Love is in the… Cactus?

Ah, the heart! ❤️ The symbol of romantic love. An appropriate topic for February 14th is Valentine’s Day. It was in the fifteenth century that today’s typical heart symbol was developed. With the establishment of Valentine’s Day, the use of the symbol exploded. Its popularity reached the ultimate pinnacle when the ❤️ became a verb! It’s used in marketing (I ❤️ NY) and even on television show titles (Bob ❤️ Abishola)! What a compliment for a noun to become a verb. Yes, you can find love almost anywhere, in the form of a ❤️. Even in nature…

The Natural Romantic

Many of us delight in finding “hearts” in nature. Stone beaches provide countless opportunities to find objects, such as this heart-shaped stone:

A gray stone naturally shaped into a heart.

There are rock enthusiasts who spend their time searching for these treasures around the globe. If you search for “heart-shaped rocks” on the internet, a lot of sites come up. We humans are fascinated by oddly shaped rocks. Heart-shaped rocks are particularly desired.

How did the rocks come to have a heart shape? Perhaps a vein of another rock type ran down the middle of it and erosion created the indentation. There must be a lot of veins running through the rocks to produce the enormous number of heart-shaped rocks found around the world; there must be a regular circulatory system running through the ground!

People are encouraged to place heart-shaped stones around their homes to bring love and peace into their domicile.

Desert Love

Walking around my neighborhood, here in the Sonoran Desert, I’ve noticed the prickly pear cacti have joined in heart production.

A prickly pear cactus with multiple cactus pads, one is distinctively heart-shaped.

Many of the clusters have a pad in the shape of a heart.This nicely shaped heart was in my neighbor’s yard.

A close-up of the heart-shaped prickly pear cactus pad.

You can see several heart-shaped pads in this grouping. Perhaps this prickly pear has an abundance of love to share. Or perhaps the pads’ heart shapes are the result of damage early in the growth of the pads. An insect may have enjoyed taking a bite out of each of the pads when they were young and tender. Not all of the cactus pads are perfectly shaped, but we can forgive the insects’ lack of artistic ability.

A wonky shaped prickly pear cactus pad, that resembles a mitten.

With the indentation off the side, this one looks more like a mitten or oven glove.

So, along with celebrating the loved ones in your life, be sure to celebrate our earth and the plants we share it with. They’re producing hearts for us and our enjoyment. And give us flowers every year. What more could you want? For more natural valentines, check out this website: https://eos.org/geofizz/heart-shaped-valentines-from-nature-to-you

 

No Ordinary Button

November 16th is National Button Day. What do you think of when you hear the word “button?” Do images of the many colors, diversely shaped garment fasteners come to mind? I remember selecting colors and shapes to add interest to my clothes. Then there’s the time spent searching through the massive collection that my mother had amassed over the years to find one that matched, or came close, to matching a missing one. But there is more to that word than one would expect. Join me as I explore more about buttons and share all about my favorite Button!

All About Buttons

I had never thought that much about buttons as a child, until my father mentioned harvesting freshwater mussels from the Illinois River to make buttons. In fact, it was quite the lucrative business in the area. The mussels’ shells were punched to create disks that were polished to reveal the shiny nacre, otherwise known as mother of pearl. Unfortunately, this industry led to the demise of many of the mussel populations. The loss of these water filtering mollusks increased the degradation of the river’s water quality. I tried to find the species names for the mussels involved in the button manufacture and could only find a few. Mentioned are yellow sandshells, pistolgrips, ebonyshells and the drilled threeridge mussel (Amblema plicata).

Or perhaps, your mind wandered to the phrases “cute as a button” or “to push my buttons.” Did you ever wonder where the phrase “cute as a button” came from? If someone was cute, you were saying they were clever or intelligent. Certainly, a compliment. But how does that relate to a button sewn on clothing? 

The “button” in the phrase probably actually referred to a flower bud, which are attractive. The tip of a rattlesnake tail when it’s born is also called a button. The rattler can’t rattle until its first shed, when the first keratin segment is added. But I don’t think the phrase originators were thinking of a rattlesnake when they came up with “cute as a button,” although I do think they are cute.

