Making Art From Trash


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The beginning of November in Colorado was lovely and so, one sunny Saturday, I paid money to look at trash.  Beach trash.  Or, at least, beach plastic.  The Washed Ashore Exhibit is available for viewing at The Denver Zoo and I badly wanted to see it.  If anyone lives in the area or the Exhibit is coming to a location near you, I encourage seeing it for two reasons.

Reason One: The Exhibit is fun and interesting considered as mere works of art.  I don’t have the sort of mind that looks at discarded water bottles, chairs, tires, boots, flip-flops, shotgun shells, pop cans, random toys, and toilet seats and sees animal sculptures.  How all of this trash is turned into sculptures complete with waves, sea plants, and reefs is beyond me and I had great fun seeing how all the different objects came together to create animals like sharks, penguins, and jellyfish.

Reason Two:  I’ve lived in landlocked states most of my life, barring a University stint in Juneau Alaska, but have always loved the ocean.  I had dreams of being a Marine Biologist and, while that didn’t work out, I’ve never stopped caring about the oceans and its creatures.  The plastic soup swirling in ocean gyres, being eaten by the inhabitants of the oceans, and being dumped on the beaches horrifies me.  The Exhibit exists because volunteers pick up marine debris from beaches and the objects are then recycled into art that’s both fun to look at but helps bring awareness to a massive problem.

According to, over 60 sculptures have been created and 38,000 pounds of marine debris has been processed.  38,000 pounds of garbage.  The number boggles the mind, especially when I realize that 38,000 pounds comprises a tiny part of the estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste entering the ocean from land EACH YEAR! (World Economic Forum, January 2016)  Even if that number isn’t accurate, half that would be overwhelming and I’m so grateful to volunteers who partner with organizations like Washed Ashore to do something about it.  Washed Ashore promises small actions make a difference and there are tips for reducing consumption of plastic at every sculpture.

These tips are so easy to incorporate into daily life.  I don’t use single use plastic water bottles if I can help it.  I have stainless steel water bottles with lids that screw tight for hiking and a glass water bottle I use daily while at work.  A bonus to using a glass water bottle is that doing so gets me up out of my office chair as I have to walk half the length of the building to re-fill it.  Good for the environment and my cardiac health.  I’ve found there’s no need to purchase water while on road trips.  No gas station has ever complained about my refilling my water bottle with ice and water from the soda machine and there’s always a basket of fruit where I can purchase a banana or an orange so I don’t feel like I’m taking advantage.  If I have to purchase a bottle of water, I keep a bag in the car to put the plastic in until I can find a recycling center.

My family and I use fabric bags when grocery shopping.  We also watch our shopping habits so we reduce the amount of packaging included with our purchases.  I admit that can sometimes be an inconvenience when I don’t buy a product I need because of packaging-why do I need individual bags of vegetables inside another bag?-but I think the inconvenience is worth it.

The Exhibit is both fun and educational while managing to create beauty from objects that are anything but.  I found it encouraging as well.  I’m not alone in caring about what happens to our oceans and beaches and, together, we can make a difference.

To see the photos I took at the Exhibit, check out my Facebook page.






A Walk in the Park


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A friend came out for a visit a few weeks ago and we celebrated beautiful weather in Colorado by spending the day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This day, we turned left rather than heading straight into the park and visited Bear Lake.

My friend is a low lander and made some comments about my state not having enough air.  My family and I plied her with water and warnings not to ignore any feelings of dizziness then, as my friend was game for hiking, headed to the lake.

Bear Lake was well worth the stop.  It’s a beautiful place.  When my friend and I visited, the sun sparkled on the water, the sky was clear overhead, and a pair of ducks sought sustenance.  My friend asked if Bear Lake was called “Bear Lake” because it was shaped like a bear’s paw and I had to tell her I didn’t know.  A bit of research on Google led me to this blog post where I learned that the grandfather of a woman named Sally Ferguson shot at and missed a bear while hunting in the area in 1912 and that’s how the lake earned it’s name.  Now I know.  There’s a great deal of information on the History of Bear Lake in the post: I encourage you to check it out.


