REVISITING MY PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER

In March of 2018 I posted “Unwritten History of a Thriver,” a Women’s History Month homage to my paternal grandmother, one of the strongest and most influential people in my life. Much of what follows was included then, but with a couple of factual corrections. I always think of her on March 1, because that was the day she was born in 1903.

Margaret Louisa Butcher, the ninth of twelve children, was born on Yost Branch in Johnson County, Kentucky. Some of her siblings couldn’t pronounce that name and thus she was known as “Lucy” from her infancy on.

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She married Allie Howard Parker and from then on was officially Lucy Butcher Parker. For many decades they lived at the head of old House Creek in Rowan County, Kentucky.

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This picture of Granny, my father, Granny Butcher, and me was taken in the yard there. The Old Home Place (as everyone in the family called it) was four rooms and two porches. The front porch was for rocking, swinging, and whatever work could be done outside.

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Diagram of the Old Home Place

The back porch was for churning butter and washing clothes. Eventually there was a wringer washer, but before that it was a washboard and two tubs. Washing on the washboard was so laborious that Granny would note in her diary how many items of clothes she washed in a day.

The house had electricity by the time I knew it but no running water or indoor plumbing of any sort. The well was in the backyard and the outhouse sat over a little tributary to Old House Creek.

Rowan County, Kentucky circa 1890

Granny cooked on a cast iron, wood-burning stove, and two of the other rooms were heated with potbellied wood/coal burning stoves, similar to those pictured below. Cornbread and biscuits were staples.

Of course the cook stove had no temperature indicators. Granny stuck her hand into the oven to determine the degree of heat by how long she could hold it there.

I used to play on the stacked wood behind the kitchen stove, where it was warm and close to where Granny worked. On the wall above me were strings of dried apple rings and leather britches beans (dried green beans).

One time I sneaked a snack of dried apples and it tasted so good that I ate the whole string. Then, being really thirsty, I drank dipper after dipper of well water. Granny didn’t punish me for the apples. She said the apples would punish me for her. As the apples rehydrated in my stomach, I thought I was going to burst and hurt something awful. Once the stomach ache passed, I had diarrhea so bad I had to run to the outhouse again and again.

From my adult perspective, I marvel at how Granny could be so cheerful given her arduous daily labor. She had a vegetable garden, the harvest followed by canning, drying, and root-cellaring for the off-season. She kept chickens and milk cows, requiring tending every day, regardless of weather.

Churn, butter, churn.
Churn, butter, churn.
Johnny’s at the garden gate
Waiting for a butter cake.
Churn, butter, churn.

Granny churned her own butter and sold some of it to the general store out on the highway. I sometimes helped churn, though I didn’t have the stamina to do the whole job. The churning rhyme helped keep the rhythm smooth, moving the dasher up and down word by word.

According to my Aunt Mary, Dad’s younger sister, the VA Hospital sent Grandpa home in 1933 to die because they couldn’t cure his illness. He was a coal miner in his earlier years, before being gassed in France during WWI. He didn’t die, but while he struggled to regain his health, Granny and the children struggled to get by.

Corn Cobs and Husks

In the late 30s and early 40s, Aunt Nora and Dad set traps for fur-bearing animals, and sold the pelts. They also raised, dried, shelled, and shipped popcorn to add to their income, as well as picking blackberries for five cents a gallon. They shelled corn for a neighbor to take to the gristmill. The inner husks from dried corn was used for filling, like feathers for a feather bead.

Granny and Grandpa

Granny had a hard life—perhaps not by Appalachian standards of the time, but certainly by anyone’s standards today.

Wooden Birthing Chair

All their children were born at home, Granny sitting on Grandpa’s lap, his knees spread to make a birthing chair. Only five of her children grew to adulthood.

Her widowed mother, Granny Butcher, spent nearly all of her last seventeen years living with Grandpa and Granny. I’m told Granny Butcher was a kind, gentle woman. By the time I knew her, she was old and nearly blind.

Granny Butcher

Still, she did what she could to help—snapping beans, shelling peas, churning, and the like. Granny Parker nursed her through her last decline and did the same for Grandpa.

What I most remember about Granny—besides her never-ending work—was her laugh. She loved a good joke or humorous stories. I don’t remember her ever complaining. She read the Bible every day and Reader’s Digest as often as it came. She encouraged me to do all that I could, as well as I could.

I grew up wanting to be like her: strong, capable, and self-sufficient. I see a straight line between Granny’s influence and me earning a Ph.D. by age 25. I was the only one in my parents’ generation or mine to go to college.


Granny made all the quilts for her family. I have several of her quilts, and have passed some along to my children. In her later years she sold quilts to people from most if not all of the United States.

As a widow, she continued to make and sell quilts. I thought her life was pretty much as it always had been until she sent me this newspaper clipping about being the oldest person in Kentucky to earn her GED.


By then Granny had a phone and I called her. 
“You never had a high school diploma? How can that be? Didn’t you teach school before you got married?”
She said, “No I never had a diploma. I studied at Morehead Normal School to be a teacher and then took the state examination. Don’t you remember me telling you that I was licensed to teach by examination? I was in the first group that had to go to Frankfort to be tested.”

Granny’s Quilts in the Newspaper

And the next thing I knew, she had enrolled in college! If I remember correctly, Morehead State University created a senior citizens scholarship to cover her tuition and fees. Granny never learned to drive, so she had to plan her classes around the bus schedule and when she could get a ride.

I saw Granny shortly before she died at age 81. I asked whether, if she had it to do over again, she would change anything about her life. I expected her to say something about how her life could have been made easier.

Granny Making a Quilt

What she did say was, “The only thing I regret is that I’m a junior and won’t live long enough to get my college diploma.”

During Women’s History Month, consider the important women in your history. And let me know about them!

Goldenrod, State Flower of Kentucky
by T. Parrish of T. Parrish

This Thing Called Love

Did you celebrate Galentine’s Day this year? February 13th has been set aside for celebrating your gal pals. Friendship is an incredibly important part of a healthy support group, and it so often gets overlooked in the media.

Similarly, family relationships (blood or otherwise) are necessary for having a healthy mental support structure. Fiction tends to minimize these relationships unless they fall into specific tropes: controlling or absent parents, in-laws causing friction, siblings held up as an example (positive or negative), eccentric aunts and uncles, siblings in competition for resources.

The updated Frozen, with cameos from Cinderella and The Blue Fairy

One of the most popular films that breaks this custom is Disney’s Frozen. The relationship between sisters is stronger than that with any potential romantic interests. Ultimately (spoilet alert), the power of True Love’s Kiss comes from a sister rather than a convenient prince.

By itself, “love” is another of those weasel words—like rose, dog, snow, beautiful—words that can mean so many different things that it communicates very little. This is clear in the dictionary definition of love.

  • noun
    • noun: love
    • plural noun: loves
  • An intense feeling of deep affection.
    • “Babies fill parents with feelings of love.”
  • verb
    • verb: love
    • 3rd person present: loves
      • past tense: loved
      • past participle: loved
      • gerund or present participle: loving
  • Feel deep affection for (someone).
    • “He loved his sister dearly”

So, in English at least, the meaning of the word must be established by modifying words or phrases, or inferred from context. 

