Thursday, February 6, 2020

Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage, Alaska

If you're on an Alaska cruise and your captain or cruise director is kind enough to tell you when you'll be sailing through Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage, get out on deck beforehand and stay out the whole time.  You may see nothing but beautiful scenery.  Or...if the weather is decent and luck is with you, you may see lots of whales!  It's a common feeding ground for them, so it's not unusual to see some, but this last August we saw more than I'd ever seen before in one place.

Most weren't super close, but there were so many.  They don't live in pods, but they do sometimes travel together while feeding, and we saw three of these big groups of 8, 10, 12 individuals.  Incredible.  Plus various others alone or in pairs.  We saw spouts, humps, tails.  We saw breaches!  And for the first time, I saw fin slapping.  The breaches and fin-slapping were far away, small even in my binoculars, but it was fantastic.

Some pics:

A nice fluke

Blow this up and try to count how many you see.

A humpback's humped back


For tips on having your own budget adventures in Alaska, read my travel guides:


Saturday, February 1, 2020

Finding alternatives to classics helps student love reading

You know what kills the love of reading faster than anything else?  Making students read literature they're not ready for and then repeating that over and over, feeding teens a steady stream of classics many of them may find long, boring, and unrelatable (and which were mostly written by white males—though that's probably gotten better since I was in high school). 

Many modern novels have beautiful language, metaphor, personification, foreshadowing, symbolism, themes, good plot structure and characterization, and all those other things we studied in junior high and high school.  They also show different perspectives and help you relate to people very different from you (super important for understanding the world and becoming a good person).  And…they're interesting.  I really think we should teach more of these modern novels in the classroom.

I was a kid who loved to read.  I was also quite academic, with good reading comprehension and a big vocabulary.  Yet I wasn't ready for a lot of the books we had to read in junior high and high school.  It's not that I couldn't read them or understand them, but I didn't really appreciate them, didn't FULLY understand them...and often didn't like them.  Many were a slog.  I believe it totally turned some students off from reading.  And that's really, really sad.

One of the things I try to teach the parents of small children in my storytimes at the library is that you need to make reading fun.  You want kids to WANT to read.  I think that's the most efficient way to turn them into good readers.  As kids get older, it's also the most efficient way to turn them into continuing readers and voluntary readers…which in turn contributes to success in many areas of life. 

So, if you're a parent or educator, consider this when planning your approach to your kids.

If you teach them to love reading, they'll discover the classics in their own time, and the rewards will be much sweeter.  

Some examples from my own education:

Hemingway in 7th grade:  yawn. 
Hemingway in college:  fascinating! 

Heart of Darkness in high school:  yeah, yeah, he went native. 
Heart of Darkness in college:  possibly the most brilliant book ever written. 

The Great Gatsby in high school:  let's sit around drinking mint juleps and feeling sorry for ourselves.  
The Great Gatsby in my 30s:  okay, yeah, I see why some people think it's great. 

Steinbeck in junior high and high school:  yawn (with a  few good heart-rending parts). 
Steinbeck in my 30s:  amazing. 

Orwell in high school:  interesting, but not as good as it's cracked up to be. 
Orwell in my 30s:  just as good as it's cracked up to be.

Shakespeare...ok, let's be real.  Shakespeare hasn't gotten much better. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Humpback Whales off Vancouver Island

On our August Alaskan cruise, we saw quite a few whales.  One of the best days was our first at-sea day out of Seattle, cruising up the west side of Vancouver Island.  It was beautiful.  

We also saw a parade of sunfish, which are strange creatures that look like dead shark heads floating by (no good picture, sorry).

If you go, spend a lot of time on deck with camera/binoculars.  You may be lucky like us, you may not.  But you'll never know if you don't sit outside watching.  

For tips on having your own budget adventures in Alaska, read my travel guides:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My Writing Published in 2019

Here's a roundup of my fiction and non-fiction published in 2019:

The leader of an unsustainably small space colony must weigh the value of peace vs population.  
And that cover art?  Done for my story!

A medical mystery set on the same ill-fated space colony as "Salvage Operations."

An essay about the night watchman in town where I lived in Mexico.

A short story about a strained friendship, plots of revenge...and a hot dog stand.

A guidebook for anyone who wants to lose themselves--very temporarily--in the extreme beauty of Alaska.  

Purposely Bad Worldbuilding:  Mini Contest #43 winner at On the Premises
This is a fun bit of microfiction I wrote with the express purpose of being the worst 75 words they read.  And don't worry, winning this sort of contest for terrible writing is a compliment.  You have to know what you're doing to write this bad.

"Radish Hunting" in Animal Uprising
Another tale set on the distant colony of New Eden, where a pregnant woman longing for beef turns her eyes on the resident "unicorns."   

A nice bit of flash fiction I don't want to spoil for you.  Read it free.  

Thursday, January 16, 2020

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

This is a very, very clever concept of a picture book.

It's all about perspective.

Check it out at your local library or get it on Amazon.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Bad Dog, by Mike Boldt

I just discovered this DARLING new picture book at the library:

If you like dogs...or cats...or funny kids' books...or cute illustrations...then read this.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Wildlife at Thunderbird Conservation Park, Glendale, Arizona

Today on my short hike along the Coachwhip trail at Thunderbird Conservation Park, I saw quite a bit of wildlife. 

Right out of the gate, I saw this beautiful Gambel's Quail:

As I was moving to get a better shot, I startled this little guy, who ran a few feet away and hid under a cholla cactus, then ran again before posing for this cotton-tail shot. 

Birds were out in full force, including many I didn't recognize, like this guy, but the picture shows how very green it was (for the desert) because of the recent rains.  Also note the nice black rock.

I saw lots of lizards, including this one with nice blue coloring (probably a common side-blotched lizard):

The little man-made lake had lots of water birds, but you could only see them from a distance, since the wildlife watching blinds they'd made had very little view of the water.  Maybe the bushes have grown up a lot since the blinds were built.  Since I didn't want to trespass, I didn't go down near the shore.  However, every once in a while I'd hear a noise sort of like an engine, but which was caused by a whole flock of birds taking off across the water or landing back down on it.  Such a cool sound. 

One bird I did see (though from rather far away, as evidenced by the fuzziness of the picture):

This beautiful little hummingbird was probably a Costa's hummingbird, but I'm not 100% sure.

Then, the crown jewel of the day, sitting perched on a saguaro:

A female American Kestrel, I believe.  So beautiful.  Such big talons, such a hooked little beak.  Such beautiful coloring. And such a twisty neck!  Look at this:

It was a fantastic day.  Beautiful weather, awesome wildlife, four geocaches...and most of the time I had the trail entirely to myself.

If you go:
-Thunderbird Conservation Park is in Glendale, part of the Phoenix metropolitan area.  If you take my route, you'll be walking part of the way along the backyards of mansions.  You're never far from the city.  So the wildlife was doubly amazing.
-I started at the bottom end of the Coachwhip trail, where 51st Avenue turns in Melinda Lane, more or less.  There's a little parking there.  I took the trail to the central parking lot off 59th Ave.
-Various other trails loop around the park from various trailheads.  Some give good views of the city.
-Though the Coachwhip trail was pretty easy and not very long, I recommend doing in in spring, winter, or fall. 
-Do not take ANY trail in Phoenix in summer unless you're used to the heat, have plenty of water, and start very early.
-Watch for snakes and don't stick your hands where you can't see. 
-Admission free