WHAT? THERE ISN’T A WORD FOR THAT?

Also known as “Main Character Syndrome”
from EliteDaily

Last week I waxed enthusiastic about dictionaries, in all their forms and focus. Well, now I’ve made a truly unique addition to my collection, a Dictionary of  things there aren’t any words for yet—*But there ought to be.


As you can surmise from the cover, The Meaning of Liff is basically a humorous read. In 157 pages, British writers Adams and Lloyd have made a herculean effort to fill the word void with wondrous creations, some with historical notes and illustrations. Rather than inventing new words, the authors have paired each definition with the names of places in England and Scotland (Liff is a village in Scotland near Dundee).

Adams and Lloyd followed up with The Deeper Meaning of Liff. Thirty years later, Joe Morwood and John Lloyd decided to expand their geography with The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff.

(In case you don’t recognize the names, Douglas Adams is a best-selling novelist, the creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency; John Lloyd is an award-winning comedy television producer in England.)

Dalmilling (dal-MILL-ing) ptcpl. vb. Continually making small talk to someone who is trying to read a book.


In the examples I’ve excerpted below, bracketed comments [ ] are my additions.

  • Aalst (ay-AY-lst) n.
    • One who changes his name to be nearer the front.
    • [Something to consider when choosing a pen name?]
  • Bathel (BATH-ul) vb.
    • To pretend to have read the book under discussion when in fact you’ve only seen the tv series.
    • [One might assume that this applies to having only seen the movie as well.]
Glenwhilly (glen-WILL-i)  n. Scots. A small tartan pouch worn under a kilt during the thistle harvest.
[AKA under-armor.]
  • Craboon (kra-BOON) vb.
    • To shout boisterously from a cliff.
    • [And who hasn’t?] 
  • Duddo (DUD-oh) n.
    • The most deformed potato in any given collection of potatoes.
  • [Not to be confused with] Dubbo(DUB-oh) n.
    • The bruise or callous on the shoulder of someone who has been knighted unnecessarily often.
  • Ely (EE-le) n. T
    • he first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
  • Falster (FAWL-ster) [FALL-ster in American] n.
    • A long-winded, dishonest and completely incredible excuse when the truth would have been completely acceptable.
Ipplepen (IP-pul-pen) n. A useless writing implement made by taping six ballpoint pens together which is supposed to make it easier to write one hundred lines.
  • Hadzor (HAD-zer) n.
    • A sharp instrument placed in the basin which makes it easier to cut yourself.
  • Juwain (ju-WAYNE) adj.
    • Only slightly relevant to the matter at hand.
    • [Such a frequently useful adjective!]
  • Kanturk (kan-TERK) n.
    • An extremely intricate knot originally used for belaying the topgallant foresheets of a gaff-rigged China clipper, now more commonly observed when trying to get an old kite out of the cupboard [closet in American] under the stairs.
Ossett (OS-et) n. A frilly spare-toilet-roll cosy
  • Lemvig (LEM-vig) n.
    • A person who can be relied upon to be doing worse than you.
    • [Need I point out how incredibly valuable such a friend/acquaintance/coworker is?]
  • Mogumber (mug-UM-ber) n.
    • One who goes around complaining that he was cleverer ten years ago.
  • Nubbock (NUB-uk) n.
    • The kind of person who must leave before a party can relax and enjoy itself.
  • Papcastle (PAP-kah-sul) [PAP-castle in American] n.
    • Something drawn or modeled by a small child which you are supposed to know what it is.
Sconser (SKON-ser) n. A person who looks around while talking to you to see if there’s anyone more interesting about.
  • Querrin (KWER-rin) n.
    • A person no one has ever heard of who unaccountably manages to make a living writing prefaces.
  • Randers (RAN-ders) pl.n.
    • People who, for their own obscure reasons, try to sleep with people who have slept with members of the royal family.  
  • Tanvats (TAN-vats) pl.n.
    • Disturbing things that previous owners of your house have left in the cellar.
  • Udine (YEW-dine) adj.
    • Not susceptible to charm.
Vidlin (VID-lin) n. The moistly frayed end of a piece of cotton thread.  “It is easier for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a violin to pass through the eye of a needle.”
  • Wartnaby (WAWT-nay-bee) n.
    • Something you only discover about somebody the first time they take their clothes off in front of you.
  • Yetman (YET-man) n.
    • A yes-man who is waiting to see whom it would be most advantageous to agree with
    • [X. Apparently their imaginations failed them.]

I highly recommend this dictionary, if for no other reason than it’s a fast, humorous read.  Can you think of a definition we need in English that might fit your hometown?

But what about you?

Do you have your own non-words worthy of such a dictionary? I have a handful I’m willing to share, and will follow the format above. Some are in my speaking vocabulary; more are in my mental vocabulary!

  • Alcologic (al-co-LOG-ic) n.
    • Thinking or ideas that seem perfectly reasonable and logical when drunk, almost always a bad—or worse than bad—idea.
Bednertia (bed-NER-sha) n. The reluctance to get out of bed, even when drowsily awake, thinking about getting out of bed. No sex is involved.
  • Hangry (hANE-gry) adj.
    • Irritability or a bad mood caused by low blood sugar.
  • Ignoragas (ig-NOR-a-gas) v.
    • The act of not apparently noticing a fart. This is a social nicety in some situations, aimed at avoiding embarrassment. In the home setting, it may reflect habituation.
  • Netbrain (NET-brain) n.
    • A condition in which something that is usually known or remembered drops through the net and is temporarily unavailable. I first heard this word from my Associate Director of Educational Affairs at the American Psychological Association and it’s been a staple in my vocabulary ever since. I have no idea how widely used it might be.
Obvispeak (OB-vi-speak) v. Saying the obvious in any situation.  Often it is announcing something that everyone present can see. Alternatively, voicing a conclusion when there is no alternative.
  • Pickaddict (pick-AD-dict) n.
    • A person addicted to nose-picking, often in the bathroom or car when the picker thinks no one will notice. Usually controlled in public.
  • Readarhea (read-ah-REE-ah) n.
    • A condition exhibited by someone who reads aloud from whatever s/he is reading, regardless of what the other person(s) might be doing, including reading, writing, or working.
  • Rubbleit (RUB-bul-it) v.
    • To reduce to rubble, either literally or figuratively.
  • Sleepnet (SLEEP-net) n.
    • A system or habit of thought a person uses to promote sleep. Does not usually involve counting sheep.

So, what is the use of non-words? 

Besides entertainment, consider working them into your speech and/or writing. The context is usually sufficient for understanding. Such words are fresh and eye/ear-catching. Many authors have created words that are now part of everyone’s vocabulary. Just think of chortle (Lewis Carroll), freelance (Thomas Brown), litterbug (Alice Rush McKeon), mondegreen (Sylvia Wright), nerd (Dr. Seuss), robot (Karel Capek), scaredy-cat (Dorothy Parker), and scientist (William Whewell).

