Why, yes. Yes, it is. No wonder you wonder, given that we are bombarded with ads, decorations, parties, movies, etc., etc., etc. Even if you don’t observe Christmas in any way, you can’t escape.

Some Places Observe Christmas All Month Long

  • Christmas in the Villages: Van Buren County, Iowa
    • Features a house tour, Festival of Trees, bake sale, Santa visits, holiday dinners, lighting displays, soup suppers, as well as the natural beauty found around the county
  • Christmas New Orleans Style: Louisiana
    • Cathedral Christmas concerts, caroling in Jackson Square, parades with Papa Noel, cooking demonstrations, Celebration in the Oaks, tours of 19th century houses decorated for the season, Réveillon dinners, and traditional Creole holiday dishes
  • Colonial Christmas (Christmastide in Virginia): Jamestown Settlement, Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia
    • 17th and 18th century holiday traditions
    • At Jamestown Settlement, a film and guided tour compare the English customs of the period with how Christmas might have been observed in the early years of the Jamestown colony.
    • At the Yorktown Victory Center, you can learn about Christmas and winter in a military encampment during the American Revolution ands holiday preparations on a 1780s Virginia farm.

Christmas Isn’t the Only Religious Observance

Other Christian Observances:

  • Dec. 6: St. Nicholas Day
  • Dec. 8: Immaculate Conception
  • Dec. 12: Feast Day of our Lady of Guadalupe
  • Dec. 16: Posadas Navideñas
  • Dec. 27: Feast of the Holy Family
  • Dec. 28: Holy Innocents Day
  • Dec. 31: Night Watch

Non-Christian Religious Observances:

  • Dec. 8: Rohatsu (Bodhi Day, when Siddhartha Guatama achieved enlightenment), Buddhism
  • Dec. 10-18 in 2021: Hanukkah (anniversary of the rededication of the Second Temple), Judaism
  • Dec. 21: Solstice (shortest day of the year and start of winter), Wicca/Pagan
  • Dec. 26: Zarathosht No-Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathustra), Zoroastrian

Observances That Have Nothing to Do With Religion!

N.B.: Observances that cross categories are listed only once.


“Matunda ya kwanza” means “first fruits” in Swahili and is the origin of the holiday’s name. Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, creator of the holiday, wanted to celebrate family, community, and pan-African cultural traditions. The seven days and nights of Kwanzaa are full of significant sevens. The seven Principles (unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and joy) and seven Symbols (Kinara candleholder, seven candles, crops, corn, unity cup, gifts, all on a traditional mat) were celebrated by nearly seven million people last year.

  • Food Related
    • Buckwheat Month
    • Cooked Grasshopper Month
    • Exotic Fruits Month
    • National Eggnog Month
    • National Fruitcake Month
    • National Pear Month
    • Noodle Ring Month
    • Quince and Watermelon Month
    • Root Vegetable Month
    • Tomato and Winter Squash Month
    • Tropical Fruits Month
  • Recreation and Leisure Related
    • Bingo Birthday Month
    • National Closed Caption TV Month
    • Read a New Book Month
    • Sign Up for Summer Camp Month
    • Stress-Free Family Holidays Month
    • Write a Friend Month

BOTTOM LINE: December doesn’t have to be all about Christmas! Live a little, along with other like-minded folks.

Happy Solstice!


Virtually everyone is late sometimes. Flat tire, flight cancelled, wreck on the interstate, call from child’s daycare, slept through the alarm—it happens.

But some people are perpetually late – perhaps just a few minutes, but always. Why? There is no one answer, and therein lies the richness for writers.


Some people grow up in a family, culture, or subculture where precise timing just isn’t considered important. For example, in Mexico being 30 to 60 minutes late is entirely acceptable. A Vietnamese friend refers to “elastic hours” — they stretch to fit as much as you need in them. In Morocco, it’s okay to be late by an hour or more—even a day!

This concept shows up linguistically in South Africa. Elements of multiple languages have made their way into modern slang, making time estimation especially difficult for visitors. “Right now” means pretty soon, probably. “Now” refers to something that will likely happen before too long… but not now. “Just now” is an indeterminate amount of time later: maybe in a few minutes, maybe next month, maybe never.

Ever showed up to a party ten minutes late and still been the first guest there? Understanding the variations in punctuality among communities can be crucial to avoiding social awkwardness. It’s even more vital for people working in the entertainment industry: you don’t want to schedule multiple gigs in a day if one of them is likely to start two or three hours late.

Status Statement

When where you’re from doesn’t line up with where you are, the likelihood of negative encounters—anything from awkwardness to hostility—skyrockets.  In general, status is related to privilege, and that includes timeliness.

The CEO, president, or queen has more latitude; underlings, as a group, feel pressed to be present before their “betters.” Thus, people who are prompt may resent their habitually late peers or colleagues for “putting on airs.”

Said another way: they assume that tardiness is a passive way for a person to say that his/her time is more valuable than the time of others.


According to therapist Philippa Perry (Jan. 1, 2020,, “The reason may be the opposite of arrogance. It could be that they don’t value themselves enough. If this is the case, might they be unable to see how others could possibly mind their non-appearance?”

Our perception of lateness—its importance and its meaning—is strongly influenced by setting. Different expectations apply at work versus in social settings. And just consider medical settings!

Perry also notes, “Late people often have a sunny outlook. They are unreasonably optimistic about how many things they can cram in and how long it takes to get from the office to the restaurant, say, especially if it is nearby.” 

This is my personal bugaboo when walking: somehow I never build in enough time to chat with a neighbor, return for a mask, or whatever. I’m not late when driving!

Also according to Perry, “Lateness can also be caused when we have a reluctance to change gear – to end one activity and start another.  We don’t like getting up, we put off going to bed. Stopping something we are absorbed in to do something else can be annoying. It takes willpower to carry out.” 


One important area where tardiness can be detrimental is the workplace. So why be habitually late? One possibility is that, at some non-conscious level, that person is avoiding success.

Results of my dissertation research indicated that “fear of success” depended on whether a woman saw success in this situation, on this task, as consistent with her perception of appropriateness for women. More generally, if one expects negative responses from spouse, family, or social group if one is “too good,” that fear would undermine or depress performance.

For such people, lateness is probably one of many self-sabotaging behaviors.  Perry reported on one client who fits this model. “When we unpicked what success would mean to her, she uncovered an old family belief that people with money were evil, bad people.” Then there are people who are just oblivious of or inaccurate about the passage of time.

And FYI, as we age we become less accurate in judging the passage of time, erring on the side of underestimating how much time has passed. Learning to overcome this handicap requires major effort.  And a conscious determination to take the necessary steps, not just a generalized intention to try to do better.

Bottom Line: Habitual lateness has reasons and consequences. Consider how everything from self-perception to interpersonal relationships, tension, even disasters, might be related. 


According to Wikipedia, “Collecting is a practice with a very old cultural history. In Mesopotamia, collecting practices have been noted among royalty and elites as far back as the 3rd millennium BCE. … Collecting engravings and other prints by those whose means did not allow them to buy original works of art also goes back many centuries.” 

Carl Jung—to drop a familiar name—suggested that the appeal of collecting is connected to hunting and gathering for early human survival.

Collections of art and antiquities often form the basis for museums or galleries/wings within museums. Donating such a collection is often an intentional or unintentional path to prestige, usually a wealth marker. Just look at James Smithson, who would have been just another wealthy Englishman if he hadn’t founded the Smithsonian Institution.

