Category Archives: writing

Dolphin Connection loses advocate

I was doing some research and learned that Dolphin Connection founder Erv Strong passed away in January 2013.  We really enjoyed the trips we took with him, and would return every couple years to Ingleside, Texas to visit the dolphins.  Here is a column I wrote in August 2004 about Erv and his love of dolphins.


Erv Strong reaches over the side of his boat and dunks his hand in the water. “C’mere, you li’l rat,” he calls as he splashes his fingers in the water.

His passengers gasp as the grinning dolphin glides along the boat. “They love toes,” Erv tells his audience. “Go ahead, kids, stick your feet in the water.”  The three youngsters join the captain at the side of the boat, stretching their feet toward the dolphin, hoping against hope that the dolphin will choose their toes for investigation.

Alas, on this hot afternoon in August, the 250+ dolphins in Corpus Christi Bay have more pressing engagements than checking out visitors’ toes. Still, politeness in dolphin society requires each pod to send at least one greeter to the boat and occasionally one of the pod matriarchs themselves swim up to the boat.

For 22 years, Erv and Sonja Strong have been interacting with the dolphins in Corpus Christi Bay from their base of operations in Ingleside Cove. They manage Dolphin Connection (, a two-person “dolphins in the wild” business seeking to educate the public about the nature and intelligence of dolphins.

The Strongs take visitors on a personal, one-hour tour to meet and greet dolphins in the bay. They’ve identified over 150 dolphins and named more than 85. Dolphins approach the boat as it passes through their pods and playgrounds, whistling and greeting the captain.  Visitors gleefully watch the dolphins surf the wake of the boat as it moves from group to group.

The boats are small, limited to about ten or twelve persons. Children wear life vests (although the bay is no more than three feet deep, with a hard, sandy bottom) and are encouraged to drag a hand or foot in the water.

“The dolphins won’t bite you,” Erv tells the kids, “but they will take your fingers or toes in their mouths and run their tongues over you to ‘know’ you. Don’t jerk your foot away, though.  That’s considered rude.”  A look of sheer delight passes over my daughter’s face at the possibility of being “tasted” by the dolphins.

During the hour-long tour, the Strongs relay many dolphin facts to their awed passengers. Erv tells his group that children are encouraged to return to school and write papers and essays about dolphins, then send a copy of their essays to a special website address that he provides at the end of the tour. Each June the Strongs provide cash awards to the students with the best essays. Over $12,000 is awarded for the hundreds and hundreds of essays they review.

If there is one message the Strongs aim to impart, it’s that dolphins deserve to be observed in the wild, not in chlorinated tanks.  Even those dolphins that can’t be released should be kept in protected, confined sanctuaries as close to their natural habitat as possible.

We trudge to our car after a wonderful hour in which even adults have been reduced to child-like awe. My daughter emphatically states, as she buckles her seatbelt, “When we get home, I’m writing to [theme park] and telling them they need to release their dolphins.”

Erv Strong has converted one more child.



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We just can’t spell anymore

Have you heard of the mystery shopper?  It’s persons hired in retail and service industries to shop at stores, bars and restaurants, real estate firms and other service industries. The shopper fills out a report on the quality of the product or service being observed.

Well forget mystery shoppers. I think businesses need to hire mystery proofreaders, and I’m ready to start the service bureau!

I cannot believe that businesses pay for the shoddy copywriting, printing or sign-making that passes as acceptable in today’s society.  I don’t get it.  Does no one else see the errors?  Is the business owner too cheap to correct his or her copy or signs? Are sign-makers or printers offering to make good on errors they created?

Here are some examples I’ve seen in the last few years:

  • A national sandwich company once touted the kick-off of a new marketing campaign with a framed, autographed poster of the spokesmen.  The copy refers to “Heman and Sherman” when it should read “Herman and Sherman.”  I point out the error to the counterman.  His reply?  “Wow, no one’s noticed that before.”
  • A professionally painted retail sign promotes the opening of stores in a newly built strip center.  It reads “Comming Soon.”
  • A local newsletter kicked off its inaugural publication with typos on nearly every page and misspelled the name of a local church for two issues in a row.  I wonder if the church even recognized it was being billed as Resurrerection.
  • I saw a pet store outdoor sign advertising “Hampsters for sale.”  I wonder if they were anything like hamsters.