The phrase “to push my buttons” refers to intentionally making someone angry. How it evolved from household appliances going electric and “push button,” I’m not really sure.

My Favorite Button

But when I hear the word “button,” I think of Button, my first and my heart horse. Button was my second lesson horse when I was learning to ride bareback. She is a Missouri Foxtrotter, one of the gaited horse varieties. She is both a “cute as a button” and “pushing my buttons,” kind of girl. Buttons taught me a lot about horse philosophy and the mind of a prey animal. But mostly, she taught me about the bond that can occur between females of different species. 

Before Button, I never really liked horses. I like all animals and plants as a biologist, but reptiles have always been my thing. I had no interest in “owning” dogs and cats, which was enhanced by my allergies to them.But from the first time I climbed on Button’s back, we had a special connection. Given a choice of lesson horses, I always chose Button. Apparently, Button felt it too, since she chose me as her preferred human. I’m sure that rankled her owner, my trainer, at the time. When her owner’s life took a significant change, I was offered Button as my own and I took her. I really knew nothing about caring for a horse and the next few years were a rapid course in horse care, disease, attitude and how to ride! I’ve learned a lot.

Looking down at the back of Button's head and mane from a riding position.

Button is a gorgeous copper-colored chestnut with a flowing mane. With her seeming calm manner, she is definitely “cute as a button.” And with the attitude of a dominant mare, the stereotypical red-headed mare who feels she should be in charge, she can definitely “push my buttons.”

With age and the advancement of a non-operable tumor, Button has retired from riding. But we still take walks together and we still talk and share views of our world. Okay, I do the talking, but she communicates quite well.

On November 16, when the intent is to celebrate the world of buttons produced for clothing, I will be celebrating Button who brought such a wondrous change into my life. If you are interested in learning more about Button read my previous blog all about her on the Lyric Publishing website.

A chestnut horse with a white stripe running down it's head, Elaine leads it on a rope in the pasture.
Button

A Snake… with Legs?

We humans like to find ways of enhancing our means of movement. We strap wheels onto our feet, jump on skateboards, and climb on bicycles or motorcycles. We build cars to drive faster than we can walk. We build airplanes to fly in the sky like birds. But we’ve also invented wonderful devices to assist humans with mobility impairments. Furthermore, we don’t just build these devices for ourselves, we build them for other animals too. Explore some of these animal mobility devices with me, including one that gives snakes… legs!

Some Helpful Human Devices

Science and engineering have developed many useful tools for animals. Wheels allow animals without use of their back legs to roll along, from dogs to turtles. Then there’s the prosthetic limbs for alligators like Mr. Stubbs at the nearby Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary. Another remarkable prosthetic was the tail created for Winter, a bottle-nose dolphin.

Movement is very important to people, even if it borders on the absurd. For instance, I included the technology that allowed a fish to move its tank on wheel, i.e. FOV, fish-operated vehicle in one of my books. I used a FOV to allow my protagonist Clarissa Catfish to wander around the Peoria Play House Children’s Museum in my hometown of Peoria, IL.

Book cover for Clarissa Catfish.

How a Snake Got Legs

So it should be no surprise, I was intrigued when an engineer decided to give snakes legs, claiming they were reversing an evolutionary mistake. Robotic technology has really advanced over the recent years, so that a robotic exoskeleton could be built.

A snake in a tube with robotic legs attached.

It took a few tries for the snake to enter the contraption, but once she did, she seemed to enjoy moving about with legs. Of course, she wasn’t controlling the movement or the direction like the fish did, but those could be future enhancements. I am curious to see if this technology leads to more practical uses or if this was just fun with snakes. Maybe if the legs had a camera like the fish tank, the snake could be in control. Giving snakes legs might be the ultimate in enhancing movement, but then again who knows where movement technology will lead us and our animal associates.

Oh, and by the way, don’t be surprised if your snake requests legs for its next gift-giving event! If you are interested in learning more about snakes, download one of my many educational workbooks on the topic. 

Jellyfish in the… Desert?

