‘Zat You Santa Claus?

The subtle, quiet displays of merchants in the area may have hinted at it, but just in case you didn’t notice: Christmas is coming! Yes, I know, it’s easy to overlook the slight adjustments in advertising décor and to miss the odd carol or two playing on radio stations. Santa Claus will be coming to town in approximately twenty days (depending on when you read this).

But did you know that St. Nicholas is also coming? And that Father Christmas is coming? Grandfather Frost will be here with his granddaughter the Snow Maiden. If you’re very lucky, you might even get a glimpse of Befana, Joulupukki the Yule Goat, Amu Nowruz, or Olentzero. The evolution of modern Christmas customs, including Santa Claus, has been discussed on this blog before.

If you’re very lucky and have highly refined literary tastes, you may catch a glimpse of the Hogfather.

Krampus, Belsnickel, Pere Fouettard, Knecht Ruprecht, the Yule Lads, and other Companions will probably be coming to town as well, but you should probably hope you don’t run into them.

But why should you care about all these visitors wandering about your town? (Besides the tendency to trespass and child beating, of course?) If society is reflected in its myths, then the writer can illustrate society by mentioning the myths.

Real World Gift-Givers

As discussed before, humans tend to follow the sun. When it goes away, we tend to get a little anxious and want it to come back. The tendency to mark the solstices appears in almost every part of the world that sees the effects of axial rotation. Giving gifts is a common theme at this time of year, often contrasted with giving coal or beatings to the deserving.

Writing teachers are always telling us to “show, not tell.” Referring to a culturally specific Santa-esque figure is a great way to show where and when a story is set. Consider some of these holiday figures with a habit of giving sweets, money, and gifts to deserving believers. Many of them are accompanied by a darker foil who comes to punish those who have been “naughty” during the preceding year.

Father Christmas

Today, Father Christmas is often depicted as simply the English version of Santa Claus. Look back a few hundred years, however, and you’ll see a very different figure. Oliver Cromwell’s puritan government cancelled Christmas during the English Civil War; the public brought it back during the Restoration of 1660. At that time, Father Christmas was the personification of Medieval customs of feasting and making merry to celebrate Yule. The evolution of Father Christmas since that time follows the changes in common Christmas celebrations in England.

Sinterklaas/ Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas Day is almost upon us! Dutch children will leave their shoes on the doorstep or by the fire so that Sinterklaas can fill them with candy and toys. If children have been naughty, Sinterklaas’s assistant Zwarte Piet beats them with a stick or throws them into his sack and sends them to Spain. The historical Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) and patron saint of children and travelers. He arrives by steamboat and parades through town on a white horse, wearing his traditional bishop’s attire, accompanied by his assistants. Sinterklaas carries a huge, red book with a list of all the naughty and nice children in the area. The modern American Santa Claus owes much of his current fashionable ensemble to Sinterklaas.

Zwarte Piet, Black Peter, is a very controversial figure in modern Sinterklaas festivities and worthy of a separate discussion all his own.

Three Kings or Three Wise Men

In many traditionally Catholic countries, gifts are brought by three figures: the Wise Men from the East mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. On their way to bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Baby Jesus, the Wise Men take a break to deliver gifts to good children in Venezuela, Spain, the Philippines, and many other countries. Very few specifics are actually given in the Bible, but traditions have filled in plenty of details. Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar may have come from Persia, Arabia, Pakistan, India, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Armenia, or Babylon, depending on local custom. Gifts are often given to children on January 4th, the Feast of the Epiphany, instead of December 25th.

Amu Nowruz

Uncle Nowruz gives gifts to children at the Iranian New Year, which occurs at the Spring Equinox rather than the Winter Solstice. He spends the year travelling the world with Haji Nowruz, a soot-covered minstrel. While Haji Nowruz dances and sings, Amu Nowruz gives coins and candy to children.

Seven Lucky Gods (Shichifukujin)

Ebisu, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Juroujin, Hotei, Fukurokuju bring their treasure ship Takarabune to Japan on January 2, the beginning of the New Year. Like the early Father Christmas, the Seven Lucky Gods bring good cheer and prosperity to everyone. Those who sleep with a picture of the Shichifukujin under their pillow will have good fortune in the coming year.

Fictional Gift-Givers

Pretty much any setting for a story on Earth has a celebration of midwinter or year’s beginning, complete with a figure who rewards or punishes believers according to their behavior the previous year. But what if the story doesn’t take place on Earth?

Drifty the Snowman brings music to children every year at the Swift Creek Mill Playhouse.

Once again, those who have gone before can show us how it’s done. Articles on io9, tv.tropes, and Goodreads show just how commonly a winter festival centered around gifts and the return of light occur in other universes. Tallying the previous year’s sins and distributing charity are common themes.

For a writer, midwinter festivals offer a chance to showcase family bonds, strengthen relationships, demonstrate local superstitions, or just have characters party.

Moș Gerilă

Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether to include Moș Gerilă as a real gift-giving figure or a fantasy. This “Old Man Frost” was created by the Romanian Communist Party in 1947 as part of an attempt to shift Christmas celebrations from the Orthodox Church and the private family to the state. Moș Gerilă was portrayed as a handsome, bare-chested, young man who brought gifts to factory workers. All celebrations were held on December 30th, the national Day of the Republic. Festivities with decorated trees and patriotic music were held in public spaces, and Moș Gerilă would come bearing gifts of nuts and sweets from the Communist Party to well-behaved children. The fate of badly-behaved children is not clear, but I would imagine a gulag was involved. After the fall of the Romanian Communist Party in 1990, Moș Gerilă disappeared and Moș Crăciun (Father Christmas, similar to the Russian Grandfather Snow) took his place.

Xmas

Futurama, set in the year 3000, has an Xmas episode each season. Celebrants decorate a palm tree with lights and barricade themselves indoors. Santa Claus has been replaced by a robot with a programming error. He judges everyone to be naughty and attempts to exterminate everyone on Earth every year. Kevlar vests and body armor are common gifts.

Life Day

According to fan gossip, George Lucas attempted to find and destroy every copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special after it aired for the only time in 1978. Life Day is a Wookie holiday centered around the Tree of Life, celebrating children and death. The holiday is traditionally observed by family gatherings, preparing special foods, singing in red robes on Kashyyyk, and exchanging gifts. Also, Bea Arthur runs a cantina on Mos Eisley for some unexplained reason.

And she sings!
Hogswatchnight

Terry Pratchett’s 20th Discworld novel, Hogfather, is essentially a satire of modern Christmas customs. Hogswatchnight is described by the narrator as “bearing a remarkable resemblance to your Christmas.” The Hogfather rides his sleigh pulled by magically flying boars around the Disc delivering toys by climbing down chimneys. Children leave pork pies and brandy for the Hogfather, essentially a wild boar dressed in Father Christmas robes, which raises some disturbing questions about why he eats pork pies.

In the beginning, “Most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves, and then wondered where the stories went.” Over the course of the book, there are zany hijinks and wacky shenanigans involving Tooth Fairies, elegant parties, the Auditors of the Universe, a governess, the Death of Rats, and various other Terry Pratchett wonders. Ultimately, Death (a seven foot tall skeleton with glowing blue eyes and a scythe) has to save the day. In doing so, he explains to his granddaughter (genetics are complicated) why celebrations of the sun’s return and surviving through winter are so important.

THE UPSIDE OF BAD HABITS

I’ve long maintained that people always do things for a reason—or more than one. Even habits are not “just habits.” There are reasons people repeatedly do something—often non-consciously—and this includes bad habits. At this point, most writing on the topic of bad habits would veer off into a discussion of ways to break them. But this blog is about what people get out of their habits that might not be immediately obvious.

bad habit is that action which causes problems for our health, income, career, or relationships.  Something that is bad is unpleasant, harmful, or undesirable.

Note: Some of the behaviors listed here might not be considered bad habits by everyone.  Anything done to excess can become harmful, after all. Drinking too much water can lead to hyponatremia. Spending too much of your time helping others can lead to ignoring self-care.

Here, in no particular order: 

Smoking

“Smoke Like a Captain”
  • Create an image  
    • Sophisticate with a cigarette holder
    • High roller with an expensive cigar
    • Macho man
  • Pausing to think before responding without obviously pausing
  • Get an energy hit
  • Creates situations for social connections that might not otherwise happen
  • Provides a brief break from work or stressful situations

Drinking 

  • Relax in a socially tense situation
  • Create an image of sophistication, wealth, etc., depending on the drink
  • Regularly drinking heavily increases tolerance, making it less likely the drinker will make a drunken misstep
  • Moderate drinking reduces likelihood of a heart attack by about a third
  • Alcoholic beverages are sure to be free of water parasites in places where other beverages are chancy

Negative Thinking

  • When things go bad, “I told you so”
  • When things go well, pleasant surprises

Eating Junk or Fast Food

  • It’s handy, so no effort
  • It’s relatively inexpensive, so easy on the wallet
  • Service is fast, so it’s an efficient choice
  • Higher levels of fat, salt, and sugar provide temporary dopamine surges
  • Can become family ritual, if eaten infrequently
  • Create positive associations with otherwise negative experiences (lollipop at the doctor’s office)

Anger Outbursts

  • Intimidates more timid people
  • Creates the impression of passion or strong feelings
  • Less likely to bottle anger and turn it inward, resulting in ulcers, high blood pressure, etc.

