Road Trip Roundup

My recent travels to Bethany Beach rekindled my interest in road trips.

I wrote about road trips back in 2010, advising writers to note the names of roads, businesses, schools–whatever–as they traveled. Venture off the congested interstate to the byways and small towns where the names really get good. Sometimes a compelling name is enough to spark a story. Consider Bone Yard Road or Fresh Fire Church of God as possible settings.

barn on a scenic byway on my road trip home
A barn glimpsed from a scenic byway during my recent travels

Leave space in your itinerary and in your mindset to come upon the unexpected, e.g. an African/Mediterranean vegan cafe in Santa Fe or a salt mine in Warsaw, Poland, that’s been carved into a salt cathedral. Those locations might stimulate a scene or add a quirk to your story.

Wieliczka salt mine
Wieliczka salt mine (Photo: Cezary p [CC BY-SA 3.0])

While I’m on the road, I keep a daily journal to record the vivid details not found in a tourist pamphlet. Think Jack Kerouac. John McPhee. Paul Theroux.

How do you record your road trips? Let me know in the comments.

 

Cold

Frozen iceberg blue in color

On Tuesday I wrote about heat. Could cold be far behind? Again, I talked about the effects of cold in a recent blog on weather for writers. Today I want to look at cold in our lives, and it turns out to be remarkably parallel to heat!

 

Cold Snap 

cold snap (or cold spell) is distinguished by cooling of the air. (Big surprise!) Specifically, as used by the U.S. National Weather Service, a cold wave is a rapid fall in temperature within a 24-hour period requiring substantially increased protection to agriculture, industry, commerce, and social activities. The precise criterion for a cold wave is determined by the rate at which the temperature falls, and the minimum to which it falls. This minimum temperature is dependent on the geographical region and time of year. In the United States, a cold spell is defined as the national average high temperature dropping below 20 °F (−7 °C).

house capped in snow

In some places, extreme cold requires that fuel-powered machinery to be run continuously. Plumbing may need to be wrapped, and often water is run continuously through pipes. Energy conservation is difficult in a cold wave. It may be necessary to collect people (especially the homeless, poor, and elderly) in communal shelters. Hospitals prepare for people suffering frostbite and hypothermia; schools and other public buildings are often closed, sometimes converted into shelters.

 

Privately, people stock up on food, water, and other necessities when a cold wave is predicted. Some move to warmer places (think Florida’s snowbirds during the winter). Farmers stock forage for livestock, and livestock might be shipped from affected areas or even slaughtered. Smudge pots can prevents hard freezes on a farm or grove. Vulnerable crops may be sprayed with water that will paradoxically protect the plants by freezing and absorbing the cold from surrounding air.

 

Most people bundle and layer their cloths to go outside—or deal with a heating failure. They can also stock candles, matches, flashlights, and plan how to eat without a working cookstove.

Staying Alive

Once your body hits 82 degrees, you can become unconscious. Death can happen when your body temperature goes below 70. This can take less than an hour. Death can happen faster if you fall into freezing water.

shopper in frozen food or cold storage section of grocery

But cold can also help us stay alive: think frozen food, natural cold used in winter. And that’s even before refrigeration. Today, body temperatures are often lowered during surgeries to slow down metabolism.

Cold is often associated with snow, and snow can be insulation: hollowing out a snow cave or living in an igloo conserve body heat and protects occupants from the colder air outside.

cold survival Inuit-Igloo
Inuit constructing an igloo, November 26, 1924 (Frank E. Kleinschmidt [Public domain])

And After Death

Ice and freezing preserve food but also bodies. During the American Civil War, bodies awaiting transport home for burial were iced for preservation. But consider the human and animal remains that have been discovered in Antartica or other areas where they have remained largely unchanged, sometimes for hundreds of years.

Cold and Humidity

 

Again, paralleling heat, humidity intensify feelings of cold. It might seem paradoxical, but dry air will most times feel warmer than cold, humid air at the same temperature.  A cold day in the southeast U.S. feels colder than a cold day in the southwest.

I remember days in the North Country of New York when I couldn’t breathe without covering my mouth with a scarf, and the damp air frosted my eyelashes.

woman bundled against cold with scarf around face

My father used to say that he’d rather cold weather than hot because he could always put on enough clothes to get warm but couldn’t take off enough clothes to get cool.

