Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bits and Pieces

My first guest blogger, on August 15, 2011, was my friend, J. Aday Kennedy. I thought you'd like to see this inspirational interview with her.
 (for some reason, known only to blogspot, you'll have to copy and paste the link)   

The illness and stroke that left Aday a legally blind ventilator-dependent quadriplegic, failed to dim her love of life and determination to spread a message of inspiration and hope.

Joan Hallmark shares Aday’s story of triumph over tragedy in a memorable interview. In the fourteen years since becoming disabled she has cried and laughed her way through the hard times. Aday’s “CAN DO” philosophy shapes her speeches and writing.
Her writing has appeared in many newspapers and magazines including five inspirational essays  in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Currently she is writing her memoir, “Laughter Through Tears,” about her physical and spiritual recovery.


In a December 16th post, I wrote about Johnny, my bathroom bat. I'm happy to report he's back for the 7th year in a row.


Lost in the River of Grass received an honorable mention in the 2012 Westchester Fiction Awards  


I'm going to watch this tonight, with my heart in my throat. 

A Project Nim is now out on Netflix

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Making a Mountain out of a Molehill?

A couple of days ago, I was in one of our local feed stores buying The World's Best Cat Litter...which actually is the best I've found even though it is depressingly expensive. Behind the counter was a sign advertizing something to kill moles on sale for 50% off. I asked the young man ringing up my sale what it was.
          "It mimics the worms they eat."
          "So it's poisonous?"
          "Oh yeah," he said, pleasantly.
          I then proceeded to lose it. "That is so stupid. Moles do more good than they do damage." I grabbed my cat litter and stomped out.
          Since then, I've felt bad. Both of our feed stores, all our hardward stores, and all the grocery stores in town carry products to kill what we consider "pests." They are supplying what people want to buy. It would be nice if they had a clue about the ramifications of all those toxins, but like that kid I yelled at, they don't.
           A couple of days later, I was offered a load of firewood by an elderly man in our community. He's a volunteer at a local non-profit and he was helping split some trees that had been removed. While we were talking, I noticed he had a box of mole killer in a bag on his front seat.
           "Moles are good," I said, lamely.
          Years ago, I saw a maintenance man at our local college opening one of a dozen gopher holes and pouring poison in. Here on the north coast of California we do have a terrible gopher problem (which saved us from all speaking Russian)(see my comment)--a totally unwinnable gopher problem. (I know unwinnable is not a word, but it should be.) I was then, and still am, a volunteer at that college. I marched straight into the dean's office, and she put a stop to the college using poison right then and there.
          So here I am, sorry I yelled at that kid, and hopefully trying to convince a few more people not to use poisons to eliminate anything, but especially not moles. Is a bumpy little trail in a lawn really worth poisoning a myriad of underground organisms? (I won't ask about having a useless lawn in the first place.) I'll just give you some facts about moles:
  • Diet
    • They eat grubs, earthworms, beetles, beetle and other larvae, ants, wasps, flies and other insects.  
    • That is why moles are often a 'menace' on golf courses and in lawns. The use of fertilizer and the care of grass attracts worms and grubs, which in turn attract moles.
  • Benefits
    • They keep the earthworm population in check; People think earthworms can never be a bad thing, but in fact they can. Too many earthworms cycle forest litter too quickly, causing topsoil loss, and nutrient loss.
    • Their tunnels aerate soil; plant roots need oxygen; mole tunnels provide habitat for salamanders (which eat slugs), snakes (that eat moles, voles, mice and gophers,) lizards, and ground dwelling bees.
    • They eat insects.
    • Their tunnels create channels for water to run off, preventing damaging erosion.
  • Poisons used to kill moles applied in your home and landscape can move (through those same tunnels) and contaminate creeks, lakes, and rivers which, in our case, all lead to the ocean.
    • Here's a warning from UCDavis: Confine chemicals to the property being treated and never allow them to get into drains or creeks. Avoid drift onto neighboring properties, especially gardens containing fruits or vegetables ready to be picked.
I'm always tempted when I read a warning like this to say, WHAT ARE WE THINKING? Why would we risk poisoning our own property? Most of us have wells, and the ones who don't get their water from the Noyo River. Where do we think the water in our wells comes from, or the water in the river? And do we think that the only creature we are going to kill is our target pest? That it will conveniently curl up and die underground. What about the worms that eat its remains, and the birds in our yard eating those worms?

I've done bird rehab for years. Once you've seen an owl or a hawk die from eating a poisoned "pest," you will finally get it. Here on the coast the main predators on gophers are Great Blue herons, housecats and the voracious long-tailed weasel, which can wipe out an entire colony of gophers in an afternoon. The American kestral's main food source are voles. You poison one, you poison them all.

