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Where to buy

All three of my novels can be found at this site, which supports local bookstores.

Lost in Waste is available here. In the near future, Iowa succumbs to authoritarian rule. Fortunately, it’s a comedy.

It and all of my novels are available in Pella at the college spirit shop. It’s right off Broadway near Broadway and Peace. (Click for link.) They and other faculty books are kind of hard to find … in a crate and displayed near the floor…so you might need to ask at the desk. On the plus side, no tax and they’re sold at a discount.

Natural Attraction is sold at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!) and The Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.

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? Buy here:

 Amazon US

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

Click here for Wolves and Deer 

or here for the paperback.

Click here for Nook.

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Or enjoy the first chapter here.

It’s also available at the Spirit Shoppe in Pella. Thank you for your interest!

A Pumpkin Pie in Pictures

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.

We washed it and put it in the oven. We cooked it, seeds and all.
Saying good-bye to the pumpkin.

While it baked for an hour, we did other things.

We cut it in half and let it cool.
We assembled the ingredients and mixed them in a blender. Here is where you can get creative. Find the spices you want, add a dash of vanilla and two or three eggs, pick your sweetener. I like a half cup of sugar and a fourth cup molasses but you can add more or less and use honey or syrup. Don’t forget the cooked pumpkin and a 12 ounce can of evaporated milk.
Pour into your favorite pie crust. I use Trader Joe’s. I like to add some cinnamon and molasses to the top.

I used a Made in the USA metal pie pan, as recommended by Sister Pie.

Bake on a metal tray until the center doesn’t look liquid–about an hour. The crust was so flakey, a piece fell off when I moved it. And we had some pumpkin seeds and flesh left for the chickens.

Allow it to cool and top with whatever suits your fancy. We decided that coconut whipped “cram” was a wonderful choice.

Old dog + new puppy: trouble or treasure?

Apollo smiles. Life is good.

When my sweet dog died, it took me a while to get over it. My remaining dog, Apollo the pug, and I spent many nights simply sitting together on the couch. He and Sabrina had been best of friends. She’d been a mother figure to him and he was quick to protect her if he thought another dog challenged her. He lit into my daughter’s rescue Carin terrier for snapping at his “mother”. And the little pug won the battle. There are some thought about animals understanding death or at least the irreversibility of it. Apollo was sad. His trail drooped.

I didn’t want to leave him alone. He was anxious.

As days spread into years, it became apparent–the hole left was not going to repair itself. I needed a walking buddy and he needed a friend. Our woodsy back yard was being invaded by rodents. Squirrels munched the swing set. I needed a chasing type of dog. But a puppy–could our stodgy ways take an invasion? I thought about puppies and looked at photos of them on-line. With ten grandkids, I needed something sturdy, not prone to roaming, and good with children. I wanted a breed less needy than my delightful late beagle. Most importantly, I didn’t want to inconvenience my pal, Apollo, and his comfortable life. I looked around for a mild mannered pup. He’s too much of a tough guy around other male dogs. It had to be a female. For a little dog, he sheds bundles, and although when I vacuum I feel happy he is still alive to shed, I couldn’t take another mega-shedder.

At last I found a puppy. A video of her showed her to be non-aggressive with other dogs. I went to meet her. She was a sweet, shy little thing. I took her home and called her Daphne. As the breeder suggested, I made sure to give Apollo lots of attention. I crated the pup when they were alone together or even if she, on rare occasion, pestered him. She was determined to make him like her, even to the point of letting him eat her food. In turn, Apollo showed her the house-breaking ropes. She learned from him and sometimes lifts her leg when she pees.

She quickly figured out how to jump on the couch near him and slowly wiggled herself into his life, but she wasn’t as fond of lounging on the furniture as he was. When the pandemic hit and I worked from home, they developed the habit of languishing on the floor near my feet together. The couch at last caught a break.

Both dogs are loyal and loving but perhaps due to a 13 year age gap or differences or their breeds, they operate in different realms. Daphne loves being out in the yard and playing with her toys and other dogs and people, while Apollo is an inside old man who would prefer to sleep or be snuggled. I know some people who have sent their puppy off to daycare periodically to give their new dog some alone time. Fortunately, all I need to do is open the back door.

Here’s a photo essay of their time together:

baby Daphne ( a smaller standard bernedoodle)
She’s allowed to get close but not to touch hm
He tolerates her.
Tolerates a little more.
She’s not giving up.
It’s a kiss!
On the porch, ready to bark at passers by.
Relaxing together.
And folks, the squirrels are vanquished.

