1920: THE YEAR THAT SHAPED A CENTURY

In his introduction to 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar, Eric Burns wrote, “But although the year that is the subject of this book was a preview of a decade, it turned out to be more than that: it would be a preview of the entire century and even the beginning of the century to follow. . .” This blog entry focuses on this amazing year! 

The Nineteenth Amendment [finally] passed, granting 26 million American women the right to vote in time for 1920 US presidential election.  It was a near thing. The Tennessee House of Representatives voted in favor of the amendment 50/49.

  • Approximately 1,000 years since the formalization of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy guaranteed women equal political voice in the Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Tuscarora, and Cayuga nations around the Great Lakes region
  • 365 years after the first American woman insisted on voting in the New World and being told she was not entitled
  • 282 years after Margaret Brent, a successful Virginia businesswoman, demanded the right to vote in the state’s House of Burgesses in 1638 and was denied
  • 144 years after Abigail Adams urged her husband to “remember the ladies” in the new constitution
  • 51 years after the Territory of Wyoming officially gave women the right to vote
94 years before women were able to vote for a women for president on a major party ticket
All of these ladies were born before the 19 Amendment passed and are shown here voting for a female president for the first time.

Other than 1791 (when the Bill of Rights was ratified), 1920 was the only year in which the Constitution was amended more than once.  The Eighteenth Amendment (ratified in 1919 and put into action in 1920) prohibited alcohol in the United States. Dare I say the Nineteenth was the more successful amendment? The Eighteenth was subsequently revoked by the the Twenty-First Amendment.

The Volstead Act at work:
The alligators in the New York City sewers were very happy that day!
  • Prohibition forced California vineyard owners to diversify production, to market table grapes, and to improve raisin production methods.
    • The raisins would be marketed under the Sunmaid label.
    • These raisins were very talented, recording several jazz albums, starring in a TV show, and creating their own video game. I think they also fought crime.
  • Sales of coffee, soft drinks, and cream sodas boomed.  
  • Many hotels converted their bars to soda fountains and lunch counters.

The U.S. population reached 105.7 million.  A third of all people lived on a farm, but for the first time we had more urban dwellers that rural dwellers (54 million to 51.5 million).

1920 saw the beginnings of many major brand names: La Choy Food Products, Seabrook Farms, the Good Humor ice cream bar, Mint Products, Inc. was renamed Life Savers, Inc., Baby Ruth was trademarked, Oh Henry! Candy bar created.

The “Lost Generation” became a force in American literature.  Among books published in 1920: Main Street, This Side of Paradise, Flappers and Philosophers.  Also, F. Scott Fitzgerald introduced Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins to the short stories of Ernest Hemingway.

The biggest oil deposits in the world outside of Texas were discovered in Alaska.

In a story too strange for fiction, Superman later played a vital role in diminishing the Klans influence.

The Ku Klux Klan was revitalized in 1920.  They terrorized the nation, in well-known ways. Decades later, President Johnson tasked J. Edgar Hoover with subduing the KKK. The FBI (as the former BOI was then known) won an enormous law enforcement victory—but it wasn’t eradicated.

KDKA in Pittsburgh had approximately 1,000 listeners to their first broadcast.

Mass media were born with the first commercially licensed radio station broadcasting live results of the presidential election.

Arthur Perdue had rather questionable taste in accessories, a trait his son did not share.

Perdue Farms was founded in Salisbury, MD.  Former railroad worker Arthur Perdue, 34, paid $50 to buy 50 Legthorn chickens, built a backyard chicken coop, and produced table eggs. Most U.S. poultry specialized in eggs because chickens were a riskier proposition.

Perdue family note: Frank Perdue was born May 9. He grew up to attend college for two years and play semipro baseball briefly, but he ultimately went to work with his father.

The first terrorist attack ever in the U.S. The bomb was a horse-drawn wagon packed with 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron sash-weights that acted like shrapnel. It was detonated by a timer at noon on the busiest corner on Wall Street. Thirty-eight people were killed outright, 57 people were hospitalized, some of whom later died. All told, more than 400 people were injured. Suspects included Russians, Italian anarchists, and the KKK.

“League of Nations: Capitalists of All Countries, Unite!”
The USSR was also not terribly keen to join the League of Nations.

John Reed, pro-Bolshevik author of Ten Days That Shook the World, died. He was and still is the only non-Russian buried inside the Kremlin walls.

The League of Nations was established.  President Woodrow Wilson was a chief architect. Although his Fourteen Points became the framework for the League of Nations, the United States never joined. In 1920, Wilson was completely disabled, having suffered a blood clot while promoting U.S. joining. 