If you’re interested, here are some other dictionaries that only sort of exist:

Bottom Line: Sometimes, dozens of dictionaries still aren’t enough. Consider creating words. Every word in current usage started as someone’s creation!

CONSIDER THE ONION

They say inspiration comes from everywhere. Interesting details to add to your writing also come from everywhere. To flavor your work, consider the onion.

(For a laugh, consider the satirical new website The Onion, but I’m actually talking about the plant in this instance.)

Onion Lore

There is a vast array of folklore surrounding onions. Onions are part of nearly every cuisine around the world, so nearly every culture has found uses for onions beyond cooking.

  • If you stick pins into a small onion and keep it on your windowsill, it dispels bad spirits from your home—or so says folklore. (Garlic has been used for the same purpose.)
  • Onions are also thought to ward off snakes and witches.
  • American colonists hung onions outside their doors to deflect evil spirits and keep them from coming inside.
  • If you throw onion peels on the floor, you’ll throw away your luck.
  • In many prehistoric societies, onions were the symbol of eternity, fit only for the gods. Additional symbolism includes protection, memories, jealousy, envy, divine healing, and mood swings.
  • Onions in dreams may represent the layers the dreamer needs to get through to find the source of a problem or issue. Alternatively, the dreamer may need to cleanse something in order to start afresh.
  • Put an onion under your pillow if you wish to dream the identity of your future lover.
  • In Egypt, an onion held in the right hand was a sign of fealty, used to swear allegiance to Cleopatra, and were a farewell offering carved into Tutankhamen’s tomb. They have been found in the pelvic region of mummies, in the thorax, and flattened against the ears. In 1160 BCE, King Ramses IV was entombed with onions in his eye sockets.
  • In other cultures, onions were associated with the devil. In Persia, it was said that when Satan was banished from paradise, onions sprang from the print of his right foot. 
  • Romans believed that eating onions increased the quantity and vitality of sperm. Some Middle Eastern cultures considered onions an aphrodisiac.
  • In England, onions predicted the weather: a thick skin meant a bad winder ahead, a thin skin, a mild one.
  • Schoolboys used to believe that rubbing their bottoms with onion juice would numb them to the sting of disciplinary caning.
  • If you want to make a wish on Friday morning, sprinkle salt and pepper on an onion skin and toss it into the fire while thinking the wish.  Other days or times? Who knows?
  • When undecided about something important, scratch each option on a different onion and store them in the dark. The first one to sprout reveals your best choice. This applies to choosing one’s lover/husband as well!
  • In English-speaking countries, some people believe that putting onions under the bed of a sick person aids recovery. 
  • Stringing onions up around the house, especially at the entrance will guard against illness, accidents, and curses.
  • Put a slice of onion under the doormat to keep away unwanted visitors.
  • If onions sprout in your kitchen, plant them. If they grow, you will come into unexpected money.
  • The cut side of an onion has been used to relieve the effects of insect stings, and to draw poison from the bites of venomous snakes and rabid dogs.
  • Snakes hate the smell of onions, so carry one when you walk in snake territory to ward them off.
  • Get rid of warts by rubbing the edge of an onion on the warts and then throw the onion over your right shoulder without looking back.
  • Onion juice provides extra sulfur which can support strong, thick hair, thus preventing hair loss and promoting hair growth. The sulfur from onions may help collagen production which, in turn, promotes healthy skin.

Onion Medicine

Folk medicine often contains a kernel of truth, and onion medicine is no different. Modern medical researchers study onions’ palliative properties for everything from high blood pressure to cholesterol levels. 

  • Because eating onions causes one to perspire, they’ve been used in folk medicine to cure colds. 
  • Onions are low in calories yet high in nutrients, including vitamin C, B vitamins, and potassium. 
  • Research shows that eating onions help reduce heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated triglyceride levels, and inflammation. 
  • Red onions are rich in anthocyanins, which are powerful plant pigments that may protect against heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. 
  • Onion consumption is associated with improved bone mineral density. 
  • Onions are a rich source of prebiotics, which help boost digestive health, improve bacterial balance in your gut, and benefit your immune system. 
  • Onions have been shown to inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli and S. aureus
  • Onion juice can cure colds, cough, high fever, and sore throat. (One might want to eat parsley to combat onion-breath!)

Onion Facts

Even without their miraculous fortune-telling powers or magical healing properties, onions are pretty nifty vegetables!

  • Most people cut onions before eating them, often tearfully. Chilling peeled, halved onions in the fridge or in a bowl of ice water for 30 minutes can lessen the onion tear production.
  • FYI: onion tears are chemically different from tears caused by pain or sadness. 
  • No one knows for sure where onions first appeared. Some believe they originated in Central Asia; other say onions were first grown in Iran and West Pakistan. But onions were surely eaten long before they were cultivated, and now they are grown in 135 countries.
  • When Europeans came to the New World, they brought onions with them, only to find that Native Americans were using wild onions for food, in syrups, as poultices,  as an incident in dyes, and as toys!
  • Worldwide, people consume and average of 11 pounds of onions per year, but onion  eating varies widely by geography. Turkey has the highest consumption, with 80.7 pounds per capita per year. In the US, the figure is 18.6 pounds per person per year. 
  • WARNING: all parts of onions (and related plants, like garlic) are toxic to dogs and cats! Raw or cooked, as little as 1/4 cup can make a 20-pound dog sick. 

If that’s not enough onion-y brain fodder, check out the National Onion Association, the Encyclopedia Britannica, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and the story of The Oldest Onion in Denmark.

I like learning when I read, and I try to include bits of lesser-known information in my stories. For example, gasoline cost ten cents a gallon during the Great Depression, and around the time of the Civil War, the census’s listed the occupation of prostitutes as seamstresses. 

Bottom line: Consider adding a little onion to your writing!

THE DOWNSIDE OF SELF-CONCEPT

Despite being a legendary harpist, ruler, and monarch, King David said, “But I am merely a worm, far less than human, and I am hated and rejected by people everywhere.” ~Psalm 22:6
Chu Wanning of Er Ha He Ta De Bai Mao Shi Zun is a visual illustration of the power of self-concept. When he appears in other’s flashbacks, Chu Wanning is an extremely handsome young man. When he is the narrator, Chu Wanning is an old, ugly, weak man.

Self-concept is how people perceive their behaviors, abilities, and unique characteristics.  For example, beliefs such as “I am a good friend” or “I am a kind person” are part of an overall (positive) self-concept. These perceptions of oneself are important because they affect motivations, attitudes, and behaviors.  Self-concept also impacts how people feel about who they think they are, including perceived competence and self-worth.

