Unusual Fairy Tale

Want a fun read and help kids in protective child service programs? Most of you know, I’m in a second career as an author. You may not know that I volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for ten years in Child Protective Services. I was half big sister and half advisor to the court. It was an amazing experience, but let me get to the point. I noticed a lack of literature for children taken from their homes and wrote a fairy tale called The Foster Princess. I’ve decided to publish it as an e-book and it will be released on May 20th.  All profits will be distributed to CASA programs.  Adults are likely to enjoy the story as children and as such is a great read-aloud.

It can be purchased at the early bird price of $1.99. at the following distributors.
On May 20th for Kindle: https://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=The+Foster+Princess 

Available now for preorder for other ereaders:
Thanks for considering,


Oddities and Endities

Natural Kauai

Plants are social creatures like us and hang out with their favorites. In so doing, they fare better and look better. I’ve always wondered why collections of weeds in the wild look pleasingly natural, but  wild grass growing up through the rosemary on the downslope of our property looks messy. As if we didn’t need to know enough already for attractive landscaping: soil type, drought tolerance, deer resistance, longevity, etc. Now we need to check plants’ facebook pages for their friends.

Someone  accidentally discovered caterpillars that eat plastic. Wax worms chewed their way out of a seal-a-meal bag. Tests revealed they digested the plastic, rather than just used their little teeth as a tool. It’s hoped their digestive enzymes can be replicated. wouldn’t  that be great if they could mass-produce the juices and spray that garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean?.

Speaking of plastic, the UK is experimenting with using recycled plastic for road surfaces. The manufacturer claims it’s cheaper and longer lasting as well as a green alternative.


Did you know there were glow-in-the-dark mushrooms? The glow comes from the same chemicals fireflies employ, but the mushroom glow is constant. They are sprinkled all over the globe including Pisgah National Forest, but not well-known. I guess one doesn’t hike in forests at night. They are of special interest to me as my next book involves an undersea setting where the denizens can bioluminesce.

Ages ago, doctors who made frequent house calls could  tell the nature of an illness by the smell in the house. Dog noses are employed to detect cancer or an epileptic on the verge of a seizure. Now, a nosey machine  is on the horizon to help diagnose illness.

A small study suggests that exercising before breakfast may be good for reducing fat cells. The odd thing is that exercise after eating consumes more calories, but the study suggests that with no calories to burn, the body turning to the fat cells is of benefit.

Unlike bacteria, viruses are not living creatures. I think I envisioned both as up-to-no-good little things crawling around in my body, but a virus is a bit of genetic code, which interferes with a cell’s genetic instructions and replicates. It’s like inerting an infinite loop into a software program. Step A.Copy me. Step B. Go to Step A.

The medical profession appears to be recognizing the value of chiropractic for bad backs. Studies recognize the alleviation of pain, which is critical as the body naturally heals itself. The only odd thing to me is what took them so long.

For more information click the first sentences.





This Blog May Bug You.

If you, like me, thought human beings were the first farmers, you would be wrong. Ants began farming 55 to 60 million years ago while the origins of human farmers date at the earliest 11,500 BC. While farmer ants have a common farmer ancestor, human farming occurred separately on different parts of the globe at different times with the Chinese first in their domestication of rice.

Ant brains no larger than pinpoints figured out how to grow fungi in climate-controlled underground chambers. If you had X-ray vision, you’d see great webs of chambers under forest floors. Ants weed, water, and keep harmful bacteria away from their crops. Hmm, I wonder how much they charge per hour.

The ants ancestral farmers originated in the rain forest of South America, but 30 million years ago a branch of ants diverged and carried their craft to drier climates. The primary researcher of the evolution of these ants, Dr. Ted Schultzspeculates, “With enough time, the dry climate created ideal conditions for the more complex ant farmers to domesticate the fungus, controlling temperature by digging deeper chambers, or maintaining humidity by bringing in water from fruits, plants or morning dew.” Wow!

Then, there are the bees. They originated intelligent twerking. Not only do they communicate through waggle dancing, they can teach each other to use tools. Biologist Olli J. Loukola2  used a plastic model of a bee to demonstrate that moving a ball to the center of a platform resulted in a reward of a sugary treat. It didn’t take long before a host of bees was pulling strings—literally—for dessert. See video in Sources. The researchers also used bees’ ability to detect magnetic fields to guide bees to pull the ball, but the fake-bee teacher worked best.

