Monday, November 10, 2014

Shopping for Toys For Tots

Scott and I hit Walmart to buy lots of toys for the Toys For Tots campaign. I felt out of touch with what kids play with these days, so I lumbered through each section trying to figure it out.

At first we landed in the clearance section and the shelves and toys were similar to what you'd expect after a blue light special on Halloween candy, on October 31st.

Since I've survived many blue light specials, it was exciting to root through things and try to find a bargain that wasn't taped together or lacking an arm. As I found something interesting, Scott would try to find the prices. In futility, he called an associate for help.

Billy, a gentleman much older than Scott was asked about prices. He just shook his head and indicated this was a part of the store he avoided, and perhaps everyone else should too. We took the hint and headed to the pricing machine attached to a pole in the electronics area. So far, we hadn't spent too much.

We found Lego's for girls and I almost wept. Boy, I would have loved to build cool stuff when I was a kid, even if it was an ugly pink house with unreal unicorns and fairy princesses.

I kept gravitating towards the boy stuff. I suppose it was because I have only a son that needed Lego's and Power Rangers when he was little. Even though he's almost 24, he still gets excited over a good Lego set.

Standing on the shelf was a Spiderman with gigantic, padded fists. It urged me to "try me" and I couldn't figure out what it did. Scott played with it for awhile, and as he got the body to twist and legs to kick, the fists swung also. Scott eventually put him back, and walked away. Then Spiderman yelled, "Hey buddy, where are you going?"

I thought I would die laughing. Both of us were surprised with the comment and perfect timing.

We went to another isle.  I came up from behind Scott and said, "Hey buddy, where are you going?" We laughed again, and it became our catch phrase for the afternoon.

We found a Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, or should it be Heads? They were on sale, so I grabbed 2 of each. Scott said, "These kids today have it so much better than I did growing up. When I played with Mr. Potato Head, I had to use a real potato."
"You did not," I said.
"I sure did. and I'm sure you did too."
Fortunately, I can't think that far back.

By the time we made it to the front cashier, the shopping cart was nearly filled with toys. We managed to get some toddler things, with some older boys' and girls' toys. Five dollars here, ten dollars there, really added up. Although there were some chips, salsa, drinks, some vitamins and hair products, the price tag for it all came to over $300. It was more than I would have paid if I had done the shopping by myself, but considering the cause and the enjoyment we had, Scott said, "Is that all?"

After we packed up the car, Scott grabbed the cart to put it back. I yelled, "Hey buddy, where are you going?" We laughed again.

Toys For Tots is a great charity sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, helping to grant lots of smiles on Christmas morning. If you're interested in donating an unwrapped toy, watch for dedicated cardboard boxes in local donations or check it out on the web, at

May your days be filled with laughter, as you play with Mr. Potato Head. I'd love to hear from you, write me at

Monday, November 3, 2014

Celebrity Bowling. Reality Shows Don't Look So Bad

Scott was doing a search online and bumped into a TV show from the 1970's. Celebrity Bowling popped up. Yes, Celebrity Bowling with current "hot" TV and Movie actors in front of a studio audience at a bowling alley. 

I'm so glad I had never seen it then, on TV.

Of all the least athletic and boring things that could be aired, this makes #1 on my list. If you'd like to watch what Scott made me watch, it's episode 47.

After seeing it, reality TV looks literary.

Michael Douglas had mega hair and was wearing a "pirate" shirt similar to the Seinfeld "puffy shirt." Elizabeth Ashley wore a tank top and had a "Lioness" hair style.  James Farentino had on cords and a silky shirt, and Brenda Vaccaro wore a short, "Love Boat," 70's hairstyle.

Do you even remember these actors? 

I had nightmare flashbacks to these fashion boo boos and hairstyles I had also tried. 

These stars looked embarrassed being there but as they started bowling, and despite their best efforts, they demonstrated a competitive spirit.

Based on the highest points, one of two audience members could receive Samsonite luggage, sans wheels, Farah men's slacks, or for the top winner, a Vega car. Sadly,the audience members didn't have a chance in hell for the Vega, with scores that dipped low in the double digits by both teams. Oops, gutter ball. 

