IT’S GOOD TO KNOW STUFF

Except this. It’s never good to know what this is.

Everything from scintillating cocktail conversation to realistic writing to acing tests depends on it!

Minerals

  • Quartz can scratch glass—easily. It’s one of the few minerals that can. But gem stones topaz and corundum (mainly ruby and sapphire) can mark glass, too, being between the hardness of quartz (7) and diamond (10, the hardest of all).
  • Of course, diamonds can cut glass, and can scratch virtually anything. Is there anyone out there who didn’t know that? I’ve often heard that in years gone by, women would authenticate their engagement ring stone by scratching a name or other inscription into window glass.  Little did they know it might be quartz! Or zircon!
  • Zircon is the oldest mineral found on earth, and it’s the only natural gemstone that can imitate diamond (hardness up to 7.5). It can mark glass, too.

Out of Breath

  • The human body can function without air longer than you think. The current record for voluntarily going without oxygen is 11 minutes, 35 seconds for men and 8 minutes, 23 seconds for women.
  • As a point of comparison, the average person can hold his/her breath for 30-90 seconds. FYI, Japanese pearl divers don’t have super lungs; they hold their breath for about two minutes per dive. And, yes, people can train themselves for longer breathlessness.

Weather: It’s Everywhere!

Russians never let snow get in their way.
  • Chicago has more sports events cancelled because of weather than any other U.S. city—but I couldn’t confirm that just now.
  • Consider how weather could add tension to any sport that is played outdoors. Communities in regions prone to rain, snow, etc., residents tend to be more willing to play soccer in the rain or huddle around fire pits to watch an outdoor hockey game. Don’t forget heat and drought.  And consider the implications of climate change.
Betcha can’t tell it’s below zero!
  • Similar considerations apply for outdoor concerts, plays, and lectures. Some instruments (brass, certain woodwinds, a few percussion types, and [shockingly] harps) can be played in the rain or cold if they are properly prepared and cared for after. The heavy stage makeup actors wear to withstand sweat and theatrical weeping will also stand up to rain.
  • Death Valley is the hottest location in the U.S. (Marathoners have to bring extra shoes to replace all the pairs that will melt on the asphalt during the course of the race!)
  • Phoenix, AZ, is the hottest city in the U.S.
  • Fairbanks, Alaska is the coldest city in the whole country, but Grand Forks, ND, is the coldest in the continental U.S.
  • The Yukon is the coldest region in the U.S. (Most items have to be shipped in refrigerated trucks to prevent them freezing in transit!)
It’s tough to get around when the snow is up to your belly.
  • Mount Rainier has the most snowfall.
  • Syracuse, NY is the snowiest city in the continental U.S.
  • Mobile, AL, is the rainiest city in the continental U.S.
  • All 10 of the rainiest cities are along the southernmost border.
  • For all that Chicago is known as “The Windy City,” the windiest is actually Dodge City, Kansas. Indeed, Chicago doesn’t even make the top 10!
  • The difference between a hurricane and a typhoon is a matter of geography.
    • In the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific, it’s a hurricane.
    • In the Northwest Pacific, it’s a typhoon.
    • In the South Pacific, it’s called a tropical cyclone. In fact, all are tropical cyclones.
    • The weakest of these are tropical depressions; the next level up are tropical storms.

$ and € and £ and ¥

Even scams are subject to inflation.
  • The Value of a Dollar is actually the name of a great reference book. 
    • It gives the cost of goods and services as well as typical salaries/wages by year, starting in 1860 and still updated.
  • Gas in Bath County, Virginia, cost ten cents per gallon in 1935. Ham was ten cents a pound as well.
  • Over the last 20 years, U.S. annual inflation rate has varied between 0.1% (2015) and 3.8% (2008). The highest inflation rates, some in the thousands of percent, occur in third world and developing  countries, including Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Lebanon, and Argentina. Those who know these things blame the lack of a central bank, which allows for easier currency manipulation.
From the Instagram of ceskemapy
  • In 2020, Wichita Falls, TX was the city with the lowest cost of living. The four lowest cost-of-living cities were all in Texas. However, the lowest cost of living state is Mississippi. 

Gender and Orientation

  • 120 males are conceived for every 100 females, but only 105 males are born for every 100 females. Sometimes called “male fragility”, the fact is that at every age and stage, males are more likely to die than females, as well as having more behavioral and developmental disorders.
She’s ready for the Olympic tryouts.
  • Physiologically, a newborn girl is 6 weeks ahead of a newborn boy. Females tolerate heat, cold, famine, and disease better than males.  Speed and strength favor men, but endurance favors women.
  • In 1/1500 to 1/2000 births, the newborn’s genitalia are so noticeably atypical that a sexual differentiation expert must be called in. What used to be called hermaphroditic is now part of a larger category termed intersex: 1 in 100 newborns have bodies that are not standard male or female. 
  • In the U.S., 58% of reported COVID deaths are male (per the CDC as of May 6). In England, Wales, and France, that figure is 60%. In Malaysia, it’s 78%.
  • Research lags sexual identification, but I was able to find that similar numbers of men and women in the U.S. identify as LGB (3.5%). (8.2% report having actually engaged in same-sex sexual behavior.)
  • Among LGB identifiers, a slight majority identify as bisexual, and the majority of those are women.
  • 0.3% identify as transgender. Research in these areas is fraught with hurdles and problems.