Bear Lake

Bear Lake isn’t far from the parking lot so my friend felt up for a hike.  I’ll hike whenever I get the chance so I was chomping at the proverbial bit to get onto a trail.  There’s a lovely walk around the lake but we weren’t far from the trail to Alberta Falls.  My friend said she’d never seen a waterfall before and thought she was up for the hike.  My family was content to entertain themselves and the two of us started off.

Hiking with my friend was an experience I’ll ever forget and probably the most fun hiking I’ve ever had.  The two of us giggled over the fact she was hiking in designer jeans, Pumas and carrying a Coach bag slung over her shoulder.  I looked like I’d crawled out of the bushes by comparison.  We laughed, snapped photos, and took breathing breaks all the way to Alberta Falls.

I resorted to Google again to satisfy  my own curiosity about the naming of Alberta Falls and found I liked this website best.  The hike isn’t difficult.  There is an increase in elevation once Bear Lake is left but the incline isn’t ever too intense and the trail is well maintained.  There are bridges that add some fun to a basic trail and stones to prevent tumbling head long into a ravine.  (I had to be kept from falling to my death in search of a photo; my friend is much more level-headed)  The hike up to the falls took about an hour and, when we finally reached them, my friend said the hike was well worth it.  She rested for a bit while I had a grand time crawling around on rocks in search of the best waterfall picture.


Alberta Falls

It was a glorious day.  Not only did we see two beautiful spots but my friend got a stamp in her National Parks book and I purchased a book of my own: a history of women settlers in the area now in my stack to read.  I’ll be hard pressed to top it when next my friend visits.

It isn’t possible to find a bad view in Rocky Mountain National Park but, if you get a chance to visit, check out Bear Lake and take the time to hike to the Falls.  Both places are beautiful and not difficult to reach.  I found them both to be accessible by all fitness levels.  Come to Colorado and decide for yourself!

Lions and Tigers and Bears…


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…and wolves, too!


Last weekend, a friend came down from Wyoming for a day visit.  My family and I had ordered Palisade Peaches through the Wild Animal Sanctuary’s program and it just so happened the pick-up weekend and my friend’s visit coincided.  My friend was agreeable so we decided to tour the sanctuary before picking up the peaches.

The Sanctuary is a place I’ve followed and supported for a while now but I’ve never had the chance/made the time to do the tour.  The Sanctuary is toured from the “Mile into the Wild Walkway”, a raised walkway that offers an opportunity to safely view the rescued animals.


All the animals are rescued.  They come from defunct circuses, roadside attractions, and drug dealers to list a few.  Some of the stories are heart wrenching: animals that have lived their lives confined to cages and cement and never see grass or unrestricted sunlight until they come to the Sanctuary.

There are still cages but the animals remain so only until they are acclimated to each other and their surroundings and then they are released into a habitat where the animals are made as comfortable as they can be.


One of the Tigers getting used to the place.

The Sanctuary is not a zoo so the animals can roam quite a distance from the walkway and can be difficult to see without a telephoto lens.  I didn’t want to carry it so the animals are a bit difficult to see in some of the photos I took, but that’s what I like about the Sanctuary: it offers the chance to see amazing carnivores in rural Colorado but it’s all about the animals.  The Sanctuary exists to give them a comfortable home, not to put them on display.  Visiting the animals is a privilege and the Sanctuary’s goal is education.

My friend and I spent two hours in the Sanctuary and it was well worth it.  Check out the Wild Animal Sanctuary; it’s a great place to spend a day.  Also, check out the peach program.  It’s a tasty way to support an organization seeking to do good.

Check out more photos here.

Plan a visit to the Wild Animal Sanctuary!

Check out the Newsletters for awesome rescue stories


That’s Queen Samurai To You


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I recently came across another of history’s little-told stories; that of the female Samurai.  I haven’t done extensive study of the Samurai culture and history but what little I have done has acquainted me with names like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.  A name I hadn’t come across before was Nakano Takeko.  An hour long documentary entitled Samurai Warrior Queens on the Smithsonian channel introduced me to this fierce woman.

Nakano Takeko was born in Edo, a member of the Aizu domain and daughter of an Aizu official.  Samurai women were trained in martial arts so they could protect the estates from bandits and Takeko began her training when she was six.  She quickly showed aptitude, not only for the martial arts training but in scholarly pursuits as well.  Her favorite stories were of Tomoe Gozen, a Samurai woman who’d fought and died 600 years before Takeko’s birth.