Indulging a Greedy Nature

  • Gets one more of the good stuff (sometimes)
  • Incite envy/ jealousy in others

Telling Lies

  • “Little white lies” ease socially awkward situations
    • E.g., “Of course your new haircut is flattering…”
  • Avoid punishment
  • Shift blame
  • Keep positive secrets, such as a surprise party

Excessive Screen Time

  • Keep up with news and fads
  • Have the topics for conversation 
  • Avoid boredom
  • Improve hand-eye coordination (video games)

Always Criticizing

  • Builds one’s self-esteem by comparison
  • Intimidate potential critics
  • Temporarily look like a subject expert

Nail-Biting

  • Makes paying for manicures unnecessary
  • Shows intense feelings
  • Is less destructive than other bad habits
  • Occupies hands to prevent other, worse habits, such as smoking

Gobbling Food 

Eating quickly is fairly common in some circumstances. Gulping down a meal within a few minutes is a bit less common.

  • Saves time for other things
  • Demonstrates that food is not important
  • Potential future in speed-eating competitions

Not Maintaining Hygiene and Cleanliness

  • Saves time and energy
  • Saves money on grooming products
  • Allows focus on things other than personal appearance

Procrastination

  • You never have to feel like a failure  because “I could have aced it ill I’d spent more time on it”
  • If you procrastinate but succeed or excel anyway, you’ve saved time to do more/other things
  • If a procrastinator is successful, it’s a big boost to one’s self-perceived capability

Keeping Late Hours

  • Fewer people around to interrupt
  • Hours when no one is criticizing what one is doing
  • Easier to conduct a clandestine affair
  • Boosts one’s self-concept as a non-conformist
  • Minimize hours spent with unpleasant spouse or other family
  • Night shift workers are often paid more
  • Facilitates communication with people in other time zones

Swearing

  • Substitutes for more physically violent anger outburst
    • (E.g., throwing things, punching the wall)
  • If conducted at great volume, it’s good for one’s lungs 
  • Can encourage verbal creativity
  • Is typically a sign of honesty

Fidgeting

Tapping toes, drumming fingers, or other incidental movements

  • Relatively safe way to release nervous energy and creativity
  • Makes it easier to maintain weight, heart and lung health
  • Unconscious form of drilling for musicians and dancers

Avoiding Exercise

  • It saves energy
  • It allows more time for other things
  • If conscious decision, can save money on exercise clothes/ equipment/ memberships 

Humming or Talking to Oneself

  • Self-soothing when anxious
  • Clarify thinking when facing a difficult decision
  • Relieves the silence for those living alone
  • May be the only way to have an intelligent conversation

Interrupting

  • Express more of one’s own opinions
  • Stop an opponent from making points
  • Shows enthusiasm for topic
  • Can prevent someone else accidentally divulging sensitive information

BOTTOM LINE: The downsides of bad habits have been well-documented. But everyone gets something out of every act, especially repetitive acts.

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: SOAP

Soap is incredibly easy to work into a scene or conversation. But, as a writer, why would you?

Because—like everything else—soap choices make an impression.  “Soap” usually refers to what is technically called a toilet or toilette soap, used for household and personal cleaning. Soap choices reflect at least two things: need and personal preference. 

Traditionalists

An exact recreation of the Ancient Mesopotamian soap-making technique

The very first cleaning agents were likely ashes from fires used to cook animals. Fatty acid (which would have dripped from the carcasses onto the fire) and a caustic agent (such as the lye in wood ash) removes dirt from skin and clothing. Soap-making processes have gotten a little more sophisticated in the 5000 or so years since then. I’ll start with two of the oldest soaps made in the United States and still available.

Lava Soap

Ground volcanic pumice works as a mild abrasive, ideal for sloughing off viscous grime without removing the skin underneath. Lava is a heavy-duty hand cleaner in soap bar form manufactured by the WD-40 Company. In addition to the typical combination of fatty acid and salt, Lava soap contains ground pumice, which gives the soap its name. The soap and pumice combination is intended to scour tar, engine grease, paint, dirt, whale oil, and similar substances from the skin.

The Lava Bar is a heavy-duty hand cleaner, developed in 1893 with pumice. Do-it-yourselfers, auto mechanics, coal miners, locksmiths, luthiers, and oil rig workers commonly use Lava to scrub off the traces of their work. The original Lava bar was gray and dried the skin. The modern version looks more attractive and contains moisturizers. 

Anyone with children can make good use of Lava soap.

So, what sort of person/character would keep Lava around the house?  If all you knew about the person was the use of this hand soap, what would you expect regarding age, occupation, gender, education, occupation, etc.? How might those expectations change if it was a well-worn bar of soap or a brand-new bar still in the box? 

Ivory Soap 

The sons of the original Proctor and Gamble were responsible for the creation of Ivory soap. James Norris Gamble developed the soap with the intention of making mild, effective soap inexpensive enough to be widely available.  The name Ivory was created by Harley Procter, who was inspired by Psalm 45:8 in the Bible: “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces whereby they have made thee glad.”  In September 1879, Procter & Gamble trademarked “Ivory”, the name of its new soap product.

Ivory soap is not for dogs. No baths for dogs!

During production, Ivory soap has air whipped into the solution, making the bars buoyant. James Gamble developed the process of adding air during production. When bathing in a murky lake or river or in a tub of bathwater that has already been used by the rest of the family, having soap that floated was extraordinarily convenient. This gave rise to the slogan, “It Floats!” in 1891. In 1992, Proctor & Gamble marketed a new formulation that includes moisturizers but does not float.

Ivory is ideal for building hair horns.

So who uses Ivory?  This soap has a long-standing image of gentleness and purity. Small children, people with sensitive skin, cleaners who need to avoid residue, and many people who simply prefer inexpensive soap choose it for that reason. What sort of characters might have a bar of Ivory soap in their washroom or liquid Ivory handsoap in the kitchen?

Shaving Soap 
Straight-razor shaving is tricky, so it’s best to start practicing early.

Though it is not typically used as a regular body soap, I’m including shaving soap here for its traditional connotations. Shaving soap is sold as a hard disc or stick that is used with a wet shaving brush to produce lather. The lather softens the hair before shaving and forms a thick, protective layer between skin and blade. Modern shaving cream is more convenient than shaving soap, but it does not work as well for moisturizing or giving a close shave.

It is possible to use too much shaving soap.

So what sort of character prefers shaving soap to shaving cream?  Would you expect old?  Or old-fashioned? And would the shaver choose a basic, inexpensive brand like Williams ($1.49 per cake) or something more exotic, like Molton Brown ($65 for one cake in a wooden bowl)? How much is it worth to get a moisturizing lather blended with coconut oil to prep skin for a clean shave, with a top note of mandarin, heart notes of jasmine and violet, and base notes of musk, sandalwood and vanilla, all in a slick shaving bowl?

And what if it’s a woman using shaving soap? Why? And on what part(s) of her body?

Medically Necessary Soap

I guess the specially important washing doesn’t include after handling raw meat or using the bathroom.

As dermatologists like to remind us, skin is the largest organ in the body. Many skin ailments can be improved or even cured by using particular soaps.

Note: The information provided below is not intended for medical diagnosis or treatment. This is only intended for writing purposes and providing examples.

Dermatologist Recommended
The best way to judge a dermatologist’s qualifications is by the size of her bustle.

Perhaps your character will do their own research, determining their particular needs and methods of treatment. What sort of person does this? For general use, dermatologists recommend AveenoDove, Olay, and Basis. Skin cleansers are better for sensitive skin, such as Cetaphil, CeraVe, and Aquanil. Deodorant soaps are often very harsh and drying.

Treatment of Skin Conditions
It is widely recognized in the medical community that dog slobber is the most effective treatment for every skin ailment. And for depression.

Many skin conditions can be treated topically with soap. Rashes from poison ivy, insect bites, and mild eczema can be relieved with oatmeal soap. Aloe Vera can help with sunburn and acne. Antibacterial soap has been in the news quite a bit lately. There is evidence that the symptoms of severe acne, athlete’s foot, scabies, ringworm, psoriasis, plantar warts can be relieved with prescription-strength medicated soap.

The research on specific drugs and usages is not conclusive for all of these conditions, so be sure to dig around in peer-review medical journals before including details in your writing.

Fancy Soap

Sampling of Soap Types
Me? Nah, I don’t need a bath, thanks.
Aleppo Soap

More information on all of these soaps is available online. Every type of soap has a different texture, smell, weight, and other characteristics that can add sensory detail to your writing. Would your character have a signature soap? Chose to make a statement—to self or others?

Expensive Soaps
You could also leave a whale on your front lawn to let all the neighbors know where you got that amazing soap!

