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.

Watching Paint Dry

Paint can add or detract from the value of your home. Your need to update and the changing moods of what’s popular might prompt you to repaint. When it comes to color,  what’s in and what’s not will change and this is a good reason to not lock yourself in with siding or paneling that can’t change with the times. Instead, get used to watching paint dry.

Paint has a function beyond beauty–it protects a surface from damage, degradation by light and weather, and corrosion.

Paint was developed by the first chemists, the ancient Egyptians. The first pigment known was blue, which they made from bluegrass. Gum arabic, made from acacia trees, was another ancient component of paint. (It is also used in foods.)

Sometimes, a primer is used to seal the surface and add initial pigment before painting resulting in fewer coats of paint later. One component of a primer might be barium sulfate–the same thing used in a barium enema–or titanium dioxide. Even PVC can be in a primer.

Paint has three major components: pigments, binders, and thinner.

After paint is brushed on a surface, the thinner (also sometimes called a carrier) evaporates, the binder senses other, similar molecules growing closer, reacts with them and hardens as it dries. As it hardens it binds the pigment to the surface.

Bubbles can form in the paint, particularly if it is sprayed or if the paint is cheap, old, or shaken. Bubbles tend to wiggle through the paint until they group together and form in corners. Anti-foam agents can be added to paints when they are manufactured to prevent this. Other ways to prevent bubbles are to make sure you have the proper roller for the wall texture and to avoid painting in high humidity.

The binder plus the thinner is known as the paint vehicle, which is used to classify paint as either oil-solvent base or latex/acrylic (plastic) water-base. For chemical formulas of paints and primers, go here. And here.

Until the early 1950’s, the binder in paint was principally natural oils-tung, fish, and linseed. Then came latex in 1949. Within 5 years, 7% of all residential paint sales were latex. Today, 80% of all household paint is water-based. Water-based paint is more environmentally friendly than oil-based paint and provides for easier cleanup. Water-based paints used to be considered slightly inferior to oil-based when it came to durability but this is no longer the case. However, some painters consider them less glossy.

Even with the water vehicle, paint should be used in a well-ventilated area. Although water-based paint dries in an hour and can accept a second coat in four hours, it is slow to totally cure (bond with itself fully). This can take up to a month. In other words, it won’t be at its hardest for 30 days and should be treated carefully until then.

Any old house probably has seen lead paint. Older homes were painted white with linseed oil and lead oxide in a high concentration. Anything old that was once white was once lead. I’m a chemist and I like to test for lead. I haven’t found it in my home’s interior but have detected it in the outside paint in an inconsistent concentration. Lead dust is dangerous and lead paint chips laying around and on the soil present a hazard. Keep in mind that lead is a stable element. As such, it won’t change into anything less harmful. Lead should be painted over or if scraped off, should be wetted before being scraped and all chips should be put in a plastic bag and (in Iowa)  treated like municipal garbage.


These days, the primary paint pigment is titanium dioxide  (white). Colors are added to the titanium dioxide and they might be mineral or more commonly today synthetic organic. (NOT the same as natural.)

Pigments can be mineral or synthetic organics with organics being more vibrant. https://www.goldenpaints.com/colormixing


The color of paint is a matter of personal choice. Some claim that colors will affect your mood. I for one want to make paint companies work for my money and like bright vibrant colors. This year’s color of the year is what I painted my bedroom when I was 13. I might fall in love with it again. It reminds me of the first synthetic pigment–mauve.

Doug gives us a deal on mis-tinted paint. (We used it in a closet.)


One question you may have is if it is worth it to buy cheap paint. Consider that cheap paint doesn’t have more pigment, just more thinner. What type of finish should you buy? Low sheen paint hides imperfections and is good for low traffic areas and ceilings. High-sheen paints are more durable and contain more binder vs pigment.


Unopened paint will keep its properties for ten -fifteen years. Opened water-based paint lasts for about two years although some say longer. Old paint gets lumpy. Binder particles find each other and cling together, and old paint might even grow mold or bacteria. What should you do with unused paint?  If you can’t give it away, recycle it, or use it up, put it in your municipal waste. (This is for water-based paint only.)  Solidify it first–kitty litter or newspaper can help. Keep in mind that new advances have made paint even better so there is not much incentive to save old paint.



