Sunday, November 1, 2015

Will The Next Generation Still Have Monarchs?

Monarchs are the only butterfly known to make an annual two-way migration, and it can be awesome.

I remember going to my parents' home at Possum Kingdom Lake (northwest of Fort Worth, Texas) during the migration one year and seeing them in the pecans. It looked like leaves on the trees until something disturbed them and suddenly there was a huge cloud of butterflies everywhere you could look.

October usually brings several of the iconic butterflies to my yard, but this year I only saw two.

Okay. So what?

Well, this area of Texas is typically part of the annual migration route and the monarch population has plummeted. When you consider only two the entire month compared to six or more a day, it seemed to be evidence of how bad things have gotten.

Numbers Declined Drastically

The monarch population has decreased approximately 90% in the last 20 years.

Although there are people who count every egg in certain parts of the breeding grounds, this is a fraction of the equation. Since they all migrate to the same fir forests in Mexico for the winter, that is where the official population numbers are derived. No one is counting each insect; that would be very difficult since they cluster by the thousands in the trees. Instead, their population is estimated by the amount of acreage they cover.

From a peak in 1996 of an estimated 910 million over 44.5 acres, they were at an all-time low of only 34 million over 1.65 acres in December of 2013.
Graphic by Journey North.

Experts say that the health of the monarch population is an indicator of our overall ecological health as well as the health of all pollinators.

"According to a recent White House report, pollinators such as monarchs contribute more than 24 billion dollars to the US economy, by promoting fruits and vegetables as well as agricultural crops like alfalfa. Pollinators also keep forests healthy by pollinating many species of trees." (

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has even changed their land management because of the monarchs. According to AnnaMarie Krmpotich, Monarch coordinator for the FWS Midwest Region, "by helping save this one monarch butterfly, we could help save hundreds of other species". That list includes a dozen species of butterflies, including the endangered Poweshiek skipperling and the threatened Dakota skipper. From there, it goes up the food chain to several species of grassland birds, deer, even humans. ( Ann Wessel 9/4/15)
Clark Gardens October 2014

Causes of Decline

The decline now marks a statistical long-term trend, and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events. And the smaller population leads to trouble recovering from such events.

Weather extremes, especially drought and excessive heat in the breeding grounds and cold spring temperatures that delayed migration north, are definitely factors. And this year’s strong El Nino could cause problems if it brings its typical drought to the fir forests where the monarchs spend their winter.

Illegal logging of the oyamel fir forests in their overwintering grounds means less area for them. And numerous sites have been replaced with housing developments. Concentration of the entire population in even smaller areas makes them more vulnerable to a single storm, drought or fire.

Large-scale use of systemic insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, within the breeding range kills pests and beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies. And there are always natural enemies such as disease, predators and parasites.

But experts agree that the main culprit is the wholesale killing of milkweed.

Although there are many plants the butterflies can use for nectar, common milkweed is the key to their survival. It is the only plant on which the eggs are laid, the only plant the larvae eat, and the source of the chemical that makes them bitter to predators – their defense mechanism.

The development of genetically modified herbicide-resistant corn and soybean has led to more crops being sprayed with total herbicides (think RoundupTM) to kill other plants, such as the milkweed. In 2013, 83% of all corn and 93% of soybeans in the United States were herbicide tolerant. That’s nearly 155 million acres.

That has virtually eliminated the monarch breeding habitats in the corn belt. And since several generations are born and die along the migratory route, milkweed is needed at every site where they reproduce along the way.
Taken at Butterfly Island in Clark Gardens

What Is Being Done

In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety, the Xerces Society, and monarch scientist Lincoln Brower filed a petition with the US FWS seeking endangered species protection for monarch butterflies. Although they do not technically qualify for this protection yet, they are considered threatened. 

The FWS has plans to promote wildflowers that are nectar plants (such as goldenrod and aster) along pipelines and electricity lines. And they are working with the National Wildlife Federation to grow milkweed along the main migration routes. The aim is to restore more than 200,000 acres of habitat through the spring breeding grounds of Texas and Oklahoma, and the summer breeding areas in the corn belt.

