kilogram

a kilogram is a kilogram, right?

What weighs more, a kilogram of feathers or a kilogram of lead? You might think they weigh the same, but just how certain can you be?

Since 1889, the exact weight of a kilogram has been defined by a platinum-based ingot called “Le Grand K”, jealously guarded in a safe in Paris. It is the only unit of measure defined by an artificial sample. Several close replicas exist around the world, but over time, like the master kilogram, they have changed by about the weight of an eyelash as they deteriorate, forcing scientists to rethink the definition.

fluctuating weight

Weights and measures varied on a local and regional level for millennia. They even varied among social classes, whether they were employed within a city or outside its walls, or on land or on sea. A general rule in Europe was that measures increased in size or distance once land was no longer in sight.

carob and wheat

The Chinese picul was the weight a man could carry on a shoulder pole. Early Babylon and Egypt, length was measured with the forearm, hand, or finger, and time by the sun, moon and other heavenly bodies. Containers were filled with plant seeds to measure volumes; seeds and stones served as standards for weights, giving rise to gems being measured in carats, deriving from the carob seed. For thousands of years, Mediterranean civilizations used weight standards based on grains of wheat. Some poor blighter had to sit there and count out the grains to find the weight.

a heavy heart

Though mostly useful, weights also have a sinister past. The ancient Egyptians judged people on their behavior during their lifetime by the weight of their heart when they died. The heart was weighed on large scales against the principle of truth and justice, represented by a feather. If it balanced, the deceased would be granted a place in the Afterlife. If it was heavy with the weight of wrongdoings, the balance would sink and the heart would be grabbed and devoured by a terrifying beast.

broomsticks

In the Netherlands, authorities reasoned that witches needed to be light enough to fly on brooms, so people suspected of witchcraft were dragged to the weigh house for judgement, resulting in thousands of innocent people being sent to death.

a modern weight

Great scientific advances in physics, astronomy, chemistry, and indeed beliefs, made consensus a must, so France created the metric system in 1793, England the imperial system in 1824. The kilogram is the base unit of mass in the metric system. It equals 1000 grams and is very nearly equal to the mass of 1,000 cubic cm of water.

kibble

The new definition of a kilogram decided upon recently in Versailles uses a Kibble Balance, which in very basic terms involves an electric current passing through an electromagnet. For a more technical description, try these links to BBC and The Statesman.

fun facts

The world record for clean and jerk weightlifting was 266 kg until 1992, 262.5 kg until 1997, and currently stands at 257 kg. No, not typos, nor redefinition of the kilogram. The International Weightlifting Federation restructured its weight classes in 1993, 1998 and 2018, each time nullifying earlier records.

The current price of a kilo of lead is US$2.173. At the time of writing, a kilo of gold costs US$39,325.83. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find the price of a kilo of feathers.

An elephant weighs about 5,443 kilos. A mouse between 17 and 25 grams. The world’s lightest living adult person weighs 5.5 kg. The world’s heaviest person recorded was estimated to be 635 kg. The largest mammal is the blue whale, the largest weighed was 189,999 kg. The record for the heaviest pumpkin is 1,190.49 kg, the heaviest turkey, 39.09 kg. The heaviest weight held by the eyelid is 3.51 kg; the heaviest deadlift with little finger 110 kg. A kilo of tea makes 500 cups.

1/500 kg of tea
1/500 kg of tea
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pencil

a gift

When my friend, Kathleen Shoop, bestselling author of After the Fog and other books, gave me the gift of a pencil, I knew it would be the perfect topic for #storyeverywhere. The pencil was the Blackwing 602, which quickly gained a cult following when it was launched in the 1930s.

sharply creative

Bugs Bunny and other Looney Tunes characters were created with a Blackwing 602. John Steinbeck had a special affinity for the Blackwing 602. Every morning he would sharpen 24 pencils and place them point up in a wooden box. He used one pencil to write four or five lines until the tip began to round, then he’d place it in a second box, point down. After he’d used all 24, he’d resharpen each one and start the process over again. Steinbeck’s son, Thom, said about his father’s pencils, “They were surgically sharp. You could dissect a mouse [with them].”

