Saturday, August 5, 2023

Review for Monarchs and Milkweed by Anurag Agrawal


When my husband gifted me a corner of our new urban yard to use as a garden. His Valentine’s Day surprise was removing the sod and working the soil. My dilemma, what to do with it? It didn't take long to settle on growing milkweed for monarchs. I'd witnessed the fall migration passing through Austin, Tx, and had an overnight roost of butterflies in our trees in Bishop Hill, IL. I was sold. Getting my neighbors on board took a little more time. Now I get compliments on the sweet aroma of flowering milkweed and the pleasant sight of fluttering adult monarchs.

Along the way I've had many years of learning the ins and outs of raising several types of milkweed and how to manage some of the dangers that lie in wait for monarch caterpillars. Everything about these experiences has been enlightening, from discovering the existence of parasitic flies and wasps to witnessing the metamorphosis to adult monarch, over and over again.

Now, I have to include Anurag Agrawal's book, Monarchs and Milkweed, as an amazing discovery for my education. I've gotten new information on nasty pests, the mysterious OE, and tips on butterfly behavior. I've had several of my thoughts, based on my observations, confirmed. I have a new outlook on moving forward due to the interplay of a toxic plant and an insect as herbivore that Agrawal has provided.

There's a treasure trove of information and the science to back it up. Yes, there were times when I had to make myself keep reading. It was worth it to get a better understanding of the chemical interplay of the pertinent toxins, cardenolides, and the monarch's defensive adaptations. A chemical arms race is not a bad analogy.

The quality of the printed hardcover book was impressive. As were the photos. Who couldn’t love the photo of a Blue Jay barfing after eating a monarch? Agrawal and his crew of supporters have created an important and lasting contribution to monarch research for years to come. Five stars is not enough.


P.S. Citizen Scientists.

This is the part of the summer season when foster parenting monarch caterpillars, helping them survive to adulthood, is the most rewarding--the great migration south is coming up.

In Monarchs and Milkweeds, Anurag Agrawal, goes into the history of how the secrets of the monarch’s migration were eventually revealed. Discovering the details of the routes north and south was a process that spanned decades and involved recruiting “citizen scientists” to help with a butterfly tagging program to figure it out and ultimately find the main overwintering site in Mexico.

Now there is another push for “citizen scientists” to help researchers. The call this time is to gather dead butterflies, moths, and skippers to send in for testing.

I missed out on the original tagging program because I was too young. I’m going to miss out on this call because I don’t live in any of the target states of Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Still, I like the idea of butterfly enthusiasts contributing to finding answers.

NOTE: There is a Nov. 1 deadline for sending specimens in to the USGS LRC. Find out more at:


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Ode to the Librarian Revised

 Ode to the Librarian

By Mary R. Davidsaver


The forecast calls for a fine hot Iowa day.

Dog walkers pass by on their early rounds.

A dragonfly hovers over my garden.

Gold finches dart between host and nectar plants.

I savor a light caress of coolness,

Before the heaviness of corn sweat descends.


One Monarch touches down on a milkweed leaf.

Then quickly launches itself at another.

I left those “weeds” to stand tall and straight this year.

If prairie winds knock a few down,

I save the leaves to feed caterpillars.

Not so many this season.  


Few found my urban spot.

A small space devoted to Monarchs.

My contribution to raising migration numbers.

This morning I released six new butterflies.

A milestone for this meager year.

I share that on this day of remembrance.


The day we gather to celebrate a life of service.

Honoring a librarian to generations of children.

Who nurtured their curiosity with books.

Gave them a peek into the author’s craft.

Sent them out into a world not of their own making.

They have the chance to challenge, to create, to change.


Six Monarchs flying into the unknown.

Each having the chance to make a difference.

I knew little of the librarian’s life.

Only enough to know she would be pleased.

She always had a ready smile and a kind thought.

Happy to share a moment of joy with any one of us. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

2022 Monarch Releases


I have released 26 Monarchs as of 8/20 with 2 in the chrysalis stage and one still munching on leaves. I have a Monarch momma out in the garden still laying eggs. Which is good since we had a late start to the season in the Davenport, Iowa area because cool spring weather.