Also in 2014, The Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to review its rules regarding glyphosate use, the type of herbicide in question.

Monsanto, the makers of RoundupTM, are also getting involved. Per their website, they are collaborating with non-profits, universities, researchers and others to find ways to improve and protect the monarch habitats across North America. (Monsanto monarch page)

There was even a proposal by some groups that biotech companies could engineer a glyphosate-resistant milkweed variety. But personally, I prefer less engineering and more natural methods of conservation.

Hope and What You Can Do

Gail Manning, an entomologist at Fort Worth Botanic Gardens told The Fort Worth Star Telegram, “The numbers I’m seeing are definitely down this year”, confirming what I saw in my own yard.

But the numbers were up slightly in Mexico in December of 2014. And Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, said this is shaping up to be the best fall migration since 2011.

So why the lower numbers here?

That is probably due to unusually warm weather here. Folks watching the migration on the far western side of the typical route may have also noted lower numbers as the monarchs had to avoid hurricane Patricia. So the path narrowed a little this year.

That narrower path is probably the reason friends still in the Possum Kingdom area said they saw thousands of monarchs this year. One commented that they even had to pull over to the side of the road to avoid hitting them at one point because of the number of butterflies.

I hope that sighting is due not only to the narrower path, but also to an increase in population again this year. I will be watching for the numbers to come out of Mexico, hopefully confirming that.

Even if population numbers are up some, it’s still a far cry from their peak, and they’re still threatened.

But you can help.
  • Avoid using insecticides and herbicides. 
  • Support conservation efforts for all pollinators either in your local area or through national organizations. 
  • Become a citizen scientist and contribute to research efforts to track the monarch population in both breeding and overwintering ranges. (For more information on this, visit ). 
  • Check with local botanical gardens for educational and conservation programs through them. 
  • And of course, plant native milkweed. There are several varieties, including some that are more easily contained. A local botanic gardens or nursery that specializes in native plants can help you choose an appropriate variety for your yard in your area.
Small things make a difference.

All photos are my own.
Other resources will be added to a separate page on the blog soon.
At first I thought there were only 2 butterflies in this picture. Look again and you'll see 3.

Do you have stories about the monarch migration? I'd love to hear them. Or feel free to add comments about conservation efforts.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Is Writing Solitary?

Is writing really a solitary pursuit?

Well. . . yes and no.

It is. . .

I’m the only one who can write my story. It’s my fingers, and only my fingers, on the keyboard turning thoughts into words. Well, sometimes my cat tries to help. But, yeah, I’m 
alone in that task.

Even if I had the luxury of a transcriptionist, which I don’t, I’d still have to get the words, thoughts and mental images out of my brain and recorded for them.

It is just me.

And although I can write anywhere, it’s easier with no distractions. The best way to ensure that is to be alone with my computer (or paper and pen) – no people around, no TV, ignore the phone, and definitely no internet!

Again, me alone.

BUT. . .

Without the characters talking to me, there would be no story. I may be putting the words down, but it is the characters, telling me their thoughts and their stories. Many writers will talk about making the characters real. That can’t happen unless readers can picture them really saying and doing the things on the page. Readers won’t have an image unless I can create it as I write the story. So as looney as it may sound, I am never really alone in the room as I write. Sometimes it is just the character I’m focusing on there with me. Other times, it’s them and several others, even from completely different stories, all vying for attention.

Stories also wouldn’t exist without everyday people and events around me in life: an old woman at the rodeo wearing a crazy cowboy hat; the solitary person sitting on a park bench; a funny thing that happened at work one day. I never know when one of those is going to pop up and lend some color to a scene.

Then there are the folks who help me, and that list is long. There’s the writing buddy who talked to me for over an hour to help me through a troublesome plot hole. Or the friend who made one simple comment that sparked the writing juices after too long a dry spell. There are the folks who’ve given me critiques, sometimes painful ones, which have helped improve my writing overall. If you have loved ones living with you, count yourself lucky if they help you make the time for writing by keeping distractions at bay. And no list would be complete without the editors, who return work with so much blood dripping from the pages that I sometimes wonder if the words can be saved. Each and every one of these people helps me craft the story; mold it into something worth sharing.