When Takeko was 16 her master, Daisuke, presented his nephew to her as a potential husband.  If Takeko accepted, she’d be subject to her  new husband and her name would probably have been lost to history.  She refused and had to separate herself from her disgruntled master, becoming a martial arts instructor in her own right.

At the same time, Japan was rapidly changing.  The Samurai had been in power for over 1000 years but their power was waning, as was Japan’s isolation from the west.  It was an American, Commodore Matthew Perry, who used gunboat diplomacy to  force the Shogun into a trade treaty in 1854.  Once America had a foothold; Britain, France, and Russia followed.  Many Samurai felt their country had been humiliated and rose against the Shogun, joining together under the banner of the Emperor, a relatively useless ruler based in Kyoto.

The Emperor’s Samurai had access to western weapons-rifles and canon-while the Shogun’s Samurai fought with the historical edged weapons.  Not surprisingly, the Shogun’s Samurai were defeated and retreated north; Nakano Takeko and her sister Yuko among them.

The Shogun’s Samurai prepared for a last stand and a westerner, Henry Schnell, promised he could get them weapons.  He intended to smuggle them through the port of Niigata but he was unsuccessful and ended up fleeing for his life.  The Shogun’s Samurai were on their own.

Rumors spread about the Emperor’s fighters raping women and selling them into slavery but Takeko was determined not to commit suicide.  She and her sister were determined to fight and other women rallied around them.  They presented themselves at an Aizu outpost but the Samurai commander refused to allow them to fight as an official part of the domain’s army.  Not to be refused, on the morning of October 10, 1868, Takeko Nakano leads 18 other women into battle.

They should have been cut down.  The Emperor’s Samurai were armed with rifles, probably Spencer rifles; repeating rifles capable of 15 shots per minute.  Instead, the order was given to take the women alive.  This was a mistake.  The opposing army was stunned at the women’s ferocity and none fought harder than Takeko.  Despite her skill and ferocity, Nakano Takeko was killed.  Her sister, Yuko, removed her head from the battlefield to prevent her from becoming an enemy trophy and managed to get it back to the family’s temple  where the priest promised to bury Takeko with honor.

A memorial to Nakano Takeko has been erected and modern Japanese women train in the same fighting style Takeko would have learned.  And yet, Nakano Takeko isn’t alone.  While the traditional role of female Samurai was to defend castles, extinguish fires, tend wounded, and prepare ammunition, there were many who played vital roles on battlefields.  And yet, most Samurai history revolves around men.

I have a book, Samurai: The code of the Warrior by Thomas Louis and Tommy Ito.  This is hardly a comprehensive history of the Samurai and yet the only mention of female Samurai is:

Samurai girls did not receive formal education, but they were expected to run their husbands’ estate while they were away at war.  They also received martial arts training, especially in the yari and naginata, and there are many examples of samurai women fighting alongside their husbands.  The most famous samurai woman, Tomeo Gozen, lived during the Gempei Wars.  She decapitated the enemy leader after he ripped her clothes, and she presented his head to her husband.


Why is there so little said of female Samurai’s contribution?  According to the Smithsonian’s documentary, it would be shameful if the victorious outcome of a battle could, in any way, be attributed to women.  Thus, glory and honor were reserved exclusively for male warriors.  That is changing.

Archaeological evidence is finally showing the true magnitude of contributions of many women  who fought with the same spirit as Nakano Takeko.  Bones were discovered at Senbon Matsubara, site of a 1580 battle involving the Takeda Samurai.  As the bones were unearthed and studied, forensic archaeologists were able to determine 30% of the fighting force were women.  This discovery prompted the study of other battlefields and archaeologists were surprised to find the average held true: almost 30% of the Samurai fighting forces were women.

Nakano Takeko and her army were retroactively called the Women’s Army but their contribution is recognized and history is beginning to recognize the many other women that sacrificed and died, equal to their male counterparts.  The Samurai Warrior Queens.