How is Apollo doing with his new pal? To win him over, Daphne let him eat her food and he gained two pounds which is a lot for a twenty pound pug. We have to keep her bowl away from him. She gives him her full support when he pesters for a treat.

She isn’t a big furniture lounger and he’s adopted her habit of floor sleeping (yes, the dog pillow is mostly ignored). She loves chew bones and now he does too which is good for his teeth. She’s also relaxed about being left alone. (My husband works from home so this doesn’t occur often.) She is shy of strangers but loves the family and kids, as he does. One small concern is the size differences. She is gentle and only 50 pounds but kind of clumsy so I feel a need to watch them on stairs so she doesn’t knock him down. That being said, Daphne is gentle around small dogs.

My advice is: get the puppy but not any puppy. Make sure to get a mild-mannered pup and have plenty of time to give both dogs attention. Figure out how to feed them separately–putting a pug on a diet is almost impossible, especially when he has an advocate.

Both dogs believe that Apollo needs a treat.

I crated Daphne at first to keep her from getting after Apollo. This gave him some time to get used to her and still have his space. When I found him sleeping next to her crate, I knew we’d made it. Two years later, all is well, except for the extra two pounds. They are still with us. So is the tail curl–it’s back!

Science in Scifi: Excerpts from Wolves and Deer

Michael Faraday holds up a magnet

Here is the book blurb:

In 1832, Grace Clare works at the Royal Institution under the direction of the well-known chemist Michael Faraday. But science isn’t all she has on her mind. She learns that her birth mother was famous comic actress Dora Jordan. Grace is dangerously drawn into the tale of Dora’s mysterious, unjust death after her twenty-year relationship with the prince who now occupies the throne–a man who betrayed his life partner and mother of his children. As the only child free to do so, Grace travels to Paris for work and to view her mother’s lonely grave. Awash with the injustice of the cruel betrayal, will Grace be doomed to a tragic life of seeking revenge?

How did I come to write it?

I had published a short story about Isaac Newton that was first in print in Australia and later included in the anthology “The Female Complaint.” I wanted to write something about my favorite chemist, Michael Faraday. He was a humble guy who worked his way into fame by endearing himself to Sir Humphrey Davy. Here’s an excerpt from Wolves and Deer which she tells the story:

“Like Grace, Michael Faraday had been born common, the son of a blacksmith; she was the daughter of a merchant and a milliner. She wanted to learn science as it was more interesting, with greater opportunity than hat making, and hat making in her home town of Dref Ysbryd, Wales, would be her future if she didn’t find employment here in London. Her plan was to present him with a gift, much as he had done to his benefactor, the scientist Humphry Davy. Faraday had flattered Davy by handing him a notebook filled with Davy’s scientific lectures—perfectly transcribed and bound by Faraday’s own hand. Grace would give Faraday one of her experiments based on his work and do him one better by handing him a hat for his wife.”

As I was reading his biography I came upon a note of his correspondence with Lady Mary Fox, the illegitimate daughter of King William IV. Mary was a fan of Faraday’s who wrote him about getting tickets to his lectures and assuring him that she would help him secure a pension from the king. The entry briefly mentioned that her mother was actress Dora Jordan. I became intrigued with Dora Jordan and her untimely but convent for the Royal Family death. My story about Faraday morphed into a novel about a secret daughter of Dora Jordan who works in the Faraday lab. 

Here’s another excerpt from the novel:

“Faraday, I can envision a carriage powered by a steam engine and accompanied by a steam powered calculator giving speed and progress towards the destination.” Mathematician Charles Babbage took a bite of scone with jam as Grace snaked rubber tubing from one flask to another. Babbage and Michael Faraday, members in the Royal Society, hunched over a glass flask. It was now 1832. Faraday and Babbage, two men of science, and the maid who served as an assistant, Grace Clare, were in the basement of the Royal Institution, surrounded by jars of reagent chemicals—ether, chloroform, arsenic. Grace tried not to consider their usefulness. Working for Mr. Faraday had stabilized Grace. She’d made peace with the actress’s death and the mystery of her own birth and went a week at a time without dwelling on it. As any chemist will tell you, matter desires and moves towards stability. Certainly, Dora Jordan’s was a story as old as time, a man leaves a woman for another, the broken woman is found dead without witness, the man nowhere near. Grace was more concerned with the lack of mail from the Clares. It was April. Rain hit the windows.

“Is the latter needed? Any good driver can estimate speed and time to destination in his head,” Faraday replied. “And, where would it be mounted?”