Types of Love

Not so for the Greeks. Some of these are more familiar than others, for example, Eros. Particularly at this time of year, the “love” that is celebrated with flowers, cards, and gifts is almost exclusively Eros.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova
  • Eros — Romantic Love—illustrates sexual attraction, physical desire, and a lack of control.  It is powerful, passionate, and can fade quickly. Relationships built solely on Eros love tend to be short-lived. 
  • Ludus — Playful Love—is defined by flirtatiousness, seduction, and sex without commitment. The focal point of this love is on the experience rather than attraction or feelings.  Ludus is evident in the beginning of a relationship and includes elements of play, teasing, and excitement.
Owning a country has often been cited by relationship experts as the glue that holds a marriage together.
  • Pragma — Enduring Love—is evident in couples who have been together for a long time.  This type of love continues to develop throughout the years and portrays synchronization and balance. This type of love can only survive with constant maintenance and nurturance. 
The Robber and His Child by Karl Friedrich Lessing
  • Storge —Love of the Child—describes the unconditional love that (ideally) parents have for their children. It is defined by unconditional approval, acceptance, and sacrifice.  It helps a child to develop through attachment, encouragement, and security.
Grandparents often add cookies to storge!
    • When it is between friends, this type of love is sometimes referred to as phyllia.
    • Aristotle defined phyllia in Rhetoric as “wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him.”(1380b36–1381a2)
No one can ever match the selfless love of a dog
  • Agape — Selfless Love—Agape love is representative of universal love.  Greek philosophers felt that this is the type of love that people feel for other humans, for nature, and for a higher power.  This love can be most easily expressed through meditation, nature, intuition, and spirituality. Agape love can be used interchangeably for charity and care for others.
  • Philautia — Self Love—is linked with confidence and self-worth and is necessary for a sense of purpose and fitting in.  Philautia can be unhealthy and linked to narcissistic behaviors and arrogance, or can be healthy in the sense that we love ourselves before we learn how to love others. Greek philosophers believed that true happiness could only be achieved when one had unconditional love for themselves.  
The myth of Narcissus and Echo illustrates unhealthy extremes of philautia and mania
  • Mania — Obsessive Love—Stalking behaviors, co-dependency, extreme jealousy, and violence are all symptoms of Mania. Clearly, this is the most dangerous type of love.

Triangular Theory of Love

What is the Triangular Theory of Love? As with so much of human behavior and emotion, psychologists have studied love.

Renowned psychologist Robert J Sternbergat Yale University,first put forward his Triangular Theory of Love in 1985. 

The three main components that Sternberg says lie at the heart of most human relationships are passion, commitment, and intimacy. These are the three simplest forms of love – passion alone brings infatuation, intimacy alone equals liking, and commitment alone means empty love. Depending on how these three combine, they form the seven types of the thing we call love. 

The triangular part of the theory comes from the fact that you can combine any two of these components to form more complex types of love – each combination forming a different side of a triangle. Combining passion and intimacy for instance, makes romantic love. Intimacy plus commitment yields companionate love, while fatuous love comes when commitment meets passion.

Sisterly love falls somewhere between love and irritation.

And then there’s consummate love, which is the combination of all three components. It’s often seen as the ideal form of love, for by mixing the fire of passion, the comfort of intimacy, and the security of commitment, you can form a healthy, happy, lasting romantic relationship. It’s important to note that this triangle doesn’t have to be an equilateral shape (indeed, the three components are rarely present in equal measures.)  

Friendship is often more committed than dating and more intimate than marriage.

Even consulate love may not last forever – one of the caveats of the Triangular Theory of Love is that relationships can move from one point to another over time – but it is something that can be worked towards, or that you can work to recover. And it’s worth working for – consummate love is a special type of bliss; the kind of connection that sees people continue to adore each other long into a partnership. 

Bottom line: Love is not a unitary emotion. The first association with the word “love” by itself likely to be Eros. But consider the strength of other forms of love.

And then there are dumpster fire relationships…

WHEN WIND MEETS WATER

Wind interacts with water much the way it interacts with land. Local breezes are of most significance to athletes such as golfers, tennis players, sailors, and football players—anyone whose goal requires a precise interaction between object and wind, even a light one.

Unpredictable Winds

Waterspout
Tornadic Waterspouts in Budva

Waterspouts are largely comparable to dust devils on land. They fall into two categories: fair weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts.

Fair weather waterspouts are generally not associated with thunderstorms. A waterspout develops on the surface of the water and works its way upward. Fair weather waterspouts form in light wind conditions, so they normally move very little. Typically, fair weather waterspouts dissipate rapidly when they make landfall, and rarely penetrate far inland.

Tornadic waterspouts develop downward in a thunderstorm, and form over water—or (less often) move from land to water. Except for their development, they have the same characteristics as land tornados. They are associated with severe thunderstorms, and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning.

Steam Devils
Steam Devils in Yellowstone Park

steam devil is a small, weak whirlwind over water (or sometimes wet land) that has drawn fog into the vortex, which makes it visible.

Steam devils form over large lakes and oceans during cold air outbreaks while the water is still relatively warm, and can be an important mechanism in vertically transporting moisture. They are a component of sea smoke.

Castle Geyser in Yellowstone Park

Smaller steam devils and steam whirls can form over geyser basins even in warm weather because of the very high water temperatures. Hot springs in Yellowstone Park produce them on a daily basis, though they tend to be rare in nature.

Steam devils and steam whirls look very ethereal and frequently give rise to stories of ghosts and spirits. Because some of these geysers and temperature changes are regular and some are not, characters living by or traveling through areas “haunted” by steam devils could be seen as cursed, magical, outcast, guarded, etc. by nearby communities.

Tornadoes and Invisible Tornadoes
Invisible Tornado (Mostly)

A tornado is a narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. We’ve all seen tornados, at least on the news or in movies. As if they weren’t dangerous enough, tornadoes can sometimes be invisible if they don’t pick up any water or debris while spinning around.

Tornadoes can be among the most violent phenomena of all atmospheric storms we experience.  The National Weather Service categorizes tornadoes by a number rating, from zero to five, based on the twister’s inflicted damage according to the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

As a narrative tool, tornadoes offer immediate, often unforeseen danger. Even with modern meteorology tools, there is very little warning before a tornado touches down. The destruction caused by tornadoes is often very narrow, arbitrarily destroying one house while leaving its neighbor untouched.

Hurricane, Cyclone, Typhoon
Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose as Seen from Space

A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms. Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour (mph) are called tropical depressions. Those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are called tropical storms

When a storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane.  The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating, or category, based on a hurricane’s maximum sustained winds.

Aftermath of Cyclone Pam in 2015 (photograph by Graham Crumb)

Generally, hurricanes originate in the Atlantic Basin; storms of the same force in the Pacific Basin are called typhoons.  “Hurricane” is thought to have originated in Taino, meaning “Wind God.” “Typhoon” may have come from ancient Greek “tuphon” meaning “whirlwind” or “big/ heavenly wind.” According to language, our ancestors thought these enormous storms had a supernatural origin.

Predictable Winds

Although much about the weather is unpredictable—or at least most predictable short term, other weather patters are almost like clockwork. These generally predictable winds are called Periodic or Trade Winds.

Sea Breezes and Land Breezes
Illustration by Bharat Choudhary

These develop due to differences in the temperatures between water and dry land.  A sea breeze or onshore breeze is any wind that blows from a large body of water toward or onto a landmass, carrying some moisture; land/offshore breezes blow to sea and are dry.

These breezes are periodic because they are generally predictable, morning and evening. Also, they are relatively localized, and much beloved by beachgoers. 