Some interesting links:



She’s a Real Amazon


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Photo found on

I never used to like non-fiction.  Why waste my time?  It was dry and boring; I’d much rather spend my time reading fiction.  However, I quickly learned I would have to get over my dislike of non-fiction because I needed to do the research necessary to create a believable world in my novel.  True, I encountered dry and boring tomes but I encountered many more brilliantly written books that made the ancient world come alive.  I’ve been hooked ever since.  I do most of my reading about the Ancient World-Rome, Egypt, Carthage-and am thrilled when I discover stories of women who defy the strictures of society.  Women who made a name for themselves by living their lives on equal footing with men.  Women like Hypsicratea, the Amazon who fought beside and loved Mithradates VI.

I’d encountered Mithradates  in a couple of my Roman history books but never heard of Hypsicratea until I purchased Vicki Leon’s “The Joy of Sexus”.  It was there I discovered Hypsicratea-or Hypsicrates, as Mithradates called her.  I wanted to know more.  Ms. Leon’s book led me to Adrienne Mayor’s “The Poison King”.  I bought it and searched its pages for mention of this amazing woman.

Mithradates meets Hypsicratea after the Third Mithradatic War while recruiting soldiers in Armenia.  She belongs to to one of the nomadic Eurasian tribes where both boys and girls were taught to ride, hunt, and make war.  She’s most likely in her early thirties in 69 BC and is a proficient horsewoman, archer, and wielder of the javelin and battle-axe.  Hypsicratea begins traveling with Mithradates as his groom, caring for his horses, but quickly becomes his personal attendant and lover and, quite believably, the love of his life.

She would be at his side when he faced Pompey in battle and is more than likely at his side when he is forced to flee Pompey’s moonlight attack and take refuge in Sinora, his fortified treasury on the border of Armenia.  But then what?

Unfortunately, there is no historical account of Hypsicratea after the winter of 63 BC.  Did she die when Mithradates crossed the Caucasus?  The base of a marble statue unearthed by Russian Archeologists says no.  She survived the crossing and was still with Mithradates when he reclaimed the Kingdom of the Bosporus.  Yet she was not with Mithradates when he met his death in that same Kingdom.  Where did she go?  Did she survive?

There is plenty of fuel for speculation.  There are historical references to a “Hypsicrates”, a historian who wrote about Pontus and the Black Sea.  Is this Mithradates’ Hypsicrates, an amazing woman who would have little difficulty passing as a male?  There just isn’t enough information to know for sure and it only makes the story of Hypsicratea all the more fascinating.

The Poison King by Adrienne Mayor

The Human Effect


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I have recently been enjoying the “Nature is Speaking” series.  The message of each of these short videos is that we need nature; nature doesn’t need us.  These videos reminded me of a documentary I saw a while ago called “Radioactive Wolves”.  It was made to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear incident and is a fascinating study on just how well nature does without human involvement.

25 years has completely changed the landscape both around Chernobyl and within the zone so contaminated with radiation it’s uninhabitable by humans.  Cultivated land and the deserted cities have all been reclaimed by wilderness.  Man-made canals have been damned by beavers and the same beavers have undermined dykes thus returning drained marshland to its natural state.  The area around Chernobyl has become an unintended refuge for endangered species; species that seem to thrive despite the fact that bones of moose test at 50 times normal levels of radiation and fish bones from the area close to the reactor are so contaminated they can’t be touched by bare hands.

Gray wolf, Eagle, and Peregrine falcons are the top predator species that thrive in this reclaimed wilderness.  It doesn’t seem like thriving should be possible with the amount of radiation in the soil which is then taken up by the plants, eaten by the large herbivores and then consumed by the predators, but thrive they do.  The health of their populations stems from the fact that the area is toxic and thus lost to humans.

And, it is toxic.  The documentary referenced a six year study performed on dormice living within the contaminated zone.  4 to 6 percent of every generation shows some sign of abnormality, twice the rate of clean areas.  Those rates are unacceptable to humans and with an estimate of Chernobyl being uninhabitable by humans for the next 20,000 years; these species will be able to continue their uninterrupted life cycles without human intervention.

Almost without human intervention.  Bison were reintroduced into the Belarus side of the exclusion zone in the late 90’s and that decade saw wild horses being introduced on the Ukraine side.  However, wherever there are humans trying to help, there are humans causing problems.  Reproduction rates among the wild horses say there should be close to 200 individuals roaming the wilderness but poachers have brought that number closer to 60: a fact that seems to reinforce the Nature is Speaking message.  Nature doesn’t need us and, indeed, seems to do much better without us.

