For the past two days, I’ve woken up, smelled the outdoor air, and was greeted with an acrid smell. Was it a local factory? My underarms? It was clearly some type of air pollution. Air pollution is one of my pet peeves. Iowa is a state with more air pollution than most. What was the smell? Why should we care? Here’s why:
There are no doubt worse things you can do to your lungs than apply hair spray, especially on occasion. However, you probably should wear a mask when applying spray. For a lot of reasons, avoiding the Fox News anchor look is good for your health. That’s not nature, it silicone.
When it comes to Greek/Roman mythology, nothing makes me more angry than the story of Medusa. Although the myth changes throughout history, Medusa was punished for being raped in Athena/Minerva’s temple, and that punishment was to have her hair transformed into serpents along with the power to turn people who looked at her to stone, although it’s not clear if she could control this power. She becomes ugly and alone.
It’s always a good idea to take a look at the symbolism behind a story. When the myth was first told, snakes were the symbol of rebirth and favored by the god Bacchus/Dionysus. We all know him, that god of wine. Snake hair with a stone-cold twist could thus possibly be a symbol of someone uptight punishing another for being too free and not protecting her innocence.
The hard partying festival of Bacchanalia, a Bacchus party, occurs right now, this week in April. It began a couple thousand years ago as a female only festival in Rome and morphed into a mad orgy, drawing the ire and later suppression tactics of respectable citizens. (You can almost draw parallels between Medusa and Eve here. This is a story about a female who should not have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, perhaps.) One could say it’s Medusa Party Week for outcasts everywhere. Either she was birthed from terror or is a terror herself, but raise a glass, read a provocative book, and celebrate the gorgon, cuz Medusa has been reborn and she’s got a following.
The last time I cleaned out the dryer vent, I felt like my clothes were disappearing before my eyes. So much lint, all produced when my clothes break off fibers as they tumble in the hot air. My use of cotton, which gets more linty than synthetic fibers helped fill the lint trap.
Clothes dryers were developed in the late 1930s and became popular in the 1960s. I used to consider line drying something older people did. I have memories of staring at bras on the neighbor’s clothes line and wondering if I’d ever need one that large. (Turns out, I didn’t.)
Each load of laundry dried at home costs about $1 . Most families do nine loads of laundry per week. It adds up to$468 per year. Dryers use more energy than refrigerators–about 4% of your total electricity costs. One solution could be to use dryer balls , which allow air circulation between your clothes and this reduces drying time and possibly keeps items of clothing from rubbing on each other.
Likewise, using the shortest wash cycle possible, avoiding hot water, and sorting clothes so that rough clothes like jeans don’t rub on soft clothes like t-shirts will help cut down on the wear and tear and broken fibers on your clothes.
Currently, only about 8% of homes in the US use a clothesline. In some places, they are banned as being unsightly, especially if used for underwear. Most people find line drying too time consuming. I must admit that a sunny day plus time to hang clothes is a luxury. Until self cleaning clothes became a reality, I’m going to indulge and breathe in the nonanal as much as I can. Please try not to look at my underwear.
Long ago, someone asked, and I looked into why college was now so expensive. The answer turned out to be, less state and federal funding. Now, state funding is back in Iowa in the form of Future Ready Iowa. Local colleges have been making adjustments because what this program does is fund only certain majors that the governor and local industries want.
As an educator I can tell you this: it’s not flexible enough. There is nothing more miserable than a student who is forced into a certain major and learns they want something different–but no one will pay for it because it is “impractical.” I have seen kids on the science track because it is the only education their parents will pay for.
Where are the arts in this state educational dictatorship? They are relegated to being occupation based, for example, an art-teacher is supported. I’m from a family of teachers. There is nothing wrong with teaching. Most of the time, it’s fun and rewarding. However, it does lock you into a certain middle-class not-great health insurance maybe I need a side hustle status which is nearly impossible to break out of.