Concrete Details

In sprucing up my house for her 100th birthday, I couldn’t ignore the need for a new driveway. The driveway wasn’t original to the house but according to old photos, it was at least 60 years old. It lasted through Iowa winters and at least two families with teenagers parking on it, bikes going round and round over it, and incessant basketball games. It was made from a nice aggregate and held up well until the past few years. At last, time took an unbearable toll.


I decided to replace it with concrete with less interesting aggregate in it for one reason–cost. Aggregate can double the price of a driveway and as you can see, this is a big driveway.

Besides materials, one concern about a driveway is the slope of it so that water runs down. Our driveway has just barely enough slope because when Main Street was redone, it was made 6″ too high due to an error in reading the instructions.  We would need a storm drain if we hadn’t made the grade.

Before we could get a new driveway, we had to stabilize our garage floor. It had cracks from the years but replacing it was impractical because of its ultra deep footings. Without stabilization, the pressure of the new concrete would crack it more.

Here are before and after shots of that:


The first step involved in making a driveway included removing the old slabs–easy in our case because they were so broken. The workers found an old sewer pipe in the curb of the old driveway and they kindly took it away. Next came building a frame, leveling the surface below the frame, adding reinforcing rods, and pouring the new concrete. Then the concrete needed to be smoothed so that water doesn’t pool on it and finally, joints were cut. Concrete shrinks when it dries and when it shrinks it cracks so cutting joints gives it a set of already made aesthetically pleasing cracks.


It took just two days to have the old driveway removed and the new one poured. Following that came patience as the “cement” (concrete is the proper term) cured for a week until it became tough enough to drive on.

Continue reading “Concrete Details”

What’s in store when you replace your basement floor?

My 100 year old basement isn’t a beautiful living space and probably never will be. It’s more an area for storage and washing the dog. A hundred years ago, a basement was more like a garage and a garage was more like a barn. An old house basement isn’t meant to be a living space. As an old house owner, you might want to ignore your basement. I did this for a long time but in the end decided to replace windows and even the floor.

In the room where I replaced the floor this summer it was uneven, being made from bricks with cement slabs over the top. It wasn’t wet but in very rainy years, it added a lot of humidity to the basement–enough that the termites went down there in their quest for dark and damp. This was the room that had the trail.

Getting your basement floor replaced isn’t glamorous or glitzy.  Here’s what happens during the process:

The first step was getting all of the junk  stored down there out. Out of sight, out of mind in an old basement is just too easy.

But as you can see, it got done.

Unsightly floor and walls. It’s just a basement. Who cares? I did.


It’s not an easy task to remove an old floor. Here is the floor in pieces a dumpster. It was broken apart with a jackhammer. Men carried it out in buckets. (This was not do it yourself.)

Plastic liner went down once the rubble was removed.

Concrete was pumped into the basement.

I painted the walls before the floor went in. Here is a freshly poured floor with shadows.


Finally, a drain leading to the sump pump was installed along the wall.drain


Putting in the floor occurred with minimal disruption to my routine. Was it expensive? I’d say yes. Yes indeed. Maybe foolishly so.

Doing what basements do best–storing stuff! (But not the old stuff. I got rid of that. This is stuff from the upstairs moved down–perhaps forever.)

I might have made a mistake and had it done and then tested for radon. I have some radon and want to get rid of it. I’ll have do that soon–and will tell you about it in another blog.

Was it worth it to redo the floor? We are having a drought so right now, I’m not feeling the advantage. When the rains come again ,the torrential rains, I’ll be glad to have a clean, dry basement.

I’m floored: getting your wood floors redone

My house had termites. They ate a board and a half from my floor and maybe a door sill.

They are gone. However, they did more than eat a board. They got me thinking about my house and if I really cared that much about it or not. It’s on a street that is sometimes busy. This little town of mine only has a few cross-town streets and Main Street is one of them. It’s poor planning for sure. Sometimes I have to wait a thirty seconds to pull out of my driveway.