Does it have to be this way?  If human beings could realize our relationship with the world around us is symbiotic-our ability to thrive depends on the health of our environment-would we start living in balance with it rather than consuming its resources far faster than it can replenish itself?  As always, I can’t answer for anyone but myself.  I try to make the most responsible decisions I can and living in balance with my environment is an ongoing journey.



A Work in Process


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What is my writing process?  Apparently, all writers have them and all are unique.  Do you write standing up?  Write Drunk and Edit Sober or vice versa? Devote an hour a day?  Don’t stop until at least three pages are finished?  Don’t even think about your book until you’ve accomplished a half hour of free-writing?  I enjoy reading about other writers’ processes and there is a sense of community as I find writers share many of the same struggles, but though I’ve been working on my book for years, I still don’t have a process.  It’s constantly changing and has yet to be nailed down.

I try.  “I’m going to write an hour a day. Period.”  I begin with that goal but then I’ll have a day where I’m so tired I can’t string words together verbally much less type something other than gibberish.  Then there days when my arm will hurt and I can’t type or write by hand and, before I know it, days have passed with no progress on the manuscript.  That doesn’t mean I’m not writing if by ‘writing’ I mean thinking about my book and characters, plotting what happens next, or reading a bit by way of research.  In many ways, my process is to work on my book every waking moment-and some sleeping moments-even though words don’t always make it onto paper.

I hear advice like; don’t edit yourself-get it down on paper and then edit.  That makes sense but that doesn’t work for me.  I’ll be writing away and then I realize that both plot and characters feel dry and that a change needs to be made; often four or five chapters ago.  If I don’t go back and make the change, I CANNOT continue writing.  It’s like all creativity dries up.  So, I edit myself I great deal while working.

One piece of advice I have taken to heart is don’t throw anything away.  I have a dump file and, whenever I hit a situation mentioned in the above paragraph, I take the scene that isn’t working and stick it in the dump file.  This has been crucial for me.  There have been so many times I plopped something that wasn’t working in the file and forgot about it until I found I needed it; often years after first setting it down.  I recently copied in work I’d done in my earliest draft-almost ten years old now-into my current draft and was thrilled not to have to re-write the scene.

“Taking a long time” is definitely part of my process but my story arcs over seven books and I don’t want to make the mistake of introducing something in Book One that is utterly contradicted in Book Seven.  I hate it when authors do that.  I’ve had authors I like reference an instance from an earlier book that I remember happening differently and, sure enough, I scrounge up the appropriate book and find I’m correct.  Why does that happen?  Is it easier to tweak the facts for the current book?  I don’t know but it’s annoying.  I also have a hard time continuing to read an author that changes a character’s name in a later book.  Is the name unimportant because the character is a minor one?  No.  If you’re going to bring the character back in later books, make sure you use the same name!  I don’t know if that’s an author or an editor mistake but, again, it’s annoying.

I respect authors that go that extra mile in research and attention to detail.  The Denver Museum of Nature and Science recently had a Sherlock Holmes exhibit.  Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters and I enjoyed immersing myself in that world.  The exhibit had plenty of hands on activities and there was a mystery to be solved as I moved through the different displays.  Great fun but I enjoyed reading the letters written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  One such letter was to his publisher and Mr. Conan Doyle was requesting a copy of an early manuscript as he couldn’t remember all the details he’d set down and no longer had a copy of his own.  My writer spirit felt camaraderie with that: a writer respecting both his characters and his readers enough to research his early work.  Such an eye for detail and a respect for research-as well as great writing-keeps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on my shelves.