Monsoons 
Incoming Monsoon Clouds in Goa, India

A monsoon is a months-long, seasonal, prevailing wind in the region of South and Southeast Asia. Between May and September, the wind blows from the southwest and brings rain (the wet monsoon). Between October and April, the wind blows from the northeast (the dry monsoon). 

These rains blow in from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the area. The temperature difference created by the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Himalayan wall forms the basis of monsoons in the Indian subcontinent.

The regularity of monsoon seasons governs the agricultural patterns in these areas. Changes to the monsoon—if it comes late, brings more or less water than expected, or moves its path—can cause enormous hardship to communities that rely on the crops grown according to expected patterns.

Mountain and Valley Breezes 
Illustration by Yue Gan

Valley breeze is the hot air blowing from the valley up to the slopes of mountain slopes.  In contrast, mountain breeze is the valley breeze that is the cold air from the mountain flow towards the valley.

Trade Winds and Westerlies
Prevailing Westerlies near Duloch, photographed by Peter Standing

These are permanent, prevailing winds.  Indeed, the trade winds and westerlies are the most regular winds on earth. They blow with great force and in constant direction, which is why they are preferred by sailors. The trade winds bring heavy rain falls and sometimes contain intense depressions.

Trade winds blow from North east towards the equator in Northern hemisphere and South East Towards equator in southern hemisphere.

The directions of the Westerlies are opposite to trade winds and that is why they are also called antitrade winds. Trade winds are closer to the equator, in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Westerlies are closer to the poles

Characters might rely on regular trade winds to deliver supplies, escape a coming danger, relay news, or make a profit. Because of their regularity, meetings and departures can be worked into plots as scheduled, expected events.

Bottom Line: When wind meets water, it can be friend or foe.

The most unpredictable wind of all is the dreaded Sharknado, which begins as a massive waterspout and sucks up sharks into its vortex. As the Sharknado moves over land, it flings these sharks into the flooded streets to chase down newly available human prey, much to the amusement of movie audiences.

KNOW WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS

According to the wind sock above, the wind when the photo was taken was blowing at about 6 knots (7mph). The sky is clear, the sun is bright, and there are no flying sharks. Unless you live in England or Seattle, this is nothing to write home about.

Even though you can’t actually see it, wind can create some pretty incredible things to write home about. Our ancestors definitely thought the wind was worth writing about, especially when it picked up everything around and sent it flying through the air.

Like snow, there are seemingly endless names for specific types of winds. If you really want to know about the difference between piteraq and bora winds, check out the World Meteorological Organization or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration websites. I’ve included some of the most spectacular and most mythological wind events here.

Dust Devils

Arizona

Suppose you experienced a Dust Devil? A small dust devil, say 18 inches wide and a few yards tall is a sight to behold. A BIG dust devil—say 33 feet wide and 1000 feet tall—can be terrifying!

An extreme dust devil can reach 60 mph and last up to 20 minutes. In the process, it could lift more than 12 tons of dirt, and the friction between wind and surface can create sparks often mistaken for lightning. In fact, dust devils are not associated with storms.

Krakow

Dust devils have been known to lift roofs and collapse buildings, sometimes killing people. They’ve been reported to fling animals and 10-year-old children about. Inflatable bounce houses are especially vulnerable.

Where do they come from? When hot air at ground level rises quickly and hits a pocket of cool/cold air, it can start to spin, forming a column of air. The spinning, along with friction from the surface, allows the column to move, picking up dust along the way. Dust devils are especially likely in deserts. Usually they cause little damage.

Other Names for Dust Devils
Coal devil in Mongolia
  • Dancing devil
  • Dirt devil
  • Dust whirl
  • Sand auger
  • Sand pillar
  • Redemoinho in Brazil
  • Remoinho in Portugal 
  • Willy willy or whirly whirly in Australia 
Beliefs About Dust Devils
Saci-Pererê by J. Marconi
  • Chindi is the Navajo term for spirit or ghost
    • Good spirits whirl clockwise; bad spirits spin counterclockwise
  • Ngoma cia aka is the word for women’s spirit/ demon or women’s evil among the Kikuyu in Kenya
  • Fasset el ‘afreet from Egypt, meaning ghost wind
  • In Brazil, Saci-Pererê is said to live inside the dust devil and grant wishes to anyone who can steal his magic cap

Other Weird Winds

Everything is more awesome on Mars, even dust devils.

Martian dust devils form the same way as on Earth, but bigger: up to 10 times as high and 50 times as wide, with mini-lightning flashes. Dust devil trails on earth’s deserts usually disappear in a couple of days; on Mars, they remain visible (so I’m told) for weeks.

Gustnado in Colorado

Gustnadoes are closely related to dust devils, short-lived and ground based, but they have stronger winds (maybe as strong as weak tornadoes) and develop over open plains areas of the U.S. They don’t form funnels and may go unnoticed. Though a gustnado can cause serious damage, it’s not tall enough to register as a tornado.

Composite photo showing the development of a tornado

The actual definition of a tornado is a bit fuzzy, even among the experts. They can’t seem to agree on when one tornado stops and another starts. The swirling wind tunnel has to touch the ground and the clouds at the same time before it counts (that’s why gustnadoes aren’t really tornadoes). Tornado strength is judged by size, wind speed, and distance over the rainbow it can throw a farmhouse.

Snow devil

Snow devils develop when a strong wind hits a solid object (like a mountain), spins downward and lifts up snow, creating a vortex. They usually last only a few minutes, and they are small (seldom more than 30 feet across). Still not something one would want to be out in.

Fire whirls, aka fire devils or fire tornadoes, develop a vortex inside a wildfire. They are whirling columns of fire rising up into the air. They carry ash, debris, and smoke and feed the fire and spread it. Fire whirls have also been reported at volcanos and during earthquakes.

California Rim Fire, 2013

A firestorm develops when a fire becomes so big and intense that it creates its own storm-force wind systems. Firestorms are most often associated with wildfires and brush fires, but they can also be created when large sections of densely built cities catch fire.

Haboob in Texas

Haboob (هَبوب‎) is a kind of huge dirt devil found in deserts around the world, including the U.S., associated with thunderstorms. When the rain is released, it causes sand to blow up, making a wall of sand that precedes the storm. Haboobs can be several miles high and 60 miles wide.

Sandstorm in Al-Assad, Iraq

Sandstorms (aka dust storms) don’t whirl or spin. It’s essentially a wall of wind that pushes sand in a more-or-less straight line. Entire dunes can be picked up and moved great distances. Sandstorms occur worldwide, wherever deserts are found.

Khamsin over Libya, seen from space

Each spring, areas along the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Arabian peninsula are hit by a khamsin (خمسين from Arabic word for 50).  The khamsin is a 50-day wind that coats everything in sand and dirt. In 2009, remains were found that appear to be those of a Persian army of more than 50,000 that vanished in 525 BCE. A strong wind that blew up from the south is suspected of covering them in suffocating mounds of sand.

Illustration of a downburst

A downburst occurs when the downdraft of a thunderstorm hits the ground and forces the air to gust outward and curl backward. As it moves horizontally, the wind can cause extensive damage to everything it passes over. The wind curling backward can cause further damage, creating tornadoes, waterspouts, snow devils, sharknadoes, and fire whirls.