Status symbols only work if other people know about them. Some of the most expensive soaps have distinctive scents. They may provide (mostly subjective) beauty benefits. Prominently displayed wrappers or overseas packaging left ever-so-casually where guests might see them

  • Qatar SoapA bar of this soap produced by a family-run business in Lebanon might make you think twice about washing too often. Infused with gold and diamond powder, a single bar costs $2,800 (£1,700; 2,050 euros).
  • El-Nino (Kenya) Soap: The soap is part of the Kenya government’s strategy to provide aid for victims of El Nino weather catastrophes. Each piece will retail for $375 (Ksh 37,500). However, it is not yet clear if this soap will be manufactured in Kenya, Lebanon, China or Migingo.
Chocolate Mud Mask?
  • Cor Soap: Cor was produced by Plank, a company that manufacturers yoga-themed products. Each bar will set you back $125 (KSH 12,500). The ingredients that made Cor expensive are the following:
    • Chitosan to even out skin tone
    • Sericin — a silk extract — to trap moisture and provide UV protection
    • Four types of collagen to help maintain skin structure.
    • Silver, a known antibacterial agent 
  • Cle de Peau BEeaute Synactif Soap: A facial cleansing soap that removes impurities from pores and lifts away makeup and dead skin to reveal purified skin filled with translucence and suppleness. $100.
  • Erno Lazlo Famous Black Bar: $38 for those who want to go for something a little less high end.
    • Dead Sea Mud: Restores skin’s own mineral levels; infused with 26 minerals and has a signature black color that transforms to white foam.
    • Glycerin: Attracts and holds hydration for a more moisturized, glowing complexion.
    • Palm and Palm Kernel Oils: Regulates skin’s oils and reinforces its defenses against outside stressors.  
Mud Mask!
  • Dragon’s Blood Cold Process Soap: Loaves / Bars for those who want to sound high end on a budget.  Loaves of soap are cut into bars and packed with your own custom label. Dragon’s Blood soap comes in custom sizes, colors, etc. for large orders. The famous fragrance contains “top notes of amber, vanilla, and patchouli. Also has hints of orange and other fruity base notes.” Sample 4.5oz. Bar ($3.50 / unit)

Bottom line for writers: Soap can flesh out a character, either subtly or in a more marked way. Think about it!

SUPERSTITIONS

By definition, superstitions are irrational beliefs that objects, actions, or circumstances not logically related to an outcome nevertheless influence those outcomes. Every Friday the 13th, I think of superstitions. In the past I’ve blogged about superstitions related to Fridays and to 13s. The superstitions below have nothing to do with the date directly, but there is a belief that negative things happening on Friday the 13th are worse than they would be on other dates.

The Superstition Mountains in Arizona

There are myriad ways to slice and dice the universe of superstitions, including by country or by topic (e.g., love and marriage or hearth and home).  Indeed, there are whole books of superstitions out there, and who knows what’s on the internet.  But anyone wishing to pursue the topic can do so easily.

Clearly, this blog can give you only a tiny taste of the superstitions out there. So here you go, alphabetically:

A
Spaghetti harvested on April 1st is full of extra nutrients.
  • April 1, April Fool’s Day
    • To be fooled by a pretty maiden means the man will marry or befriend her.
    • To lose one’s temper over a practical joke will bring bad luck.
    • A wedding on this day means the woman will be the family boss.
    • Being born on this day means lucky in business and unlucky in speculation.
  • Apron Dropping
    • A girl might meet her fiancé.
    • It may signify having two husbands.
    • It might mean illness or early death.
    • It might mean many children or no children.
    • It may mean spinsterhood.
    • Perhaps it portends desertion by a husband.
B
  • Bats are very good omens, denoting happiness, peace, long life, wealth, and virtue.
  • Birds are associated with both good and bad spirits, and are portents of things to come.
    • A bird in the house or tapping on a window is an omen of death.
    • Injuring a robin or disturbing its nest brings bad luck.
      • A friendly robin is a portent of a long, hard winter.
      • The first robin seen in spring portends good luck if it flies up, bad luck if it flies down.
      • A robin’s nest near the house brings good luck.
      • Seeing a robin in the morning portends a visitor the same day.
    • A swallow nesting in the eaves of a house brings good luck.
      • A swallow abandoning its nest is a sign the house will burn down.
      • A swallow skimming near the ground is a prediction of rain.
      • If a sparrow builds a nest under your window, you will take a trip.
    • Turtle doves near the house prevent rheumatism.
    • Eagles are said to carry off lambs and small children.
    • The cry of a peacock under a window predicts a death in the house.
    • Seeing a hawk is an omen of victory or success.
    • Seeing a crow in flight is time to make a wish; if the crow doesn’t flap its wings, the wish will come true.
    • Magpies (or jackdaws or crows, depending on where you live) mean different things depending on how many you see:
      • One for sorrow,
        Two for joy,
        Three for a girl,
        Four for a boy,
        Five for silver,
        Six for gold,
        Seven for a secret never to be told.
    • To break the curse of seeing a lone magpie, salute the magpie.
  • Bread
    • If bread falls butter side down, hungry company will come seeking food.
    • Eating bread crusts will make your cheeks rosy.
    • Two people saying “bread and butter” after someone or something comes between them will break the spell of bad luck.
    • Waving bread and sugar around a wound will make it heal faster.
C
  • Cards
    • A black ace falling on the floor during a bridge game is a sign to stop playing.
    • Singing during a card game is bad luck.
    • It’s unlucky to play cards on a bare table.
  • Cats
    • A cat washing its face is a sign of a visitor coming.
    • A black cat crossing one’s path is an omen of very good or very bad luck, depending on the culture.
    • A strange cat following you or making a home with you brings good luck.
    • If you wake up to a cat on your chest, it means the cat was under the influence of evil spirits and was trying to steal your breath as your slept.
  • Cutlery
    • If a knife falls on the floor you will have a gentleman visitor.
    • If a fork falls, it will be a lady visitor.
    • Crossing knife and fork is a bad omen.
D
Friday’s child
  • Days of the Week
    • Good or bad luck depends on the day of the week.
      • Monday for health
        Tuesday for wealth
        Wednesday the best day of all
        Thursday for crosses
        Friday for losses
        Saturday no luck at all
    • A child’s entire life is influenced by the day of the week on which they were born.
      • Monday’s child is fair of face
        Tuesday’s child is full of grace
        Wednesday’s child is full of woe
        Thursday’s child has far to go,
        Friday’s child is loving and giving,
        Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
        And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
        Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.
  • Dogs
    • A yellow dog happening to follow your tracks is a sign of good luck.
    • A dog howling in the night, especially at the moon, is a harbinger of death.
    • A dog predicts rain by lying on its back or eating grass.
E
  • Ears
    • Sailors held the belief that a pierced ear with a ring in it improved eyesight.
    • More generally, piercing a child’s ears will improve eyesight.
    • Size
      • Small = stingy
      • Large = generous
      • Long = long life
    • An itching left ear portends sadness or bad luck; itching right ear means someone is speaking well of you.
  • Eggs
    • Two yolks in one egg means great financial prosperity is on the way.
    • Refusing an Easter egg is an invitation to lose the friendship of the person offering it.
    • Rabbits lay eggs at Easter time.
    • Eggs blessed at Easter are supposed to ward off illness.
    • When cracking Easter Eggs with a friend, the one whose egg cracks first will have good fortune.
  • Eyes
    • If your right eye twitches, you are going to hear good news. 
    • A twitching eyelid means someone is thinking fondly of you.
    • A person with brown/ blue/ hazel/ green/ grey eyes brings bad luck.
    • A person with heterochromia (eyes different colors) is a witch or a demon.
    • Grey or blue eyes can see the future.
F
  • Fingers
    • Friends crossing index fingers over one another and making a wish will have their wish granted.
    • Crossing your middle finger over your index finger either brings good luck or is a sign of lying.
    • A person with a ring finger longer than the index finger is sure to be wealthy.
    • If a person points a finger in the direction of a graveyard, they must bite their finger to avoid inviting death.
  • Fingernails
    • Broad nails show that a person is generous.
    • Long fingernails reveal a lack of thrift.
    • Short fingernails mark a liar.
    • Specks on fingernails correspond with the number of lies told.
    • Cutting a baby’s nails before the first birthday means the child will become a thief. (Bite them off instead.)
    • Cutting nails on Friday is bad luck.
    • Cutting the nails of a sick person means that person will never get well.
  • Funerals
    • Handkerchiefs used to wipe tears at a funeral must be buried with the coffin or thrown away.
    • Singing, laughing, or talking too loudly at a funeral will wake the dead.
    • Not crying and singing funeral hymns loudly enough will anger the recently departed and wake the dead.
    • A man not wearing a belt to a funeral will bring death home with him.
G
  • Gloves are not good!
    • Picking up a glove is to risk bad luck.
    • Dropping a glove brings bad luck.
    • Giving someone gloves invites the breakup of the friendship.
    • Hitting someone with a glove, even accidentally, means wishing for their death.
  • Graves
    • Dig graves facing east toward Gabriel when he blows his horn.
    • Tools used to dig a grave should be left nearby for several days.
    • If someone shivers for no apparent reason, someone is walking over his/her grave.
    • Open graves are ill omens.
    • Leaving the site of a grave before the gravediggers lower the coffin means another death will follow.
    • Some cultures require a corpse to be buried in a standing position, holding weapons at the ready.
  • Gifts
    • Sharp objects given as gifts will turn on their new owner.
    • Giving certain numbers of objects (such as flowers or cookies) is unlucky, varying widely around the world.
    • In some areas, giving any unreciprocated gifts is unlucky.
    • Most of these gift taboos can be avoided by repaying the giver with a symbolic trifle, such as a penny or a piece of bread.
H
Crossed hands! No more babies!
  • Hands
    • An itchy right hand means money is coming.
    • An itchy left hand means money is slipping away.
      • Rubbing an itchy left hand on wood and wishing for money will break the spell of losing.
    • An itchy right hand means that a friend is coming.
    • Hand itching means you will shake hands with a stranger.
    • Itchy hands also means that you will be entertaining company.
    • Itchy palms means the receipt of unexpected money.
    • Every town and village in the world seems to have a different variation of hand signs to ward off evil.
      • Thumb holding middle and ring finger against the palm with other fingers extended.
      • Holding the hand with the palm flat and all fingers pointed forward, folding each finger against the palm separately and sequentially.
      • Tucking the thumb between the index and middle finger with all fingers pulled into the palm.
    • Binding anyone’s hands together will condemn them to a life of misfortune.
    • Folding or crossing one’s hands causes infertility.
  • Hens
    • Setting a hen on the first Monday of the month brings good luck.
    • Setting hens on Sunday night brings successful hatching.
    • If 13 eggs are set, 12 will be pullets and 1 will be a rooster.
    • Long eggs hatch roosters; round eggs hatch pullets.
  • Hiccups
    • Having the hiccups means someone is remembering you fondly.
    • Each hiccup is an attempt by a demon to draw your soul from your body.
I
Extreme ironing. People do this. Voluntarily. I don’t know why.
  • Ironing
    • If the tail of a man’s shirt is ironed (or starched) will make the man harsh.
    • An ironing board falling across a door is an omen of death.
    • Ironing the backs of clothes is bad luck.
  • Injury or Illness
    • Stepping on a crack will break your spine.
    • Sleeping with wet hair will make you sick.
    • Women sitting on bare cement will become infertile.
    • If your shadow falls on a graveyard or a funeral procession, you will become gravely ill.
    • Blowing in a baby’s mouth will cure colic.
    • The presence of a net beneath a trapeze or high-wire act will cause the performers to injure themselves or fall.
J
  • Jar of water with a knife in it behind the door will protect a building against the devil.
  • July 25, wet or dry, is the day to plant turnips.
  • Jumping
    • Jumping over a baby means they won’t grow very tall.
    • Couples jumping over bonfires together will have peace and good fortune for a year.
    • Jumping exactly as the clock strikes midnight for New Year’s will bring good luck in the coming year.
K
  • Knife
    • If someone gives you a knife it will cut the friendship unless you “buy” it by giving a penny, pin, etc.
    • Leaving a penknife open brings bad luck.
    • Handing an open knife to someone will lead to a quarrel.
  • Knocking on Wood
    • Knocking on wood before starting a project is inviting good luck.
    • Knock on wood after bragging/boasting to prevent future failure.
L
  • Ladybug / Ladybird
    • It’s bad luck to kill a ladybug.
    • A ladybug landing on you will bring good luck.
    • A ladybug flying off you will take away all your troubles with her.
    • More than 7 spots on a ladybug’s wing means famine.
      • Fewer than 7 means a good harvest.
    • Make a wish with a ladybug in your hand and the direction she flies shows the direction your luck will come from.
  • Lips
    • Itchy lips means someone is speaking ill of you.
    • Itchy upper lip, someone tall will kiss you
      • Itchy lower lip, a short person will kiss you.
    • If you bite your lip while eating alone, you have a great kiss ahead.
M
I guess neither of these two will get married. Their dad will be very happy about that!
  • Marriage
    • Unmarried people who sit at the corner of a table will never get married.
    • Girls who want to get married should write the names of three prospective spouses on slips of paper and slide them under their pillow. She then discards one at night, one in the morning, and the remaining paper will have the name of her future spouse.
    • Married women are very lucky wedding guests. The longer she has been married, the more luck she brings to the new couple.
    • A man who walks between two women will have an unhappy marriage.
  • Moles or Warts
    • On the forehead near the hairline is a sign of bad fortune.
    • On the chin or ear is a sign of wealth.
    • On the breast is a sign of poverty.
    • On the throat is a sign of good luck.
    • A mole on your arm, live on a farm.
    • Having lots of moles indicates future wealth.
  • Mirrors
    • Breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck.
    • Looking at your reflection in a broken mirror brings permanent bad luck.
    • Standing between two mirrors allows spirits to steal your soul.
N
  • Nine
    • Count nine stars for nine nights and on the last night one’s lover will be revealed.
    • Find nine peas in one pod, hang it above the door, and the next person through the door will be one’s spouse.
  • Nails
    • A nail dropped on the floor can only build crooked houses.
    • Carrying an iron nail will ward off evil influences and demons.
    • Looking at a coffin nail while carrying a body to a graveyard invites death.
    • A rusty nail stuck through a lemon will keep away the evil eye.
O
Superstitious architects design buildings without a thirteenth floor.
  • Omens of Misfortune
    • Spilling salt on the table.
    • Burning bread.
    • A rooster crowing at night.
    • Killing a spider.
    • Stepping over a snake.
    • Dropping a comb.
    • Stepping on sidewalk or road cracks.
    • Laughing before breakfast.
    • The number 13.
  • Owls
    • Hearing a screeching owl is an omen of bad luck.
    • An owl perched on a house predicts death to someone within.
    • In Wales, the hoot of an owl signaled that an unmarried girl had surrendered her chastity.
    • Owls are sacred in some parts of India because their eyesight is phenomenal.
    • Owls signal approaching death.
P
  • Pearls
    • A ring set with a pearl is unlucky.
    • Pearls signify tears.
    • A gift of pearls will bring tears and sadness to the recipient.
    • Finding a pearl in an oyster is a sign of good luck.
  • Phrenology
    • A high forehead is a sign of a reflective mind.
    • A high forehead is a sign of leadership.
    • Large eyes signify benevolence and wonders
    • A wide skull indicates pugnaciousness.
    • Large heads contain large brains, signifying high intelligence.
Q
  • Saying the word “quiet” will cause all hell to break loose.
  • Quail
    • Seeing a quail is a sign that a goal can be attained only if the seer acts immediately.
    • Seeing a quail in flight is an omen of danger or death.
    • Dreaming of a quail is a sign that love, good fortune, and victory are coming.
  • Quarters
    • Putting a quarter into a pot of black-eyed peas will bring good luck and money.
    • Adding a quarter to a tip jar will make it fill faster.
    • Tucking a quarter into a purse or wallet given as a gift means it will always have money in it.
R
  • Red Hair
    • Redheads are emotionally unstable and of terrible temper.
    • A redhead who tends a cheese vat will produce curd not fit to eat.
    • The appearance of a white horse heralds the appearance of a red haired girl, and vice versa.
    • Seeing a redhead first thing in the morning is a sign of bad luck.
  • Rats
    • Rats leaving a house signifies bad luck.
    • Rats entering a house bring good luck.
    • Rats won’t go through a soaped hole.
    • Catch a rat, paint it garish colors, and release. It will drive other rats away.
S
Indian Rat Snake (Grey and Yellow)
  • Snakes
    • Hanging a snakeskin from the rafters will protect a house from fire.
    • Killing the first snake you see every year will guarantee victory over any foe.
    • Seeing a snake cross one’s path or dreaming of a snake are bad luck.
    • Pregnant women who are frightened by a snake will give birth to a child with a constricted neck.
    • A snake will never bite a pregnant woman.
    • Tying a snakeskin around the waist of a woman in labor will ease childbirth.
    • Feeding women in labor a drink containing the powdered rattle of a rattlesnake will ease childbirth.
    • Carrying a snakeskin is generally beneficial to health, effective against headaches and extracting thorns from the skin.
    • Carrying a snake tooth will ward off fever.
    • Carrying a snake tooth is lucky when gambling.
    • To avoid getting bitten by a snake, wear an emerald.
    • When a snake’s head is severed, it will not die till sunset.
  • Singing
    • If you sing before breakfast, you will cry before the day is done.
    • If you sing before you dress, you’ll have trouble before you undress.
    • If you sing before seven, you’ll cry before eleven.
    • If you sing before you eat, you’ll cry before you sleep.
  • Sailing
    • It is unlucky to have an umbrella bought aboard.
    • It is unlucky to drive nails on Sunday.
    • Whistling aboard ship brings bad luck.
    • If a bee or small bird lands on the ship, it means good luck.
    • If a hawk, owl, or crow lands in the rigging, it means bad luck.
    • A horseshoe nailed to the mast protects against witches.
    • It is unlucky to set sail on Friday, lucky to set sail on Sunday.
T
I think this one is pretty safe. No hideousness here.
  • Thumbs
    • A baby who sucks its thumb will grow up to be hideous.
    • A thumb turned backward indicates an inability to save money.
    • Thumb pricking means something bad is coming along.
    • Thumb itching indicates visitors are coming.
  • Three
    • Closely associated with the Holy Trinity in several world religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam.
    • Some pagan traditions celebrate the trinity of land, sea, and air to make up earth.
    • Third time lucky/third time’s the charm.
    • A person will resurface three times before drowning.
    • If three people make up a bed, one of them will fall ill.
    • Good things and bad things come in threes.
  • Theater
    • Shakespeare’s Macbeth is so unlucky that people avoid saying the name in a theater, referring to “the Scottish play” instead.
    • Whistling onstage or backstage is bad luck.
    • Wishing a performer good luck will bring the opposite, hence the common “Break a leg!” wish before going onstage.
    • A terribly dress rehearsal means the performance will be excellent, and vice versa.
    • Failing to salute the resident ghost (every theater has at least one) will cause it to be angry and take revenge.
U
  • Umbrellas
    • Carrying an umbrella will ward off rain.
    • Opening an umbrella in the house is bad luck.
    • Holding an open umbrella over your head in the house will lead to your death within a year.
  • Upside Down
    • Turning a picture upside down brings bad luck to the person or place in the picture.
    • An upside down photograph or picture turned to the wall invites lurking evil spirits to attack the subject of the picture.
    • Turning a photo of a person to face the wall or the floor will protect you from evil influences caused by that person.
    • Slippers or shoes left upside down on the floor will cause trouble on the next journey.
  • Underwear
    • Wearing new underwear on a first date will doom the relationship.
    • Wearing underwear inside out will improve test or exam scores. 
V
  • Visiting
    • Visit on Monday and you’ll be visiting out every day of the week.
    • Guests, like fish, should be thrown out after three days.
  • Violets
    • Violets grow where tears have fallen.
    • Drinking tea made from violet petals cures heartbreak.
    • Dreaming of violets means you’ll come into money or marry someone younger.
    • When violets bloom in the autumn, an epidemic is coming.
W
If only he hadn’t whistled inside, his Mother might be happier…
  • Washing
    • Wash and wipe together, live and fight together.
    • If a woman gets wet while washing clothes, she will marry a drunkard.
    • A woman who wants beautiful hair should wash it in water from March snow.
    • Washing laundry on Saturday or Tuesday is bad luck.
  • Whistling
    • A whistling girl and a crowing hen always come to no good end.
    • If little girls whistle they will grow beards.
    • Whistling in the house invites bad luck.
    • If someone whistles inside a house, they will become financially irresponsible and lose money.
  • Weddings
    • A bride jumping out of bed and landing on both feet on her wedding day bodes well for her married life.
    • The bride and groom seeing each other before they meet at the altar will doom the marriage.
    • An iron horseshoe carried by the bride will bring good fortune to her extended family.
    • A thunderstorm during a wedding is an omen of bad luck.
    • A snowstorm during a wedding is a lucky omen.
    • A Sunday wedding is a good omen.
    • A Friday wedding is a bad omen.
    • Marrying on the last day of the year is especially auspicious.
    • Wearing pearls on your wedding day tempts sorrow, tears, and an unhappy future.
X
Y
  • Yawning
    • Yawning during prayers is a bad omen.
    • Yawning without covering one’s mouth allows the devil entrance.
  • Yellow
    • Giving yellow clothing as a gift will bring bad luck.
    • Wearing yellow clothing to any kind of test will cause a poor performance.
    • When speeding through a yellow traffic light, a driver throwing a kiss to the roof of the car will avoid accidents and police.
Z
  • Zero is a whole number as well as an even one, and thus a lucky digit.
  • Zebra
    • Seeing a wild zebra means you are spiritually safe from harm.
    • A zebra licking your hand can mean danger is coming or someone is holding onto bad memories.
    • The black and white of a zebra indicates good and bad.
    • Dreaming of a zebra means one is facing situations that are difficult to control.
    • Follow a zebra to find water.
    • More stripes on the front legs of a zebra than on the back is an omen of a baby, possibly twin boys
    • One zebra is a sign of good luck and blessings. Seeing two zebras in the morning is an omen of illness and maybe two bad harvest seasons.
    • A running zebras is an omen of an ample harvest.