write right

Hemingway was also well-known for writing with a pencil. In A Moveable Feast, he said, “I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” His lifelong dedication for the pencil began soon after he arrived in Paris. He went to a café armed with notebook, fountain pen and a bottle of ink, ordered a latte, and sat down to write. To his horror, the ink feathered and bled all over and through the page. A Frenchman at the next table took pity on him and gave him a pencil, and he apparently never used a fountain pen again.

long-lasting error

Pencils have been part of our daily lives for a relatively short time. In the 16th century in Borrowdale, England, a fierce storm knocked over a tree to reveal a strange black substance clinging to its roots. People thought it was lead, which is how the central rod of the pencil got its name, even though pencils have never contained actual lead. Shepherds began to use the substance, later identified as graphite, to mark their sheep. Carpenters used it to make marks without indentations in their wood. Being brittle, it required a holder, so they wrapped it in sheepskin or with string, which they would unwind as the graphite wore down. The Italians are credited with the idea of using wood to wrap sticks of graphite, and ever since, cedar has been the wood of choice.

how hard

In 1795, Frenchman Nicholas Jacques Conté patented a new process for making graphite pencil leads by mixing powdered graphite and clay and forming sticks using a kiln. The process not only reduced costs, it also allowed control over the hardness and lightness of the mark on paper by changing the ratio of graphite and clay to change the hardness. In the US, hardness is identified by a number (most commonly 2, 2 ½ or 3), in the rest of the world by letters (HB, H or F). There are 20 types of hardness and blackness, and a few hundred brands of pencil.

the yellow pencil

From the Czech Republic, the Koh-i-Noor was the world’s first yellow pencil. It debuted at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889 and is still made by the original process. It has slightly brittle, mildly scratchy graphite. The manufacturer chose yellow because in China the color yellow signifies royalty and respect.

global

The Viarco from Portugal is made from quality cedar wood and crisp graphite cores. Viarco’s creative director designed their gorgeous scented pencils for his grandmother, who grew a variety of cedar in her backyard.
From Japan, Mitsubishi, Tombow, Kitaboshi, Camel and Blackwing are some of the highest quality pencils in the world, with well-centered cores, high-quality California Incense Cedar, and fine finishing details, including an average of 14 coats of paint. Most Japanese pencils have a designation stamped on them, such as “Master Writing”, “Hi-precision Drafting”, or “Office Use”, because there were once strict pricing regulations on school and office supplies in Japan.

further reading

If this post has given you a case of Pencilnalia, and you want to know everything there is to know about the humble pencil, of the surprisingly many websites dedicated to the pencil, I found Pencil Revolution particularly impressive.

To get #storyeverywhere in your mailbox, subscribe at the top right of this page. To share your stories, leave a comment here or on my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

pencil shavings
pencil shavings
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save a spider, save a life

spider rescue

People think I’m quite mad to rescue every spider I find; no squashing allowed in my house. But as it turns out, we should probably all be saving spiders. Oh, but hang on a jiffy, you thought this post was going to be about the creepiest of crawlies and the creepiest of holidays, Halloween? There’s little need for that, you’re all well aware of what it feels like to glance down to see a spider perched on your hand, or to walk into a web right where the little hairy eight-legged creature is and tussle yourself free from the web and spider skittering lord knows where on your torso, likely taking refuge beneath your clothing. Itchy yet? I’m sure its mamma thought those hairy legs were cute.

No, no need for scary stuff. This post is actually about how spiders are going to save the world, one human at a time.

awe for venom

In his fascinating TED Daily Talk, The Secrets of Spider Venom, accompanied by his tarantula, Sophie, zoologist Dr. Michel Dugon shares his passion and awe for arachnids, in particular a tiny venom-carrying sac they have in their chests, and the fangs folded inside the mouths on their underside.

venom harvest

With his team at Venom Systems Lab, Dugon studies the chemical compounds in spider venom for medicinal purposes. How they come by this venom is quite fascinating. First, the team collect between 300 and 400 common spiders, you know the ones that live on your ceiling, under the toilet seat and under your bed, and they put them in individual containers in the lab, where each spider is given a meal. A spider bed and breakfast of sorts. A few days later, the spiders are anaesthetized and then exposed to a tiny electrical current that makes venom ooze from their glands. The substance is diligently collected, no small feat considering it takes the venom of a few hundred spiders to make up the equivalent of a raindrop. The venom is frozen, then separated, and each chemical compound is purified. Each compound is then diluted several thousand times and studied.

