Where to buy

Natural Attraction is sold at the Readers’ World Bookstore in Holland, Michigan, Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!), Prairie Lights in Iowa City,and  Schuler Books and Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan (signed copies).To buy on-line use links here (the Penner site: click on icon for selected site to purchase) and here

Cleaner, Greener Labs is self-published and sold here

Mixed In, a comic dystopia set in the near future United States from City Owl Press. When passions are regulated, which laws will you break? 

Now on ibooks

 Amazon US




Mixed in is also available at Beaverdale Books (DSM) and The Central College Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa .

Life with Parkinson’s

dad ahppy

My Dad always said that when he was reduced to riding a three-wheeled bike, it would be time for him to throw in the towel. If he had been able to ride a three-wheel bike for the last seven years of his life, we would have rejoiced. Instead, he lived in a care facility. He was unable to walk or care for himself. You see, he’d had Parkinson’s disease for the past twenty-five plus years.

The cause of his Parkinson’s was unknown. Before that he’d been healthy and fit. He joined a genetic study on the disease and no genetic markers were found. It only confirmed what his mother had proudly declared as her heritage–British with a touch of Scandinavian and doses of Irish & French, and a big helping of Western European. He blamed his love affair with pesticides although it should be noted that he also played football. He’d been an athlete and even a coach.

He fought off his symptoms with exercise. Medications were able to control his tremors. Most of his life with Parkinson’s was happy and fairly normal. He even got a hole in one–his second–after his diagnosis. The most frustrating aspect of the disease progression was that his voice became barely audible and his handwriting unreadable.When my mother passed away three years ago, so did his ability to engage in conversation. Never a talkative man, he became someone who mostly listened.

He got weekly visits from his great-grandchildren. They ate ice cream together. They played with toy cars. We made sure visits were special by having a drawer of toys that included Silly Putty–something banned at home–in Dad’s room.IMG_4267.JPG

He died in his sleep at the age of 88. The months before had been happy ones. He had a lasagna party for his birthday. By Easter he was having trouble swallowing so we had a malted milk party. The first week in May brought a former student to visit and push him around town in his wheelchair.  (I always looked at wheelchair pushing as a great way to work out my arms, by the way and a RAV 4 is a great car for wheelchairs–kind of low and lots of room in the back.)

After his death I looked through photos of him. I noticed one thing–he looked happy in all of them even if he did have a bit of the Parkinson’s mask face. He was happy! The point of my post is this: you can be in a wheelchair, barely able to speak, and you can still find joy. You can still savor life. You can give and receive love.

I don’t just want to remember the man with the disease. That’s not fair to history. But damn, that guy was brave, persistent, and uncomplaining. And yes, even happy. The purpose of this post is to tell anyone diagnosed with Parkinson’s that it doesn’t have to steal your joy.


2017 Iowa Legislature Saves Plastic Bags

This past session, the Iowa Legislature banned banning plastic bags in the state.  Yes, Iowa is now a pro-plastic bag state and cities are not allowed to ban them. I am not sure  why a state would forbid banning plastic bags. I wrote to my state representative and asked him for some explanation. So far, no answer.

Plastic bags came about in the 1960s and their use skyrocketed in the 80s and 90s.  The ANS Plastics company claims that they make a good proportion of these bags in the US. AEP Industries is another player in the bag market.  Are these companies in Iowa? No. New Jersey. So we can’t say that we are protecting our state’s economy with this ban. Or can we? I dug a little further. We have prisoners make plastic bags here in Iowa. There’s a small company that makes them as well. However, the pesky things are expensive. The average grocery store spends between $1,500-$6,000 per month on them and passes the costs on to us.

A group called ALEC was allegedly behind the bag ban ban. They say it is anti-consumer to ban plastic bags. VP Mike Pence is in favor of forbidding plastic bag bans. ALEC has not gotten its way in all places–cities such as Los Angeles and Dublin, Ireland have done away with plastic bags. In fact, they have recently been banned in all of California. Some countries such as England taxes the bags.

So why do places wish to ban them? Many who ban them cite their ugliness. Iowa is filled with them flying on fences as if they are the state flag. They can strangle wildlife. They plug sewers. They release toxins into our water.

baby otter trapped in a bag

A recent study even says that they diminish oxygen in marshes, harming the aquatic animals by suffocating them even if they don’t become ensnared. They keep algae from producing chlorophyll. It doesn’t matter if the bags are pure plastic or biodegradable. They kill the life of the pond. They are then, anti-fishing.