 

QUESTION: how does your character cope with cold? Let me know in the comments.

Heat

heat causing leaves to droop
Heat has caused these leaves to droop
The weather has been so hot and rain so scarce that even the trees are suffering. I’ve been feeling the heat and—the ironically high humidity—and thinking about heat a lot. Herewith, my musings.

Some months ago I wrote about weather for writers, and so I won’t go into details of how peoples’ feelings and behavior are affected by heat. We all “know” (for example) that people are less energetic, more irritable and aggressive as the heat rises. Instead, I’m considering the role of heat in our daily lives.

thermometer weather writers

Heat Waves

We in Richmond are currently in a heatwave, as defined by several days over 90 degrees, often accompanied by high humidity.  Indeed, some say that heatwave occurs when the daily maximum temperature exceeds the average maximum temperature by 9 degrees F for five or more consecutive days. But there is no universal definition of a heatwave: it is defined based on heat relative to the usual weather, relative to the normal temperatures for the season. So, it varies by region and country. For example, Sweden defines a heat wave as at least 5 days in a row with a daily high exceeding 77 degrees F.

Global warming increases the likelihood of heat waves.

barren canyon with high heat

Staying Alive

First there is literally staying alive. It turns out, our cells start to die around 106 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, but people can survive much higher temperatures; a person could make a trip to Death Valley on one of the hottest days (131 degrees F) and as long as s/he stayed hydrated, would probably not die. So when a Richmonder says, “This heat is killing me,” it’s probably an exaggeration. Heat usually kills people in combination with other things: pre-existing vulnerability (e.g., very young, very old, ill), exertion, and dehydration.

dried beans in paper bags
And then there is food. Although people can and do eat raw, many foods—especially meat and fish—are much safer when cooked. But alongside cooking—and arguably even more important—is using heat to preserve food for later consumption. Native Americans, for example, have traditionally dried everything from jerky to leather-britches beans. Drying is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Beef jerky has been found in 2,000 year old tombs in China. As best I could determine, dried legumes are edible forever—though texture suffers and the older the bean, the longer the cooking time.
Mummy hall
Mummies on display (photo: frankjuarez [CC BY 2.0])

And After Death

The first thought that comes to mind is mummies—desiccated remains that simply look dried out. In fact, the mummies we’re most familiar with are bodies that were prepared to be mummies: internal organs removed, special spices, etc. But accidental mummies can happen when a body is exposed to heat, lack of air, and low humidity.

Heat and Humidity

The heat index combines the effects of heat and humidity. To put it simply, increasing either one makes you feel hotter. For example, with 40% humidity, a temperature of 100 degrees F feels like 109 degrees F. At 100% humidity, a temperature of 92 degrees F feels like 132 degrees F.

Heat and humidity, when high, contribute all sorts of ailments: heat stroke, edema (swelling), heat rash (prickly heat), dermatitis, bacterial infection, heat cramps, heat exhaustion (which might include diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, malaise, and myalgia.
heat causing a leaf to turn brown

Bottom line for writers

The effect of heat can be nearly anything you want it to be! And surviving the negative effects is often a matter of hydration.

Something to Aspire to!

Jane Austen: Her Complete Novels title page, Gramercy Books
Jane Austen: Her Complete Novels
Those of you who have been with me for awhile know that I am a HUGE fan of Jane Austen. On March 22, 2017, I posted a blog on the 200th anniversary of her last fiction writing. A gazillion books and articles—that’s by actual count!—have been written about Austen. If you want a pretty thorough overview and summary, with references to delve deeper, check out the 30-page Wikipedia article. What you have in this blog is my personal homage.

 

My Journey to Jane Austen

Copies of Austen’s novels are old friends. I bought Northanger Abbey secondhand for 35 cents.
book cover of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Laurel Jane Austen edition
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Others were bought new for 50 cents each.
book covers of Persuasion and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Persuasion and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
All of them have been read and read again, and most show those years of age and love.
I first became a fan in the spring of my sophomore year in college. “Why so late?” you might ask. In my pre-matriculation advisement, the English professor (who happened to teach such classes) urged me toward Chaucer and Beowulf. I took no literature classes after my freshman year, so there were tons (by actual weight) of books that “everyone” had read but I hadn’t. A lot of them are still out there. In any event, during finals week, I devoured every Austen I could lay my hands on.
Pride and Prejudice first page, early edition
Hugh Thomson (1860-1920) [CC BY-SA 4.0]
As I recall, I read Pride and Prejudice first, and it remains my favorite. I’m not alone here. As far back as 1940, various film and TV versions have come to be. If one searches Kindle for Jane Austen Fan Fiction, there are literally hundreds of novels based on this book alone.These include prequels, sequels, murder mysteries, soft-core porn, fantasy, and horror.