Downburst (micro) caught on film
  • macroburst happens when an extremely strong downdraft hits the ground. Horizontal gusts cover an area more than 4 km in diameter. These gusts can be as destructive as a tornado.
  • Microbursts are smaller in size and shorter in duration. A microburst is less than 4 km across and short-lived, lasting only five to 10 minutes, with maximum windspeeds sometimes exceeding 100 mph.

derecho is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. A typical derecho consists of numerous microbursts, downbursts, and downburst clusters. By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho.

Ground blizzard with blue skies

Ground blizzards don’t involve any snow falling from the sky, but they are still deadly. Instead, snow that is already on the ground is whipped into whiteout conditions by an extreme cold front. Temperatures plummet, and snow on the ground is picked up by wind gusts up to 60mph. The Arctic cold fronts that cause ground blizzards also cause extreme low temperatures.

A Sand Wind on the Desert by George Francis Lyon

Every one of these wind events have been known to kill people! In addition, extremely hot or cold winds can do the same. Though we usually can’t see the air itself, the effects are pretty amazing!

Godly Winds

Riders of the Sidhe, by John Duncan 1911
In Irish folklore, the Sidhe or Aos Si are the supernatural pantheon. Sidhe is used to mean fairies, but the Old Irish translation is “wind” or “gust.”

Deities connected to the wind are often closely related to those of the air. In many traditions, the air and the wind are governed by the same deity. Cultures heavily reliant on changes in the wind, such as seafaring communities or nomadic groups on open plains, tend to have more detailed and powerful wind and air gods.

One of the most famous wind gods in mythology is Aeolus, the Greek god governing all winds, who was closely involved in Odysseus’s voyage home. He is certainly not the only supernatural being in charge of the wind and air.

If that’s not enough to convince you that wind and air hold a prominent position in our collective subconscious, just look at how many modern superheroes (and villains) have the names and powers of wind phenomena.

Bottom line: We tend to think in terms of breezes or stiff winds, but there’s so much more to wind than that!

Stay tuned, coming on Friday: When wind meets water, they create some of the most extreme weather.

BETTER KNOW YOUR SNOW

Short legs make moving in snow extra difficult.

By itself, “snow” is a weasel word, like beautiful or bird, that could mean almost anything. And it can be used for almost anything! Eating, recreation, insulation, magic…

Recreation

Beijing is scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The sports in the Winter Olympics are almost entirely based around snow. Next year (COVID permitting), we’ll be able to watch the very best athletes in the world slide around on crystalized or frozen water. Some of them will jump off a cliff with a bit of plastic strapped to their feet. Some will climb into little tubes and slide down slightly bigger tubes. Some will slide around on two bits of plastic and shoot things.

Kidnapping small children while sledding is extra fun!

For those of us who don’t train 50 weeks out of the year, having fun in the snow generally means not sliding quite so fast.

  • Sledding 
    • One of the cheapest and easiest options, sledding only requires a slope/hill and something to sit on.
    • If you “borrow” the cafeteria’s trays to go sledding, make sure you return them.
  • Snowshoeing
    • To get an idea of how to walk in snowshoes, try wearing the flip-flops of someone with huge feet the next time you shovel the sidewalk.
Indoor ski slope in Dubai
  • Snowmobiling 
    • This is the preferred method of chase for James Bond villains.
    • Descending a mountain via snowmobile may be the only method of travel faster than Olympic athletes.
  • Skiing
    • There are indoor ski slopes in China, Dubai, and the US, so you can ski in the desert in the summer!
  • Dog Sledding
    • Unless you are a very small child, do not attempt this by attaching a sled to your dog’s leash. No one will be happy with the outcome.
  • Child Labor
    • For the fullest enjoyment of this spectacle, do the following
      • Hold a mug of hot chocolate or coffee, perhaps with a splash of brandy
      • Sit in comfort, inside by the window
      • Look out at the neighbors’ kids who have been duped into shoving your walk, steps, etc.,
      • Listen to their grunts as they strain to lift snow shovels far too big for their tiny hands
      • Cackle
    • This is surely the most entertaining part of snow!

Building Material

Dining hall of the Snow Castle in Kemi, Finland

Depending on the region, snow can be used to build very temporary structures or nearly permanent. Even in areas where snow remains year-round, snow used as a building material is at risk of shifting or compacting.

  • Snow Maze
  • Fort
    • Can use a sand or brick mold to make bricks
  • Furniture, most often made by backpackers. 
    • Want lawn chairs on a break?
    • A dinner table in your cook tent?
    • With a good avalanche shovel, your dream home is just a little digging away.
  • Igloo
    • Entire villages can be built of snow domes, which are surprisingly warm inside.
    • Temporary shelters can be erected quickly while travelling.
Inuit building an igloo, circa 1950

Snow Art

Snow sculpture in Harbin

Because of its malleability and lack of color, snow makes an excellent creative medium for a patient artist with steady hands.

  • Painting
    • Use watercolors or food coloring mixed in water
    • The trick is find the balance between freezing the paint and melting the snow
  • Sculpting
    • Snow sculpture festivals and competitions are held around the world every year
    • Some artists can sculpt snow several stories high
    • Architecture and sculpture blend together in snow just as in any other building medium
  • Snow Angels
    • Flop backwards onto fresh snow
      • Hope there are no hidden rocks or other nasty surprises under the surface
    • Wave arms and legs to create wings and a skirt shape
    • Look ridiculous as you attempt to stand without stepping on and ruining your creation

Eating Snow

Make sure it’s clean and uncontaminated. Best is fresh and away from traffic and animals. (You heard it here first: don’t eat yellow snow.)

  • Basic Hydration
    • Consumed as is or melted in whatever quantity
  • Snow Cones/Slushies
    • The most obvious culinary choice.
    • Although most often made with shaved ice, they can be made with actual snow.
    • Adults might want a beer version; see recipes online.
  • Snow Cream
    • Much like ice cream: 
      • Heavy cream or milk,  real sugar or Splenda, with or without eggs
      • The basic version includes vanilla
      • Best made in an ice cream maker
    • Get precise directions from Granny or online
Russians always eat ice cream in the snow
  • Candy
    • Boil honey or maple syrup in a pot and pour it onto fresh, packed snow
    • It will freeze into a chewy, toffee-like treat  
  • Lighten Pancakes
    • Fold a cup of snow into pancake batter directly before adding it to the pan
    • The water and air content will give your flapjacks a lighter texture
  • Margaritas or Daiquiris
    • Recipes online
  • Anything you would use shaved or crushed ice for
  • In extreme circumstances, eating snow can temporarily ease hunger pain

Snow for Survival

Russian ski medic evacuation during the Sino-Japanese War

Consult backpacker sites or magazines for a plethora of uses specific to campers, but here are a few more general examples.

Quinzhee, a temporary snow cave
  • Insulation
    • Snow has high air content (up to 95 percent by volume) making it an excellent insulator.
    • To survive outdoors, dig a trench to escape high winds or carve a snow cave into a deep drift by tunneling parallel to the ground. You’ll need to insulate your body from the frozen tunnel floor.
    • People have been known to survive an avalanche this way.
  • Personal hygiene  
    • Unlike a dead leaf or smooth stone, snow is moldable, and the white color makes it easy to monitor a thorough cleaning.
    • There is also no danger of grabbing poison ivy snow by mistake!
Ski Patrol
  • Medical
    • Reduce swelling 
    • Compress snow and apply it to injuries to calm inflammation
    • Wrap the snow in a towel or bandana to prevent damage to tissues
    • Cleaning wounds when nothing else is available
    • Lowering core body temperature in case of fever
  • Keep food or drink cold
  • Refill aquifers for summer water reserves
Yeti tracks
  • Tracking
    • Human
    • Dog
    • Cat
    • Rabbit
    • Squirrel
    • Deer
    • Sasquatch or Yeti
    • Any animal that frequents the area

Military

Skiing Birkebeiners Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child (Knud Larsen Bergslien, 1869)

Snowballs are said to have been the first missiles at the Boston Massacre in the Revolutionary War. Impromptu weapons are not the only military use of snow. Armies in countries with lots of snow tend to learn how to use it to their advantage.