The tram operators of Sabino Canyon in Tucson, AZ are offering nighttime tours this summer. It’s part of an overall upgrade to the beautiful park located in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest. Along with upgrading to electric vehicles, the tour narration now comes with personal earbuds. This reduces the noise of the tour and allows the guides to share more detailed facts. I enjoyed this more informative talk. But one fact in particular caught my attention. Jellyfish have been found in Sabino Creek! Jellyfish in the desert? I had to find out more, and I absolutely had to share what I learned. 

The Desert-dwelling Jelly

With my love of marine biology, I was excited by the thought of a native freshwater jellyfish being identified in this local creek. How did the jellyfish adapt to the inconsistent nature of desert bodies of water?

Once I returned home, I immediately searched online for the jellyfish of Sabino Canyon. Yes, this jellyfish was identified, but what I read saddened me. This wasn’t a native freshwater, desert-dwelling jellyfish. No, this was an invasive species.

The jellyfish in Sabino Canyon is Craspedacusta sowerbyi. This species was first found in 1908. Since then, it has spread to 43 states. C. sowerbyi, or the peach blossom jellyfish, is a hydrozoan cnidarian. Originally from the Yangtze basin in China, this jellyfish is now an invasive species found throughout the world, except for Antarctica.

More About the Invaders

This jellyfish has about 400 tentacles along the bell margin. The body is translucent with a whitish or greenish tint. The tentacles have nematocysts, which they use to capture prey. This jellyfish prefers calm and slow-moving freshwater bodies. C. sowerbyi is noted for showing up in new places.

C. sowerbyi consumes zooplankton caught with its tentacles. The venom injected by the nematocysts paralyzes the prey, the tentacle coils bringing the meal to its mouth. I am curious what zooplankton in Sabino creek it’s eating.

This jellyfish can reproduce both asexually and sexually. Interestingly, in the US, populations of C. sowerbyi are either all male or all female, suggesting no sexual reproduction is occurring.

During cold weather, the jellyfish polyps can become dormant as podocysts. Scientists believe that the jellyfish are transported as a podocyst in aquatic plants or animals to other locations. If they find the new environment suitable, they develop back into polyps.

I’m saddened that the jellyfish found in Sabino Canyon is an invasive species and doesn’t belong there. I don’t know if they plan to take action to eradicate the jellyfish or what damage it is inflicting upon the native environment. Being vigilant against intrusion by non-native plants and animals is a continual effort to protect our many environments.

My recent release, Guam: Return of the Songs, is all about how one invasive species can damage an entire ecosystem. But also, the hope to repair it. Introducing the brown tree snake to Guam destroyed many native animals in the island ecosystem. This book tells the story of that invasion and the return of Guam’s native birds, in both English and native CHamoru.

Reference: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/specimenviewer.aspx?SpecimenID=168095

This Blog May Be a Bit Soggy

I’ve noticed when I’m trying to write, the ideas really flow. Not while I’m sitting at my computer, of course. But rather, when I’m immersed in water. Showers are great, but swimming laps in the pool really opens up the creativity taps. So many ideas will “float” around that I keep a notepad by the side of the pool. Before you ask, yes I did investigate underwater writing tablets. They weren’t what I needed to transcribe my thoughts quickly. Yes, the paper tends to get a bit damp, but I write carefully so that even water-smudged, I can still read my writing. If you’ve seen my scrawl, you’d know how hard it is to read on dry paper. Anyway, I digress. Intrigued by my soggy moments of inspiration, I set out to investigate this phenomenon. And wouldn’t you know, science has the answer!

Science Loves a Shower

This topic was inspired by an article by Stacey Colino in National Geographic entitled The science of why you have great ideas in the shower. Apparently, water-induced inspiration isn’t unique to me! The author summarizes the research of the past couple of decades into where in the brain creativity is activated.

Often when we grind away at a problem, we’re told to go do something else, work on another project. Frequently, doing activities on “autopilot” results in a mental breakthrough. Why is this happening? Scientists believe that letting your mind wander allows the brain to tap into unusual memories and generate new ideas. It’s not hard work that comes up with great ideas, but passive activities. Passive activities are those involving habitual actions or resting, like a shower. In fact, specific areas of the brain are more active during passive tasks.