Low self-worth is having a generally negative overall opinion of oneself, judging (or evaluating) oneself critically, and placing a generally negative value on oneself as a person.


Self-esteem is a similar concept to self-worth but with a small (although important) difference: self-esteem is what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves, while self-worth is the more global recognition that we are valuable human beings worthy of love (Hibbert, 2013). People with low self-confidence tend to have low self-esteem and vice versa.

Abraham Lincoln’s “melancholia” is likely to have been influenced by a negative self-concept.
“Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”

Some of the most common characteristics of low self-esteem—of which there are many—also appear in those with low self-worth:

  • Depression/sadness
  • Anxieties
  • Low mood
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Extreme focus on clothing, makeup, grooming, etc., because of a belief that self worth comes from exterior appearance
  • Poor confidence
  • Feeling like a burden to other people
  • Criticize their appearance and personality regularly in their head and out loud
  • Feeling a lack of control in life
  • Negative social comparison
  • Negative self-talk
  • Worry and self-doubt
  • Not trying things out of fear of failure
  • Neglect of their own needs, particularly emotional ones
  • Guilt over self-care
    • (E.g., you feel guilty buying things because you feel you don’t deserve them.)
Esther Summerson, in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, has been described as both an ideal of Victorian womanhood and a personification of low self-esteem.
(Illustration by Hablot Browne)

Some of these characteristics have an obvious effect on how a person interacts with others.

  • Avoiding social situations
  • Trouble accepting positive feedback
  • Afraid to talk in a conversation, and belief that no one listens when they do
  • Sensitive to any criticism and obsessing about it for weeks if not months
  • Apologize when other people bump into them
  • Problems asking for what they need
  • Fear of leaving the house to avoid anything out of their comfort zone
  • Questioning how a romantic partner could possibly love them
  • Always needing everyone’s agreement
  • Needing constant validation from others
  • Constantly comparing themselves to other people
  • Treating Feel other people are more important
  • Belief that other people don’t actually enjoy your company and are just being polite
Avatar Korra masks her low self-esteem by being impulsive and impatient. This leads to anger, depression, isolation, physical impairment, and nearly destroying the world.

Some of these characteristics may affect how a person interacts with others in less obvious ways.

  • Frequent anger and irritability
  • Difficulty making decisions because of worry about making the wrong one
  • Needing to be perfect 100% of the time
  • Over-achieving in general
  • Overly accepting or not accepting flaws in others
  • Tendency to criticize other people to make oneself feel better
  • Jealousy of other peoples accomplishments, instead of being happy for them
  • Shifting blame to others because they think it is unacceptable to make the slightest mistake

How Did This Happen? 

Even after becoming a mother, a senior witch, and Queen of Lancre, Magrat Garlick (left) remained in the shadows of the elder witches in her coven.
“She seemed to have spent her whole life trying to make herself small, trying to be polite, apologizing when people walked over her, trying to be good-mannered. And what had happened? People had treated her as if she was small and polite and good-mannered.” (Lords and Ladies by Sir Terry Pratchett)

Causes of low self-esteem can include:

  • Disapproval from authority figures or parents
  • Emotionally distant parents
  • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Contentious divorce between parents
  • Bullying with no parent protection
  • Academic difficulties
  • Guilt associated with religion
  • Social beauty standards
  • Unrealistic goal setting

Does It Have To Be This Way? 

If these sound all too familiar to you personally, don’t panic!  You can retrain your brain and start to replace all the negative things you told yourself with positive things.

Several ways in which one can improve self-esteem:

In one of the most dramatic depictions of negative self-concept, George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life) so firmly believes that he is “worth more dead than alive” that he considers suicide.
  • Identify and challenge negative beliefs
  • Identify the positive about oneself
  • Build positive relationships—and avoid negative ones
  • Give yourself a break
  • Become more assertive and learn to say no
  • Improve physical health
  • Take on challenges

Low self esteem can lead to anger, depression and anxiety, and generally a miserable life. Therefore, it’s important it is to work on it—and to keep working on it. If you have never worked on your self esteem before, positive affirmations for confidence are a good place to start.

Bottom line: You can identify low self-worth (in yourself and/or others) and portray it in your characters without an explicit label.

TWO POWERFUL HUMAN MOTIVES

Of course, humans are driven by a lot more than two motivations. Various levels of deprivation (of all sorts of needs, such as food, shelter, sleep, sexual release, and much more) can motivate behavior in specific situations. Those are not the focus of this blog. Instead, I’m focusing on two powerful motives that tend to shape behavior across numerous situations and often whole lifetimes. 

I’m talking about the need for achievement and the fear of failure.

In the simplest terms (according to me) the difference is striving to be the best versus trying to be good enough.

Need for Achievement

Nadia Nadim, possibly the human embodiment of n-Ach

Need for achievement is the desire to obtain excellent results by setting high standards and striving to accomplish them. It is a consistent concern with doing things better.

According to the American Psychological Association,  the definition of need for achievement (n-Ach) is a strong desire to accomplish goals and attain a high standard of performance and personal fulfillment.  The need for achievement was proposed by Henry Alexander Murray and investigated extensively by David McClelland.

People with high need for achievement often undertake tasks in which there is a high probability of success and avoid tasks that are either too easy (because of lack of challenge) or too difficult (because of fear of failure). 

An example of the latter would be a 5-ft-tall basketball player with poor leaping ability, ball handling abilities, and passing skills. Such a person high in n-Ach is unlikely to try out for the team!

Recognizing Accomplishment

Even “minor” accomplishments deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

Studies have shown that feeling a sense of accomplishment is an important element in students developing positive wellbeing over time.

Research also shows that people with a strong sense of purpose, persistence, and accomplishment perform better at work.

Because one tennis ball is simply not enough

People high in need for achievement present as ambitious, driven, successful … and insecure. The need for achievement drives behavior in school, work settings, even recreational activities. In case it isn’t obvious, this trait can cause problems:

  • Driven to achieve the task—any and every task
  • Fails to differentiate “urgent” from merely “important”
  • Has difficulty delegating
  • Struggles with producer-to-supervisor transition when promoted
  • Obsesses about getting the job done at all costs
  • Craves feedback

No doubt about it, people high in n-Ach put themselves under a lot of pressure. At first glance, it might seem that such people should relax, take it easy, and be happy doing well enough. 

Fearing failure in a particular endeavor is experienced by most people,  including high n-Ach people, sometimes. Think a new situation or task, or one that’s just being learned. Think public performances. There are times when just not humiliating oneself is success.

Fear of Failure

This is why restaurants deliver.

But the fear of failure, more generally, is an irrational and persistent fear of failing

(FYI, irrational and extreme fear of failing or facing uncertainty is a phobia known as atychiphobia.) 

Sometimes fearing failure might be triggered in only one specific situation/task. Sometimes it’s more generalized. And sometimes it’s related to another mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.