 

Film adaptations of all Austen’s novels abound. In 1995, Emma Thompson won an Academy Award for her role in Sense and Sensibility. 2007 brought forth Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Love and Friendship, based on Austen’s first novel, Lady Susan, appeared in 2016.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Jane Austen for Writers

Setting pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—a writer never knows what the future holds. Although Austen’s Lady Susan, written in the epistolary form popular at the time, was penned first (1804), it was published last (1871). Austen published as Anonymous and enjoyed little fame or fortune during her lifetime.
Title page of the 1909 edition of Emma, illustrated by C. E. Brock. Matt [Public domain]
Emma is but one example of why Austen’s work is so enduring. Before she began the novel, she wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like. Emma Woodhouse is handsome, clever, and rich. She is also spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own insights and abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.” In other words, she paints a timeless portrait of the conceit and hubris of youth.

 

Austen is a great example of “write what you know.” In all her novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in 18th and 19th century England, their dependence on marriage for security and status. Her novels portray the social and economic reality of the period.

 

And she makes her readers laugh.

 

Something to aspire to: to express universals of human relationships, personalities, passions, and foibles that transcend time and place. She’s my role model—which is why I continue to acquire her books. This is my most recent one. Although published in 1981, I’ve enjoyed it for only a couple of years—so far!
 
The complete works by Jane Austen spine
Jane Austen: Her Complete Novels

Is There a MacGyver in Your Story?

Richard Dean Anderson Angus MacGyver
[Source: EW]
In case you didn’t know, MacGyver was a superhero type TV series from 1985 to 1992 starring Richard Dean Anderson. As the series unfolded, Angus “Mac” MacGyver became a wonderfully rich character, a great example of what a well-rounded character looks like on the page as well. Here, to help you flesh out your protagonist are things you need to know—or at least consider. Your readers will love you for it.

 

Name: A character needs a full name, and (in my opinion) should have a reason to have been named that. Family name? Parent’s favorite from history or fiction?

 

Personality: MacGyver was portrayed as a non-violent problem solver who always carried a Swiss Army knife and refused to carry a gun. When the plot called for physical violence, his acts were always in self-defense and he strove to subdue or disable rather than kill. He is pretty much the opposite of macho, having a sensitive nature and showing it. He (appropriately) showed grief, pain, fright, guilt, depression and self-blame.

 

Social awareness: MacGyver was passionate about social causes, with a particular affinity for things related to children and protecting the environment. At some point, he became vegetarian. What is your character’s attitude toward such things as social justice, global warming, etc.?

 

Intelligence: MacGyver had a genius-level IQ and had a college education in both physics and chemistry.

 

Skills: MacGyver could speak six languages—plus he could communicate using American Sign Language, Morse code, and International maritime signal flags. He skied and had mastered outdoor survival skills. He possessed superb engineering and applied physics knowledge. Besides his Swiss Army knife, MacGyver usually carried duct tape, an ID card, a Timex Camper watch, strike-anywhere matches, paperclips, chewing gum, and a flashlight—plus whatever was in his Jeep or pickup truck. Thus, he was able to save a man’s life using a paperclip, a wrench, and shoelaces.

 

rock climbing
His hobbies included dice hockey, racing, guitar, and painting. Although suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights) he managed mountain/rock climbing, hang gliding, parachuting, etc.
 
What skills and/or specialized knowledge can your character draw on? Think education, past job experiences and military service as well as hobbies and sports.

 

Biography: MacGyver’s biography—which I believe was fleshed out as the series progressed—accounted for all of his special skills, fears, and taboos, from the outdoor survival skills taught by Mrs. Fogarty, his Cub Scout Den Mother, to a fatal accidental shooting that led him to eschew guns. Advice to writers: as soon as you give your character a skill, fear, etc., jot down—if only for your own use—how and when it was acquired.