Letting my mind wander is the best way to come up with creative ideas. Supposedly, it lets thoughts, memories, and ideas bounce around and combine in new ways. I imagine it as something like a mental pinball machine.

The scientists offer suggestions for increasing creative output. Getting sufficient sleep is important in solidifying the information inputted during the day. Immediately upon awakening, you should record your thoughts since they have tapped your creative potential. I do have a notepad by my bed.

Intermingle your day with mentally demanding activities, such as writing this blog, with more mindless activities to let your mind wander. So, why are showers stimulating mentally? Your mind is free to roam, there’s the white noise of the falling water, and ideas are allowed to bounce around.

No Water Needed

Another suggestion is getting out into nature. My friend calls it Vitamin N. Your thoughts wander when you’re outside, trying to take in the enormity of the world around you. The researchers suggest taking a walk. I prefer to get on my horse and let him do the walking.

Science recommends engaging in passive activities for as long as it takes your mind to unwind. But for many people, this leads to guilt. After all, why am I wasting time swimming or riding when I should be working on my next book or, more importantly, my marketing? Actually, taking the time to let my mind roam freely will lead to increased productivity and save me time when writing.

So, excuse me, I must go and daydream for a while. Maybe in a pool, sitting in the falling rain, in the hot tub, or a quick shower. Remember, power your muse with a shower!

If you’d like to shower your kids with science-based learning take a look at my educational and fun workbooks, based on topics such as biology and conservation.

A BIG Book Celebration in Tucson, AZ

The authors are coming! The authors are coming! Once again, we’ll be celebrating books and literacy in person in Tucson at the 2022 Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB)! Learn more about this Tucson book celebration staple and how you find me there. 

A Brief TFOB History

The first festival was held March 14-15, 2009 with 450 authors and 50,000 visitors. The number of visitors has grown to 135,000. Yes, little ole Tucson has the third-largest festival in the country! They have an amazing team of volunteers who keep everything moving smoothly.

One aspect that I particularly enjoy is the annual festival mascot. Each year’s mascot is a resident animal of the Sonoran Desert. Creatures included so far have been the Gila monster, hummingbird, tarantula, Sonoran green toad, butterfly, Gambel’s quail, bobcat, jackrabbit, roadrunner, javelina, and coyote. I’ve written books about many of them and others are my companions in our desert home. I’ve been trying to get a photograph of a jackrabbit for years. They’re HUGE! This year’s mascots are prairie dogs or rather (as I suspect), round-tailed ground squirrels. I’m partial to ground squirrels (Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert).

Elaine smiling from her booth at the 2019 TFOB

Here I am at a previous Festival with some of my books. I’ve published a bunch more since then. 

The 2022 Tucson Festival of Books!

This year’s festival will be on March 12-13, 2022, at the University of Arizona Mall. I’ll be in the children’s section at booth #322. Look for Grab an Adventure by the Tale! Author-illustrator Brad Peterson, aka Anderson Atlas, will be joining me. Don’t miss the opportunity to get your personally signed books by either or both of us! We’ll be there all day, both days.

My books are all published through Lyric Power Publishing, LLC. One of my fellow LPP authors, Gene Twaronite, will sell and sign his books at the festival. He will be moving around to different locations for his signings. He starts at the Indie Authors – Children’s Author Pavilion on Saturday, from 10 am to noon. Then at the AZ State Poetry Society booth (#410 from 1-3 pm). On Sunday, at the ASPS booth again from 10 am to noon. And finally, at Young Adult Author Rendezvous (booth 451) to display his two young adult fantasy novels. 

Something for Everyone

Even though the festival is an opportunity for authors to sell their books and readers to meet the authors in person, TFOB has much more to offer. There are talks, performances, the science pavilion, non-profit agencies, parks, and food vendors. Tucson has the best food trucks. However, the festival is a celebration of literature to increase literacy rates among children and adults. Any money left over after the expenses are contributed to local literacy programs. So far, they have donated over $2 million.

So, mark your calendar for March 12th and 13th. Here’s a chance to get out and restock your reading pile with autographed books after meeting them in person. And remember to stop by booth #322. You’ll be glad you did, and so will I!