In any case, the fear of failure varies in level of severity from mild to extreme. Here are a few ways it’s commonly exhibited:

  • A sense of hopelessness about the future
  • Chronic (versus occasional or limited) worry
  • Worry about what other people will  think about you if you fail or don’t do well
  • Frequent procrastination
  • High distractibility, being pulled off task by irrelevant or unimportant things
  • Avoiding tasks or people associated with a project or general goal
  • Physical symptoms (fatigue, headaches, digestive troubles, joint or muscle pain) that prevent working toward a goal
  • Believing that you don’t have the skills or knowledge to achieve something
  • Feeling like you won’t be able to achieve your goals
  • Procrastinating to the point that it affects your performance or ability to finish on time
  • Telling people that you will probably fail so that expectations remain low
  • Underestimating your own abilities to avoid feeling let down
  • Worrying that imperfections or shortcomings will make other people think less of you
  • Failing makes you worry about your ability to pursue the future you desire
  • Failing makes you worry that people will lose interest in you
  • Failing makes you worry about how smart or capable you are
  • Failing makes you worry about disappointing people whose opinions you value (especially family/friends)
  • You tend to tell people beforehand that you don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations
  • Once you fail at something, you have trouble imagining what you could have done differently to succeed
  • You often get last-minute headaches, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms that prevent you from completing your preparation
  • You often get distracted by tasks that prevent you from completing your preparation which, in hindsight, were not as urgent as they seemed at the time
  • You tend to procrastinate and “run out of time” to complete your preparation adequately, as a way of protecting your belief in your ability to have done it
Social Media can illuminate and exacerbate both the need for achievement and the fear of failure.
Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Bored Panda (just to name a few)

Bottom line: Two people may exhibit the same behavior, even turn in the same objective performance, but their reasons for doing so can vary dramatically.

HEY, PEANUT BUTTER LOVERS!

March 1 is your day: National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day. (The whole month of March is National Peanut Month.) Seeing that observance on the calendar is what prompted me to dig into the topic of peanut butter—and peanuts in general. 

Peanut Butter with Everything

I’ve never been a big fan of PB&J sandwiches—sacrilege, I know, given that the National Peanut Board estimates that the average child will eat 1,500 PB&J sandwiches before graduating high school—but my earliest peanut butter love was peanut butter on pancakes with a splash of maple syrup. My father ate them that way, as did/do all his children and grandchildren. The last time I was in IHOP, my favorite wasn’t on the menu, which I found incomprehensible.

Today I still avoid PB&J sandwiches, just too sticky and soft. But I willingly eat peanut butter on toasted English muffins with jelly, honey, molasses, or bananas.

Twitter user vinceatsass prefers “raw” P,B,&J.

Among my other go-to options are smoothies with peanut butter, bananas, and chocolate. And speaking of chocolate, I’ve been known to swirl peanut butter with chocolate syrup for a sweet treat. Peanut butter is also great on Granny Smith apples, when I want to nod toward healthful. And let’s not forget peanut butter fudge, with or without chopped nuts, chocolate chips, etc. And trail mix. And chocolate chip cookies. And smoothies. And, and, and . . .

Writing my recent blog on snacks and snacking (February 1, 2022) I noted the following among favorite snack pairs, in descending order of popularity

  • Cchocolate and nuts (some of which must have been peanuts)
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Peanut butter and apples
  • Chocolate and peanut butter
  • Surprisingly, peanut butter and bacon wasn’t on the list 

What is/are your favorite combination(s)?

In 1996 I bought The Peanut Cookbook by Dorothy C. Frank, a library discard with a copyright date of 1976. But good recipes never die! Recipes are grouped in the usual categories: appetizers and nibbles; soups, salads, main dishes, vegetables; breads, biscuits, and breakfast; desserts and candies. There are dressings for vegetable salads; sauces for poultry and meat; and “syrups” for sweets. Peanut Butter Meatloaf with Sweet Potato Frosting doesn’t appeal to you? Turn the page! Even recipes that don’t tempt you to attempt are interesting to read.

One of the candy recipes is for Jimmy Carter’s favorite peanut brittle recipe.

Have I at least tempted you to check on-line recipes?

Not quite the same kind of peanuts, but I’m sure they’re delicious!

Evolution of Peanut Butter

George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist. He created more than 300 products from the peanut plant, but peanut butter was not one of them! By 1916 when he published “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption” patents related to peanut butter preparations had been granted to various pharmacists, doctors, and food scientists.

If not Carver, then who? And when? According to the National Peanut Board, there is evidence that ancient South American Inca Indians were the first to grind peanuts to make peanut butter. They speculate that the peanut plant originated in Peru or Brazil. People in South America made pottery in the shape of peanuts or decorated jars with peanuts as long 3500 years ago.

As early as 1500 B.C.E. the Incas used peanuts as sacrificial offerings and entombed mummies with peanuts to help them in the afterlife. Central Brazilian tribes ground peanuts with corn to make a drink.

Flower of the peanut plant (Arachis hypogaea)

But no version of peanuts or peanut plants made a direct trek north. European explorers took peanuts from South America to Spain. Explorers and traders carried peanuts to Asia and Africa. Africans introduced peanuts to the U.S./North America in the 1700s.

 By 1783 Suriname had a food called peanut cheese. More solid than peanut butter, it could be sliced and served like cheese.

In the U.S., peanuts were first grown in Virginia and used for oil, as a cocoa substitute, and as food  for livestock and the poor. Peanuts were considered difficult to grow and harvest. Their popularity grew (geographically and otherwise) as a result of Civil War soldiers on both sides subsisting on them (and presumably finding them tasty).

P. T. Barnum’s circus vendors called “hot roasted peanuts” for sale as they traveled across the country in the late 1800s.

Before peanut “butter,” there was peanut paste. In 1884, a Canadian named Marcellus Gilmore Edson was granted a patent for his paste, made from roasted peanuts.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) invented a version of peanut butter in 1895, patented in 1898, that he served at his Western Health Reform Institute. Kellogg was a big proponent of plant-based food instead of meat, and for a time it was considered a food for the wealthy because they were the patrons of the expensive health care institutes. Peanut butter, like sushi and lobster, morphed from food for the poor 9and livestock) to food for the elite. But it really burst onto the public stage at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

Peanut butter became a popular source of protein during the two World Wars, being provided to troops by the Armed Forces. Recently (2020), on average, Americans ate 7.6 pounds of peanuts and peanut products each—probably even more now. In March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, 299.34 million ate peanut butter; retail sales of peanut butter in the U.S. increased by 75% over the level in March 2019.

Although National Peanut Butter Day is past (January 23), there are more chances to celebrate in 2022!

