about iguanas
Thirty pages of Iguana information and fun activity sheets for grades 2-4. Includes coloring pages, fact sheets, T/F about reptiles, parts of an iguana coloring page, compare animal traits, name matching, count and classify, reptile spelling page, life cycle of the iguana cut-and-paste activity, ecology word problems, iguana word problems, creative writing prompt, opinion writing exercise, mean, mode, median, and range worksheets, counting iguanas, histogram worksheet, grams-to-pounds worksheet, trace the words and color, short i sound, create an iguana puzzle.

Did You Know Reptiles Have Sleepovers?

Did you know reptiles have sleep-overs, too? While mammals hibernate in cold weather, reptiles brumate.

I’m not just talking about different species cohabitating, or sharing dens, during brumation. No, I’m talking about reptiles sleeping over when they are inside a dwelling–even those that have entire houses to roam and numerous corners to sleep in.

photo of tortoises sleeping together
Flipper, Gladiola and Zoe sleeping together.

Take this group, for example. Flipper, Gladiola and Zoe gather at a door to a room they’re not allowed in. Was this how they wanted to spend the night? No, Gladiola decided to find another bed, but Flipper and Zoe were content and wedged themselves into the corner.

But don’t worry, Flipper and Zoe weren’t alone very long. As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, Calliope Green Iguana had to join in the fun. She didn’t even need any ground space. She was content to use the tortoises for her bed. The tortoises don’t mind.

It’s extra nice when you can sleep with friends. Just ask us humans–many of us are very much looking forward to hanging out with family and friends again. Until then, we will dream of each other and a warmer future . . .

Book Note: Did you know rattlesnakes have sleepovers? And that mother rattlers babysit for each other? Or that the young aren’t born from eggs? You can learn all about these things and much, much more about rattlesnakes in my book Don’t Make Me Rattle! It is packed with information about rattlers for educating your children and to their delight, it is written in rhyme. Teach children to understand, and not fear, these snakes who want only to live in peace and play their role in the great circle of life (keeping vermin in check so they don’t overrun the planet).

*See The “Don’t” Series here.

book cover graphic of rattlesnake

There’s Much More to Me
Than You Know!
I Am Shy and My
Rattle is Only a Warning:
Please, Stay Away!

For All Ages
Reading Level 8+

Bold and Vibrant Illustrations
by Nicholas Thorpe

Written in Rhyme
40 pages

COMPLETE
BOOK DESCRIPTION HERE

 

Remembering My Friend and Editor, Nora Miller

I’ve had some success with my books. It all began when I was encouraged by boat-mates to publish my Curtis Curly-tail Lizard story.  My graphic artist friend agreed to do the illustrations, although as he said, “I know nothing about lizards.” I had a story text and I had illustrations. How would I get those words and picture together? I had no clue.

By chance, I saw that the local editors’ society was holding an event called “speed-dating for editors.” A few authors would have the opportunity to tell their needs to a number of editors to see if they were a match. I met with all the other editors before Nora and they all said they couldn’t put my words on the illustrations. I was discouraged.

Then it was my turn with Nora Miller. Her response was, “Of course!” That started a six-year friendship that ended much too soon. Nora was an all-around editor. She edited the text, designed the text boxes on the book pages, formatted the words and illustrations for independent publishing, loaded the files, and built my first website. When that first book was translated into Spanish and French, she edited the words in those two languages, as well. A truly remarkable woman.

She was teacher as well to fledgling authors and illustrators. Always patient, she clearly explained what was needed to be done. When she learned her life was coming to an end, she made sure she found other editors to help me carry on.

Nora passed on with her family around her. Her many friends around the world were with her spiritually.

I will try to continue the high standards she set for my books. I know I will feel her with me as I write the next stories.

Photo of a page from the book Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers
In addition to editing the stories, Nora Miller created the books themselves. This is a page she designed from my first book, Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers.

 

 

November 6th is National Nachos Day. YUM!

November 6 is National Nachos Day, a day set aside to celebrate a delicious culinary delight. Nachos are crunchy with melted cheese, a perfect combination of taste and texture. Nachos were created by “Nacho” Anaya from Piedras Negras, Mexico in 1943.

Over the years, other ingredients have been added to the tortilla chips and cheese. Even though I regularly enjoy beef on my mine, my favorite is seafood nachos topped with shrimp and crab meat. I’ve found just about anything goes well with the basic chips and cheese.