safe and sound

Because I know your concern at this point is for the poor spiders, you’ll be happy to know that none of them are harmed in the process. They are fed and rested in their containers for a few more days before being released.

medicinal

The reason why this work is so important is that spider venom contains millions of chemical compounds found nowhere else in nature. Dugon says that 0.01% of these compounds have so far been studied, but properties have already been identified that are capable of killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is particularly significant because only two new antibiotics have been developed in the past five years, and infections like MRSA are now killing about 700,000 people around the world each year.

over the millennia

It’s amazing that Dugon and other scientists are able to extract such tiny amounts of venom, and thrilling to think of what other medicinal properties are yet to be discovered, but spiders actually have been used in medical applications for thousands of years.

Roman surgeons would wrap warts in cobwebs and set fire to them. Pliny, a first-century Roman, found that spiderwebs placed on open wounds promoted healing. Shakespeare also made reference to the healing properties of spiderwebs in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good master cobweb. If I cut my finger I shall make bold of you.”

Webs have also been used to treat eye complaints, and their ashes mixed with polenta to ease joint pains.

no more spider bites

And if you’re still not convinced that you should be rescuing rather than squashing, research shows that in truth spiders rarely bite humans. Besides their fear of people (yes, apparently they are scared of us), their jaws are designed to bite creatures their own size. Most bumps in the night that people claim are “spider bites” are actually bites by insects, or are reactions to infections. Only two types of spider in the US, and a dozen around the world out of the approximately 40,000 spider species, are able to inflict a troublesome bite.

give thanks

So next time you encounter an 8-legged, 8-eyed, hairy fiend, you might want to gently show him to his new residence outside your home, and thank him for the miracle he’s unwillingly sharing with the world.

 

cobweb tied in a bow

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autumn leaves

fall

Even better than pumpkin pies and apple cider, my favorite thing about autumn is leaves. The reds and purples, oranges and golds, yellows and browns. The crunch underneath your feet and when you kick your way through a pile someone has taken the time to build. The colorful patter of leaf-rain on a chilly walk in the woods, a colorful send off to the year’s final forest bathing.

summer green

In summer, we eat heaps of leaves. Lettuce, spinach, cabbage, basil, cilantro, parsley – yummy! Cuisines around the world use many different kinds of leaves to wrap foods. Vine, banana, bamboo and lotus leaves wrap food to protect it from the flame and form a natural container to allow the food to steep in its juices.

The major food production site for plants, leaves get their green color from a pigment called chlorophyll. It uses the energy in sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen gas, in a process we all learned about at school called photosynthesis. The sugars nourish the plant.
Without sufficient light and water to photosynthesis in winter, trees take the season off from food production, and live off the food they stored in summer. The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves to reveal the yellow and orange that’s been in them all along. Reds and purple are mostly made in the fall when glucose becomes trapped, while brown comes from waste left in some varieties, like oak.

autumn orange

In fall, the veins that carry leaf fluid are closed off as a layer of cork cells form at the base of the leaf; then, it seems, a leaf’s main purpose becomes to enthrall us with beauty, and fill the air with a peaty, woody aroma that rates high on the olfactory scale alongside cinnamon and apple pie.

the end

But is that really the end of the road for our interaction with leaves for the year? Actually not. Litterfall, as leaves have now become, is broken down by decomposers such as fungi, bacteria, earthworms and the rest of the busy forest floor community. The process delivers nutrients to the soil. Along with the bodies or fragments of dead organism as well as fecal matter, micoorganisms turn litterfall into detritus.

dead stuff

According to John C. Moore in his video that appears on TED Blog, Dead stuff: The secret ingredient in our food chain, only 10% of plants are consumed while alive, like our fresh, crisp salads. The remaining 90% of plants die, droop and drop, and become detritus, forming a huge source of energy as they decompose. Ew you might think, but don’t be put off, the video is well worth watching. It’s animated by the TED-Ed team using cute animals made of autumn leaves and shows how detritus comes from and goes back into the food chain. Our food chain? Well, yes. Apparently no creature, humans included, is more than two degrees removed from detritus.