“Calculating devices will be more reliable than humans. Everyone will use them. We are limited now with humans doing our calculations. Faraday, we need more mathematics in England. We’re lacking in mathematical minds. Our mathematical science is in deplorable shape. Where are the new, young ideas? In Paris! We need to go to Paris and return with a young mathematician.”

“One trip to Paris is enough for any Englishman, and I have been,” said Faraday. “Grace, did you say your father was French?”

“He was born in Paris but resides in Wales when not traveling.”

“Let’s send Grace. She needs a trip to Paris.” Babbage, who had recently completed a table of logarithms up to 10,8000, bit into the scone. Crumbs fell onto his silk shirt and scattered across his trousers.

Grace jabbed the end of the tube onto a hollow, glass rod. This would be a connector to help carry the nitrous oxide they were making into a gasbag. Babbage might as well have lit her on fire with the mention of Paris. Once again, she became infected with the enigma of Dora’s death. Even worse, she saw it as her duty to do something to shed truth on it. A trip to France would be a step.

“Charles, this is more about you than about Grace,” said Faraday, at forty-one, the most brilliant chemist in the British Empire. “Grace, are your connections secured?”

“Yes, Mr. Faraday.”

Grace jumped as Babbage smacked a hand on the lab bench. “True, but Faraday, see it my way. I need a mathematician. There is one in Paris who could be convinced to emigrate to London. This fellow is fresh blood, his genius unappreciated in his native country. He must be rescued before the country blows up again. Their police dislike scientists. Fear of science is sinister. He can tutor my pupils. He’ll help you, too. Electrical signals are our future, and someone needs to describe them mathematically. I’m willing to hire him to stir things up and inspire me. When will this Davy’s gas generate? I need a laugh.”

“Don’t rush things, Charles. We have adequate mathematics. It will distract you and cost too much,” said Faraday. “I’m sympathetic to revolutionaries, but the fervor is destructive. And, this isn’t Davy’s gas. Priestley discovered it.” Faraday moved a candle beneath the flask of white powder suspended from an iron rack.

Grace’s hand shook as she took a towel and wiped a glistening blob of jam from the lab bench as Babbage reached into a basket for another scone. Vapor formed above the powder as the nitrous oxide bubbled from the flask of white powder and into a flask of water, a purification step, almost a baptism.

“He’s simply in possession of the passions of youth, Faraday. I need the stimulation and assistance. This student lives in a world of complicated formulas. He solved the 350 year-old riddle of polynomials. He won’t demand outrageous salary. He’s the misguided grandson of a family friend. A Frenchman would shake things up a bit. He’s quite political. Is that one of your new rubber gasbags? It’s starting to inflate!”

Faraday, the strong-jawed chemist, sat back but kept his hand near the torch. Too much heat and it would explode. “My advice is don’t meddle in politics. Are you listening Grace? Grace, stand back. Keep safe. No need for you to get glass shards in your face. And yes, it’s my invention. Not new. I’ve been making these rubber bags for seven years.” The gas bubbled in the flask of water. The gasbag twitched as it slowly inflated.

“Agreed,” said Babbage, his face alight. “There never will be a politician or King able to comprehend science. We need to rescue the mathematician from himself.”

“Write him a sealed letter, Charles,” said Faraday, his wide mouth turning down at the edges. “There’s no cause for an expedition. Grace needs to preserve her modesty, not be gallivanting about the continent.”

Babbage’s smile drooped. “There are complications. He’s been jailed, and the letter might not go through. Let Grace deliver it. Grace has a pretty face, and her voice can melt hearts. He’ll need some persuading. The girl could use a vacation away from this cholera epidemic. Don’t you wish to get away from London for a few weeks, go to Paris? You could see France  and pay your respects to Dora Jordan, Grace. Lady Mary has told me of your mutual connection. I’ll send tulips for her grave—some cut flowers and a few bulbs. How lonely she must be there.”

“Mary should have had respects paid to her sixteen years ago.” Grace kept her voice cold but anger rose within her. “Tis the man who sits on the throne who owes her respect.

“Respects are past due. My neighbor’s maid, Mrs. Zorg, can accompany you as a chaperone. She’s mentioned having urgent business in Paris. And Grace, I’ve calculated it. There is a good chance that something miraculous will come of this trip.”

Grace gave a perfunctory curtsy as heat welled up behind her eyes. “I wish to pay my respects but need to be of use here.” She had the utmost loyalty to Faraday, who’d encouraged her to study science and taught her some himself, even though she’d been hired simply to clean up the laboratory after him. She was afraid to go to France and to open a wound that had nearly healed. Even more, she was presuming the return of the Clares soon. She’d heard from them less than she’d expected. They’d sent a white silk scarf from France and tea from Ceylon, and this was the sum total of their correspondence. She knew journeys were long and letters few, but she was growing anxious for news. Aunt Hester’d been complaining and needed to be bled with leeches on a monthly basis due to the bad air in London.