My Sherlock Holmes Collection


I knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote other books: I’ve seen The Lost World even though I haven’t yet acquired a copy of the book.  I did find a collection of stories I’d never known Conan Doyle wrote and I was especially interested in the Preface to The White Company written by Conan Doyle’s wife.  It begins:

My husband was intensely thorough in all his literary work.  He took enormous pains to have everything right.  For instance, before writing The White Company, he soaked his brain with a knowledge of the period he intended to portray.  He read over sixty books dealing with heraldry-armour-falconry-the medieval habits of the peasants of that time-the social customs of the higher fold of the land, etc.  Only when he knew those days as though he had lived in them-when he had got the very atmosphere steeped into his brain-did he put pen to paper and let loose the creations of his mind.  (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Historical Novels: Volume One; Preface to The White Company)

This, also, I deeply respect.  I do write a bit differently than this; I soak my brain in the period I’m writing in but there are things I don’t realize I should be researching until I’m already in the writing process.  For instance, merely having a character attend a public bath isn’t enough.  I need to know what the baths in both Ancient Rome and Ancient Arabia were like.  How did they differ from one another? Were there different rules for men and women?  Were there castes of society not allowed to attend at all?  What did one do with his or her clothes when bathing?  Fortunately for me, there are historians with these same interests and I can scare up a book or a documentary that will tell me what I need to know.

Maybe my writing should be more disciplined.  Maybe I take too much time.  Maybe I shouldn’t be getting wrapped up in these little details until a second or even a third draft.  Maybe, but it doesn’t seem to be part of my process.


My Historical Volume Collection


Behold, Here’s Poison


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Poison book

Of course I picked up a book at the exhibit

My membership at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is so useful to me.  I do a great deal of research for my books at the different exhibits and I was able to make a long visit at the Poison exhibit when it was in town.  I haven’t planned on any of my characters using poison to off another character but I never know when information will come in handy.  I try to take advantage of opportunities like the Museum’s special exhibits and I have a growing file full of bits of information I find interesting.

This exhibit was one of the best I’d visited.  I spent hours wandering through the displays, trying to stay out of the way of other museum goers while I took copious notes.   An avid mystery reader, I’ve been aware of how various plants can be deadly in the right doses.  As someone who lives on a plant-based diet, I pay close attention to the fact that some plants are both edible and deadly, depending on what part of the plant is used.  I couldn’t wait to find out what more this exhibit could teach me.

I was not surprised at the presence of foxglove at the exhibit.  Agatha Christie’s books first introduced me to the fact that digitalis, derived from foxglove, could be beneficially used by people with heart problems and as a deadly poison by those with nefarious purposes.  It’s such a beautiful plant and I marvel at how something so beautiful can be at once to useful and so deadly.

Books also introduced me to cassava, a staple among some cultures.  What I did not know is that cassava contains cyanide and can be deadly.  It is only dried and ground into flour that it can be safely used; something that may end up in a book someday.

I was not fully aware of the part plants have played in the medical field and this aspect of the exhibit was fascinating.  I know of curare being used as a poison but had no idea it was used as an anesthetic.  It’s effect wasn’t fully understood and I’m thankful I’ve never been subjected to a surgical procedure under its influence.  However, according to the exhibit, curare can be used as an antidote for strychnine poisoning.  If I can ever come up with a valid reason why one of my characters would have curare on hand and then be poisoned by strychnine, I’m using this.

I learned that an extract of the yew tree is still being used as a cancer treatment, although it’s made synthetically now because of the ecological cost.  I thought it amazing that a derivative of yew bark could help treat cancer and was curious what other plants were being studied..  I learned that scientists were turning to plants like sweet wormwood and the opium poppy in search of medicinal uses.  And, scientists aren’t just studying plants but animals as well.

What makes a person look for cancer treatment in the venom of the Deathstalker Scorpion?  Pain relief in the venom of a black mamba?  Can the monocled cobra point researchers to a new arthritis drug or the Brazilian pit viper reveal an ACE inhibitor?  I took my notes, went home, and began googling.  Sure enough, the exhibit wasn’t lying to me: these animals and many more and being looked at for everything from tumor paint to anticoagulants.

I learned so much from this exhibit though I don’t know how much of it I’ll be using in the series I’m currently writing.  Still, I have all sorts of ideas for stories to write when I’ve finished this series.  I like knowing my file of facts is there for the gleaning.


Note:  My title is also the title of a mystery by Georgette Heyer.  Want to know what was used?  You’ll have to read it!

Parallel Cultures


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I’ve never paid too much attention to American History.  I’ve always been fascinated with Rome, Carthage, Egypt, and Parthia.  Medieval England is the latest period I’ve spent any time with.  Still, I’m a history buff and I was able to persuade my family to stop at the Anasazi and Fremont Indian State Parks during our trip to Utah.