The blood clot left Woodrow Wilson paralyzed, partially blind, and brain damaged.  In 1920, First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson was the de-facto POTUS. She took over, controlled access to the president, and made policy decisions on his behalf. She held a pen in his hand to write his name. The French ambassador to the U.S. referred to her as Mme. President.

Overfishing of the Sacramento River forced the closing of San Francisco’s last salmon cannery.  Cannery Row is now a tourist attraction. Steinbeck’s  Cannery Row is a big seller in the shops there.

Charles Ponzi was arrested in 1920 and charged with 86 counts of mail fraud.

The world sugar price dropped from thirty cents a pound in August to eight cents in December.  Milton Hershey lost $2.5 million in the collapse, as did other large sugar consumers. Pepsi-Cola headed toward bankruptcy when Caleb Bradburn lost $150,000. Chero-Colo (later known as RC Cola) ended the year with over $1 million in debts that hung over the company for years.

In 1920 the second and “most spectacular” of the notorious Palmer raids was carried out.  All across the country, in one fell swoop, thousands of accused communists and anarchists were arrested. The raid was organized by J. Edgar Hoover, then head of the Bureau of Investigation’s General Intelligence Division. This began his political ascent.

California legislators enacted a new Alien Land Act to prevent Asians from renewing their leases on farmland.

Among the many parallels Burns highlights, he wrote, “…just as there were pleas to close the borders, so were there arguments to keep them open. The issue was an incendiary one…”

For more parallels between 1920 and 2020, check out this post from Cheapism. Automation of labor, marijuana legalization battles, forward strides in feminism, increasing income gaps… Many of the issues we see in today’s headlines are eerily similar to headlines from 1920.

BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS: consider a plot that has historical roots; consider a character whose family traditions, money, or values have deep historical roots. And stay curious!

INVENTING KIDS

The National Inventors Hall of Fame hosts Camp Invention every year!

Children are incredibly imaginative, and sometimes they are incredibly inventive as well. Children have probably been inventing things forever! I found this information amazing and entertaining—and I hope you do, too. Some bits helpful to writers even surface here and there!

Louis Braille, blind from age 3, learned of and simplified a method of silent communication created for the French military. Braille was born in 1824.

At the age of 15, Chester Greenwood set out to solve the problem of cold ears in winter, created the first earmuffs, and patented the invention 1877 at the age of 19.  He improved the design and sold earmuffs for soldiers during the First World War. 

Writers note: Earmuffs were his idea but his grandmother sewed the beaver skin pads.

In 1905, at age 11, Frank Epperson accidentally invented popsicles.  He left a mixture of soda water powder and water in a glass and left in the stirring stick. After a cold night outside, he had the world’s first popsicle. 

Writers note: He didn’t immediately do anything with the idea. In 1922, he served it at a fireman’s ball and the success led him to patent the idea, first under the name Eppsicle, but changed it to Popsicle because that’s what his children called it.

In 1921, at age 15, Philip (Philo) T. Farnsworth diagramed an electronic television system.  It transmitted the first image six year later.

In 1922, Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier (age 15) unveiled the first version of a snowmobile to his family.  It traveled half a mile. He continued to modify it, and by 1959, his efforts had resulted in the Ski-Doo.

At age 16, in 1930, George Nissen came up with the idea for the trampoline.  He was struck by circus acrobats bouncing in their catch nets and set out to create something that would allow people to bounce higher. He started with canvas stretched on a metal frame, moved on to nylon, and eventually trademarked “trampoline.” He traveled the world demonstrating the trampoline and promoting his invention. At age 92, he could still do a headstand. 

Writers note: Nissen completed the early work on his invention by taking over his parents’ garage for a workshop. 

Alternate version: as a teenage gymnast, George Nissen and his coach created a bouncing rig of scrap steel and tire inner tubes to help him get the power and height to do a back somersault. 

Writers note: Perhaps one of your characters contests the accepted story of some invention.

As a teenager in 1934, Jerry Siegel got the idea for Superman.  His artist friend Joe Shuster made sketches. It took four years to find a publisher.

In 1962, 5-year-old Robert Patch used shoe boxes and bottle caps to make a vehicle the could be a dump truck, a flatbed, or a box truck.  His father happened to be a patent attorney and applied for a patent in his son’s name. At the time the patent was granted, Patch was 6, the youngest patent holder ever at that time.

Abbey Fleck was inspired to create Makin’ Bacon at age 8.  She and her dad created the prototype and patented their idea in 1993. It has been enormously lucrative. 

Writers note: She had the idea, her father helped and supported her to make it happen, and her grandfather took out a loan to pay for the first 100,000 units.