“Grace wishes to stick with science,” Mr. Faraday said. “An excellent choice. However, Grace, one does learn much from a trip abroad.” The gasbag swelled. Faraday removed the hose and plugged the spout.

“A prodigious bag of gas. Grace, hand me that towel,” said Babbage. Grace gave him her cleaning cloth. Babbage slipped the half eaten scone in the basket, put the towel over his head, leaned over the spout of the bag, and removed the plug.

He breathed in the gas. “Good. I’ll send Harry ‘round to drive you there. He’s a handsome fellow. Have a whiff, Grace. It’s all the rage. Whoa. Ha-ha.” He sat down on a stool and handed Grace the bag, pinching it at the spout.

He wiggled his fingers, and Grace sniffed the laughing gas as it rushed through the spout. It was cold—as any expanding gas—and made her dizzy and euphoric.

“Paris. ‘Tis such a beautiful idea,” she said. Mr. Faraday caught her as she fell.


New book coming!

I had Book Three of my Unstable States Series accepted for publication.

This book picks up shortly after Lost in Waste (City Owl 2020) and about thirty years after Mixed In (City Owl 2017). Like other books in the series, it’s a comic dystopia and political satire with lots of romance, female friendships, and science. This novel will allow the series to stand alone as complete and be sold as such, but also leaves room for it to be expanded if sales are good. I’ve been reading that people have a new interest in dystopian novels. Here’s hoping.

It’s 84,000 words, level 4 heat with a few sensual scenes along with sexy technical discussions as found in the (fictional) contraband book Virginia Guru’s How to Guide to Human Sexual Response. I’m happy to say that the same editor for Lost in Waste (Christie Stratos) will be working with me on this one.

Here’s what it’s about:

Food developer Stella would like nothing better than to have a lab partner to help her create new synthetic products and share the passions of science. But her nation of Cochtonia has gone off the deep end. Fertility rates are dropping and the leaders have decided to turn to alchemy to produce offspring. Sir Isaac Newton has been resurrected from the dead to take a lead role in the impossible task, ordered by the autocratic rulers of the nation. He’s to work as a team to create a homunculus, a tiny person, made outside of a womb. Women won’t be needed at all! Newton isn’t a fan of women, but he’s even less impressed by the absurd society ruled by Cochton Brothers who have never understood science, only profited from it. When Stella offers to help him fake results to save his neck, he’s willing. Is Newton the real thing, or an imposter? As she joins league with him, Stella has to wonder. But as they proceed with the deception, does she even care?

I submitted these two tag lines for consideration. The publisher always has the final word but do you have a favorite?

It’s as if the Enlightenment never happened.

History had him all wrong. He wasn’t a recluse who hated women. He was the sexiest man ever born.

I’m excited to have this novel done. I pushed through despite the pandemic. I like it and hope you will, too.

Prune Pies, Plums, & Meme-worthy Poems

“Forgive me

they were delicious”

A while back, a reader asked about a prune whip pie. Her mother had made these long ago and she was searching for the recipe. I’d never heard of such a thing–pie from prunes. Why? Fortunately, I was able to find a copy of Farm Journal Complete Pie Cookbook (1965). I sold these, classic at the time, when I was in Future Farmers of America–my attempt to understand my new culture of Iowa. I also learned I did not want to raise animals–they are too much work and die too young–but I was darn good at selling these cook books. And, lo and behold, I found several prune pie recipes in my stained old copy.

The cookbook explained, and I should have guessed as much, how country folks had a “snow cupboard” filled with dried fruit, sugar, flour, and lard. If roads became impassable, snow cupboards held plenty of ingredients for dried fruit pies. Pies were shallow and round to literally cut corners and use less ingredients. Who knew!

Although raisins were the most popular fruit in this type of pie, the trusty cookbook had several entries using prunes. The closest to “Prune Whip” is this meringue pie.

Prune Meringue Pie

Bake 8″ pie shell

1 c. sugar

1/4 c. cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt

1 c. boiling water

2 eggs, separated

1 tblsp lemon juice

2 tsp grated lemon peel

2 tbsp butter or margerine

1 c cooked pitted prunes, drained

Meringue ( 2 egg whites)

Combine salr, sugar, water, and cornstarch. Stir in boiling water. Cook over direct heat until mixutre thickens and boild, stirring constantly.