humans, humus and hummus

Perhaps it might sound more appetizing if we use an alternative term for it, such as humus. Not hummus, the stuff you can buy in tubs with garlic or red pepper, though come to think of it, that kind of hummus is a rather dubious shade. Does the brown food chain sound any better? Whatever name we give it, one way or another we end up eating it. Before you pledge never to accept a dinner invitation to my house, let’s be clear, we don’t consume it directly, but through the food we eat like pork, catfish, shellfish, mushrooms, and poultry.

gold

I’m not planning to give any of those up, though I admit, today is not the day to dwell on the term ‘you are what you eat’. Then again, as Moore says, “One organism’s garbage is another’s gold.”

leaf on wood

 

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a bugle call

a bugle call

I normally explore the extraordinary life of ordinary objects in #storyeverywhere, so it would be fair for you to wonder how a bugle might fit the category of ordinary. Well it was a normal part of my day growing up. In my house, it was the alarm clock. Yup. My dad liked to play it full volume (is there any other way to play the bugle?) to startle us out of bed.
His preferred tune was one he learned when he was a cadet, called the Charlie Reveille. It’s played by military forces to wake up the troops at the start of the day.
The bugle is one of the simplest brass instruments, and my morning memories would suggest it is one of the loudest. It has no valves or keys, so notes are made by changing your embouchure, or how you apply the mouth to the mouthpiece.
The bugle shares its history with its sister instrument, the trumpet. Both are brass instruments without valves and are played in the same manner. The basic difference is in the shape of the bell. The trumpet is known for its strident, brash sound; the bugle for its darker and mellower tone. Early versions were made of animal horns.
Trumpets can be traced to pre-Biblical times when they were used by Egyptians and Israelites. The earliest trumpets were straight instruments with no mouthpiece and no flaring bell. They were actually megaphones into which people spoke, sang, or roared. This distorted the natural voice and produced a harsh sound to frighten evil spirits.
Ancient trumpets were used at burials, circumcisions, and sunset rites (to ensure the sun would return). It was a male-dominated practice and among certain tribes of the Amazon any woman who looked at a trumpet was killed. The tradition of playing at sunrise (Reveille), sunset (Retreat), and at burials (Taps) probably evolved from these ancient rituals.
The ancient Olympic Games in Greece included contests of trumpet playing. These contests were judged not by musicality but by volume of sound. The instrument used by the Greek trumpeters was the Salpinx, which measured 157 cm, made of thirteen cylindrical ivory parts and a bell made of bronze, as is the mouthpiece.
One famous trumpeter who participated in the games was Achias. He won three times and a column of honor was erected for his achievement. Another contestant was Herodorus of Megas, whose playing was so loud that people in the audience were stunned by the concussion. He was a giant man, slept on a bearskin, and played two trumpets at one time, forcing the audience to move back due to the force of his immense sound.
Dad probably didn’t produce that much noise, but from what I remember, he was close. Of one thing I am certain, dad did things his way, from waking us with a bugle call, to traveling with the world with just a boat or plane ticket and the warning we might end up sleeping on the beach, to the birthday poems and emails rivaling the likes of Spike Milligan, dad’s impact on my life was immense.

Rest well, dad.
Peter Eade 1943 – 2018

Peter E school army 2

Peter at the pubbugle

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extraordinary mineral

There’s a mineral on our dinner table that we may take little notice of, but ordinary salt, one of the five basic tastes the human tongue can detect, might have done more to shape the civilized world than anything else in your home.

how to build a nation

TIME Magazine writes, “The history of the world according to salt is simple: animals wore paths to salt licks; men followed; trails became roads, and settlements grew beside them.” As civilization spread, these settlements became cities and nations.
One of these settlements sprung up because ancient Britons carrying crude salt from Cheshire to Southern England were often delayed by the high tides of the Thames River. The settlement became a village known as Westminster, and Westminster became London.

