After months of hard work, I am ecstatic to announce that my next book, All Plants Are Edible Once, is now available. This book details some of the folklore and historical uses for common wild plants. I delve into the stories about the plants, telling both the good, bad, and yes, politically incorrect tales surrounding them.

My Inspiration

The plants themselves are my inspiration. Throughout my career in conservation, I’ve studied wild plants. Telling their stories was an integral part of the nature tours I led with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and later the US Forest Service.

You look at things  differently when you know the back story. Take creeping Charlie, for example. It is the bane of my husband’s existence. He loathes it because it has a stronghold in our lawn. The stories tell a different tale.

Did you know that it was used by the Saxons to clarify beer? That’s probably the reason it earned another of its common names, alehoof, of the ones that I dare write. And if that weren’t enough, there are the magical associations it has with fortunetelling and prophecy.

And it’s not just creeping Charlie. Other common plants like dandelion, hedge bindweed, and mullein have equally fascinating stories to tell. If anything, they inspire some interesting conversation about what people thought about back in the day. Like why would anyone call a plant devil’s plaything? There has to be a story there.

Lessons Learned

I learned several valuable lessons from writing this book. First, don’t give up on a project. Your time and effort will pay off. You will get it done.

Second, writing about things you love gets the job done. Sometimes, it’s all the motivation you need. Finally, write for yourself. I don’t know how this book will do. I expect there’s a narrow niche. But it doesn’t matter. I enjoyed the process, the stories, and the accomplishment. To me, that’s priceless.

Go Ahead–Take a Nap

brainAs if any of us need an excuse. A study by Saarland University confirms what physiology and psychology—and perhaps your own experience—has told us. A power nap is beneficial. This study suggests that that 60-minute snooze may improve memory performance.

The Brain on a Nap

The researchers considered the effects of a nap on memory recall of single words and word pairs on 41 participants. Between learning the task, participants either napped or watched a DVD. The results showed that those who napped maintained memory of hippocampus-dependent memories. The DVD group’s performance declined significantly.

The hippocampus is a part of your brain that helps you learn new memories, both short and long-term. The brief respite offered by a nap helped maintain memories of learned tasks as evidenced by performance.

No Shame in Napping

The research seemed to support the notion of the afternoon nap. Unfortunately, napping carries a lot of baggage. It’s something we associate with the very young or the very old, not something that healthy adults engage in. But if it helps with learning and retaining, it certainly deserves better recognition for its mental health benefits.

There is, after all, no shame in napping. Just because you’re asleep, it doesn’t mean that your brain is inactive. A lot goes on under the proverbial hood. We get in trouble with remembering things when we are bombarded with too much information and too many tasks.

For the writer, this research is a good thing. If you’re trying to work out a scene in your head, maybe a nap would be just the thing to get the creative juices flowing, as it were. You may be better able to remember where you’re going with your plot.

The takeaway message is that rest is essential. It helps us perform better in all tasks, including memory performance. For individuals who depend upon words for a living, this study makes power naps all that more special. Chris DR

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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 14, 2015

written book

“The best antidote to writer’s block is … to write.”
~Henriette Anne Klauser
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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 13, 2015

written down

“Don’t get it right—get it WRITTEN!”
~Lee Child
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Your Brain on Classical Music

classical music violinIf you grew up with music in your life, then the findings of a study by the University of Helsinki probably won’t surprise you. Researchers found that listening to classical music enhanced gene activity that affects the brain in a positive way.

Gene Activity Effects

Researchers worked with a group of 48 individuals with varying degrees of music background. Blood samples determined what differences in gene expression occurred listening to the 20-minute long, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K.216.

The effects involved both up-regulation and down-regulation of genes. Genes that were up-regulated included those involved dopamine secretion and transport as well and memory and learning. The down-regulated genes included those involved in mediating neurodegeneration. In short, listening to classical music positively affected brain activity.

Ubiquitous Music

Several of the identified genes also regulate song expression in songbirds. The researchers surmised that these findings may indicate a common evolutionary background. It’s worth noting that the effects in gene expression occurred in individuals with some music background.

I grew up with music. I played the organ, clarinet, violin, and now guitar. My sisters and I sang. They performed in theater; I preferred the organ bench. Even today, I see the effects of music on us. One of my sisters insists on “tuneage” when we go boating.