  • March is National Peanut Month
  • March 1, National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day
  • March 8, National Peanut Cluster Day
  • April 2, National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day
  • May 18, I Love Reese’s Day
  • June 12, National Peanut Butter Cookie Day
  • September 13, National Peanut Day
  • November, National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month
  • November 20, National Peanut Butter Fudge Day

Mark your calendars! And there are plenty of days open to create a peanut celebration of your own!

From the National Peanut Board, here are just a few reasons why:

  • Peanuts have seven grams of protein per serving, more than any nut.
  • Peanuts are a good source of fiber and contain “healthy” fats, making them one of the best options for heart health.
  • Good stuff inside peanuts:
    • Vitamin E
    • Magnesium
    • Folate
    • Copper
    • Phosphorus
    • Fiber
    • Niacin
    • Manganese
    • Arginine
    • Phytosterols, such as beta-sitosterol
    • Potassium
    • Resveratrol
    • Selenium
    • Zinc

FYI: it is estimated that < 1% of the population have a peanut allergy.

BOTTOM LINE: If you aren’t a peanut butter lover now, you could be!

2022: YEAR OF THE WATER TIGER

(Not that kind of Tiger!)

In Western astrology (derived from early Babylonian star charts), your birth sign depends on when during the calendar year you were born. I happen to be an Aries. But the Chinese sign of the zodiac under which one is born depends upon the birth year (based on the Chinese lunar year). I was born under the sign of the Rooster. Many people in the US—most?—are more or less aware of such things.

(This kind of Tiger!)

Similarly, awareness that 2022 is a Tiger year is relatively widespread. But not so many people are aware that Tiger years aren’t all alike: 2022 is the year of the Water Tiger. Say what?! There is a Tiger year every 12 years, but a Water Tiger year cycles every 60 years.

The Five Elements

The Chinese Five Elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth) also cycle in order, so the alignment repeats every 60 years. The basic theory is that the zodiac sign characteristics are affected by/ interact with the elements. The Five Elements are used in Chinese medicine, philosophy, fengshui, fortune-telling, and martial arts.

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 Because they are less familiar to most Westerners, I’ll start with the qualities of the five elements:

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  • Wood-benevolence,
  • Fire-propriety,
  • Metal-righteousness,
  • Water-wisdom,
  • Earth-fidelity/honesty.

The Chinese Five Elements are a bit like scissors/ paper/ rock in that no one element is always the strongest. In the controlling/ overcoming/ destruction/ restraining/ weakening interactions: Fire melts Metal, Metal chops Wood, Wood breaks up Earth, Earth absorbs Water, Water quenches Fire.

In the generating/ begetting/ engendering/ mothering/ enhancing interactions: Metal carries Water, Water nourishes Wood, Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth/ash, Earth bears Metal. 

How Do the Elements and Signs of the Zodiac Interact?  

Each Chinese Zodiac Sign has a fixed element. This is the element that carries over from year to year. For the Tiger, the fixed element is Wood—and benevolence fits very well with the overall characteristics of Tigers.

How Do We Get a Water Tiger? 
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This year aligns a Water year and a Tiger year. A person’s characteristics are said to be determined both by the fixed element of their zodiac sign and the element of the year they were born in. Children born this year are supposed to have characteristics of Tigers, Wood, and Water.

Characteristics of Tigers

On the positive side, Tiger are energetic, brave, ambitious, and confident, and driven to work for justice and the greater good. Male Tigers are talented and charismatic, driven to achieve their goals both professionally and romantically. Female Tigers are intelligent and strong, fearless natural leaders.

However, Tigers are often arrogant, brash, impetuous, and domineering. Their independence can translate to a lack of communication, leaving Tigers surrounded by acquaintances but still lonely. The Tiger is the king of the jungle, but a human Tiger might come across as a dictator.

Water Tigers are more likely to separate family and work life, with better interpersonal skills than the average Tiger. They are calm, careful, adaptable, and quick learners.

For more in-depth horoscope information on Tigers (including forecasts by blood type), check out Your Chinese Astrology.

Writers Take Note: Consider drawing on the Chinese Zodiac and the related elements when developing your character. The traits often seem to be compatible.

How did the zodiac order come to be? 

In Western astrology, the astrological signs are based on constellations of stars that typically light the night sky during that month. They are ordered by the calendar year.  

How did the Chinese zodiac years come to be Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig in that order?  According to chinahighlights.com, the story of the Chinese zodiac is much more entertaining. I’ll quote it here.

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The Heavenly Gate Race Story — Reasons for Zodiac Rankings

Long, long ago, there was no Chinese zodiac. The Jade Emperor wanted to select 12 animals to be his guards. He sent an immortal being into man’s world to spread the message that the earlier one went through the Heavenly Gate, the better the rank one would have.

Early Risers: Quick-Witted Rat and Diligent Ox
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Rat ranks first.

The next day, animals set off towards the Heavenly Gate. Rat got up very early. On his way to the gate, he encountered a river. He had to stop there, owing to the swift current. After waiting a long time, Rat noticed Ox about to cross the river and swiftly jumped into Ox’s ear.

The diligent Ox did not mind at all and simply continued. After crossing the river, he raced towards the palace of the Jade Emperor. Suddenly, Rat jumped out of Ox’s ear and dashed to the feet of the Emperor. Rat won first place and Ox was second.

Competitive and Fast: Tiger and Rabbit

Tiger and Rabbit came third and fourth because both are fast and competitive, but Tiger was faster. (Rabbit got across the river by hopping on stepping stones and a floating log.)

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Good-Looking Dragon and Crafty Snake

Good-looking Dragon was fifth and was immediately noticed by the Jade Emperor, who said Dragon’s son could be sixth. But Dragon’s son didn’t come with him that day. Just then, Snake came forward and said Dragon was his adoptive father; so Snake ranked sixth.

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Kind and Modest Horse and Goat
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Horse and Goat arrived. They were very kind and modest and each let the other go first. The Jade Emperor saw how polite they were and ranked them seventh and eighth.

Jumping Monkey
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Monkey had fallen well behind. But he jumped between trees and stones, and caught up to be ninth.

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Last were Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

These 1twelve animals became guards of the Heavenly Gate.

Why No Cat? — Enmity Between Cat and Rat
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Although Cat and Rat were neighbors, the former always bullied the latter, and Rat felt very angry but dared not say it out loud; therefore, he sought revenge on Cat.

Upon hearing the Emperor’s decree Rat chuckled to himself and thought: “This is an opportunity”.

The sleepyhead Cat kicked open Rat’s door, ordering Rat to keep him informed of when he was going to the Emperor’s birthday party, and Rat readily promised that he would.

On the morning, however, Rat left quietly without informing Cat.  Cat didn’t wake up until the race was over and it was too late — he was not able to make it into the cycle.

After the party, a great enmity grew between Cat and Rat, so that rats scatter in all directions when a cat appears.