It was ridiculous and you could tell it was a low budget production.

Now that Scott found Celebrity Bowling, I know he will look at more episodes. I think he's hooked... So sad.

May all your days lack Celebrity Bowling, but filled with reality TV.  I'd love to hear from you at

Monday, October 27, 2014

Writing, Networking and the Fear of Stinking

I love writing. You might think this is strange, but I go into withdrawal when I can’t write. I guess this means I’m addicted to writing. Thankfully this is better than being addicted to shopping or Mtn. Dew, but not by much.

I carry reporter notebooks in my purse; I have notepads in my car and every room, so that I can write down whatever I must write. In fact, I get some of my best ideas in the shower and on the royal throne. I've thought about putting one of those underwater, diver communication boards in the shower. Unfortunately, I think the hot water will turn icy before I get my toes washed. I like clean toes.

One thing I like to do equally with writing is to talk about writing. This past weekend I acted as a faculty member during the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop (SCWW) conference, and taught two sessions. I think the attendees found some tidbits they could take away, and no one fell asleep in my sessions. Bingo.  

If you know me, things happen. Unfortunately, I forgot my deodorant. Usually when I rush, I perspire like a flood. My upper lip, forehead and the back of my head require mopping, not to mention that sweat smells. Friday morning, I had to mentally say, “Calm down and try not to stink.” I walked to the hotel Starbuck's/store in search of deodorant, and I was willing to pay the equivalent of the national debt for men’s deodorant, if I couldn't find some for women.

Eureka. I went to the bathroom close to where I would speak and peeled off my clothes. In the end, the skunk factor was avoided.

When I wasn’t in front of the projector, I found out what others were writing, gave out million-dollar advice (Monopoly money), and reunited with great friends. I also made some new ones. Networking was a blast.

Writing is a solitary thing, networking isn't. I talked and talked, and talked some more. I even had to wear clothes to the three-day event. That meant I couldn't wear my pajamas or fuzzy slippers. I had to brush my hair and teeth and wear ironed clothes. Actually, I wore stuff that was new or didn't wrinkle. I sort of looked like the person my husband married decades ago.

I even wore mascara. (A fact that deserves its own paragraph.)

All this effort and talking nonstop wore me out. Instead of sitting up until 2 or 3 in the morning talking to my roommate, Beth Browne, lights went out before 11 pm…

Now, I’m back home. The writing begins anew, with new projects on the horizon. Instead of writers being present, I have two snoring Weimaraners, a husband that insists on talking about what happened while I was gone, and cats that must be petted.

When things return to normalcy, I’ll again withdraw to my computer friend and welcome the writing once more.

May all your days smell sweet as you write. I'd love to hear from you. Please write to me at


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lines for Hope

I’m so glad that Keith Rittmaster, in Beaufort, N.C. and other agencies in the U.S. have monofilament recycling efforts. It’s evident what volunteers can do to prevent wildlife injuries and even death, and if you’re interested, please contact your area’s resources to see what you can do.

Check out the Cape Lookout Studies Program website for more information and volunteer opportunities.

It was my honor to write this article for All At Sea Southeast magazine. If you want to see more environmental issue articles, please let the editor know. Thanks.
Fishing line is designed to bring in big fish without breaking, to carry heavy weights and lures, and to run behind mega fishing boats. It’s also problematic. Strength coupled with a biodegradable time-line of nearly 600 years, means that generations of marine animals will battle unnecessary waste, long after fishing tournaments cease.