Bottom line: The superstitions listed here are shared by many people, but every culture and person has different beliefs. Anything can become a personal superstition if something unrelated is associated in time or place with a dramatic event or outcome (such as lucky socks or particular foods). Consider how someone might come to feel anxious and fear bad things will happen if s/he loses a carved wooden heart. If you are writing about an entirely fictitious culture, you can invent whatever superstitions you like!

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: ELECTION 2020

What would (or wouldn’t) your character(s) do? And just as important, why? This particular election has been unusual in several dimensions. When considering your character(s)’ behavior, also consider whether it might reflects a general or stable level of political activism/ involvement or is it specific to this election (or fictional elections with similar circumstances). If the latter, is that because of the pandemic, the candidates/issues of this particular election, or both.

Social Media Activity

  • Following candidates, pundits, campaigns
  • Passively lurking
    • Replying or reposting to boost signal
  • Researching candidates’ policies or campaign news
  • Sharing information with others within a social group
  • Contacting candidates or campaigns through social media
  • How carefully would a character ensure that information is factual and unbiased before believing it or sharing it?
    • If a character has verifiably true information, how much effort would they put into combating falsehoods?
    • Would a character knowingly spread disinformation?

Before Election Day

  • Register voters
    • Provide forms to register to vote at the DMV or other locations
    • Help voters obtain documents needed to register to vote
    • Check registration status for voters
    • Campaign to expand voting access or challenge flawed registrations
  • Manage a candidate’s campaign 
  • Vote early
    • Mail in
    • Absentee drop off
    • In person early
  • Campaign for a local, state, or national candidate
    • Phone calls
    • Postcards
    • Canvasing
    • Delivering flyers
    • Collecting signatures
    • Donating money to a campaign or political party
  • Sign petitions and share on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Attend a rally
    • In person
    • Drive-by
  • Advertise his/her support
    • Yard sign
    • Bumper sticker
    • Clothing (hat, T-shirt, etc.)
  • Try to convince friends/family to vote
    • Encourage voting in general
    • Persuading to vote for particular candidates

Election Day

  • Vote
    • Only if the weather is good
    • If the lines aren’t very long
    • Regardless
  • Work for the elections board
    • As a poll worker directly interacting with the public
    • As a ballot counter for early or mail voters
    • Helping voters contact election clerks to resolve problems
  • Volunteer as an election monitor
    • Officially representing a campaign, being a silent presence in the background while ballots are counted
    • Challenging potential voter fraud outside of a polling place (unofficial)
  • Carry signs or flags supporting one candidate or party
  • Distribute campaign literature or sample ballots to those far enough away from the polling place
  • Provide assistance to those waiting in long lines
    • Drinks and snacks
    • Folding chairs
    • Umbrellas or parasols
    • Playing music, dancing, entertaining
    • Hand sanitizer and masks
    • Driving voters to the polls
  • Providing childcare so parents can go vote
  • Planning vote time around work requirements
    • Taking time off during the workday
    • Getting to the polling site at 4am to vote before work
    • Going after work and potentially staying in line until late at night
  • Follow the media
    • All-day hype
    • Early evening only
    • Late into the wee hours
    • Not at all

Post Election Day

  • Follow results
    • Popular vote
    • Electoral college tally
    • State or local races only
  • Check results
    • Every few minutes
    • Hourly
    • Daily
    • Only on the 6:00 news
  • When results are in
    • Accept
    • Deny
    • Protest the outcome
  • If unhappy with outcome
    • Grumble
    • Peacefully protest/rally
    • Protest with violence against property/people
  • If celebrating
    • Have a quiet glass of champagne
    • Party with family/friends
    • Dance in the streets
    • Binge on chocolate cake
  • Remove all visible signs of political support
    • Only if his/her candidate lost
    • Regardless
    • Yard signs but not bumper stickers
    • Not at all
  • Try to pretend it never happened

How the Character(s) Felt—Check All That Apply

  • Excited
  • Eager
  • Trepidatious
  • Suspicious
  • Fearful
  • Relieved
  • Depressed
  • Disbelieving
  • Angry
  • Exhausted
  • Cheated
  • Numb
  • Elated
  • Encouraged
  • Helpless
  • Betrayed
  • Disgusted
  • Joyful
  • Vengeful
  • Resigned
  • Proud
  • Gratified
  • Hopeful
  • Determined to run for office in the next election
    • To continue momentum from the current campaign
    • To correct future errors of the recently elected
  • Consider whether your character’s behavior would be consistent with his/her feelings. Why or why not?

Bottom line for writers: Though your plot may never involve an election at all, this exercise should shine light on your characters’ level of civic involvement and activism.

EARLY BIRDS AND NIGHT OWLS

Folk wisdom would have us believe that we all should be early birds: they get the worm, after all, and they are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Indeed, research indicates that there are real differences between the early-to-bedders and the late-to-bedders.

.
.

Being up and ready for the day correlates with EBs getting better grades and having a better chance of getting a good “regular” job. 

More coffee, please!

In one way, at least, early birds (EBs) have a big advantage: most social life takes place during the day, and EBs can take full advantage of that. Getting to medical appointments, grocery stores, and business breakfasts are not hardships.

In addition, at least one study found that EBs anticipate problems and try to minimize them. Being proactive in this way is linked to better job performance, greater career success, and higher earnings. They set goals and plan to meet them.

Mixing coffee with beer makes it perfect for breakfast! Thanks, Coronado Brewing!

Overall, EBs are much more likely to exercise, and as a result are less prone to health problems, everything from obesity to depression. Perhaps that’s partly because most outdoor activity takes place during the day anyway!

However, not everything is roses for EBs. For one thing, their days are all downhill. They get no “second wind” late in the day. As sleepiness pulls, an EB’s performance lags. In addition, EBs need more sleep, and if they don’t get enough, it really drags them down.  Still, it seems a small price to pay for all the good stuff I just talked about.

So why wouldn’t everyone want to be an EB? First of all, what one wants isn’t always what one gets. People are biologically predisposed to be either an EB or a Night Owl (NO). Frederick Brown (Penn State psychologist) refers to EBs as early risers and NOs as late setters and comes out strongly on the side of genetic determination. In fact, in 2003, researchers discovered a “clock “ gene. EBs were more likely to have a longer version of this Period 3 gene.

And there is a real downside to being a NO—including being more prone to a whole host of mental and physical health problems, especially depression and obesity. Not surprisingly, they tend to die sooner than EBs.

Not bedtime. We’re not tired. Definitely not… tired…

Perhaps the increased likelihood of mental health issues are a byproduct of being generally and literally out of sync with society’s rhythms.

NOs struggle with social activities. Yes, there are all night restaurants,  gyms, and movies, but if NOs’ family and friends are on a different schedule, they face the choice of pressing/stressing themselves to accommodate or suffer from self-imposed isolation and loneliness.

It sounds like being a NO is a total bummer, but not so! Research has discovered several benefits to getting up with the owls.

Changing one’s sleep pattern often requires large amounts of caffeine.

Somewhat surprisingly (to me), NOs have more sex—which could lead to being productive in non-work-related ways! 

“It’s almost midnight. Let’s order pizza!”

