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Where to buy

Natural Attraction is sold at the Readers’ World Bookstore in Holland, Michigan, Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!) and The Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa. , Prairie Lights in Iowa City..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? Buy here:

 Amazon US

Kobo

Indiebound

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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.

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Or enjoy the first chapter here.

Thank you for your interest!

Is your purse big enough and other bookish concerns

IMG_5560
My great grandfather’s copy of The Last Puritan with a green cover. Keep or throw? Read below.

My first published novel will soon be out of print! The publisher, a small one, decided to close because of declining e-book profits. Ebooks have been good money makers for small and independently published books. They offer a better percentage payback for authors. They are low risk and low-cost alternatives to print books. At one time, a third of all readers bought them. But sales continue to drop. And I understand it. I haven’t read from my Kindle in months. Reading from a screen is not relaxing for me.

It’s not visual fatigue that is making ebooks less popular. Ebooks do not cause more eyestrain, especially if they are not read for over twenty minutes at a time and if you do not wear corrective lenses (although this is still being debated.) They may cause head and neck problems and most people find that glasses made for general use do not work with computers. This is because electronic print is not as crisp or clear as those created with ink and paper. E-reading many cause dry eyes as people do not blink as much when reading from an electronic page.

There’s a reason that people don’t enjoy e-books. Reading from “plasma” is different neurologically from reading on print. Screen reading is superficial and less deep. Your eyes jerk more. Your brain reads less completely. It’s skimming. It affects you. You become “cognitively impatient.” When you search for answers, you will tend to grab onto the simplest one, not the one that fits the data or information the best. You don’t dig in.

People don’t relish the page as they used to due to cognitive impatience. Novelists have adapted by writing “quick reads”–page turners– that are easy to follow and understand. Sometimes, this writing is formulaic. Critics say it is not “internal” enough and moves too quickly.  Supporters of the new, fast style say that these books are fun and exciting and less about the boring psychological struggles of rich, white people. I aspire to write in the middle in a niche form known as upmarket. You can see from my critics that I at times get blasted from both sides. However, it seems that “real” readers are rebelling not against the form but in the way it is presented. They demand print books. And yet, when an author submits a book for consideration, it’s understandably electronic, creating a gap between writing for print and getting your book in print.

This I find that cognitive impatience gets in the way when I grade on-line.  I’m okay for the first few papers and then, suddenly, I can’t take it all in. This is why when I grade a short story or research paper, I always print off a copy and write on it. Yes, I know that I can use many programs to allow me to comment on student papers electronically. It isn’t as deep. I write comments on their papers. Sometimes my students say that reading handwriting reminds them of their grandparents. I see this as a good thing.

The same thing is true when I write novels. I compose electronically but I must read paper, and over and over, as I polish the manuscript. Does this create a disconnect with readers? Who should I write for–print lovers or e-book fans? My latest book has sold more ebooks than print.

The situation is even murkier for professors. Print books are expensive and students use them for a limited time. They must be shipped and if students don’t order them promptly or if the books are backordered, they can miss many assignments. E-books are cheaper, easier to get,  and create less waste. However, I once had my students purchase an electronic lab manual, the only manual that came with our text, and they had a terrible time following the instructions. Now, I write and self-publish my own print manual and stress writing, on paper, a solid conclusion based on data for their lab reports.

There is also a mild debate about e-books in grade school. These can engage students, although some studies say that students have lower comprehension with e-books. Things such as flipping the pages of a book help with a tactile sensation that promotes understanding. My students tell me that unless they travel by air, they prefer print books. They agree that even the feel and smell of books is  part of the experience. One says, “A sign of a good purse is how many books you can fit into it.”

Another concern is that although blue light from computer screens is safe for adults, it may damage the eyes of children. Blue light creates alertness which is probably why we love screens. Blue light before  bed can mess up our sleep cycles and cause daytime sleepiness and poor performance in school.

There’s a downside to print books. Paper books carry a danger–they can house mold, mildew, dust, bacteria,  and particulates–these are associated with health problems in librarians! Some library books have been found to contain bed bugs and traces of cocaine.  You can remove mold and mildew from old books. You can prevent bed bug transfer by heating book bags in your clothes dryer. And bacteria can only live in a book for a few days.

There is one old book you must avoid. Green books older than the 1850s–those with covers and green print in pages–can contain arsenic.  Do not buy or keep these books. 

It’s a good idea to periodically cull old books from your shelves for the health reasons outlined above. You can always store your favorite classics on your e-reader. My great-grandfather’s book ( shown above) is worth about $15 at most. It made me cough when I opened it. I’m not sure I can part with it just yet because it’s one of the only things I have of him.

As for brains maxed out on high tech reading, neuroscientists recommend a two week respite from-e-reading to help your brain recover. So if you need a break, go ahead, get that big purse or backpack–large enough for two weeks of print reading and take it along on your next vacation.

Old books on wooden table
Magic or mildew? An old book could carry both. Replace those old copies!

 

Here’s a link to the print version of Wolves and Deer.

Prefer e-book? Here’s an excerpt and link for that.

Would you rather read a futuristic novel? Click here for Mixed In.

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Laughing Gas–a history

Laughing gas

Laughing Gas, nitrous oxide, was first created by Cornish chemist Humphry Davy in 1799…although some credit the reclusive Joeseph Priestly with this. In any case, it was Davy who brought laughing gas to the world and with it, won prestige.

Humphry Davy was born the son of a farmer and wood-worker. The athletic and garrulous Davy was not the best of students. He was, however, good at preparing remedies for a local doctor and even better at making explosions and gases intended to affect people’s health. Gases were created chemically and collected in silk or later, rubber bags and people took sucks of the bag while holding their nose to receive treatments. One use of gases Davy explored was as anesthetics.  The only anesthetics in those days were alcohol and opium. Surgeons had to operate quickly–amputating limbs in a minute or two–three at most.  The use of laughing gas as an anesthetic was slow to catch on– it wasn’t until 1844 that it became used by a dentist and not until the 1870s that use became routine. (The man who pioneered its use in dentistry later became deranged.)

Shunned as an anesthetic, the euphoric properties of nitrous oxide made it a popular party drug, sometimes administered in traveling entertainment tents bearing Davy’s picture. Davy called nitrous oxide inhalation “pleasurably thrilling.”Others have described it as “you’re all rubbery and relaxed and silly laughing usually. The rooms can seem to be collapsing and spinning but in a fun way with sort of swooshing wavy sounds.”  The nitrous oxide promotion propelled Davy into fame–it was a fad that won him a prestigious appointment to the Royal Institution in 1801 at the young age of 22. In this capacity, he lectured and popularized science to the point that he was knighted at the age of 34 and later made a baronet.Davy also discovered ether and chloroform. Although he did help his assistant Michael Faraday achieve fame, Davy clung to his superiority as if he had been born into it.

In retrospect, nitrous oxide has some harsh side effects. It can suppress vitamin B12 uptake, destroy your body’s Vitamin B12,  and cause brain damage if over-used. There have even been cases of paralysis and spinal degradation in frequent users. However, as anesthetics go, it is one of the safest. Perhaps this brain damage created his snobbish treatment of Michael Faraday later in life. Faraday attributed some of this to his high class wife, Lady Jane. (My Mom used the term”Lady Jane” to refer to a snotty attitude but it has taken new meaning these days).Lady Jane and her money can be thanked for numerous portraits of the handsome Davy in those pre-photography days. In any case, I digress.

Davy
This photo was taken from A History of Chemistry by F.J. Moore third edition 1939

 

Laughing gas is used today in dental offices where it eases the pain and anxiety that come with dental work. It’s used to aid the torment of childbirth and can create “giggly, happy women during birth.” It’s used as a whipped cream propellent and also as a recreational drug known as “whippet” and “Hippie Crack.” It can also be found in fumes from burning coal and is a greenhouse gas.

We now know that nitrous oxide keeps nerve impulses from reaching their target. It blocks the gap between the nerve endings. Ketamine acts in the same way.  It also causes the release of opioid-like hormones and increases blood flow to the brain. It should be used infrequently. It hampers both male and female fertility. Indeed, neither Davy or his pupil Faraday had children.

 

 

Dora Jordan’s Parrot: a look at parrots as pets from Columbus to today

woman-with-a-parrot
Manet’s woman with parrot (1866) http://www.manet.org/woman-with-a-parrot.jsp (This is not Dora Jordan or her parrot.)

To prepare for writing Wolves and Deer, I read some of Dora Jordan’s letters to Prince William, Duke of Clarence, later William IV.  Copies of these were available from The Huntington Library.  It was easy to get access to the copies but not easy to read them. I’m losing the ability to read handwriting, or at least, old school handwriting. From what I could decipher, she was a faithful and warm correspondent with no inkling of the betrayal that was to come.

In one letter, she expresses concern for the family parrot, Polly. I was captivated by her concern for poor Polly, who seemed to be lonely and in need of a parrot companion which she planned to purchase. It made her seem both romantic and a little indulgent. Her children, it seems, had plenty of pets, and plenty of love. But what about the parrot? How did tropical parrots come to be popular pets stuck in a most un-tropical country–England? It all started with Columbus.

When he landed on San Salvador, the natives gave him a generous gift of 40 Bahaman parrots, a cultural icon.  Upon his return to Spain, the parrots caused a stir and parrot exporting began immediately. Parrots were elevated to status symbols and considered a little bit of paradise for the rich to cherish, fawn over, and feature in their portraits. Amazons and macaws appear to have been among the most popular parrots. Royalty and clergy in particular prized them as pets. Some claimed that parrots were prophets! It is believed that Henry VIII had a parrot. Since the birds were exported from the caribbean across the seas, pirates probably did have parrots, although some sources say it is simply a fiction made popular by Treasure Island. It is believed that as far back as 1582, a pirate captain used parrots to bribe officials.

By the 1600s, parrots were so common in Spain that ornithologists stopped listing them as exotic birds. Parrots were commonly sold in London markets and many middle class families had one. As parrots became more common, they became less of a status symbol and more an agent of comedy. Their mocking of human speech was seen as entertaining. In literature, they became symbolic of an endearing, entertaining servant who was not too bright but well-meaning and sometimes insightful. Parrots in literature and sometimes in real life, often blurted out either the right thing (who the murderer was) or something inappropriate such as a string of cuss words. Owners viewed parrots as objects that a master could  train and “subjugate.” To the most snobbish, parrots were associated with servants in that they could talk but were not too smart. Servants must not be human since even parrots can talk.

900_William Feilding, 1st Earl of Denbigh
A man, his servant, and a parrot. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/anthony-van-dyck-william-feilding-1st-earl-of-denbigh

 

Playwright Ben Johnson was the first person to connect parrots and the name Polly.–a combination of parrot and Molly.  Several US presidents, including George Washington,  had parrots, often named Polly.

Why does Polly want a cracker? This is somewhat obscure. Pet birds were fed seeds and nuts and something called “german paste” that was a mixture of cooked grain, chopped eggs, and seeds. Minerals were added to birds’ diets by placing a rusty nail in  the pet’s drinking water twice a week. Crackers were first introduced to the public in 1801 and commercial bird food in the 1840s. No doubt since both crackers and parrots were novelties in the early 1800s, Polly was often offered a cracker, especially in the days before bird food.

In the early 1900s, birds were the most popular indoor pet in the United States. Parakeets were  the parrot of choice although songbirds and canaries in particular were much more en vogue, Today around three percent of homes in the US have a pet bird. In the UK, only 1% of all homes enjoy a pet bird. However, across the globe, parakeets remain one of the most popular pets. 

Parrots are endangered and wild caught parrots make bad pets. Even parrots born in captivity can be a handful, although, there are some cool people out there who love them.

Parrots can get depressed and manifest this by screaming, biting, pulling out their feathers, and mutilating themselves.

One problem that owners can have with parrots is that a parrot will view the human as a love interest, want no other, and become sexually frustrated. I asked people I know to tell me their stories of parrots in their lives. The answers were a lively mixed bag of joys and sorrows.

“We kept his wings clipped so he spent most of the time on an open stand by his cage which he would go into by himself when wanted to. He knew the whole intro to The Days of our Lives and would sing along. We had a Husky that he would whistle for, call her name, then climb down from his perch and nip her on the nose, laughing as he climbed back up. My favorite thing was that he would imitate the smoke alarm whenever my wife would start cooking. Piss her off. Lol”

“My aunt had an African Grey parrot with many words. It was caged and not too messy. They lived in California. Her sister in law, from the Midwest taught it to say ‘Gen Dobry’ while visiting and it became a favorite expression after she left. Then her brother in law—also visiting from Chicago would whistle at the bird so when he left that is all Kukla would do after greeting you in Polish.”

This story belongs in a novel! “An African Grey, had belonged to a man who had lived a rough life including a stint in prison. Apparently the parrot picked up some colorful language. His new owners, the man a Presbyterian minister, were trying to teach him to say: “I’m a Presbyterian” so he could impress a gathering of Presbyterian pastors at their home. When the time came, they said: “Alex, say ‘I’m a Presbyterian!” And Alex said loudly and clearly: “F@#$ you!”. When I stayed with them, he would hear me get up in the morning and ask: “Wanna go outside and go potty?” When the phone rang, he answered: “Hello!” In the voice of one of his humans. And he yelled at the dogs!”

“Best friend and great company.”

One person mentioned “They produce a lot of manure, can bite hard, throw food and are noisy.”

Another said, “They do have lung issues – they can’t take drafts. We had one die without knowing that. And we had one with wings clipped, not a good idea either. Our new kitten got him.”

A friend of a parrot owner remembered this: “He jabbered away nonstop sometimes, often sounding like half of a telephone conversation, with all the inflections, but rarely using discernible words. He laughed like a maniac! While I cared for him he became very protective of me, sitting on my shoulder and sometimes flying at anyone who got too close to me. Once when perched on my shoulder, I moved too suddenly and must have startled him, because he grabbed my nose right between my nostrils and was actually HANGING from MY FACE! He often shared breakfast with me, scraping the top layer off my buttered toast. It was interesting to see him work his tongue around inside his mouth — it was like a black bean but the surface was like soft black leather. Looking back, I feel sorry for the bird. He was kind of anxious, and started pulling some of his feathers out. He’d pick at shoulders of his wings until it was like raw meat or hamburger. He had to wear the cone of shame while it healed, but then he’d do it all over again. He didn’t live all that long, probably owing to the access to a diet that was totally unnatural for him (buttered toast?). I’d never have one again, I really think it’s just wrong.”

Some parrot stories are more like horror tales: “Years ago I had one for a few months. Thing wouldn’t shut-up even when covered and was aggressive. Worse pet I ever had, couldn’t wait to get rid of it.”

“My grand-daughter had one and it almost ruined her marriage. All that noise in the morning! They bond to one person and this one was jealous. Yikes! I think she sold it back to the pet store. They live forever. It’s an amazing commitment. And yes, messy. If you let them out of their cages….well, you can extrapolate. Also, the beak is a lethal weapon! I never met the bird, but a cockatiel my nephew had took a shine to me and was nibbling on my hair which was really cute until I realized he also damaged my hollow gold hoop earring!”

“They’re flying wild birds, not domesticated. You have to clip their wings if you want them to be unable to live their instinctual life after they’ve been trapped in the jungle. Even those born and raised in a cage are still technically wild. You also need to take the case outside daily so they can get fresh air. They’re meant to live among dense foliage, so their lungs get miserable in our thin-aired homes.”

“We bought things at the estate auction of a couple who had owned an obnoxious parrot. Bought a box of books that included one on keeping parrots that the bird had pecked all to heck. We also bought a beautifully woven antique basket from the Southwest; the parrot had pecked up the rim😕
After the couple died, heirs had trouble getting anybody to take the parrot. The woman had had a deep, “smoker’s” voice, and the bird sounded like her loudly saying “A..hole!! A..hole!!” a LOT. Think they finally persuaded a granddaughter to take the ornery thing.😜”

As a child, I had a parakeet, a tiny parrot native to Australia. He was a delightful but messy little thing who lived longer than the dog we got around the same time. Imitating my Mom, he often called for the cat, which, thankfully, ignored him.

Parrots are a huge commitment. We must remember that Dora Jordan and Prince William had numerous servants to clean up after Polly. And although he was incompetent at almost everything he did, William was once a sailor and having a parrot might have been a part of his image. I can imagine him teaching it swear words and laughing–he was that kind of guy. Dora’s worries about Polly preceded her betrayal by William by a couple of years. Is it possible that Polly knew something was afoot and that soon the lives of Dora and her family would be upset forever? Who knows what William was up to as Dora was off earning money to pay the family bills? One thing we do know, he wasn’t looking for a companion for his parrot. That, and most everything else, was left to Dora.

To read more about parrots as British pets in the 1700 and 1800s, click here.

To learn more about parrots in literature, read here, although it doesn’t mention Flaubert’s Parrot.

I am grateful for the article “Men, monkeys, lap-dogs, parrots perish all” by Bruce Boehrer, published in Modern Language Quarterly (June 1998) for the information linking parrots, servants, and discrimination. He has an entire book about Parrot Culture.

 

A tale of three taglines and their pitches

Your work of fiction is done. You’re aching to connect with readers. You dream about  where you will publish it. Brimming with enthusiasm, you tell people about it. But how can you condense this intimate experience known as your story into something that won’t take as long to explain as it does to read? How do you let readers know that your fiction is worth their precious time? You need a pitch and a tagline.

The tagline is a phrase that gives the essence and emotions of the book or story.  The pitch lays out the basic conflict–what the protagonist wants, what stands in the way, and what the consequences are.

Here is a delightful resource on the topic.

A new author might find it painful to squeeze their work  into such a small printed space. A paragraph? A sentence? After all that struggle! But not only does doing this help your potential audience, it helps you focus on what your tale is about.

You can get a feel for pitches and taglines by looking at your favorite books and movies. Here are two familiar ones.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE

TAGLINE: In the World of the Near Future, Who will control women’s bodies?

PITCH: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leae the home of the Commander and his wife to walk to the food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.  She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids, are valued only if their ovaries are viable.

HIDDEN FIGURES (Movie)

TAGLINE: Meet the women you don’t know behind the mission you do.

PITCH: Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.

When I began writing and submitting and getting rejected, I found pitch and tagline creation painful and limiting. Here’s the good news, you get better at it.

Here’s my first successful attempt, for

NATURAL ATTRACTION

TAGLINE: What happens when a traveling preacher who’s never been kissed inadvertently shares a love potion with a young female scientist who has taken the guise of a man?

PITCH: Clementine is an ambitious young Dutch-American naturalist from Spookstad, Michigan, who hopes to make her mark as a scientist in the post-Civil War United States. She takes a tonic, which causes her to appear male, so she can join a prospecting expedition as a naturalist. She wins the heart of the expedition preacher, Wesley, who will be her unflinching companion, as she travels the country facing acts of nature, cowboys, freak shows, ambitious bosses, unique rodent species, a trippy sage and even the Chicago fire. Wesley is betrothed to another and Clementine fears her affection for him will hinder her dreams of becoming a well-renowned scientist and his of gaining a small parish. When Wesley disappears and Clementine can no longer hide her gender or her feelings, she must accept her true identity and keep his secret or lose everything she’s worked so hard to gain.

Penner Publishing worked with these a bit and came up with this transformation.

TAGLINE: To get ahead she’ll have to become a man–and a man, she always thought, never lets love get in the way…

PITCH/BOOKBACK: Clementine dreams of being a naturalist—a career that leaves no time for romance. To sneak on an adventurous prospecting expedition, Clementine will have to convince everyone she’s a man. A mysterious tonic offers her just that disguise.

But “Calvin,” as she calls herself now, had no idea what she was giving up. When Wesley, the expedition’s gentle preacher, catches her eye, she can’t get him out of her head; not his lush lips, wide brown eyes…or broad chest. Dare she reveal her secret to him? Can she keep her career if she does?

Among run-ins with cowboys, natural disasters, and traveling shows, Wesley’s most fascinating adventure is meeting Calvin. Though Wesley’s betrothed to another, the cute, clever naturalist threatens to make him fall into temptation.

MIXED IN

My second novel, MIXED IN, was submitted with this pitch and no tagline:

When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous it is. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. Their relationship puts them both in peril as Catrina begins to understand the dark side of her employer and their society.

Working with my editor and asking friends what they thought, I came up with this pitch (now used as the book back) and tagline:

TAGLINE: When passions are regulated, which laws will you break?

PITCH/BOOKBACK: When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work as a chemist for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. As their loneliness draws them together, they become allies in what will become the fight of their lives in the sexually repressive and culturally backward dystopia.

 Catrina’s invention, No Regrets—a scanner to test for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections– brings increased scrutiny from the town’s Vice Patrol, made worse by an ambitious new agent who hangs around Union Station and takes up with Ulysses’s vindictive ex. Catrina’s relationship with Ulysses and her company’s new products put them both in peril as she begins to understand the dark side of her employer, her society, and science without humanity.

 But science is all she’ll have to spare the men of Cochtonville a mortifying fate and to save the life of Ulysses.

You can see that the pitch got a lot sexier–and something you might not want to show your Mom or Aunt or your students if you are a teacher. However, it immediately helps the reader know if they are going to be the right audience for such a tale.

By the time I wrote my third novel, I had learned the secret. Work on your pitch and tagline as you are writing. This helps you, the author, focus. Here’s an example:

WOLVES AND DEER

TAGLINE: Whatever happened to the actress and the prince?

This was changed by the editors to

A CRUEL BETRAYAL. A MYSTERIOUS DEATH

(Note that this has more emotion.)

The pitch did not get much editing because with time, I got better at pitches and had a group of people I could run my pitches past.

Here is the banner with the tagline and the pitch. And here is a link to purchase.BANNER2-WolvesDeer

In summary, taglines and pitches aren’t simply a crass commercialization of your creative work. They help you distill the essence of it. And with time, you’ll come to enjoy them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A pineapple of the finest flavor

When you see a pineapple at the store these days, it might be on sale for less than a dollar or cut up and sold in a plastic tub as a value-added item. You might think of the health benefits–low calorie with plenty of fiber, Vitamin C, and bone building manganese.

You probably don’t consider that between two -four hundred years ago, this fruit was the ultimate in snob appeal. Because they were trendy in his lifetime, I had King William IV carry pineapples in Wolves and Deer. I knew pineapples were a status symbol and grown in hothouses or imported by steamships from tropical British colonies. Thanks to a delightful article in The Week, I became more familiar with the crazy history of this fruit in Europe.

Apparently the pineapple was one bit of “gold” that Columbus brought to Europe. Only one pineapple made the trip without rotting but that was enough. It was praised for its sweetness, its resemblance to a pinecone, and the crown-like spiked leaves at the top. It had no stigma such as the ill-fated Biblical apple. Only the upper class had ever seen or tasted such a treat. It was royal, pure, and a testament to the Divine Right of Kings. Apparently, people were more into symbolism back then than your favorite literature professor.

It was Charles the second in the 1660s who seized upon this fruit with unbridled enthusiasm, putting it in jellies and serving a pineapple at royal dinners to impress foreign dignitaries. Around 1688, Leiden area resident Agnes Block became first gardener to grow one in the north. A frenzy ensued. The Dutch developed greenhouses to grow the tropical fruits. One pineapple was worth thousands of dollars in labor and in coal–the fuel of the day. They were so costly they became ornaments instead of food.

The first European to grow a pineapple, Agnes Block, is most known in the Netherlands for her botanical illustrations and art. https://rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/365259

In the Georgian era (when William’s father was king), pineapples were both imported and grown by aristocrats. People used the word “pineapple” to mean something with quality such as “you are a pineapple of a person.” The most commonly used pineapple phrase was “a pineapple of the finest flavor.” Pineapples became part of dining and decor. The Wedgwoods (Charles Darwin’s kin) made pineapple table wear. Pineapples were seen on furniture. To quote the previously mentioned article 

“Carved-stone pineapples appeared on plinths outside grand manor houses, pronouncing to passersby the largesse and high standing of the family within. They adorned carriages, topped garden temples, figured in countless paintings, and were turned into enormous sculptures gracing country gardens. Pineapples had become synonymous with good taste, nobility, and limitless wealth.”

In 1816, a breakthrough in heating occurred–the advent of steam heat. This made pineapples less costly to grow. Their popularity continued even though a few more people could now afford them.

IMG_5432
This pineapple finial has more history than one might imagine.

When William became King in 1831, pineapples were becoming more common. I read Diaries of  Charles Greville as a source for Wolves and Deer and he mentions that William’s head was the shape of a pineapple. The context did not make it sound like a compliment. It was a way of explaining William’s lack of intellect. Apparently, by the 1830s, right before Victoria wore the crown, the pineapple was a fading status symbol, but still a sign of wealth. Estates in Britain all had a “pinery” near the kitchen to grow the fruits year around. Horticultural societies still clung to their status and producing humungous pineapples became the Victorian rage. You can read about the cultivation here. By World War I, James Dole had developed pineapple plantations in Hawaii. Pineapple cultivation in England came to an end and sadly, many varieties of pineapples were lost–including ones that were pyramidal in shape– because they didn’t fit neatly into cans as was important for commercial production of pineapple.

Currently, pineapple decor is kitschy-trendy. 

The fruit is most popular in the United States with around 40% of consumers buying pineapple in a given year. A pineapple costs around $2.50 on average. That’s a -320,000% drop from its all time high. So if you find yourself longing for a luxury item, keep in mind–not everything deserves the hype and even the most lofty trend will come to an end.

 

Chemistry of pottery

When I was a kid, the street in front of me was torn up for reconstruction, and we neighborhood hoodlums dug in the exposed clay, a novelty for Iowans, and used it to make pots. We were engaging in some of the most basic chemistry, that is, allowing something to lose water and change its chemical structure. Most of chemistry is simply rearranging things and making pottery is no exception.

Clay begins as rocks which are dissolved by rain and water. The elements within are aluminum and silicon oxides that are held together with water. When the water is removed, the rocks reform as pottery. The most useful form of clay is kaolinite in which the aluminum and silicon oxides are in equal proportions.

Handling clay by throwing it on a wheel or pressing it together removes some of the water. With the water gone, the silicon and aluminum bond through the oxygens and not through wet hydrogen bonds. The new bonds are stronger. Firing the pot will drive off more water and change the chemical structure of the kaolinite from sheets to an amorphous glass.This process removes and locks out any water that might permeate the surface. Stoneware is fired at a higher temperature and contains less (no) water and is stronger than earthenware. Containing no water, it doesn’t heat up in the microwave.

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Above: an earthenware bowl from Sunflower Pottery. http://www.sunflowerpottery.com/home.html

Glazes are made from quartz and corundum, colorless forms of silica and aluminum oxides. Transition metals which take on various colors depending on their oxidation state and bonding, are added for color, and once again, firing the glaze allows bonds to form.

Of course, none of these technicalities can describe the art that goes into making beautiful pottery. Most recently, I visited Pewabic Pottery in Detroit.

 

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I decided I deserved a little treat. How do you like it?

 

One thing I love about pottery is that you can use it. It appeals to the practical side of me and the artistic side. Even the roughest of mornings can be brightened with the right tableware. And now, it’s time for breakfast.

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Thank you to the Royal Society of Chemistry for this article

Small press publishing: Covers & Revenge

BANNER2-WolvesDeerIt’s here–the cover for my upcoming novel Wolves and Deer. This novel is being published by a small press and with small presses, the cover is often assembled from stock photos and art. Here’s how this one went down:

After the novel was accepted for publication, the editors asked me to look through art sites and find agreeable images that reflected the content and the characters.

I looked at animal photos of wolves and deer but none were to my liking.

The novel takes place in post the Regency era, just before Victoria, but I didn’t find any images I really liked for the cover among Regency era stock photos.

Some of the novel takes place at the Royal Institution in London so I considered old-time lab photos but the main plot isn’t about science–it simply has science in it. It’s really about betrayal and revenge. Wolves and Deer has a good dose of humor along with the pathos and mystery.  In the end, I liked a photo of a woman wearing a wolf skin. It had the element of humor I wanted along with a “Red Riding Hood gets her revenge” feel. It also hinted that the novel might have a little sex in it. The woman had dark hair and a pointed nose as would be possible for the daughter of Dora Jordan.  I suggested that the background be something to do with royalty.  The cover artist came up with this cover.

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I had a decision about the back cover–the grave photo the cover designer suggested didn’t match the grave as described in the novel or the grave of Dora Jordan. I decided it should remain as the illustrator wished because it is so highly discernible as a grave. I made the same decision with the Royal gate on the front cover. The King in question spent most time at Windsor and Clarence House but they aren’t immediately recognizable to people in the US.

I also did not want my name highlighted or larger. I’m by no means a famous author. Like most, I struggle for my sales and good reviews. I don’t consider myself a selling point.

By the way, the cover for Mixed In is up for an award. This cover was also a collaboration with an artist. I wanted a splash of beer on the cover since much of it takes place in a bar.cropped-mixedinfinal.png

The cover of Natural Attraction was selected by a vote of readers.

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That’s how I got my covers. In all cases, the publisher had the last word of approval for the covers.

What do you think? Is there a type of cover that draws you in?

Wolves and Deer may be purchased here.

Cutting the grass

Burns projectiles, amputations. It’s not a war zone–it’s your lawnmower. In the US, 80,000 people are injured by lawnmowers each year.  As you can imagine, summer is the prime season for accidents and lawnmower accidents are one of  the most common summer accidents.

I asked friends for their lawnmower horror stories and they were pretty gruesome.

“There was an old man in my hometown who was mowing the ditch that had standing water at the bottom. The rider mower tipped over and he tumbled to the bottom and the mower got on top of him. He drowned there.”

“My husband had a guy who worked for him who tripped while mowing with a push mower. Instead of letting go of the mower handle so the mower would stop, he pulled the mower backward in an effort to keep his balance. He pulled the mower over his foot and lost part of his foot. He was off work for quite a long time but, eventually came back. He still limps.”

“My uncle was push mower cutting our family plot at the cemetery. He was backing up & fell over a tombstone. The mower came back over his foot & cut off his big toe. He found a bag to put his foot into to contain the blood. The toe did not survive.”

Most lawnmower accidents involve cutting things off. Amputations. Even when the mower is turned off, the blades on many mowers, older models in particular, can still turn. An Emergency Room nurse summed it by saying,”People cut their fingers and toes off with them fairly frequently.”

Lawnmower accidents go beyond amputations. Burns can occur and even house fires.  A friend said

“Mine got too hot on Friday, blew the cap & oil all over. I didn’t get hurt or anything but I haven’t tried to run it again.”

Running over things is common. People remembered running over everything from snakes to bunnies to sentimental toys. Possibly the worst running over story that didn’t involve a projectile was this one:

“A few years ago I was mowing, wearing shorts, and ran over a in-ground bees’ nest. Got stung about a dozen times on each leg before I realized what the sudden pain was and could run far enough away. So, my tip is wear long pants.”

Lawnmowers can toss objects at a speed of 200 miles per hour. Projectile accidents are more common and more  dangerous than you might think. For example:

“When I was younger, my mother told me about some friends whose child was in the yard while the dad was mowing. He ran over a piece of metal he didn’t know was there. It was thrown out of the mower, hit the child in the head and killed him.”

“When I was a kid, I was wearing tennis shoes while mowing the lawn & hit a wire. It lodged in my fourth toe. My dad pulled the wire out with a pliers & then we headed to the doctor for a tetanus shot. Never wore tennis shoes to mow again”

Thirteen children per day are injured by lawnmowers in the US. Accidents involving kids are some of the most heartbreaking::

“A young kid who was mowing had the riding mower tip over on him, slicing his guts open.(The doctor)  had to work fast and try to pull some muscles over the area and stitch it up. Not pretty. “

“When I was at Mayo as a student, I took care of a kid who had an above the knee amputation after his dad accidentally ran him over with a lawn mower. The child was only 5 years old. While it was super sad that the kid lost his leg, it was also so hard to watch the dad interact with his child. You could tell how horrible he felt and was in tears more than the child. I’m sure the child now has a prosthetic and is living as normal of a life as possible (I have friends who design prosthetics and the functionality of them is pretty amazing). But, that dad will always have a reminder of that horrible day when he accidentally ran his kid over.”

“When I was young, my mom was teaching me how to use the riding mower. We were mowing around a shed in the backyard. I heard a big rock shoot out, and I leaned to the right to look over my shoulder behind me, and the edge of the shed sliced right down my neck on the left side. As the mower kept moving forward, I though my head might be ripped off. I had “rug burn” down my neck for weeks. Also my grandfather lost his leg mowing a ditch. Mowing is not my favorite chore.”

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New lawn mowers have some safety features including a foot shield and a blade break (clutch chute) that stops the blade when the handle is released. There is still a potential for injury as you can read above. Many ride-on mowers have Rollover Protection. This along with a seatbelt is recommended by OSHA. All mowers should have deflection shields on the discharge chute. These push projectiles down instead of out.

Here are some safety tips to make sure that you have a safe summer:

Be sure to clean the blades before you mow and some sites suggest spraying them with cooking spay before mowing to prevent clogs. When cleaning a mower without a blade break remove the spark plug to prevent accidental starts. 

Don’t go back! Push the mower forward, never pull it back. For ride-on mowers, many accidents occur when backing up so keep them moving forward.

Never let kids (or any passengers) ride along.

Don’t mow when the grass is wet. The mower will clog more and slips are more likely.

Use a push mower on slopes and a string mower on extreme slopes. Use OSHA’ s slope guide.The Consumer Protection Safety Commission recommends mowing across a slope with a push mower and with the slope with a ride on. Don’t make sharp turns or sudden starts with a riding mower, especially on hills.

Don’t walk away from a running lawnmower.

Wear long pants and sturdy shoes and safety glasses when mowing.

Fill the mower with gas before mowing. If you run out of gas, let the mower cool completely before refilling.

Make sure the mower blades have stopped and the mower is off before cleaning the blades.

Let the mower cool down before putting it away. House fires have been stared due to hot lawnmowers!

Don’t use your mower as a hedge trimmer.

Don’t mow when you are drunk.

Clear the yard of debris before mowing.

Make sure people and pets are inside before you mow. The average age for a lawn mower bystander injury is 6 years.

Do not let children under the age of twelve mow. The average age for a child injured  while lawn mowing is 10.7 years.

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For a healthy lawn, keep your grass at the proper height. This depends on the type of grass but don’t let it get shorter than an inch or longer than three inches. Grass needs some height to develop roots. In the summer, setting the blade to the highest setting and cutting only the top third is recommended. Letting your grass get too long makes it difficult to mow. Most people mow once a week.

People have favored surrounding their homes with short grass for centuries.This was maintained by servants or more frequently animals until the widespread use of lawnmowers in the 1890s. With the advent of the mower, came injuries.

To review, be safe. Lawnmower accidents happen across the globe. Perhaps you have heard the Genesis song with the lyric “Me, I’m just a lawn mower. You can tell me by the way I walk.” You don’t want to be that guy. Take care.

That’s Escherichia coli to you

Flat vector set of different types of microorganisms. Disease-causing viruses. Objects related to science and microbiology theme
Can you spot the E. coli in this contaminated water?

Here is a recent news headline: E coli closes a local beach. As you probably know, E. coli, or Escherichia coli as it is named by genus and species, is a bacteria. Bacteria are simple single-celled creatures, a step down from amoebas. Unlike viruses, they can reproduce on their own (by splitting) and have a metabolism. This means they take in food and produce wastes. The waste can be beneficial or harmful. E. coli grows easily in air or without it. It isn’t picky about its temperature for growth although it prefers near body temperature. It’s found in the intestines of animals and different animals contain different strains.

Microbiologist Lee Macomber points out that a high E. coli count in water means that the water is contaminated with fecal matter. E. coli is easy to grow in the lab and it is an indicator of water cleanliness. E. coli serves as the bellwether species. There very well could be more dangerous bacteria including gastroenteritis and viruses such as Hepatitis A in contaminated water.

According to the Iowa DNR, fecal contamination of beach water occurs due to improperly constructed and operated septic systems and sewage treatment plants, manure spills, storm water runoff from lands with wildlife and pet droppings, or direct contamination from waterfowl, livestock, or small children in the water. In Iowa, rain appears to be one of the most important factors in generating high levels of bacteria. Surface runoff after a heavy rainfall may transport high levels of fecal bacteria to the water at the beach. The rain also increases the sediment in the water causing it to be murky. Since bacteria are destroyed by sunlight, murky water aids in their survival.

About half of Iowa’s water is impaired and less than a quarter is considered clean. Our current governor is planning to clean up the water–by making it more difficult to call a water impaired!

E. coli is a contaminant in water but is it all bad? It’s needed in our intestines. The bacteria produces Vitamin K and helps break down food for digestion. But it can turn up in the wrong places and some strains take a deadly turn. The most notorious strain is E. coli O157:H7–which is found in the digestive tract of healthy cattle. This bacteria produces Shiga toxin and other by-products that make people violently ill with diarrhea that is at its worst “all blood, no stool.” E. coli can infect meat when slaughtering is done carelessly.  It can get into milk from animals and via dirt, animal bedding, and possibly by wind-borne dust. It is more puzzling how it gets into lettuce but animal and bird droppings, dust from nearby slaughterhouses and feed lots, and contamination from wild animals have all been cited as causes. E.coli clings to greens effectively and is hard to wash off. It can spread from person to person via poor hygiene. My students found E coli in ice from a soda dispenser once. It had to have gotten there from a worker’s dirty hands,

People with Type A blood are the most susceptible to E. coli related infections. The most common food source is ground beef. The most likely place to get an infection is in a developing nation and children under two are most vulnerable. Believe it or not, a large mussel population in  a lake can filter E. coli from the water so the Great Lakes, especially Michigan, are rarely contaminated.

E. coli infection has been in the headlines lately. It’s been a contaminant of romaine lettuce since the start of the year and has shut down daycare centers and sickened kids in Tennessee.  The most commonly affected foods are ground beef and other meats, green leafy vegetables, unpasteurized juices, raw milk, and soft cheeses made from raw milk. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Hemolytic-uremic syndrome can cause kidney damage as well as death. E. coli can be blamed for most UTI infections, traveler’s diarrhea, and neonatal bacterial meningitis.   If you have E.coli poisoning, staying hydrated is a way to dilute the toxins. Antibiotics, sometimes a cocktail of them, could be needed to rid yourself of the bacteria.

Four out of every 100,000 children in the US will be hospitalized for an E. coli related illness this year. E coli infections spike between June and September.

Here are  ways to minimize the risk of an E. coli infection at home.

  • Cook meat completely. E. coli is killed by proper heating.
  • Thaw meat separately from other foods
  • Use a different plate for raw vs cooked meat when cooking and grilling
  • Wash food preparation surfaces and utensils
  • Clean your refrigerator weekly
  • Wash faucets and soap pumps daily. (Pump soap is more germy than bar soap.)
  • Wash dish towels daily
  • Promptly refrigerate perishable foods
  • Make sure your refrigerator keeps a temperature of 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wash your hands before and after preparing food.

Scientists are developing an E. coli vaccine but until that time, I’m keeping my kitchen clean and staying out of the local water.

However, frightening it can be, E. coli is beneficial to medicine and makes many drugs more affordable. E. coli is easy to grow and is genetically simple. It has one large chromosome in the shape of a ring. It is the microorganism of choice for cloning. The chromosome can be modified to change the bacterial waste products. It can be altered to produce insulin for example. In this case, the gene that made human insulin was cut from a human cell and inserted into the bacteria. Click here to see the process in pictures. It can be used to produce human growth hormone by inserting a different gene.  Erythromycin and other drugs are made this way. It can even produce by-products that can be made into plastic, should we need more plastic.

Did to recognize the E. coli? It’s the hairy yellow critter left of center in the photo up top.