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Jul 30, 2013

This weekend, sister author Alexandra Butcher interviewed me about sight loss, my books, and issues confronting low vision and blind readers and authors.

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Posted: Jul 30, 2013 10:24am
Aug 7, 2012

Not many writers can claim to fulfill their life dream, but I just did last week when I published my first novel, part of a science fiction trilogy I've been writing called "Peers of Beinan"

The first book is called "Great Succession Crisis"

Young Princess Anlei always expected to be queen after her mother. But when the Great Council of Houses upholds an ancient law forbidding daughters of sovereign queens from assuming the throne, Princess Anlei finds herself in a personal crisis. Who she marries now will dictate the fate of her Gurun dynasty. Will politics -- or love -- win in this chess game of competing noble houses? And what of Lord Corann, her grandmother's protégé, who has secretly loved her for yen-ars towards whom she feels some attraction? The fate of a planet is at stake in "The Great Succession Crisis."

Book One of the “Peers of Beinan” political science fiction trilogy. Includes supplementary data files, plus the bonus short story “The First King” and chapter one of book two, “Ghosts from the Past.”

Right before the release, I set up a facebook page for it:

And of course, I have a main site for the trilogy which includes all the supplementary data files included with the book online so you can consult them without flipping to the end of the book!

The trilogy has some pretty big messages embedded -- about pollution, religion,and of course, politics and sexual politics in particular.  Much of the drama in book one is created by retention of a very sexist law.  GSC explores the consequences of gender-based inequality -- with terrible repurcussions for the future.

It doesn't read like a piece of activist fiction, but if you are really interested in social change, I think you will find I subtly, without intrusion into the story, discuss important social issues.

Wiccans will like that the primary religion on Beinan is goddess-centric.

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Posted: Aug 7, 2012 8:09am
Jun 4, 2012

Linnaean taxonomy. Most students of biology, even if just in high school, are made at least a little acquainted with its stratification of relationship between living species. Most of us know the major steps: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. But far fewer people are acquainted with the numerous sub-steps that can exist among most of these, making the "family tree" of relationships between species very complicated, especially among birds.

I barely knew Linnaean taxonomy and how animals relate to each other until about four years ago when I first started researching parrot-human history. In trying to understand what I was reading, I found myself discovering the relationships between parrots; the Linnaean "family tree" came to life.

Parrots are an order of birds. Other orders include Falconiformes (raptors, birds of prey), Columbiformes (pigeons and doves), and Passeriformes (huge order that includes everything from zebra finches to sparrows to crows and beyond) to just name a few you are likely to encounter in your life.

Parrots have two families which include all the species and extinct parrot species. Psittacidae are the "true parrots" and include macaws, Amazons, parakeets, lorikeets, and lovebirds.

Cacatuidae are cockatoos. This family tends to have sub-families; the cockatoos are more complicated in their evolution than the other parrots on the Linnaean taxonomy.

Many of the true parrots we think of as "families" are actually genera (the plural for genus). Amazon parrots are genus Amazona. Most macaws belong to genus Ara. Genus Poicephalus includes the popular Senegal parrot. Genus Trichoglossus are lovebirds. Genus Psittacus has one species and two subspecies. These are the African grey parrots. Congo African greys are one sub-species and Timnehs are considered a second sub-species. My favorite of the Psittacidae are the Psittacula(genus) parakeets. With a range from Africa to across most of the warmer parts of Asia, across the south pacific, and even into Australia, these pretty rain forest parakeets are known for their sub-species.

Sharing habitat with the Psittaculas are cockatoos, family Cacatuidae, with all their sub-families and diverse genera. The best known genus among the cockatoos is Cacatua, the "white" cockatoos such as umbrella cockatoos, Moluccan cockatoo, Goffin's cockatoos, and the many species and sub-species of sulfur crested cockatoos. Cacatua should stick out in your mind for the staggering number of species that are now extinct, critically endangered, endangered, or threatened in the wild. These birds, some of the most loved in aviculture, are dying out due to illegal poaching and illegal logging across the south pacific and in Indonesia in particular. More than any other genus of animal I am aware of, these birds are most likely to exist only in zoos in a few years - unless we stop what we are doing to them!

But what about cockatiels, our most popular aviculture cockatoo? Recent DNA studies looked at the relationship between cockatiels and other cockatoos. The studies found that cockatiels are closely related to palm cockatoos and other "black" cockatoos. "The researchers (also) found that the Palm Cockatoo was the first to diverge from a common cockatoo ancestor, followed by a group including the Gang-gang, Red-tailed and the Cockatiel."

Who knew Mithril and Elendil came from such an ancient line of cockatoos?

Whatever your interest in science, I hope this quick look at Linnaean taxonomy as it applies to parrots helps you better appreciate the complexity and beauty within all nature. While my examples were all about parrots, the organization behind everything here applies to all animals, including humans.