Keith Rittmaster poses beside his mobile monofilament recycling bin. He’s holding “Lionel” the 6- month old bottlenose dolphin that has fused fishing line in and around its jaws. Photo by Helen Aitken
When lines with attached hooks are cut, the general perception is they fall to the sea floor without further incident. Stainless steel hooks don’t rust away, and fishing line can wrap over fins, flippers, necks and tails. Shiny hooks and loops of monofilament are inviting to marine animals. Much like curious puppies, seals, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and whales find what fishermen leave behind. Caught, wrapped or trapped animals can succumb to infection, loss of limbs, or starvation. What might be thought of as a play toy, can inflict injury or death.
Alternatively, PVC monofilament receptacles at the dock, marina or tackle store, provide a great home for used lines and hooks.
Since 2007, Keith Rittmaster, the North Carolina Maritime Museum’s Natural Science Curator and Director of the Cape Lookout Studies Program (CLSP) in Beaufort, has been helping individuals to build or obtain the receptacles, while providing programs and support through the CLSP website.
The bins cost about $100 to make with a 4 or 6-inch diameter PVC pipe body, elbow top and a screwed cap at the bottom. A quarter-inch hole drilled in the cap drains water. Easily installed, the bins are visible in white, but painting or using reflective tape makes them more noticeable. They sport information labels and a metal sign explaining the CLS Program. “Beach walkers go out of their way to take the monofilament off the beach,” said Rittmaster.  When the bins are full, the bottom comes off and the bin contents are removed.
However, there are some drawbacks. Once, a marina owner told Rittmaster the bins should be mounted higher because people were urinating in them. They can be misused for trash, bait or dirty diapers. Some bins are located with trash and recycle cans along the beach. Unfortunately, at one site in Atlantic Beach, the receptacle was installed upside down, rendering it useless.
The improper placement of a monofilament recycling bin at Atlantic Beach, N.C. Photo by Keith Rittmaster
“Our fear is that it goes up and someone doesn’t maintain it,” said Rittmaster. Individuals, organizations and businesses should consider the long-term maintenance and obligation to recycle before installing. In addition, unless the marina puts up the receptacles, it is not responsible for maintaining them.
Rittmaster keeps up with 51 installed bins along North Carolina’s coast, but says more are needed. He also fashioned a monofilament-recycling bin on a dolly that goes along the waterfront during fishing tournaments.
Keith Rittmaster would like to receive the recyclable line for statistical purposes. Just bring the collected line to the Cape Lookout Maritime Museum, and he will send it off to
Unfortunately, woven fishing lines or line with wire cannot be recycled. In fact, cutting them up for the trash can is difficult, but necessary. Six-inch pieces won’t entangle birds or be a problem for marine life if they somehow get in water.the only monofilament-recycling center, Berkley Fishing Company. Since 2007, about 1104 pounds, or 1100 miles of monofilament has been collected, sorted and cleaned by CLSP volunteers. The lines are weighed, packed up, then sent off.
The Berkley Conservation Institute, in Iowa, has recycled over 9 million miles of monofilament, collected from more than 17,000 recycling bins, in the last twenty-four years. They make fishing tackle boxes, reels and fish habitats as artificial reefs from monofilament. When a box of the line is received, they send back a new box and shipping label.
On a worktable in Rittmaster’s office, is the skull of a 6-month old male bottlenose dolphin. He had gotten into a web of fishing line shortly after birth. Gradually the line cut into the flesh, and fused with growing bone. As the dolphin grew bigger, the line got tighter and four and a half months later, the young mammal starved to death. It’s a sad reminder for CLSP perseverance.
For information and receptacle directions, Contact Keith, or 252-504-2452.  
Berkley Recycling Center,
 State Monofilament Recycling Resources:

MARYLAND  Check with local marinas or tackle shops

VIRGINIA  Dept. Game and Inland Fisheries,


GEORGIA  Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center, 912-635-4444,


ALABAMA Auburn University, 251-438 5690,

MISSISSIPPI  Department of Marine Resources,(228) 374-5000,


TEXAS  Contact John O’Connell, Texas Sea Grant Extension Agent, at 979-864-1558.

I'd love to hear from you. Write me at
Have a great day.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dolphin Strandings Bring Concern

Besides writing humor, my paying job involves writing for boating magazines. I've been very blessed to have an editor at All At Sea Southeast magazine interested in letting me write about environmental issues. I'm presenting an article I've written in the September, 2014 issue below. 

Sorry, It's not humorous, but worthy of reprinting and getting feedback. 

