Bloats and Crashes

Dear Kids and Animal Lovers,

Recently, on one of my morning walks, I saw a murder of crows in a tall, otherwise barren eucalyptus tree. The fifty plus large black birds were waiting for . . . um, coffee?

Huh? A murder of crows? What’s that?

That’s the collective name for a group of crows–one of my favorite birds and terms. Seeing those crows inspired me to seek out other animal group names to share with you. This is a great way to build your vocabulary. I found the perfect online site at Click HERE to see if your favorite animal is listed or to learn something new.

At the site, the group nouns are categorized under “Mammals,” “Birds,” “Reptiles, Amphibians, and Fish,” “Insects, Arachnids, and Other Animals,” and “People.”

Here are a few more of my favorites: a bloat of hippos, a crash of rhinos, a cauldron of bats, a parliament of owls, and an embarrassment of pandas!

So, how did these collective nouns originate? According to, the names date back to 1486 England when a nun named Juiliana Barnes aka Berners published them in The Book of Saint Albans. Then, the names were used as hawking, hunting, and heraldic terms, but they have become part of everyday English speech. Many, however, are considered archaic.

So, get a clue, Readers. Which collective names are your favorites? You might raise eyebrows if you use some of them today. But take a risk! Help build vocabulary. You won’t crash.


Table It!

Hello, Readers!

Perhaps like me, you ran across this engaging op-ed by Ellen Jovin on page A11 in the Friday, August 12, 2022, edition of The L.A. Times. It’s available digitally and in print.

Entitled “How Fighting Over Grammar Can Help Fix a Divided America,” it details Ms. Jovin’s goals to set up and run a “Grammar Table” on the streets of New York City to answer grammar questions from passersby. She has a strong background as a professional editor, teacher, and writer, and is a self-proclaimed lifelong grammar nerd. (Yay!)

Ms. Jovin used a folding table and chair and attached a homemade “Grammar Table” sign. Then, she waited for customers. The first arrived within thirty seconds!

Before long, she noticed that “any rancor [generated from disagreements over grammar issues] was mostly feigned and the chats cathartic” as she kept moving the table around the city. Eventually, having answered questions from all ages, races, political parties, socio-economic classes, education levels, and job descriptions, she came to realize that “the disputes that played out at her pop-up grammar advice stand were always friendly and grounded in mutual respect.”

Ms. Jovin and her husband filmed the Grammar Table for a documentary, visiting forty-seven states before being halted by the pandemic. She discovered that her grammar chats helped create tiny bonds between people, which, she believed, could “support the larger connections we need for our communities to thrive.”

So, get a clue, readers. Can your untangling a smaller problem with others help eventually unite a fractured neighborhood or society? Sometimes, little successes can nurture big results!


Dear Readers,
Yesterday, August 10, 2022, was the 50th anniversary of my sweet paternal grandmother’s passing at the age of 88.
Nellie “Gama” Lanyon Johns left us on August 10, 1972. I was lucky to have had her and my grandfather living with us while I was growing up.
Gama (rhymes with “Mama”) was a large-boned, outspoken farm woman who moved to California in the 1930s after living in Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. I remember her always wearing the latest fashions, including a hat, purse, gloves, fine jewelry, and even dress boots if the occasion called for them.
I still miss her wrapping tiny, timid me in her strong, ample arms, creating an enormous cocoon to comfort and protect me. Both my parents worked, so Gama would have dinner on the table every evening when they came home. She and my grandfather were the ones who greeted me when I came home from school. To this day, whenever I smell Ponds cold cream or lavender, Gama comes flooding back–which is daily.
Gama, I still love you and miss you. You are forever in my heart.
R.I.P. Nellie Mabel Lanyon Johns
December 1, 1883 – August 10, 1972

So, get a clue, readers. I hope like me you are holding those you love close in your hearts and memories.


Whispers from the Tree

Hello, Kids, Readers, and Current and Future Genealogists,

Have you ever researched your Family Tree?

I’ve been having fun this week climbing among the many branches of mine on a helpful site called My friend Daniel put me onto this tremendous resource; thanks, Daniel!

My father’s side of the family is firmly English and Welsh. But I learned this week that we are also Scottish and Irish. The bulk of my family’s records are from this side, thanks to various ancestors who tended the tree, enabling us descendants to trace our family back to the 800s.

And I have just discovered that hiding behind some of the tree’s many leaves are assorted famous ancestors!

Imagine my delight when I found that most of them have literary or artistic connections. So . . .

According to and my initial findings, here are some of my distant cousins who were Literary Luminaries: Edgar Allan Poe (“The Raven”); Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn); The Bronte Sisters (Wuthering HeightsJane Eyre); Agatha Christie (Poirot and Marple mysteries); Lord George Gordon Byron (“Don Juan”); Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice); Louisa May Alcott (Little Women); Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), and Abraham “Bram” Stoker (Dracula).

And since I mentioned Frankenstein and Dracula, I think it’s fitting that another cousin is the late actor Lon Chaney, Jr., who played the Wolfman (as well as the Frankenstein monster and Dracula) in many Universal Studios movies in the 1940s. Oh, and what about actor Boris Karloff, who famously played Frankenstein’s creation? He married my ninth cousin!