what money is made of

One of the most traveled salt routes led from Morocco, across the Sahara to Timbuktu, which is interesting, because I didn’t realize Timbuktu was a real place. All roads lead to Rome, and in Roman times one of the busiest roads was Via Salaria, the salt route, where merchants drove oxcarts full of the precious crystals from the salt pans at Ostia. Some of this salt was used to pay soldiers in “salt money”, salarium argentum, which gave rise to the word, salary. A soldier’s salary was cut if he “was not worth his salt”, which derives from the Greek and Roman practice of buying slaves with salt.
In the 6th century, salt was traded ounce for ounce for gold. Coins or cakes of salt ten inches long were used in Abyssinia and other areas of central Africa as currency; Marco Polo told tales of the value of salt coins bearing the seal of the great Khan.

devil’s work

Spilling salt is thought to be bad luck and the act of the devil. Leonardo Da Vinci immortalized this by depicting overturned salt in front of Judas at the Last Supper. Many of us throw a pinch of spilled salt over our left shoulder to hit the devil in the eye with it.

good or bad

The two elements in salt, sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl) are  essential for life in animals, including humans, keeping our bodies chemically balanced, and our muscles and nervous system working. So it is essential, but too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing, and processed foods contain much more sodium than we need.
Salt makes food taste better because it helps certain molecules in our food release into the air. But it’s not only about flavor. Salt has been used as far back as records go to preserve meats, cheese and other food. It absorbs moisture through osmosis from the cells of bacteria and mold, ultimately killing them.

enough for Italians

Italian cookbooks often write q.b. as the quantity of salt, short for quanto basta, or quantum satis in Latin, meaning the amount which is enough. While this may seem vague, Italians are meticulous about food and its preparation, and are expected to have an innate knowledge of how much salt is enough. Their taste buds are apparently calibrated to tell exactly how much salt still needs to be added, or whether the sacrilege of adding too much has been committed.

variety is the mineral of life

Salt most often comes from deposits found in salt lakes and dried-up seas; sea salt is distilled from the ocean. Below the earth it lies in white veins thousands of feet deep. But though they have the same origin, different varieties have different tastes and textures.
Common table salt is highly refined, heavily ground with many trace minerals removed. This helps it flow nicely from the salt cellar, but doesn’t do much for our health. Unfortunately, sea salt might not be good for us either. It does contain good trace minerals like potassium, iron and zinc, but it increasingly contains a concentration of impurities and even heavy metals like lead resulting from the pollution of oceans.
Kosher salt has a flaky, coarse structure that is particularly efficient at extracting blood from meat, a requirement of Jewish law. Many consider pink salt to be the healthiest, containing iron oxide and other beneficial minerals. I particularly like smoked salt, especially as a rub on grilled food.

a salt business

The photos feature salt varieties from the Pittsburgh based Steel City Salt Company: lavender and rosemary; Peruvian pink; mesquite smoked; and espresso!

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edge

In macro photography, edge denotes a flat surface. What we would normally think of as an edge of something is actually called the edge of the edge. A macro photograph of the edge of a flower can reveal unexpected beauty that suggests we should spend more time looking at the edge, not just the overall blossom.
Not to be confused with the edge of the actual photograph, which can also be quite artful.
The edge isn’t always pretty. You can be on edge waiting for exam results. You can lose your edge if you don’t keep up the hard work. Someone could well drive you over the edge. They might start by giving you the rough edge of their tongue. Or you might be edged out of the running.
An edge is a line or intersection of two plane faces, but if that’s the case, why can you draw a line in the sand, but not an edge? Then again, doesn’t it set your teeth on edge when someone says the wrong word? But when someone has used their creative edge and come up with a story that has you sitting on the edge of your chair, the distraction might dull the edge of your annoyance.
Can the edge ever be where you want to be? Well, yes. I rather like having the edge. But what exactly is it like to be on the edge of the world? Does it mean we about to fall off, or are we about to begin life? If you live on the edge, have you devised a new way to live, or are you toying with the end of life?
And if you’re teetering on the edge, where are you likely to fall – to a good side, or bad side? It might be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you might be on the edge of a new lease on life. Or you might be on the edge of disaster.
Budding linguists, don’t think you can translate edge, the noun, without a bit of effort. In Italian the edge of the road is il ciglio (which, to confuse matters further, also means eyelash), the edge of a blade il taglio; the edge of a lake la sponda, the edge of an Alpine ski la lamina. As for the verb, to edge the garden is bordare, to edge forward is avanzare a poco a poco, to edge out is precedere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Is all this talk on a Monday morning making you fray around the edges? I don’t mean to push you to the edge so early in the morning. But I would like to suggest starting the week with a creative edge, by looking at things from a different angle, look for edges. They may or may not be gilded, but you might find they can be quite interesting. If you find some edges worthy of mention, please share in a comment.