Love and/or Marriage

Divorce cakes seem to be growing in popularity. Maybe it’s just because everyone wants an excuse to eat cake!
  • Predictions are that 40-50% of all marriages end in divorce. That number goes up to 60% of second marriages and 65% of third and fourth marriages.  
  • About 6% of couples who married and divorced later remarried each other. 72% of those remarried couples stayed together.
Henry VIII looks almost tame next to Glynn Wolfe.
  • Glynn Wolfe (1908-1997) was a Baptist minister who seems to hold the record for the most monogamous marriages (29). The shortest lasted 19 days, the longest 11 years.
  • Britney Spears and Jason A. Alexander were married 55 hours. Long-time friends, they married on the spur of the moment in Las Vegas and agreed to an annulment just over two days later.
  • But wait! That’s still 1100 times longer than the record (which still holds, as best I could determine). In 2019, a couple in Kuwait probably set the bar for the shortest marriage on record: 3 minutes. Leaving the courthouse, the bride tripped and fell. Her new husband called her ‘stupid.” She returned to the judge who had just married them and demanded a divorce.
Is there a different term for having multiple vampire wives?
  • Vocabulary:
    • A bigamist marries a second (third, etc.) spouse while still married to someone else.
    • Polygamy is the culturally/legally accepted practice of one man having several wives.
    • Polyandry is the same, only it’s one woman with multiple husbands.

Bones

  • The human skeleton renews approximately every 3 months.
  • Human infants are born with 6 cranial bones and 2 holes in their heads (called fontanelles). The fontanelles usually close up within the first two months.
  • In total, human infants are born with more than 300 bones. They fuse with age, resulting in adult bodies with only 206.
  • The hardest bone in the body is the mandible/jawbone.
Children are so weird.
  • Children develop both sets of teeth at the same time. Their baby teeth fall out as their permanent teeth grow downward.
  • The hands and feet have over half of all the bones in the human body: 27 per hand and 26 per foot.
  • The hyoid bone is the only bone in the human body not connected to another bone.
  • Ancient Egyptians (about 3000 years ago) developed the first functional prosthetic bone, a big toe.
  • Humans and other animals with internal bony skeletons are in the minority—only about 2% of animal species are endoskeletal.
Some people have three or four or more skeletons in their bodies.
  • The average number of skeletons in the human body is technically more than one. (Pregnant women skew the numbers ever so slightly.)
  • The femur is the longest bone in the human body, and one of the most researched in both human anatomy and forensic medicine.

Bottom Line: One of my greatest rewards for writing is learning new things. I want my facts to be right. Therefore, I do a lot of research—and therein lies the joy of coming across the unexpected. I recommend it!

Very Important Note: Be mindful of what you’re researching, where you’re researching, and what that research might look like to a stranger. Some topics will throw up a red flag in search engines or on monitorwd networks. You don’t want the FBI knocking on your door just because the explosion scene in your novel is chemically accurate!

THIS ONE’S FOR WORD LOVERS

(You know who you are!)

Yep, I confess to being an unabashed logophile (lover of words).  (This seldom-used word comes from Greek roots: logos, meaning speech, word, reason; and philos, meaning dear, friendly.) 

Some people are logomaniacs—i.e., obsessed with words. I may be borderline, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet! On the one hand, I do have more than five full shelves of dictionaries, from general ones like Random House and the OED to specialized ones for everything from slang and historical periods to non-American English (e.g., Australian and South African). On the other hand, I can go whole days without even opening one!

Mrs. Malaprop, from The Rivals

Of course, there is a big difference between being a logomaniac and acrylog. The former are not necessarily loquacious but prefer the mellifluous to the sesquipedalian and can use catachresis rhetorically. The latter are generally more interested in verbiage and tend to commit malapropisms without irony.

Still, I’m gratified to know (according to the Cambridge English Dictionary) that gobby means talks too much. Closely related—but with different nuance—in American English, gabby means excessively or annoyingly talkative.

Recently, I began posting a word a day on FaceBook, just the word, no definition. The only criterion is that it strike my fancy on a given day. But maybe I should theme it.

Uncomfortable Words

These are perfectly good, innocent words that tend to make people squirm. And of course there is a dictionary for that!  The Dictionary of Uncomfortable Words: What to Avoid Saying in Polite (Any) Conversation by Andre Witham and Brian Snyder. Here are a few samples of such words early in the alphabet:

  • Abreast
  • Bunghole 
  • Dong
  • Emission
  • Globule
  • Horehound
  • Arrears
  • Crotch
  • Dangle
  • Feckless
  • Grotty
  • Ball cock
  • Crapulous
  • Elongate
  • Fecund
  • Hocker

Old Words That Deserve a Rerun 

Why be exhausted when you could be ramfeezled or quaked? Why be surprised when you could be blutterbunged?

One of the best dictionaries for these and other old words is The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk.