In 1994, K-K Gregory (age 10) invented Wristies.  These are fingerless fuzzy sleeves for the hands and forearms, worn under mittens. She tested them on her Girl Scout troop. Her mother worked hard with K-K to get the business going. 

Writers note: At an early age she met with patent attorneys, shopped fabrics, and wrote license and sales agreements. After 16 years exploring options, she returned to business and is CEO of her company.

In 1996, on a trip to Hawaii, Richie Stachowski (age 10) lamented that he couldn’t talk to others underwater. Back home, he researched aquatic acoustics, worked on prototypes, and came up with the Water Talkie.  Besides the people at the public pool who allowed him to test there, his mother helped him set up a company for inventing toys. Toys ‘R’ Us ordered 50,000 units. At age 13 he sold his company for a ton of money.  Again, the kid inventor was seminal but not alone!

Kelly Reinhart (age 6) invented the Thigh Pack when her parents challenged their children, on a rainy afternoon, to draw a picture of an invention, promising to make a prototype of the winning idea.  Inspired by holsters worn by cowboys, Kelly’s idea was a thigh-pack for kids to carry around their video games. They tried them with other children, refined the prototype, and patented it in 1998. The company Kelly started, T-Pak, sold nearly a million dollars’ worth of Thigh Packs and discussed possible military applications with the Pentagon before selling it in 2001. 

Writers note: In 2002, she started a not-profit to teach kids how to become inventors. Maybe you have a character who learned from Kelly?

At age 11, Cassidy Goldstein invented a Crayon Holder, which she patented in 2002.  This invention was intended to allow kids to continue to use broken, short crayons. 

Writers note: The unintended consequence was to help kids with poor fine-motor skills handle crayons. Consider the unintended consequences of the invention of plastics.

Sarah Buckel, age 14, invented magnetic locker wallpaper in 2006.  She asked her father, COO at MagnaCard to make magnetic wallpaper for her so she could decorate her school locker and not have to scrape off the decorations at the end of the year. He ran with the idea, Sarah helping with patterns and age-appropriate accessories. 

Writers note: Like many of the inventors described here, Sarah’s father’s faith in his daughter’s idea significantly contributed to the success of the invention.

Hart Main (age 13) got the idea for  ManCans in 2010.  His sister was selling typical scented candles at a school fundraiser. Main teased that she should try more “manly” scents. 

Writers note: His parents encouraged him to move beyond the tease. Hart used $100 from his newspaper route and came up with scents like Coffee, New Mitt, Bacon, and Fresh Cut Grass to add to his candles. 

Another note: Hart uses relabeled Campbell Soup cans, after donating the contents to soup kitchens across Ohio.  

In 2014, 12-year-old Shubham Banerjee, created a Braille printer from a LEGO Mindstorms set. Although Braille printers were available for $2,000, his printer cost $200.

Also in 2014, Alicia Chavez at age 14, in response to news stories of children who died with accidentally left in hot cars, came up with the idea of the Hot Seat.  It’s basically a small cushion that the child sits on in a car seat that connects to the parent’s smartphone. If the smartphone moves more than  20 feet from the car and the child is still in the seat, it sounds an alarm.

Students at the Melania Morales Special Education Center in Nicaragua created their own language, a form of manual sign language entirely independent of any other language system. Before the establishment of a school specifically for deaf students in the 1980s, Nicaragua had no system of sign language; children were taught to read lips. Students created their own system to communicate with each other, with the youngest children generating most of the grammatical systems.

Innovate Tech Camps in Australia

Bottom line: kids continue to invent. Why not one of your characters?

A student at Camp Invention

VERY MARRIED – OR NOT SO MUCH

Decades ago, the title of this book first brought that phrase to my awareness. Legally, of course, very married is nonsense—as are a little bit or sort of married. Legally, either you are or you aren’t. Is being married for a long time the equivalent of being very married? Many seem to think so. Marie Hartwell-Walker wrote “How To Beat the Odds: Tips from the Very Married” and featured a single photo of an elderly couple. Her article lists 13 tips from “long-married couples.”

I’ve paraphrased these tips below.

  • Commit to the commitment, and don’t even consider divorce
  • Give it all you’ve got, 100% from both partners
  • Bring a whole person to the marriage, not someone who expects the partner to make him/her whole
  • Make time for each other
  • Be a team (in duties, responsibilities, and decisions)
  • Learn to engage in friendly fighting: stick to the issues, be respectful, no name-calling, etc.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff
  • Do sweat the small stuff if it’s going to fester and grow big
  • Follow the golden rule
  • Be each other’s greatest fan, especially in public
  • Make yourself appealing
  • Respect each other’s families
  • Make special days special

Becky Whetstone (15 Things the Very Married Have That You Probably Don’t) makes many of the same points. But she also estimates that 12% or fewer of married couples are truly happy. Although neither of these lists specifically mention politics or religion, the Pew Research Center has data indicating that the former is more important than the latter:

  • Among those married since 2010, 39% have a spouse who belongs to a different religious group.
  • However, a 2016 survey found that 77% of both Republicas and Democrats who were married or cohabiting say their partner was in the same party.