Bees also invented crowdsourcing decision-making.  When a swarm of bees needs a new colony, a few hundred scouts will zoom off in different directions to look for potential locations. Then, they twerk to communicate information about found sites to the swarm. This decision-making practice inspired Louis Rosenberg, who runs a Silicon Valley startup called Unanimous AI, to build a tool to support human decision-making by crowdsourcing opinions online. Hundreds of participants respond to a question all at once, pooling their opinions into a single answer. He cites examples of better predictions than polls. He also talks about situations where a swarm of human doctors may make better decisions than artificial intelligence software.

If only humans could work together as well as bees, our planet would be a better place.

  1. Ted Schultz is an entomologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
  2. Olli J. . Loukola is at Queen Mary University of London

Sources:  NYTimes article on Ant Farming
Origins of human agriculture
Bees can teach each other to use tools.
Watch the bees; they’re fun
Emulating bees can boost human decision-making.

Take advantage of your irrational mind!

What was she thinking?
By National Photo Company Library of Congress npcc.06771

We may think we are rational, but behavioral science says otherwise. We are strongly influenced by emotions, identity, and our social environment. A member of the medical profession confesses to paying more attention to drugs and practices his colleagues prescribe than to well researched medical literature.1

Our choices even depend on how options are presented to us. You are about to undergo elective surgery. You are told a) you have an 80% chance of successful surgery and gaining a pain free life or b) you have a 20% chance of no change, becoming worse off, or even death. The first description makes most people feel good about going forward while the second gives pause.

Perhaps the difference is a consequence of the curious fact of behavioral science: that we are more motivated to stave off a loss than we are to make an equivalent gain. Studies show that people feel twice as bad at losing $100 as winning $100 feels good. Professional golfers are more likely to make a putt to avoid a bogie than they are to make a birdie.

When given a choice, people are overwhelmingly likely to stick with default options. This is hugely important to governance for a better society. In countries where you are an assumed organ donor unless you opt out, over 90% are organ donors compared to 4% to 27% in opt-in countries. In California, a program designed to promote use of renewable energy by allowing communities to purchase electricity for their citizens was specifically designed to be opt-out. As an environmental activist I fought a bill designed to kill the program by changing it to opt-in.

I recognize myself in the discovery that people are less likely to buy if there are dozens of options rather than a few.  I’ve walked into a department store and been overwhelmed by too much merchandise. It took years to buy my first computer. When I did, I ordered the same system as a techie friend.

People prefer instant gratification even when the rewards are greater for waiting. One free coffee now or two free coffees later?

OK, how can we use this information to better lives? Individually, we can avoid succumbing to our emotional brain and promise to pay a friend if we don’t keep a resolution. As parents we can influence our children’s behavior. Our institutions can employ positive default practices. The motivating article for this blog discusses employing paying patients for healthy behavior with the proviso of returning  the money for non-compliance. I was surprised by how many patients fail to take their meds (with 125,000 resultant annual deaths) , not surprised at the difficult of losing weight, exercising, and quitting smoking.


  1. Dr. Dhruv Khullar, author of article below.

How  Behavioral Science can lead to better health care 



Fancy Hearts of Spinach?


No. I’m not asking what you’d like as a side dish with your Chicken Kiev or talking about a veggie that costs more at a farmers market. I’m talking about some pretty damned creative scientists who had the fancy idea to create beating human heart tissue using a spinach leaf as scaffolding. Scientists have been able to create large-scale human tissue using 3-D printers no less, but needed to find a way to obtain the small delicate blood vessels to support the tissue.

Like many  why-didn’t-we-think-of-that ideas, the fact that leaf veins and small human capillaries perform similar functions makes the attempt seem natural in hindsight. The leaf veins indeed turned out to  be capable of conveying blood-like fluid. The teamremoved the plant cells from a spinach leaf, leaving a frame of cellulose and bathed the structure with live human cells, simulating a mini-heart. Fortunately, cellulose is biocompatible with our human parts, and the leaves can be layered to the required thickness. There is much work still to be done, but results to date are most promising. I like this idea better than growing human tissue in pigs or other animals, and I’m not a vegetarian.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to create replacement tissue for hearts damaged by heart attacks, heart disease, or injury. The scientists who did the studies propose wood might be used to replace damaged bones some day.

I assume spinach was chosen because its vein configuration and size work best for heart tissue. It was the graduate researcher who noticed the main stem of a spinach leaf resembled an aorta. Presumably different leaves could be used for other parts of the body. Check out the leaves in your next salad.

  1. Joshua Gershlak,  Glenn Gaudette, Taqnia Dominko, Pamela Weathers, Marsha Rolle  of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and collaborating researchers at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro and  University of Wisconsin-Madison.


 Adapted from: (Check out the pix!)



Can a cell have an idea?