Try being creative with your nachos.  Today, go ahead and nosh on some nachos!

(Above image courtesy of José Vanegas López from Pixabay.)

And when you and the kids are done with the nachos, check out the activity sheets and workbooks at my publisher’s website, Lyric Power Publishing LLC. They’re entertaining, educational and economical and were created to coordinate with my fun science books for children.

book cover illustration with two lizards
The Lime Lizard Lads, Gene and Bony, LOVE exploring their island home, where the bravest thing possible is to go see the Dragon of Nani Cave. An Adventure Tale For Readers Age 8+ 48 pages Fun and Colorful Illustrations by Anderson Atlas of the many animals they encounter, including the Dragon!
book cover for workbook "My Book About Rocks"
Forty-one pages of information, worksheets, and activity sheets that will give students in grades 2-5 an all-around understanding of rocks and minerals and how they are formed. Includes three word searches, a crossword puzzle, opinion essay writing, group chart activity, cut-and-paste the rock cycle, check lists for collecting rocks in the field and sorting and classifying them in the classroom. Homework project: How to build a sedimentary sandwich, with full instructions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve Been Blown Away!

Image courtesy of David Mark of Pixabay

In my book Curtis Curly-tail is Blown Away, I described Curtis and his iguana friends being caught in a hurricane. I’ve had personal experience in hurricanes from living along the Gulf Coast. My first week at Florida State University was delayed by a hurricane. I had to go to class on Saturday to make up for the lost day. When I worked at the JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, we were out checking islands in Tampa Bay when a hurricane passed by. We were in a 16-foot boat in 16-foot waves! Fortunately, we made it back safely.

children's book cover about Curtis Curly-tail lizard and a hurricane in the Bahamas
In this story, I join Allison Andros Iguana to warn the iguanas of Beach Cay about the impending hurricane. Low lying areas are particularly vulnerable to the storm surges, high rainfall and powerful winds of hurricanes. Small islands or cays here in the Bahamas can be completely washed over. Beach Cay, the setting of Curtis Curly-tail is Blown Away, has entire populations of endemic animals, such as the iguanas like Allison. One powerful hurricane could wipe out her entire species.

But the hurricane that made the biggest impression on me was Hurricane Alicia in Houston. I was working as a bone marrow transplantation technician and a patient had been scheduled for the day of Alicia’s arrival. This was not a procedure that could be delayed. One of the team doctors had been trapped at the hospital due to the storm, but a technician was needed to prepare the cells. I was single and all the other techs had families, so I told them to stay home and I would go in. I had no doubt I could make it; after all I had a heavy-duty SUV.

The world was gray with rampaging rain and violent winds. Power lines snapped in front of me. Building pieces flew to the street, littering my route to work. I had to keep changing directions to get around the debris.  The power of the winds threatened to push in my car windows. I eventually worked my way to the parking lot of the hospital. I was very thankful I had survived the trip.

Comforted by the thought I had arrived, I opened my car door and stepped out. The next thing I remember is catching the bumper of my car as I was blown away. I might have been able to drive through 105 mph winds, but I couldn’t stand in them! I was contemplating how I was going to pull myself up my car from the bumper to the open door, when my savior arrived. The shuttle bus driver had seen me and positioned his bus as a wind block. I was able to crawl up my car to his bus and get in. He then shuttled me to the hospital.

I can’t remember now if I told him the importance of why I was there. He not only saved me that day, but the patient who was successfully transplanted with bone marrow. I hope I did tell him. I’m grateful to this day, because I don’t know how much longer I could’ve held on. I was almost blown away that day by very powerful winds. I have a great deal of respect for the might of hurricanes. In the case of Curtis Curly-tail is Blown Away, the writer was writing what she knew!

What Would You Write?

A friend sent me Tom Gauld’s cartoon about an autumn walk’s inspiration.

The poet thinks,  “I’ll write a poem about the melancholy beauty of leaves falling in the autumn sun.”

The detective novelist thinks, “I’ll write a story about the autumn winds revealing a headless corpse hidden in a pile of leaves.”

I’m a member of a local poetry society, so I might briefly consider writing a poem about leaf loss. However, my poetry tends to the kind that ends up in science-based picture books. That’s because I believe picture books should rhyme.