Many of these tips, in one form or another, are included in Katherine Willis Pershey’s Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity. As the title indicates, she highlights another factor often presumed to characterize the very married: sexual fidelity. Many presume—and common sense would tell us—that sexual infidelity will harm a marriage.

Sean Illing’s article “A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together” is an interview with James J. Sexton, author of If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late. Sexton says couples come to his office for “big reasons like infidelity or financial improprieties.” But he also says that people fall in love quickly but fall out of love slowly, so there are lots of little things that precede the big reasons.

At one point, Sexton says Facebook is an infidelity-generating machine.  “It’s a huge factor now, and it’s getting worse every day. I can’t remember the last time I had a case where social media was not either a root cause or implicated in some way.” He says, further, that “…Facebook creates these very plausibly deniable reasons for you to be connecting with people emotionally in ways that are toxic to marriages.” So, he’s affirming that sexual fidelity isn’t the only issue.

Indeed, Jenny Block wrote a whole book praising sexually open marriage. In her opinion, sex isn’t the issue so much as the secrecy and deception that usually accompany a sexual liaison with someone other than the spouse.

That philosophy was shared by a high school friend of mine who, in adulthood, was a sexual free spirit. He was very open with his wife, who gave her permission for him to make booty calls and have f*ck buddies. At one point, she helped him write a personal ad seeking a “girlfriend” and interviewed the candidates with him. They had been married 25 years when he died.

So, sometimes couples set their own rules. Ours is a second marriage both for me and for my husband of many, many years. Before marriage, we agreed to two things: if either of us got sexually or emotionally involved with someone else but it didn’t threaten the marriage, don’t tell; and, if the marriage is threatened, for any reason, we would seek counseling before taking any other action. I realized that I felt very married when I stopped tracking our finances separately, calculating my financial status if the marriage ended.

A different version of very married is presented in COUPLES IN THE EMPTY NEST: VERY SEPARATE MARRIED LIVES (susanorfant.com). The thesis is that empty nesters have three choices: learn how to be a couple again, divorce, or stay married but lead very separate lives in terms of friends, activities, etc.

And speaking of those who are not-so-very-married: Hartwell-Walker (above) reports that 41% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. According to “8 Facts About Love and Marriage in America” (pewresearch.org) although the marriage rate has declined, between 1990 and 2015 the divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older doubled, and among those 65 and older, the divorce rate roughly tripled. Although the Pew report just mentioned found that only 23% of the general population consider legal rights and benefits a very important reason to get married, Sexton (above) emphasizes that marriage is a legal contract, and that few people examine that ahead of time.

I can speak to that. Only after I married in New York State did I learn that my husband had the right of domicile—i.e., determining where we would live. If he wanted to move and I refused, he could divorce me on the grounds of desertion. When I took a job and moved elsewhere, we had a commuter marriage only because he did not divorce me on the grounds of desertion! 

Note to writers: know the rights and responsibilities that are included in the marriage contract, because they vary widely by state.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, life can throw all sorts of obstacles in the way of a lifetime of wedded bliss. If one partner develops Alzheimer’s and forgets the marriage entirely, what is the spouse’s obligation or possible response?

If one partner suffers an accident that makes physical affection impossible, is the spouse entitled to seek affection elsewhere? How can a couple keep their marriage healthy and strong if they are separated through geography, incarceration, military deployment, deportation, or some other element out of their control? After two people have been happily married for decades, is the widow/ widower still committed to the marriage when their spouse dies?

Bottom line for writers: there are many potential elements for being very married, but the one absolute is the commitment to remaining married. Consider all the ways you could show your characters’ strong or weak commitment to a marriage/relationship.

CASE STUDIES IN ADOPTION

Note: Unless otherwise specified, the photographs below are for illustration purposes only and are not connected to the case studies provided. Examples and links to specific adoption agencies are provided for reference and not as an endorsement or condemnation of any particular agency.

AdoptiveFamilies.com

The concept of adoption has a generally positive aura. Indeed, it’s easy to find articles like Why Adopt? 23 Reasons to Adopt a Child (amerianadoptions.com). But frankly my experience of adoptions via family and friends is a mixed bag. 

The good news for writers: good, bad, or unclear outcome, adoptions are fertile ground for characters and plots.