The most blatantly poor piece of marketing literature that I’ve ever seen [and frightening, if it turns out to have been professionally produced] came from a fireworks retailer a couple Christmases ago.  The four-color, eight-page tabloid was filled with misspelled words and incorrect grammar on every page. I think I counted 47 typographical or grammatical errors in the copy. The piece was also filled with copyright violations that, if directed to the attention of the copyright owners, would have netted the owner a very big lawsuit.  I hope this business owner tried to save money by having a relative create the publicity piece, and didn’t pay persons passing themselves off as marketing professionals…

So what is the real issue with business marketing material? Are we releasing really stupid people into the workforce, or are businesses too busy or too cheap to offer quality control? Many printers will not take responsibility for misspelled or incorrect words in ads and this puts the burden on  the business owner to make sure the copy is correct.

Addendum: you would think, with all the publicity about Trayvon Martin, one could spell his name correctly.  But this past weekend I saw a poster advocating “Justice for Trayon.”



I shake my head.

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My thumb is brown, not green

Here is another column, this one from June 2005.  I’ve actually had some success since this was first published.  Some day I’ll get a post written on my successful butterfly gardening.


I really admire homeowners that are good at landscaping and gardening. But my thumb is brown, not green.

Oh, I try.  I really do.  We were lucky to inherit a beautiful rose garden from the former owners of one house.  I worked the garden, pruning and feeding the roses. In those pre-Internet days I hung out at the library and bookstores and around the local nurseries trying to glean information on raising roses.

Darn that Black Spot. After all that special food and loving pruning, who knew a fungus could destroy everything?

The previous owner of our current house apparently was quite a horticulturist.  Empty gardens and beds surrounded the house…empty because previous tenants had allowed everything to die out during the summer droughts.

This time I used the word “xeriscape” in my advice searches and planned to fill the beds with plants that didn’t require a lot of pampering. I found a couple clerks at the local nurseries who provided good advice (and had an absolutely awful experience with a nursery promoting its “experts” who come design your gardens). I’m continuing to educate myself on what appeals to butterflies and hummingbirds, and hope to see some around our yard someday.

The previous owner also left an extensive vegetable garden plot, so one spring my daughter and I planned a nice summer vegetable garden. Sadly, our plans always seem to correspond with the summers we have water rationing.  That year we plucked sweet, cherry-size tomatoes off our Beefmaster and Big Boy tomato plants!

Worried about the influx of insects I was seeing everywhere in the garden, I decided to purchase ladybugs from a local nursery. We released the ladybugs, which enthusiastically descended into the garden.  Apparently word of the bugs also spread to the local purple martin apartments and soon swallows, martins and other birds were visiting the household ladybug smorgasbord.  Of the 500 ladybugs we supposedly released, about 5 were still around the next day.

Later in the summer, some of the melon vines produced lots of blossoms. We actually had a beautiful cannon-ball-sized cantaloupe nestled among the vines. I watered it regularly and waited for the opportune moment to pick that little beauty.  The whole family was anticipating that first bite of our home-grown cantaloupe, when I went to the garden to pick it.  It was gone!  Plucked gently from its stem! Nowhere in the garden or yard!

Something with “hands” stole our melon from the garden. For a long time I figured it must have been a raccoon raiding the garden, but this winter I noticed the local squirrels were pretty capable with their “hands,” so maybe a squirrel plucked that fragrant, ripe melon and took it home for a family treat.

Recently my dad, who has a great green thumb when it comes to raising vegetables, offered to foster some tomato plants for me.  I heard my husband whisper to my dad, as they traveled out of earshot, “It’s probably just as well that you raise them for her. For anything that goes into the back yard, it’s pretty much a death sentence.”

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Mother’s Day 2013

I loved Erma Bombeck’s columns and through all the years, I’ve remembered this post.  How ironic that it, too, was published on May 12.  This is for my mom and aunts, all the moms I know, and the girls I know hoping to be moms.

The following column was Erma Bombeck’s Mother’s Day column for May 12, 1974.

When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into his sixth day of “overtime” when an angel appeared and said, “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And the Lord said, “Have you read the specs on this order?

  • She has to be completely washable, but not plastic;
  • Have 180 movable parts… all replaceable;
  • Run on black coffee and leftovers;
  • Have a lap that disappears when she stands up;
  • A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair;
  • And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said, “Six pairs of hands… no way.”

“It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” said the Lord. “It’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

“That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel.

The Lord nodded. “One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ’What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say, ’I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

“Lord,” said the angel, touching His sleeve gently, “Go to bed. Tomorrow…”

“I can’t,” said the Lord, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick… can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger… and can get a nine-year-old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

“But she’s tough!” said the Lord excitedly. “You cannot imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

“Can it think?”

“Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. “There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You You were trying to push too much into this model.”

“It’s not a leak,” said the Lord. “It’s a tear.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

“You are a genius,” said the angel.

The Lord looked somber. “I didn’t put it there,” He said.

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