 

macgyver lucas till
[Source: EW]
In 2016 the series was revived starring Lucas Till as a younger Mac MacGyver. Supposedly this is the equivalent of a “prequel.” Thus, this Mac functioned between the original’s birth (January 23, 1951) and the beginning of the original series. And therein lies the rub. This “younger” MacGyver carries through with major characteristics, including intelligence, preference for non-lethal methods, and the ability to use his Swiss Army knife plus anything in his environment to accomplish his mission. In addition, he’s an accomplished field medic and uses modern crime scene techniques—in which he might just have been ahead of his time. But DNA sequencing procedures? That I couldn’t quite accept.

 

Last advice to writers: Should you ever want to write a prequel, be aware of what your character couldn’t have known or experienced at the time.
 
And just in case you want some MacGyver type skills for your character, check out these books.
 
MacGYVER story

Thoughts on People, Places, and Travel

Peg Bracken But I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World The pleasures and perils of an unseasoned traveler
[Source: Goodreads]
My family of origin traveled to visit relatives in nearby states–and I loved it! Similar as some aspects were to home, I reveled in the new. I wanted to travel more even before I ever did! Today I received a travel catalog, and spent some time drooling. And then I decided to share with you some of the quotes on people, places, and travel that I found in that catalog.
odysseys unlimited 2019 2020
 
Each quote is short. Think about it.

 

zora neale hurston
paul coehlo
BOTTOM LINE: Consider what you—and your characters—think, feel, want, and remember about travel.

Another Way to Quirk Your Characters

october 2015
In 2015 I posted a blog titled Quirking Your Characters. The opening paragraph ends, “My advice is to choose a quirky interest that will allow you to illuminate various aspects of your character’s character.” I then developed an extended example using an interest in Eastern box turtles. Well, it’s time to think again! Start with the question, “Is there something quirky that I’d like to know more about?” The point here is that if it’s part of your character’s character, you’ll be spending a lot time with this quirk.

Quirks can be very focused OR whole categories, expanding outward.

arm hammer baking soda
[Source: Walmart]
As an example of a focused quirk, imagine your character grew up poor and the entire family brushed their teeth with baking soda rather than toothpaste, and as a result, as an adult s/he uses baking soda for everything, from cleaning cutting boards to relieving acid indigestion. (One of my personal favorites is that damp baking soda gently removes tarnish from silver.)

If you were to take up baking soda, you can find online list of 36 uses on the Arm & Hammer website to 51 Fantastic Uses For Baking Soda by Care2 Healthy Living.

lemons
A similar example of a focused quirk can be built around lemons. Lemons can do all sort of things, from disinfecting surfaces to seasoning foods. Online, you can find 17 household uses for lemons (to save money on cleaning products) to 34 reasons to load up on lemons from Reader’s Digest.

Indeed, virtually anything can be a focused quirk. What about collecting Santa and Mrs. Claus salt and pepper shakers? Choose your item or behavior for a focused quirk and google it directly.
 
extraordinary uses ordinary things
Reader’s Digest has “authored” several books with this title and they can be used by anyone who wants to find either a focused or a categorical quirk. For example, the table of contents includes both an item index, alphabetical from address labels to zucchini, suitable for focused quirks. But in addition, there are topics such as Less Toxic and More Earth-Friendly Items that are suitable for what I’m calling category quirks. Here again, the quirk options are infinite.

hate housekeep peg bracken
As far as quirks go, a goal of avoiding as much housework as possible is an old—and humorous—one. The I Hate to Housekeep book was copyrighted in 1962! (Full disclosure: I love Peg Bracken!) But the global, category quirks could be anything from attendance to germs to recycling in all its forms.

Bottom line: To close with another quote from my earlier blog: “Get beyond fiddling with hair or popping gum and choose a rich quirk for your character.”

Plants: A Topic That Could Take Over the World

you are one third daffodil
[Source: Amazon]
During my nature writing class, I started looking more closely at plants and animals—mostly animals, at least in the beginning. It’s only to be expected, I guess, given that animals are animate. They do things, and seem to have personalities. They often communicate vocally. But the factoid above eventually led me to explore plants a bit more. In the lists below, I’ve italicized those facts that might be of particular interest to mystery and other writers.