Arlington,Massachusetts just voted to ban plastic bags. Journalist and writer Laura Kiesel –who has a Master’s degree in natural resources and environmental policy–explains the vote this way:

“Plastic bags are the single most common item on the planet and we use and dispose of 100 billion every year in the United States (to put that in perspective, that’s double the amount of plastic bottles). Here in Arlington, we use and throw out 1 million monthly. Plastic bags devastate marine ecosystems, killing well over 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles annually, while plastic waste is responsible for the endangerment of nearly 300 species. For those animals plastic bags don’t kill, their toxins enter their bloodstream and become part of the food chain, where they enter our own bodies and that of our children. Plastic bags have an extremely low recycling rate (<5%), while recycling the bags is actually an environmentally hazardous process that often takes place in low income communities here and abroad where they shoulder the health burden of our consumer choices. This is why we need to phase out these harmful bags in favor of more sustainable, equitable and humane options. The ban would cover plastic bags offered at points of purchase (checkout) only and has a long phase in period (well over a year) for small businesses. Paper bags would not be regulated.”

However, here in Iowa, it’s bags away! As things look now, global demand for plastic bags is increasing. Like them or not,  a lot more of these flags will be flying world-wide.

What I learned from the March For Science

I’ve always been torn in so many directions but inevitably find myself drawn back to science. You might ask why. The answer is–scientists themselves. Why do I love them–other than the fact that I don’t need to dress to impress? As this article states, they believe deep down that they are here to serve the people.I love that and I love to write about scientists…because they are kind-hearted and yet misunderstood. The perfect protagonists.

Here’s what the March for Science told me about them:

  1. They get to the point. Six speakers with evidence and data can deliver their messages in a half an hour, even when juggling their kids.
  2.  They don’t panic or run on raw emotion. They ned evidence. (Raw emotion makes me suspicious.)
  3. They ask big questions. They are curious and curious people are happy. Scientists believe in a better future.
  4.  They have solutions. And they want to help. and work towards the common good.  Not that they aren’t without their spats.
  5. Rejection of their logical solutions and misrepresentation of their data frustrates them.
  6. But they have a quirky sense of humor about it.
  7. And they persist.
  8. Lots are women.
  9. They are global thinkers-seeing the big picture first. This means that they are less likely than most to be nationalistic.
  10. They love kids and dogs.
  11.  They appreciate the arts.

It’s time to put an end to that mad scientist stereotype–unless the person is humorously angry about being misunderstood.

Hitting the road with dandelions

images-1Last week I walked to see a friend who was in the hospital. As I got closer to the place, the air had a sting to it and the sidewalks were covered with weed-killer infused pellets. Joggers dashed by me, kicking up pellets as they went.  The trail of pesticides went right to the front of the hospital. It looked as if some pellets had even been tracked in on the carpet. Lawn chemicals are associated with breast cancer and erectile disfunction. You thought I was making it all up in Mixed In. No, it’s all plausible. My unhealthy path to the hospital was Pella’s toxic push to get rid of dandelions. But the hospital is not the only place with killer values. Today I walked across a campus dedicated to sustainability.  A worker was apply lawn care products. He was wearing a mask and rubber boots but I wasn’t as I crunched across the sidewalk covered with materials that any chemist would call hazards. This green lawn look is way too costly health wise and financially. As one blogger points out, as a nation, we spend more on lawn care than we do many aspects of the national budget.  Face it, even Crayola doesn’t like dandelions. But they’re wrong, so wrong.

I’ve already written about the joys of dandelions. Now there’s more to love about these sunny flowers. They may be a sustainable source of rubber. Rubber that we use today comes from a tree Hevea brasiliensis-the rubber tree  -that grows exclusively in the hottest parts of the globe. Rubber plantations are forcing out native trees. Plantations use arsenic to control pests. Rubber production is nasty and we can’t grow rubber trees here. Bringing raw rubber to North American manufacturing plants is costly and contributes to global warming. Dandelions fit in perfectly with our climate. They are an exciting new possibility for agriculture. Tire manufacturers are already experimenting with dandelion rubber–particularly Continental Tires of Germany which has issued the following statement:

“In agricultural terms, dandelions are an undemanding plant, growing in moderate climates, even in the northern hemisphere, and can be cultivated on land not suitable for food production. This means that rubber production is conceivable near our tire factories, for instance, and the significantly shorter transport routes would also reduce CO2 emissions.”

Furthermore, we need to change our mindset about what our lawns should look like. We don’t want poison ivy or brambles, but a diverse lawn is a healthy one. As with most things sustainable and ecological, dandelions are an opportunity, not a threat. Within ten years, you could be riding the roads on dandelion tires and perhaps we will look at a beautiful lawn and see the diversity that belongs there.

Products that aren’t coming back

Lone Ranger - Atom Bomb ring
The Atomic Bomb Ring was given away free in Kix Cereal.

One would hope that we no longer celebrate nuclear warfare with a ring for children.


These conical hennin hats were worn after plucking out any forehead hairs to make the forehead look very high. I don’t see this trend returning although the thinning of eyebrows comes and goes. Here is a fascinating read about hennins.