The Fremont Indian State Park was a fascinating place and I highly recommend stopping there if you ever get a chance.  My family and I were the only visitors so I had the museum to myself.  I was delighted to spend as much time with the exhibits as I liked without having to try and read over someone else’s head or dodge children.  It was in the museum that the similarities between Ancient American and Ancient Egyptian Cultures first clicked in my mind.  I was grinding corn with the mano and metate when I looked up to read the description of the artifacts.  Whoever had written it had added that the Ancient Americans suffered from painful teeth due to bits of stone ending up on the grain.  I’d read the exact same thing in Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz and was struck by the similarity.  But, of course there would be similarities between cultures, I told myself: there are only so many materials from which basic tools can be crafted.  It makes sense both cultures would grind grain between two stones.

And yet…as I traveled through the outdoor exhibits and saw the cave paintings, I was struck again with-even though these cultures are utterly unique-I could see similarities.  I thought perhaps it was merely human nature to wish to leave something behind; something carved into stone that tells future generations ‘I was here.  I lived.’  Apparently, this was a desire felt by all Ancient Peoples.  A vast ocean and a continent separated these two cultures so it wasn’t possible they could be linked in any way.

Or could they?  Always drawn to books, I’d perused the Fremont State Park library and jotted down some titles I was interested in reading.  While searching for those titles, I found They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America by Ivan Van Sertima; a professor of Afro-American studies at Rutgers University.  I was curious what Professor Van Sertima had to say about pre-Columbian visitors.  I had read about a Viking presence but had never heard of an African presence before so I bought the book.

The entire book is fascinating.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  Get it.  Read it.  I wish I had time to discuss the entire book but I’ll limit myself to Chapters 7 through 9 because they reminded me of the sense of similarity between Egyptian and American cultures I’d had.

Chapter Seven, titled Black Africa and Egypt, introduced me to the influence of ethnically black Africans on Egypt and how many of things I considered uniquely Egyptian-mummification, tomb painting, bird and animal deities-had their origins among Africans south and west of the Nile.  Chapter Eight, titled The Black Kings of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, introduced me to Nubian Kings who liberated Egypt from Assyrian vassalage and ruled it for a century.  Chapter Nine, titled African-Egyptian Presences in Ancient America, took me through the archaeological evidence that not only proves Africans had crossed the Atlantic and mingled with Ancient Americans, but that there are astonishing similarities between Ancient American and Ancient Egyptian cultures. (Professor Van Sertima used the term “Ancient American” so I have continued use of his term for clarification purposes)

The North Equatorial current and counter current make travel between the African and American continents possible.  Professor Van Sertima includes descriptions of experiments proving such travel and culture sharing was possible with the level of ship sophistication of the time, especially that of the Egyptians and Phoenicians.  Travel and culture sharing happened across the Sahara and that culture sharing was carried across the Atlantic long before it was believed to be possible.  This book shows there is archaeological proof for culture sharing hundreds of years before Columbus.

I found this absolutely fascinating.  And, the culture sharing went both ways: I read it’s a bit more difficult to make the crossing from America to Africa (due to currents) but Professor Van Sertima shows examples of linguistic similarities that suggest an Ancient American influence in Northern Africa.

I never learned this in school.  Public school classes are, by necessity, overviews of history and I get that but I think this African influence, the culture sharing across the Sahara, and the fact that there were great explorers who carried their culture across a vast ocean, is worth knowing.  I look forward to studying more African history.  And, my interest in American history has been piqued.  I think seeing how these African-Egyptian influences were absorbed into and made unique by Olmec, Aztec, and Mayan cultures will be fascinating.  I’m going to need more bookshelves.

The Anniversary of My Life


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October 4th was the 17 year anniversary of my car accident. In two more years, I’ll have lived exactly half my life “normal” and half as a disabled person; a fact that feels meaningful to my pattern-loving brain. Perhaps it it, perhaps it isn’t.

I don’t actually celebrate my new life anniversary. There are times I intend to: it’s a good excuse to eat cake (as if I needed one!), but the 4th of October usually passes by and it’s only a few days later that I go; Hey! Another year of life! This year, I spent the 4th at Arches National Park in Utah. I didn’t wake up that morning planning to celebrate an anniversary. I’m not even sure I remembered what day it was. But, since I had my Hey! moment ON the 4th, I’m going to tell all of you about it.