 

earth
[Creative Commons]

The Big Picture: A few facts to put plants in perspective

  • Over 300,000 plant species have been identified so far
  • Plants are the only organisms that make their own food in a process called photosynthesis. They turn carbon dioxide into food while cleaning the air.
  • More than 20% of the world’s oxygen supply is produced by the Amazon Rainforest.
  • Bad news: 80% of the earth’s original forests have been cleared or destroyed.
  • Only 10% of the world’s plant-rich areas are protected.
  • Of the plant species that have been studied, 68% are in danger of going extinct.
  • More than half of all plant species are native to just one country.
  • Although the earth has more than 80,000 species of edible plants, humans use only around 2000 different plants as food. Indeed, 90% of the foods humans eat come from just 30 plants
  • Nutrition doesn’t factor into the choice of plants chosen for mass production.
  • Some 70,000 plant species are used for medicine, both traditional medicine and modern pharmaceuticals. Only 1% of rainforest plants have been studied for medicinal potential.
  • Plant species are going extinct about 5,000X faster than they would without human intervention.
  • More than 85% of plant life is found in the ocean.
ginkgo trees
Ginkgo trees [Source: South Carolina LIving Magazine]

Trees

  • Trees are the longest-living organisms on earth.
  • Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species, dating back to 250 million ears ago. The Dawn redwood dates back 150 million years.
  • The world’s oldest-growing tree is a bristlecone pine.
  • Dendrochronology is the science of dating a tree’s age b its rings.
  • The world’s tallest-growing tree is the coastal redwood, which is mostly along the Pacific Coast of California.
  • A notch in a tree will remain the same distance from the ground as the tree grows.
  • Tree resin, when fossilized, becomes amber—sometimes containing bits of plant or animal
  • Quinine—one of the most important drugs out there—is obtained from the dried bark of an evergreen tree native to South America.
  • Oak trees don’t produce acorns till they are 50 years old.
  • Lightning strikes oak trees more than any other variety.
  • The African Baobab tree can store 1,000 to 120,000 liters of water in its trunk.
  • Evaporation from a large oak or beech tree is from 10 to 25 gallons in 24 hours.
  • Brazil is named after a tree.
  • The average-sized tree can provide enough wood to make 170,000 pencils.
  • The first type of aspirin, painkiller and fever reducer, came from the bark of a willow tree.
  • Baseball bats are made from hickory while cricket bats are from willow.
Viceroy tulips
[Source: Fluwel]

Flowers

  • During the 1600s, tulips in Holland were worth more than gold.
  • In 1634, a collector paid 1,000 pounds of cheese, four oxen, eight pigs, 12 sheep, a bed, and a suit of clothes for  single bulb of the Viceroy tulip.
  • Tulips can continue to grow as much as an inch a day after being cut.
  • Some 600 species of plants are carnivorous. For example, the Venus Flytrap ingests various small insects.
  • One carnivorous plant in the Philippines can devour a full-grown rat alive.
  • Torenia, a shade-loving annual, is called a wishbone flower because they have tiny wishbone-shaped stamens.
  • Poinsettias were brought to the U.S. from Mexico in 1825 by the first U.S. minister to Mexico, Joel Poinsett.
  • The largest unbranched flower in the world is the titan arum, which can reach 15 feet tall. It’s common name is corpse flower because in bloom, it smells like rotting meat. The smell atracts flies for pollination.
  • All parts of the flowering shrub oleander are poisonous. Eating leaves can cause gastrointestinal, cardiac, and central nervous system problems and possibly death.
  • Iris means “rainbow” in Greek, and Iris is the goddess of the rainbow in mythology. Wormwood (artemesia) was named for the goddess Artemis. Milkweed (Asclepias) was named for the god Asclepius, and Hebe after the Greek goddess Hebe.
  • May l is the festival of the lily-of-the-valley. People give bouquets of them to each other, wishing them health and happiness.
  • Snapdragon flowers resemble dragons, and if you squeeze the sides, the dragon’s mouth will appear to open and close.
  • Each head of a sunflower is composed of hundreds of tiny flowers which ripen to become the seeds. Ditto for daisies, yarrow, goldenrod, asters, coreopsis, and bachelor’s buttons.
  • No species of wild plant produces a flower or blossom that is absolutely black, and so far, none has been developed artificially
  • Peaches, pears, apricots, quinces, strawberries, cherries, almonds, and apples are members of the rose family.
  • Asparagus is a member of the lily family, which also includes onions, leeks, and garlic.
tomatoes
 