Case 1: Desire to Adopt a Stepchild

When my husband and I married, he was a widower with a three-year-old daughter. I (foolishly) thought that by that marriage, I became his daughter’s mother. Wrong! To be her legal parent, I had to adopt her. We lived in Upstate New York, and at the time a child with a living biological parent could be adopted only if the biological parent gave up his/her parental rights.  The upshot was that my hubs signed away his parental rights and then we both adopted her!

This was an incredibly successful adoption. I told my parents, my husband’s parents, AND our daughter’s maternal grandmother that any and all of our children had to be treated equally. We subsequently had two more daughters. Words like step-mother, half-sister, etc., never crossed anyone’s lips—and I don’t think crossed anyone’s mind. When her elementary school class made family trees, hers had three branches: her biological mother, her father, and me. 

Writers note: consider such a case that did not go so well.

Case 2 A, B & C: Desire to Help a Friend or Family Member Who Isn’t in a Position to Raise a Child

2A – the biological mother of two children was murdered, and neither of the fathers was known. The maternal grandmother and her husband adopted the grandchildren. Although a financial burden, no one seemed to regret the decision.

2B – the biological parents of the child were drug addicts. The paternal grandmother went to court to get custody and eventually adopted the grandson, who grew up to be an admirable and ambitious young man.

2C – the biological parents were unmarried teenagers, not financially viable, and not psychologically well balanced enough to care for a special needs child. The paternal grandmother first won custody and then adopted her. The adopted daughter struggled through special education classes, therapy, and at age eighteen, vocational training for a sheltered work environment. The child/young adult was a constant and severe stress on the paternal grandmother and her husband’s marriage.

Writers note: consider that a biological father came forward in A; consider how the relationship between the biological parent and the grandparent might evolve in cases B & C.

AFamilyForEveryChild.com

Case 3 A & B: Desire to Give a Child Born in Another Country a Chance to Thrive

3A – the adoptive father had been a U.S. soldier who served in Viet Nam. He and his wife had three children (sons) but wanted to adopt a Vietnamese orphan. In the event, the Vietnamese orphans were so weak and sickly that the international agencies weren’t placing them. They suggested adopting a Korean orphan, and that is what they did. As adults, the children have good relationships. Although differing in political perspectives, the adoptive parents and daughter are emotionally close.

3B – the parents decided to adopt a child from a country where the majority of the population is of a different race, practices a different religion, and speaks a different language. The boy was four years old when he was adopted. The relationship between the parents and the child never settled into a comfortable family pattern. When he turned eighteen, the adopted child returned to the country of his birth and changed his name back to the one he’d had in the orphanage. The parents have not seen him since and have only occasional online contact.

Case 4 A & B: Desire to Choose the Child’s Gender

4A – a Caucasian couple had two sons. Wishing for a daughter, they conceived several times over the years but all of those pregnancies ended in miscarriages. They chose to adopt a mixed race (Irish and African American) baby daughter. The adoption was simply a part of the family structure. The child and her biological mother saw each other occasionally. The birth mother being known, there was quite a bit of info available about health issues, for example. The adoptive parents made a conscious effort to expose their daughter to African American culture and experiences.

Writers note: count the ways this might go awry as the adopted daughter goes through teenage rebellion, or is the only non-white face at family gatherings. What if one or both sons marry women who are more or less racist?

4B – a couple had two daughters. After eight years of repeated pregnancies and miscarriages, the wife had a medically necessary hysterectomy. The husband wanted a son “to carry on the family name.” They didn’t want to wait two years to adopt an infant and so applied to adopt a ten-year-old boy. A month younger than the elder daughter, he was in the same class in school as the younger daughter because his biological parents had never enrolled him in school. There was a “trial year” before the adoption could be finalized. It quickly became apparent that the boy shared no interests with the husband, nor his need for achievement. The wife resented the burden of a third child while her health was so fragile, and was fearful that the boy would replace the daughters in her husband’s affection.  The daughters acted to protect the boy from their mother. The boy’s attitude was “hunker down and get by,” because the home he’d been adopted into was much better than his previous situation. At the end of the year, both the couple and the boy agreed to finalize the adoption. In the meantime, the boy had been in school for a year under his birth name. When the husband asked whether the boy wanted to change his name, the boy said he didn’t care, that he wouldn’t be any more a member of the family one way than the other. His name wasn’t changed.

Writers note: what are the long-term implications???