For my part, I constantly listen to music. It is part of my environment. As I write this, I am listening to Focus@Will because I can’t concentrate without music in the background. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaring music all the time. Rather, it sits quietly in the background as part of the mood of the moment.

Listening to Classical Music

The choice of Mozart in this study is interesting. Some put it down, calling it old people’s music or referring to it as old-fashioned. I can tell you one thing that truly amazed me about classical music. I was listening to some while writing one morning.

A piece that I’ve heard before played. Never before that moment have I ever been so caught up in music to cry. Yes, as I listened, tears streamed down my face. The music was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. The piece was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Op. 11.

We all know that music adds something special to our lives. Now we have more evidence to support this idea. I could use a nice shot of dopamine right about now. Chris DR
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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 12, 2015


“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
~Robert Benchley

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Dumbing Down with Smartphones

smartphoneIf you suspected the irony of a smartphone being called a smartphone, you’re not alone. The device that promised to change your world does so by creating an addiction, and hence, dependence on it. In fact, it may do its job too well. Researchers at the University of Waterloo studied the influence that a smartphone may have on your thinking. The results may surprise you.

Smartphones and Intelligence

The researchers found that an association between using a smartphone for simple tasks and lowering intelligence. The effects are more pronounced in intuitive thinkers who rely on their gut instincts. It seems as if some take the concept of a personal assistant in the smartphone to the extreme.

They explained that it fuels a mental laziness that prevents some for thinking for themselves. The researchers specifically identified tasks such as doing searches for information as having the main effect. They didn’t find a significant link with either social media use or entertainment (read: stupid human trick videos).

The findings make sense. Think about it. Do you know the phone numbers of your family or friends? How often do you use a smartphone for simple math problems like conversions or tips? The allure and convenience of technology apparently comes at a price.

Use It or Lose It

Your brain is like the rest of your body. Use it or lose it. Your smartphone may not always be there to bail you out. Batteries die. Phones die. And a good connection is sometimes fleeting or non-existent. It pays to do some tasks the old fashioned way.

Don’t get me wrong; smartphones are great things. I’m rarely without mine. It’s important to understand that the power of smartphones extends beyond a DuckDuckGo search for good chicken recipes. Remember that smartphones can increase your stress level by being too connected to work or keeping you up too late at night playing Frontiers.

The takeaway is this: use your smartphone, but unplug now and again to stay in touch with your intelligence and reality. Take time to enjoy the signs of spring showing up now. Chris DR

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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 11, 2015

Oxford dictionary

“Never use a long word when a short one will do.”
~Louisa May Alcott

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Biases for Verisimilitude

wine price biasesWe all have them. They drive our thoughts, our motivations, and our actions. Oftentimes, we don’t even know that they are there. They are the biases we all carry when we interact in our world. Sometimes, we make bad choices because of them. For the writer, they are a potent source of verisimilitude.

Biases in Everyday Life

I have a friend who likes wine—but only expensive ones from California. Forget Oregon or Washington wines. Only California will do. And it can’t be cheap. Cheap means bad. You could say she has a price bias.

That bias leads her to spend some good money on wine. And I’m sure the wine is good too. She’ll talk about the money she dropped as she engages in post-purchase rationalization. I’m not a wine expert, but I’ve had some nice albeit cheap wine from Spain, Chile, and yes, California. Price doesn’t make the wine.

These types of biases exist everywhere. Often, they keep us from confronting certain aspects of our lives. And, in the process, prevent us from enjoying some very pleasant things—like cheap wine.

Truth in Actions and Words

As a writer, these quirks of human nature provide an effective means of adding verisimilitude to your work. They don’t have to make sense. They often don’t in real life. That’s where their beauty lies.

We’re all quirky, dysfunctional human beings with our own biases and living with our own fallacies. We like things because we associate quality with price, something that isn’t always true. We like things because they fit into our perception of the world. We dismiss things and facts that do not.

The underlying motivations can follow political, religious, or familial ideologies.  Other times, we might not a clue why we believe something or act a certain way. These sometimes strange behaviors make your characters come to life. We don’t always make logical choices. Tapping into our raison d’etre is a fascinating journey. Chris DR

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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 10, 2015


“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
~Ernest Hemingway

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