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.

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.

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.

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 him
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.

Celebrating two years post “gotcha” on the couch together.

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.