All this information has enriched my appreciation of literature, reading, writing, and those old classic monster films! And I have long wondered why I love to write and can effortlessly disappear into magical realms and Gothic musings. Perhaps I’ve been hearing whispers from my ancestors . . .

So, get a clue, Readers. Who could be hiding in your family tree that might add extra dimension to your life? Give it a shake and find out. May you, too, have wonderful discoveries!




Ssss–In Hawai’i?

Hello, All Readers and Present or Future Herpetologists,

Sneak Peek: In Book 4, Saffron Street: Island Danger, our four detectives travel to O’ahu to solve their latest case. Moki happily announces to Lanny that there are no “fangs of death,” i.e., snakes, on the Hawaiian Islands. Fearing reptiles as he does, Moki is pleased to be back home where he can relax. Or can he?

Wait one minute, Moki. Look again–carefully!

There are snakes in Hawai’i, and some right on Moki’s native O’ahu! In fact, the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture (HDOA) has reported sightings of seven different kinds of snakes on the islands in the past few decades.

According to John Alois from in his article dated June 21, 2022, all seven types of snakes are invasive, not indigenous, to the islands. Some were smuggled in for pets while others hitched rides in cargo containers on vessels and aircraft or on the ocean waves. And given that the nearest land mass is over 2,000 miles away, that’s some serious swimming.

Possession of a snake in Hawai’i is a crime that can bring a $200,000 fine or three years in prison. The reason is that Hawai’i is isolated. If snakes take hold on the islands, they could throw the ecosystem into chaos, even decimate native animal and plant species. And they could become increasingly dangerous to humans and possibly impact tourism negatively. Fortunately, most snakes have been contained. Most, which means there are still some on the loose that might be reproducing.

Here are the seven snakes. Be on the lookout the next time you’re in Hawaiian Paradise and report any snakes you spot to the HDOA: Good news: The agency’s efforts to crack down on the snakes are paying off.

Nonvenomous:  Brahminy Blind Snake, Ball Python, Boa Constrictor, Garter Snake, Corn Snake

Highly Venomous:  Brown Tree Snake, Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

So, get a clue, Readers. No need to fear the beautiful Hawaiian Islands. Just be on the lookout for “island dangers.” I’m sure Moki will be from now on!

The Ultra-Radical Graham Cracker

Dear Kids and All Readers,

Do you love graham crackers?

I do! I have a fond childhood memory of the tasty snack beyond S’mores. Every Easter, my mom would make a yellow cake and slather on thick layers of homemade chocolate frosting. Any leftover frosting was sandwiched between two graham cracker halves for my sisters’ and my snacks. When my daughter was small, I started that tradition with her. I can’t think of Easter now without craving graham crackers and chocolate frosting. (Try it; you’ll like it!) But this combo of crackers and frosting is ironic because it’s so antithetical to the origin of the treat as you are about to learn.

Did you know that graham crackers have a rather bizarre, sugar-free history? 

A much blander version of modern-day graham crackers was invented by a staunch, stiff-collared Presbyterian minister in Boston named Sylvester Graham (1794-1851)–hence the name of the crackers. He preached against eating white bleached flour and all products containing sugar as being unhealthy for the body, mind, and soul. (Most people now know that’s true–at least concerning the body.) Graham’s beliefs and his crackers started a small temperance movement with his followers who became known as Grahamites.

To make his sugarless crackers, which were more like yeast bread probably sweetened with molasses, Graham created a brown-colored unrefined flour named–you guessed it!–graham flour, made that way by retaining the bran. He believed that all bread should be homemade with graham flour, reminiscent of Mother, home, innocence, and morality. But it was a hard sell: Wealthier citizens could afford the white refined flour and commercially baked goods; dark bread and graham crackers soon became associated with immigrants and ignorance (!). Graham’s ideas that homemade food made with his flour product could be soul-saving were so radical that it caused a riot among Boston bakers. Many used white flour and granulated sugar and weren’t interested in promoting home-baked goods.

In large East-coast cities, Graham took his beliefs a step further. He established boardinghouses for Christians so he could sincerely help keep them pure in all aspects of their lives. They abstained from “wicked” cheerfulness and actions, snacks between meals, tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, cider, white flour, and sugar; instead, they followed tenets of simplification, back-to-basics routines, and natural solutions supported by Biblical scripture. This was a very radical regimen for the time. In addition, his Christian Grahamites ate a diet free of milk and meat (which could cause animalistic thoughts) making Graham an early voice for veganism. In fact, in 1850, Graham helped found the American Vegetarian Society. His ideas would later influence a certain Mr. Kellogg and his cereal company.

If you would like a recipe for a more authentic graham “cracker” redolent of Reverend Graham’s, please click HERE. You’ll find that the recipe, from Barbara Bamberger-Scott with, is doughier and plumper, not a hard, flat cracker. Bonus! At the same link, you can glimpse an image of the humorless reverend himself.

And check out Moki’s Munchy of the Month in my July 31st newsletter. Coincidentally (wink-wink), it features teddy grahams! You may subscribe to my newsletter HERE.

So, get a clue, Readers. Now that you know graham crackers had once been an ultra-radical health intervention with strong, religious overtones, you might enjoy the modern sugary version even more–or not! Regardless, I for one don’t plan to “go crackers” over it.