  • Biblioklep: book thief
  • Bouffage: satisfying meal
  • Bruzzle: to make a great to-do
  • Cabobble: to mystify/puzzle/confuse
  • Cark: to be fretfully anxious
  • Fabulosity: the quality of being fabulous
  • Falling weather: rain, snow, hail
  • Flamfoo: a gaudily dressed woman
  • Fleshquake: a tremor of the body
  • Flonker: anything large or outrageous
  • Flurch: a multitude, a great many (things, not people)
  • Gutterblood: people brought up in the same immediate neighborhood
  • Hipshot: strained or dislocated in the hip
  • Leg-bail: run from the law, desertion from duty
  • Nicknackitarian: dealer in curiosities
  • Noggle: to walk awkwardly 
  • Overmorrow: the day after tomorrow
  • Prinkle: tingling sensation
  • Rooped: hoarse, as in bronchitis
  • Scruze: squeeze, compress
  • Smoothery: medicine or salve to remove hair
  • Tazzled: entangled or rough, untidy head of hair
  • Thenadays: in those days, times past
  • Thinnify: to make thin
  • Woman-tired: henpecked
Not to be confused with the Planet Word Museum, in Washington DC.

Words That Are Seldom Seen—or Heard 

I just like them. 

  • Rantipole: a wild, reckless, sometimes quarrelsome person; characterized by a wild, unruly manner or attitude.
  • Solivagant: rambling alone, marked by solitary wandering.
  • Agathokakological: composed of both good and evil. True of many (most?) people, and of all good villainous characters!
  • Noctiphany: something that happens only at night.
  • Skice: to frisk about like squirrels in spring.
  • Lethologicawhen a word is on the tip of your tongue. 
  • Sesquipedalian:

And when it just won’t come in time, you can substitute. Here are some words for an object, event, type of media, abstract concept, or person whose name is forgotten, unknown, or unmentionable. There are regional variations, but some of these seem to be universal.

  • Thingamajig
  • Thingummy
  • Thingamabob
  • Whatchamacallit
  • Whatsit
  • Thingy
  • What’s-his/her-name
  • What’s-his/her-face
  • Doohickey: object or device
  • Doodad
  • Gizmo

And then there are the nuances of words to consider. By this, I mean words that can objectively mean the same thing but create different impressions of age, social class, education, gender, etc. Some words are essentially unintelligible to people outside a particular social group. This is where a good thesaurus comes in handy (or Urban Dictionary). A few examples:

A geographic explanation of why English is so weird
  • Old, aged, elderly, antique, boomer
  • Curvy, overweight, fat, thicc [sic]
  • Whopperjawed, off-kilter, crooked, ill-fitting, skeevy
  • Heart, ticker, vascular organ
  • Tall, high, elevated
  • Angry, upset, ticked, pissed off, aggro
  • Vessel, container, bowl, pot, urn

Writing about words could go on forever.  So I think I’ll wrap this up for now, without even touching on insults and name-calling. Maybe another time.

Bottom line: never too many words.

ALSO KNOWN AS…

These pen names are fairly self-explanatory.

Is there anyone out there who didn’t know that Vivian Lawry is the pen name of Vivian Makosky? Well, now you do. 

There are many reasons why an author might choose to use a pen name. Particularly fancy authors might even use a nom de plume.

To Share Credit

Lawry Gulick,
in his natural habitat

My first attempt at writing fiction was the Chesapeake Bay Mystery Dark Harbor.  The plot required a lot more knowledge of sailing than I possessed, and so I started working with a coauthor, Lawry Gulick. Most fiction books are not (obviously) coauthored, so we took the pen name Vivian Lawry.

When I started submitting short stories, I asked Lawry whether it was okay for me to use that pen name. He said, “Sure. This is the only fiction I’ll ever write.”

People more often than not mispronounce and/or misspell Makosky anyway. My professional (psychological) publications are by Vivian Makosky, and using a pen name for fiction allows me to separate the genres.

By the time Dark Harbor saw the light of day, I’d published numerous short stories as Vivian Lawry. Publishing the novel as Vivian Lawry would feel like plagiarism, as if I was claiming to be the sole author of the mystery. Hence, it ended up being coauthored after all, by Vivian Lawry and W. Lawrence Gulick.

The Real Michael Field

Little did we know that shared pen names have been around for awhile. 

  • Katherine Harris Bradley and her niece, Edith Emma Cooper, shared the pen name Michael Field, as well as what appeared to be a lesbian relationship for more than forty years. 
  • Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch shared the pen name Magnus Flyte.

Perhaps they chose male pen names for marketing reasons as well.

To Bypass Gender Stereotypes

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë as painted by their brother Branwell

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë wrote as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell because, according to Charlotte, “…we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” 

Many other women have written under men’s names in order to get published and/or to be taken seriously.

To Jump Genres

Yet another reason to adopt a pen name is to publish in very different genres.