An alternative version of the story says that Cat and Rat got as far as crossing the river together on Ox’s head, but Rat pushed Cat into the water (and Cat was washed away and drowned or didn’t get back to the Heavenly Gate in time to get a ranking).

Personality Traits

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The ranking story above is made up according to people’s understanding of characteristics of the 12 animals. And when people talk about a person’s zodiac sign, they might think about the zodiac sign’s characteristics.

For example, when talking about Tigers, people think of brave, competitive, unpredictable, and confident people. Oxen are decisive, honest, dependable, and hardworking. There is a wealth of information available online about every aspect of life suggested for each sign, including careers, colors, numbers, flowers, education, and just about anything else a writer might use.

People born under certain zodiac animal signs are also assumed to have varying levels of compatibility with other signs. This goes beyond simple romantic relationships; like the balance of the five elements, each animal offers something different to each other animal. A friend of mine had a daughter in the year of the Fire Monkey and insisted that her sister-in-law (an Earth Rat) be the first person to hold the baby. Rats provide wisdom and guidance to Monkeys, tempering some of their more negative qualities.

How to Behave During Chinese New Year 

According to chinesenewyear.net, there is a whole raft of taboo behaviors during this time. The majority of these taboos stem from an overall belief that the year will continue as started – whatever you are doing at the beginning of the year, you will be doing the whole year long.

To prepare for two weeks of partying, traditional “celebrations” can start an entire week before the New Year. Dates vary around the world, but the Laba Festival (腊八, when families pray to their ancestors for luck in the coming year) can be as early as the 8th day of the 12th month of the previous year.

The Little Year (小年) is observed in the days leading up to New Year, generally for about a week. Any festival foods that can be made ahead of time are prepared and stored. Homes, cars, streets, cemeteries, and everything else are scrubbed clean. Hair salons are often extra busy as people rush to fit in a last haircut or manicure before they avoid using sharp instruments. Train and bus stations are nearly overwhelmed when city dwellers travel to their family homes (think American airports on Thanksgiving, but dialed up to 11). New Year’s Markets are popular places to purchase gifts and new clothes in which to start the year.

In 2022, Chinese New Year falls on February 1st. Celebrations continue through February 15th, culminating with the Lantern Festival. Good luck observing all of these taboos for two weeks!

  • Do not say negative words.
  • Do not break ceramics or glass.
  • Do not clean or sweep.
  • Do not use scissors, knives, or other sharp objects.
  • Do not demand debt repayment.
  • Avoid fighting and crying.
  • Avoid taking medicine, visiting the doctor, perform/undergo surgery, get shots.
  • Do not give New Year blessings to someone still in bed.

Writers Note: Breaking these taboos could be a source of tension between characters. The lengths a character goes to in order to avoid these taboos could make for interesting tension.  

New Year celebrations everywhere include traditions of honoring one’s elders and ancestors, spending time with family, giving gifts, and having a fresh or clean start. Many people make a point of forgiving debts and reconciling with those who have grown distant in the previous year.

Red is considered a lucky color almost everywhere Chinese New Year is celebrated, especially red envelopes. Adults hand out lucky money to children (and sometimes elders) in special red envelopes. Crisp, clean, new bills straight from the bank are preferred, always in an odd number. In America, $2 bills are especially prized!

Because of the Chinese diaspora, the Lunar New Year is celebrated in many countries with large populations of people with Chinese heritage (including America!). Many of these countries have their own traditions and taboos while celebrating. Here are a few examples of different customs:

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  • Vietnam – Tết Nguyên Đán
    • Celebrations follow the same lunar calendar used for Chinese New Year but usually only last for three days.
    • Family is a primary focus of celebrations, including offerings to ancestors, visiting elders and other family members. and tending to family graves. The first day of festivities is usually reserved for family gatherings.
    • Lion dances, setting off fireworks, displays of symbolic fruits and flowers, and “Chinese Markets” are common public forms of celebrating.
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  • Mongolia –  ᠴᠠᠭᠠᠨ ᠰᠠᠷᠠ (Tsagaan Sar)
    • Specific methods of celebrating vary widely among regions
    • White is a very lucky color at this time (Tsagaan Sar literally translates as “white moon”): people ride white horses, exchange white gifts, and eat white foods made from dairy
    • Honoring elders and making sincere reconciliations with anyone wronged figure prominently in every community
    • Piles of food!
  • Korea – 설날 (Seollal)
    • Family is the main focus of most celebrations
    • Because so many Koreans travel home to be with family on Seollal, airports, train stations, etc. are extremely busy
    • Before they can receive their red envelopes with lucky money, children must perform a full traditional Korean bow to their elders
    • Korean festivities are much quieter than many other countries celebrating the Lunar New Year, centered around family
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  • Tibetan Buddhism – ལོ་གསར་ (Losar)
  • Losar celebrations vary according to regional differences in Buddhist practices
  • The holiday is often celebrated with prayer and temple visits
  • Decorations incorporate Buddhist signs, such as the Eight Auspicious Symbols marked on walls
  • The first three days of Losar focus on specific devotions: Lama Losar – dharma teachers and gurus; Kings Losar – community and national leaders, the Dalai Lama offers greetings and blessings to other national leaders; Choe-kyong Losar – gods and divine protectors
  • Less formal festivities often continue until Chunga Choepa, the Butter Lamp Festival, 15 days after Choe-kyong Losar
Happy New Year!

Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I read in an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin that science fiction has both feet planted solidly in the science of today, that the fictional parts are pushing beyond those roots in a way that is both logical and plausible.  

So when I read a blurb for CREATION: How Science is Reinventing Life Itself by Adam Rutherford, I immediately thought science fiction. According to Rutherford, we are radically exceeding the boundaries of evolution and engineering entirely novel creatures—from goats that produce spider silk in their milk to bacteria that excrete diesel to genetic circuits that identify and destroy cancer cells. Imagine what stories might be told in a world where such creatures are commonplace, where such engineering is taken for granted. Imagine the products, and the governmental involvement.

Fantasy, on the other hand, is making it up out of whole cloth. Even so, it could draw on science for an idea.

For example, another book I came across recently has such possibilities: TEMPERATURE-DEPENDENT SEX DETERMINATION IN VERTEBRATES edited by N. Valenzueta & B. Lance. It contains articles by leading scholars in the field and reveals how the sex of reptiles and many fish is determined not by the chromosomes they inherit but by the temperature at which incubation takes place.

Fantasy could be a story in which human sex is determined by ambient temperature. And perhaps it can vary as the temperature varies. And so forth.

As the planet warms, everything will be overrun by mermaids.
Mermaid by John Waterhouse

Now, if you wrote a story about a world over-run by snakes and fish because of global warming, you would be back to science fiction. Ditto for a world in which the biological engineering described in CREATION results in changing many species to be temperature-reactive and put that in the context of global warming.