Coastal residents have reported seeing an increase in the numbers of dolphins stranded on the beaches over the last year. A few survive; the majority are not so fortunate. Although this is not the first incidence of dolphins in trouble, concern is growing among professional marine wildlife managers about what is happening and why.
More than 740 animals from New Jersey to Florida were stranded during an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for bottlenose dolphins in 1987-88. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program was created  to investigate. A marine virus specifically targeting these particular (cetacean) mammals reduced the population fifty percent.
Monitoring from New York to Florida between 2007 and 2012, the count of bottlenose dolphin strandings reached 295. Unexpectedly, from July 2013 through June 2014, the strandings increased to 1370 animals; Virginia, North Carolina and Florida saw the highest numbers. Another UME was declared.
Dr. Vicky Thayer, in the baseball hat, starts the necropsy process
Investigators do not yet know which population stocks are affected the most or have the greatest risk, but they estimate 39,206 bottlenose dolphins may be affected. “Bottlenose dolphins are about one half of the total number of strandings here (North Carolina),” said Central Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network Coordinator, Vicky Thayer, PhD., a marine biologist with North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.
Stranded animals included all ages and genders and a few live mammals. They showed lesions on the skin, joints, mouth and lungs, again infected with cetacean morbillivirus. That virus particular to dolphins, porpoises and whales affects their lungs, brains and immune systems, enabling other health problems to appear. Little is known about the virus, but other morbillivirus strains produce measles in humans and distemper in canines. No vaccine or medication has yet proved successful against the strain targeting cetaceans.
The response team is mobilized quickly after a stranding. “I’m on call 24/7,” said Thayer. “The most challenging things in responding to strandings in this area are the geography, the barrier islands, and sometimes not being able to bring animals back to the lab.” Getting to one stranding location in mid-July, took three hours by boat.  Unfortunately, there are probably more strandings not reported.
“We sample everything if the carcass is fresh. If it isn’t very fresh, we take fewer samples, but every sample we take costs money to analyze…we have to send them out,” said Thayer.
“With strandings, you have to be careful because, the reporting has gotten better.” In the past, reporting was by radio, or after coming back to the dock. Now smart phones send immediate photos with GPS locations. Thayer wants to avoid jumping to conclusions without comprehensive forensics.
“For most of the strandings that occur other times, we don’t know the reason. Sometimes, we find the smoking gun, sometimes its natural mortality, sometimes it’s a stingray sting, sometimes it could be propeller cuts. And just because they have propeller cuts or shark bites, doesn’t mean that’s what killed them; they could have been sick before that. So we have to be careful,” said Thayer.  “The pattern of strandings, of when and where they occurred, is very similar to the last one. The last one, 1987/88 would be over by now. I’m hoping that this one is ending now.”
“As I understand it, there are some bottlenose dolphins alive now that were alive in 1987-88, so they are immune to the virus. I think some species exist with it, and it doesn’t affect them as badly; but others, it just knocks them out.” Apparently, the virus spreads by contact, for example, mother to pup through the eyes, mouth, or wounds. Contributing factors might include environmental toxins and pathogens and migratory stressors.
Necropsies determine the cause and manner of death, health and disease status. The organs are examined; samples of tissue, blubber, and teeth are taken. “For a lot of species that wash up, most of what is known about them comes from stranded animals little known out there -  their biology, physiology and anatomy,”Thayer said.
The animal is genetically identified for its population stock and migration range, and a dorsal fin photo may identify the animal from a database set up by Thayer and her husband Keith Rittmaster, North Carolina Maritime Museum Curator of Natural Science.
Living animals are monitored to see whether or not they will return to open waters. In normal times, animals go to facilities for help. With the potential spread of deadly virus, facilities are not accepting dolphins, so humane euthanasia is done. Thayer indicated, “In other locations and particularly during mass strandings, under certain conditions some animals are tagged and released at a location different from the stranding site, after they are tested for certain health parameters.”
The John Prescott Grant provides some funding; stranding networks must compete for money each year. Therefore, each network is volunteer-staffed and other agencies help as needed. Thayer drives a Division of Marine Fisheries truck, has an office at Center for Marine Sciences and Technology from NCSU, gets help from Marine Patrol and the Park Service, and has a half-time assistant. Volunteers provide transportation, help with necropsies, bring food to the crew, or donate money. Thayer would like extra supplies, safety vests for the crew and T-shirts to identify volunteers.
Regarding UMEs Thayer stressed “These animals are ecosystem sentinels; they represent the health of our ecosystem, sort of the canaries in the coal mines. If they are dying in large numbers, it could be indicative of general ecosystem [ill] health. It’s something that we should pay attention to and I hope we continue to get funding to respond to these strandings.”
An UME Contingency Fund allows the public to donate money for supporting research, the special costs involving tissue collections, lab work, and care of living marine
mammals. or 301-427-8402.
To report injured or dead marine animals, call 877-WHALE HELP (1-877-942-5343), or use the free Dolphin & Whale 911 app, As a precaution, stay back 100 feet, keep animals away, and do not swim in surrounding waters, especially with open wounds.
Keep up with dolphin findings and those affected weekly,