But can you imagine having been forced into being something medical or teaching because it was the only way to afford college? This practical approach pretty much ensures that careers in the arts, pure sciences, journalism, English, and even religion are only open to kids with money. Rich people will be writing the news, giving the sermons, and singing the songs. The rest of us will be handing out pills, teaching in maskless classrooms, and other government determined career paths. It’s very much like the choice of roads in Charlotte.
Why do I feel so passionately about this? My grandfather was in the heating and air-conditioning business. His fortunes rose and fell with the company, which had trouble adapting from coal furnaces to gas and to air conditioning. He made sure all his kids got an education and learned how to think and be flexible. My granny was a lovely, sweet woman. But she believed a lot of what she read in The National Enquirer. She also wanted her kids not simply trained but educated, because it was something she never had. Guess what. My mom never read The National Enquirer.
Scholarships are good things, but we have entered into a dark place where training is paid for but being educated is a luxury. And will schools respond by cutting programs because of lack of majors, until, in the end, all we have is job training and not much beauty or deep-thinking? Yes, I’m sure this will happen. Perhaps it already has.
While working on a new novel, I needed a way to determine if something was acidic. I asked myself, how about adding baking powder and seeing it if fizzes–ala the volcano kids like to make with our kitchen supplies? But, since this is a paranormal historical, I wondered: was baking soda or anything like it even used in 1872? The answer is Yes. Baking soda’s near twin, soda ash or sodium carbonate has been used since the days when chemistry was alchemy or “the dark art of Egypt” and was used in mummification. It can be mined or produced chemically.
The baking product, baking soda, was developed in by Church & Dwight to replace potash or potassium carbonate made from wood ashes, which was hard to make, not very pure, and had a weird smell.
Baking soda, soda ash and baking powder act as rising or leavening agents, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide to make baked goods rise and become fluffy. This rising action is called leavening. An alternative to adding a leavening agent is to whip the substance and stir in air.
Yeast is biological leavening agent, releasing carbon dioxide as an an exhale. The problem is, it takes a while to act.
Baking soda works almost instantly, but must be mixed with an acid such as cream of tartar, sour milk, sour cream, or vinegar, creating the carbon dioxide producing reaction. It’s also dependent on the amount of acid added and some things such as sour milk are not consistent in their composition.
The first baking powder contained baking soda and cream of tartar (tartaric acid, a by-product of wine making) which reacted together quickly and was expensive. Modern double acting baking powder contains an acid and baking soda plus corn starch to keep them from reacting when solid.
And believe it or not, controversy surrounded it.
Created in 1859, the first modern version contained monocalcium phosphate, calcium dihydrogenphosphate to chemists, made from animal bones. Corn starch, and baking soda were additional ingredients. It slowly activated when water was added and fully reacted when heated (making it double acting and slower rising) Later, the monocalcium phosphate used was mined. This company was Rumford, which still makes this version of baking powder. Rival companies sprung up and alum, which was very cheap, was used in products such as Clabber Girl, clabber being sour milk. Thanks to politicians bought with baking powder fortunes, the alum based products were temporarily banned as being unhealthy.
Despite politics, the alum based powders won out due to their low price. But was the competition right, are alum based powders are bad for you? What do we know about the health effects of aluminum, the third most common element in the Earth’s crust?
Recently, nanoaluminum particles were found to impair memory and cognition in zebra fish. (Fan, Rong, et al. “Effects of Nano-Alumina on Learning and Memory Levels in Zebrafish: Roles of Particle Size and Aluminum Ion.” Huanjing Yu Zhiye Yixue = Journal of Environmental & Occupational Medicine, vol. 36, no. 6, 2019, pp. 526.)
Miners exposed to aluminum dust have elevated incidences of Parkinson’s. (Zeng, Xiaoke, M.Sc, et al. “Aluminum Dust Exposure and Risk of Neurodegenerative Diseases in a Cohort of Male Miners in Ontario, Canada.” Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, vol. 47, no. 7, 2021, pp. 531-539. )
If I had one piece of teacherly advice to give to parents, it’s this: read to your kids. Read them stories, fiction stories rich with detail. Stories transcend culture. They’re a way of organizing the chaos of this word so it makes sense. Stories convey information and give warning. And the story plot form is a brilliant and universal way to convey information.