Bottom Line: Check out the latest in science and then let your imagination run wild!

QUESTIONS TO PONDER IN 2022

“Is it still a sea monster if it’s swimming in the snow?”

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? has been around—and around and around. Assuming you’ve either answered it to your own satisfaction or relegated it to the realm of The Great Unknowable, surely you need different questions to ponder late at night in the year ahead. After browsing both online and print sources, I compiled this collection. Here you go! 

Are children who act in ‘R’ rated movies allowed to see them?
(Tanveer K. Atwal in The Matrix Revolutions, 2003)
  • If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?
  • If a baby’s leg popped out at 11:59 but it’s head didn’t come out till 12:01, which is its birthday?
  • Are eyebrows considered facial hair?
  • How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?
  • How do dead bugs get in enclosed light fixtures?
Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours?
  • If you had the opportunity to be different, what would you change about yourself?
  • Why don’t we ever see a billboard being put up by the highway?
  • Can a short person “talk down” to a taller person?
  • Once you are in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity?
  • If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?
  • In winter, why do people keep the house as warm as it was in summer when they complained about the heat?
  • If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
  • Do bald people get dandruff?
  • Do dentists go to other dentists or do they just do it themselves?
  • Why does a round pizza come in a square box?
  • Are plants actually farming people, giving us oxygen until we eventually expire and turn into mulch which they can consume?
  • How would society change if everyone died at age 35?
How do you handcuff a one-armed man?
  • Do the “Alphabet Song” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” have the same tune?
    • How about “Baa-Baa Black Sheep”?
    • Why did you just try singing all of those songs?
  • If you could choose to live anywhere in the world, where would you prefer to live?
  • If a pack of gum says 10 calories per stick, is that for chewing only, or must it be swallowed?
  • Do sheep get static cling when they rub against one another?
  • What disease did cured ham actually have?
  • Why does the Easter Bunny carry eggs when rabbits don’t lay eggs?
Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?
  • If you could commit any crime and get away with it, what would you do?
  • If you could have any car you wanted, which car would you choose? Would it be practical or flashy?
  • Why are people IN a movie but ON TV?
  • Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are going?
  • Do they bury people with their braces on?
  • What would you do if you found the wallet of a next door neighbor whom you hated?
  • At a movie theater which arm rest is yours?
  • How come you never see a billboard being put up by the highway?
  • If you were walking through the forest and you suddenly saw a tiger, what would you do?
  • If you were told you had a terminal illness and had six months to live, what three things would be most important for you to do?
  • Do people yawn in their sleep?
  • Why do people pay to go up in tall buildings and then put money n binoculars to look at things on the ground?
  • Is believing that your life has purpose a delusion to make you feel better?
  • If you dug a hole through the center of the earth and jumped in, would you stay at the center because of gravity?
Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars but check when you say the paint is wet?
  • If you could be famous (a household name), what would you like to be famous for?
  • If you were given a choice to live as long as you want, how long would you like to live?
  • If you could only see three people for the rest of your life, who would they be?
  • If a doctor suddenly had a heart attack while doing surgery, would the other doctors work on the doctor or the patient?
  • Do stairs go up or down?
  • When does it stop being partly cloudy and start being partly sunny?
  • Why do doctors leave the room while you get undressed when they’re just going to see you naked anyway?
  • Is it possible to be allergic to water?
  • What’s a question with no answer called?
Why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard?
  • If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
  • If you were given a choice between being given great wisdom or great wealth, which would you choose?
  • Do coffins have lifetime guarantees?
  • Why is “bra” singular but “panties” plural?
  • Why is it that produce bags never open from the end you first try?
  • Do fortune cookie fortunes have an expiration date?
  • If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
  • If you could do any job, what would you like it to be?
  • If you were asked to speak to a graduating class, what would you say?
  • Do your eyes change color when you die?
  • How can something be both “new” and “improved”?
    • If it’s new, what was it improving on?
Why is it that no matter what color bubble bath you use, the bubbles are always white?
  • What if interstellar aliens have intercepted human social media posts, and that’s why they haven’t bothered to invade Earth?
  • What if, when you go underwater, you’re actually entering an alternate dimension where you can fly but you can’t breathe?
  • If you could say a sentence that the whole world could hear, what would you say?
  • If you were given the opportunity to be born again, how would you change how you lived?

BOTTOM LINE: What questions keep you awake or put you to sleep in the still of the night? Inspiration can come in the strangest of questions.

  • For more questions that might break your brain, check out the ShowerThoughts subreddit.
  • You might be surprised at how many of your unanswerable questions have been answered!
    • Try asking your questions of the masses at Quora.
    • The experts at EtymOnline have fascinating insight into the way English etymology shapes the way native English speakers think about things.
    • For super reliable sources, check out Snopes, especially if you can’t determine whether something is true.

HOLIDAY HOUSEPESTS

“My name is Ruby, and I eat the Christmas joy of others.”
“I sit and stare at people blankly, making them extremely uncomfortable.”

’Tis the season: people travel, and houseguests—welcome, or not—can be annoying. Now, I recognize that some annoyances can be avoided if you have a big house and/or household help. But for the rest of us, an extended visit can be a trying time in ways big and small.

Space Invasion

“I went into my mom’s purse while she was asleep, ate a tube of bright red lipstick, and chewed up three $1 bills.”
“I ate all the lights off the Christmas tree!!! -Dusk”
  • Your housepest leaves shoes or boots in public, trip-hazard places.
  • Outerwear overflows the closet.
  • Hats, gloves, scarves, keys, etc., are left on kitchen counters otherwise used for cooking.
  • Your favorite chair is otherwise occupied!
  • Shod feet end up on coffee tables, chairs, or sofas.
  • Your housepest insists on helping when it would be so much easier to just do it yourself!
  • Dirty dishes make it as far as the kitchen sink but never into the dishwasher.
  • A housepest sleeping on the sofa can effectively dictate when you’re allowed in your own living room.

Entertainment?

“I was mad that they trimmed my nails, so I pulled the buttons off the remote to Dad’s new TV… They still can’t find the 3. =)”
“My name is Ruby, and today I made it a goal to loot my humans’ laundry basket, steal every dirty sock, and RANDOMLY hide them all overour apartment.”
  • You like a quiet house until time for a drink and the evening news. Your housepest turns on the TV for daytime game shows and soap operas.
  • You try to watch TV with a channel-surfer who tunes away for every commercial, only to encounter commercials on other channels, eventually switching back to the original program, often having stayed away too long.
  • You prefer PBS, news, and nature programs and your pest prefers sports, comedy, and reality TV—or vice versa!