Case 5 A & B: Due to Infertility or Other Reasons, a Parent Cannot Have a Biological Child

5A – After several years of marriage and extensive fertility treatments, a couple was unable to conceive. They decided to adopt.  The adoption wasn’t easy because of the adoptive parents’ ages. They decided to adopt a brother and a sister together, although they’d been told that the children were developmentally behind their ages. The adoptive mother was a psychologist and attributed that developmental lag to their early lives. As the children grew, the boy appeared to be average or a little below in intelligence. The girl suffered microcephaly. The marriage failed. The children remained with the adoptive mother. As the boy developed, she couldn’t handle him and ended up paying a lot of money to enroll him in a military school. As the girl grew, she became ever more aggressive and defiant and was expelled from school. The mother tried therapy, including residential therapy. The girl was living in a residential facility and was on her way to see a psychiatrist (as she had requested), when she said she didn’t want to go to that hospital, jumped from the back of the van, broke her neck and died immediately. The boy married and had a child and had a relationship better than ever with the adoptive mother.

5B – the adoptive mother was a single woman who wanted a child but had no desire to give birth or to involve an unnecessary man. She adopted an infant from South America and raised the girl to be Catholic, fluent in Spanish, and knowledgeable of her native country’s history and culture, in accordance with the biological mother’s wishes. The girl grew up surrounded and supported by her adopted mother’s parents and siblings. She did well at home and in school until about halfway through high school. Then, she got involved with drugs, was in and out of abusive relationships, had three children by unknown fathers, and is now serving time while her adoptive mother has custody of the children.

Writers note: where/how might these events have developed differently?

HowtoAdopt.org

Case 6 A & B: The Couple “Just Wants To”

These two will be treated together because they are related. The women are sisters, the twelfth and thirteenth children in the family. They were exceptionally close growing up. For unknown reasons, neither had a child and they and their husbands each adopted a son. The older sister’s adoption was a great success. The son thrived, both academically and professionally, married and had a daughter they named after his adoptive mother. The younger sister’s adopted son was a ne’er-do-well. He was sporadically employed, had many brushes with the law, driver’s license revoked, time in jail, drank heavily, tapped his mother for financial support, and in the view of the extended family, exploited her financially to her detriment. She never rejected him. And that was a source of tension and distance between the formerly close sisters.

Writers note: fertile ground here! Throw in Parkinson’s or some equally debilitating disease? Why not have children of their own, when all their older sisters had done so?

AdoptConnect.com

Adoption Process

The actual process of adoption varies widely among agencies and countries. However, there are some fairly consistent requirements:

  • The adoptive parent(s) must demonstrate financial stability, a permanent home, psychological maturity, etc.
  • If the adopting parents are married, there is usually a minimum amount of time they must have been married before being allowed to adopt.
  • If there are other children in the home, there is sometimes a requirement that a minimum number of years separate the biological children from the adopted children.
    • Many adoption agencies recommend not adopting a child who is older than the oldest biological child so that birth order is not disrupted.
    • The youngest child in the home is often required to be at least two or three years old before the adopted child will be placed.
  • Parent(s) must be at least eighteen years older than the adopted child.
  • Most adoption agencies perform home visits and individual interviews with each member of the family. Some require character references from friends or employers.
  • Because of the different needs of adopted children, especially older adopted children, many agencies require prospective adoptive families to attend training seminars.
  • Guides for raising adopted children and helping them adjust can be also be found online.

Summary: in my experience, adoption typically isn’t about helping a mother who (for whatever reason) must give up a child. Nor is it about giving a loving home to a child (stranger) who needs it. As a writer, consider the motives of the the adult(s) seeking to adopt. And consider all the ways those motives might be frustrated.

GOOD FEET, BAD FEET

Red feet, Blue feet!

How much thought have you given to your characters’ feet? And shoes? Feet and shoes tend to go together, and both can be valuable as character details, plot devices, and sources of conflict. But let’s start with the basics. Are bare feet good or bad? Yes!

Health Concerns

The Upside of Bare Feet: 

  • Uninhibited flexibility, greater strength, and mobility of the foot.
  • Some research suggests that walking and running barefoot results in a more natural gait, allowing for a more rocking motion of the foot, eliminating hard heel strikes, generating less collision force in the foot and lower leg.
  • Many sports require going barefoot: gymnastics, martial arts, beach volleyball, and tug of war.  Rugby in South Africa is always played barefoot at the primary school level. Other sports have barefoot versions: running, hiking, and water skiing.
  • People who don’t wear shoes have a more natural toe position, not squished together.

The Downside of Bare Feet:

Hallux valgus, bunion
  • Losing protection from cuts, abrasions, bruises, hard surfaces, and extremes of heat or cold.
  • Constantly being barefoot increases likelihood of flat feet, bunions, and hammer toe.
  • Because feet are so sensitive, toe locks and striking the bottoms of the feet are often used as punishment.