For more information on this festival, check out their website: https://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/

 

Tucson Festival of Books Event Image courtesy of Digital Bookmobile

The Laws of Physics (According to Horses)

I started horseback riding after I retired. Before that, I’d never been particularly fond of horses, despite being a biologist. I preferred reptiles, crustaceans, and mollusks. However, life has a way of leading me down unexpected trails. Although no matter the trail I find myself on, I always find a little science. Even with a biology major, I had to take physics classes. I particularly liked those that dealt with the physics of living beings. But I still had to learn about the general laws of movement and such. But once I started riding horses, I quickly began thinking about all of the laws of physics. 

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation

There’s the obvious law of gravity that I’m reminded of every time I climb on the back of a thousand-pound animal. Should I be jostled off, gravity will without fail take me to the ground. Yet, it’s gravity that keeps me on the horse. By balancing above the horse’s center of gravity, I will stay on her back. Once on board, the laws of motion are very apparent. 

Newton’s Laws of Motion

First Law of Motion: an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. I have to convince the horse to move forward. Sometimes, the horse prefers to just stand. That’s the difference between a bicycle and a horse. Fortunately, most of the time when I ask nicely, the horse will move forward. When the horse moves, I feel my body being thrown back – that’s my body trying to remain at rest. The faster the horse goes forward, say to a canter, the more my body is thrown back. Hopefully, I can remain seated and not thrown completely off the back of the horse! Every time the horse changes its pace, I have to adjust my center of gravity. There’s no sitting passively when on top of a moving horse!

Second Law of Motion: acceleration of an object depends on the net force and is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force, while being inversely proportional to the mass of the object. A rider’s center of gravity is critical for horseback riding. If I’m centered on top of the horse’s center of gravity, we are in balance. I can use my balance to communicate to the horse how I want it to move. By shifting my balance back, gently pulling on the reins and relaxing my legs, this net force moves the horse’s mass to slow down or stop. This also happens when a horse jumps, combining the horse lifting its legs and gravity pulling them back down.

Third Law of Motion: when two bodies interact, they apply forces to one another that are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. When I’m sitting on the horse, my body is pushing down on the horse (poor horse), but at the same time, the horse is pushing up on me (thank you, horse) with the same amount of force. The reason I bounce in the saddle is due to the force with which its hooves push on the ground, creating the upward force that causes me to bounce in the saddle. Of course, my coming off the horse, being thrown, involves this third law. That’s when the force of the horse is a little more than my force.

Centrifugal Force

Centrifugal force: an object moving in a circle behaves as if it’s being pushed outward.  Another aspect of departing the back of the horse involves centrifugal force. So, when I’m riding in a circle to the left, I feel like I am being flung to the right. Sometimes, if the horse makes a sharp turn, my body continues outward by centrifugal force. Sometimes, this force is sufficient to fling me off the horse, where gravity takes over.

To allow me to stay on the horse, friction can help. Holding my legs against the horse creates friction. This also helps keep me in the proper posture. The horse is creating its friction between her hooves and the ground.

Many other aspects of physics are involved in the more advanced riding that I haven’t experienced since I’m a “young” rider. The ones I’ve experienced so far have been sufficient. 

I’ve learned a lot since I started horseback riding, horse behavior, my body and its muscles and a refresher course in the physics of motion. Check out my other science based books, with an animal flair. And now it’s time to meet my physics instructors!

A chestnut horse with a white stripe running down it's head, Elaine leads it on a rope in the pasture.
Button
Elaine sits on a tan horse.
Lady

How Not to Photograph a Bat

I wrote a book about the difficulties in photographing hummingbirds, How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird. It pits one bumbling human against the desert as he carelessly attempts to photograph an Anna’s Hummingbird. If lucky, a hummer may alight for a moment or two, allowing the photographer to get the shot she wants.  But there is a tougher subject, that for some unknown reason, I feel compelled to try to photograph – Bats!

There are two main reasons why bats are hard to photograph. Not only do bats move fast and erratically, but it’s also rather dark when they come out. If you thought photographing hummingbirds was hard, then bat photography might be downright impossible. Especially if using a cell phone to take photographs.

It’s all for science!

So why am I trying to take photographs of these photo-elusive nocturnal mammals? I’m taking part in a citizen scientist research project on bats’ use of pools, especially in times of drought or areas of low rainfall, such as the Sonoran Desert where I live. I have a bat call detector on the edge of my pool that records the bat calls each night. The researchers can identify which bat species made the call and determine bat activity.

I knew my pool would be a good location because I am often joined by bats when I swim at night. I know that I have at least two species. The most common bat visitor is a small, insect-eating species that comes in a group. But every now and then, like this summer, a much bigger, solitary bat swoops down to the water.

I was concerned that the chlorine in my pool water would bother the bats but it doesn’t. I’m very glad. I also wondered if chlorine would help fight white-nose syndrome. Another possible research project, perhaps?

The researchers asked for all sorts of details about my pool: depth, length, shape, lighting, surrounding vegetation, fencing, nearby busy streets, etc. The results will be interesting to see what species of bats are around and which pools had the most activity. Tucson has a variety of bats: Big Brown, California leaf-nosed, Cave Myotis, Peter’s Ghost-faced, Greater mastiff, Lesser Long-nosed, Mexican Free-tailed, Silver-haired, Spotted, Townsend’s Big-eared, Western Pipistrelle, Western Red, and the Pallid. Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out which ones, swoop down to share my pool with me. They prefer me to either be on the side of the pool, so they can swoop at will, or in the center of the pool, so they can fly in a circle around me.

I can’t resist the urge to photograph my aerial neighbors, but it’s a lot harder than photographing a hummingbird. Here are my best efforts:

 

 

 

 

 

So, what do you think? Yes, these really are bats, not just smudges on my camera lens. Perhaps my next book should be How Not to Photograph Bats.

Stay tuned to for more blogs about my research on the citizen science bat project. And if you know any budding young bat scientists, I highly recommend My Book About Bats and Rats, a fun and educational workbook that not only focuses on the Caribbean Fruit Bat, but also the much easier to photograph rats that live on Cayman Brac.

Brittlebush Can Take the Heat!

One plant that has always amazed me in the Sonoran Desert is the Brittlebush. No matter how little rain falls nor how hot it is, this bush produces a lush crop of flowers.

Brittlebush, Encelia farinose, is a bush native to the Sonoran Desert and is a member of the sunflower family.  The leaves are long, oval and silver-gray with a fuzzy surface (trichomes). The fuzziness provides protection from excessive heat and cold.  The grayish white color reflects sunlight, helping to keep the plant cool. In addition, the fuzziness helps collect any moisture and reduce water loss, which is very important in the desert.

photo of brittlebush plant
Brittlebush, Encelia farinose

In late winter and early spring, yellow flowers form on long stalks on the outside of bush.  Notice their sunflower-like appearance. Their bright color contrasts with the dull tan-gray of the ground.

The common name, brittlebush, refers to the brittleness of its stems. It’s also called incienso because the fragrant resin was dried and burned by early Spanish missions as incense. Brittlebush was used by indigenous and pioneer people. The resin was also used as glue, sealant, varnish and chewing gum. Brittlebush was important in oral hygiene.  Cowboys used stems as toothbrushes, while Native Americans used it to treat toothaches.

Brittlebush thrives in dry gravelly to sandy habitats. A sunny site is required along with the well-drained soil. The plant has a shallow taproot and lateral roots to take advantage of any rainfall.  It is sensitive to frost, so my bush enjoys the protection of my backyard wall.

The profusion of blossoms is an important food source for a variety of animals.  Once they fade away, thousands of seeds will be produced, another food source.

I hope that some of my bush’s offspring will germinate in my yard, creating more magnificent bushes.

Thank you, Brittlebush, for providing a bit of vibrant color in my life.

BOOK NOTE: If you love plants as much as I do, I hope you’ll check out my fun science books on plants, especially Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus, which is all about the very unusual Sonoran Desert flowering plants that bloom all together on one night per year!

Photo of night-blooming cereus in Tucson AZ
Photo courtesy of This is Tucson

It happens in June or July every summer and people come out by the hundreds to see these magnificent beauties bloom together. More to follow about the 2021 expected bloom dates. Learn all about the Night-blooming Cereus before they bloom this year!

book cover for the Night-Blooming Cereus
All about the mysterious plant that blooms only one night per year–all at the same time!