Northern Shaolin Temple Kung Fu Masters
  • Northern Shaolin Temple
    • Northern Style Shaolin Kung Fu differs from Southern Style in many ways, including the adaptations for terrain.
    • In northern China, Shaolin temples tend to be in areas with cold, snowy, rocky mountains.
    • Kung Fu learned under these conditions requires stronger legs and compensating for thick, warm clothing.
Finnish soldiers with the terrifying trifecta of machine guns, skis, and reindeer
  • Winter War (1939-1940)
    • Finnish skiiers with submachine guns repelled invading Soviet troops in the Winter War.
    • According to legend, Soviet soldiers carried a how-to manual for skiing in their packs.
    • The Finns found these manuals highly amusing.

Killer Snow

Mulan holds the dubious honor of being the Disney Princess with the highest body count (the avalanche she caused wiped out an entire army – eat your heart out, Cinderella).

Believe it or not, snow is generally accompanied by rather cold weather. It can also make travel a bit inconvenient. These conditions, along with unstable surfaces, mountain terrain, decreased visibility, and changing landmarks make snow potentially deadly, even for experienced snow-dwellers.

Patrick Breen wrote in his diary, “Mrs Murphy said here yesterday that thought she would Commence on Milt & eat him. I dont that she has done so yet, it is distressing.”
  • Donner Party
    • American migrants in a wagon train from Missouri to California in 1846-1847
    • Only 47 of the original 84 migrants survived the winter
    • The wagon train was snowbound near Truckee Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
    • Many migrants died of sickness, hypothermia, and starvation in the snow-bound camp
    • Some survivors claimed that they had resorted to cannibalism during the winter
    • After rescue, some survivors changed their stories repeatedly, sometimes admitting to cannibalism and sometimes denying it ever occurred
    • Archaeologists and historians have not been able to state definitively whether members of the Donner Party actually resorted to cannibalism
  • Dyatlov Pass Incident
    • A group of nine hikers died mysteriously in the Ural Mountains in 1959.
    • The hike was meant to be the final step in earning the highest certification for hiking instruction, so all participants were very skilled and able.
    • Their tent was found ripped open from the side and flattened.
    • All of the bodies were found wearing inadequate clothing, some without shoes or coats.
    • The bodies were discovered in several places on the mountain, some very far from the camp.
    • Several of the bodies had no sign of injury; others had very strange, unexplained injuries.
    • Soviet authorities called a halt to the investigation and sealed all records.
It’s never a good idea to tangle with the mob.
  • Snowdrops
    • Alcoholism often goes along with extreme winter weather
    • A drunk person who falls down or falls asleep outside in the snow is likely to die of hypothermia quickly
    • Heavy snowfall would soon cover the body, not melting all winter
    • In spring, when snow begins to melt, corpses are uncovered
    • This is so common in some communities that these corpses are called snowdrops
    • This is also a good method to get rid of a body, destroying murder evidence

Language of Snow

Ski Snow

Asahikawa Winter Festival Snow Sculpture

As with so many things, the more important something is in our own lives, the more precise our language and the finer the distinctions we make. For example, skiers and snowboarders: for these people, snow and its condition are so important that they have a vocabulary all their own.

  • Powder
    • Freshly fallen snow, the preferred kind
  • Champagne powder
    • Extremely light, fluffy powder
    • The best 
    • Usually found in Utah, Colorado, and British Columbia.
  • Hero snow
    • A lot of powder, ideal for doing tricks because it gives a soft landing
  • Freshies/untouched
    • Untracked powder
  • Packed powder
    • They had powder the day before that is now compacted
  • Bumpy, choppy, or tracked out
    • Usually occurs later on a powder day when hoards of people have gone through
    • Makes the athlete bounce around and gives knees a workout
Mt. Rainier (July 2004)
  • Concrete
    • Heavy, deep snow that feels like riding through concrete
  • Corduroy or cord
    • Ridges in the snow left by groomers
    • They create sound and sensation under your feet
  • Crust
    • After the snow has softened a little, when it gets cold again, leaving an icy layer on top
  • Dust on crust
    • A bit of fresh snow on top of hard, icy snow
  • Dusting
    • A tiny bit of new snow that probably won’t last more than an hour or so
  • Groomers
    • A run that has been groomed, giving a smooth, easy ride
  • Hard pack
    • Snow compressed so much it doesn’t move when stood on; requires good edges
  • Sticky
    • Feels like sticky tape on skis or board, making runs slow
  • Ice
    • Frozen snow, makes for hard landings
  • Slush or spring snow
    • Wet, soft, very forgiving
  • Man made
    • Actually machine made

Inuit Snow

No doubt you have heard/read that Eskimos have a huge number of words for snow. This is more or less true. In fact there are several languages in a family of Eskimo-Aleut languages. For this group of languages, “snow” is an example of polysynthesis: a  base word attached to suffixes that clarify the meaning.

So, what in English might take a phrase or a whole sentence to communicate can be accomplished in fusional languages with one (sometimes quite long) complex word.  Readable.com gives these not-so-long examples:

  • Qanuk: ‘snowflake’
  • Kaneq: ‘frost’
  • Kanevvluk: ‘fine snow
  • Qanikcaq: ‘snow on ground’
  • Muruaneq: ‘soft deep snow
  • Nutaryuk: ‘fresh snow
  • Pirta: ‘blizzard’
  • Qengaruk: ‘snow bank’

Weather Snow

The type of snow is often important, for reasons I’ll go into below. 

  • Powder snow
  • Crud: the next phase from powder
  • Graupel: also called snow pellets or soft hail 
  • Crust 
  • Slush: snow that has started to melt and therefore becomes more wet 
  • Ice

Often, the most salient feature of snow is how it comes down, because this determines how we function in it. Business and school closures, road safety, transportation delays, power outages, physical injuries (with accompanying ambulance and hospital activity), and structural damage all depend heavily on the type of snow.

Avalanche in Couloir

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) recognizes these types of snowfall:

  • blizzard is a violent winter storm, lasting at least three hours, which combines subfreezing temperatures and very strong wind laden with blowing snow that reduces visibility to less than 0.40 kilometers (0.25 miles).
  • snowstorm features large amounts of snowfall.
  • snow flurry is snow that falls for short durations and with varying intensity; flurries usually produce little accumulation.
  • snow squall is a brief, but intense snowfall that greatly reduces visibility and which is often accompanied by strong winds.
  • snowburst is a very intense shower of snow, often of short duration, that greatly restricts visibility and produces periods of rapid snow accumulation.
  • Blowing snow describes airborne snow particles raised by the wind to moderate or great heights above the ground; the horizontal visibility at eye level is generally very poor.
  • Drifting snow is snow on the ground that is blown by the wind to a height of less than 1.5 to 2 meters (5 to 6.5 feet) above the surface.