So the question was, did I want to put money into this house? I decided that I did. I like where it is. I can walk to work. I can walk to town. In fact, I often walk to the meat market or the bakery or the pet food store. The house is near the hospital. This might seem like a disadvantage but the street is always plowed. The electricity is always on. I decided that I liked this house in this location. I did’t want to fix it up and then sell it. I want to enjoy my efforts. But I need to do things to it before I retire–which will not be soon unless I come into a fortune and even then maybe not. Once the termites were dead, I set about having the floors redone. The office needed a new board or two. And the whole set of floors needed to be sanded, resealed, and finished.

Unlike getting rid of termites, this was a major endeavor. We had to move out all of the furniture, appliances, and since that was all moving, I sorted things too. Not everything got tossed but I did give away books and threw out things such as old maps and any old plastic because we all know, I dislike old plastic.





My goal is this. I’m going to make my house beautiful and then I’m going to live in it.

The office floor had termite damage, the living room and family room had some water damage from 100 years of existence, and the back hall had holes from water pipes that had been moved. These weren’t extensive, you could cover them with rugs, or as it had been for years, with carpet.The carpet was aging and the floor dings had accumulated through the years and I faced fixing my house or letting it get worse and worse. I decided to fix it while I had a job–before retirement or the nation falling into rubble, which ever came first. I didn’t do this by myself. I called in floor restorers.

Step  one was patching. This took them a day. One question the repair company had was, did we have red oak or white oak? The woods finish differently. and replacing the termite boards was a major goal of this project.  The eaten boards were red oak. It’s considered more beautiful than white but is also more porous. This is what the termites adored and bored through. Most of the oak in the house is red except for the stairs which are white oak. By the way, floor refinishers say that white oak smells peppery when sanded. We also have fir floors and pine. Lots of trees gave their lives for this house and it’s an intriguing cornucopia of wood.

Next came sanding. Sanding the floors took over a day. This was longer than usual for a floor restore but previous owners had glued carpet and parquet over some of the floors. The mixture of sawdust and glue made hard little balls. Here is a photo of workers trying to get up the dark stain from glued on kitchen carpet. Never glue anything to your wood floors by the way.

People weren’t the only things trying out new substances. Floors saw an array of new glues and carpet backings. Here are workers trying to remove a mixture of carpet and glue from the 1960s.
Getting the glue off slowly. Working around radiators took a while.


Glue from removed parquet floors



IMG_3677 (1)
The floors are red oak and the stairs, white oak. Here they are after being sanded before being sealed or top coated. If you look carefully you can see that the banister covered with a thin layer of sawdust.


Here is a nice photo of the sanded floors in the living room.

Living room

Next came the sealing. Oak floors are best sealed with oil based polyurethane. This darkens them and brings out the yellow. It smells terrible and is hazardous. During this phase you need to move out of your house if you haven’t already. Don’t even think you can live there. Yes, I did leave my algae eater behind in her aquarium and she lived unscathed as the refinishing company predicted. However, I could smell the volatiles at least two feet outside of my house. This is not something cleaner or greener. The best hope is that it doesn’t have to be done too often in the life of a house.

Floors and stairs with sealant, illustrating white oak on stairs and red oak on floors.


After sealing, four coats of polyurethane are added with sanding in between. I thought that the sealing smelled the worst and each coat let off fewer volatiles. The last step in the process was to replace the baseboards. We had no baseboards in most of the rooms thanks to the carpeting. We had a choice of doing this last step ourselves or having it done professionally. My spouse is a handy person and was tempted to do it but I felt that the emotional energy on my part would have been far too great. How many days could I stand to look at no baseboards? Zero days. That’s what I decided.

After eleven days and a day after the last coat of finish we were allowed to enter the house with sock-feet, air it out, and the next day we began cleaning. Yes, cleaning. There was a thin layer of sawdust on all surfaces lower than 4 feet.


But here are the floors:

Yes this once had carpet glued to it.
Parquet no more.
IMG_3721 (1)
Once again, the living room will be grand.
The upstairs floor is humble pine but I’m a fan of yellow so I like it.
And d@**# those termites.
Finishing touch: custom quarter round.

The furniture can be moved in after three days and the rugs after a week. Since dirty shoes are tough on the floors we will probably join the ranks of those who take shoes off at the door. I’m a person who likes to be one with my shoes. As of today,  it’s all about socks. I can do it, right?