One’s sleep patterns and preferences are expressions of one’s circadian rhythm: this is the rhythm of one’s body processes over the course of approximately 24 hours. In fact, the word “circadian” comes from the Latin words circā (approximately) and diēs (day). All living things—even plants—have them. (If there is life on Mars or Venus, then all bets are off!)

Left to their own devices (i.e., with no external cues as to time of day), humans tend to settle into a “natural” cycle of about 25 hours within a waking/sleeping day.

Fortunately, adjusting by an hour is fairly easy.

On the issue of enduring wake/sleep rhythms, there is lots of variability. Approximately 1% are diehard EBs and another 17% are diehard NOs, with everyone else being somewhere in between. The “tweeners” have an easier time making bigger adjustments in their sleep cycles.

It’s 2am. Time for everyone to wake up because I’m hungry!

There are age-clustering effects, too. High school and college age people, regardless of bio-rhythms, tend to stay up late and sleep in. The opposite is true of the elderly.

All sorts of outside factors have major chunks of control over when we wake and sleep, regardless of preferences. Many NOs must adapt to workplace schedules, or demands due to spouse or children. Consider how one’s body’s preferences would adapt to these work schedules.

  • 9-5:00ers
  • Night shift workers
  • Swing-shift workers
  • Parents
Sleep deprivation in fire fighters can be very dangerous. They get cranky when they’re tired.

People do what they have to do, sometimes for years at a time. Not surprisingly, swing-shift workers have the hardest time of it, and the more often their shifts change, the more disruptive it is. (If one’s work shifted by an hour a day, it would be easy to handle… but I don’t know of any examples.) If one works 7-3:00 followed by 3-11:00 followed by 11-7:00 and then repeats the cycle at lengthy intervals, the adaptation is easier than random shifts and/or short intervals.

At least the ambulances are pretty comfy for a nap.

Sleepers following a swing-shift work schedule face additional mental and physical hurdles. Researchers have identified a sleep disorder specific to employees on these schedules: Shift Work Sleep Disorder.

  • Prone to chronic sleep deprivation
  • Slower reaction time
  • Decreased focus
  • Impaired decision making

Many of the people whose jobs require focus, speed, high-level decision making, and operating under extreme stress also have to work on swing shift schedules.

Plus, hospitals are super creepy at night. So are power plants.
  • Power plant operators
  • Emergency medical technicians and paramedics
  • Doctors and nurses
    • Emergency room staffers and residents are more likely to work night shifts and swing shifts
  • Emergency hotline operators (911)
  • Police
  • Military personnel

Whatever structures are imposed, our NO or EB tendencies endure, even into old age. Remove external structural constraints/demands and one’s true nature comes to the fore again.

Bottom line: You’ll be happier and perhaps healthier if you can shape your life to extract as many benefits as possible from your natural tendencies!

Gemma Correll understands me!

CAN COVID CAUSE OCD?

Someone coughed. Just burn it down and start over.

Last Sunday I talked with a woman who said, “COVID is making me so OCD!”  She’s been working from home for months, in a state that is tightly locked down.  With her normal summer activities disrupted, her isolation has been filled with painting the baseboards and other wood trim, hanging her growing son’s clothes hooks higher, and weeding flowerbeds for hours.

“I get down on the floor to exercise and all I can focus on is the pulled place in the rug.  And then I look out the window and feel like I ought to be out there raking leaves, even though they’re only half down.  And this morning, I rearranged books size and color as well as type.

“See?  Completely OCD.”

Ready to go outside to fetch the mail!

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a label that’s tossed around loosely, like beautiful or crazy. The woman I talked to is a good example.  OCD is casually applied to people who are finicky or particular about some one thing (e.g., straightening picture frames) rather than people with serious mental health problems that interfere with living a healthy, comfortable life. 

Technically, OCD applies only to people who use obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors in an attempt to deal with anxiety and fear. It’s a coping mechanism—another way to get through the day.

Dropped the mail. Better burn it.

Today, OCD is viewed by researchers as a spectrum, much like autism. It often develops in people with a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders and mental illness, and this is the group most likely to develop true OCD in response to COVID. For these people, when the threat diminishes, the attempts to reduce the threat do not go away—and may worsen.

Not a healthy coping mechanism

Ideally, people with OCD receive treatment (usually a combination of medication and behavioral or exposure therapy) to deal with the condition. One of the major goals of treatment is learning not to try to avoid their fears. Instead, patients with OCD work to balance exposure to triggering conversation and information with healthful activities such as exercise, spending time outside, developing good sleep habits, etc., while doing things in line with personal and work-related goals.

It’s always important to coordinate the princesses on one’s dress with the princesses on one’s mask. The mask works better that way.

The spread of COVID has caused a spike in anxiety and fear for everyone (with the possible exception of some diehard deniers). The constant need for vigilance has forced nearly everyone to change daily habits, focus on ways to stay safe and well, and then to act on them. People who compulsively watch the news or spend hours on social media typically are more fearful.

Very young children do not need to wear masks. They are sticky petri dishes of germs and no mask could ever help with that.

Many people previously diagnosed with OCD are suffering greatly. Medical experts’ advice to wear a mask, wash hands thoroughly and often, avoid touching their faces, avoid being around sick people, disinfect surfaces most often touched, and socially distance requires a lot of attention throughout the day. People with a germ phobia may be unable to attend to anything else!  

Ideally, the OCD sufferer will do but not overdo: for example, to wash hands for twenty seconds and no longer—to focus on having done the hand washing, not on feeling clean. Tip: if you wonder whether you are over-doing it, you probably are.

A germ phobia as related to OCD is obvious. But according to Dr. Rachel Ginsberg of Columbia University, there are several possible impacts of the pandemic on OCD patients.

“Other types of OCD that can be triggered by this pandemic include somatic obsessions (concerns with illness or disease, such as headaches), sensory-focused symptoms (obsessing over sensations in the body or perceived feelings on the skin’s surface), feelings of over responsibility and inappropriate guilt (e.g. related to spreading the illness), and harm OCD (e.g. fear that one will be responsible for something terrible happening, such as unknowingly causing others’ death).

Umm… This doesn’t seem quite right.

Additional OCD symptoms might include magical thinking, superstitious fears, fear of harm coming to self or others because of not being careful enough (fear of spreading germs if you were unknowingly COVID-positive or asymptomatic), and religious obsessions or excessive fear of right vs. wrong.

Moreover, OCD symptoms may include needing to know or remember information related to updated guidelines, and related excessive information gathering and checking. In addition to handwashing and cleaning, compulsions that might present or worsen could include mental reviewing (of where you have been, how far you stood from someone else, what you might have touched), needing to tell/ask/confess to others, superstitious behaviors, and health-related compulsions (e.g. asking for excessive reassurance from doctors about health symptoms).”

Dr. Rachel Ginsberg
Some people just refuse to change their hygiene habits for any pandemic!

For some people, the pandemic is just proof that they were right all along: the world is truly a dangerous place. For mentally healthy people, this danger will pass when the pandemic passes: they are highly unlikely to develop lifelong OCD. In non-OCD people, when the threat diminishes, the compulsive threat-based behaviors will diminish.

Bottom Line: People are different. (You heard it here first!) In this instance, people will vary widely in the extent, severity, and duration of COVID-triggered obsessions and compulsions.

ALWAYS A REASON TO CELEBRATE

According to the team of editors at nationaltoday.com, they “love celebrating 196 October holidays.”  I’d guess that there are even more than that.  For example, my calendar showed Monday, October 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but it didn’t show up on this website.  But, basically, the point is that the things people want to celebrate—or at least observe—approaches the infinite.  The purpose of this blog is to give my readers a two-day sample, for October 16-17, 2020.

Three durations: party down for a day, a week or all month.  I’ve put some of my personal favorites in all CAPS. I recently posted a blog on the value of knowing your characters’ holiday behavior. Would any of your characters be celebrating these October holidays?

One Day

October 16
Many clinics and shelters offer spaying and neutering services on Feral Cat Day.
  • Department Store Day
  • DICTIONARY DAY
  • Get to Know Your Customers Day
    • (January 16, April 16, July 16 and October 15 = the 3rd Thursday of Each Quarter)
  • Global Champagne Day (Third Friday)  Link
  • Global Cat Day Link
  • Mammography Day (Third Friday) Link
    • This is part of the activities for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
  • National Boss’s Day (or Boss’s Day) Link 
    • (Annually celebrated on October 16 unless it falls on a weekend; then it’s the closest workday.)
  • National Feral Cat Day Link
  • World Food Day Link
  • World Spine Day Link
Gentle yoga exercises can improve and maintain spine health.
October 17
Pasta is quite dangerous when eaten with chopsticks.
  • American Frog Day Link (3rd Saturday) 
  • BLACK POETRY DAY
    • Creative writing is always good.
  • Bridge Day Link (3rd Saturday)
  • Sloth International Day Link (3rd Saturday)
  • Sweetest Day (3rd Saturday)
  • International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
  • Mulligan Day
  • National Edge Day Link
  • National Pasta Day Link
  • National Playing Card Collectors Day
  • National Vehophobia (fear of driving) Awareness Day Link
  • O’HENRY PUN-OFF DAY Link  
  • US Oyster Day: 17 and 18
  • WEAR SOMETHING GAUDY DAY 
    • Might as well decorate it!

You can check out any of these holidays on-line to learn more about the rationale and goals for the observance, along with suggestions for activities and the means to get involved locally or nationally.