Also, to enjoy a tale of friendship and learn more about the ecosystems necessary to Bahamian trees, and how seeds find their homes, check out my children’s adventure tale (ages 8+), Grow Home, Little Seeds.

book cover about seeds finding a place to sprout
The graduating bundle of mixed seeds of the Leon Levy Preserve vows to stay together and form their own forest. Will they be able to remain together, or will their natures lead them in different directions? Will they find what the need to survive, to germinate, and to put down roots? Join these Bahamian natives on their adventures to find their places to call home.

For a humorous take on the Sonoran Desert and its flora and fauna, see How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird. After the fun, refer to the desert plant and wildlife glossary in the back of the book.

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.

All three books would be help with science or book reports. And for summer supplemental, educational, and fun activity sheets and workbooks, go to Lyric Power Publishing, LLC.

It’s my calling to help make science fun, and I’m sticking to it!

#elainapowers  #sonorandesert   #sonorandesertflowers

Do You Slather or Smear?

The English language has a lot of really great words. As a writer, I enjoy exploring them. This time of year in the Sonoran Desert, we increase the amount of sunscreen we put on our bodies.  As the intensity of the sun increases with the warmer seasons, more sunscreen is definitely needed.
I put a copious amount of the protective cream in my hand and I slather it on my exposed face and arms. Slather is exactly the right word. I don’t apply, cover or spread the sunscreen on. I slather it.

The official definition of “to slather” is to spread or smear (another great word) thickly or liberally.  And that is what I do with my sunscreen.
With the danger of skin cancer, I encourage you, too, to slather your protective agents on.

Slather away!

#funsciencebooks  #funscienceeducation  #authorelaineapowers

#funinthesunadventuretales  #toinspirebuddingscientists

Book Note:  My adventure tales tend to be “fun in the sun with ecology and conservation mixed in.” I love to make science fun, hoping to inspire budding scientists. Check out My Books today for some delightful and educational summer reading for your children.

graphic with photos of book covers divided by subject

~Above image courtesy of Nika Akin from Pixabay~

Little Cactus, Big Flowers

Usually, author Jo Busha writes the blog posts on plants, but one of my potted cacti inspired me to share this magnificent plant with you. Last year, a friend gave me this trio of the cactus, Mammilaria senilis.

This mammillaria is native to northern Mexico, growing on moss-covered boulders in high altitude pine forests. I am a bit surprised it is doing so well in my desert home. Its common name is Cabeza de Viejo, which translates to Old man’s Head. Not sure I see it . . .

photo of cactus Mammilaria senilis.
Fuzzy head of Mammilaria senilis

Although this cactus may look like it is covered with white tufts, they are hooked white spines. But the most spectacular feature is the enormous red flowers that contrast with the diminutive body.

This plant is considered difficult to grow since it needs a lot of light and ample airflow. Outside in the desert, mine is certainly getting plenty of sunlight and airflow. Letting the soil dry before watering is not an issue. However, as a mountain plant, it prefers cooler temps . . . oops. It can withstand full sun as long as it is morning sun, not the baking afternoon sunlight.

photo of Mammilaria senilis starting to blossom
Mammilaria senilis beginning to blossom

A cultivation guide says that if grown correctly, this cactus will reward the grower with generous displays of red flowers. I like my reward.

If you or your children are interested in fun plant books, I’ve written two so far: Queen of the Night: the Night-blooming Cereus, shown below, 20 pages for all ages, written in rhyme, about the magnificent Sonoran Desert plant that all bloom together one night each summer, an Amazon #1 book in the Children’s Botany section, with colorful illustrations by Nicholas Thorpe;

book cover for the Night-Blooming Cereus
All about the mysterious plant that blooms only one night per year–all at the same time!
illustration page from Night-Blooming Cereus
An illustration from Queen of the Night: the Night-Blooming Cereus

illustration of book cover Grow Home Little Seeds

interior illustration from Grow Home Little Seeds
An illustration from Grow Home Little Seeds

and Grow Home, Little Seeds, a tale for ages 8+, 25 pages with a 10-page seed appendix, illustrated in pastel colors by Monique Carroll, in which a group of seeds leaves the Leon Levy Preserve to find their homes. Along the adventure, they learn they are different and that they each have their own needs to grow, but that they can grow up alongside each other and remain friends.

www.elaineapowers.com

#elaineapowers

#botanybooks

#queenofthenight:nightbloomingcereus

#growhomelittleseeds

“That’s MY Bed!”