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Tomato juice is the official state drink of Ohio.
  • The tomato family includes tobacco, peppers, eggplant, and deadly nightshade
  • From a botanical standpoint, avocados, pumpkins, cucumbers, and tomatoes are fruits rather than vegetables. Avocados have more calories than any other fruit, 167 per hundred grams.
  • Rhubarb, on the other hand, is a vegetable.
  • Strawberries have about 200 seeds. It’s the only fruit that carries its seeds on the outside.
  • Archaeological evidence indicates that grapes were grown to make win about 8,000 years ago in Mesopotamia (Iraq, today) but the first records of how to make wine were set down by Egyptians about 5,000 years ago.
  • Pineapples were so named by explorers because they look like pine cones with flesh like an apple.
  • Pineapples are the only edible member of the bromeliad family of flowering plants. Technically, a pineapple is a berry.
potatoes
[Source: Etsy]
  • Potatoes were first cultivated in Peru about 7,000 years ago. Today residents of Peru eat one of more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes with almost every meal.
  • Tomatoes and potatoes share 92% of their DNA.
  • Cranberries, Concord grapes, and blueberries are native to North America.
  • Small pockets of air in cranberries, when fresh, cause them to bounce and float in water. Apples, being 25% air, also float. (I’m not sure how this is reconciled with being 84% water, but that is a mystery to solve later.)
  • Water makes up 84% of a raw apple, 96% of a raw cucumber and 91% of cabbage..
  • The difference between nectarines and peaches is the fuzzy skin.
  • Cutting onions releases sulfuric gasses, bringing tears to the eyes. According to the National Onion Association, chilling the onion and cutting the root end last reduces this problem.
  • Onions contain a mild antibiotic that fights infections, soothes burns, tames bee stings, and relieves the itch of athletes foot.
  • Eating lots of onions can make you sleepy because it can act as a sedative.
stalk of bananas on a tree
  • Banana is the Arabic word for fingers.
  • A cluster of bananas is known of as a hand and consists of 10-20 bananas which are known as fingers.
  • Bananas contain a natural chemical that makes people feel happy.
  • Peanuts are not nuts. They are legumes, related to beans and lentils. They have more protein niacin, folate, and phytosterols than any nut.
  • Peanuts are used as an ingredient in dynamite.
  • Arrowroot powder (also known as cassava flour) is a thickening agent valued for being tasteless, colorless, and gluten-free.
  • Arrowroot is also an antidote for poisoned arrows—so if you are going to be shot with a poisoned arrow, be sure it’s in the kitchen.
  • One bushel of corn will sweeten more than 400 cans of pop.
  • Apples, onions, and potatoes actually have the same effect on taste buds. They are differentiated by smell.
rosemary plant
[Source: Bonnie Plants]

Herbs and Spices

  • Rosemary repels mosquitos.
  • Saffron is harvested from the stigmas of a type of fall-blooming crocus.
  • Garlic mustard is a member of the mustard family, not garlic. It is highly invasive herb.
  • Nutmeg is extremely poisonous if injected intravenously.
  • Vanilla flavoring comes from the pod of an orchid.
  • Turmeric, rosemary, thyme all can be used to treat dandruff.
  • Thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender, and marjoram all help relieve cold symptoms and congestion.
  • Several herbs are traditionally used as abortifacients.
  • Any good herbal will give guidance on using herbs for home remedies.
marijuana

Miscellaneous

  • Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew marijuana (cannabis sativa) on their plantations.
  • Bamboo—the largest of the grasses—is highly invasive. Some types grow as much as 3 feet a day.
  • Plants at the bottom of watery areas, such as swamps, can eventually turn into coal.
  • Caffeine acts as a pesticide in a coffee plant.
  • There are more than 1000 chemicals in coffee and at least 19 of them are carcinogenic.
  • Chemicals released by freshly-cut grass is highly effective to relieve stress
  • England’s Alnwick Garden has The Poison Garden, filled with plants that can kill you.
  • All teas (black, green, and white) come from the same plant, only the processing makes them different.
  • The first product to have a barcode was Wrigley’s gum.
plants topic take over world
So, how closely are we related to plants? Are we really 1/3 daffodil?
 