I released this year’s first Monarch on 7/25. Last year I had released 23 before that date.

I collect eggs laid outside in my suburban garden dedicated to milkweed and from other people who ask me to take in their eggs.

Last year, I lost a lot of caterpillars with them turning black and dying. I had one with OE. I also had caterpillars parasitized.

This year, I’ve only lost three to turning black and dying: one hatchling, one large cat, one in a chrysalis on the second day. No sign of OE this year. No parasites.

I took in four large cats, close to final stage, just to see how they are doing health wise in the main garden. I believe that is where my failures came from. (I had them isolated in containers.) The hatchling came from nearby and was one of four eggs I hatched. I’m not sure if it died because of something I did or didn’t do. I have had trouble in the past with hatching eggs, leaves drying up too soon. I did better this year with daily moisturizing small individual leaf sections with each egg and placing them on whole leaves, everything stayed viable longer. I then placed the hatchlings on milkweed cuttings I gathered from the yard (escapees from the garden area). This was very much like the racks of test tubes that are sold on some sites, only I’m using small bottles.

I began noticing the differences between caterpillars last year and figured out which ones were going south, or somewhere else. It’s interesting that the majority of my released butterflies this year have been larger females and are not staying around. Out of 26, I’ve seen 5 males. Not like past years at all.

I’ve had a registered Monarch Waystation since 2014 and started raising caterpillars in 2019 when I got tired of not seeing any adult butterflies.

Monday, August 15, 2022

A Review Of: The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo


What I want to remember:
"A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or 'causes' the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean.... [discovery]. C1, P4

"Once you have a certain amount of accumulated technique, you can forget it in the act of writing. Those moves that are naturally yours will stay with you and will come forth mysteriously when needed." C2, P17 [I've tried calling it training the unconscious/subconscious parts of the brain. And yes, they will be there when you need them.]

"No semicolons. Semicolons indicate relationships that only idiots need defined by punctuation. Besides, they are ugly." C5, p40 [:)

Nuts and Bolts, chapter 5, was my favorite chapter.

Chapter 4, page 30, gives us the writing exercise from Hell. Hugo goes on to insist it often got his students to produce their best work.

Other quotes worth remembering:
"You are someone and you have a right to your life." C6, P65
"Writing is a way of saying you and the world have a chance. All art is failure." C7, P72 [Don't be so hard on yourself.]

I found this little book helpful for those occasions when I pretend to be a poet. It's useful for the other times as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Bouchercon 2022


I’m the author of two cozy mysteries set in the village of Bishop Hill, a former communal society of Swedish immigrants founded in 1846 on the Illinois prairie of Henry County. I consider that place and its history as important to my work as any other character.

I haven’t been to a big mystery-based conference since the solar eclipse almost overlapped Killer Nashville in 2017. I was part of a panel then, I don’t recall the exact title, probably due to the last-minute changes that shuffled me off in a different direction from my original request. I’ve waited months to find out how I’d fare with my Bouchercon 2022 panel placement.

When I first looked through the list of my fellow panel members for the upcoming Bouchercon in Minneapolis, I couldn’t figure out why B. A. Shapiro seemed so familiar. I went to my bookshelf, to the area where I keep the special books, the ones I used for reference, background, and fact checking—and there she was!

The Art Forger was one of the few books I’ve ever allowed myself to mark up. I remembered how her information on noted forgers of the past and the prevalence of forgeries in general were eye opening and aided the development of my forger in Clouds Over Bishop Hill, my first cozy mystery.

I checked through my blog posts and found that Shapiro and The Art Forger came to my attention through a library sponsored book club. I went on to mention her and the book three times on posts between 2014 to 2015, basically the time period between NaNoWriMos, National Novel Writing Months. I credited her with helping me work with POVs and providing some technical terminology. Much needed since I didn’t have a strong background in painting.

This time around I and my book are part of a panel that will discuss the merits of The Mystery of Multiple Points of View and Multiple Timelines.


Along with B.A. Shapiro (The Art Forger), I’ll be sharing space with

Marty Ambrose (Lord Byron Mystery series),

William Boyle (Shoot the Moonlight Out),

Julie Carrick Dalton (Waiting for Night Song),

and Stanley Trollip (Wolfman), as moderator.