Sometimes my cat tries to help

I also have to mention the people who help get the story to the public. They spread the word once it’s ready to publish. Then there are the readers. Yes, it’s my story, but I do have to keep the readers in mind while writing, because without them it’s just words on a page.

So in a very real sense, I have a crowded house every time I sit down to write. And I can’t write the best story possible, or even a good one, without them.

That makes writing is a joint project.

But in the end, I alone am the one responsible for making it happen.

I can’t blame the writing buddy if the plot hole still exists, nor the characters for not talking to me if I have been too busy to listen to them. If the words never get onto the page, I have only myself to point the finger at.

So, for me, writing is both a solitary venture and a team effort.

How does this fit with your image of a writer and their craft? If you're a writer, where do you fall on the solitary/team spectrum?

Friday, May 8, 2015

In Celebration of Celebrations!

People will celebrate anything. 

Don’t believe me? Well, now, let’s just take a quick look at this month’s special days.

Somebody decided to go without socks and call it No Socks Day. Since the next day is Lost Sock Memorial Day, how much you want to bet that’s why the person decided to forego the socks?

Kentucky Derby day – I’ll tip my hat to the horse who won the Run for the Roses.

It’s no wonder there’s a No Diet Day when there are days for candied orange peels, roast leg of lamb, coconut cream pie, butterscotch brownies, shrimp, nutty fudge and several other food items.

National Sorry Day – Sorry. I won’t be attending the celebrations for that one.

National Wine Day – Now there’s one I could drink to.

There are also some pretty great folks who get special days in May: International firefighters, teachers, military spouses, nurses, and Memorial Day (for all who died in the military, although now it’s usually for all military). And let’s not forget Mom.

But I wish we could forget Endangered Species day and World hunger day as being no longer needed. Maybe sometime in the future, though.

And that’s just a short list. (Want to see more? Here’s one site to check out.)

With all these special days to commemorate things, people or events, have we trivialized the idea of celebrating?

Memorial Day is just one example. I remember as a kid the flags that people would make a special effort to go put out by the graves of family members who had died while serving in the military – an honor to their sacrifice. Some still honor all military, living and dead, past and present. But for most it seems to have slipped into just another Monday to have a BBQ and the start of summer.

On the other hand, maybe all these special days just point to a simple truth – we need to appreciate more. It’s essential to have fun, share joy with others and help counter the bad things in life.

What would our lives be like without the people who do thankless jobs or those we depend on to keep us safe? Appreciate them while they’re with you.

What does it do to the ecology, and even the economy, when another species is no longer with us? Prevent it!

We need to celebrate the small accomplishments, because without them we’d never reach the big goals.

Yes, we even need to appreciate the little things in life, like the taste of nutty fudge or a good wine, because we need to be in the moment to truly be alive. Revel in today!

And most importantly, we need to create memories and connect with others. Personally, the best way to do that is to celebrate National Laughter Day, but not limit it to one day of the year.

Your turn: I’d love to hear your take on this. Do we celebrate too much or not enough?

Monday, April 13, 2015

The New Design and Thank You's!

My blog has a new design and I'm thrilled!

So far the changes are visual with the new background and header. There have also been a few  behind the scenes with more to come. It is definitely not an overnight process.

I started with my garden last fall.

Yes, you read that right.

I remember a time when monarchs were everywhere in this area during March and October as they migrated between Canada, the US and Mexico. Numbers have seriously dwindled in recent years, and I could imagine a post, or even a series, about my efforts to help. Butterfly pictures would of course grace those.

Later, I was working on an exercise from a book by Emlyn Chand about building an author platform. This particular exercise was about looking for themes in your writing.

I noticed that several of my ideas and works in progress deal with love later in life and second chance romance. This is when an image of a butterfly came to mind.