Long-tailed weasel

CAUTION:  Keep away from humans, domestic animals and pets.  If swallowed, this material may reduce the clotting ability of the blood and cause bleeding.
NOTE FOR PHYSICIAN: This product reduces the clotting ability of the blood and may cause hemorrhaging.  If poisoning occurs, intramuscular and oral administration of Vitamin K1 are indicated, as in poisoning from an overdose of bis-hydroxycoumarin.  For human cases, Vitamin K1 is antidotal at doses of 10-20 mg total (not mg/kg). For animal cases, Vitamin K1 is antidotal at 2-5 mg/kg.  Repeated doses may need to be given up to two weeks (based upon monitoring of prothrombin times).


Do not apply this product directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present or the intertidal areas below the mean high water mark.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why Write?

There are days when I sit at the computer, hour after hour, and wonder why? Why sit here day in, day out reordering sentences and paragraphs, putting commas in, taking commas out of what I wrote just moments before, or a month ago, or, in the case of Girl Under Glass, the book I'm rewriting now, five years ago? It has already been rejected 6 times.

That was also the case with Hurt Go Happy. I spent years researching and writing that book, only to have it come back rejected over and over again. Then my agent quit me, and finally, after 15 years, I gave up. For the next three years, I continued to attend my writing group, but never turned anything in. I'm not sure what changed my mind about giving up. Maybe it's the idea that quitting ends whatever chance you had to make your dream come true, or your hard work pay off. 

Most of you know the rest of the story. What you might not know is the working title of Hurt Go Happy, American Sign Language for the pain has ended, was Without Voices.  I believed when I started researching and writing that book that it would give voice to the voiceless--abused children and abused animals. Big dream.

In the years since HGH was published, I've received a handful of letters that made those 18 years worthwhile. This is one of them. Oh boy, is this one of them!

Dear Ginny Rorby,

My name is Rosa Rodriguez. I am the Deaf Literacy Coordinator for the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative in Florida. I am working with the middle school teacher at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo, Florida, who has a reading class of five 8th graders who are Deaf. 

These five students have never enjoyed reading.  National research done at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. says that the average deaf high school student graduates at a third grade reading level.  It has been our passion to drastically change this sad statistic.  For these students, reading has been an arduous task that was always a requirement.  In an effort to show them the beautiful world of reading, the teacher decided to do a read aloud, Hurt Go Happy.

Hurt Go Happy opened a whole new world for the students.  For the first time, they truly learned the beauty and magic behind a book. They laughed imagining Sukari signing and cried when Dr. Charlie died.  They longed to yell at mom when she was oppressive to Joey and clapped when Joey fought back.  As a class they learned about social issues such as animal testing and the effects of abuse. They also went on a journey of emotions together- the steady wave of pain and joy.   

The teacher says: "Because of your book, their lives have been and will be radically changed. They would always ask if we could read one more chapter or stay past the bell just a few more minutes. They truly understand the feeling I-just-can’t-put-it-down.  To me, I saw a miracle happen in my classroom.  For maybe the first time in their lives, they fell in love with a book."

For their graduation of 8th grade on June 8th, we are requesting a letter to the students that we can read aloud at their graduation ceremony.   The Deaf Literacy Center at our public library will be purchasing your book as a gift to the students and we would love to include your letter with the book.

With sincere thanks,

Alissa Matiya
Deaf Educator
Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School

Rosa Rodriguez, MS

Deaf Literacy Coordinator
Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, Inc.

Hurt Go Happy Commercial   by Alissa Matiya's deaf students

Saturday, March 17, 2012

And now a word from my sponsor

More about me by Kayleen Reusser 

Kayleen Reusser is an author of children's non-fiction books. A newspaper columnist and speaker, Kayleen lives in Bluffton, Indiana where she also works in the Bluffton Harrison Middle School Library. She is the author of numerous children's books, and is best known for her biography of Taylor Swift and Celebrities Giving Back. 

Kayleen was kind enough to ask to interview me. :-)

And your reward: a good laugh.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Joy of Killing

I've never understood hunting. I can't wrap my head around the need to kill an animal for the pure joy of taking a life, so when our California Fish and Game Commissioner accepted a $7000 trip to Idaho and killed a mountain lion for sport, I added my voice to the choir calling for his resignation.
I haven't changed my mind. I still think his behavior is disgusting, but I wasn't going to make an issue of it on this blog. Then my friend, Tanya, sent this to me. She's so much more reasonable about this kind of thing than I am.

The recent blow up over a California Fish and Game Commissioner shooting a mountain lion in Idaho is being portrayed as radical animal rights versus radical hunting. I believe this is obscuring the point. I am ambivalent about hunting but was fed by my hunting father for the first 5 years of my life and was paid to conduct environmental education programs in under-served schools by a non-profit associated with hunting. I agree with many of the precepts of animal rights but reject many of the more radical actions that some of these organizations undertake.