But not everyone is happy about that:

Although the floor people assure us that it’s people who do the damage to floors, for the next day or two Apollo will be sporting these no slip dog socks.

One thing to keep in mind when budgeting, if you don’t already have area rugs, you’ll want to buy some along with felt pads and castor cups.

Un-happy trails

I live in a house soon to be 100 years old. I’m on a mission to fix her up for her birthday. I’ll tell you all her dirty secrets and how I dealt with them. Here is the first problem that I solved–more easily than you think–although it left me a bit traumatized. I hadn’t been vigilant and this easily solved crisis gave me activation energy to go on and do more to my house.

One thing that bothered me about this house was this wall in the basement. It had a seepy spot that looked as if poison was dripping in. I hated it. Here it is:

Perhaps I was morose and staring at the walls, but I vowed to end this “drip” this summer. Little did I know what was causing it.

And it turned out to be much more than I thought it was. Dear readers, you know that I don’t keep the truth from you. The truth sent me into a tailspin. That’s not seepage; it’s a termite track. Yes indeed. A huge one, too. Where did these dirty  monsters go in my house? They went here, into my home office:IMG_3640

The good news is, I now knew both what had caused the “seepage” but also what had caused the “dryness” in the floor. The “dryness” popped up recently and was another “I vow to solve this immediately” mystery. Two problems identified in one conclusion! See the two gnawed away boards? Ugly isn’t it? The buggers ate right through the wood. But they stopped when they reached the other side of the wall–which is not oak but fir. Apparently, they love oak. Fir is less popular with them. Fir was used in kitchens because it is more water resistant. These were gourmet termites, thank goodness, and they went no further into the house but probably moved on to the closest woodpile outside.

Fortunately, at least here in the north, termites don’t eat a lot, are pretty easy to get rid of, and the chemicals used to eliminate them work in a fascinating way. No, there is no fumigation or tenting. The killer is contained in some bait that the termites drag back to their nest. They eat it and then you wait. The way that it kills them is that it makes them unable to molt. Then they die. This takes a while–four to six weeks. Mine took about a month to kill but the instructions that go with the bait says not to spray for bugs or disturb the home for 90 days to make sure they take the bait back to the nest. The bait is not toxic to things that don’t have exoskeletons. I had morbid fascination with checking it which isn’t good. It should be left undisturbed and in the dark–termites love the dark and damp. The bags were placed in the path of the termites. They make a little mud trail from the ground to your house. Once I knew what the mud trail looked like I watched it. Yes, I could see termites at times. Not that many but before the colony collapsed they looked as if they were crawling crazily. I was sure they weren’t dying out but had renewed vigor. I was wrong. The next day I didn’t see them and they have not returned.

The next step was to put out more bait around the house in case a new batch of the critters found my house as tasty as the last ones did.

Why am I confessing this? Because the pest control guy said that termites were all over in Pella and in Iowa. Yes. We are not as perfect here in Pella as it might seem. So if you see a brown trail in your basement or foundation, it’s not a happy trail. Believe me. It’s not. The good news is, it is less costly to get rid of termites than it is to replace a whole basement wall. Getting the tracks off of the wall took some elbow grease and a wire brush with TSP–just as if I was preparing the wall for painting. I then painted the wall for good measure. We have bait stations around the house and garage to fend of future termites. It looks as if there wasn’t much termite damage. Fortunately, this was a case where negative thinking got results. And if there is an invasion of outer-space aliens with eco-skeletons, I’m covered.


Your Thoughts on Dystopias

I’m working away on a sequel to Mixed In.  The protagonist has made some choices that will get her into trouble. The society is absurd, unfair, comical, and dangerous if you don’t keep your nose clean.  There’s a crazy cast of characters. It will need to make a turn soon and I want your opinions. What do you like in your dystopias?

Opinion Needed

Natural Attraction is two years old and the cover is getting a make-over.  Here are three possible covers. Which one would tempt you to take a read?