 MARYLAND   Maryland Department of Natural Resources (dead animals only)
Cooperative Oxford Laboratory
Oxford, MD, 800-628-9944 
National Aquarium in Baltimore, Marine Animal Rescue Program  (live animals only)  Baltimore, MD,             410-373-0083
WASHINGTON D.C.  Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of Natural History   Washington, DC,               202-633-1260
 VIRGINIA  Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center   Virginia Beach, VA, 757-385-7576
 NORTH CAROLINA   To report a stranded marine mammal in Carteret, Pamlico, Craven, or Beaufort counties – or Hammocks Beach State Park in Onslow county (dead or alive) call: 252-241-5119
To report a marine mammal stranding south of Hammocks Beach, please call: 910 962-7266
To report a stranding north of Ocracoke, call: 252-455-9654
SOUTH CAROLINA South Carolina Stranding Hotline  800-922-5431
GEORGIA  Georgia Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline  912-269-7587
FLORIDA Florida Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline  888-404-FWCC (3922)
ALABAMA Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline  1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343)
MISSISSIPPI Mississippi Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline
888-806-1674  Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, Gulfport, MS    888-767-3657
LOUISIANA  Louisiana Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline  504-235-3005
TEXAS  Marine Mammal Stranding hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922)
Helen Aitken is a veteran science educator, writer and photographer from eastern N.C. who loves classic wooden boats, “backyard” boat makers, and contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast.  Visit her website at
 Have a wonderful day. I'd love to hear from you, so write me at

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Losing It Again

By now you can imagine that things just happen to me.
Well, "it" happened again.

I had been working at my computer for several minutes, when the phone rang. I got up to answer the phone and felt something warm in my front pocket. Strange.

I reached in it and found 2 melted foiled tabs of butter. 

I guess I forgot that I had put them in my pocket when carrying my cutlery, napkin and butter from the dinner buffet. 

Apparently, my short term memory is declining. Now I need to see if I can get the grease out of each layer of clothing.

Think about an old southern saying. If the butter had been in my back pocket, you could have called me "a biscuit."

I hope you have a grease-less day. Write to me at

Monday, August 25, 2014

Jaws Boat Gets New Sharkskin...

One of my favorite things about being a writer and writing for a boating magazine is the opportunity to meet and interact with boat builders, boat makers and people who love boating, or do extraordinary things associated with boating.

Over the past 4 months I've become intrigued with wooden boat named the Cricket II. She's has a great history with charter fishing, deep sea fishing and shark hunting. Her first owner and captain was Frank Mundus, a larger than life character with marketing skills for getting new clients, equivalent to the best firms in the nation. He was a living legend; his shenanigans, fishing knowledge and his boat, is what inspired the book and movie Jaws.  

Right now, I'm working on a mini book for the Cricket II and her latest adventure, becoming a fishing boat for wounded warriors and disabled American vets.  In fact, I consider it an honor that Captain Joe DiBella wanted me to write the story. When it's available, I'll let you know. 

Until then, take a sneak peek from an article I wrote in the August/September issue of Carolina Salt magazine, pages 29-30. I'd love to know what you think and so would the editor.

Check out the Cricket II's website and make a donation if possible: