Living in our own private air pollution

Woman in protective mask holding aerosol in her hands closeup. Allergy to cosmetics concept

For the past two days, I’ve woken up, smelled the outdoor air, and was greeted with an acrid smell. Was it a local factory? My underarms? It was clearly some type of air pollution. Air pollution is one of my pet peeves. Iowa is a state with more air pollution than most. What was the smell? Why should we care? Here’s why:

Air pollution has been linked to severe covid.

Pollution, especially particulates, has been linked to depression.

Pollution such as ozone and particulates has been linked to miscarriages in early pregnancy. Pollution can cross the placenta and cause low birth weight or a silent miscarriage where the fetus fails to form properly. It is also associated with an increased risk of ectopic pregnancies. Air pollution can also cause still birth. Many pro-life groups are frauds. They don’t care at all about pollution.

Pollution is as bad or worse in rural areas as it is in cities with agriculture being a major source of air pollution. Rural people are more likely to be resistant to any warnings having to do with science. They just don’t care about air pollution.

There’s not much I can do in the short term to keep those around me from polluting. Here in rural Iowa, few take responsibility for polluting the air.

But what about our own private air pollution? I’m not talking underarm smell here. What about stuff we do to ourselves?

Recently, doctors discovered plastics in the lungs of living humans when they took samples of lung tissue from people with lung ailments. Where could it come from?

One source can be the materials we live with such as our clothes, plastic products including toys, and furniture. How about our personal care products? I was asked: What about hair spray?

I admit. My hair isn’t easily tamed. I gave up on hair spray but do use it on occasion. What’s in it?

Hair spray is used to create shine and hold hair in place. Silicone creates the shine while Styrene/Acrylates which are plastics fix the style. Hairspray contains more than plastics. Many contain formaldehyde and scents which can contribute to air pollution and cause symptoms such as light headedness and headaches. Older style products such as used in the helmet hair look are particularly bad for the wearer.

How dangerous is hair styling in general?

A recent study of Beauty salon air found that it was filled with everything from microscopic snippets of hair and nails to particulates and fumes from products. Bridal party procedures were particularly polluting. Besides spraying, things such as heat and UV styling released harmful fumes into the air.

But it’s not only the salon.

Another study showed that people emit a plume of synthetic scents and toxins, especially after they have showered.

As for hair spray specifically, Hair spray may be asscociated with alveolitis which is a rare but fatal lung inflammation. It and other scented products, along with dander, and air pollution can exacerbate COPD.

There are no doubt worse things you can do to your lungs than apply hair spray, especially on occasion. However, you probably should wear a mask when applying spray. For a lot of reasons, avoiding the Fox News anchor look is good for your health. That’s not nature, it silicone.

And what about my outside air? It turned out, that acrid scent was lawn chemicals. I’ve already written about dandelions being good for you and your lawn and a source of rubber. There’s no need for the toxic smell of lawn chemicals. Or Fox News hair.

Medusa Party Week

When it comes to Greek/Roman mythology, nothing makes me more angry than the story of Medusa. Although the myth changes throughout history, Medusa was punished for being raped in Athena/Minerva’s temple, and that punishment was to have her hair transformed into serpents along with the power to turn people who looked at her to stone, although it’s not clear if she could control this power. She becomes ugly and alone.

Medusa’s tale has changed over time from a seductress to a rape victim to, more recently, an icon who has stepped into her own power and embraced her anger as in Ann Stanford’s 1977 ”Medusa.” In another poem, she’s celebrated as a women who seeks retribution for enslaved and marginalized people as in Jamaican poet Shara McCallum’s “Madwoman as Rasta Medusa.” (read here.)

Throughout the ages, Medusa and her hair have been discussed and parsed. Hair, of course, is associated with female beauty. How a person wears her hair represents how controlled she is, her sexuality. Medusa’s Hair possibly even represents female genitalia and the power to frighten and psychologically castrate men according to Freud. Although what Freud had to say about Medusa’s head makes little sense to me, it involves something along the lines of the snakes being phallic and so a cut off snake head reminds a guy that his beloved penis can possibly be chopped off. Or it represents a scary vagina.

In any case, Medusa has rightly gained recognition as a sort of everywoman. As Uma Thurman states, Medusa is a woman who was punished for her own rape. And it has been pointed out that Athena herself was first in line asking Medusa the equivalent of what were you wearing?

So what about Athena? She’s the one who laid the curse and put a bounty on Medusa’s head. She saw Medusa getting raped as a sign of disrespect to her temple. Yes, it was all about her. Eventually Athena even wore Medusa’s head on her breastplate as a weapon. What’s up with the bitch Athena? As goddess who sprung from Zeus’s head (since he had eaten her mother), Athena represents a woman fully invested in the patriarchy. She had to go along to get along. But, as many women who rise to power and then stab other’s in the back, she needed Medusa and robbed her power to get by. Damn, to be nice to a fallen women would make her look bad.

Athena’s a bitch but a predictable one. Studies have shown that women are likely to be snarky to other women, especially if that women has something appealing about them. The theory is that women have to keep men, not other women, happy in order to survive in this patriarchal world and take their frustrations out on each other. Athena was outranked by the rapist (Poseidon) and couldn’t punish him so she was mean to Medusa. Women aged 20-25 are the most likely to be “mean girls.” This is also around the time when estrogen levels peak. Estrogen makes animals, both male and female, more aggressive. One could say that Athena was simply flaunting her estrogen and being a prude at the same time.

In any case, Medusa has become an apotropaic symbol, a guardian meant to keep away evil and symbolize survivorship. She is popular in film, plays, and on tattoos. There’s even a guppy, a galaxy, and a nebula named after her. Yes, she survived.

It’s always a good idea to take a look at the symbolism behind a story. When the myth was first told, snakes were the symbol of rebirth and favored by the god Bacchus/Dionysus. We all know him, that god of wine. Snake hair with a stone-cold twist could thus possibly be a symbol of someone uptight punishing another for being too free and not protecting her innocence.

The hard partying festival of Bacchanalia, a Bacchus party, occurs right now, this week in April. It began a couple thousand years ago as a female only festival in Rome and morphed into a mad orgy, drawing the ire and later suppression tactics of respectable citizens. (You can almost draw parallels between Medusa and Eve here. This is a story about a female who should not have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, perhaps.) One could say it’s Medusa Party Week for outcasts everywhere. Either she was birthed from terror or is a terror herself, but raise a glass, read a provocative book, and celebrate the gorgon, cuz Medusa has been reborn and she’s got a following.

Should you line dry your clothes?

The last time I cleaned out the dryer vent, I felt like my clothes were disappearing before my eyes. So much lint, all produced when my clothes break off fibers as they tumble in the hot air. My use of cotton, which gets more linty than synthetic fibers helped fill the lint trap.

However, a switch to non-natural fibers produces other problems. Many synthetic fabrics shed dryer lint microplastics which can be can be bad for birds, and if the particles come out in the wash, bad for aquatic life. And plastic clothes disappear, too. The shirt I have on in my profile picture has gotten almost see-through! Fragrance from dryer vents is a source of pollution. Not only that, lint is flammable. It’s estimated that many home fires start in the clothes dryer or uncleaned ducts . Yes, your dryer is a fire hazard.

Clothes dryers were developed in the late 1930s and became popular in the 1960s. I used to consider line drying something older people did. I have memories of staring at bras on the neighbor’s clothes line and wondering if I’d ever need one that large. (Turns out, I didn’t.)

Eek, it’s underwear–these are going to smell wonderful!

Each load of laundry dried at home costs about $1 . Most families do nine loads of laundry per week. It adds up to$468 per year. Dryers use more energy than refrigerators–about 4% of your total electricity costs. One solution could be to use dryer balls , which allow air circulation between your clothes and this reduces drying time and possibly keeps items of clothing from rubbing on each other.

Likewise, using the shortest wash cycle possible, avoiding hot water, and sorting clothes so that rough clothes like jeans don’t rub on soft clothes like t-shirts will help cut down on the wear and tear and broken fibers on your clothes.

I’ll be honest, I have another solution. I can’t wait until the skies clear, the sun comes out and with the help of a gentle breeze, it dries my clothes. If you find joy in the the smell of line-dried clothes, you’ve got a discriminating sniffer. Line dried laundry contains special scents, created by the sun. One, nonanal (not pronounced as you might think), is found on the skin of older people, is called aldehyde C-9 in the perfume industry, and it was one of the magic ingredients that made Chanel No. 5.”

Line drying won’t wear out your clothes or shrink them as dryers do. The sun can sterilize clothes to some extent. Some items such as Turkish towels, with extra long fibers, are meant to be hung to dry, not put in the dryer.

One concern about line drying is outdoor pollen falling on your laundry. There are a few ways to minimize this problem such as not line drying when pollen counts are high or putting the laundry in the dryer for five minutes after it hangs outside to rid it of the allergens.

Currently, only about 8% of homes in the US use a clothesline. In some places, they are banned as being unsightly, especially if used for underwear. Most people find line drying too time consuming. I must admit that a sunny day plus time to hang clothes is a luxury. Until self cleaning clothes became a reality, I’m going to indulge and breathe in the nonanal as much as I can. Please try not to look at my underwear.

Dystopian Future Ready Iowa

Long ago, someone asked, and I looked into why college was now so expensive. The answer turned out to be, less state and federal funding. Now, state funding is back in Iowa in the form of Future Ready Iowa. Local colleges have been making adjustments because what this program does is fund only certain majors that the governor and local industries want.

On paper it sounds kind of good.

Future Ready Iowa is a powerful tool for growing family incomes, meeting employers’ needs, and strengthening our communities,” said Gov. Reynolds. “The Future Ready Iowa Act will ensure Iowans have the skills they need to succeed in a world driven by technological disruption – both now and in the future.”

However, take a look at what the government will fund in my neck of the corn field:

https://www.futurereadyiowa.gov/central-college

It’s very similar to to other colleges’ lists. Some have physical education teaching and nursing funded but the lists are nearly the same anywhere you go.

What’s missing I ask? Take a moment to think about it.

Here’s another part of it:

College scholarships for certain majors, flexible enrollment standards, and other perks.

The local college is responding: A local Jesus-based consignment store has also gotten money for training people.

What could be wrong with this?

As an educator I can tell you this: it’s not flexible enough. There is nothing more miserable than a student who is forced into a certain major and learns they want something different–but no one will pay for it because it is “impractical.” I have seen kids on the science track because it is the only education their parents will pay for.

Where are the arts in this state educational dictatorship? They are relegated to being occupation based, for example, an art-teacher is supported. I’m from a family of teachers. There is nothing wrong with teaching. Most of the time, it’s fun and rewarding. However, it does lock you into a certain middle-class not-great health insurance maybe I need a side hustle status which is nearly impossible to break out of.

But can you imagine having been forced into being something medical or teaching because it was the only way to afford college? This practical approach pretty much ensures that careers in the arts, pure sciences, journalism, English, and even religion are only open to kids with money. Rich people will be writing the news, giving the sermons, and singing the songs. The rest of us will be handing out pills, teaching in maskless classrooms, and other government determined career paths. It’s very much like the choice of roads in Charlotte.

Why do I feel so passionately about this? My grandfather was in the heating and air-conditioning business. His fortunes rose and fell with the company, which had trouble adapting from coal furnaces to gas and to air conditioning. He made sure all his kids got an education and learned how to think and be flexible. My granny was a lovely, sweet woman. But she believed a lot of what she read in The National Enquirer. She also wanted her kids not simply trained but educated, because it was something she never had. Guess what. My mom never read The National Enquirer.

Education helps ease the fear, doesn’t it?
You could write a whole scifi novel about this one.

Scholarships are good things, but we have entered into a dark place where training is paid for but being educated is a luxury. And will schools respond by cutting programs because of lack of majors, until, in the end, all we have is job training and not much beauty or deep-thinking? Yes, I’m sure this will happen. Perhaps it already has.

Rising action: the baking powder debate

While working on a new novel, I needed a way to determine if something was acidic. I asked myself, how about adding baking powder and seeing it if fizzes–ala the volcano kids like to make with our kitchen supplies? But, since this is a paranormal historical, I wondered: was baking soda or anything like it even used in 1872? The answer is Yes. Baking soda’s near twin, soda ash or sodium carbonate has been used since the days when chemistry was alchemy or “the dark art of Egypt” and was used in mummification. It can be mined or produced chemically.

An old bottle of sodium carbonate, NaCO3, also known as soda ash

Baking soda, a less caustic close relative to soda ash, known to chemists as sodium bicarbonate, can be found along with sodium carbonate in natural mineral springs. Saratoga New York and Manitou Springs Colorado are examples of highly bicarbonated waters. It’s believed that an underground reaction produces the bicarbonate. Carbonates are common in nature and are found in limestone and shells in the form of calcium carbonate, and even in geodes.

The baking product, baking soda, was developed in by Church & Dwight to replace potash or potassium carbonate made from wood ashes, which was hard to make, not very pure, and had a weird smell.

Most laboratories have some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3) handy to neutralize acid spills

Baking soda, soda ash and baking powder act as rising or leavening agents, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide to make baked goods rise and become fluffy. This rising action is called leavening. An alternative to adding a leavening agent is to whip the substance and stir in air.

Yeast is biological leavening agent, releasing carbon dioxide as an an exhale. The problem is, it takes a while to act.

Baking soda works almost instantly, but must be mixed with an acid such as cream of tartar, sour milk, sour cream, or vinegar, creating the carbon dioxide producing reaction. It’s also dependent on the amount of acid added and some things such as sour milk are not consistent in their composition.

The first baking powder contained baking soda and cream of tartar (tartaric acid, a by-product of wine making) which reacted together quickly and was expensive. Modern double acting baking powder contains an acid and baking soda plus corn starch to keep them from reacting when solid.

And believe it or not, controversy surrounded it.

Created in 1859, the first modern version contained monocalcium phosphate, calcium dihydrogenphosphate to chemists, made from animal bones. Corn starch, and baking soda were additional ingredients. It slowly activated when water was added and fully reacted when heated (making it double acting and slower rising) Later, the monocalcium phosphate used was mined. This company was Rumford, which still makes this version of baking powder. Rival companies sprung up and alum, which was very cheap, was used in products such as Clabber Girl, clabber being sour milk. Thanks to politicians bought with baking powder fortunes, the alum based products were temporarily banned as being unhealthy.

Despite politics, the alum based powders won out due to their low price. But was the competition right, are alum based powders are bad for you? What do we know about the health effects of aluminum, the third most common element in the Earth’s crust?

Recently, nanoaluminum particles were found to impair memory and cognition in zebra fish. (Fan, Rong, et al. “Effects of Nano-Alumina on Learning and Memory Levels in Zebrafish: Roles of Particle Size and Aluminum Ion.” Huanjing Yu Zhiye Yixue = Journal of Environmental & Occupational Medicine, vol. 36, no. 6, 2019, pp. 526.)

Miners exposed to aluminum dust have elevated incidences of Parkinson’s. (Zeng, Xiaoke, M.Sc, et al. “Aluminum Dust Exposure and Risk of Neurodegenerative Diseases in a Cohort of Male Miners in Ontario, Canada.” Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, vol. 47, no. 7, 2021, pp. 531-539. )

There are perhaps links to aluminum exposure through dust or food and neurological problems. However, most studies do not find aluminum to be easily absorbed when eaten or put on the skin. (Lead is a much greater risk and is associated with breast cancer so it would be better to worry about bullets than your leavening agent.) Aluminum and other metals are found in the brains of people who had Alzheimer’s, but it’s not known if the aluminum caused the disease since healthy brains also have some aluminum in them. One except is if aluminum is mixed with a fluoride product. This combination is toxic. One thing to keep in mind is that aluminum is commonly used in water treatments to remove cloudiness.

In any case, most baking powder now is alum based for better or worse. But there are exceptions for those who want the good-old fashioned formula. So bakers, rise and shine!

No need for sour milk. Have some alum instead.
No bones about it, alternative baking powders are still out there.

How is a lab report like a short story?

If I had one piece of teacherly advice to give to parents, it’s this: read to your kids. Read them stories, fiction stories rich with detail. Stories transcend culture. They’re a way of organizing the chaos of this word so it makes sense. Stories convey information and give warning. And the story plot form is a brilliant and universal way to convey information.

I find When teaching story form to beginning writers, I find most have an instinctive understanding of it. But to keep them on track, a plot diagram as shown below can be used.

This is a plot diagram. (I bought it from teachers pay teachers.)

Lab reports, too, have distinctive sections. These might include the following:

Purpose and Introduction

Experimental Details

Results

Discussion

Conclusions

References

This is much less intuitive to students. There are different types of lab reports such as formal lab reports and informal lab reports which adds to the confusion about how to write a lab report.

I applied the plot diagram to a weekly lab report assignment. Here it is on my tackboard:

The plot diagram applied to a lab report.

The purpose is to hook the reader, much like the inciting paragraph of a story. The introduction tells why the lab is important. The procedure, observations, and hazards tell what was encountered along the way.

The introduction points to where this lab is going and why it will be important. Vivid, concrete, relevant observations and information gathering build labs and stories, as does attention to hazards along the way. Recognising these takes practice and experience in the craft.

One thing to note is that the results of a lab are similar to the climax in a story. This is where the perception shifts. The scientist or the protagonist finally learns something. The writer’s inclination is to rush the climax/results. Once you get to the summit, it’s such a relief, all you want to do is get to the end and rest. But don’t. This is what everyone wants to read. it’s why they read through the rest. To see what happens. Be sure to tell it carefully.

Conclusions, statistical analysis, and any type of discussions wrap the report up. If print references were used, they are like the “thank-you”acknowledgements.

A lab report sounds so clinical but it is really a story. Being exposed to stories is good for kids no matter what they want to be when they grow up. And in my opinion, everybody needs to take a class in fiction writing.

The persistent, absurd, useful mythology of Chauvinism

It wasn’t until recently that I learned about the man and the myth behind the term chauvinist pig. This mythological man has been a part of society for quite a while and indirectly has been part of mine, especially since I live in a rural area. I was flabbergasted to find out that Chauvin was a fictional character, a legend, and although some thought he was a real person, history hasn’t backed this up. Instead he’s an archetype and not one to be proud of. You may know a few of them, particularly if you live in the country.

The chauvinistic character has a long history in comedies and satires. The loud-mouthed ardent patriot, aggressively clinging to extreme nationalism –which by the way Einstein called the “measles of mankind”– first appeared in French vaudeville around 1840. The allegorical Nicholas Chauvin was an aging soldier who allegedly had 17 wounds and three amputated fingers, all from his persistent re-enlisting in the military. He was a peasant, his name synonymous with “clodhopper” or “country bumpkin.” Early songs about him make him sound like a man obsessed with his sex-life as much as he was with France and Napoleon. He was in fact, “pig-like” in that he was unaware of how expendable he was to Napolean–how the battles he bragged about were leading him to eventual slaughter, but not before he returned home and made more little piggies to send off on nationalistic tasks for any Empire in power. His first sexual experiences were with women who took his money. He was used. He was deep-down a coward. Yet he glorified sex and violence. He was a chauvinist.

Chauvinism has long been associated with rural life and a source of comedy and even admiration

A chauvinist is then, anyone who has a self-defeating “tribal attachment” to their race, gender, profession, or nationality. What does it take to create a chauvinist?

The romanticized image of the mutilated soldier-peasant with either a weapon or a spade over his broken shoulder has been pushed since the days of Pliny the Elder. How do you think Rome got so powerful? The image is hauled out and “worshiped” whenever “intellectuals” such as Einstein unfavorably critique the value of war and its exploitation of the lower class or talk about free college. Farmer-soldiers have been common throughout history, especially in the Union in the Civil War. (One of my relatives was such a soldier. He was severely injured and unable to farm, became educated instead.) The first step in creating a chauvinist is to connect it with patriotism.

Traditionally, farmer-soldiers are rewarded with land, but only if land is available. Interestingly enough, Midwestern farm women have been heavily lobbied to reject any kind of “feminism” or “women’s lib” as a threat to their way of life, their faith, and to the men who “feed America.” They have been told not to fight for themselves. Most of this perception was fanned by Farm Bureau (an insurance company) and other organizations who sell them things, starting in the 1980s. Rural women have been taught to accept and defend chauvinism…by insurance sellers. Another step in creating chauvinists is getting buy-in from women.

I have been wondering why my Midwestern-college employer put up rusty $100,000 landscaping statues to honor veterans instead of having the art department come up with something beautiful and inclusive. These rusty guys replaced a set of beautiful marble tablets engraved with names of Civil War dead and trees were cut to make way for them. Now, I see. This sort of imagery isn’t meant for people like me. War isn’t supposed to make intellectual sense. Those riveted scraps of corrosion represent the broken peasants and their mythology. Even at a college, a seat of intellectualism, the myth must live on because it’s useful to those in power. Even today, most military recruits are poor and yes, rural. So, another step in chauvinism is shallow tributes to it.

The chauvinist thus holds a certain type of grievance or unhappiness because of unjustness, and he responds by, well, being unjust. An older, country woman once told me that prejudice was the price women paid for not going to war. War, its injustice, rural life, and chauvinism go hand in hand.

At the heart of chauvinism lies aggression. As Masters and Johnson pointed out long ago, “sexuality is a dimension of personality” and although sexual aggression is often taken as a cultural symbol of male sexuality, it is not “hardwired” into human males. It is taught. The chauvinist has an axe to grind against society. The chauvinist ideal was created long ago but even today, men with fragile self-worth are more likely to lash out with aggression towards those around them.