Sometimes these museum collections are the result of are generational family collections. The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Arizona began with a dollhouse passed down to founder Pat Arnell from her mother. The museum is now a series of exhibits arranged to transport the visitor to various times and places all over the world, like a time machine.

N.B. the difference between an antique and a collectible is age.

  • In general, antiques are at least 100 years old.
    • The DMV classifies vehicles as antique when they are 25 years old.
  • Collectibles are “vintage,” meaning old but not that old.
  • Of course, everything old was once new, so…

A collection must be valued at least… ?

A lot of Depression Glass collections started with free pieces of glassware in bags of flour.

Neither age nor monetary value define collections for ordinary people. Virtually anything can be collected—and probably has been! 

My mother collected salt and pepper shakers. My sister collected dolls. One aunt collected Swanky Swigs Kraft Pimento Cheese Jars, free when she bought the cheese for her son’s favorite lunch sandwich.

Aunt Lena took pride in collecting them all and decades later used them as juice glasses.

I’m probably the most varied collector I know. I started as a preschooler collecting “pretty” pebbles—and collecting them again after my mother dumped them back into the driveway. Then it was paper dolls.

As an adult I have several collections.

Perhaps my jewelry collection could be measures by the branch.
  • Carved wood Santas (>450)
  • Hundreds of cookbooks ranging from newly published to one from 1840
  • Depression Glass table service and flower vases
  • Mahjong sets approaching antiquity 
  • Gold and cloisonné napkin rings
  • Mineral skulls as both shelf art and jewelry
  • Jewelry that can be measured only by the pound.

The general consensus among those who know me is that having grown up poor, as an adult objectively enough is never psychologically enough.

Why do people start collecting?

Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection probably provides enough material for a dozen psychological studies.

Collecting can reflect a fear of scarcity, or of discarding something and then later regretting it. No doubt many collections are connected to deep-seated personality or psychological issues.

This form of collecting can very easily cross the line into hoarding, a mental disorder connected with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Psychologists differentiate between collecting and hoarding in several ways.

Pet hoarding is one of the most tragic forms of hoarding, both for the keeper and for the animals. The ASPCA has information and resources on how to help.
  • Collectors tend to organize and display their collections.
    • Hoarders are more likely to have so much that everything is piled together, often becoming crushed or ruined beneath other piles.
  • Collectors are specific about the items they collect and know the monetary value of items in their collections (if there is any monetary value).
    • Hoarders may collect categories of items, but these categories are more likely to be vague, regardless of monetary value.
  • Collectors have a sense of pride in the uniqueness or size of their collections, creating displays to share with visitors and to preserve everything in the collection.
    • Hoarding is often a source of shame, leading hoarders to attempt to downplay or hide their hoarded possessions from visitors.
This photo of a collection of BDSM and fetish gear is one of the very few that is not X-rated!

One might wonder about sex collections, those who own dildos in various sizes, shapes, and materials; fetishists who collect shoes, handcuffs, or leather. Collections of marble, glass, clay, and leather sex toys have been found in Roman ruins and Viking burials. This is certainly not a modern phenomenon. (There are actually books out there that talk about sex collectors, fyi.)

But surely many—most?—are not related to deep-seated needs or issues.

What explains collecting belly button fluff?  At 22.1 grams, Graham Barker has the largest collection of belly button fluff. It’s his own fluff. He started the collection in 1984, and keeps a daily log of color, amount, and what towel he was using or clothes he was wearing that yielded the sample.

The fact that Mr. Barker has the largest collection implies that there are other people out there who collect belly button lint.

And what about the guy who keeps his ABC (already been chewed) nicotine gum balls to make one giant one?

Personally, I think a lot of collections begin by happenstance. 

Becky Martz shows off her collection with help from the Chiquita Banana Lady.
(Image from

For example, that seems to be what happened for Becky Martz: in 1991 she noticed that label on the newly purchased Dole bananas (from Honduras) was different from the one already in her fruit bowl (from Guatemala),  and voila, a collection of >21,000 banana stickers from around the world was begun. 

What else would explain collections of

  • 730 umbrella covers/sleeves
    • There is a museum of umbrella covers in Maine.
  • Rubber door stoppers
  • Bars of soap

And some collections start as free-bees. Many people keep mementos of their travels in the form of free items with the location printed on them. These sometimes depend on quantity rather than variety:

In case you’re curious, collecting matchbooks is technically known as “phillumeny.”
  • Water bottle labels
  • “Do Not Disturb” hotel tags
  • Airline barf bags
  • Sugar packets
  • Drink coasters
  • Matchbook covers
  • Bottle caps
  • Seashells
  • Cigar bands 

Pure whim?

  • Artificial Christmas trees
  • Pink hats
  • Coke memorabilia
  • Old cast iron cookware and utensils
  • Pens or pencils
  • Chicken/pig/cow memorabilia
  • Barbed wire
  • Bells

Examples I know of circumstances leading to collections:

  • A home brewer who collect beer glasses and steins
  • A woman who bought an historic home on a railroad track and started collecting train memorabilia
  • A firefighter who inherited her father’s and grandfather’s firefighting badges and helmets
  • A collection of 30,000 toenail clippings for medical research

Collecting socially

Znachki are all over eBay these days.

In Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and many Eastern European countries, there is a tradition of znachki – trading pins. During the end of the Imperial Era and throughout the time of the Soviet Union, people were given pins in commemoration, in celebration, as congratulations, to note achievements, and pretty much any other occasions. When meeting in public, people could ask about pins and medals worn as a way of breaking the ice. Pins were often traded and collected.

A meeting of antique doll collectors hosted by DOLLS magazine.

Disney parks and Olympic Games have similar customs of issuing commemorative pins to be collected and traded by strangers and friends.

Many hard-core collectors can also find societies and organizations of like-minded individuals. Dollhouse furniture, Star Wars memorabilia, and Pokemon cards all bring people together online or in swap meets to buy, sell, and trade to perfect their collections.

Collecting Christmas cards is one of the most social collections imaginable.

Bottom line: Whatever the source or start point, what might a collection add to your plot or character? You can go online to find about about these and innumerable other collectables and their collectors, associations, meetings, swaps, and collecting venues.

That’s Not How Anatomy Works!

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, ESL teacher, luthier, favorite auntie, duct tape sculptor, frequent ER visitor, and nosy acquaintance of medical professionals.

The human body is a complicated mess of electricity and wobbly bits, delicately balanced on a knife-edge of temperature and calories. All this pain and suffering is wonderful! …in fiction. Spectacular injuries, sudden deaths, miraculous recoveries, selfless healers all make great stories, but medicine doesn’t always oblige authors by being acceptably dramatic.

In reality, many of the most common medical scenes are impossible. People who have drowned don’t open their eyes to gaze adoringly at their rescuer giving them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A pregnant patient won’t feel her water break like an exploding water balloon and then go immediately into screaming contractions. The tough warrior can’t simply pull a knife from a stab wound and run back into the fray. It’s perfectly fine to wake a sleepwalker.

No One Comes Out of a Coma Like Sleeping Beauty

These people (anesthesiologists like Dr. Akshay Dalal) know all too well what happens when patients are unconscious for too long.

Fairy tales (and soap operas) would have us believe that a patient in a coma state will flutter their lashes and smile their way to consciousness at the most convenient moment in the plot. Of course, hair and make-up are always perfect, and any IVs or breathing tubes are just for show. Immediately, the patient is able to sit up and provide vital information to conveniently stationed witnesses.