  • Joanne Rowling has used pennames to confront both of these issues in the publishing world.
    • Her editor suggested that a fantasy series published by a woman would only appeal to a female audience, so JK Rowling published the Harry Potter series and all the other books in the “Potterverse
    • She switched to Robert Galbraith for her 2013 crime mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Louisa May Alcott published Little Women under her given name
    • She used the name AM Barnard to write gothic thrillers with unladylike subject matter
  • Nora Roberts a.k.a. JD Robb
    • When writing romance, she’s Nora Roberts
    • When writing futuristic suspense, she becomes JD Robb 
  • Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) also used many pen names
    • Isak Dinesen published Seven Gothic Tales 
    • Pierre AndrézelThe Angelic Avengers
    • In German-speaking countries, she is sometimes published as Tania Blixen
Fantasy and science fiction are still heavily male-dominated genres.

Indeed, many publishers advise writers established in one genre to take a different name for a different genre so as not to confuse or frustrate loyal readers.

To Improve Marketing

PD James, aka
Phyllis Dorothy James White,
Baroness James of Holland Park

And not to be overlooked, some authors choose a pen name or use only initials purely for marketing purposes. Besides JK Rowling and PD James, consider these three:

For more on this topic, pick up Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Psuedonyms  by Carmela Ciuraru. That’s not a pen name – the author really is named Carmela Ciuraru.

Downside of Pen Names 

Ghostwriting is not quite the same as using a pen name.

Yes, there is a downside. If one chooses to keep two (or more) writing names, and to keep them separate, it multiplies the workload: separate blogs, separate websites, separate social media accounts…  

And one can’t handily promote the other!

For those of us who have a “private” name and a pen name, visibility is often lost: people know me as one or the other. In spite of leakage over time, personal friends and family members sometimes forget my pen name, and often haven’t “liked” Vivian Lawry’s Facebook page. Thus, they don’t keep up with publications, talks, etc., even though they might be some of the best word-of-mouth advertising.

Bottom line: Think carefully before taking a pen name.

DANDELION

On Wednesday I saw my first dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) of the season—and my thoughts have been returning to it since! Is that weird our what? It turns out that in being struck by the first dandelion I’m not alone.

Poetic Dandelions

The First Dandelion” by Walt Whitman

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass—innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face.

Indeed, if you look up poetry about dandelions on discoverpoetry.com, you will find the following:

Most Famous Dandelion Poems
  1. The First Dandelion by Walt Whitman
  2. To the Dandelion by James Russell Lowell
  3. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
Short Dandelion Poems
  1. Dandelion by Hilda Conkling
  2. The First Dandelion by Walt Whitman
  3. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  4. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
  5. The Dandelions by Helen Gray Cone
  6. The Hawkbit by Charles G. D. Roberts
  7. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
Dandelion Poems for Kids
  1. Dandelion by Nellie M. Garabrant
  2. Dandy Dandelion by Christopher Morley
  3. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  4. Little Dandelion by Helen Barron Bostwick
  5. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
Imaginative and Fun Dandelion Poems
  1. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
  2. Dandy Dandelion by Christopher Morley
  3. Dandelion by Nellie M. Garabrant
  4. The Dandelions by Helen Gray Cone
  5. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  6. Little Dandelion by Helen Barron Bostwick
  7. The Dandelion by Ida Celia Whittier
  8. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
  9. Dandelions by Florence May Alt

But dandelions are more than just pretty faces! More than harbingers of spring. More than cheerful chips of sunshine come to yards and roadsides.

Delicious Dandelions

Sautéed Dandelions with Wehani Rice

Have you eaten a dandelion recently?  When I was a child, a “mess of greens” meant dandelions.  But that fell by the wayside before I even reached adulthood. Something to reconsider?

Botanists consider dandelions to be herbs. People use the leaves, stem, flower, and root—raw or cooked—for various purposes. It’s one of the earliest edible plants to emerge in the spring. Native Americans and early European colonists eagerly awaited this addition to their diets.

The bitterness of raw dandelion leaves is similar to arugula—thus not for everyone.  If raw dandelion leaves don’t appeal to you, they can also be steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup, which can make them taste less bitter. The flowers are sweet and crunchy, and can be eaten raw, or breaded and fried, or even used to make dandelion syrup or wine.

And dandelions are safe! There are no poisonous lookalikes for the common dandelion.  Dandelions are found on 6 continents and have been gathered for food since prehistory, but the varieties commercially cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia and North America. A perennial plant, its leaves grow back if the taproot is left intact (to many gardeners’ frustration). You can forage your yard!

So, people can consume dandelions in many ways and forms.  But why would you?

Health Benefits of Dandelions 

In terms of nutritional content, from root to flower, dandelion are highly nutritious plants, loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber.  Dandelion greens can be eaten cooked or raw and serve as an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain vitamin E, folate, and small amounts of other B vitamins.  What’s more, dandelion greens provide a substantial amount of several minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. 