Natural Attraction - High Resolution - Version 2bNatural Attraction - High Resolution - Version 2aNatural Attraction - High Resolution - Version 1

Feel strongly? Here is the link to the publisher’s site. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WM3YSRW

The Black Diary-a 60s childhood revisited

I found my diary from when I was twelve. It was written in a black day planner from an insurance company. Apparently I played outside a lot with my dog, cuddled my cat, and taught my parakeet to say “Here, Kitty Kitty.” I was the oldest of four kids–three girls and then a boy. I had to babysit and do all sorts of errands for my Mom, and I would buy plastic toys with the money I earned. My parents even had me babysit when they went to church. In one entry, my sister Lynn filled an empty aspirin bottle with water and we gave it to little brother Tom and talked him into drinking it. Then we told him it was poison and I got in trouble.

One thing I notice in my diary is that I was a little scientist even back then. I looked at things under my microscope and drew them. I studied the moon with my telescope, and I read comic books. Even now I think that my novels have a comic book feel to them. I was always making models. I made a mastodon model and the cat, Inky, could not stop batting at it and breaking it. I didn’t get too mad at her but went on to build a rudimentary computer and also a “visible pigeon.” What if society hadn’t let me be a scientist! My heart would have been broken.

But here is another little brother story that shows early on how my mind was working and thinking about chemicals and what they might do to people. He had/has three older sisters who would gang up on him. One time we put face cream on him. We–this has me written all over it–told him that it turned him into a girl. Then someone-probably not me–put a slip on him. He cried so I came up with a cream to turn him back into a boy. We got in trouble anyway. But later he got his revenge. Lynn had a favorite doll and Tom put a desk lamp on its head and melted it. This makes me think that it was Lynn who put the slip on him.

My grandparents had a horse farm and we visited every summer. Those were glorious times riding Jodi the quarter horse mare and playing in the barn unsupervised. There was a hired stable boy named Carl. One day we decided to play a prank on Carl and my cousin. We wrote a note to Carl saying that Bob had to help him clean the sables. It backfired because the cousin loved cleaning the stables and was really good at it. However, we did spend time spying on Carl and found his stash of Playboy magazines in the hayloft, which we read and discussed with zeal. No further mention of Carl after that but in retrospect, a few years later my sisters later wore jeans so tight that they pulled up the zippers with pliers. Here we are on the swing at the farm.farm swing

granny and hinga kids
The next year at the farm, granny, Penny, and the kids.

We had just moved to Pella, Iowa from Washington D.C. Pella had an abundance of crepe paper and the neighborhood kids decorated wagons with it and had parades–until the parents became annoyed and ordered us to stop. (I think it was the next summer where this turned into a penny carnival.)

I began to develop modestly and my mom bought me two bras. One was decorated with a strawberry and the other a butterfly. My sisters crept into my room when I was sleeping and tried to strip off my clothes to get a look at what was happening. They got in trouble.

When 7th grade started I walked home with a new friend. One day after we’d parted ways, someone, a kid, known only as John in my history, followed me and tried to touch me. According to the diary, I beat him up for trying. Undeterred, he tried it again the very next day and once again I “beat him up.” I have no memory on who this John was or what this touching was. He garnered no further mention. 7th grade was pretty wonderful. During health class the teacher tried to talk about “emotions” we would later have. There was absolutely no discussion of anything physical back in the day. Another girl and I kissed each other and said dirty things to get a laugh to break the confusion and tension we were all experiencing at this heavy moment. Somehow I still got an A in that class. But the very best and most telling of all was that I wrote a short story and read it in front of English class. Everyone laughed. Even Mrs. Wagamon. Following this, I was forever linked to and chasing that low art of comedy. Reading this diary reveals my deadpan humor. My fates were sealing at this tender age of twelve. Thank the stars it was all good for a laugh.

I never liked to be anything sweet for Halloween. My go-to consume was a ghost. But I was a big 7th grader now so I changed my style and dressed up as a demonstrator in a mini-skirt and white Go-go boots with black soles. I carried a sign that said “Hurray for the Great Pumpkin.” I wanted to change the world for the better but I wanted to be sexy and laugh too. Some people in Pella found Halloween demonic and scary.  They would turn off their lights and refuse to go to the door or open it and shout “I don’t believe in Halloween.”  This was a huge change from Washington DC (Rockville) where it was a big secular event and parents dressed up to give out candy. (I still live in Pella but there are things I don’t “get” about it as if I’ll never be truly from here. Halloween is not celebrated in the schools. There is a “fall festival” that involves no dressing up instead.)