In real life, a patient comes out of a coma slowly, often over the course of hours or days. Random mumbles and muscle contractions are far more likely than eloquent confessions. Of course, that’s assuming the patient doesn’t have a breathing tube in their throat, pneumonia and bed sores from staying in one position for so long, and permanent brain damage. Any extended time in bed will result in muscle atrophy, which makes dancing around the hospital room a little difficult.

CPR Doesn’t Magically Bring People Back to Life

Estonian Paramedics (note the lack of defibrillator paddles)

When someone’s heart stops beating, there is no point shocking their chest with defibrillator paddles and shouting, “Clear!” while the patient’s body jerks like a dolphin. Those scenes have plenty of tension and drama but not much medical fact.

A trained onlooker leaning over the lifeless body and thumping on the chest is a little more accurate, but the outcome is unfortunately not. Applying enough pressure on the chest to force the heart cavities to squeeze blood nearly always is also enough pressure to crack ribs. It’s an exhausting process, and the person providing CPR can’t stop. The American Red Cross no longer trains first aid providers to stop and force air into the patient’s mouth, because it is so much more important to stimulate and simulate heartbeats.

Administering CPR is so much more difficult when the patient won’t stay still and let their ribs be cracked!

Unlike those dramatic scenes in medical dramas, real CPR scenes are frequently unsuccessful. Only 10-20% of patients undergoing CPR recover at all. Those whose hearts do resume beating on their own are likely to suffer permanent loss of function and brain damage.

People Knocked Unconscious Don’t Just Pop Back Up

The very worst cases sometimes develop yellow arrows in their heads.

Knocking characters unconscious is a very convenient way to take them out of a fight without racking up the body count. Unfortunately, it’s not very convenient to the brains of those knocked unconscious.

A blow strong enough to knock someone unconscious, even briefly, is strong enough to cause brain damage, possibly even skull fractures. Hematomas (bleeding into the skull) can leave scars on the brain that can be seen on X-rays years later.

Like coma patients (which head trauma patients may become), a character knocked unconscious is likely to be groggy and uncoordinated when they come to. Someone who has been repeatedly knocked unconscious might develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), as football players are finding out now.

Fictional Medicine Never Includes Enough Paperwork

Only one of these ambulances actually has a patient. All the others are full of paperwork.

Medical TV shows almost always show the characters taking long coffee breaks, jumping in and out of relationships, creating miraculous cures just in the nick of time, and doing everything else except practice medicine. The same rules seem to apply to nurses, technicians, radiologists, residents, EMTs, office staff, and everyone else employed in or around sick people.

What these fictional settings almost never show is the reality of medical practice: paperwork. So much paperwork. When not attending directly to patients, everyone has to dig their way out from under mountains of unending paperwork.


There are far more examples of medical inaccuracies than I can cover in this one post. Watching a medical professional watch TV is often more entertaining than the show itself. I have it on good authority that Scrubs and Sirens are two of the most accurate portrayals of the medical profession, despite (or perhaps because) they are both absurd comedies.

Before writing about injuries, death, doctors, nurses, medicine, pharmacists, or anyone or anything else involved in healthcare, I strongly suggest doing plenty of research or asking a medically inclined editor to take a look at what you’ve written.


Whether you’re “a car person” or not, your ride sends messages. Here are just a few examples of choices that have a distinctive vibe. The impressions and stereotypes listed below were gathered from various websites and, like most stereotypes, do not necessarily reflect the truth.


I’m starting with Prius because I own one—two, in fact. Non-Prius owners tend to stereotype Prius owners as 1) tree-huggers and 2) bad drivers. 

According to, the top definition of Prius  includes: “Hippies  hipsters, and less-intelligent liberals buy them under the impression they’re saving the environment.”  If you remember (or have heard of) the 1970’s hippies, VW buses, etc., then you know tree-hugger stereotypes have been around long before the Prius. True, it is an environmentally friendly car, very economical. But fYI: as a group, Prius owners are not environmental activists.

Also according to, top definition of Prius: “Prius is most often seen doing 40 in the carpool lane with an obese neckbeard at the wheel, a 24-pack of PSR in the truck [sic], and an anti-Bush sticker on the trunk lid.”  In fact, bad drivers are everywhere and drive anything. No doubt you’ve seen accidents with luxury cars, pickup trucks, mini vans, compact cars, and anything else that’s on the road. Enough said.

Famous Prius Owners
  • Tom Hanks
  • Ryan Gosling
  • Cameron Diaz
  • Julia Roberts
  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Danny DeVito
  • Jeff Goldblum

Ford F-150

America’s #1 selling vehicle since 1977
  • Work vehicle
  • Towing capacity
  • Off-road capability
  • Can handle massive cargo
  • Luxury and modern tech
  • Great outdoors, rugged strength, old-school Americans 

Other Ford Models

  • More unathletic and ugly than any other driver
  • Older
  • Modest
  • Far from the executive suite


Ten stereotypes as identified by Nigel Presnyakov in October of 2019 (, are humorous. He categorizes by model and year. Who knows how closely they reflect reality? But worth a read.

  • Escalade drivers: a rap star or a housewife. Stereotypers agree this car attracts either hip-hoppers or soccer moms.


  • Outdoorsy, granola types who go camping biweekly and cover their car with social justice stickers.

And here are the views summarized by Joe Djoremy on


  • Attractive and audacious
  • A car for “climbers”
  • More playful than Mercedes or BMW drivers
  • Younger and less wealthy than Mercedes drivers


  • Wild and male (only the Porsche is more so)
  • Likely to be speeders
  • Athletic and arrogant
  • Not (yet) as professionally successful as Porsche
  • Only moderately ten with efficient dynamics and ecology


  • Slim and restrained
  • A “women’s car”
  • Low salary, no university degree


  • Serious and bourgeois
  • Older
  • Likely self-employed, arrogant, conservative, unathletic, and overweight


  • Young and sexy
  • Typically female
  • Pretty, cosmopolitan, cheerful, athletic, daredevil
  • Presumed low-income, with someone else providing for their needs
  • Often a student


  • Honest and good humored
  • Modest
  • Unattractive, unathletic, philistine
  • Happier than Mercedes drivers

Peugeot (per German opinions)

  • Happy and modest
  • Employed female
  • Mid-30s
  • Polite, modest, pretty, slim
  • Good-humored


  • Happy and modest
  • Middle class, moderately educated, average income
  • Otherwise, the image of Volkswagen drivers is all over the map
    • Neither young nor old
    • Modest yet cosmopolitan
    • Shy yet audacious

Motorcyclist Stereotypes

(Mentioned in Last Week’s Blog)
  • Riders wear leather to look cool:
    • Could be for style, but leather riding gear is both protective and practical
  • A bunch of stunt hooligans
    • The vast majority are careful riders, obeying traffic laws
    • Actual gatherings for reckless or flamboyant riding are usually kept on the down low
  • Motovlogs on YouTube: journalistic, motorcyclist, or just plain fun
  • Bikers hate cars
    • In reality, most motorcycle riders hate that too many people don’t use them properly, especially not sharing the road
  • All are road-rage barbarians
    • Some are, most not, just as any other vehicle driver
    • Generally, motorcyclists disapprove of those who make all look bad
  • Bikers have a death wish
    • Not so: bikers want to ride because they get so much in return, despite the risks
    • Accidents tend to be more dangerous when they occur simply because motorcyclists are not surrounded by the protective metal and fiberglass shell of other vehicles

And Rounding us out:, 25 Best-Selling Cars,Trucks,and SUVs of 2020

Vehicle popularity is heavy on SUVs and trucks, with a smattering of cars. Here, without further comment:


  1. Toyota 4Runner
  2. FordTramsot
  3. Jeep Cherokee
  4. Nissan Altima
  5. Mazda CX-5
  6. Subaru Outback
  7. Subaru Forester
  8. Ford Escape
  9. Honda Accord
  10. Jeep Wrangler
  11. Jeep Grand Cherokee
  12. Toyota Highlander
  13. Ford Explorer 
  14. Nissan Rogue
  15. Toyota Corolla
  16. Toyota Tacoma
  17. GMC Sierra
  18. Honda Civic
  19. Chevrolet Equinox
  20. Toyota Camry
  21. Honda CRC
  22. Toyota RAV4
  23. Dodge Ram Pickup
  24. Chevrolet Silverado
  25. Ford F-series

NB: for the sake of brevity, most of these makes/models aren’t mentioned above, but their profiles are out there!