Then there's this whole process of doing something new, and the introvert in me needing to break out of my safe little cocoon.

Around the same time, my friend and fellow author Mario Saincic was working with an illustrator to develop an icon he could use on his page and books to let people know he supports rhino conservation.

Again, a butterfly image seemed perfect for my own page.

Hmmm. I'm noticing a pattern here.

I recently learned that some of my blog features don't show on certain devices, and one of the fonts I used didn't work on mobile or older browsers.

Time for an overhaul.

Or maybe metamorphosis is a more appropriate term.

But I didn't do it alone, and I want to thank the folks who helped (and are still helping)  make it happen.

Thank you very much to Mario, new friend and fellow author Natalie Herzer, and even my mom for the brainstorming sessions and input!

Thanks especially to Natalie.

She helped me with some of the HTML for a few items, but that's not all.

Out of the brainstorming sessions came the idea to create a monogram that was also a butterfly. After a few sketches of my own, I finally thought I had a great design for a logo. And everyone agreed. But while I was still working on the final version, Natalie came up with another.Her sketch became the basis for the design that now graces the header.

Thanks, Natalie. I love the logo!

From that point, Mario and Natalie have been a dream. Thanks very much for putting up with me wanting you to look at "just one more" layout, color combo, background photo, etc. etc.

Natalie also commiserated with me, and gave me ideas to try, when nothing was working with the new header. It looked beautiful on the PC version. But on mobile? Yuck!

The solution to that one, typical of such problems, came to me later when I was working on something else. Such is the way the mind works. LOL

Again, some additional changes are coming. Be patient with me and check back occasionally; it's a work in progress.

Oh, and that background photo - you'll see it again only not the muted version. I'm going to proudly display it on a new page soon. Hint - it has a surprise in it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Another First

I'm trying something new this week.

I've co-hosted a book giveaway before, but have never been a host for a blog tour.

And today I am! Granted, this is only one blog among many for this whirlwind tour featuring Barbara Freethy's series about the Callaway family. But it's still exciting for me.

About the Callaway Blog Tour & All Its Great Prizes!

This is the week you finally meet the Callaways! Not only are they all over the web as part of their extraordinary blog tour, but they are also out and about in your neighborhood. That's right; we're celebrating the print launch with Ingram by throwing a party all over the world! Make sure to follow this tour closely for your chance to win gift cards, swag, autographed books, and other incredible prizes.
All the info you need to join the fun and enter to win amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment—easy to enter; easy to win!
To Win the Prizes:
  1. Purchase any of the Callaway novels by Barbara Freethy (optional)
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity (go here)
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event (that's where the HUGE prizes are)
About The Callaways: The Callaways were born to serve and protect! In Barbara’s new connected family series, each of the eight siblings in this blended Irish-American family find love, mystery and adventure, often where they least expect it! Each book stands alone, but for the full enjoyment of the series, you might want to start at the beginning with On A Night Like This! Get the eBooks via AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooks, or Kobo.
About the Author: Barbara Freethy has been making up stories most of her life. Growing up in a neighborhood with only boys and a big brother who was usually trying to ditch her, she spent a lot of time reading. When she wasn’t reading, she was imagining her own books. After college and several years in the P.R. field, she decided to try her hand at a novel. Now Barbara is a #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author loved by readers all over the world. Her novels range from contemporary romance to romantic suspense and women's fiction. Learn more on her websiteFacebook page, or in her Street Team.

Although I did receive a free copy of On a Night Like This, the first book in the series, I wouldn't post a review if it were not an honest one.

So without further ado. . .

Sara comes home to celebrate her dad's birthday, but is not welcomed warmly. Quite frankly, her father's reaction is cold and rude. Even after the reason for his attitude is revealed, I had a little trouble empathizing with him. It's no wonder that Sara, a lawyer on the path to becoming a partner in the firm where she works, has never felt like she could do enough to earn his approval.