  • Antioxidants 
    • Dandelions contain beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.  Research shows that carotenoids such as beta-carotene play a vital role in reducing cell damage.
    • The flower of the dandelion is also full of polyphenols, which are another type of antioxidant.
  • Blood pressure
    • Dandelions are a good source of potassium. There is clinical evidence that shows that potassium can help reduce blood pressure.  For example, research has found that people taking a potassium supplement saw a reduction in their blood pressure, especially if they already had high blood pressure.
  • Blood sugar 
    • There is some evidence to suggest that dandelions contain compounds that may help with regulating blood sugar.
  • Bones 
    • Very little research has been conducted on dandelion’s effect on bone health, though some of its individual nutritional components contribute to the maintenance of strong, healthy bones.  Dandelion greens are a good source of calcium and vitamin K — both of which are associated with the prevention of bone loss. Inulin, a fiber found in dandelion root, may also support healthy bones through improved digestion and the promotion of healthy gut bacteria.
  • Cancer risk 
    • So far, studies have looked at dandelion’s impact on cancer growth in test tubes and found that it may help with slowing the growth of colon cancerpancreatic cancer, and liver cancer. As with other potential benefits, more research is required to show how effective dandelions can be as part of cancer treatment.
  • Cholesterol 
    • Dandelions contain bioactive compounds that may help lower a person’s cholesterol.
    • So far research has been with animals.  However, testing on humans is still needed.
  • Digestion 
    • Some people use dandelion as a traditional remedy for constipation and other digestion issues.  The root of the dandelion is rich in the carbohydrate inulin, which is a type of soluble fiber found in plants that supports the growth and maintenance of a healthy bacterial flora in your intestinal tract.
  • Immune system 
    • Researchers have found that dandelions show both antiviral and antibacterial properties. For example, one 2014 study found that dandelions help limit the growth of hepatitis B in both human and animal cells in test tubes.
  • Inflammation 
    • Some studies indicate that dandelion extracts and compounds may help reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Skin 
    • Some research indicates that dandelion may help protect the skin from sun damage.
  • Weight control 
    • Dandelion could help people achieve their weight loss goals, based on the plant’s ability to improve carbohydrate metabolism and reduce fat absorption.
    • Strong evidence to support this claim is lacking, however.

Dandelion root is often dried and consumed as a tea but can also be eaten in its whole form. The root can also be dried and roasted to be made into a substitute for coffee. Dandelion wine is considered quite a delicacy among those who know these things.

Dandelion root coffee from Lionstooth Coffee

But Beyond Food

Because dandelions can endure almost any living condition, they represent overcoming every hardship by standing strong and proud. The word “dandelion” comes from the French name for the flower: ‘dent de lion’ or ‘teeth of the lion.’

  • Dandelion Symbolism
    • Healing from emotional pain and physical injury alike
    • Intelligence, especially in an emotional and spiritual sense
    • The warmth and power of the rising sun.

When dandelions start popping up on your front lawn, consider it to be an omen of good luck. That is because Dandelion belongs to the planet Jupiter which is the planet of wealth.

Throughout the ages, dandelions have been used for divination, as a way to tell fortunes or make wishes.

If you rub a dandelion under your chin and your skin turns yellow, you like butter — at least according to an old wives tale found in cultures worldwide. Dandelions are the favorite flower of children

In The Hunger Games, the dandelion becomes a symbol of hope for Katniss, and evidence of her resourcefulness and expert foraging. When she sees the field of dandelions, she gains confidence in her ability to feed her family.

Whole essays have been written on dandelions as our favorite weeds. Indeed, there are whole worlds of dandelion info out there. Seek and ye shall find.

BOTTOM LINE: Dandelions are ubiquitous. Surely there is a place for them in your life and/or writing!

DELIVERY DEBACLE REDUX: The Madness Continues

A week ago, I wrote about all the packages that hadn’t arrived before Christmas. Well, as 2021 began, the backlog continued. Again, drawing from my circle of family and friends, the waiting continued.

Some local offices haven’t switched to the newest technology yet.

. .

LJ: I’m SO frustrated. We mailed a box of gifts to Virginia on December 7. It sat in Cuyahoga Falls [Ohio] PO till December 15 before it arrived 7 miles away in Akron regional distribution center, arriving on December 17. It has been sitting there since, no movement shown in the tracking system! I know all the problems they have been having this year, but what is going on now? It only needs to get to Fredericksburg now. Just a little farther…

. .

NP: We’ve had the same problem here. A package G was expecting sat 10(!) miles from our house for more than a week.

Pretty soon, the packages might start opening themselves.

. .

KC: My box is still in Akron. No movement. The cookies are stale.

. .

TB: Me too, L! I hope EL finally got hers.

DA: BTW—we were not nearly as happy with UPS & FedEx. Several packages were randomly tossed “somewhere” in the vicinity of the house. One package (of nice chocolates) sat for a day and a half out in the rain before the meter man saw it & alerted us.

LJ: MJ had a photo of a package he sent to his sister in Buffalo. The Amazon guy left it in the snow. M got the delivery photo notice and he sent it to his sister. If they can’t get up to the house because of heavy snow, delivery people should have some way of notifying the recipient. At least Amazon’s photos help with that.

Good thing this one wasn’t left out in the snow.

TB: Our son’s pkg took almost 3 weeks from Oregon [to Ohio].

LJ: Weird, since the packages I sent to Florida and Memphis arrived at their destinations in time for Christmas with time to spare. Only my East and West destinations were screwed up. Arizona made it yesterday and Virginia is the one still traveling. That was the shortest journey by road mileage.