BOTTOM LINE: As a society, we are prone to classify tings—often for silly reasons. Something to be aware of in our lives and take advantage of in our writing.


Once upon a time, women didn’t wear underwear. There are no written records of those times, but I can’t imagine that when humans first donned clothing—i.e., something to cover their bodies—their first priority was underwear. Going commando is not a new thing! And I’m not talking nudists here. Keep reading.


Advantages of not wearing panties

  • Reduced risk of developing yeast infections
  • Reduced vaginal odor
  • Keep genitals drier by allowing sweat to evaporate
  • Reduce chafing
  • Eliminate the tight underpants risk to the labia of irritation, injury, bleeding, or infections 
  • Protects against allergic reactions to dyes, fabrics, or chemicals
Women in San Diego demonstrating “safety underwear” to prevent injury in wartime factories. The woman on the right is displaying a plastic bra. (1943)

So why did women start wearing underwear in the first place? Warmth, protection against scrapes and abrasions, and as a source of announcing status and meeting the current cultural standards of beauty—which, of course, change over time.

Consider the debate over “open-drawers” from the end of the 19th century, both written by Canadian physicians.

  • Is it not ridiculous, not to say criminal, for us to take the position that the corset is harmful and the open drawers is not?  I hold that infection takes place as frequently in this as in any other way on account of the delicate organ being unprotected. (Dr. E. R. Palmer, 1892)
  • A free circulation of air by open drawers is wholesome to the parts, as well as a deodorizer. (E. R. Shepherd, 1882)

Underwear Of The Ancients (753 BC – 476 AD)

Very few women in the ancient world wore what we would consider panties today. Men frequently wore variations of loincloths for support, but women in most cultures simply wore a garment like a slip made of soft material, if they wore anything at all. Depending on the climate (and local definitions of modesty), undergarments might double as outer garments for members of the lower classes in a society.

Bull-Leaping Fresco from the Palace of Knossos at Crete

Historians disagree about whether Greek women regularly wore any form of undergarments. In Minoan society, circa 4th C BCE, which flourished on the Greek peninsula before the Greeks, acrobats have been depicted in frescoes and mosaics wearing a type of loincloth, a perizoma. Both male and female acrobats were painted on the Bull-Leaping Fresco at Knossos wearing a perizoma while flipping over bulls, but some sources indicate the perizoma was only worn by men.

How to wear a kalasiris

Lower class Egyptian women seldom wore undergarments because of the heat. The most common garment for Egyptian women of any class was a kalasiris, a simple linen tunic that could be worn as underwear, as outerwear, or on its own. Wealthy women who did wear undergarments wore figure-shaping garments similar to the Greeks and Romans (“tunica” and “strophium”), which emphasized the ideal feminine figure of small chest and large hips.


Roman women (and men) wore subligaculum beneath their tunics and togas. This was a loincloth, typically made of linen, that was wrapped as shown in the diagram. The subligaculum could also be made from goatskin leather, which I imagine would be very uncomfortable during a Roman summer.

When worn by slaves or grape treaders, these same garments were called limus.


The word ‘kimono’ in Japanese translates simply as ‘things to wear’ but has come to mean a specific category of wafuku: traditional style garments of silk worn in layers, each of which has specific purposes and symbolism. The outermost layer is more specifically called the nagagi. Layers of undergarments (juban) served to protect the elaborate (and very expensive) nagagi from being dirtied by the skin.

Directly next to the skin is the hadajuban, made to absorb oil and sweat, keeping the more elaborate (and harder to wash) nagagi clean. The hadajuban is cut close to the body and cannot be seen then the nagagi is on. A second layer of underclothing is sometimes worn in colder areas or for particularly formal occasions. This nagajuban is more elaborate than a hadajuban, the edges of the hems can usually be seen beneath the edges of a nagagi. Sometimes, the juban would also contain padding to give the wearer the desired body shape.


Underwear was originally called xie yi. The character xie means “frivolous”, which implies that it should not be shown to the public.

Nei-Yi refers to garments worn close to the body for both men and women. However, very few historical records exist of women’s underpants. References to women’s Nei-Yi generally include only the top. There is some evidence to suggest that women wore a form of modified loincloth for hygiene purposes during menstruation. Otherwise, the only form of underwear worn by traditional Chinese women was a form of chemise or half-slip worn by very wealthy ladies to protect elaborate gowns.

South and Central America
Elderly Aztec nobles smoking in their underwear

Both women and men in the Aztec Empire wore loincloths of hemp, leather, bark fiber, and other materials. Depending on the occasion and the status of the wearer, the loincloth might be worn under other clothing or worn alone, decorated with beads, feathers, and colorful weaving.

Europe and European Influences

Middle Ages (500 – 1500 CE) 

Woolen hosiery was worn under dresses and chemises. Teasingly, wealthy women would wear bracelets to match their unseen garters.

Renaissance (1300 – 1700 CE) 
Woman wearing a corset and petticoat under a short jacket, circa 1600 (Elizabeth Vernon)

The favored female silhouette featured a pushed-up bust and wide hips emphasized with a full skirt. Laced corselets and stiffened bodices were worn to achieve this specific shape. Skirts grew and shrank in width, depending on the time and location. Petticoats, hoops, ruffles, and bustles went in and out of fashion as methods of making skirt fuller.

1500 – 1600 
Queen Elizabeth, circa 1590, wearing a huge farthingale

Wealthy women wore a frame of wire or whalebone called a farthingale under their dresses. The farthingale shaped the female form by cinching a woman’s waist and spreading the skirts wide, creating highly exaggerated hips.


Although prostitutes began wearing them during this time, panties were not yet adopted by the mainstream as they are today. Their only underwear was a long linen garment like a nightgown called a chemise or shift, worn over a dress.


One function that corsets provided was to help disperse the weight of the crinolines, petticoats, and skirts, which may have been as much as thirty-five pounds.  Following the onset of crinoline in the 1850s, women wore trouser-like undergarments that extended to below the knee.

Women began to wear drawers (so called because they were drawn on). A pair of separate legs was joined at the waist.

Knickers were loose-fitting trousers gathered at the knee or calf.

1849: Amelia Bloomer advocated loose trousers for women that were called bloomers. Later, all women’s underwear has sometimes been called bloomers.

1860s: Women began to wear colored drawers.

1881: Women’s underwear in Britain were called knickers.

Early 1900s 

In the play Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, the character Mrs. Van Buren orders revealing corsets and undergarments from Esther. Because the undergarments Esther created were so luxuriant, they became a stand-in for some of the characters’ repressed feelings. Mrs. Van Buren says she feels like a “tart from the Tenderloin”—an expression of forbidden desire.

In the undergarment industry, enterprising women found opportunities in design, production, and management not readily available to them in other clothing manufacture.  