Week-Long Observances That Include October 16-17, 2020

  • Take Your Medicine Americans Week Link
  • DRINK LOCAL WINE WEEK Link (2nd Full Week)  
    • Self-explanatory – we should celebrate every week!
  • Earth Science Week Link (Always 2nd Full Week) 
  • Emergency Nurses Week Link
  • National Chestnut Week (2nd Full Week)
  • National Food Bank Week Link
  • Teen Read Week Link
    • (Always the week with Columbus Day)
  • Veterinary Technicians Week  (2nd Week) Link
  • World Rainforest Week Link  
  • Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week Link
  • Choose To Be G.R.E.A.T. Week  Link
    • Gang Resistance Education And Training
  • National School Lunch Week Link (Starts on 2nd Monday)
  • Apple Butter Stirrin’ Week Link (3rd Weekend)
  • Great American Beer Festival Link
  • Food & Drug Interactions and Awareness Week

October 2020 Monthly Holidays

Former shelter dogs, now undisputed rulers of the house.
  • Adopt A Dog or Shelter Dog Month Link
  • AIDS Awareness Month  Link
  • American Pharmacists Month Link
  • Antidepressant Death Awareness Month Link
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Month Link
  • Apple Month Link
  • National Aesthetician Month  Link
  • National Animal Safety and Protection Month Link Link
  • National Arts & Humanities Month Link
  • National Audiology/Protect Your Hearing Month Link
Baby bats recovering from loss of their habitat in wildfire
  • Bat Appreciation Month Link
  • BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH Link 
  • BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH 
  • Bullying Prevention Month Link
  • (World) Blindness Awareness Month Link
  • National Bake and Decorate Month Link
Bilingual/ biliterate
  • Caffeine Addiction Recovery Month Link
  • Celebrating The Bilingual Child Month Link
  • CHILDREN’S MAGAZINE MONTH 
  • Christmas Seal Campaign (10/1-12/31)
  • CHURCH LIBRARY MONTH 
    • Get those books into people’s hands!
  • Church Safety and Security Month
  • Class Reunion Month Link
  • Contact Lens Safety Month
  • Co-op Awareness Month
  • Corn Month Link
  • Country Music Month Link
Rather than dissecting a cadaver, this young surgeon in training is using a plastic cadaver to practice her craft.
  • Cut Out Dissection Month Link
  • National Caramel Month  Link
  • National Chili Month
  • National Chiropractic Health Month
  • NATIONAL COOKBOOK MONTH 
  • National Crime Prevention Month
  • National Critical Illness Awareness Month
  • National Cyber Security Awareness Month Link
Depressed (L) and Not Depressed (R) brain scans
  • DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH 
    • I volunteered at a safe place for years.
  • Down Syndrome Awareness Month Link
  • Dyslexia Awareness Month National Dental Hygiene Month
  • National Depression Education & Awareness Month
  • National Disability Employment Awareness Month Link
  • National Dwarfism Awareness Month  Link
Many schools are beginning to incorporate emotional intelligence curricula for young children.
  • Eat Better, Eat Together Month
  • Emotional Intelligence Awareness Month
  • Emotional Wellness Month
  • Employee Ownership Month Link
  • Energy Management is a Family Affair-Improve Your Home Month (10/1-3/31/13)
  • Eye Injury Prevention Month  Link  
    • (Note: There is also one in July.)
  • National Ergonomics Month Link
Do you think it’s feral?
  • Fair Trade Month Link
  • Financial Planning Month Link
  • FERAL HOG MONTH or HOG OUT MONTH  Link 
    • Because of my farm connections.
  • Month of Free Thought
  • National Family Sexuality Education Month – Let’s Talk! Link
  • National Field Trip Month
  • German-American Heritage Month
  • Global Diversity Awareness Month
  • Go Hog Wild – Eat Country Ham 
  • GO SOBER FOR OCTOBER MONTH Link.
    • Alcoholism is sprinkled through my extended family.
  • National “Gain The Inside Advantage” Month
German Heritage Festival in Denver, Colorado
  • Halloween Safety Month
  • Head Start Awareness Month Link
  • Health Literacy Month
  • Home Eye Safety Month
  • I’m Just Me Because Month  Link
  • Italian-American Heritage Month Link
  • International Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) Awareness Month
  • International Starman Month
  • International Strategic Planning Month
  • International Walk To School Month  Link
  • Intergeneration Month
  • National Kitchen & Bath Month Link
Plaque outside the Stonewall Inn, the site of a major step forward in LGBT rights
  • Learn To Bowl Month  Link
  • LGBT History Month Link
  • Long Term Care Planning Month
  • National Liver Awareness Month Link
  • NATIONAL MEDICAL LIBRARIANS MONTH 
    • One of my daughters is one.
  • National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month  Link
  • National Orthodontic Health Month
  • Organize Your Medical Information Month
  • National Physical Therapy Month
  • National Popcorn Poppin’ Month
  • National Pork Month Link
  • National Protect Your Hearing Month Link
  • National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month Link
  • Photographer Appreciation Month
  • Pizza Month Link Link
  • Polish American Heritage Month
  • Positive Attitude Month
The Majestic Bald Eagle…
  • NATIONAL READING GROUP MONTH 
  • National Retirement Security Month Link
  • National Roller Skating Month Link
  • National RSV Awareness Month Link
  • RAPTOR MONTH Link
    • Because I’m a big avian fan.
  • Raynauds Awareness Month  Link
  • Rett Syndrome Awareness Month Link
  • Right Brainers Rule! Month
Spinach?! No!
  • National Sarcastic Awareness Month
  • National Seafood Month Link
  • National Spina Bifida Awareness Month
  • National Stamp Collecting Month
  • National Substance Abuse Prevention Month Link
  • Sausage Month Link
  • Self-Promotion Month
  • Spinach Lovers Month
  • SQUIRREL AWARENESS MONTH Link
    • (Different Than Squirrel Appreciation Day in January)
    • I have named three squirrels that come regularly to my bird feeder
  • National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month
  • NATIONAL TOILET TANK REPAIR MONTH Link 
    • Because the name makes me smile.
  • Talk About Medicines Month
  • Teen Services Month
  • Vegetarian Month
Tawawn Lowe is the founder of the Women Walking in Their Own Shoes movement.
  • National Window Covering Safety Month Link
  • National Work and Family Month
  • Wishbones for Pets Month (10/15 – 11/30)
  • Women Walking In Their Own Shoes Month Link
  • Workplace Politics Awareness Month
  • World Menopause Month

Keep in mind that this is only one month, focusing on only two days.  So, clearly, there are a ton of holidays and observances out there. But if your passion isn’t represented, what can you do about it?

Fortunately, the brownielocks.com holiday website can answer that question—and I quote:

INFORMATION ABOUT HOW  HOLIDAYS & OBSERVANCES GET STARTED
and
HOW TO START ONE YOURSELF

By Brownielocks

Through the years, I’ve been asked how these holidays and observances all get started. And, I also get asked how someone can create one and also be listed on my site.  Below is what I know about this topic and also what I require in order to be listed on my “Official” holidays and observances listing.

  1. Holidays or Observances are started by  the President of the United States as a proclamation.
  2. Holidays or Observances are started by an act of the U.S. Congress as resolution # ___.
  3. Holidays and Observances can be started by individual US State legislatures and/or Governors.
  4. Holidays and Observances can be started as cultural traditions or due to some historical event.
    • An example is St. Patrick’s Day (Irish culture) or  Patriot’s Day (September 11).
    • They are also started based on a religious belief. Examples are Christmas, Ramadan and Hannukah.
  5. Observances can also be started based on someone’s date of birth or date of death. 
    • This can either be based on their life or something that they invented or accomplished.  An example is Tolkien Day or  Morse Code Day.
    • NOTE: Not every famous person’s birthday or death date is an observance! 
  6. Observances can also be started by organizations (profit or non-profit).
  7. Observances are also started by commercial companies, and are usually publicized on their websites or on television. 
    • An example was “Potty Dance Day” that we just had in 2011 by Huggies diapers.
  8. Observances are also started by individuals!  This is the one that most of you are interested in learning about.

Let me first of all explain the difference between, “create” and “think of.”  Lots of us can think of lots of fun things to observe daily.  But, that doesn’t make them “official” and valid to be listed on my website.

Any event lists in Chase’s Calendar of Events is considered validated.

If you do not want to submit to Chase’s Calendar of Events, then ….   add it to the website you already have.  This way, I know the origin.  It’s the organization that the page is Linked with at their website.  For example, many organizations have their own website.  Then they also have a page on that site for the observance that they sponsor.  They don’t get a new website domain for their observance when they already have one.  So, if you are a dress boutique and you have a website.  But, you want to start an observance such as “Wear A Mini Skirt Day.”   Just add that page to your current website and send me the Link along with the date etc. and I’ll add it.

BOTTOM LINE: Having your character treasure one of the less popular observances, outside the top 10, can add richness, scenes, settings, and twists entertaining for the reader. And what if your character is motivated to create a special observance—why?

Desserts!

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER’S HOLIDAY BEHAVIOR

When it comes to holidays, some people go all out while others are minimalists—and some don’t participate at all.  Even Christmas, the #1 holiday in the United States, isn’t celebrated by 4-8% of the population.  For each of these most popular U.S. holidays, what would your character(s) do?  And why?

Christmas

December 25 (Fixed)

Christmas (from liturgical Christ’s Mass) is the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Religious celebrations are marked by church services (often at midnight on Christmas Eve), singing hymns, recreating the scene of Jesus’ birth either in art or by reenacting, and observing four weeks of prayer and fasting in leading up to the holiday. Many elements of Saturnalia or pagan winter solstice festivals have been incorporated into modern Christmas celebrations, including decorating an evergreen tree, burning a Yule Log, making and eating special foods, and an evolution of the Holly King – Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Tovlis Babua, etc. Secular Christmas celebrations in the United States generally revolve around exchanging gifts, decorating inside and outside, singing carols, visiting family, and sharing a holiday meal. In addition to having the highest percentage of the population celebrating it, Christmas is the top holiday in the United States based on retail sales and number of greeting cards mailed. Among religious celebrations, Christmas is known for having the second highest church attendance (behind Easter).