Place in double boiler and cook 10 minutes. Beat egg yolks slightly and pour in half of the above mixture gradually. Then pour this into the rest of the mixture and cook for five minutes.

Remove form heat and add lemon juice, peel, and butter.Cool.

Arrange prunes in the cool pie shell.

Pour lemon mixture over the prunes.

Prepare meringue* and top pie with this.

*for 8 inch pie. Add another egg for 9 inch pie

2or 3 egg whites

1/4 tsp cream of tarter

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 c. sugar

Place egg whites, cream of tarter, salt, and vanilla in a large bowl at room temperature. Beat at medium speed until frothy but not stiff.

Add sugar a little at a time while beating. Beat until little peaks form and meringue is not grainy.

Put meringue around the edge of the filled pie, making sure to touch the crust to seal. Pile the remainder in the center of the pie and spread.Make sure filling is covered completely.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes util top is browned. Cool.

I have not made this. Perhaps adding cool whip (not baked) could substitute for the meringue step .

Although generally regarded as humble, prunes and plums contain plenty of fiber, potassium, and magnesium. Prunes are made from a special variety of plum which dry into the characteristic dark shriveled mass. They can keep you regular and even promote bone health. I once tried the recommended bone health diet but since it requires eating five prunes or even ten prunes a day, I quickly abandoned it. Plum trees are hardy, early bloomers and represent strength and endurance, but my endurance with the prune diet had its limits and an early end.

Plums aren’t just for prunes. Who can forget the famous and even meme-worthy 1934 ode to plums and efficiency of style written by William Carlos Williams. Here it is:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Speaking of iceboxes, there is a whole category of “icebox pies”. This pumpkin one looks wonderful. But of course, these will need to be saved for a different blog.

Looking for a pie recipe from the past? Drop me a line.

Mask up against Authoritarian Rule: A checklist

I like to say that my dystopian satire series Unstable States is a cross between Idiocracy and The Handmaid’s Tale. Both titles are older and well-established views of a society gone off the rails. Idiocracy is itself a satire and although a friend argued with me about it, Handmaid’s Tale and the lack of female bodily autonomy seemed as if it could come true. It was true after all, in my mother’s lifetime and for those before her. And now here, or so it seems.

We’ve all read about repressive societies, fictional and otherwise. But what traits should we be looking for? For my satire, I incorporated my own Puritanically influenced upbringing and the early 1900s and post 9-11. And yes, Iowa’s growing pollution problem and governor were factors.

What if these influences had become autocracy? How would we even know? I turned to Political Science professor Jim Zaffiro for advice. He came up with some ideas.

Authoritarian Societies have these traits:

1.Marked by brain drain, hostility to truth tellers & intellectuals.

2. Leaders are elevated into masterminds to save the nation.

3. Information is censored and tightly controlled, so that the masses hear only or mostly the official interpretations of things.

4. Exploitation of invented outside or internal threats to justify suspension of civil liberties; often involves scapegoating undesirable groups, by race, religion, ethnicity, or foreign origin.

5. Tight control of other organs of government, including political parties, judiciary, and legislative.

6. Use of illegal methods or flaunting existing laws and norms in the name of security.

 7. Elevation of regime and leader survival over all else, leading to constitutional changes and rigged elections.

8.Use of neopatrimonialism to create sub-bosses totally loyal to the supreme leader who rewards them with patronage. (As seen in privatization schemes).

Other sources have similar lists including:

9. Sexism.

10. Hostility to intellectualism and the arts

11. Hostility to labor and labor unions. Protection of corporate power.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment

13. Insisting on titles such as Sir.

One problem with examining society and deciding if it is authoritarian or not is this: even egalitarian societies have rules and regulations. NO RULES! is not the mark of freedom. Ask yourself who do the rules benefit?

Inequality spreads much more easily than equality. Creating an egalitarian society where all people have equal opportunities, are not dominated, and may even punish alpha behaviors, isn’t easy. Authoritarianism is like germs in a sneeze. It may not be stable, but it spreads easily. We all need to recognize it for what it is and mask up. You don’t want to catch it. Hopefully here in Iowa we haven’t already.

How bad are moldy ears?

I did something I rarely do this past July–I bought shucked sweet corn. The reason I did this is because I got a dozen ears of un-shucked corn and one ear had some mold on the end. I decided I didn’t want to take a chance of getting moldy ears again. I had to see what I was getting. The question is, how dangerous is corn mold? Well, it depends on the mold.