Aiden arrives at the family home next door just in time to save Sara and her father from a fire. However, he's dealing with a problem of his own. He's the leader of a smokejumping crew, and his best friend just died on the job under his leadership. His dad and older brother, firefighters themselves, push him to tell folks what really happened and defend himself against the accusations that it was his fault. But Aiden can't remember what happened clearly, and until he can he refuses to talk about it with anyone.

Brought together again after a decade, these two have to deal not only with their current issues,  but also a shared history; one that Sara sees as another rejection while Aiden believes he was protecting her from himself.

My Rating

I've read family series books by a few other authors and was looking forward to meeting a new family.

There are a couple of things that kept this story from earning a 5-star rating from me.

The first was the Point of View (POV) shift to that of Aiden's sister Emma. Usually if a book uses a POV in addition to the main characters', it reveals something about them or is related specifically to their story. But Emma's section of the book really had nothing to do with this story. It's just something that takes place chronologically at the same time.

And that leads me to the other problem that reduced the rating. When starting the book, I did not know it is NOT a stand-alone story. If you want everything, including a mystery introduced withing its pages, tied up in a neat little bow by the time "The End" appears, you will be disappointed.

What saved the 4-star rating was Barbara Freethy's comfortable story-telling style and the characters themselves. This family is not a picture perfect image - they squabble and argue; tensions occasionally run pretty high. And where other reviewers may think Sara's feelings toward what Aiden did a bit overdone, I find it real. People do sometimes hold on to hurt for a very long time. I appreciate characters that aren't perfect; they're easier to identify with. And that is the element that pulled me into this story.

I like this family enough to want to keep reading!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 13, 2015

How Gardening Can Help Your Writing Bloom

Spring is here and I’m getting excited about going outside and starting my garden.

But just scattering seeds and walking away is not enough to make it turn out beautiful.

Yes, some seeds will germinate and grow, but for it to be all I dream of there’s more work and dedication needed.

In that respect, writing is a lot like gardening.

Let’s take a look at how.

Planning Your Plot

Selecting the plants for a garden is more than just picking out ones I think are pretty. It requires some knowledge about what will survive in the combination of soil and sunlight conditions of the bed’s location. I also need to know how big the mature plants will be, how much work they will require later, and which plants will look good together. Regardless of whether it is for vegetables, flowers, shrubs or a combination, I need to plan the garden plot.

For writers, there is also a planning phase. Yes, even “pantsers” who typically jump right into the story and let it lead them need to do some pre-planning Locations and topics that are unfamiliar but will be in the story need to be researched.

For “plotters”, who plan out everything in advance, this is where they do things like write outlines, draw time-lines, and create character sketches.

But whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, there are other things that need to be considered at this stage of writing.

A writer needs to know the story’s genre and what that genre’s readers expect. The best way to do that is to read.

This is also the time to start building your platform, which is a fancy way of saying that you need to start forming relationships with potential readers and people who can help your career as a writer. This is where accounts on multiple social media sites come in handy.

Prepping The Soil

The basic plan is set, but you still need to create the best possible environment for the chosen plants. It’s time to purchase the materials and prep the soil. Next, you lay out the border, loosen the dirt, and add compost or any other amendments the soil needs.

In the same way, a writer should create an environment for writing.

The ideal setting depends a lot on the writer. Some need a quiet place. Others write best with music playing. Will a coffee shop be better than a home office, or the other way around? What time of day do you write best? Some writers follow a certain ritual. I’ve even heard of one writer who has a specific model of ink pen for novel writing.

Only you can determine what works best for your process, but whatever that is, you need to create that atmosphere.

This step may seem small, but it’s one of the most important.

There’s a lot of science behind it that I won’t go into right now, but this is how your brain gets the signal that it’s time to write. And that’s why it needs to be repeated every time you sit down to pen your thoughts.


The plants are selected and the bed is prepped. It’s finally time to sow the seeds or dig holes to put the plants in.

Now for the fun part! It’s exciting to know you’ve started, and you can see the garden starting to take form.

It’s also the fun part of writing.
The ink begins to flow; fingers start to move on the keys; words start to fill the page. This is when you let your creativity go and write your rough draft. You add muscle to the skeleton and your story really starts to take shape.