The issue to me is one of judgment. This person was appointed by the Governor to oversee the Department of Fish and Game, the agency that grants hunting licenses, oversees regulation enforcement, and interacts with the Federal Government on management plans for Endangered Species recovery. As long as he is Commissioner, he represents the Department of Fish and Game and his actions are a reflection on the Commission. The reflection from the photo of him holding a dead mountain lion in triumph is not attractive. To many of my hunting friends using dogs to tree a mountain lion so that it can be shot is not hunting, it is target practice. To most of us, an appointed California Fish and Game Commissioner accepting such an expensive trip as a gift from a person who would make more money if more people used his company looks suspicious.

Hunting whales is legal in some countries but that does not mean it would be wise for an American member of the International Whaling Commission to participate. Hunting elephants is legal in some countries but that does not mean it would be smart for a representative of the Species Survival Plan for elephants in the United States to go hunting elephants in Africa.

Just because something is legal it behooves us to think about the consequences before we indulge. I think this Commissioner should lose his position, not because he shot a mountain lion legally in another state, but because of the clear lack of judgment he showed in doing so.


Dan Richards with his kill.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Point Cabrillo Light Station

Painting of the Light Station
by Lynne Prentice

I started by leading bird walks at the Point Cabrillo Light Station in 1996, and ended up as president of the non-profit that operates it. I'm still on the Board of Directors.

My favorite time of year to be at the lighthouse is now. March is when the gray whales are migrating back to Alaska, which can be a hazardous 6000 mile journey.

Below is a photo of Orcas attacking a gray whale. A few years ago, people witnessed just such an attack in front of the lighthouse.

Point Cabrillo and the tall ship, the Lynx
by Harold Hauck
That's a Coast Guard cutter on the right

The 3rd Order Fresnel Lens is back in service
in the Lighthouse
 Thanks to Bruce Lewis for the video.
This is also the time of year when the Harbor seals give birth, often on the rocks only yards offshore from the lighthouse. Within two hours of being born, the baby follows its mother into the ocean, frequently reappearing in the cove just to the east of the lighthouse.
Harbor Seal and Pup by Ron LeValley


Monday, March 5, 2012

West Indian Manatees

Photo by Doug Perrine

When I was in my early teens, (pre-Disney World) growing up in Winter Park, FL (which was sort of surrounded by Orlando--even then) my mother would force my sister and me to ride with her every Sunday to visit my grandmother, who had advanced dementia. She was in a home in Orange City, which is north of Orlando and Sanford, but south of Deland. (The building that housed the nursing home is still there.) This was before Interstate 4, so the drive, which seemed interminable, took nearly two hours--each way. Our reward for behaving was to stop at Morrison's cafeteria on the way home, where I would make a meal out of cooked carrots, string beans, and mashed potatoes with a pool of gravy in the center.

If we'd only known. Right there in the heart of Orange City, is the turn off to Blue Spring, the home of the largest congregation of manatees, anywhere.

Manatees are a migratory species. In the summer months, they can be found as far west as Texas, but summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are more common. In the winter, they are concentrated in Florida, where they disperse in search of food during the mild days. However, cold weather can kill a manatee, so when the temperature drops, manatees by the hundreds seek refuge in the warm, crystal clear springs of central Florida. The water that feeds these springs bubbles up from underground caverns, and is a constant 74 degrees. Visiting Blue Spring on a cold winter day is an amazing experience.

Meanwhile, I lived in Florida all my life and had never heard of a manatee until the water hyacinth population got out of control in the canals in south Florida. One suggested solution was to put the mostly herbivorous manatees in the canals to eat the hyacinth. I'm rather sure this didn't work, since they are grazers on algae and sea grass.

In 1984, I did my senior paper in Biology at University of Miami on the territoriality of Great White herons in the Keys. (A story for another time.) The number one killer of the slow moving manatee are boat propellers. Most of the manatees in Blue Spring can be individually identified by their propeller scars. My Great White heron study was conducted along the canals of a housing development in Tavenier in the Florida Keys. Every afternoon, a lone manatee would travel up the main canal to a fueling dock. You knew she was coming by the warning shouts of "manatee in the canal" shouted from neighbor to neighbor, and at any passing boat. When news of her arrival reached the fueling docks, someone would put the garden hose over the side of the sea wall, turn on the freshwater, and toss a chopped-up head of lettuce into the water for her.

Note the propeller scars on the mother manatee's back.

Twice I got to lie on my stomach on the sea wall, feed lettuce leaves to her and tickle her belly. Once--because someone told me it would be an interesting experience--I put my hand in her mouth. I've tried to describe the feeling, and I think it most closely resembled being munched on by a thick bristled, very malleable back scrubber. It indeed felt strange, and didn't hurt, so been there, done that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


This photo of a Western Grebe is my favorite Ron LeValley picture

To join his Outside Ron's Window, please email him at

Red-footed Boobies by Ron LeValley

Ron LeValley's Zebras