  • No. In actuality, humans and daffodils share 35% of our DNA.
  • Humans and mustard grass share 15% of their DNA.
  • Humans and bananas share 50% of DNA.
  • Humans have 3 billion DNA pairs; the Norway Spruce has nearly 20 billion.
  • Even onions have more DNA than humans.
  • Tomatoes have 7000 more genes than humans.
All of the bits and pieces gathered together above are just the tip of the iceberg. Writers, choose a plant—any plant—and work it into your plot, setting, or character traits. You’ll love it!
 
plants topic take over world

Observe More Closely

Amy Ritchie Johnson
Amy Ritchie Johnson [Source: Twitter]
I am currently enrolled in a four-week class on “Nature Writing” at the VMFA Studio School, taught by Amy Ritchie Johnson. Frankly, I took this class because I like taking writing classes with Amy and this was what was on offer. To my surprise, I’m loving it!

 

observe more closely
If you do an online search for books on nature writing, you will come up with approximately a gazillion choices—not that I am urging you to do so!

 

I just want to share with you an insight that was surprising, at least to me: nature writing can happen in any genre. If the work explores, draws on, or uses nature in a significant way, it’s nature writing. Think about it. Here are several examples (merely examples) mentioned in class.
  • science writing (Lab Girl)
  • memoir (also exemplified by Lab Girl)
  • environmental advocacy
  • mystery (e.g., Where the Crawdads Sing)
  • poetry (e.g., Mary Oliver)
  • fiction (The Secret Garden)
  • creative non-fiction (H is for Hawk)
  • description (think field guides to anything, from snakes to edible plants)
Two weeks in and I am already wishing it were twice as long! Indeed, because of class discussion, I bought The Naturalist’s Notebook, a five-year diary for recording daily observations about nature. So, in my own way, the class will continue.

 

The Naturalist’s Notebook
[Source: Barnes & Noble]
Assignments in this class, including keeping a nature diary for four weeks, are honing our skills in observing and describing. The short version of the advice is observe in minute detail and be specific in your descriptions. This last is an oft-repeated injunction: avoid vague words such as beautiful, stuff, blue, comfortable—words that can mean many things to many people. In nature writing, that means the name of the flower, the kind of tree, the shade of green, the breed of the dog, the type of clouds, etc.

 

BOTTOM LINE: lessons from nature writing are lessons for good writing. Go for it!

Why Procrastinate?

why procrastinate
Procrastination has been my long-term companion, and I’ve got to tell you, it isn’t all bad. Procrastination is voluntarily putting off an unpleasant task, often against one’s better judgment.

 

Procrastination is typically perceived to be a bad thing, so I will start there. Research indicates that procrastination generally leads to lower-quality work performance reduced feelings of well-being. As a group, students who procrastinate get lower grades. Procrastinators put off a lot of unpleasant tasks, for example, getting medical treatments and diagnostic tests.
procrastinate
[Source: Wonderopolis]

Here are 5 reason for procrastination, according to Psychology Today.

  1. absence of structure
  2. unpleasant, boring tasks
  3. timing: when present activities are rewarding and longer-term outcomes are in the future
  4. lack of confidence about one’s ability to do the task
  5. anxiety: postponing getting started because of fear of failure
 
My personal favorite isn’t on this list: the ego-defensive function of feeling better about oneself. This related to #5 above. Whatever the outcome, the procrastinator can always say to him/her self, “Not bad for the amount of time I spent on it. Of course, I could do better.”
procrastination
Exceptionally bright, capable people are highly rewarded for procrastination. Examples include students who get A’s without studying. Teachers who get good reviews when they lecture spontaneously. Etc.

 

According to Stephanie Vozza, procrastination has gotten a bad rap. She listed 6 reasons why procrastination can lead to greater success and happiness.
 
  1. Structured procrastinators get more done. While putting off one thing, they do something else.
  2. Procrastinators make better decisions. I’m doubtful about this one, but if while delaying making a decision a person is gathering relevant information, it could be.
  3. Procrastination leads to creativity. When a task seems too hard to do, you might invent a better way.
  4. Unnecessary tasks disappear when you procrastinate.
  5. Procrastination leads to better apologies.
  6. Procrastination reveals what you find important.
procrastination today
BOTTOM LINE: Like so much in life, there’s both an upside and a downside to procrastination.