swirl

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green

what green means

The Latin word for green is viridis, related to a group of words that suggest growth and even life itself: virere, to be green or vigorous; vis, strength. The term ‘to be green’ originated in the Middle Ages, when the courts required members to “wear the May,” on May 1, namely a leafy crown or garland. Thus green became the badge of youth and young love.
Shakespeare tied green to envy, writing, in Othello, “the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock / The meat it feeds on.”

a history

The color green has had a rocky history in art and clothing. This was in part due to misconceptions. Plato, the ancient Greek mathematician born in 5th century, “stoutly maintained that prasinon (leek color) was made by mixing purron (flame color) and melos (black).”

mixing color

The confusion was exacerbated by a taboo against creating green dyes and pigments by mixing blue and yellow. Alchemists routinely mixed elements together, but alchemists were mistrusted, and in many countries, clothing dyers weren’t allowed to work with red and yellow dye substances. The punishment for dyeing a cloth green by dipping in woad and then weld, a yellow dye, included large fines and even exile. Nettle and foxglove plants could give cloth a green dye, but only a weak shade, prompting the scholar Henri Estienne to say in 1566: “In France, if one sees a man of quality dressed in green, one might think that his brain was a little off.”

poison

Painters also struggled to find green pigments that did not deteriorate or eat through canvas over time, contributing to the color’s symbolic link with capriciousness, poison, and even evil. The association with poison is not unfounded. In 1775, a new copper arsenite pigment was found on the island of St. Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where the British would later exile Napoleon after his defeat at Waterloo. He died six years after arriving on the island, and when his body was exhumed, it was found to be curiously well preserved, a symptom of arsenic poisoning.
Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish scientist, was studying the element arsenic when he discovered the compound copper arsenite. Despite knowing it was poisonous, he recognized its commercial potential for dyeing fabric, and soon it was being used to print fabrics and wallpaper, to color artificial flowers, paper and dress fabrics, even for tinting confectionary. Soon, wallpaper dyed with copper arsenite greens were all the rage in British homes, hotels, and hospitals. Charles Dickens wanted to decorate his home in green, luckily his wife said no. Not surprisingly, a string of suspicious deaths began to occur, and doctors began conducting tests. An article in 1871 noted that green wallpaper could be found in houses, “from the palace down to the navvy’s hut”, yet a six-inch-square sample was found to contain enough arsenic to poison two adults.

green liquer

Green is also the color of absinthe, a bitter, green liqueur made from plants and aromatics. The ancient Greeks and Romans had used similar recipes as insect repellent and antiseptic. French physician, Pierre Ordinaire, developed a version of the ancient recipe as a tonic for his patients, but people soon developed a taste for it as an aperitif taken before dinner. In the 1860s, producers began using cheaper grain alcohol. By 1870s, a glass cost 10 centimes in France. Whole districts of Paris were said to smell faintly herbal between 5 and 6 pm, which became known as l’heure verte, (“the green hour”). Britain feared it would corrupt its shores, also. The Times warned its readers that absinthe was making “driveling idiots” out of those who drank it and survived addiction. In France, “Absinthomania” was seen as a medical complaint distinct from plain alcoholism.

when green fades

Having grown up amid the lush green of England, green for me is still the color of balance and harmony. Though the greenery has faded this year, a heatwave in the UK has revealed ancient settlements. Mr. Driver, who uses a light aircraft to find sites, said, “This is the time when long lost buried archaeological sites, Roman villas, Roman forts, prehistoric settlements appear fleetingly in crops.”
Much of the story of green comes from The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair.