Climate and Weather:

  • With no environmental need for shoes, Egyptians, Hindus, Greeks, and various African nations have historically gone barefoot.
  • Even when it isn’t necessary, people in such climates often wear ornamental footwear for special occasions.

General Symbolism

  • Baring one’s feet shows humility and subjugation.
  • Going barefoot symbolizes innocence, childhood, and freedom from constraints .
  • Bare feet are often a sign of poverty.
    • The assumption of ignorance and poor hygiene often accompanies the poverty of bare feet.
  • From Roman times on, footwear signaled wealth, power and status in most of Europe and North Africa.Shoes that are impractical or inhibit movement often signal enhanced status, such as Italian chopines, Chinese “Golden Lotus” bound feet, armored German sabatons, Polish crakows, and everything worn by Victoria Beckham.
  • Forbidding shoes marks the barefoot person as a slave or prisoner under the control of others.  Keeping prisoners barefoot is common in China, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Uganda, Iran, Pakistan, India, Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, and North Korea.

Cultural Aspects

Religion:

  • Some religious sects take a vow of poverty, including obligatory bare feet.
  • Many Buddhists go barefoot as a reminder to be concerned for Mother Nature, to lead people in the path of virtue, and to develop the Buddhist spirit.
  • Roman Catholics show respect and humility before the Pope by kissing his feet. 
  • In Judaism and some Christian denominations it is customary to go barefoot while mourning.
  • Anyone entering a mosque or a Hindu temple is expected to remove his or her shoes. Stealing shoes from such a place is often considered a desecration.
    • Hindus show love and respect to a guru by touching his bare feet. 
    • Lord Vishnu’s feet are believed to contain symbols such as conch, fish, and disc.
  • In many spiritual traditions, body and soul are connected by the soles of the feet.

Europe:

  • Wearing shoes indoors is often considered rude or unhygienic in Austria, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, and Belgium.
  • In Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, wearing shoes indoors is expected.

Asian Countries:

  • Showing the soles of the feet is seen as an insult because the feet are seen as unclean (“You are lower than the soles of my feet”).
  • Shoes are seen as dirty and so are removed before entering a mosque, temple, or house.

China:

  • Take your shoes off when entering a house.
  • The practice of foot-binding began in the 10th century as a sign of wealth and beauty. It was outlawed by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1902 (though this was largely ignored) and successfully outlawed by Sun Yat-Sen in 1912.

Japan:

  • Never cross your feet in Japan.
  • Students take off their street shoes when entering school and wear uwabaki, soft-soled clean shoes, to the classroom. Street shoes are stored in special lockers by the school entrance.

Thailand:

  • A prisoner must be barefoot in court during penal proceedings.
  • Because the feet are the lowest part of the body, they are considered filthy.
    • Showing the soles of your feet is extremely rude, a big taboo at any time.
  • Remove your shoes before entering a school, temple, or home.
  • In some houses or schools, inside slippers (never worn outside) are allowed.

India:

  • Shoes are considered impure, so it is customary to remove footwear when entering a home or a temple.
  • Charanasparsha is a very common gesture of respect and subservience made by bowing and touching the feet of the (always superior in age and position) person being honored.

Australia:

  • It’s common for people, particularly young people, to go barefoot in public. In some regions, students attend school barefoot.

New Zealand:

  • Many people, of all races and cases, conduct daily business barefoot.
  • Barefoot is more common in rural areas and some seasons.

South Africa:

  • Walking barefoot in public is common among all ethnic groups, in rural and urban areas.
  • The National Guidelines on School Uniform lists shoes as an optional item.
  • Barefoot people are common in public, shopping malls, stores, and events.

Canada:

I assume everyone in Canada wears these all the time.
  • Take off shoes when entering a home.
  • Elementary schools require students to have indoor shoes and provide a place to store outdoor footwear. Outdoor shoes are worn in high schools.
  • Some medical facilities require patients to remove shoes for reasons of cleanliness.
  • Office workers usually wear indoor shoes in winter, outdoor shoes in summer.

United Kingdom:

  • Mostly in rural areas, children and teenagers are accepted.
  • Some schools encourage barefoot participation in indoor and outdoor physical education.
  • The National Health Service encourages people to go barefoot or wear open-toed sandals in hot weather to avoid sweaty, smelly feet.

United States:

  • Many children in rural areas, and/or those in poverty go barefoot.
  • More commonly, people wear shoes both outdoors and indoors.
  • Businesses that don’t prepare or serve food can determine dress codes that prohibit or allow bare feet.