LJ: Mine is still at Dulles in Virginia; this is the 31st day. It needs to get to Fredericksburg. I’m happy you got yours before the New Year, however.

KC: I received a message on Dec 20 that my package was to be delivered Dec 3! It arrived on the 22nd!

There is a network distribution center in Cleveland that has been severely backlogged since September. Perhaps the letter carriers should upgrade from tricycles.

MH: I think Ohio is the problem! D had an order for pants from LLBean and there were in the center near Columbus for a month! It wasn’t a Christmas present so it didn’t matter. We didn’t realize so many people were having this problem. In Ohio’s defense, I’m sure the diversion of trucks for vaccine delivery and the major storms were a factor.

LJ: There is something wrong with the Ohio to Virginia connection.

SB: Yup, still waiting for mine. Jan 6th now.

DM: My friend ordered a Christmas present for her husband on 12/2 and by 1/4 it still hadn’t arrived!

Australian mail is delivered faster because their tricycles are yellow.

DA: We must be the only people alive who had no (zero, null, nada) problems with package delivery. Our mailings to California, New Jersey, and Boston were delivered exactly when the tracking said they’d be.  On the other hand, “normal” mail is quite another thing: no regular magazine deliveries (New Yorker, etc.), one priority mail that was sent from Hiram to our Hiram PO Box (for $3.80) took seven days. (Simply bizarre.) Not a single package or card from Europe has arrived yet—but Australian mail has exceeded all expectations. Tell me it’s not a plan to destroy the USPS so that it can be privatized….

[You may recall that in my blog about the Great Delivery Debacle posted 12/29, I offered three possible explanations—other than sheer overload—but an effort to privatize wasn’t one of them!]

Since January 1, a dam seems to have broken—but still no rhyme or reason I can find!

My order of poodles has finally arrived!

January 2-4, I received 11 packages, everything from nutritional supplements to a present I’d ordered to give as a present. Saturday and yesterday packages were delivered morning and afternoon.

Because you must be waiting with bated breath to know about the package from my sister, I won’t keep you in suspense: box of presents she mailed in Lancaster, OH, 12/11, arrived Saturday, 1/2! I was sorry to see that she had paid $20.40 for priority shipping!

Similarly, a standard  8.5X11-inch family calendar mailed from Massachusetts, $9.90 for two-day delivery, arrived after 5 days.

The other packages, mailed from all over the country between December 18 and 28, all arrived together. I noticed that two from Florida on the same day, one priority and one first class arrived together.

Surprise, shock, and awe!  An item scheduled for delivery on January 6 arrived January 4!

Some of the delivery vehicles are a bit out of date.

There is a method to all of this madness… sort of. Several factors combined this year to delay mail and package delivery schedules in every company. The various delivery servicesUS Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and othersoften work together to carry goods to their destinations.

In particular, the Post Office is often responsible for delivering mail to individual residences in less populated areas, regardless of which company began the shipping. This means that a delay in any of the delivery services almost always ripples out.

Holiday delivery surges happen every year, but this year was extra special! You may remember some disruptions in US mail services from this past year, highlighted again at election time. Many of those disruptions are still in place.

I still think the new guy looks shifty.

Sorting equipment that was removed and destroyed has not been replaced. Delivery trucks have not been serviced and so have broken down. Employees are still exposed to COVID, and many are sick or have passed away.

Kim Frum, a senior public relations representative for USPS, released a statement that read, in part, “While every year the Postal Service carefully plans for peak holiday season, a historic record of holiday volume compounded by a temporary employee shortage due to the COVID-19 surge, and capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving this historic volume of mail are leading to temporary delays.” 

Employees at Amazon, FedEx, DHL, Hermes, and UPS also interact regularly with the public and thus are exposed to increased risk of COVID. International service has been disrupted because of travel restrictions. Everyone is dealing with increased volumes because people are ordering things online to comply with quarantine orders.

. .

The Postal Police take their job pretty seriously.

The madness comes from playing Russian roulette with your packages. Will your box be the one in the back corner of the truck? Will your letter be the one that won’t fit in the bag and has to be left for the next round? Will your parcel be the one that hasn’t been sorted by the end of the shift and must stay in the warehouse until tomorrow? Most chancy of all: whose mail will that shifty new guy take to the TV studio with him?

. .

Bottom line: I’m waiting to see what the new mailing normal will be.

THE JANUS OF 20-21!

January is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. He’s depicted with two faces, looking in opposite directions. In any event, this is the customary time of year for people to take stock of what was and what’s to come. 

In the most basic terms, we do know some things about 2021 for an absolute certainty. 2021—MMXXI if you’re particularly old-fashioned— will be a common year (not a Leap Year) starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar. This is the 2021st year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 21st year of the 3rd millennium, the 21st year of the 21st century, and the 2nd year of the 2020s decade.

2021 Chinese Zodiac Predictions

Metal Ox, not Math Ox

In the Chinese Zodiac, 2021 will be a year of the Metal Ox beginning on February 12th (2020 was a Metal Rat). According to custom, the Ox is very hardworking and methodical.  In the year of the Metal Ox, we should all focus on relationships of all kind (so let’s hope we don’t have to keep social distancing too much longer).