Mold spores are always on the look-out for a nice place to grow. Mold can travel down the corn silk and attack corn during fertilization, it can enter through cracks in the kernel, or it can grow on the forage products (leaves and such fed to animals), Mold floats about looking for food and moisture, growing where it lands if these are present. July through fall is a prime time for mold to spread and grow.

Corn mold is a tricky thing. Some types are considered a delicacy. Some can cause allergies, and a lot of them generate toxins called mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins are poisons produced by mold that grows on grains and nuts. They cause everything from cancer to kidney problems, to digestive upset, miscarriages and stillbirths, to hallucinations. Moldy rye has been connected to the Salem witch trials and in some cases, plagues of dancing called St. Vitus Dance.

Mycotoxins infect 25% of world’s crops including coffee and beer and make them unfit for consumption. Thank goodness they are regulated as part of our food safety regulations. Detecting them is tricky. A black light can be used to see if they are present but it isn’t definitive proof of them. Lots of things glow under a black light and are not mycotoxins. It takes a time consuming test to prove they are present. You can read much more here.

There are all sorts of corn rots and mold and here are some examples. All of these types of rotting corn should not be fed to animals.

More photos here.

And here,

Particularly dangerous and damaging is Aflatoxin produced by the pervasive Aspergillus mold. It can infect nearly any grain product and was first noted in 1961 when it killed over 100,000 turkeys in England after it infected their peanut-based food. Aflatoxin in dog food recently sickened many pets.

Aflatoxin grows on stressed corn, particularly corn exposed to drought and heat. It is likely to be worst in years with a hot (over 91 degrees F or 30 C), dry June because corn produces its silks in June and the mold travels down the silks and gets in the corn. It can also infect grain bins if they are not kept clean and dry. Once in the feed corn, the aflatoxin can’t easily be removed. It can get in the milk of dairy cows fed the moldy grain. Elevated carbon dioxide levels as found with climate change spur its growth and this is another reason scientists worry about our hotter weather.

Looking back, I don’t think my corn had aflatoxin. On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t eat it. This is one of the many reasons I support robust food safety regulations and don’t eat moldy ears.

Probably no corn today is as bad looking as this ear from 1934, but believe it or not, drought can cause mold in corn.(Taken at Pella Historical Village.)

Danger–shrinkage ahead

We all need help with our hippocampus. Once we reach adulthood (as in 20), it shrinks. By the time a person reaches 70-years old, there’s an 80% chance that changes in the hippocampus will affect memory and learning.

When I reach 70, will it be the end of the line for my brain?

This area deep inside our brain is more sensitive than the princess and the pea. Head injury, stress, inflammation, hypertension, and viruses can damage it. We need this part of our brain for learning and memory. Loss of hippocampus mass is associated with Alzheimer’s and with depression. It rests near the olfactory bulb which means lack of taste or smell, as with covid-19, can be a sign of harm.

Although there are some things I’d like to forget, I rely on my hippocampus for my livelihood and keeping it big is important for my future. Imagine my alarm when two studies came out recently pointing to factors that contribute to shrinking it.

One linked shrinkage to bad diet. Consumption of roast meat, sausages, hamburgers, steak, chips, crackers, and soft drinks shrank the left hippocampus, even if the indulgences were short term. Mind you, I read this at the end of birthday month in our household–July–when we have five events spread over fifteen days, accompanied by plenty of cake, grilling, & celebrating Better Made’s anniversary.

The second hypothesized that too much coffee (6 cups or more) shrinks your brain and can cause dementia. I don’t drink six cups of coffee, I drink two at the most. But they aren’t small cups nor is the coffee weak. Seventy and beyond could be bleak for me. Is there any hope?

What helps your brain ward off the ravages of time and place? One answer is flavonoids.There are six different categories of these plant molecules and eating from every category is recommended. You’ll need to load up on tea, red wine/grape juice, chocolate, citrus fruits, parsley, berries, soy, and other good stuff as outlined in the link.

Peppers are a source of a type of flavonoid called flavone but when it comes to flavones, capers, parsley and oregano knock it out of the park. Parsley also has plenty of flavonols. source here.

Exercise can stave off shrinkage or possibly even build new brain bulk. Likewise, sexual activity has been associated with brain growth in this area, at least in rats.

Chronic stress attacks the brain chemically, and this can explain why PTSD is so damaging. Childhood poverty and stressful events, especially before age 8, shrink the hippocampus and have been related to life-long learning problems.(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5253253/) Avoiding stress is an important factor in brain health and highlights the need for anti-poverty programs.