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Posted: Jun 4, 2012 5:16pm
Mar 13, 2012
Category: Lite and Easy

These are only about 200 or so recipes, but this site is invaluable if you, like me, are onion allergic or onion sensitive:

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Posted: Mar 13, 2012 10:16am
Feb 22, 2012

Rick Santorum

This weekend, Senator Santorum accused President Obama of having a “secularized agenda” as a form of insult against the president and in an effort to appeal to Evangelical voters.  This sound bite has been repeated numerous times across both traditional and nontraditional news sources—everywhere from Face the Nation to The 700 Club.


Santorum’s intent is to attack Obama’s Christianity and accuse him of not ruling in accord with the Bible, making him seem like a religious hypocrite who only gives lip service to his faith. 


Yet in making this attack, Santorum has only re-affirmed why President Obama should be re-elected.  This is, after all, the country where we treasure our separation between Church and State—an idea rooted in the over 200 years of bloodshed that immediately followed Luther’s public criticism of specific corrupt acts within Roman Catholic leadership.  Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, failure to practice the state religion made one vulnerable to arrest for treason—and a traitor’s death.  It was this official preference on the matter of religion—and the threat of execution--that drove many who dissented with the official religions to emigrate from Europe to what became the American colonies. From Congregationalists (aka Puritans) to Quakers to French Protestants (Huguenots) to Roman Catholics and beyond, the first European settlers to what became the United States were often motivated by the official preferences of their countries for one religious form or another.  When they settled, they formed colonies that themselves held official religions.  In Massachusetts and Connecticut, Congregationalism was the official sanctioned religion.  In Pennsylvania, Quakers were preferred by the colony.  In Maryland, membership in the Roman Catholic religion was required.  Colonial Americans did not separate Church and State. 

Being born into and raised with these official policies, the founding fathers and mothers were keenly aware of the problems official religions created and came to believe that true religious freedom could only exist in a genuinely secular society.  Secularism in government was a radical idea for late 18th century Americans, but to confuse secularism with atheism would be an error.  The idea was not to prevent our government from being ruled by people of faith.  Instead it was that faith should inform and enlighten individuals who governed fairly—without discrimination or explicit preference for or against one religious path or another.  Religion was to become the domain of our private lives; not the motivator for official action. 


In other words, NO ONE can or should be, under the US Constitution being ruling in accord with the Bible—or any other religious creed! 

Obedience to our constitutional requirement for separation is hardly a “secularized agenda”; it is the law of the land, one increasingly ignored in American politics.


I applaud President Barack Obama for the courage to maintain the vital line between his personal religious life and his official activities on behalf of the United States of America.  After all, most jobs in the private sector expect no less from each of us.  Does that mean each of us have a “secularized agenda” when we keep our personal lives out of our jobs—or is this simply common sense?


Perhaps Santorum’s criticisms of proper and appropriate personal and professional boundaries by President Obama simply indicate just how out of touch he really is from average everyday people who understand that at work they are there to work—not promote religion.  Perhaps Rick Santorum needs reminding that his bishop is paid to promote religion; not the president.


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Posted: Feb 22, 2012 10:22am
Feb 9, 2012

Hudson Bergen Light Rail

Trains…if you grow up outside a major metropolitan area in the United States, odds are really good that you can live your entire life without setting foot on one. But 150 years ago, the picture was vastly different. In the 19th century and through the first half of the 20thcentury, trains were the mode of travel of choice. Pulled by steam engines, travelers were able to access the US's extensive rail network from stations either local or near-local to them. Small rural towns like Cresson, Pennsylvania had their own train stations, enabling passengers to travel almost anywhere in the country. For over 100 years, we were a nation connected by passenger rail service. In the early decades of the 20th century, new transportation options opened up-but for decades, the train was the fastest, easiest, and least expensive way to get around.

With the building of the interstate system, passenger train service declined in favor of freight-only service. In 1970, Congress formed Amtrak to restore nationwide commuter rail service outside of the major metropolitan areas. Connecting with the still vibrant metropolitan systems like SEPTA, METRA, MTA, and Caltrain, Amtrak hoped to encourage use of our rail infrastructure and increase passenger rail traffic (see Amtrak link).

Today, despite chronic gridlock on both highways and skyways, switching back to rail has come only slowly and often with much resistance. Since 2000 the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact and Prorail non-profits aligned with the compact have worked to research, plan, and build new commuter rail options (see Prorail and MIPRC websites) To date, despite several research studies, only the proposed line to connect Chicago with the Quad Cities has approached groundbreaking. This new line begins construction in the spring of 2012 and is expected to complete by the end of 2013. Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri are also seeking passenger rail routes, but facing resistance in those states by private companies like Union Pacific which own the track infrastructure, and politicians who are convinced that the Midwest lacks enough ridership to justify the upgrades to existing infrastructure needed to facilitate passenger traffic. According to Dave Purdy of Prorail, dedicated passenger traffic rails could be built to create a trolley-style system such as New Jersey uses for the very successful Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) and which is used by the city of Minneapolis. Such a system could easily be powered by the Midwest's abundant wind-electric power and would cost far less money than highway maintenance costs today.