Sound Pollution

I’ve been screaming all morning”
“I ate the gingerbread house, and my mom called Santa!“!”
  • Your housepest turns on the TV, radio, etc., and leaves the room to shower or whatever without turning it off.
  • Your housepest talks over whatever else is going on—e.g., while you are watching TV or carrying on a conversation. 
  • You are spending time with a person who talks at great length and volume while saying little, especially annoying if the monologue is on repeat.

Presumption

“I’m not allowed on this couch… but I’m cute so the rules don’t apply to me… right? -Tula”
“I got hungry, so I ate all the fish food. Then I wanted to feel pretty, so I ate your new lip gloss.”
  • A pest arrives with too few clothes for the visit and presumes you can fill in any gaps for sweatshirts, socks, or pajamas.
    • And/or your housepest arrives with dirty laundry for you to handle—and this is not your own kid home from college!
  • After you mention what you are currently reading, your current read is confiscated for the entertainment/education of the pest.
  • Your housepest dons any jewelry or accessories not currently being worn and then says, “Is it all right if I wear this today?”

Food Fights

“I ate 2lbs of raw meat off of stove that mom had just started cooking for our family Christmas dinner.”
“I lick the butter.”⁰
  • After arriving, your housepest announces that s/he is vegan, lactose intolerant, off all carbs, allergic to garlic, etc.
  • On the flip side, careless housepests could bring or make food that triggers your allergies or goes against your religious or moral convictions.
  • Every morning involves a food-run that results in muffins, donuts, bagels, or similar breakfast fare that everyone must share.
“I complain loudly if I’m not happy with my breakfast choices.”
  • Some people won’t eat peas, cooked mushrooms, tomatoes (except in ketchup), onions, or any vegetable that isn’t cooked to mush.
  • Afternoon snacks, partially eaten dinner, evening snacks, midnight fridge raids…
  • Crumbs, candy wrappers, and drink containers left about could attract vermin that stick around long after the human housepest has gone.
  • Whenever alcohol is added to the situation, there are nearly infinite opportunities for disagreement:
    • Is red wine an absolute travesty with fish?
    • How many drinks are acceptable with dinner?
    • What if one party is an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic?

Misfits

“I shred paper and scatter it all over the house for everyone to enjoy. I want to be a hamster.”
“I terrorize all my tankmates (including two harmless snails) so now I live ALONE.”
  • You are a 1:00 a.m. to 10:00 sleeper while your housepest is an 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. sleeper.
  • You and your housepest know that you disagree on social, political, and/or religious issues but s/he keeps bringing it up.
  • Your housepest knows best: the right things to do and how to do them, what to eat, the best way to get anywhere, the proper way to celebrate any occasion…

Pests Who Come With Pests

“I brought a live mouse into the apartment and released it in my human’s bedroom”
“I smell like stink bugs. =( “
  • They bring along their pets, complete with shed fur, messes on the floor, midnight barking/ chirping/ squeaking, stinky food, and the strange idea that they are welcome on the sofa.
  • Children who throw tantrums, draw on the walls, complain about anything and everything, cry all night, break Great Grandma’s antique china, or just sulk in a corner with headphones on because nothing is fair.
  • Secondary pests might even be brought unknowingly, such as lice or bedbugs.
    • There’s always a chance that a visitor could transmit infections, anything from a cold to the Bubonic Plague.
“On the fifth day of Christmas… we ate the kids’ advent calendars. That’s about 30 chocolates each.”

Bottom line: Few people match perfectly on every dimension. Acknowledging that means you won’t set unrealistic expectations for a visit. And sometimes, forewarned is forearmed! 

“I punch this cat in the face until she lets me eat her dinner, even after I’ve already been fed.”

Food Is Everything

flavor sicily anna tasca lanza

I love food. For me, eating and drinking across cultures is one of the main reasons to go somewhere new! Wherever I go, I try to buy a cookbook (written in English!). For me, the danger of writing about food and drink is going overboard. Describing every type of potato at Thanksgiving dinner, listing all the ingredients in Potato Cottage Pie…

food italy waverley root

Unless you are Waverley Root, or your book is actually about food, remember that a little goes a long way. It’s like transportation in that way. 

These are a crime against nature and tastebuds. Perhaps they could be a murder weapon!

So, when people come together over potatoes (or other food), keep the focus on advancing the plot:

Is serving only five types of potato dishes at Thanksgiving Dinner the mark of a sociopath?
  • Who says what while passing the potato rolls?
  • What is the significance of Mama making instant potatoes?
  • What are people thinking and feeling as they dig into the smashed potatoes?

Meals can be extremely important to your plot. They can be a platform for bringing people together.

The best part of cottage pie is the mashed potatoes!
  • Show alliances
  • Awkward or humorous character interactions
  • Illustrate insecurities
  • Demonstrate relative wealth or poverty
  • Highlight grudges
  • Plot world domination
  • Establish alibis
  • Make revelations or confessions
  • Commit murder

But while the dinner table is the platform, keep the focus on the action.

This might be enough mashed potatoes for my family dinner. Maybe. I’ll make more just to be safe.

Another function food and drink can serve is to illustrate ethnic roots—either for the first time, or as a reinforcement. Jacket potatoes are clearly associated with Ireland and England in ways that sweet potato pie just isn’t.  On the other hand, kumpir (baked potato bars) are almost exclusively Turkish!

Kumpir stalls in Istanbul provide plenty of variations on simple street food.

Additionally, food and drink preferences can define your character.

  • Does s/he prefer kumpir with just butter or with all the toppings piled on?
  • Do they mix sausage and beets into the baked potato or eat it in layers?
  • Extra pickled cabbage?
  • Cacik and ketchup on top or on the side?

Drink (and food) choices can say much about your character’s roots, socio-economic status, and self-concept.

Hannukah begins at sunset on November 28 this year. Bring on the latkes!

One way food and drink can poison your prose is by focusing on the food and drink to the detriment of the plot, action, and character. But cliché food and drink is just as hazardous.  

With so many potato varieties, the plot possibilites are endless!

You need to bring two people together to talk. You have them sit down with soda and potato chips. Ho-hum. First of all, try to bring in food only when it’s relevant.

So your first defense against this poison it to get them together over something less stereotyped.

Blue potatoes are surprisingly sweet.
  • Peeling potatoes together
  • Comparing scalloped potato recipes
  • Making French Fries in a fast food kitchen
  • Visiting the Potato Famine Museum
  • Sourcing Russian Blue potatoes for an elegant Mafia dinner
  • Even planting potatoes together!  

Your second line of defense is to add a few vivid sensory images. Consider the coffee and potato bread option. Even if eating and drinking is background to the conversation, make your reader smell the coffee, feel the dense chewiness of the bread, savor the potato flavor in the dough, etc.

Some people are so fixated on potatoes that they can’t even make bread without adding mashed potatoes. It’s a bit sad, really.

Bottom line: Food and drink can be great or deadly—your choice!

If you’re really stuck for ideas, try turning your characters into food!