Consequently, I probably wouldn’t write an autumn-based poem. I am confident that the members of the Tucson Poetry Society will write exquisite autumnal poems. You can see their work at Desert Tracks: Poems from the Sonoran Desert.

However, I do like mysteries and horror stories, so yes, I would definitely write a story about a headless corpse being found in a pile of leaves! When I started writing books, I wanted to write murder mysteries. Even though most of my time is taken up with the children’s books, I am working on a couple of mystery series.
Maybe one will include a headless corpse . . .

image of MY Books Page

National Reptile Awareness Day Should Be Appreciation Day!

October 21 is National Reptile Awareness Day. I would prefer the term ‘Appreciation’ instead of ‘Awareness.’ Many people are aware of reptiles but don’t appreciate them. They often state they hate reptiles—especially snakes!

image of Zoe tortoise
Zoe, who lives in the Sonoran Desert with me, stars in a video on my You Tube Page.

This day is for celebrating all 10,000 species of reptiles, from the cute, colorful gecko to the unnerving rattlesnake, and to educate and raise awareness to the threats suffered by these fascinating beings. Reptiles are equally as important to the Earth’s ecosystems as are mammals, birds, amphibians and fish. Their presence helps to ensure a healthy environment, but they are almost always underappreciated.

Sometimes, people’s actions toward reptiles make me angry.  A few years ago, it was the number of Sister Isle Rock Iguanas killed in one week by cars on Cayman Brac. I knew many of those iguanas by name from my work in iguana conservation as a citizen scientist. This led to me writing the book, Silent Rocks.

Recently, a FL poster on Facebook displayed a photo of a decapitated corn snake, asking if it was a coral snake. A man who hated snakes had killed it out of fear–a harmless, native corn snake who would have eaten the rodents around their home, preventing damage to their electrical wires and infestations of disease. Despite several responders assuring the poster that it was a harmless, nonvenomous snake, popular as a pet, others insisted it had to be a venomous coral snake or cottonmouth. Why do we always assume the worse when it comes to snakes?

Sadly, the RV park in FL has a history of needlessly fearing animals. A mother alligator had shared the rearing of her hatchlings with the residents, only to be killed when she took a walk down a park road one day. Not threatening anyone, merely using the road as a thoroughfare. I believe they should have known better because they knew her.

I want to write books about these episodes, but how do I present these occurrences in an educational way that people would relate to and not be offended by? Inspiration will come to me. But obviously, educational books about reptiles are still very necessary. I get disheartened by people’s attitude that reptiles are “disposable” animals. I hope that through my books, I can bring people who “hate” reptiles to “disliking but respecting” them.

So, please appreciate all reptiles, even those you may not like. Maybe do some online research about the animal you dislike or are afraid of. Learn about their species and life-cycle and predators and offspring and what they bring to the circle of life. We don’t fear what we understand.

And remember that we’re all part of the great ecosystem of Earth.

Ever Set a Pumpkin on Fire? In Your Kitchen?

My reptiles like hard squash, so I cook pumpkin, butternut and acorn squash until they are soft and squishy. The easiest way to cook them is whole in the microwave. I don’t bother to cut off the stem. I rinse off the outside, plop it in, and cook until it is soft.

Photo of Rhino Iguana standing on a tortoise
My pumpkin flambe, please?

I was cooking the third of the ‘Buy 3-for-$5’ pumpkins while writing at the kitchen table. Good thing, because I smelled smoke. Not the flavorful aroma of cooking vegetables but the odor of burning wood.  With the number of heat lamps in my house, I do worry about the wooden enclosures catching fire from a misplaced heat lamp. I immediately began sniffing for the direction the odor, which led my eyes to the microwave, where I saw that the pumpkin stem was in flames! (Inside the microwave, mind you.)

I ran over and unplugged the microwave, grabbed the pumpkin and poured water on the stem in the sink. The inside of the oven was scorched but had not been engulfed in flames, for which I was very thankful. Fortuitously, the pumpkin was cooked to perfect squishiness, so I would be able to feed the reptiles. The stem, however, was ash.

After all the squash I had cooked in microwaves, why did this one catch fire?

Microwaves produce an electric field that does the cooking. If small amounts of metals or minerals are present, they can enhance the electric field, sort of like a lightning rod. Pumpkins contain minerals; after all they are very nutritious. It is possible that the minerals in the stem, a conductive material, along with the extended stem, created a stronger electric field than the air around it. The dry stem was definitely flammable.