My family and I planned to spend a week touring as many state and national parks as possible. My focus was to get as much hiking in as my body could withstand. I used to be quite the hiker: 9 miles round trip with a night spent sleeping on the ground was nothing to my younger self. Now, half that distance seems insurmountable. I physically can’t do it and my brain injury comes with some oxygen processing/breathing problems. Still, I do what I can and I’m lucky to have family that is willing to wait for me as I start up a trail. Bless my mother: I know she has visions of my passing out and my carcass sliding into a ravine but she never says a word beyond “be careful” and so, I start off.

There are several trails at Arches and I could have spent a week in that park alone, still not seeing all of it. I hiked around the North and South Turrets and considered hiking the Primitive Trail but, as I hadn’t established that plan with my family, I had visions of emerging miles down the road with no way of telling them where I was. I passed on that trail and, instead, hiked to Delicate Arch. I’d misread the distance and thought the distance was a mile round trip. How bad could it be?

The answer? Bad. Delicate Arch is a difficult hike up a rock face with no trail to speak of. The way to the arch is marked out by little cairns and, believe me, those little pile of stones became my best friends. And, the round trip distance is 3 miles. Note to self: make sure to thoroughly read the description before setting foot on a trail. At least I had plenty of water.

Trail?  What Trail?

Trail? What Trail?

The first time I considered turning back was when the clearly outlined trail disappeared and I stood staring up at people scaling a rock face. “Don’t do it”, a voice warned.  I turned and stared down at the parking lot. My family wouldn’t care if I turned back. Sure, they wanted a picture of Delicate Arch but no one had any expectation of me pushing my body beyond its limits. Really, the only one with that expectation was me. I knew that if I gave up, I would regret it. I would feel like I failed. I wanted to see Delicate Arch. I wasn’t giving up. I’d take my time, stop and breathe when I needed to, take some sips of water. I didn’t need to compete with anyone. I didn’t have to feel embarrassed at needing to stop and breathe. I started up.

Suck it up, Kate!

Suck it up, Kate!

I don’t have words to express how difficult this hike was. I feel a little ridiculous: there were people who breezed passed me like it was nothing. But then, I passed people who were also dragging themselves up to the arch, red-faced and wheezing. Solidarity, my hiking peeps. I did stop, frequently, and there were many times when I considered turning back. Those considerations flooded my mind more and more as the pain in my back, neck, and shoulder set in and it became more and more difficult to stand upright. Still, I persevered. Like an idiot, I’m sure.

It's wider than it looks...

It’s wider than it looks…

The hike to the arch ends with a series of stone steps and then a ledge that wraps around a cliff wall. I recommend hugging the wall as much as possible. On the day of my hike, the wind was rather strong and the drop off from the ledge is significant. But, it’s worth it. I rounded the cliff wall and the rocks dropped from my sight. There was Delicate Arch. It stands alone in this vista of rocks and sky and was worth every ounce of energy it took to see it.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

There were several intrepid souls who hiked down to the arch and took pictures with, under, and through it but I could not. I still had to hike back the way I came so I found a seat, caught my breath, drank more water, and enjoyed the view. I tried to take a selfie with the arch but my selfie skills are non-existent. My thanks to the stranger who offered to take my photo.

Proof I make it!

Proof I make it!

Down was, of course, easier but I admit I dragged myself into the parking lot. I laughed and told my family I was probably done with hiking for a day or two but I really wanted to burst into tears and stick my body in a hot bath. I had a picture of the arch and, in my seat in the van, I asked myself if all the pain and exhaustion I felt was, indeed, worth it. It was then I had my Hey! moment: today was my life anniversary day and I was out hiking!

17 years. I must, after all this time, accept I’ve made all the progress I’m going to make. I’m not going to get any better. I’ll never hike another 9 miles with two days of supplies, a tent, and a sleeping bag strapped to my back. I’ll never work a full time job. That person did-for lack of a better word-die in that car. Now, I must learn to live as this person. I must accept that every day is going to be a fight to push the boundaries of my limitations as far as I can. It’s going to be hard. I’m going to want to give up. But, if I press on, there will be moments of breath-taking beauty waiting for me at the end of difficult trails.

It is worth it.