The Ox is also associated with hard work and responsibility, so expect lots of that in 2021 as well. The repercussions of previously made decisions will hit this year (oh boy!), but at least all our hard work will be rewarded.

2021 Angel Number Predictions

Angel Numbers are a branch of numerology based on the idea that groups of reappearing numbers or sequences of numbers are coded messages from angelic protectors.

The Angel Number 2021 symbolizes faith, whether it be in your guardian angels, your relationships, or your own intuition. Don’t doubt that your angels have good plans for you and that allowing change will bring progress. Seeing Angel Number 2021 indicates that you need to control your thoughts more, as they can affect your reality.

As per the Numerology Horoscope 2021, this year will be good for you financially. You will have a balanced and flourishing family life. Though you may face some stressful situations in the middle of the year, you will gradually overcome those challenges with your understanding and wisdom.

What about 2020?

In general Numerology, 2020 is like 1616, 1717, 1818, and 1919, because the first two digits match the second two digits. Being alive in 2020 is special because it is the only year you are likely to live through wherein the first two digits will match the second two digits—unless you believe in cryogenics or reincarnation.

At what point do therapists start offering bulk discounts?

The energy represented by the number 2020 has a resonance of focus and relationships. It also resonates with conscientiousness, pragmatism, and teamwork.

Apparently, the Angel Number 2020 was telling us all to be prepared for what is coming our way. Guardian angels were telling us that extreme changes were about to enter our lives. Had we paid attention, perhaps we would have been more prepared, both mentally and physically.

“The year 2020 ushers in the Universal Year 4 – a number representing stability, organisation, industriousness, convention, and a mini-wealth cycle,” said Gracy Yap, a Singaporean numerologist and author of Secrets Of Golden Numbers.
Jan 3, 2020

It seems everyone said 2020 would be a year of healing and big changes. Well, that was half right.

Interestingly, no one foretold the COVID-19 pandemic or the upheaval surrounding our presidential (and other) elections. Massive wildfires in Australia and California, murder hornets, flesh-eating bacteria in Mississippi, swarms of locusts in Africa, and wide-spread civil unrest in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, America, Hong Kong, and Sudan… none of these were mentioned in all those 2020 predictions.

Bottom line: We have every reason to believe that 2021 will be a good year, new president in place and COVID vaccinations injected. But don’t count on it!

1:57 AM

And it hit me: I hadn’t written a blog! Where did the days go since Friday Tuesday?

Fauna

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I had a chance to enjoy the acrobatics of Stanley and Ollie at the bird feeder.  They’re better than a professional circus troupe, but without the spandex and sequins! (For more about their antics, check out an earlier blog I wrote about the behaviors and habits of squirrels in my yard and elsewhere.)

Flora

Visiting yard plants is always interesting this time of year (sometimes a bit confusing). I found that a purple baptisia anemone planted by the front back door has migrated to a side garden near the back—clearly the work of fairies.

I have a single rose bud opening (although my neighbors’ roses are hanging heavy) Christmas rose hellebore loaded with buds and a few blooms .

I have a single rose bud opening (although my neighbors’ roses are hanging heavy) Christmas rose hellebore loaded with buds and a few blooms .

The rhododendron has its first bloom, and azaleas are going wild. I think this weather is confusing them. Irises Daffodils are so heavy-headed that they are resting on nearby azaleas. My peonies camellia sasanqua aren’t as far along as they were three years ago, but they’re showing lots of buds for the future.

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The patio pots have flourishing mint, chives, oregano, thyme, sage, and—surprisingly—dill and parsley that wintered over.

My mums are going crazy! I love their colors, and I wish I could convince mine to be perennials.

Fiction

Then, too, there were writing tasks. I wrote the first draft of “Pandemic.” I’m involved in an online writing class, and this week was my turn to present.

Fraternizing

All of that doesn’t even touch on communications with family and friends. Like many in the US (and around the world), I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the election results this week.

I’ll try to get out of myself for Friday Tuesday!

Bottom line for writers: Life happens.

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WRITING CLASS VIA ZOOM

I went into this with some trepidation. Heretofore, my only experiences with zoom have been with a critique group and with a social group. The critique group is only four, and the social group, five. How would that work with ten?

This class is called Exploring Fiction, and it’s part of the creative writing program offered at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts studio center. I’ve taken courses through the VMFA before, but this is the first time I’ve tried it online. My classmates all have schedules flexible enough to allow them to join a class in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Other than that, there’s quite a bit of variety.
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  • Some have taken dozens of writing classes for many years; for others, this is the first writing class they’ve taken.
  • Participant ages vary; so far as I can guess, there is a span of thirty or forty years..
  • A few of my classmates have published several works, both books and shorter works. Some in the class have no interest in publishing at all.
  • I recognize several of my fellow writers from previous classes or peer review groups we’ve been in before. Others are new friends for me to meet!