In 1900, poor women in Britain made nickers from flour bags. I suspect this happened in the U.S. as well.

1908: In the U.S., women’s underwear was called panties. The term never caught on in Britain. (If you want to try an exercise in hilarious humiliation, try talking to a British person about their “pants!”)


With the progress of women’s suffrage in 1920, many young women embraced a new sense of freedom and created an androgynous silhouette that featured bobbed pageboy-style hair and flattened busts with boyish hips. Flappers did away with pantaloons in favor of “step-in” panties.  As hemlines rose, panties became shorter—down to mid-thigh other than down to the knee!


Panties became still shorter and briefs were fashionable. During WWII, women in Britain used parachute silk to make knickers.

1949: Gertrude Morn played tennis at Wimbledon wearing frilly panties.


The popular bikini brief was introduced. The “Pin-up Girl” exemplified an overt acceptance of women pictured in lingerie. These models showed off the latest underwear trends (seamed stocking, bustiers) and embraced the curvy female figure.

In 1959, Allen Gant introduced pantyhose (called tights in Britain). Previously, stockings were separate pieces for each leg, held up by garters and/or a garter belt.


Victoria’s Secret was introduced to the world as a destination retailer of women’s premium lingerie.


In 1981, thongs were introduced in the U.S.

“Underwear” became “outerwear” and was worn by stars such as Cher in her infamous g-string bodysuit.

In 1984, Depend products for adults were introduced. From incontinence pads, the line has evolved to include panties. Now such panties are available in colors and in reusable/washable designs.


Thongs became popular.

Parfait, an inclusive lingerie company

Spanx, a slimming underwear brand, was introduced and quickly became a modern day shapewear essential. 

Recent years have brought a shift towards more diversity and body positive thinking in lingerie.


Until recently, the vast majority of the female world dealt with “the girls” in one of three ways: wrapping to press them flat to the ribs, wrapping or pushing to lift and support from underneath, or simply letting everything sway where it will.

Advantages of not wearing a bra

  • Better breast skin health
  • Better circulation
  • Improved muscle tone (and possibly breast shape)
  • Increased comfort over time


In Minoan society, circa 4th C BCE, women wore a form of chest support called an apodesmos. This was a length of wool that was wrapped around the breasts and pinned in the back. There is some archaeological evidence to suggest that the apodesmos was worn in earlier Mesopotamian society to emphasize the breasts rather than for support or modesty.

In Greek society, active women might wear an apodesmos under their chiton to stabilize and support their breasts. The strophion was a wide band of wool or linen wrapped across the breasts and tied between the shoulder blades.


“Bikini Girls” mosaic from Villa Romana del Casale in the Piazza Armerina, Sicily

Roman women wore strophia (also known as amictorium and mamillare) over their inner tunic. Unlike in Greece, Roman strophia were usually made of leather. In the latter half of the Roman Empire, this was often referred to as a mitra.


Part of a formal kimono ensemble includes an intricately folded and tied belt called an obi. In addition to holding the layers of robes closed, a woman’s obi provided breast support from below. Women’s obis are generally wider than men’s and are often stiffened with inserts or starch.


People’s underwear, which was first called du dou in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was a piece of cloth that covered the front of one’s chest. It often had four strings, being fastened behind one’s neck and back. Men, women, and children all wore it.

Some du dou had pockets for people to store small valuable things, such as rings and necklaces. People also put spices and herbs in the layers of their du dou to stay healthy.

“Du Dou” literally means “abdominal support”.


In India, the first mention of the bra dates back to literature from the reign of King Harshavardhana, who ruled from 606 to 647 C.E. A kanchuka could be either a tightly-wound bodice, similar to a Greek apodesmos, or a type of armor worn to shield the torso of soldiers in battle.

Detail of Vasant Rangini, circa 1400

In some parts of India, there has sometimes been a mulakkaram, a tax women had to pay for the privilege of covering their breasts. The amount of the tax was based on a woman’s caste and on the size of her breasts.

A choli is a form of outerwear that provides the support of a brassiere. It is a short garment that covers the chest and ties in the back. It is often worn with a sari, sometimes with long or short sleeves.


Srimpi dancer wearing a velvet kemben

The kemben has been worn by women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bali, and Java for centuries. A piece of kain (cloth) is wrapped tightly around the torso and folded, tucked, and tied with a small rope or string behind the wearer’s back. Today, it can be held in place with ties, buttons, or zippers. A kemben is traditionally made of batik silk or cotton, but modern variations can be velvet, rayon, linen, or any other material available.

Europe and European Influence

Medieval Europe
Detail of “Hay Harvest” by Joseph Julien

Women wore corset-like outerwear to enhance their figures. The bodice laced tightly under the breasts to provide support but usually did not cover them. Bodices were often lavishly embroidered and decorated as a sign of wealth and status.


The favored female silhouette featured a pushed-up bust and wide hips emphasized with a full skirt. Laced corselets and stiffened bodices were worn to achieve this specific shape.

Corsets made their first real appearance during this period. Women wore corsets made of whalebone or willow covered with fabric.


The 1700s corset was long-waisted and in the shape of an inverted cone, imposing an even more constricting shape. The wealthiest and most fashionable women had corsets that pulled together their shoulder blades so closely that they would nearly touch. 

Such tight corsets signified the wearer’s status in several ways. A lady would be unable to lace up her own corset and would need to hire assistance. The constriction of the lungs and restriction of movement made them impractical for wear if a woman needed to do any activity more strenuous than serving tea and practicing a bit of dancing.


The corset took on a new shape and was used to emphasize the hourglass shape with a very small waist. Corsets were made in beautiful colors with silks and satins and included garter clips at the bottom.

United States patent #40,907 issued to Luman L. Chapman in 1863 may be the first recorded design in America for a brassiere.

1893: Marie Tucek filed for a US patent for what might be called the first underwire bra. She called it a “breast supporter.” In addition to having separate pockets for each breast, this early “underwire” had a metal plate below the breasts. Shoulder straps helped support what looks like a very heavy piece of clothing sticking on a woman’s chest.

Early 1900s

The corset was still an essential part to a woman’s wardrobe, but also started to be thought of as standalone lingerie as much as an essential part of an outfit. The corset took on an extremely exaggerated “S-curve” shape, which created a very feminine shape. Silk became a popular fabric for corsets during this period.

In the play Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, Mrs. Van Buren orders revealing corsets and undergarments from Esther and says she feels like a “tart from the Tenderloin”—an expression of forbidden desire.

1913: Mary Phelps Jacobs (a.k.a. Caresse Crosby) is often credited with inventing the modern bra, but there are several other contenders for this title. Olivia Flynt, Marie Tucek, Caroline Newell, and Gabrielle Poix Yerkes also filed for patents for brassiere designs and adjustments.

“Brassiere” came into vogue around 1904. The term “brassiere” became widespread in English-speaking nations within a few years, but the French have maintained their designation of soutien-gorge (literally “bosom supporter”).


After WWI, the corset’s popularity began to decline. Rather than the S-curve or hourglass figure that fashionable women in past decades achieved with tight corsets, a rectangular, boyish silhouette became the desired figure. Flappers wore simple bust bodices or tight bandeaus to restrain their chest when dancing.  The lack of curves of a corset promoted a boyish look.

Adding an even more boyish look, the Symington Side Lacer was invented and became a popular essential as an everyday bra. This type of bra was made to pull in the back to flatten the chest.

Patti Page wearing a “bullet bra”

After WWII, underwire bras grew in popularity and the “bullet bra” was introduced (remaining popular through the 1950s). 