For many, chauvinists are entertaining idiots. Their archetypes can take many forms: the redneck, the jingoist, the playboy, the gun-nut, the male chauvinist pig. Heck, even I have hapless chauvinists in my rural dystopian novels. Where else can you get comedy and tragedy in one package? The last step in chauvinism is to make it so normal that it’s funny.

Chauvinism is an identity. Nicholas Chauvin was meant to be a fool. However, many a chauvinist has embraced the term as a source of jokes and a badge of honor. Rush Limbaugh didn’t get a medal for being a nice person, or for any type of truth telling, but for reinforcing myth. He was proud of being a jerk, because he was a funny jerk, like Nicholas Chauvin. He even was called a political vaudevillian. Although Nick Chauvin died on the battlefield because he wouldn’t surrender, chauvinists aren’t going away any time soon. But should there come a time when we stop laughing?

Hunting the wild Keokuk geode

Long ago, I was a DJ at a radio station in Iowa City. One on-air personality had been cursing way too much in his private life. Instead of ‘Keokuk’ by mistake he said ‘Keofuck’ on the air. Until recently, this was my only thought when I heard the of the town of Keokuk. But this city in SE Iowa is home to some amazing rocks, and I don’t mean cocaine. It has namesake geodes!

Keokuk geodes are found unsurprisingly, near Keokuk, Iowa, Iowa’s southern-most city on the banks of the Mississippi. They are sedimentary geodes, found in deposits of shale and limestone. Here’s more about geodes. Keokuk geodes are silica based on the outside and sparkley on the inside: most often the geode balls are lined with quartz but may include amethyst, calcite, chalcedony, limonite, marcasite, pyrite, and sphalerite.

Last month, we went on a geode hunt. The area of SE Iowa, SW Illinois, and NE Missouri is prime goede hunting territory. Here are some locations where you can look for a fee.

We did our hunting in Illinois at Jacob’s Geodes.

This is the entrance. Stop and say hi. Geodes are $25 per 5 gallon bucket. Bring your own or buy one from Jacob for $5.

We hiked up a trail to a field.
It was easy pickings
Child’s play
Here’s what’s inside.
For the serious types, there’s a quarry.
This woman came from Nebraska to find geodes to give to friends.
This man came from Kentucky.
Here’s one of our nicer ones!

The geodes look like blobs on the outside and some of the fun is not knowing exactly what treasure you are getting on the inside. I highly recommend going geode hunting. The banks of the Mississippi are gorgeous and we had buckets of fun for not a whole lot of money. I guess you could say that after all these years, I still know how to rock.

How to be an author from Octavia Butler

Rule #1: read everything you can get ahold of.

Octavia Butler wrote one of my favorite short stories, Bloodchild, about insect-like aliens which use humans as hosts for their eggs. Each human, most often a male, is united with an alien in a form of marriage. The human is totally dependent on the alien for survival. If the alien doesn’t removed the maggots once they hatch, the human will be eaten alive!

Butler, a black woman who spent most of her life on the west coast, did not see Bloodchild as a tale of slavery. It was about botflies. But many readers will relate to the social hierarchy of the story and the stress which comes from being the one who must do the dangerous task of childbearing.

Butler wrote fourteen books and was known for lean, calm prose touching on social issues. As I fine tune my latest book, nearly two years in the making, I’m reflecting on her advice to aspiring writers.

  1. Read. Read about writing, read fiction, read non-fiction, listen to audio books. “Ponder use of language, the sounds of words, conflict, characterization, plottings, and the multitude of ideas…”
  2. “Take classes and go to Writer’s Workshops. …you need other people to let you know whether you’re communicating…in ways that area accessible and entertaining” and “as compelling as you can make them.”
  3. Vocabulary and grammar are your tools. Make sure you can use them effectively.
  4. “Revise your writing until it’s as good as you can make it.”
  5. Submit your work and learn from your rejections.
  6. “Forget inspiration Habit is more dependable.” Forget talent. You can learn to improve your work. Forget imagination. “You have all the imagination you need.”
  7. The thing you must do to be an author is persist. Stick with it. Persist.

Butler was not a flowery writer. Her writing won’t knock you off the page. What will is her observations and ideas. At times, I struggle with my Midwestern taciturn prose. Butler is evidence of the power of the ideas behind the words. Take her advice. Persist.

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.