Thanksgiving

November 22–28 (Floating Thursday)

Originally a harvest festival, the first official Thanksgiving holiday in the United States was proclaimed by George Washington in 1789. Traditional dishes often claim to have some connection to foods eaten by early American colonists, such as turkey, cranberry sauce, corn, and pumpkin. Typically, Thanksgiving is a celebration of thanks for the previous year, with families and friends gathering for a large meal or dinner. Consequently, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. One-sixth of the turkeys consumed annually in the U.S. are eaten around Thanksgiving.

Mother’s Day

May 8–14 (Floating Sunday)

Mother’s Day recognizes mothers, motherhood, and maternal bonds in general, as well as the positive contributions that they make to society. Florists and restaurants have their busiest sale days on Mother’s Day and the days before and after, even higher than Valentine’s Day. Many churches experience spikes in attendance, following only Easter and Christmas.

Easter

March 22 – April 25 (Floating Sunday)

Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The highest church attendance happens on Easter. Most Christian traditions observe 40 days of Lent, fasting and repenting before Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Many traditions associated with Easter originated with pagan celebrations of Spring Equinox, including the name (Eastra was a Saxon goddess of spring). Like Christmas, it has become a widely celebrated secular holiday, and customs observed by both Christians and some non-Christians include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades.

Independence Day

July 4 (Fixed)

Independence Day, also commonly known as the Fourth of July, marks the date that the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. The Continental Congress actually voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 2nd. The holiday is best known today for fireworks and barbecues. In addition to watching civic displays of fireworks, 45% of American celebrate the 4th of July by setting off their own fireworks, accounting for about $675 million in fireworks sales.

Father’s Day

June 15–21 (Floating Sunday)

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The first official Father’s Day observation in the US was in 1910. Sonora Smart Dodd was raised by her single father and wanted to recognize him and others in his position for their contributions. Inspired by the official celebration of Mother’s Day the year before, Dodd petitioned the government to set aside a day celebrating fathers. It accounts for the highest sales of ties and neckwear annually, around $12.7 billion.

Halloween

October 31 (Fixed)

Halloween (Hallow’s Eve) celebrations are marked today by costumed children knocking door to door asking for treats, and costumed adults attending parties (or costumed adults borrowing the neighbor’s children to have an excuse to beg for candy). Historically, Halloween was a Christian adoption of pagan Samhain traditions, burning lanterns (in turnips or pumpkins) and wearing frightening costumes to scare off restless spirits. It is the most popular holiday for candy sales, amounting to $2.6 billion in 2015.  The same year, $6.9 billion was spent on candy, costumes, and pumpkins, all of which are directly attributed to this holiday.

St. Valentine’s Day

February 14 (Fixed)

St. Valentine’s Day is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love. As I’ve discussed before, there are also many tragic events associated with the 14th of February. It accounts for 224 million roses grown annually; 24% of American adults purchased flowers for Valentine’s Day in 2015.  The holiday comes in second in terms of annual restaurant sales, behind only Mother’s Day. In recent years, florists, chocolatiers, greeting card sellers, and other associated romance retailers have been encouraging non-romantic displays of affection to increase sales.

St. Patrick’s Day

March 17 (Fixed)

St. Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) commemorates life of Saint Patrick, a Welsh shepherd brought to Ireland as a slave, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is also an opportunity to celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is generally a quiet affair; most people attend church services and perhaps wear a shamrock on their lapel. American traditions of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day stem from Tammany Hall efforts to recruit voters from among the newly arrived Irish immigrants in New York at the end of the 19th century. The political organization threw parades, hired bands to play Irish music, and distributed food and beer to hungry tenement dwellers. Modern celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, parties, the wearing of green attire or shamrocks, and alcohol consumption.

New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day

December 31 (Fixed)

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are usually lumped together, particularly since the actual festivities center around midnight between the two. Observed on December 31st and January 1, the last day of the old year and the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar. Many religious traditions require attendance at services on New Year’s Day. Parties celebrating the countdown to midnight are common. It is known for being the holiday with the highest alcohol consumption, evidenced by the spike in sales around between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Alcoholics’ support groups acknowledge this as one of the most dangerous holidays for people fighting alcoholism. Many parents set their household clocks ahead by several hours and allow their children to stay up until “midnight” and watch the televised countdown and fireworks in a country several time zones ahead; the kids are then sent to bed at 9pm, convinced it is midnight, and parents can go to bed early.

Talk Like a Pirate Day is one of my favorites! (September 19)

We have literally hundreds of national, state, and local holidays. A couple of examples of the less common ones are Patriot’s Day celebrated and observed in Massachusetts and Maine; and Yorktown Victory Day in Virginia.

National Dog Day, this guy’s favorite holiday, is August 26th.

Are some holidays—not among the most popular in the U.S.—nevertheless important to you character(s)? What are they? Better yet, make a list of holidays most important to your character(s) similar to the above. This is especially useful if you are writing a series character.

Bottom line for writers: how your character behaves around and on holidays can tell the reader a great deal about ethnicity, religion, family relationships, and spending habits, as well as revealing basic tendencies toward extravagance or minimalism, introversion /extroversion, degree of anxiety, etc. 

HOW THIS BLOG ENDED UP IN THE BAHAMAS

Sometimes a writer (and I’m not alone here) starts out to write one thing and something entirely different emerges.  My metaphor for this is heading for Maine and ending up in the Bahamas.  That’s what happened to this blog.  I started out to write TELLING TIME, about using food to set or reveal the time in which the story takes place.  What I had in mind was a timeline for foods and cooking equipment.

For Example, by 1900

As many of you know, I collect cookbooks, and have done so for decades. As I pulled relevant references off my shelves, I discovered over a dozen books specifically on the history of food and cooking. 

No more than an hour or so into this effort, I realized three things:

  1. Readers might not be as enamored of lists as I am.
  2. The list would go on forever!
  3. Such a blog wouldn’t be helpful in the general scheme of things.

And that’s when I headed for the Bahamas, and turned this blog into a Better Know Your Character effort.

Assuming you don’t want to draw entirely from your own life and experience, there’s a book for that. 

You can get food and cooking information for any time period you need, in as much detail as you need, and for virtually any place you need.  If you write across time periods and/or locations, one of the books covering a broader range would be a good choice. 

Cookbooks for Specific Geographic Needs
  • By region, for example New England, Northern India, the Balkans
  • Any state in the US
  • Virtually any country or territory
  • Virtually any city
    • I say virtually here because I don’t have every one. But given that I have books for Paris; Tbilisi; Detroit; Pittsburgh; Los Angeles; Denver; Rochester, NY; and Westminster, MD (to name a few), I’m confident you could find what you need.
  • Plantation cooking
  • Australian Outback cooking
  • Wilderness cooking
  • Pacific Island cooking
  • Appalachian cooking
Cookbooks by Time Period
  • The American colonial kitchen
  • By decade since at least 1900
  • Food and cooking during war.
    • For example, The Doughboy’s Cookbook (common foods and cooking in the trenches of World War I) or M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf (cooking during WWII rationing).
    • Cooking during wars or other conflicts often focus on deprivation.
      • The recently published CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine has recipes Russian cooks developed or adapted to deal with food shortages throughout the Cold War.
      • During the Civil War, there was a time when there were no pigeons left in the city of Richmond because all had been killed for the table.
Cookbooks by Ethnic Heritage
  • African American
  • Native American
  • Results of mixed heritages
    • West African and French influences in Cajun cooking
    • Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences all along the Silk Road
  • Any cuisine by country of origin

Everyone has to eat sometime (except alien cyborgs).

What is your character’s attitude toward food? 

Cover all three aspects of attitudes: think, feel, do.

What does home cooking mean to your character? 

The answer to this question can tell all sorts of things about your character besides ethnicity:

  • Approximate age
  • Social class
  • Family of origin
What is involved in meal preparation?

If your modern character is making a meal, does s/he start with raw ingredients or put a prepared meal in the microwave? Does the answer change if company is coming? Is it a family meal? Do other family members share your character’s attitudes toward food and cooking?

What does your character eat? 

Strictly a meat and potatoes person? Omnivore? PescatarianVegetarian? Vegan And why?

  • Religious prohibitions
  • Animal rights
  • Health considerations
  • Cultural habits
  • Availability
What health concerns does a character address with food?

Many medical conditions are caused by unhealthy eating habits or require dietary adjustments to treat fully. Depending on the diet, this character may have cookbooks addressing the concern, request substitutions when eating out, or be unwilling to eat or cook around others.

  • Lack of a nutrient, such as calcium, Vitamin D, sodium
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Lactose intolerance

Consider also the possibility of mental health concerns when eating or preparing food. A character with alcoholism, compulsive overeating, bulimia nervosa, etc. would likely display signs of those disorders that might be noticed by others. On the other hand, a character with severe depression, body dysmorphia, or OCD related to food might avoid social situations involving food altogether.

Food is for everyone

Whether your character lives to eat or eats to live—or is somewhere between the extremes—it’s difficult to write realistically without food coming into play somewhere, sometimes, at least occasionally. Making those mentions specific to your story/character is a big plus.

Bottom line advice to writers: Bring food and/or cooking into your story to add realism, specificity, and richness.