In 1947 Frederick Mellinger introduced the padded bra. (Previously, rows of tiny, tight ruffles sewn to bras enhanced the silhouette.)

1948: Frederick Mellinger introduced the push-up bra.


A major shift in women’s undergarments brought the focus to the bust instead of the waist. This can be seen in popular images of “Pin-up Girls” posed to bring attention to the bust, butt, and legs. These models showed off the latest underwear trends (seamed stocking, bustiers) and embraced the curvy female figure.


In 1963, the forerunner of the WonderBra was invented in Canada by Louise Poirier.

1969: Bras ablaze! The “bra-burning feminist” became something of a legend during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s. There are no actual records of women burning their bras, but the symbolism of such an act was so powerful that it became part of apocrypha of the time. A group demonstration at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City called on participants to throw their bra, high heels, cosmetics, and girdles into a “freedom trash can.” Nothing was actually set on fire.


In 1977, Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith were very uncomfortable trying to compete in college sports while wearing regular brassieres. Wearing no brassiere was even worse. To solve this problem, they sewed together two jockstraps from the men’s athletic wear section, crossed the straps in the back, and invented the sports bra. It was first called the “jockbra” but quickly renamed to “jogbra.” 


The “Wonder bra” became popularized with a push-up design intended to enhance sex appeal.

Underwear Miscellany

Nearly all outlets and experts agree that you should replace your old underwear with new underwear once every 6-12 months.Jul 8, 2020

Underwear experts can’t seem to agree on how much underwear one should own to allow for an optimal washing and wearing schedule. (Retailers tend to skew toward advising people to purchase more, of course) As a good rule of thumb, a three-week supply of panties offers a happy medium. This nearly month-long supply adds up to about 20 pairs of underwear.

Early advertisement for Frederick’s of Hollywood

According to “most experts,” underpants should be replaced every 6-12 months.  (Take this with a grain of salt.)

Don’t wear a pair of underpants for more than 24 hours.

“You really should sleep without underwear if you’re prone to vaginal issues,” Dr. Nancy Herta, an OB-GYN, told Glamour. As mentioned beforeunderwear can trap moisture and that type of wet environment is where bacteria grows and causes yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.
According to a Glamour article from 2009, women had 16 bras on average. According to the Daily Mail, in 2016, the average was 8. Are American women cutting back, or is it a U.S./Britain difference?

In case the G-String covers too much for comfort, women can now wear a C-String.

Women should wash their bras after every 2 to 3 wears, or every 1 to 2 weeks if not wearing the same one every day.

“Experts” recommend replacing bras every 6 months, or after about 180 wears. I say, use common sense: check for stretched-out elastic, stains, and holes.

There is an old (mostly unused now) saying in Tagalog that a man should not walk under a woman’s underwear: nasa ilalim ng saya ng nanay. It means that a man should not take a woman’s advice, because doing so would have made him appear weak in a traditionally patriarchal society.

Bottom Line: Though not as immediately visible as hats or jewelry, women’s undergarments provide plenty of information about the wearer’s age, class, status, etc. Wearing the wrong item, or not wearing a “required” item can cause serious trouble for a woman. Historical settings as well as modern can make use of clues provided by undergarments to tell readers a story all by themselves.

What do you—female or male—think and feel about women’s underwear?


As you might imagine, writing stories about the same characters for fifty years can get either very repetitive or very complicated. When those characters don’t age and generally don’t stay dead, a reader trying to track their biographies is likely to get lost in a maze of changing identities, regenerations, spousal roulette, mind control, evil clones, and anything else that might keep things interesting. The serial format of most comic stories lends itself to story arcs with plenty of resets.

Not sure if this is Butterfly Lady or Super Bee!

As the popularity of female superheroes grew, writers began to realize that their characters needed more than scandalous costumes to keep going. Heroines started to develop actual personalities (if somewhat one-dimensional) to go along with their witty flirtations.

One of the biggest changes to the characters in comic books came after the publication in 1954 of Seduction of the Innocent. According to Frederic Wertham, the author comic books were causing juvenile delinquency and spreading homosexuality. Along with proving they were not spreading Communism, writers of comic books had to prove there was no question that every character was completely heterosexual. Romantic subplots and superhero couples drastically increased after 1954. Female characters were more common but less independent and well-developed.


  • Black Cat
    • Linda Turner’s father was a Hollywood stuntman and amateur detective, and he taught his daughter everything he knew, including expertise with a lasso and horses. She has a black belt in Judo and is skilled in other hand-to-hand combat styles. As an actress, Linda realized her director was a Nazi spy, hiding state secrets and propaganda in the script. To stop him, she became the vigilante Black Cat. She is listed as a member of the Super Friends but never shows up in their comics.
    • Linda adopted a young acrobat when his family was killed in a burning circus tent. When the boy discovered her identity as Black Cat, she allowed him to become her sidekick Black Kitten.
    • This Black Cat is not related in any way to Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat of Marvel’s universe, who debuted in 1979.
  • Phantom Lady
    • Her real name was Sandra Knight, daughter of U.S. Senator Henry Knight. Using projection technology (a blacklight gun), she could blind her enemies and make herself invisible. Although she had no distinctive super powers, she was a smart fighter and fared well against ordinary human enemies. Despite not wearing any mask or disguise, no one ever recognized the Phantom Lady as famous socialite Sandra Knight.
    • The Phantom Lady’s costume changed several times, but it was always quite skimpy. She explained that it was a distraction technique to disrupt male foes’ concentration.
  • Miss Fury 
    • Marla Drake was a character establishing the rise of vigilantes. She was rich girl who didn’t have much to do, so she made a classic catsuit to fight crime. Originally called the Black Fury, her name was changed to Miss Fury—perhaps to distinguish her from Black Cat. She fought all sorts of evil. Her skintight suit came under a lot of scrutiny.
  • Spider-Queen
    • Elsa Lesau was the creator of Spider-Queen, a heroine who debuted in The Eagle #2. Sharon Kane technically had no superpowers, but she created a set of bracelets that could shoot a gluey substance that worked just like a spider’s webbing. With tip-offs from a police detective she was dating and hand-hand combat skills, Spider-Queen fought crime by swinging about and tying up criminals.
  • Wonder Woman
    • First in comics, then on TV, and later in the movies, Wonder Woman is the immortal, super-strong, and magical genius daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta. She came to  the world of mortals as an emissary of the Amazons but ended up fighting solo for justice and equality. She was a founding member of the Justice League. She has a magic lasso and an invisible airplane, though she also fights with sword and shield and with a bow. 


  • *Batwoman
    • Batwoman was originally created for the sole purpose of being Batman’s love interest, to prove he wasn’t gay. In her first appearances, Batwoman didn’t join Bruce Wayne in his vigilante activities. She waited for him at home.
    • In 2017, Batwoman was reintroduced in the form of Kate Kane, the niece of the original Batwoman and an openly lesbian superhero. She returned to Gotham to take over for the absent Batman and save the city.


  • Supergirl
    • Making her first appearance in 1959, Supergirl is Superman’s cousin who fights for truth and social justice. She foils all kinds of threats, from time-traveling supervillains to authoritarian Martians. Like Superman, her superpowers are flight, invincibility, laser vision, etc. By day, Supergirl is disguised as Kara Danvers, top-notch journalist. Supergirl first met Wonder Woman in 1965.