Likewise, powdered wigs were worn by the nobility because some of them were bald and bald was considered bad.

It’s been 200 years. Powdered wigs probably aren’t coming back.

Dangerous public playgrounds will probably not make a comeback but in this climate of deregulation, perhaps…

You can buy this Witch’s Hat at Second Life Marketplace, but if you value your digits, you might not want to.
I loved teeter totters but kids flew off or banged their tailbone if their partners left when they were aloft.
I’m a chemist and it amazes me what people aren’t cautious about but I don’t know if family walks through a fog of DDT will ever be popular again.


Mercurochrome and other weird medical treatments are probably not coming back–especially the ones containing mercury. Leeches on the other hand, still have their champions.

Radium water anyone?

What other products do you think shouldn’t come back?

Novel Preferences

I’m developing the second book in the Unstable States series. Please take a moment to let me know what you like in a novel.

Bad to the Bones–A Cautionary Tale

Last week, after a restless night with no known cause, I saw a tweet  that sent shivers down my spine. It wasn’t from the president. It was From Science News: lack of sleep, particularly in youth, is associated with bone loss in older men. Now, I’m not a man but my happy memories of a misspent youth, cramming for Organic Chemistry and partying until dawn haunt me. I’m not a fan of sleeping.

In graduate school, I secretly agreed with that 80s meme I’ll sleep when I’m dead. And those slim 90s speed freaks and coke heads–I kind of admired them as they raced ahead in the corporate world. I had something different keeping me awake–my kids, dogs, and academic job. (Why do people call babies innocent? They are bone destroyers.)

There was a long stretch of time when the Christian school next to me allowed delivery trucks to make noise any hour of the night and since I had a new baby, I woke up at the slightest bang of a truck door reverberating on the flat landscape-less brick of their ugly building. Religion hates your bones. Or at least, hated my bones. And since most of the time these trucks came from the AE Dairy, I rarely buy their products even though the baby is now 26. You never forget what keeps you awake.

Older and recent studies link bone problems with lack of sleep. Studies with rats come to the same conclusion– lack of sleep affects bone marrow and bone density and bone flexibility.

Shift work and jet lag have been cited as causes for prolonged sleep disruption. Electrolyte imbalance from too few fruits and vegetables in the diet may be a cause in older people. There’s also acid reflux–watch your diet. That’s one take away from this disheartening news. You are what you eat,

Alcohol can help you fall asleep, but it affects the sleep cycle and reduces reparative sleep.  Your bones don’t want you to drink.

Lack of melatonin due to age or electronic devices used at night is a bone breaker. In fact, reading/watching exiting or disturbing things flushes the body with adrenaline, not melatonin. Your bones hate your devices. They want you to get out into the sun.

Caffeine after 2 pm has an adverse effect on sleep even if those who consume it don’t think it does. For some people, it has an adverse effect if taken eleven hours before bedtime. And keep yourself to below 400 mg per day. (see this chart)

Sugar and refined carbs also negatively affect sleep quality.

Smoking? More bad news here. Nicotine is a stimulant that disrupts circadian rhythms and smoking can cause sleep apnea.

Getting exercise, or perhaps vibration, as long as it’s not too close to bed, improves sleep. Perhaps you can pop a melatonin pill to over-ride all the stimulants in your life but since it’s a hormone, there could be future side effects==especially in children. The doses in over the counter melatonin pills are too high for many people and can cause daytime drowsiness. Even worse, you could become immune to it and face more troubles down the road. However, it might be the key to better bones for those over 60. I look back on my life and wonder if I’ve ever slept soundly at all.

What to do?

I already exercise and do what I can to avoid sugar. I don’t smoke and rarely drink alcohol near bedtime. But based on my history and being a white woman under 127 pounds, my bones probably need emergency help. I decided to cut way back on my caffeine and see if I slept better. I went down to a half cup before 7am. How did it go? Things were not fun. I was late for a meeting–forgot about it–and said “Hertz” when I meant “Joules” and I tossed and turned  the first few nights as my body urged me to wake up for a cup of coffee. Then I slept better. A few days ago  I took a 7 pm trip to the grocery store (12 hours after the meager ration of coffee). I sang all the way there. The green bursting buds on the trees radiated life. But alas, at the checkout discovered that I had forgotten my billfold! The next morning, I noticed that I had left my laundry on the line overnight.

The verdict is still out on this bone saving effort. I’ve maybe gone too far. But last night I had the best sleep.  My first thought at greeting the beautiful day was how nice a big cup of coffee would be.

One minute with US Grant

Grant,_Ulysses_S._(03)-1I named my Mixed In protagonist Ulysses after the Civl War general to allude to the instability of the Cochtonville city-state.  But what was the real US Grant like?

He was born April 27, the eldest of six.

Unambitious, he only went to West Point because his father, an ambitious tanner, applied for him and secured admittance.