In extreme cases, rural or mountainous communities may be cut off from their neighbors for weeks or months at a time by heavy snow.

Magic Snow

Tilda Swinton as the White Queen of Narnia
  • Wet, sticky snow gathered during a raging blizzard might be used in workings related to high energy and power 
  • A jar full of light fluffy snow collected during a soft, quiet snowfall could be incorporated into a ritual for peacefulness and tranquility
  • Snow in divination 
    • In love spells
    • In beauty spells and infusions of lemon balm, rosemary, and basil and add to bath when moon is waxing or full
      • Can be frozen in ice cube trays for later use
    • To make ice candles
The Snow Queen – Rudolf Koivu
  • Make  a snowman or snowman to use as a magical poppet to guard the entrance
  • Make bad habits into snowballs and throw them away
  • Use actual snow as you would quartz crystals in work related to wishes and goals
  • Write the name of a nuisance on a slip of paper, pack it in snow in a jar or bowl, place in a bag in the freezer to “chill out.”
  • Freeze some snow in a bag or jar for use later on in the year, when fresh snow isn’t available

Go for a walk in the woods to enjoy the silence, and the magic of the snowfall, and perhaps receive messages from the Divine.

Bottom line: Consider the multitude of ways snow is and/or can be part of your life.

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: DOG OR CAT?

Cats and dogs have notoriously different needs and characteristics, but either can be good models for characters. 

The first large dogs appeared in Russia about 15,000 years ago. There were smaller dogs in Western Europe at about the same time, and other wolves were domesticated in China a little later. Modern dogs are mostly a mixture of all three types.  Worldwide, there are 360 recognized breeds, not counting those being created but not yet recognized.

There are 40 recognized cat breeds.  Domesticated cats have been around since 3600 B.C., 2000 years before Egypt’s pharaohs.

Question: Is your character from an old/first family? A pillar of society? A mix of different cultures and upbringings? 

Athleticism

Speed: On average, cats run 50 kph and dogs run 32 kph.  In other words, house cats can run at a speed of 30 miles per hour.

Flexibility: Cats have free-floating bones (clavicles) which allows them to move more freely, making them more flexible.  Cats are able to get through any openings they can get their heads through.

Appetite: Dogs win hands-down in eating contests, sometime gorging a whole meal in just a couple of bites; cats tend to eat more gracefully, and slowly.  (FYI, this is because cats cannot move their jaws horizontally; they can only  open and close.)

Agility: Unlike dogs, cats are able to jump (up to six times its length) and climb, which aids them in hunting and makes it easier to flee from danger. Their sharp, retractable claws provide a distinct advantage when it comes to catching prey and defending themselves from bigger predators. Because of this, cats have no need to work together to care for themselves. It also makes them territorial. 

Balance: Most female cats prefer using their right paw, while males are more likely to be “left-pawed”.

Lifespan: Cats live 25% longer than dogs (15 vs. 12 years).

Question: Are your characters’ strengths and/or weaknesses more cat-like or more dog-like?

Brain Power

Memory: Research under controlled laboratory conditions have demonstrated that both dogs and cats exhibit what’s called episodic memory—i.e., their brains make possible the conscious recollection of events as they were previously experienced. It’s a rare trait in animals.

Cats have a longer-term memory than dogs, especially when they learn by actually doing rather than simply seeing.

Training: Dogs are generally the easier of the two to train. A dog’s pack mentality makes him ready to follow a leader and makes him generally more obedient by nature.  You can teach an old dog new tricks. Although eager puppies soak up information (just like human children), dogs can learn at any age (also like humans).

Cats can be trained, but not as thoroughly as dogs. It requires a lot of patience and consistent practice to get past their willful nature. With cats, it’s best to focus training on establishing boundaries.

A cat’s cerebral cortex (the part of the brain in charge of cognitive information processing) has 300 million neurons. That’s almost double a dog’s.

Emotion: A cat’s brain is 90% more similar to a human’s than to a dog’s. Cats and humans have nearly identical sections of the brain that control emotion.

Dogs don’t feel guilty. They might look guilty at having done something wrong, it’s just their reaction to being reprimanded. Over the millennia, dogs have evolved to mimic human facial expressions to ingratiate themselves and get more treats. However, dogs do feel intense affection for their favorite people. Researchers demonstrated that dogs’ heart rates increase when their owners speak to them or call their name.

Dreaming: Both cats and dogs dream, as evidenced by brainwave patterns similar to humans.

Questions: Is your character more a pack animal or a loner? What are his/her strongest brain functions?

Character/ Personality

Pack or Solitary: Dogs are hardwired with pack instinct that generally makes them social, friendly, and all too happy to belong to a group. Dogs instinctively go wherever their pack goes, which makes them more readily accepting of new experiences, such as travel or moving. Dogs are good followers.

By contrast, with the exception of lions, most cats in the wild are solitary nocturnal hunters. Cats have no need to work together to thrive.  As solitary animals, they are okay alone all day.  Their independence may make them seem aloof.  Cats can be content as long as they have the essentials.  They do enjoy social interaction, though.

Stimulation: Cats would do much better in COVID lockdown or other confinement than dogs!

Dogs need lots of stimulation, fresh air and regular exercise.  Dogs enjoy days out and traveling.  Dogs often tend to be more expensive to care for than a cat (food, toys, accessories, grooming, etc.).

Schedule: Dogs are diurnal; cats are nocturnal and like to roam the house at night. Cats sleep 70% of the times.

Question: what is hard-wired in your character?

Communication

Body Language: A cat’s whiskers pointed forward is a sign of inquiry or curiosity; pointed back is a sign of fright/not wanting whatever is coming its way.

The way a dog wags its tail can tell you its mood. It’s suggested a wag to the right means happy and to the left means frightened. Low wags indicate they’re insecure.

Within a pack, dogs communicate almost entirely through body language. Much of this body language can be copied by humans to communicate with dogs, including eye contact, head position, torso angle, and invading or conceding personal space.

Vocalization: Dogs are able to understand 200 words, the same number as a two-year-old human.

Cats make more than 100 different sounds whereas dogs make around 10. The basenji is the only breed of dog that can’t bark. However, they can yodel!

One study indicated that hungry cats ‘meow’ in the same frequency as a crying baby, hitting the human brain right in the obnoxious evolutionary hindbrain (especially in the middle of the night).

Question: Does your character communicate (send and/or receive) better with verbal, non-verbal, or paraverbal skills?

Sensitivity

Smell: A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times more than humans.  Bloodhounds are able to trace scents that are over 300 hours old.

Vision: Cats see more colors than dogs do.  Dogs see primarily on a blue and yellow scale; they can’t tell the difference between green and red.  Visual acuity is better for dogs, but cats see better in the dark.

Cats’ whiskers help them detect motion changes.

Hearing: Cats can hear almost a full octave higher than dogs (sounds as high as 64 kHz), and both can hear in the ultrasonic level.  Hearing is the strongest of a cat’s senses. 

The ability of a cat to find its way home is called “psi-travelling.” Experts think cats either use the angle of the sunlight to find their way or that cats have magnetized cells in their brains that act as compasses.

Question: Which of your characters’ senses are most highly developed? Did that come naturally? Was it/them honed on purpose?

Bottom line: Considering your characters’ physical and psychological traits will contribute to a richer, more compelling character.

GLOBAL BELLY LAUGH DAY

Join The Belly Laugh Bounce Around the World:  on January 24 at 1:24 p.m. local time, smile, throw your arms in the air and laugh out loud.