The anthology, Into the Woods: Stories, Poems, Essays & More, written by the Mindful Writers, and including my story, The Butterfly Wall, is currently on blog tour; drop in and leave a comment, and you could win a $50 Amazon gift card, and a copy of the book.. All proceeds are being donated to The Children’s Heart Foundation.

green wings

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broken leg

I have spent the last few weeks dedicated to looking after my husband after he broke his leg in a motorbike accident. It even kept me from last week’s #storyeverywhere. Though it was a minor fracture, unfortunately he had serious complications. Fortunately, he had access to modern medicine. But the whole episode got me thinking, what if he’d been born in a different place and a different time?

There is evidence that Neanderthals used medicine 50,000 years ago, and author Jean Auel based much of the setting and lifestyle featured in The Clan of the Cave Bear on fact. Well-preserved remains suggest Neanderthals lived a rough life, often resulting in broken bones, but we don’t know much about what they did about them.

We do know that in ancient China, draw-and-pull, similar to modern reduction techniques, and splints were used as far back as 3,000 years ago, so my husband would probably have received good treatment if he’d lived there and then.

In ancient Egypt, he might have had a primitive, tree bark splint tightly wrapped in linens. Hippocrates of Cos, a Greek physician from 400 BCE wrote in detail about splinting and proper exercise during immobilization. This “exercise” would come to be what we refer to as physical therapy. The Egyptians used embalming techniques to make their casts, but in different time periods, flour, eggs, animal fat, wax, cardboard, cloth and parchment have been used.

In Medieval England, he would only have seen a physician if he’d been rich. For most people, common cures revolved around magic stones and charms, religion, and herbal remedies, and they were given by the local wise-woman, the priest, or the barber. Imagine interrupting a barber mid-cut to get your broken leg treated, and that treatment would probably have been amputation!

Native Americans might have treated him for broken bone with Buffaloberry, which he would probably enjoy, being a long-suffering, diehard Buffalo Bills fan, though if he took too much, it would have killed him.

In Tudor times, people believed that the body was made up of four humours, or liquids. These were phlegm, blood, yellow bile, and black bile. If you had too much of any one of them, you fell ill. If you got a fever, it was deduced that you had too much blood, so you would be cut open and let to bleed, or leeches were applied. Incidentally, a common diagnosis method at that time was to examine the look, smell and taste of a patient’s urine; wounds were cleaned with wine or sea water. And if you developed jaundice, your treatment would have been to swallow nine lice mixed with some ale each morning for seven days. Thank heavens for phototherapy.

Not that all ancient cures should be written off. The NHS, Britain’s National Health Service, has resumed use of leeches for burns or reconstructive surgery. And many modern medicines have plant based properties. In the US, 40% of pharmaceuticals contain plant-derived materials, or synthesized material from agents originally derived from plants.

Medical discoveries and new treatments are being discovered all the time. Though I hope for the day when people can get more equitable access to healthcare, I take my hat off to those who work tirelessly in the medical field. I’m grateful we are living in this day and age, the outcome could have been very different. That said, if my husband had lived in another era, he wouldn’t have been riding his motorbike. Perhaps once he’s back on his feet, we should look into getting him a good old-fashioned horse and cart.

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plight of a peony

Plight of a Peony

Beneath luxuriant massage of
ant paws tromping nectar,
petals in fierce embrace
play their favorite guessing game
nymph or no nymph?

Weary of mischief the layered clasp allows
translucent ruffles to escape with
ethereal scent of coveted infusion
in bow of elegant piousness
king of flowers.

Devil–may-care of fleetingness,
the peony regales with pageantry of beetles
spelunking in search of a cure,
strawberry swirl feast fit for a fly
subject of art.

Graceful to the end, tinged plumes
expose bounty woodpeckers peck eyes for,
arranging piles of concluding goodness,
plush swirls in final offering
wilted banquet for crawlers and mud.

My poem, Plight of a peony, was inspired by culture, beliefs, and observations, hence by #storyeverywhere. It first appeared on Flora’s Forum in 2015.

petals of a peony
petals of a peony
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