Despite the obvious ecological advantages and savings to consumers overall compared to fossil fuel-based transportation, political bodies and corporations are still not convinced that rail infrastructure is worth our investment.

It therefore falls to all of us to make passenger rail happen-no matter where we live-for a greener, safer, and more prosperous tomorrow.

Supporting websites:

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Posted: Feb 9, 2012 5:37am
Feb 8, 2012
Focus: Religion
Action Request: Petition
Location: Pennsylvania, United States

Care2 folks, Pennsylvania needs your help! This morning Amy Pickard sent me the following:

"On January 24, 2012, The Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 535, a non-binding resolution declaring 2012 "The Year of the Bible." The resolution states that we have a "national need to study and apply the holy scriptures," a position which clearly favors Christianity over other religions and violates the separation of church and state as protected by the Constitution of the United States. As a Pennsylvanian, I wish to make clear that I do NOT support the Bible as the preferred state religious text, and I oppose the passage of a state resolution that formally declares the Bible as the word of God and asserts that strengthening of our nation occurs by "renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture." H.R. 535 is not only unconstitutional, it ignores and devalues the great diversity of peoples and religions which actually constitute the state of Pennsylvania.

This resolution, even though it is non-binding, sends a message about c itizenship and belonging to Christians and non-Christians alike. This message about whose beliefs are legitimate in the eyes of the state is especially dangerous in our current climate of anti-Islamic rhetoric and strengthened federal powers of detention. H.R. 535 positions the state to take future action limiting freedom of religious expression and persecuting those who disagree with state-approved religion. I urge Pennsylvania's House of Representatives to repeal H.R. 535."

Religious freedom in PA is at stake.  This new law is likely the first step in establishing AN OFFICIAL, STATE RELIGION (Christianity) for PENNSYLVANIA.

As a polytheist living in Cambria county (west-central PA), this law terrifies me.  I have received threats to my life in the past by those who believe that Christianity and ONLY CHRISTIANITY should be practiced in the US!

Please protect the right to religious freedom of choice and conviction by signing the petition!

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Posted: Feb 8, 2012 1:22pm
Feb 7, 2012
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Posted: Feb 7, 2012 2:33pm
Feb 7, 2012
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Posted: Feb 7, 2012 2:23pm
Feb 7, 2012

Pellets…if you have spent any time reading about the "proper" feeding and care of a companion bird or visited your veterinarian lately for your bird’s annual checkup, you have probably heard that a pellet-based diet is now what experts prefer we feed our birds. But pellets are both expensive and often ignored by many birds, unless they have been offered them shortly after weaning.  Owners face the dilemma of wanting their birds to eat well, but also not wanting them to starve and/or not being able to afford the hundreds of dollars per year it costs to feed a strictly pellet diet.  With most online and retail pet stores charging on average between $12 and $25 per 2 or 3 pound bag of pellets, affording a pellet diet is often a problem for most of us, especially if you are struggling to feed yourselves—much less a bird!


The first way to economize on pellets is to feed your bird a balanced diet of not only pellets, but fresh/ frozen fruits, fresh/ frozen vegetables, species appropriate seeds, and species appropriate nuts.

In a proper mix of seeds, nuts, and pellets, the pellets should consist of somewhere between 30% and 50% of the total custom mix.  Yes, there are pre-mixed commercial options like Kaytee Fusion, but these mixes contain a lower amount of pellets than recommended and a number of low nutrition fillers—junk seeds that provide very little nutrition but are often preferred by birds over pellets.


Second, experiment to find which brands and styles your bird(s) prefer.  Some birds like neutral tasting, plain pellets.  Others prefer brightly colored, fruit-flavored pellets.  If I have on practical criticism of pet food companies, it is that pellets are not available in small, travel size bags or sampler sets that allows you to try a little of each type of pellet for your species made by that company without resorting to a 2 or 3 lb bag that costs you nearly $20 each—and likely will not be eaten!


Third, shop sales and buy in quantity when on sale.  If you shop sales effectively, you can often find a 2 or 3 lb bag of pellets for less than $8 each and sometimes as low as $4 each through quantity discounting with some online retailers.  Always use coupons with major retailers and make sure the coupons include pellets.  Some brands offer manufacturer coupons.  Check in advance for coupon acceptance.

Remember that pellets have expiration dates…so monitor these closely.


Pellets can be affordable.  It just takes a little smart shopping. Bon appétit! 

Read more frugal parrot food tips at


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Posted: Feb 7, 2012 12:58pm


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Laurel Rockefeller
, 1
Johnstown, PA, USA
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