Writers who are pantsers get the joy of discovering what the characters are like and where the story will go. Even plotters can be a bit surprised when one of the characters does something they didn’t expect.

It’s pretty exciting!

Thinning the Seedlings

After the seeds germinate and start to grow, they need to be thinned out or they’ll get overcrowded. If you used plants instead of seeds, you may need to trim parts that got too stressed or damaged when they were transplanted.

If you guessed this is like the editing phase of writing, you’re right.

You cut scenes that aren’t doing anything for the story, tighten language and make sure everything fits and flows together as best it can.


So now you have a beautiful garden, but you’re still not done. Now the real work begins. Many don’t think of this as the fun part, while others love it.

You have to weed the bed, fertilize it, add mulch and more compost, and water regularly. In order to keep it beautiful and fresh, you may need to change out any annual plants with the changing seasons. Some plants will need pruning. Others will need spent flowers removed or seeds collected for the next year. 

How does this compare to writing? After all, the book is done, so what do you need to do now?

Marketing. Like maintaining a garden, this phase is not loved by all. Some do learn to like it, though. Regardless of how you feel, it’s crucial to building a long term career.

Relationships you started building a long time ago are important, and your readers can now leave reviews and recommend your book to others. Do blog tours and promos.

By now, if you’re anything like me, your next book is clamoring for attention, and the cycle starts over again. This is a good thing, because, if you’re lucky, your fans will be waiting impatiently for the next book as soon as they finish this one.

But all this work is worth it, especially when your book turns out to be everything you dreamt it would.

Your turn. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are there other things about gardening that can help your writing? What does your perfect environment look and feel like? What do the changing seasons teach you?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Productive Writing in Minutes

photo from
Like most creative types, I prefer having an uninterrupted block of several hours to work on my books.

But life doesn't always cooperate.

Family, errands, chores around the house, and other interests all place demands on your time; not to mention your “real job” if you’re not a full time writer.

And just when you think you've got a free evening or afternoon, something always happens.

What if I told you a writer (ahem, that means you, by the way) can be productive in just a few minutes?

I can hear the skeptics already; folks saying “I can’t write a novel in just minutes at a time! I can’t write anything in less than a few hours.”

In a way, they’re right. If all you give your novel is an occasional few minutes, it will never get finished. And if by some magic it does, it will probably take decades to edit.

Writing is a job, and if it’s an important job to you, you need to make time for it.

Notice I said make time not find it. 

image and quote by Patricia K. Baxter

How do you make that happen?

Use your current down periods:

  • Doctor’s office waiting rooms
  • Waiting in line at drive throughs or grocery checkout lanes
  • While the coffee brews
  • Coffee breaks at work
  • Actually take your lunch break rather than working through it
  • While dinner cooks
  • Write during commercials (better yet, give up one TV show a week)
  • Get up 10 minutes earlier or use the last 10 minutes before bed
  • Use your commute (If you drive alone, please don't write; use a voice recorder app instead and write it later.)
Ok. Great. So now you’ve made a few minute. There’s still that problem of not being able to write anything in that length of time.

Have you tried?

My writing buddy challenged me to a 10 minute writing exercise. It was fun! In fact, I liked it so much I wrote a post about 10-minute prompts using pictures. (Check it out here) It may not be directly related to your work in progress, but an exercise like that can get the creative juices flowing, and it could give you an idea for a new book.

What else can you do?

  • People watch and jot notes about clothing and mannerisms to use for a character later.
  • Make a note of that idea that just popped into your head.
  • Outline your next book.
  • Write a character description or personal history.
  • Research the location or a piece of information you need.
  • Describe a scene.
  • Play what if with your plot: what if X happened, what would change about your story or how would your character react?
  • Change perspective: think about how an event in your story would appear from a different character's point of view. You may learn something about that character you didn't know.
  • Free write - it could end up being a part of another story or surprise gem for this one.

Your turn! What other ways can you make time in your day? What other writer tasks can you think of to do in those few minutes?