What I liked:

  • Finally getting back with some of my writing friends of old
  • Finding that the teacher is well-organized, and already experienced
  • The “get acquainted” exercise, and learning things I didn’t know about people I already knew
  • The varied aspects of each class, which include assigned readings, prompted writing, and sharing of our own work
  • The teacher’s focus on the positive feedback
  • Being able to sip water or coffee, something I’d never bothered to take to class before
  • Once again hearing the different takes on the same prompt 
  • Hearing someone else’s very vivid writing
  • Discussing a short story from The New Yorker and examining why it works so well

What I didn’t like:

  • I couldn’t see everyone by simply turning my head
  • Everyone seemed more stilted and formal
  • Fewer spontaneous comments among students
  • Difficulty taking notes while using my laptop to run the meeting
  • Seeing the way I look on screen, face all mottled by shadows
  • Feeling self-conscious every time I touched my hair
    • Or scratched my nose
    • Or wrinkled my brow
    • Or moved at all, actually
  • Being hyper-aware of every noise I made, coughing or turning pages or whatever
  • Having to mute myself whenever my husband made noise in the backgroundAnd remembering to unmute after

Bottom line for this writer: not as good as in-person but soooo much better than no class at all!

The (Virtual) Perennial Student

A year and a bit ago, I wrote about the importance of continuing education and peer review for a writer. Though in-person classes and critique groups are more difficult these days, challenging yourself to write is just as important. As with so many other areas of life, the internet can help with that!

Writing classes are notoriously rowdy. Teachers may even welcome the relative calm of online classes conducted via web cam.

It’s practically a cliché that writing is a lone activity. For the past few months, pretty much everything has been a lone activity. Classes and writing groups add the social dimension to writing, especially during quarantines, lockdowns, and isolations. I never met a boring writer! I meet interesting people with similar interests and (usually) similar world views. Thus there is the potential to develop new friendships as well as keeping in touch with current friends.

Why Classes?

When you happen to live with a writing partner, social distancing and masks are probably not required.

Classes stimulate me to write in new directions.  Yes, I write when I’m not in class, but it tends to get habitual, not to mention sporadic.  An extra bonus of online classes is the ability to connect with teachers and fellow writers in all over the world. The variety of cultural perspectives is almost guaranteed to shine light on some of those new directions.

Drawing up a calendar schedule isn’t necessarily required, but it certainly helps to avoid last-minute writing crunches.

Classes are structured to make me write regularly. The VMFA studio classes meet regularly, with a variety of schedules to suit any writing lifestyle. Tuition is a real bargain, when one looks at dollars per hour of instruction! Just saying.

When I write regularly, I also submit regularly, at least six times per year.  This leads to lots of rejections, but without submissions there are no acceptances. Submissions, thankfully, are almost entirely online.

Typed submissions are much easier to send to online classes, but some people still prefer to write a first draft with pen and paper.

Most of my life has been spent in classrooms, as a student and/or teacher. Classes are my natural environment, the one in which I thrive.  Classmates and/or teachers praising my writing is extremely gratifying. Every time I get something published, it’s like an A on my report card or a star on my forehead. With more than 50 publications in literary journals and anthologies, my writing life is sufficiently star-studded to make me smile.

Why Critique Groups?

For most writers, self-editing is necessary but not sufficient to make the writing its best. That’s where critique groups and reading partners come in. Personally, I prefer a small group, four or five seeming ideal to me. The strength in numbers is that having multiple readers with different strengths can cover more of the territory: some might pick up on word choices and sentence structure, while others look more at the big picture of character and plot development.

There are some things that will help a group to be good.  There are online resources and guidelines you might adopt. In my experience, here are a few basics:

  • Set down the group guidelines in writing.
  • Be clear about what types of writing will be acceptable (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir, opinion essays, etc.) and stick to them.
  • Be clear about how feedback will be given.
  • Specify when the work is due, in what form, and what length.
  • Decide what happens when someone misses a meeting:
    • Are they expected to send comments on others’ work?
    • Can they send work anyway?
  • What if someone comes without having written anything?
  • Stick to a regular meeting time and schedule.
  • Get the group’s consensus when changing any of this.
  • Keep the group small enough that everyone can have sufficient and equal time.
  • Meet at least twice a month.

Online critique groups have additional logistics to consider.

  • To avoid pandemonium, there should be a recognized leader for each meeting.
    • The leader could be the meeting host, the original organizer, the most senior author, a regularly rotating position, or any other generally agreed person.
  • Web meeting courtesy should be observed, including muting microphones when not speaking, avoiding distracting background action on video, and not having side conversations.
  • Because all submissions will be digital, participants must share files in a format that can be opened and read by everyone.

Find Your Group

Here are just a few of the many options for classes online:

Peer review groups or partnerships can be formed by anyone. Perhaps some of your friends from past classes or workshops would be up for regular critiquing. Social media is a great way to connect with other writers you may never have met in real life. There are also more formal groups:

What I’ve Been Up To

In the past few years, I’ve been writing a lot more than I realized. Without realizing it, I’ve managed to publish more than a dozen new short stories! Some of these have come out of various writing classes and workshops, but others have just popped out of my head onto the page.

All of these new pieces are listed on my Publications page now. Feel free to stop by and read some of my work for inspiration!

Things in the world are pretty chaotic at the moment. It’s easy to be pulled into a world of grey hopelessness. A reminder that anyone can still create something beautiful can be good for the soul.