Suggestions for acts and activities can be found at bellylaughday.com
Why bother? Because laughter is good for your physical and mental health! 

According to the Mayo Clinic:
When it comes to relieving stress, more giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor ordered. Here’s why.  

[NB: I’ve changed some formatting and left out some bits, but you can fill those in by going to the Mayo Clinic website.]

Short Term

A good laugh has great short-term effects.  When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.

  • Stimulate many organs. 
    • Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. 
    • A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. 
    • Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Long Term

Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long term.

  • Improve your immune system. 
    • Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity.
    • By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • Relieve pain. 
    • Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  • Increase personal satisfaction. 
    • Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations.
    • It helps you connect with other people.
  • Improve your mood. 
    • Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.

How’s Your Sense of Humor?

  • Ask the professionals.
    • Find a few things that make you chuckle, such as photos, greeting cards or comic strips, and hang them up at home or in your office.
    • Keep funny movies, books, magazines or comedy videos on hand for when you need an added humor boost.
    • Look online at joke websites.
    • Go to a comedy club.
  • Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away.
    • Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
    • Consider trying laughter yoga: people practice laughter as a group. Laughter is forced at first, but soon turns spontaneous.
  • Share a laugh. 
    • Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh.
    • And then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
  • Knock, knock. 
    • Browse through your local bookstore or library’s selection of joke books and add a few jokes to your list that you can share with friends.
    • Retelling jokes or anecdotes that are stale or dated could be a good indicator of a character’s age or social awkwardness.
  • Know what isn’t funny. 
    • Don’t laugh at the expense of others.
    • Some forms of humor aren’t appropriate.
    • Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad or hurtful one.
    • A hurtful sense of humor might indicate a character’s villainous nature before any deliberately villainous acts.

Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.

Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan (Loma Linda University) have found the following physical health benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces stress hormone levels
  • Works your abdominal muscles
  • Improves cardiac health
  • Boosts T-cells
  • Triggers the release of endorphins
  • Produces a general sense of well-being

Humana.com adds the following:

  • Relieves pain
  • Burns calories
  • Increases blood flow

Still not convinced?  Go online and read for yourself!

And while you are at it, better know your laughter!  There are as many words for laughter as there are for types of laughter. Consider the positive and negative connotations of the following: 

  • Guffaw
  • Giggle
  • Snigger
  • Chuckle
  • Chortle
  • Titter
  • Howl
  • Roar
  • Snicker
  • Cackle
  • Shriek
  • Snort

Bottom line: When it comes to laughter, too much of a good thing is still a good thing!

WHAT’S A CAR FOR, ANYWAY?

Parking in front of a fire hydrant is illegal, and this is why. If they need to, firefighters will smash in a car’s windows to attach their hoses effectively. In addition to smashed windows, broken glass, and water all over the car, the driver will also get a ticket.
If you’re reading the driving manual while driving the cab, it may be too late.

I don’t know whether I’m on a roll or in a rut. Having considered the variety of bed activities people indulge in, I was primed to notice what’s going on on the road. The other day, I stopped at a traffic light and saw a woman in the car next to mine was putting on mascara and eyeliner. So here we go!

Besides driving and riding. . .

Please note: Some of these are much better done while riding than while driving! (Or not being done at all…)

Deliberately driving your car into the path of a drunk driver to prevent it running over pedestrians.
  • Catch up on email
  • Brush or floss teeth
  • Needlework, especially knitting
  • Play travel games, such as “I spy…” or rhyming
    • Usually involves at least one child
Drive along scenic or historic routes
Sleep, with or without snoring and drooling
  • Meditate or pray
  • Eat, sometimes an entire meal
  • Drink
  • Read
    • eReader or physical book
    • Listen to audiobook
  • Listen to music
    • Learn music
  • Talk on the phone
  • Text
  • Update social media
  • Apply or fix makeup
  • Comb/style hair
Actively seek death
  • Argue
  • Get a man to really talk
    • Research has established that men driving, eyes straight ahead, are more likely to engage in sustained and/or intimate conversation
  • Translate vanity plates into words
  • Watch videos
  • Work on laptop
  • Catch up on the news
  • Save money on insurance by driving safely
  • Urinate in a bottle
    • Not easily accomplished for females
Hang feet out the window
  • Change glasses
    • Put in contact lenses
  • Change masks
  • Pick nose
  • Trim nose hair
  • Groom fingernails
    • File
    • Glue
    • Polish
    • Clip or polish toenails
  • Prop one or both feet on dashboard
  • Smoke or vape
    • (In many states, it is now illegal to smoke near hospitals or with a child in the car)
Shave
  • Change clothes
  • Steer with knees or forearms
  • Get a massage Some car seats are made for it now
  • Pick up hitch-hikers
  • Suffer road rage
    • Honk the horn
    • Flip someone the bird
    • Turn headlights on/off
  • Take pictures
  • Practice a foreign language
  • Crying or weeping
  • Sing along with the music in your head
  • Ask “Are we there yet?” every thirty seconds

Bottom line: can you spell distracted driving?

MULTI-PURPOSE FURNITURE: BEDS!

Lectrology, the study of the bed and its associated surroundings, can be extremely useful and tell you a great deal about the owner, even if it’s only that they are a very knowing and savvy installations artist.”
from Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Well, yes, we all know about sex and sleep for energy recovery—separately or together, in no particular order! But for writing and/or personal reasons, think more broadly. What else happens in bed?

Plotting escape
  • Cuddling, before or after sex or on its own. One can actually hire a professional cuddler, female and/or male, paid by the hour for fully-clothed non-sexual cuddling.  
  • Getting/staying warm. Also think winter with no heat in the house.
    • In many parts of the world, it is customary for entire families to spend any free time in bed together, doing homework, making or repairing tools, or any other relatively stationary work, to conserve heat
  • Binge-watching TV (much more comfortable than on a sofa)
Escaping!
  • Getting sucked down the rabbit hole of YouTube
    • Or Tumblr, Cracked, Buzzfeed, Pinterest, etc.
  • Reading: books, magazines, newspapers, electronic devices
  • Eating and/or drinking
    • Sometimes this is just snacking, but on special occasions one may have a full meal delivered in bed
  • Working the Sunday Times crossword puzzle
Feeding your baby sister to the lions
  • Solving sudoku
    • Throwing the half-completed sudoku across the room when you realize there are two nines in the row
  • Playing a board game (carefully or with magnetic pieces)
  • Playing solitaire
  • Staring at the ceiling or into the dark and discuss serious issues with your bed partner
    • You can do this alone, but then it’s more of a monologue than discussion. 
      • Hearing a response to your monologue when you think you’re alone…!
Striking a pose
  • Indulging in catastrophic thinking about some personal issue, a family matter, and/or the future of humankind
    • What is the worst thing that could happen?
    • How could that come about?
    • And what might it lead to?
  • A refuge to escape an unpleasant task or situation by feigning illness
    • Often this is only a temporary fix, delaying the inevitable
Laying on the hard floor next to your bed without using it just to be stubborn
  • Recovering from an actual illness or injury
    • Applying ice or heat
    • Elevating a body part to reduce blood flow
    • Physical therapy exercises
  • Practicing modified choreography
  • Composing music
  • Cower with your head under the covers during a storm or earthquake
  • Playing with children or pets
Being the monster under the bed
  • Having a pillow fight
  • Jumping on the bed
  • Using bedding to stifle loud weeping, moaning, etc.
  • Toss, turn, and knot the bedclothes because you can’t get to sleep
    • Often with added frustration if someone is sleeping soundly beside you
  • Doing back exercises before getting up for the day
  • Nursing a hangover after being knee-walking drunk the night before
Yoga
  • Getting a massage: back, front, scalp, feet, calves, neck—whatever aches, feels good, or is your body-part fetish 
  • Sleeping excessively, possibly as a symptom of depression, illness, boredom, etc.
  • Thinking about plot points or themes for fiction and blog writing
    • In this instance, it helps to have a note pad and pen that light up when in use, or a device for dictating notes. Do not trust your memory!
  • Talking on the phone, usually for a l-o-n-g time
Levitating
  • Posting to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media
  • Sexting – NOT RECOMMENDED
  • Doing work/schoolwork, especially in the time of COVID
  • Getting bitten (bedbugs, spiders, humans. . .)
  • Deleting old emails, cleaning up the in box(es)
  • Mentally working out math problems and theorems using a base-6 rather than a base-10 number system