It’s uncertain if the brain can regrow itself but new connections are made when we learn or teach new things, even non-academic skills such as as quilting, gaming, and photoshop.

These studies have implications for education and for daily living. Exercise, enough sleep, and healthy meals along with less stress and no cramming facilitate learning. Taking breaks and spacing out tasks is a brain-healthy approach to learning and to chores in general. Apparently, no pain no gain doesn’t apply to the brain.

To save your brain, forget the extra coffee and the meth. Take a break. Enjoy a new skill–no pressure. And don’t forget the parsley.

To wash or not to wash

Hygiene is a relatively new idea in the Western world. An early recognition of the benefits of washing came in the 1840s when doctors noted that hand washing could reduce childbirth fever. The idea of “germs” had been kicked around for several centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that Pasteur proved, through a series of experiments, that germs were transmitted from one source to another. The previous idea was that they and things such as flies arose spontaneously. In 1865, Lister developed the idea of antiseptics, and in 1890, the country doctor Robert Koch came up with his postulates to prove the cause of disease. There was initial push back to germ theory –people didn’t want to be held responsible for making others sick. Even when germs were accepted, hygiene was regarded by some as “for sissies.” By the mid 1950s, films such as this one with Soapy, a somewhat haunted bar of soap, spread the gospel about hygiene. At last, people knew enough to keep clean. Now, the idea of frequent cleaning is being debated.

When I heard about the movement to not wash your hair, the no-poo movement, I knew it wasn’t for me. My hair is too fine and being a teacher and around a lot of people, most of whom tower over me since I’m 5′ 1″, their invisible pathogens fall on my head throughout the day. To be safe, I wash my hair every night, at least during the week. But is this over-kill? Do germs stick on your hair? The answer to this question is: Yes. But.

A study done by several researchers in Singapore, including some from Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore, with the title “Bacteria Display Differential Growth and Adhesion Characteristics on Human Hair Shafts” says that some bacteria cling to your hair while others simply sit on it.

They “showed the colonization and adherence of E. coli and P. aeruginosa on hair shafts, where P. aeruginosa, which tends to not be too dangerous to people with normal immune systems, was one bacteria that stuck to hair, formed a biofilm

E. coli inhabited only the edges of the cuticle scales..this study demonstrate(d) significant antibacterial effects of human hair shafts.”

Bottom line, yes germs stick to your hair but your hair can fight them off to an extent. Hair-derived antimicrobial proteins or peptides have been identified in hair shafts (Adav et al., 2018; Subbaiah et al., 2018).

Shampoo washes away germs on hair. However, grease from your hair can also kill germs. A threat may come from hairbrushes, which have been shown to contain fungal spores ( March 31, 2021, Infection and Drug Resistance)

How often should you wash your hair? It depends on the hair! It’s okay to wash it every day if it is fine because fine hair collects sebum more rapidly. Curly hair uses the sebum to make the curl so once a week can work for curly locks. African hair can go a week or two without washing. However, hair can trap pollen. Allergies can create the need to wash or rinse your hair more often.

Likewise, you should wash more often if you smoke or work with pesticides or other toxins.

What about beards? Beards are very germy and possibly a symbol of White Supremacy and anti-femininism. Beards need to be washed and brushed several times a week to remain sanitary. Wiggling a beard beneath a facial mask can release bacteria. However, having a beard doesn’t seem to be associated with being more sickly. Beards fall in the category of possibly being more of a danger to others. Beards haven’t been studied a lot.

Last but not least, there is the question of pubic hair–it is a natural cushion which will prevent STDs or is it germy and teaming with pheromones? Believe it or not, how this area is treated differs geographically. An interesting thing about pubic hair is that each person has a unique bacterial combination in this spot, with cohabiting couples sharing bacteria. However, like head hair, washed pubes are not overly germy. In fact, lack of pubic hair has been associated with a higher frequency of genital warts, herpes, and papillomavirus (HPV). However, you can and do give your mostly harmless germs to another via pube touching.

What happens when a person doesn’t bathe or shower regularly? A skin condition including a painful rash, can develop from bacteria, dead skin cells, and wax. Do you need to wash every day? No. A short shower every other day can work.

Of course, numerous diseases are spread by unclean hands. Even harmless bacteria can cause a nasty infection under certain situations, including entering a wound. As with pubic hair, each person has their own bacterial skin colonies and too much washing can damage skin and make way for new, less desirable bacteria. However, washing is necessary to remove bacteria from the skin. As with hair, some leeway depending on the situation is advised. Also along the same lines as the hair brush study, towels can be a source of bacteria and should be washed every two days.