That week-end, the neighborhood kids all decide that we weren’t done with Halloween yet. We made costumes by covering our faces with kerchiefs and pulling hooded sweatshirts over our eyes. We went door to door. My Mom gave us some peanuts but not all neighbors were so inclined. One Pella neighbor –weary of giving handouts–even told us to “Drop Dead.”

The next week I wore my Go-Go boots to school and got my first love letter from a boy named Larry. It said “Dear Gril, I like you. I hope you like me.” We all know that I am not the best speller or proof-reader in the world but the “gril” part overshadowed his good looks and I decided that I wasn’t old enough for a boyfriend.

In the diary I mentioned that I wasn’t old enough to wear nylons but did anyway because “who wants to be a weird-o?” These were not panty hose. They required a girdle to hold them on. I found fishnet stockings more to my liking and fishnets and Go-go boots were super cool. It sure was cold walking to and from school in that mini skirt and fishnets. (The diary notes that the temperature varied between -23 F in the winter to 101 F in the summer that year.) We had a dress code that said girls had to wear skirts and skirts had to cover the knee. When out of sight of the school I rolled mine up. My mom saw me walking like this and I got in trouble because I looked “too sure of myself.” I’m still processing that one.  Today I do all I can to avoid nylons. And dress codes.

The black diary ends “I will never forget you for you were my first diary.” The black diary is a window to the twelve-year old mind and since the sequel to Mixed In contains a roaming band of twelve-year old girls, it’s a bonanza. There’s a poignancy to it as twelve year old me navigates that world between being a kid and trying on grownup clothes and fearing those grown up emotions. My heart goes out to twelve year old me and to twelve year olds everywhere. I wish them all the best of life and hope I’ve done all I can to make the path ahead easier.

Sixteen Sweet Writing Tips from Madeleine L’Engle

Many readers are eagerly awaiting the release of the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time this coming March. When the novel was first released in 1963, the story of awkward Meg Murry who traverses time and space to rescue her scientist father wasn’t expected to be a big seller. It was in author Madeleine L’Engle’s words “peculiar” with its female protagonist in a dark science fiction novel for children. In the 1950s and early 1960s it wasn’t common for books for children to deal with things such as death and social conformity. Yet A Wrinkle in Time has sold continuously since its publication and won The Newberry Award despite mixed reviews when it was released. Madeleine L’Engle struggled to make a living writing and garnered thirty rejections for A Wrinkle in Time before it was published. She offers many tips for aspiring writers in her book Reflections on a Writer’s Life. Here are my sixteen favorites:

  1. Be disciplined. “The writer cannot write just when he feels like it or he won’t have anything to write with. Like the violin, he has to be constantly tuned and practiced.”
  2. On the other hand, when inspiration strikes, you must drop everything. “I not only burn dinner when I dash to the typewriter to set down just one more sentence. I’m also given excitement and enthusiasms far beyond the dignity of my position of somebody who’s past the half-century mark.”
  3. Expand your vocabulary. “The more limited our language is, the more limited we are…The more our vocabulary is controlled, the less we will be able to think for ourselves…the fewer words we know, the more restricted our thoughts. As our vocabulary expands, so does our power to think.”
  4. Study theater to learn about human nature. L’Engle’s husband was actor Hugh Franklin. (L’Engle was her mother’s maiden name.)
  5. Food is a great way to add sense detail to your fiction. In A Wrinkle in Time this takes the form of a liverwurst sandwich—one of her favorites.
  6. Don’t fall into the temptation of doing housework when you are alone. Write. Your family members can help you with the housework. They can’t write your fiction for you. Also, keep in mind that “the time our children are at home is a very short part of our lives” so plan for the long haul—you can write more when they and you are older.
  7. Don’t quit your day job. “For most writers it takes many manuscripts before enough royalties are coming in to pay for a roof over the head and bread on the table.” She said that she wrote at best at night and when she got up in the morning.
  8. We write best when we are in pain. “It is interesting to note how many artists have had physical problems to overcome, deformities, lameness, terrible loneliness…Those who have no physical flaw…seldom become artists.” (One of her legs was shorter than the other due to a childhood illness.) To writers she warns “if you feel you are called, then I can promise you great joy as well as conflict and pain.”
  9. You’ll be let down when you finish a novel. She compared the time after writing a book to post partum depression. “The great art of creativity is always followed by a sadness.”
  10. On the danger of being an artist: “The first people that a dictator puts in jail are the writers and the teachers because these are the people who have vocabulary, who can see injustice and can express what they feel about it.”
  11. On rejection: “Every rejection slip—and you could paper the walls with my rejection slips—was like the rejection of me, myself, and certainly of my amour-propre.” “I started writing A Wrinkle in Time at the end of a decade of nothing but rejections.” Writing opens yourself to criticism. If you write a book that says something, you will be criticized. Yet a book with nothing to say is meaningless. “If you write a book that pleases everybody, you’ve failed.”
  12. Your protagonist must have a choice to make. “A protagonist must not simply be acted upon, he must act, by making a choice, a decision to do this rather than that.”
  13. L’Engle warns that too much description of the protagonist will alienate the reader. In order to allow the reader to see the protagonist as an icon, don’t create a photographic reproduction in words.
  14. Stories must be believable. This doesn’t mean writing what exactly happened but by putting down “the truth I see.” Truth is more than a list of facts. Truth reflects the “human endeavor.” A good story helps answer the question “Who am I?”
  15. Keep a journal. Not only can you organize your thoughts this way, you can return to it to see how you felt at a certain age and in particular situations.
  16. Writing is not all about you. Writing is a “participatory event” between the author and the reader. “The one who reads…is equally creator with the person who sets down the words.”


A Wrinkle in Time inspired me to be a scientist-mom like Mrs. Murry and gave me the courage to buck society’s expectations for women. I’ve nevermore been able to accept lifeless female characters. For more thoughts on writing, read Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writer’s Life. (2001)IMG_3567



A Hoarder’s Guide to Sugars

Twenty grams of sucrose. This much sugar is found in a small box of raisins, a box of Milk Duds, a serving of yogurt, and a can of soda pop. But it’s not just the amount–the type of sugar will impact your health as well.

We all know that too much sugar is bad for us and most of us don’t need any reminders. But are all all sugars created equal? How can consumers evaluate products and make choices about sugars? There are a few things to keep track of with evaluating sugars–1) how much do they raise your blood sugar with an instant burst of glucose and 2) how bad are they for your heart and liver because they hoard energy in the form of fat.

High blood sugar or hyperglycemeia harms your blood vessels and nerves and can create high blood pressure as your body tries to dilute the sugar. Ever notice that sugar can make you thirsty? That’s a sign of sugar surge. It’s even been linked to Alzheimer’s.  In some countries, products are labeled as to their glycemic index–a measure of how fast sugar is released into the bloodstream as glucose–the simplest sugar. This can help consumers avoid blood sugar spikes.

GI in Australia is an example of this labeling

In the GI index, it’s taken into account that sugars first must be converted into glucose to be used for energy which means that glucose is the standard. To review some common sugars and their GI Index:

Glucose  GI=100. Glucose is the simplest of these sugars and is the one that the body uses for energy and even hormone regulation. It comes from starch breakdown. Your brain runs on glucose. Excess glucose is stored in the muscles and more presently in the liver as glycogen–a starchy big molecule.

Maltose  GI=105. Maltose is a double glucose which makes it have a high GI. It’s the sugar found in beer, cream soda, rice, and also “malts.”

Sucrose (table sugar) is commonly found in sugar beets and sugar cane but occurs in most fruits and vegetables. It has a glycemic index of 65. It’s a doublet of glucose and fructose. The glucose gives you an energy boost while the fructose is often stored.

Honey Honey is a mixture of glucose and fructose with minerals and fiber and other chemicals. It has a glycemic index of 55.

Maple syrup consists of glucose, fructose, and most of all sucrose in varying proportions. It has a glycemic index slightly below that of honey–usually 54 but it depends on the syrup. Like honey, it also contains minerals and a host of organic compounds, some of which are health promoting. In the end, it’s got a lot of fructose.