His real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he did not appreciate that his initials spelled out HUG. He ditched the Hiram and used his mother’s maiden name, Simpson, for his middle initial. However, at West Point, people assumed it stood for Samuel and even called him Sam.

He was a shy child and not particularly smart. For this reason, he earned the nickname “Useless” in school. His talent was working with horses. This talent was useful to him as a solider. One of his abilities was riding a horse while hanging off its side–giving the appearance that the horse was riderless. This made him valuable as a messenger in the Mexican-American War.  Following the war, he took to farming but did poorly at it. His family of four children often had little to eat. So when the Civil War started, he enlisted enthusiastically.

His siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi ended the Southern control of the river. Subsequent battles at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor inflicted high casualties on the South.  Mary Lincoln called him a butcher. Grant was the man to whom Lee surrendered.

He would not allow General Lee to be spoken ill of in his presence.

He was faithful to his wife, Julia. She was the sister of his West Point roommate and although unattractive and cross-eyed, was an excellent horse rider as he was. She lavished him with affection and even called  him Victor for “victory.” He was able to overlook that her family owned slaves. After his marriage, he was given a slave by his in-laws but he freed the man. At the end of his life, he knew money would be tight for Julia so he stubbornly refused to die until his memoirs were finished and she could benefit financially from the sales. She lived a comfortable life following his passing and even became friends with an actress.

Julia Grant disliked Mary Lincoln, whom she considered volatile, and did everything she could to avoid her. Julia found Mary’s rages when the president was in the company of other women without her intolerable. Julia was an excellent hostess and loved concerts and plays. But when the Lincolns invited them to the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater, the Grant’s declined.


US was a loyal man and this got him into trouble as a president. Although he was a modest and honest man, his cohorts were not. He appointed people he liked and stuck by them, making his time as president one of corruption. (Ironically, this method of management has been pushed in the book Good to Great.)

It’s believed that he was an agnostic. He was a heavy drinker and smoker.

He is featured on the fifty dollar bill.

Here is his daughter, Nellie.


For fun, I’ll send a US Grant dollar to the first person to comment below. And I’ll send a photo of Grant to the first person who requests one.

And while you are here, check out my post about Sheros of History.

Thank-you for reading!

In a nutshell what do the social sciences say about inequality?

As we say good-bye to Women’s History Month, a review of inequality–why we have it and where it might have come from:


Keep in mind that sexists are scared people.

A while ago I wrote about misogyny across cultures. That post has been popular and so I decided to touch on this further. Sexism is a common component in most cultures. At its heart it is a desire to dominate women in order to gain power and sex. Women can and do accept sexism as a form of protection. After all, some of it is “benevolent” such as having doors opened for you, being given lavish gifts, or even being rescued. However, make no mistake, even benevolent sexism assumes a sense of superiority of man. As Jane Addams pointed out long ago, any form of benevolence has behind it an arrogance on the part of the bestower. This is why the alternative to benevolence is equality. Sexism then can be hostile or benevolent or a mixture of both.

Where did sexism come from anyway? Anthropologist Cynthia Mahmood points out that it is linked historically to the beginning of agriculture.  “Foraging peoples have no class or gender inequality but all ag peoples have both.” Classism and sexism is possibly tied to agricultural surpluses which can be unfairly seized by a part of the society and then used to gain power against the rest. Once an imbalance becomes entrenched, inheritance becomes important and thus women’s sexuality becomes controlled. Politics and social custom then enforce the distinctions.For example, the most unequal societies have a caste system and people are made fearful– they are convinced that if they step out of their caste they will be reincarnated into a lower one.

Foraging societies had sexual freedom for women. Once agriculture was established, women had less sexual freedom. Post agriculture the bones of early women show malnutrition and abuse that was not seen prior to the establishment of agriculture.( I guess that the dominating agricultural powerhouse in Mixed In makes quite a lot of sense.)

Inequality is at the very heart of sexism. In sexism, women are commodities to be seized and hoarded and controlled. What it does to our souls is to break human connection.

Fighting inequality requires a constant message of opposition to it,  along with boycotting products and services associated with it, and supporting education for all.

Mahmood says,”We can curb the worst excesses of inequality through high taxes and social welfare as in Scandinavia, but basically all state level socities have been founded on entrenched inequality.  (On a personal level), basing our social lives on competition and acquisition leads to a crippling alienation.  For 99.9% of human history we lived in equality and peace, and this recent 10,000 yrs is but a shallow veneer on that more beautiful human nature.  I don’t think it will last forever.  How exactly humankind will come to the realization that a system condemning so many to hopeless poverty or untouchability is not the best we can do, I don’t know. Meanwhile an excellent book about people stuck at the bottom of economic inequality is Bourgois, In Search of Respect ”

Are you sexist? What’s your style? I’ve put together a quiz to help you decide.

Here it is.