Anyone with acne has probably been told that it is caused by bacteria and this is true. However, beneficial bacteria can help fight acne. Over-washing your face removes helpful bacteria and oils. Studies have found that products containing aforementioned lactobacillus (a type of bacteria usually found in yogurt) are effective in treating acne. Probiotic acne medication is being developed. Some companies are looking into probiotic make up. The problem with the later is that make-up itself can harbor germs and adding anything to help stop dangerous germs will also kill the probiotics. And, it’s not been proven that makeup with probiotics helps skin. Probably your best bet for giving your skin a boost of good bacteria is a yogurt face mask, which could increase moisture and elasticity.

Above: before and after a yogurt treatment on an over-washed hand

We each carry around our own little cloud of bacteria, controlled by our own natural antimicrobials. In fact, our bacterial cells outnumber our human cells by 10:1! Hygiene is needed to prevent invasion from outside germs, but we need to be aware that over-washing can stress our clouds and our skin and hair. However, other people might not always want to smell your cloud and they might not want to share your bacteria, so do wash when needed.

Three germs on dirty cloud of bad smell. Each of us carries around our own cloud of bacteria, some helpful and some not.

Want a little Red 40 with your Pretzel Salad?

Dig in. It’s only Red 40.

Mixed In takes place in Cochtonia, a city-state with futuristic technology and mid 20th Century mannerisms. This recipe is adapted from one in my Granny’s church cook-book (1987) which includes an abundance of Jello recipes. Although Jello seems lowly today, it’s a modern version of collagen rich aspic, used in aristocratic dishes of the past. Intricate layering was a part of aspic and Jello culture. You’ll find this recipe mentioned in Mixed In.

I’ll be honest. I bought things I didn’t know (or had forgotten) existed for this recipe.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Crust

Combine 2.5 cups of crushed pretzels

1.5 sticks of melted margarine

3 tablespoons sugar

Pour into a 9 x 13-inch pan

Bake for 10 minutes at 350o F

Cool.

Second layer

1 envelope Dream Whip, whipped with ½ cup cold milk and ½ tsp vanilla.

8-oz package of cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

Mix together the above ingredients and pour on cooled crust.

Top layer

1 6-oz box of strawberry Jello

3 cups boiling water

14 oz sliced frozen strawberries

Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Add frozen strawberries. Stir. Cool until slightly thickened. Pour this layer on cream cheese layer.

If desired, mix a half cup crushed pretzels with ½ stick of margarine and 1 tsp sugar, bake for ten minutes at 350o. Cool and use as a topping. Refrigerate for several hours or over night before serving.

Author’s note:

One question a person might ask about such a dish, which is delightfully sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy is: how dangerous is the red 40 dye that gives it the festive color? The answer is: it depends on who you are.

An article in Environmental Health Perspectives; Vol. 120, Iss. 1,  (Jan 2012): 1-5 noted that in a 1994 study in which children were fed placebos or capsules containing large amounts of dye some but not all “children displayed a clear dose-response function, with the higher doses eliciting higher scores on their 30-item behavior inventory, including five clusters of related behaviors: a) irritability/control, b) sleep disturbances, c) restlessness, d) aggression, and e) attention span.” In other words, some kids reacted poorly to the dyes, others did not. Yellow dye (tartrazine) appeared to have the most consistent negative effect. It didn’t seem to matter if the children were diagnosed with ADHD or not. Some kids had adverse reactions to high concentrations of dyes but many were unaffected.

 A more recent article ( J.Agric. Food Chem. 2017, 65, 12, 2588–2593:March 7, 2017) states that people who have elevated Red 40 in their urine often have high blood pressure.

Additionally, the dye has been associated with colon DNA damage in mice. (Journal of Toxicological Sciences (2010), 35 (4), 547-554CODEN: JTSCDR; ISSN:0388-1350. (Japanese Society of Toxicology))

Another study found that bacteria in your intestines can degrade Red 40 and turn it into a substance that can damage DNA and other chemicals that are be both toxic and carcinogenic. ( Journal of Pure and Applied Microbiology(Vol. 10, Issue 4) 2016) It’s thought this occurs to a greater extent in infants and children.

There aren’t an overwhelming number of studies showing the harmful effects of Red 40. Despite this, Nigeria, Switzerland, Canada and countries of the European Union as Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway have either banned Red 40 or added warning labels for the reasons mentioned above. 

When you think about it, does Jello have to be brightly colored? Wouldn’t it taste as sweet without the red dye? I’m not going to ban Red 40 from my diet. On the other hand, I’m not going to have a second helping.