I find When teaching story form to beginning writers, I find most have an instinctive understanding of it. But to keep them on track, a plot diagram as shown below can be used.
Lab reports, too, have distinctive sections. These might include the following:
Purpose and Introduction
This is much less intuitive to students. There are different types of lab reports such as formal lab reports and informal lab reports which adds to the confusion about how to write a lab report.
I applied the plot diagram to a weekly lab report assignment. Here it is on my tackboard:
The purpose is to hook the reader, much like the inciting paragraph of a story. The introduction tells why the lab is important. The procedure, observations, and hazards tell what was encountered along the way.
The introduction points to where this lab is going and why it will be important. Vivid, concrete, relevant observations and information gathering build labs and stories, as does attention to hazards along the way. Recognising these takes practice and experience in the craft.
One thing to note is that the results of a lab are similar to the climax in a story. This is where the perception shifts. The scientist or the protagonist finally learns something. The writer’s inclination is to rush the climax/results. Once you get to the summit, it’s such a relief, all you want to do is get to the end and rest. But don’t. This is what everyone wants to read. it’s why they read through the rest. To see what happens. Be sure to tell it carefully.
Conclusions, statistical analysis, and any type of discussions wrap the report up. If print references were used, they are like the “thank-you”acknowledgements.
A lab report sounds so clinical but it is really a story. Being exposed to stories is good for kids no matter what they want to be when they grow up. And in my opinion, everybody needs to take a class in fiction writing.
It wasn’t until recently that I learned about the man and the myth behind the term chauvinist pig. This mythological man has been a part of society for quite a while and indirectly has been part of mine, especially since I live in a rural area. I was flabbergasted to find out that Chauvin was a fictional character, a legend, and although some thought he was a real person, history hasn’t backed this up. Instead he’s an archetype and not one to be proud of. You may know a few of them, particularly if you live in the country.
The chauvinistic character has a long history in comedies and satires. The loud-mouthed ardent patriot, aggressively clinging to extreme nationalism –which by the way Einstein called the “measles of mankind”– first appeared in French vaudeville around 1840. The allegorical Nicholas Chauvin was an aging soldier who allegedly had 17 wounds and three amputated fingers, all from his persistent re-enlisting in the military. He was a peasant, his name synonymous with “clodhopper” or “country bumpkin.” Early songs about him make him sound like a man obsessed with his sex-life as much as he was with France and Napoleon. He was in fact, “pig-like” in that he was unaware of how expendable he was to Napolean–how the battles he bragged about were leading him to eventual slaughter, but not before he returned home and made more little piggies to send off on nationalistic tasks for any Empire in power. His first sexual experiences were with women who took his money. He was used. He was deep-down a coward. Yet he glorified sex and violence. He was a chauvinist.
The romanticized image of the mutilated soldier-peasant with either a weapon or a spade over his broken shoulder has been pushed since the days of Pliny the Elder. How do you think Rome got so powerful? The image is hauled out and “worshiped” whenever “intellectuals” such as Einstein unfavorably critique the value of war and its exploitation of the lower class or talk about free college. Farmer-soldiers have been common throughout history, especially in the Union in the Civil War. (One of my relatives was such a soldier. He was severely injured and unable to farm, became educated instead.) The first step in creating a chauvinist is to connect it with patriotism.
I have been wondering why my Midwestern-college employer put up rusty $100,000 landscaping statues to honor veterans instead of having the art department come up with something beautiful and inclusive. These rusty guys replaced a set of beautiful marble tablets engraved with names of Civil War dead and trees were cut to make way for them. Now, I see. This sort of imagery isn’t meant for people like me. War isn’t supposed to make intellectual sense. Those riveted scraps of corrosion represent the broken peasants and their mythology. Even at a college, a seat of intellectualism, the myth must live on because it’s useful to those in power. Even today, most military recruits are poor and yes, rural. So, another step in chauvinism is shallow tributes to it.