[These titles only represent a small sampling.]


This Bouchercon conference might be the best ever for me. I can’t imagine having a better experience than spending quality time with these authors.


Bouchercon 2022 Minneapolis, September 8-11

Find links for Clouds Over Bishop Hill and Shadows Over Bishop Hill at:

Or find me at the conference.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Ode to Rochelle A. Murray, Aug 6, 2022


The forecast calls for a fine hot Iowa day.

Dog walkers pass by. Out for early rounds.

Same with gold finches. A dragonfly hovers over my garden.

All savor the light touch of coolness. Before the heaviness of corn sweat descends.


One Monarch visits the blooming plants. Briefly rests on milkweed leaves.

I left them to stand tall and straight this year.

The prairie winds have knocked a few down. I save the leaves to feed caterpillars.

Not so many this year. Only a few Monarchs found my urban spot.


I devote my small garden to Monarchs.

It’s my contribution to raising the migration.

Today I released six new butterflies.

I share that with you on the day we gather to remember Rochelle.


To celebrate her life of service as a librarian to children.

Who nurtured their curiosity with books. Gave them a peek into the author’s craft.

Then out into a world not of their own making. Six butterflies fly into the unknown.

They all have the chance to challenge to change to make a difference.


I only knew a little of Rochelle’s life.

Just enough to know she would be pleased.

She was always there with a smile and a kind thought.

She’d be happy to share a moment of joy with any one of us.

Releasing a Monarch butterfly at Davenport's Fairmount Library.

July 29, 2018

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Editing and Gardening


I’ve done a lot of gardening throughout this spring and early summer. Started out with the usual need to finish clearing out the leftovers of winter. Trimming back the plant stalks I left standing for over-wintering insects. Hopefully for the kinds I want. I wonder sometimes when I see countless numbers of orange beetle-like bugs working at making countless more of their kind just waiting to descend on the uppermost leaves of my milkweed plants. I need those tender leaves for momma Monarchs to lay their eggs on. But I digress.

This year’s gardening tasks took an interesting turn when I was asked to be part of the Grace Lutheran Garden Walk. Really. I never thought of my little corner plot as all that interesting, but what my husband started as a Valentine’s Day gift ten years ago has evolved. Early on I was challenged to think of a theme for my small space and quickly settled on the needs of Monarch butterflies. I once captured a Monarch for a high school science project. That was well before anyone had documented their impressive migration. I chose to turn my little plot into an official Monarch Waystation. You may call it an act of atonement. The website I turned to was:

To spruce up for the garden walk I got nice edging installed around my corner spot, which, in turn, gave me a little more space to work with. Since the garden walk theme focused on wildflowers and native plants, I could let my milkweed expand without worrying about them standing out so much. Early on I did try to camouflage them. Not an easy thing to do. It’s gratifying that people have come to appreciate my gardening attempts. The same is true of Monarch mommas: they visit, they lay eggs, I collect some to bring inside to ensure that I have adults to release in time for the migration south. My best source of information on raising the numbers for the migration is:

Gardening, like all things, has its ups and downs. This spring was wet, cold, and stubbornly late. That delayed the arrival of Monarchs for my eastern Iowa area. By early July in 2020 I had released eight adults; in 2021 the count was seven. This year I’ve yet to release any. In fact, I am totally relieved that I have six Monarch caterpillars to feed. I had been dreading the thought of a butterfly-less year. Believe it or not, in my few years of urban gardening I have seen a sharp decrease in butterflies and bees. It’s plain to me that anyone gardening for host plants and/or nectar plants for pollinators is doing a service for all of us.

Back to my title. How does editing relate to gardening?

Okay, I digressed a lot. To be fair, I did stick with an insect theme for four paragraphs. But all the time I spent in the garden planting the new, removing the old, rearranging things to improve the focal points made me think of my recent rounds of editing the written words of manuscripts and short stories. It all comes down to making decisions, choosing the changes that will improve the whole. We humans are good at sculpting our world, bending the real and the imaginary to our wills. You might call it synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

We should always try to make the story better—to make our stories better.



[P.S. I’ve had good luck with Rest Cloud and Vivosun mesh cages for butterfly habitats.]