Among the many reptiles I share my home with is a rhinoceros rock iguana who usually free roams my house. She basks under the heat lamps with the tortoises, shares the plates of veggies and finds sunbeams to relax in. Mid-afternoon, it’s time to head under some rocks for a nap. 

No, I don’t have rocks in my house, but I do have pillows on the sofa, which is her designated sleeping place. Recently, however, she has discovered my bed. It, too, has pillows. And it has a blanket where she can stretch out her entire body. She’s over four feet long.

I head to bed late in the evening, looking forward to laying my head on my pillows, all four of them, only to discover my bed is already occupied.

“Hey, Rango, that’s my bed!”  So, I picked up the sleeping lizard and carried her to the sofa.

Then, things came to an interesting point. I needed a nap this afternoon, so I got into bed. I hear the tick-tick-tick of approaching iguana feet – they have nails on the ends on their toes which click on the tile floor.

“Uh, oh, will someone be joining me in bed?” 

I feel a body knock against the frame. A body impact with the mattress. But no one comes up—I think. Later I turn over to see me being watched by a very confused iguana.

What in the world was I doing in her bed!

Note: You might be able to tell how much I enjoy sharing my home with iguanas. To learn more about these intelligent and interesting reptiles, see My Unit Study on Iguanas at Lyric Power Publishing’s Workbook page.

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.

And one of my fun children’s science books (written in the form of an adventure tale) features The Dragon of Nani Cave which, when you’re a small curly-tail lizard, is an iguana!

 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 

Gene and Bony are bored. They go see Old Soldier Crab who tells them wondrous, dangerous creatures live up on the bluff. And, if they go, they must prove themselves worthy and return with a piece of Caymanite.
They must journey through Skull Cave and meet bats, and a cat with sharp teeth. Then they meet Kat, a fellow Curly-tail Lizard and she knows the way to Nani Cave. But she warns there might be more than one dragon.
Meeting one danger after another, they finally arrive at Nani Cave. There he is: the dragon! He’s HUGE! And look at all those teeth!
What will Gene and Bony do now?
KEEP THE FUN GOING!

Homeschooling? Worried About Education? How About Supplementing with FUN Science Workbooks?

The mission of my book publisher, Lyric Power Publishing LLC, is to “Make Science Fun!” That’s because they know how fun science really is.

Their Activity Sheets and Workbooks are for Ages K-5 (see workbook covers for grade level and contents) and while they are highly educational, they are also lots of fun! Have you ever counted iguanas? Or made a lizard clock? Made your own Compass Rose or Passport?

Depending on the grade, they can include: Animal Facts, Name the Animal, Lifecycles, Compare Traits, Food Chains, Label the Parts, Color by Math, Mean/Median/Mode/Range, Color by Number, Printing, Underline the Answer, Counting, Convert Grams to Pounds, Fill in the Blanks, True or False, Cut Along the Dotted Lines, Cut and Paste, Cut and Classify, Fill in the Right Word, Word Search, Match the Facts, Using a Histogram, Venn Diagrams, Making Charts, Interpreting Charts, Crossword Puzzle, Other Puzzles, Conservation, Vocabulary, Complete the Sentence, Unscramble the Sentences, Prepositions of Place, Using Maps, Writing Prompts, Essay Writing Exercise, Reading Comprehension, and More!

Who can make all the above fun, economically? Lyric Power Publishing!
Purchase a Download Once and Print as Many Times as You’d Like!

For additional relaxing fun, check out their Coloring Books and Flannel Board Templates, enjoyed by children and adults alike. Coloring is handwork and creative, proven to reduce stress. Let your creativity run wild! Get out your colored pencils or crayons and have some fun today! Then print the pages again and color them in a whole new assortment!

You’re welcome!