The chauvinist thus holds a certain type of grievance or unhappiness because of unjustness, and he responds by, well, being unjust. An older, country woman once told me that prejudice was the price women paid for not going to war. War, its injustice, rural life, and chauvinism go hand in hand.
Chauvinism is an identity. Nicholas Chauvin was meant to be a fool. However, many a chauvinist has embraced the term as a source of jokes and a badge of honor. Rush Limbaugh didn’t get a medal for being a nice person, or for any type of truth telling, but for reinforcing myth. He was proud of being a jerk, because he was a funny jerk, like Nicholas Chauvin. He even was called a political vaudevillian. Although Nick Chauvin died on the battlefield because he wouldn’t surrender, chauvinists aren’t going away any time soon. But should there come a time when we stop laughing?
Long ago, I was a DJ at a radio station in Iowa City. One on-air personality had been cursing way too much in his private life. Instead of ‘Keokuk’ by mistake he said ‘Keofuck’ on the air. Until recently, this was my only thought when I heard the of the town of Keokuk. But this city in SE Iowa is home to some amazing rocks, and I don’t mean cocaine. It has namesake geodes!
Keokuk geodes are found unsurprisingly, near Keokuk, Iowa, Iowa’s southern-most city on the banks of the Mississippi. They are sedimentary geodes, found in deposits of shale and limestone. Here’s more about geodes. Keokuk geodes are silica based on the outside and sparkley on the inside: most often the geode balls are lined with quartz but may include amethyst, calcite, chalcedony, limonite, marcasite, pyrite, and sphalerite.
The geodes look like blobs on the outside and some of the fun is not knowing exactly what treasure you are getting on the inside. I highly recommend going geode hunting. The banks of the Mississippi are gorgeous and we had buckets of fun for not a whole lot of money. I guess you could say that after all these years, I still know how to rock.
Octavia Butler wrote one of my favorite short stories, Bloodchild, about insect-like aliens which use humans as hosts for their eggs. Each human, most often a male, is united with an alien in a form of marriage. The human is totally dependent on the alien for survival. If the alien doesn’t removed the maggots once they hatch, the human will be eaten alive!
Butler, a black woman who spent most of her life on the west coast, did not see Bloodchild as a tale of slavery. It was about botflies. But many readers will relate to the social hierarchy of the story and the stress which comes from being the one who must do the dangerous task of childbearing.
Butler wrote fourteen books and was known for lean, calm prose touching on social issues. As I fine tune my latest book, nearly two years in the making, I’m reflecting on her advice to aspiring writers.
Read. Read about writing, read fiction, read non-fiction, listen to audio books. “Ponder use of language, the sounds of words, conflict, characterization, plottings, and the multitude of ideas…”
“Take classes and go to Writer’s Workshops. …you need other people to let you know whether you’re communicating…in ways that area accessible and entertaining” and “as compelling as you can make them.”
Vocabulary and grammar are your tools. Make sure you can use them effectively.
“Revise your writing until it’s as good as you can make it.”
Submit your work and learn from your rejections.
“Forget inspiration Habit is more dependable.” Forget talent. You can learn to improve your work. Forget imagination. “You have all the imagination you need.”
The thing you must do to be an author is persist. Stick with it. Persist.
Butler was not a flowery writer. Her writing won’t knock you off the page. What will is her observations and ideas. At times, I struggle with my Midwestern taciturn prose. Butler is evidence of the power of the ideas behind the words. Take her advice. Persist.
Pumpkin pies are easy to make and a forgivable medium to cook with. You can measure somewhat carelessly and switch up your sweetener and still get something wonderful. Here’s how we made our most recent pie.
We picked a pumpkin we’d grown ourselves. Ten seeds gave us only four pumpkins. it wasn’t a great year for them.
While it baked for an hour, we did other things.
I used a Made in the USA metal pie pan, as recommended by Sister Pie.
Allow it to cool and top with whatever suits your fancy. We decided that coconut whipped “cram” was a wonderful choice.