Lactose/galactose (milk sugar) milk sugar has a relatively low glycemic index of 46. It plays a  positive role in the immune system. However, some studies have associated it with aging. It’s much less sweet than other sugars.

Fructose GI=19 This is the sugar found naturally in fruits. It is metabolized differently than glucose and is more likely to be stored and to create fat.

HFCS, high fructose corn syrup, corn sugars  58-73.  ” HFCS is made by enzymatically isomerizing glucose from cornstarch to produce a 42% fructose syrup. The syrup is concentrated via an ion-exchange column to form a 90% fructose syrup, which is blended with 42% syrup to make a third syrup containing 55% fructose. The 55% and 42% syrups are used in food and beverages.” Here is a paper from 1989 warning against its use.

Fructose then, is the best sugar because of its low GI, right? Not exactly. In a society where people get plenty of food, fructose, corn sugar/high fructose corn syrup, sugar and even syrup and honey are more likely to make  you fat and deposit fat in your liver and around your organs. It can turn to cholesterol and prompt heart troubles.  eating fructose is like buying Hummel figures, Beanie Babies, and old magazines. In essence, you are hoarding so much energy that you are tripping over it and it’s falling on top of you. You’re not just collecting, not saving, but hoarding.

Let’s take a look at what chemists have to say about sweetness.  They are not known to beat around the bush.  Let me quote from the linked article:

Sugar is toxic. The fat and sodium we’ve spent so much time fretting over may in fact be the lesser of the evils in our diet. New evidence suggests that sugar—and possibly artificial sweeteners—might be the ultimate cause of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease.”

The three key dietary monosaccharides—glucose (starch sugar), fructose( fruit sugar), and galactose (milk sugar)—all have the same caloric count, 4 cal/g so in this respect they are equal.

However, it appears that fructose–as in fruits, table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup–is much worse for your body.  This sugar deposits fat on your abs and makes your pancreas work overtime. It tastes much sweeter than glucose or galactose and this is why it is used in soft drinks. It’s not in there because it’s healthy. It would be the ideal sweetener for a hunter gatherer. For a modern human, it’s the equivalent of being a hoarder.

As shown by the GI Index, fructose doesn’t give an immediate sugar boost. So why is fructose and high fructose corn syrup terrible? It’s when a person takes in more than needed that it gets dangerous. “Fructose is converted to glycogen for immediate energy purposes…. As with ethanol in alcoholic beverages, any excess is converted to liver fat. This can eventually overwhelm the liver, leading to a condition known as insulin resistance.The long-term result is fatty liver disease…which leads to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. ..obesity does not cause diabetes—however, too much sugar does (PLOS One 2013, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057873).”

Does this mean that a person should never eat fruit? Of course not. Fruit is a rich source of phytochemicals. It contains fiber that keeps the sugar from releasing too quickly and fills you up.  Juice on the other hand, is a different story. It can deliver a wallop of sugar without the satisfying properties of starch. The same can be said for smoothies and nutrition drinks. Dried fruits are packed with sugars too so keeping a lid on the trail mix might be a good idea–especially if it contains candy. There’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to sugars. A serving or two of whole fruit  should be plenty for anybody who exercises a normal amount.  It would also be a good idea to consume your fruit earlier in the day when you have time to use its energy. Otherwise, your body will be renting a storage space at night.

How about artificial sweeteners as mentioned in the quote above? They might have the power to sabotage your appetite and make you less likely to regulate your food intake.Your body stays on the alert for calories and is never satisfied. Sounds terrible, unless you want to be Sisyphus. Personally, I get enough of that feeling just trying to clean my house.

In other words, glucose raises your blood sugar which is bad for you. Fructose raises your blood sugar more slowly but readily turns into fat which can deposit all over your body, To recap, sugar, especially fructose, is as bad for your liver as booze! Two cans of soda per day can give you high blood pressure.  Although scientists are working on better sugar substitutes, the best thing you can do is to monitor your own intake of the sweet stuff. Remember its biological purpose–to give you a burst of energy. This is why we crave it when we are tired and why its best consumed in moderation early in the day. With the most recent news about the terrible effects of the Western diet, a fresh look at the dangers of sugar is timely.  I for one am going to go off it–except for a daily serving of fruit–after the next birthday cake.