Miscellaneous:

  • Fairies and magical creatures in several cultures leave no footprints. Checking for footprints is a common method of identifying supernatural creatures and avoiding mischief.
  • Before a baby learns to walk, stroking the bottom of their foot will cause their toes to curl up. After the baby learns to walk (and for the rest of their pedestrian life), stroking the bottom of their foot will cause their toes to curl down.
  • Ancient Egyptian believed that stepping forward with the left foot trod out evil so the heart could proceed.
  • The foot chakra is one of the most important, as it helps pass the Divine Energy to Mother Earth, making powerful grounding .
  • Having a foot fetish or kink means being sexually aroused by feet or certain parts thereof, such as toes, arches, ankles, etc.

Bottom line for writers: What are your characters’ attitudes and behaviors regarding feet and shoes? And why?

HERE’S TO HELLEBORES!

“Why hellebores?” Well might you ask. Because they are my favorite! And because they can be useful for your characters and plots.

When we moved to Ashland, Virginia, we bought an 1858 Greek Revival house on a double lot with old trees and daffodils and not much else. I searched for shade-loving, blooming, evergreen, low-maintenance plants. Voila! Hellebores. They are all of that plus, as a bonus, the blooming happens in winter and early spring.

Behold Hellebore niger, aka Christmas rose, a welcome sight come December. It’s pretty and reliable! The opening picture is from this year, New Year’s Eve. The picture just above is from 12/21/18.  Hellebore niger is the earliest blooming hellebore I’ve found.

Close on the heels of the Christmas rose is the Lenten rose (aka Hellebore orientalis) and its various hybrids. Please note: despite being called Christmas rose and Lenten rose, hellebores are only distantly related to the rose family. This picture of purple and double white hellebores is from March 3, 2019.

Although the flowers and foliage of most hellebores are similar, the Stinking hellebore (Hellebore foetidae) is distinctively different. Its leaves are narrow and knife-like, and cluster at the ends of stalks. The flowers are smaller and droopy, and mostly a pale green.

Hellebores bloom throughout the spring, in a riot of colors. They bloom until the heat of June or July do them in. At that point they drop seeds, and where they are happy, they spread into lovely clumps.

Although they need water during droughts, they are low maintenance. Prune browned-off leaves and dry flowers at will. There are supposed to be a couple of insects and a fungus or so that can attack them, but I’ve never had either. Animals—deer, rabbits, etc.—usually don’t chomp on hellebores because of the (dis)taste of the leaves.

So no wonder I (as well as real gardeners) love hellebores!  But why would a writer care?

All parts of all hellebores are toxic! 

Smart rabbits eat only non-toxic plants in your garden!

Somehow, this did not come to my attention when I wrote My Poison Garden last fall. (How could that have happened?)

Although poisoning is rare, it does occur through ingestion of large quantities, and it can be fatal.

  • Symptoms can include any of the following 
    • Burning of the mouth and throat
    • Excess salivation
    • Vomiting
    • Abdominal cramping
    • Diarrhea
    • Nerve system dysfunction
    • Possibly even depression!
  • The roots contain cardiac glycosides.
  • Leaves and sap contain high levels of ranunculin and protoanemonin.

How might a character be induced to ingest large quantities of a foul tasting plant? 

All you can eat ranunculin and protoanemonin!

Dermatitis is fairly common, caused by handling the plants without protection.  Contact with leaves, stems, flowers, and sap can cause irritation and burning on the skin. Minimal exposure should cause a mild, short-lived irritation and can be treated by washing with soap and water. How might a scene be affected by a character suffering contact dermatitis?

This is a hellebore that is black, not a Black hellebore.

Although hybrids that look nearly black have been developed, historically Black hellebore is another name for Hellebore niger, the white blooming Christmas rose. Black hellebore was used by the the ancient Greeks and Romans to treat paralysis, gout, insanity, and other diseases.  Beware: it can also cause tinnitus, vertigo, stupor, thirst, difficulty breathing, vomiting, catharsis, slowing of the heart rate, including collapse and death from cardiac arrest. Not quite so serious: can cause burning of the eyes, mouth, and throat; or oral ulceration, gastroenteritis, a hematemesis. Could the toxicity of hellebores create an illusion of a chronic disease or disorder of unknown origin?

Folklore and legend vary from the sacred to the dark arts. Could your plot take elements from these?

  • According to legend, a young girl who had no gift to give the Christ child in Bethlehem wept, and her tears falling into the snow sprouted the Christmas rose.
  • Witches are reputed to use hellebores in summoning demons.
  • Heracles/ Hercules killed his children in a fit of madness but was cured by using hellebore.
  • Greek besiegers of Kirrha (585 BC) used hellebore to poison the city’s water supply, overcoming the defenders weakened by diarrhea.

Bottom line for gardeners and writers: get thee hellebores!

Poisonous flowers make lovely Christmas cards!