Bottom line: If you can imagine doing it in bed, you probably can—or can come up with a reasonable approximation.

Experiencing the outside world for the first time ever

PSYCHOLOGY OF CULTS

Cults are nothing new. Indeed, if asked to name a cult, you could probably name a few. In ancient Greece and Rome, a cult was simply the care owed to a deity, the rituals carried out at a shrine or temple. A mystery cult was a religious group that celebrated a minor god or goddess or a lesser-known aspect of a deity’s history. The word “cult” has different connotations today.

Janja Lalich, Ph.D., professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico, is a big gun in cult research.  Her website, Cult Research, provides extensive information about the mental mechanics involved in cults. She has also included resources for recognizing signs of a cult and how to help others who may have been impacted by a cult.

Modern Cults

There have been too many cults to count throughout history, but the vast majority have been small and soon forgotten. A post on Insider.com listed the six most notorious cults in history. (These cults have been extensively discussed and researched by people who were kind enough to share their findings online.) 

  • The (Charles) Manson Family famously murdered seven people over the course of two nights. Their stated intention was to start a race war. The Manson Family was formed in the late 60s.
  • Members of Heaven’s Gate were told that their leader was the reincarnation of Jesus, that God was an alien, and that the end of the world was near. In 1997, 39 members died after ingesting barbiturates and putting plastic bags over their heads. It is the largest mass suicide on US soil.
  • The Children of God was founded in 1968 as a system of communal living under the strict teachings of preacher David Berg. Multiple former members have testified that the church used prostitution as a recruitment tool and engaged in widespread child trafficking and sexual abuse. The organization later rebranded to The Family of Love International, and it is still active online.
  • Jim Jones founded The People’s Temple in Indianapolis in 1955 but moved the band to Guyana, and called the place Jonestown, in 1977. Reports of member abuse followed the group from place to place. In 1978, Jones instructed all of his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. More than 900 people died. This is the origin of the slang expression “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” meaning a person who believes in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea.

From the Wikipedia entry on cults:

“In modern English, a cult is a social group that is defined by its unusual religiousspiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or by its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal. This sense of the term is controversial, having divergent definitions both in popular culture and academia, and has also been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study.  The word ‘cult’ is usually considered pejorative.”

Cults are attractive because they promote a feeling of comfort, and because they satisfy the human desire for absolute answers.

Characteristics Common to Cult Leaders 

Lists of characteristics vary in inclusiveness and contain both personality and behavioral characteristics.

Personality
  • Narcissism shows up on every list
  • Charisma is an essential quality
  • Personal proclivities that shape what’s expected of group members
  • Need for control/maintain power imbalance
  • Psychopath
  • Often delusional, believing their own teachings 
Behavior
  • Offer tantalizing promises
  • Be unpredictable (reactions, appearances, next demands)
  • Organize “love bombs” for new recruits
  • Promote an us vs. them mentality, feelings of superiority
  • Isolate members from family, former friends
  • Public humiliation of established members
  • Demand detailed acknowledgment of individual fears and mistakes
  • Repeat various lies and distortions till members can’t recognize reality
  • Promote paranoia: a group, family or government is out to get members
  • Encourage members to spy on each other

Writing in Psychology Today in 2012, Joe Navarro, M.A., presented his personal list of 50 clues to identifying cult leaders.  Listed below are several of his items.

  • A grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve
  • Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance
  • Demands blind, unquestioned obedience
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement or power
    • Expects to be treated as special at all times
    • Expects to be able to bend rules and break laws without repercussion
  • Arrogant and haughty
  • Hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others
    • Is highly dependent on tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments
    • When criticized, lashes out with rage
    • Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy”
  • Hates to be embarrassed or fail publicly; often reacts with rage
  • Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy
    • Habitually puts down others as inferior
  • Ignores the needs of others, including biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs
  • Frequently boastful of accomplishments
  • Needs to be the center of attention 
    • The word “I” dominates his conversations
  • Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated, or exploited for personal gain
  • Is deeply offended by signs of boredom, being ignored, or being slighted
  • Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong, nor does he apologize
  • Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems
  • Works the least but demands the most
  • Sees self as “unstoppable” and perhaps has even said so

Characteristics Common to Cult Members

  • Female: world-wide, 70% of cult members are women
    • Explanations for this vary
  • Generally average sorts of people. No trends in location, income, etc.
  • Suffer low self-esteem, making them especially susceptible to love bomb (compliments, etc.)
  • Many have rejected standard religions
  • Intelligent
  • From sheltered environments
  • Blame others for their failures
  • Strive for perfectionistic goals
  • Often have no idea they are in a cult!

Characteristics Common to Religious Cults 

  • It opposes critical thinking
  • Isolates members and punishes them for leaving
  • Emphasizes special doctrines outside accepted scriptures
  • Seeking inappropriate loyalty to leaders
  • Devalues the family unit
  • Crossing boundaries of behavior (especially sexual) set in accepted religious texts
  • Separation from the main religious structure

Common Recruiting Tactics 

  • Target people who are stressed, emotionally vulnerable, have tenuous or no family connections, or are living in adverse socioeconomic conditions.
  • People who were neglected or abused as children may be easily recruited because they crave the validation denied them in their childhood
  • High school and new college students are good targets for cult recruitment since they’re still forming their identity and (in the case of college students) have recently been separated from their families
    • One old (1980) study of 1000 high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 54% reported at least one recruitment attempt by a cult member, and 40% reported 3 to 5 contacts
  • I can only imagine that the rise of various social media platforms would have exploded those numbers.

Damage to Cult Members 

Various research has established that former cult members suffer long-term negative effects. Dr. John G Clark, Jr, of Harvard University works with former cult members and their families identifies the following 

  • Increased irritability
  • Loss of libido or altered sexual interest
  • Ritualism
  • Compulsive attention to detail
  • Mystical states
  • Humorlessness
  • Heightened paranoia

Because these are symptoms similar to temporal lobe epilepsy, it’s reasonable to assume that membership in a cult is a brain-changing experience. 

Bottom line: There is much we can and should learn about cults—possibly in our lives, certainly in the world around us. Many of these qualities and behaviors are present to some degree in people who aren’t actual cult leaders or members. Still, they provide fodder for compatible/consistent constellations of attitudes and behaviors. Think character creation!

Hot Fuzz, in addition to being a great movie, provides an example of two cults working against each other and destroying individuals in the way.