  • Jean Grey/ The Phoenix
    • Jean Grey is arguably the most powerful telepath and telekinetic mutant in the X-Men. She was the first female member of the X-Men team and one of the best-developed, complex characters in comics. While studying with Professor Xavier to hone her abilities, she reached a level of the astral plane where she first reached her Phoenix persona. The Phoenix is so powerful that Jean Grey frequently loses control of it. The chaos and destruction the Phoenix unleashes is one of the major causes of mental illness for Jean Grey, along with the dissociation. Over the course of the series, Jean Grey has had name changes, died and been regenerated several times, married and divorced, and overtaken and been overtaken by the Phoenix.


  • Captain Marvel
    • There are several characters in the Marvel Comics Universe with the name Captain Marvel. The first of these (in 1967) was an alien sent to observe Earth, Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree Military.
    • Carol Danvers was first introduced as an officer in the US Air Force in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 in 1968. It wasn’t until 1977 that she gained superhuman abilities. An exploding “Psyche-Magnetron” melded her DNA with that of the Kree Captain Mar-Vell. This is the source of her superhuman abilities, including strength, stamina, durability, agility, flight, speed, healing, and immunity. In case that isn’t enough, Captain Marvel can also use her “Seventh Sense” to warn her of future dangers and tap into the photonic energy of a “white hole.”
    • When she is not being Captain Marvel and maintaining peace throughout the galaxy, Carol Danvers fights for feminism and equal right for women on Earth. Even her first name, Ms. Marvel, was a nod to the feminist movement’s focus on independence.


  • Storm
    • Ororo Munroe was the first major female comic character of African descent. Storm was the daughter of Kenyan sorceress, first appearing in the special edition of Giant-Size X-Men in 1975.
    • As the descendent of sorceresses, student of magicians in the Serengeti, object of worship by the people of Wakanda, and Omega level Mutant X-Man, Storm has very impressive skills. Her primary abilities revolve around her atmokinesis, the control of weather. Storm can change the temperature and pressure in the atmosphere, creating winds, precipitation, fog, lightning, and any other imaginable offshoot of these. A side effect of her weather control gives Storm the ability to fly and to hide herself in dense fog.
    • Storm started as Xavier’s ingénue, became a seasoned hero, rose through the ranks, and ended up as headmistress of Professor Xavier’s school and leader of the X-Men.

Bottom Line: Some characters can be reinvented and adapted as long as the writer can keep up with demand. Some characters should be allowed to retire before they pass their “sell-by” date. Which of these methods do you prefer? What sort of changes can keep a character fresh?

Note: There are many more female superheroes and action heroes than I’ve discussed here. Many independent publishers have printed stories of lesser known but equally fantastic female heroes (check out Faith, Miss America Chavez, Medusa, Boodikka, Wolfsbane).


Editor’s Note: Though the tips written in this blog are real ways to make your life easier, the illustrations are included solely for the sake of humor. Please don’t try them at home!

If you search online for tips to make life easier, you will find lists ranging from 6 to 1000 “Life Hacks!” Some are specific to the workplace, relationshipsaround the house, health, etc. You can even find Life Hacks from before the internet called them Life Hacks… from before there was an internet. What follows is my personal, unorganized list of things that have helped me keep my **** together over the years. Which might appeal to/characterize your character(s)?

Personal Ease

  • Choose a low-maintenance hair cut/style.
  • Wear only comfortable clothes.
  • Keep personal care products/routines to a minimum—except there is never too much exercise.
  • If a plethora of neckties, jewelry, or whatever, makes daily decisions time-consuming, pare down!

Housekeeping/ Repair and Yard Work 

  • If it isn’t causing structural damage, it can wait. This is especially important for people with children or pets.
  • Plant a Darwinian Garden—i.e., perennials only, nothing delicate, everything low-maintenance, nothing invasive. Consider a yard of clover rather than grass! 
  • Take the same approach to house plants.

Kitchen Wisdom

  • Get thee Peg Bracken’s I Hate To Cook Book (great for general wisdom and laughs) and The Doubleday Cookbook (for a good, basic, encyclopedic cookbook). Especially if your character isn’t into cooking, these two have got you covered.
  • If it’s cheap, like measuring spoons and cups, get multiples to avoid cleanup I’m the midst of cooking. (Actually, I think that was a Peg Bracken tip.)
  • Get the best out of a microwave (beyond reheating), a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, an electric skillet, and/or a toaster oven—whichever fits the needs.

How to Give Feedback 

  • Give a praise-criticism-praise sandwich. This works for employee annual reviews, co-worker project/product feedback, family or friends who want to know “what you think.”
  • Don’t use labels. Stupid, lazy, careless, cruel, etc., raise a person’s dander and can lead to arguments over the accuracy/appropriateness of the label.
  • Be clear and specific regarding behavioral expectations.
  • Set up the discussion as “When you do X, I feel Y” and work together for change as needed.

Child Rearing

  • Give the child autonomy in as many areas as possible. With my children, that included (among other things) hair cuts/styles, what clothes to wear, how often to clean their rooms, and extracurricular activities.
  • Make each child a responsible member of the family. For example, in my case, starting at age 12, each was responsible for making the family dinner one night a week, and cleaning up after. No frozen dinners or ordering in!
  • Don’t argue over food/eating. Put the food in front of the children and they either eat it or not. If not, no dessert and no snacks before the next meal.
  • Give financial education at least by mid-teens: savings accounts, checking accounts, credit cards, and money management.

Work Related

  • Get up early enough!
  • Plan what to wear and have your briefcase or other work materials ready to go the night before.
  • Learn how to customize equipment. For example, for poor eyesight, learn how to manipulate the print size on various devices.

Bottom line, when creating characters, give thought to how your particular people might try to make life easier. And if it eases anything in your own life as well, you’re welcome!

BEING PREPARED: Emergencies and Disasters

The bad news is that it’s virtually impossible to prepare for every possible incident; the good news is that virtually no one has to be.

More good news: you don’t have to come up with situations and actions on your own! There are people who are trained to do exactly that. In fact, there is an entire industry of people whose job is anticipating and preventing every possible situation. In the US, they’re known as Emergency Managers. If I had this job, I’d write “Master of Disaster” on my business cards!

Before Disaster Strikes

Aurora australis, as seen from the Shuttle Endeavor

Go to for more information than you’ll need. It’s easy to use and amazingly thorough. I, for one, didn’t even know that “space weather” is a thing! 

I’m looking at you, Hawaiians!

Being prepared begins with thinking ahead. Consider both the likelihood of an event and the severity. For example, people in Ohio don’t need to prepare for tsunamis. People in Virginia don’t need to be prepared for earthquakes in the same way that Californians do. And very few people in the continental U.S. need to prepare for volcanoes. (You know who you are!)

Usually, only people in Oz have to worry about swarms of flying monkeys

Note to Writers: is a great resource! Everything a competent protagonist can do to fare well in these situations, and by implication ways a bad situation could be worse, is laid out.  The Red Cross (and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Organization), the DC National Center for Disaster Preparedness, the CDC, and the ADA websites offer more information for specific characters and specific situation types. This Wikipedia article about Emergency Management has links to international and country-specific organizations.

Types of Disasters and Emergencies

Doctors Without Borders suiting up for an Ebola outbreak in Liberia
  • Attacks in public places
  • Avalanche
  • Bioterrorism
  • Chemical emergencies
  • Cybersecurity
  • Drought
  • Earthquakes
  • Explosions
  • Extreme heat
  • Floods
  • Hazardous materials incidents
  • Home fires
  • Household chemical emergencies
  • Hurricanes
FEMA technicians holding a drill for an anthrax event
  • Landslides and debris flow
  • Nuclear explosion
  • Nuclear power plant malfunctions
  • Pandemic
  • Power outages
  • Radiological dispersion device
  • Severe weather
  • Space weather
  • Thunderstorms and lightning
  • Tornadoes
  • Tsunamis
  • Volcanoes
  • Wildfires
  • Winter weather
  • Other disasters and emergencies are specific to particular countries or regions, and characters in any story would be likely to consult authorities in that region.