This brain has bright ideas

That’s the idea that fascinated  Marian Diamond as a young girl,  propelling her to a career on brain research and becoming a woman known for toting a pickled brain around in a flowered hat box . As the first female graduate student in the Department of Anatomy at UC Berkeley, she achieved her PhD and became the first woman science instructor at Cornell University. Continuing her achievement of firsts, she with two colleagues conducted experiments on lab rats, providing evidence that the brain was not genetically fixed as conventional wisdom long held. Instead, a rich environment expands the brain’s capacity. Today, brain plasticity is a fertile area of research, but during her first conference talk her results were denigrated by the male audience.

Not satisfied with conducting research with rat brains, she launched experiments in areas of the world lacking quality educational resources. Her success not only established environmental impact on the human brain, it served the humanitarian purpose of vastly improving education. Later she established that brains of the elderly also benefit from stimulation. Motivated by her love for her husband she found evidence that love increases longevity as another of her significant achievements.

She requested and to her excitement received slices of Einstein’s normal-sized brain and became the first to delve into the secrets of his remarkable mind, discovering, as in rat brains, a higher ratio of glial cells to neurons. It had been thought that the only role of glial cells involved housekeeping, namely supplying nutrients and destroying dead cells. Electrical signals between neurons conveyed by synapses accounted for thinking, While glia cannot produce electrical signals, recent research found they produce chemical signals and do play a role in our thought processes. Score another profound advancement  to our heroine. The purist in me needs to point out that a single cell probably cannot have an idea. It takes a village of well-connected cells, but Dr. Diamond’s point remains. Single cells, electricity, and chemistry amazingly produce ideas.

Marian Diamond raised four children and taught more than 60,000 adoring students over her academic career. An attractive, well-dressed woman with a sense of humor, she threw a piece of chalk at the end of her lectures and took the lucky catcher out to lunch. She combatted sexual discrimination by ignoring it and wildly succeeding. I could identify with her retirement in her mid-80s despite her continuing vitality, echoing my thought that it is best to go before people sigh with relief at your leaving. The PBS documentary on her life, My Love Affair With The Brain is an inspiration and can be seen online. In writing this I discovered there is an entire web series on her life. I’m signing up.

My love affair with the brain
My love affair with the brain—all web episodes 
Marian Diamond by Wikipedia
Conversation with Marian Diamond
Brain Facts 


Are hospitals designed to make you sicker?

Feeling trapped

Everyone knows you can’t rest in a hospital with the constant beeping of equipment, uncoordinated visits by nurses—medication, blood draws, change of IVs all at different times—chatter of visitors, and the list goes on. I just read an article by a doctor who adds the design of hospital buildings to the list of problems. Number one on his list is shared rooms, which exacerbates the problem of hospital-acquired infections affecting up to 30 percent of intensive care patients, i.e. the most vulnerable. While private rooms are more expensive, the cost is made up by shorter stays when the number of infected patients is reduced.

Further, private rooms are essential to preserving confidentiality of one’s medical condition. Patients in curtained spaces have been known to withhold part of their medical history or refuse exams. One commenter to the article described being party to his roommate’s overpowering, gag-inducing stench when his colostomy bag was changed. Sorry, I hope you’re not eating breakfast while you’re reading this, but imagine if you were eating next to this in the hospital.

In addition, installing easier-to-clean surfaces, well-positioned sinks and high-quality air filters can further reduce infection rates. Falls can be reduced with improved lighting, less slippery floors, toilets at a proper height, and unobstructed paths to bathrooms. Nurses can get to patients more quickly if stations are decentralized. Noise can be mitigated through sound-absorbing acoustic panels, thicker walls, and fewer unnecessary alarms.

Another commenter described a hospital building, which required using an elevator, which only ascended to the first floor and then travel through a maze of hallways to a second bank of elevators.

Then there are the aesthetics that improve healing through inducing calm and lifting spirits. Studies show the more nature the better. Views of trees from windows that open to fresh air shorten stays and need for pain medication. Similar research found that patients with bipolar disorder did better in east-facing rooms with morning sunlight. Psychiatric patients require fewer medications for anxiety when photos of landscapes hang on their walls, and patients watching nature videos have higher tolerance for pain, more positive emotions, and lower heart rates and blood pressure.

The article by Dhruv Khullar M.D., M.P.P. concludes with: research supports an urgent need to change the way we build, maintain and work in hospitals, and many facilities could do more to promote rest and healing while preventing stress and infection. It’s clear that evidence-based medical care will require evidence-based hospital design.

PS The more nature the better motto goes for everyday life and is more important than ever when too many of us are wired to our de-vices.

Based on NYTimes: Hospital Design Article