Poof! Kind of like a Pumpkin Flambe happened in my microwave.

Apparently, flames can be produced by many fruits and vegetables, but my advice is, “Don’t try this at home!”

Then, it was back to writing. Books, blog posts, newsletters–I am a busy writer, especially if you add in the mystery novels I’m working on. I hope you’ll check out my fun children’s science books on the My Books page. My publisher sells activity sheets and workbooks to accompany them, at Lyric Power Publishing LLC. They are jam-packed with lots of fun and interesting supplemental science education activities.

 

Umm . . . Ever Wanted to Lick a Toad’s Back?

Toad image courtesy of ockienot88 from Pixabay

Are you familiar with the word entheogen? I wasn’t either until I heard it mentioned in a talk about the Sonoran Desert toad, also known as the Colorado River toad, Incilius alvarius.

You may have heard of this toad without knowing much else: It’s the toad made famous by claims that if you licked its back, you would experience a hallucinogenic effect, due to entheogen. Entheogen is a psychoactive substance that produces alterations in perception, mood, cognition or behavior for the purpose of enhancing spiritual development. The compound found specifically in this species of toad that causes this effect is 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine).

The toad only produces these toxins for defensive purposes, not for human use as an entheogen. You must harass the toad to get it to secrete its toxins and, for the record, harassing animals is just wrong. By the way, licking the toad will not get you high, or closer to your deity. And, if your dog tries to eat one of these toads, it could be fatal. Native predators have learned to avoid the toad’s back, grabbing its prey by the feet and eating the underbelly.

Sonoran Desert toads also produce the related toxin bufotenin (5-HO-DMT). These toxins are exudates from the parotoid gland behind the toad’s eyes.

Now you know what “entheogen” means. Try to include it your next conversation. I love the challenge of new words and try to inject them as often as I can. I guess that means I am a writer. Well, you can kind of tell that on My Books page, too. Still, to think a tiny curly-tail lizard could inspire me to write his story and that THAT would lead to all these science books that I’ve written to be FUN is really something! We just never know where life is going to take us.

Enjoy the quest!

A collage of book covers indicating the categories of books at elaineapowers.com
My Books By Category

 

 

Sweet Iguana Dreams, My Friends

Every night I say “Sweet Iguana Dreams” to my iguana family members. Some people would think that is a silly thing to say, since iguanas are said not to dream. But I think they do. Iguanas are diurnal, active during the day and they sleep at night. In fact, they can sleep very soundly. I’ve been known to use this deep slumber to move aggressive iguanas or to clip the long toenails of recalcitrant family members.

Usually, the sleeping iguanas stretch out, with their arms relaxed alongside the torso.

photo of sleeping iguana
Sleeping comfortably and perhaps dreaming!

I’ve had a few hundred iguanas reside in my rescue over several years. Generally, they sleep quietly through the night. Every now and then, I would hear thrashing in the night and find an iguana asleep, rolling, snapping his or her tail, legs running in place. I believe these iguanas were having bad dreams, perhaps trying to escape a predator. Since they had been rescued, I hoped they weren’t dreaming about fleeing an abusive human.

I gently stroked the disturbed lizard’s back until they woke up, eyes wide open, looking around in panic. For some iguanas, this was enough and they would relax and go back to sleep. Others wanted to be held and comforted, which I was always happy to do.

This article in Scientific American gives a good summary about reptiles and REM sleep. See? They do have the potential to dream as you and I do.

May all your dreams be “sweet iguana dreams,” too.

NOTE: To learn more about these fascinating creatures, and for some fun with coloring, cutting and pasting, puzzles, charting, and more, see My Unit Study on Iguanas, proudly published by Lyric Power Publishing LLC.

Graphic image book cover about iguanas
Thirty pages of Iguana information and fun activity sheets for grades 2-4. Includes coloring pages, fact sheets, T/F about reptiles, parts of an iguana coloring page, compare animal traits, name matching, count and classify, reptile spelling page, life cycle of the iguana cut-and-paste activity, ecology word problems, iguana word problems, creative writing prompt, opinion writing exercise, mean, mode, median, and range worksheets, counting iguanas, histogram worksheet, grams-to-pounds worksheet, trace the words and color, short i sound, create an iguana puzzle.