Emergency Managers prioritize hazards according to the type, size, and mitigation possibility of each situation. S.M.A.U.G. stands for Seriousness, Manageability, Acceptability, Urgency, and Growth. A knife-wielding, homicidal maniac running amok at the North Pole would be a very urgent situation, but world government are likely to declare the risk to be acceptable. On the other hand, a massive dump of hazardous chemicals in the Mariana Trench is not terribly urgent, but the risk is beyond management and likely to grow exponentially in scope.

Bug-Out Bags

Soviet cosmonauts took their emergency survival bags seriously!

“It is not realistic, even in developed countries, to expect that the governmental infrastructure will be able to reach everyone within hours,” says Daniel Barnett, a disaster preparedness researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Research by Dr. Barnett and his team in 2012 showed that less than half (sometimes less than ten percent) of the American population has actually created an emergency kit.

Pre-packed FEMA evacuation bag

Many websites provide guidance for putting together your own disaster preparedness kits.  Unfortunately, this information can be confusing, and multiple websites directly contradict each other. Should you prepare for three days or three weeks? Are water purification tablets more important than tents? How are you meant to store five gallons of gasoline safely?

A problem to consider in writing is the ability of a character to create such a kit. A family that is living paycheck-to-paycheck most likely can’t afford to keep three week’s worth of food, water, and medicine sitting around. Emergency Managers have found that often the people who are most in need of assistance (collapsed housing, cut off by flooded streets, unable to evacuate) are also the people who are least likely to be able to afford preparation.

Earthquake survival kit kept in an office in Japan

Because they are common across many emergencies and disasters, there are some things everyone needs to prepare for: lack of clean water, lack of food, lack of electricity, and lack of information or documentation. Also, consider the risks and benefits of sheltering in place or changing locations.

In getting prepared, consider the special needs of infants, children, the elderly, and people with physical or mental limitations. Characters cut off from hospitals would need to know how to deal with medications and medical devices.

This looks awfully heavy

But if you (or your characters) aren’t DIY types, you can always buy what you need on-line. You can get kits for singles, couples, or families; for 72 or 144 hours, four weeks, a month, and probably more options.

Of course, disaster/ emergency food only supplies, suitable for refreshing/ resupplying a kit, are available.  

Kits can and should be customized for specific situations, for example, wilderness survival. Urban differs from rural. Homes differ from workplaces. Seasonal shifts as well as geographic location are important. At the least, become knowledgeable about the risks common to where you live.

Pet Bug-Out Bags
A warm fireplace, preferably brick, is an absolute necessity for any dog’s emergency evacuation kit.

You can also buy kits prepared specifically for cats or dogs. For less common pets, such as macaws or bearded dragons, one may be forced to DIY. The ASPCA provides information for preparing ahead to care for animals in a disaster, including farm animals, reptiles, and birds.

Sometimes you rescue the pets; sometimes the pets rescue you.
  • Pet food (and a method of opening the container)
    • Food and water bowls
    • Several gallons of water
    • Pet treats and supplements
  • Plan for waste disposal
  • Grooming supplies
    • Dental tools
  • Protective pet clothes
    • In general, if a human would be painfully hot or cold, any other mammal will be as well
      • Reptiles, birds, fish, etc. may need external heated or cooling apparatus
    • Paws, claws, and hoofs need protection from hazardous chemicals on the ground
  • Depending on the emergency type, evacuations and shelters may forbid pets, particularly large dogs or particular dog breeds
  • Horses, cows, donkeys, llamas, and other large animals may need to stay in a temporary safe space if trailers are not available
Be sure your pet can’t pick the locks on their carrier
  • Carriers and leashes
    • Small animals will need a sturdy travelling case to protect the inhabitant, along with replacements for whatever liners are used
  • Medical records and vaccination documents
    • Pet meds for at least two weeks
    • Crowded conditions, unreliable water and food, and unfamiliar environments are likely to cause new medical concerns in pets, such as worms, mange, anxiety disorders, and a variety of infections
  • Collar or harness with identifying/contact info
    • Microchip information if one is used
  • Recent pictures (to identify lost pets)
  • Detailed instructions on how to care for each pet (in case someone else has to care for the pet) 

Who’s Running the Circus?

Before a predicted disaster, someone has to make sure there are available helicopter landing pads, clean syringes in ambulances, sterno cans for field kitchens, and a million other minor details covered by a dozen organizations.

During a disaster, someone has to make sure the Search and Rescue teams are paired up with the Coast Guard boats, that the Red Cross medics are given transportation by drivers with appropriate vehicles, that everyone knows which evacuees should go to which shelter, and that all the aid organizations are communicating the same information.

After a disaster, someone has to direct potable water trucks to neighborhoods without reliable drinking water, ensure trauma counselors are available for everyone involved, prioritize sites for reconstruction, and all the other concerns that get lost in the fray.

Emergency Managers are trained to take care of all of these constantly evolving situations. They are familiar with fire fighting, emergency medicine, hazardous material control, containing nuclear fallout, and just about any other disaster or emergency situation that might arise. As a writer, you can use Emergency Management training materials to discover potential problems facing people (and characters) as well as possible solutions to those problems.

An Amazing Lack of Disaster

As an example of a disaster that did not happen because of the work of Emergency Managers. In 2015, Richmond VA hosted the UCI Road World Championships, an international cycling race. Obviously, there was the possibility of participants having an accident and needing medical attention, so ambulance crews were on stand-by. But that was just the beginning!

Bad things happen when the school bus can’t reach the school

Because the Union Cycliste Internationale hosts road racing through cities, multiple streets had to be closed to traffic. This required coordination with Richmond Police to close the streets and the Fire Department and Paramedic services to ensure fire trucks and ambulances would still be able to reach local residents.

An estimated 500,000 visitors from all over the world came to Richmond for the week-long event, and they all needed food and places to sleep. Local hospitality and entertainment organizations coordinated with the Emergency Managers to be sure everyone could be accommodated without disrupting local school schedules, routine utility maintenance, trash pick up, commuters, etc. Richmond International Airport had to handle extra flights, and taxi and transportation services ferried extra people all over the city.

The race route had to have portable toilets, water stops, first aid stations, and timing checkpoints. All of these needed to be staffed by qualified people (maybe not the toilets). All of these also had to be protected from the elements and re-stocked throughout the week. Waste had to be collected and disposed of before it could pile up.

A huge crowd, elite athletes, international participants, and lots of media representatives add up to an ideal opportunity for terrorist strikes. That means extra police on duty, heightened security along the route, even FBI and CIA surveillance.

It’s never a good sign when the repair truck gets stuck in mud

This was an event that had the possibility for all kinds of disasters: power grid overload, sanitation failures, respiratory disease spread, violent crimes or rioting in the crowded streets, inaccessible hospitals, planes colliding on runways, chemical attacks, bombs, and the list goes on. Not a single one of these disasters happened. That’s not a very exciting headline, but it demonstrates how many disasters Emergency Managers are trained to foresee and prevent.

Along with the types of preparedness plans above, familiarize yourself with the agencies and services to help you.

BOTTOM LINE: Being prepared is both a generic and a specific state.

BBC headline from July 2020