Courtesy of RentCafe

The first place Bernd and I lived after we got married was a very small bachelor apartment in Santa Ana, California. It was about 500 square feet and inspired efficiency and organization in all things. It didn’t always work out that way, but we did our best.

Courtesy of This is the kitchenette in the bachelor apartment with part of the living room and a peek into the bedroom area. The bathroom was off to the left in this photo. They never did turn the apartments into condos. But it served to get us to move on.

It was all on one level. You’d be hard pressed to put 500 square feet on two levels anyway. Although, I think that some tiny homes do that. But the access for the upper level is more of a ladder than stairs and the upper level really, well, isn’t a true upper level.

After nearly five years of living in that tiny place, the owners of the apartment complex (it was a huge place called Versailles on the Lake … not as hoity toity as it sounds but there was a man-made lake), announced they were going to turn the apartments into condos and did we want to buy. For what they were asking and the size of it, we thought they were insane. So we started looking for something we could afford that was also bigger.

We found that in Walnut, California. We bought a condo that was a little over twice as big as the apartment. It was on two levels. The two bedrooms (original floor plan had the one huge bedroom split into two) were upstairs with a full bath. The master bedroom was large. The bathroom could be accessed from the master or from the hall.

This is the closets picture I could find of the stairs in the condo. I always thought the space underneath would have been better as an enclosed storage space.

The kitchen and dining area and living room were downstairs along with a half bath. It was palatial and we didn’t mind the stairs.

We lived in that condo for nearly 14 years and then we got tired of Southern California. We traveled a bit in Arizona and decided we liked it a lot and moved there. We stayed in a small condo with a lot of our stuff in storage for about four months before we found the house we wanted to buy.

The living spaces in the house were all on one level. It was kind of nice. Bernd thought it would be good since we were getting older. There were some stairs though.

The stairs off the deck on the left of the photo were only about nine steps. We had to rebuild them at one point. That was an interesting learning experience.

The large deck on the back side of the house had stairs down to ground level. And on one side of the house, there was a series of gentle concrete steps leading to the walk-out style basement.

These are the concrete steps down to the walk-out basement (no access from inside the house).

That house was even bigger than the condo topping out at about 1,600 square feet. Adding in the full basement (about 400 square feet of that was finished as a shop), we had way more space than we thought we’d ever need. We managed to fill it up anyway.

We lived in that house for almost 28 years until we got tired of the way Arizona was going. We looked around online at lots of different states and finally we settled on Wyoming where we are now.

Steps up to the front door. None of our house is actually underground. There is no real basement. Just two levels … upper and lower.

We didn’t really want stairs in our next house. We are pretty old now and stairs can be a problem as you age. But I’ve come to realize something a little bit odd. I don’t think a house is a proper house if it doesn’t have stairs. I like our stairs. For a while, they vexed me when a drug I was prescribed pretty much ruined my joints … all of them … fingers and toes as well as the major ones. So going up and down those stairs was difficult, slow, and very painful.

These are the stairs from the back door out of the office where I am currently working on this post. Best shot I’ve got of them. There are something like fourteen steps.

But I never once wished we had a house that did not have stairs.

This is looking down at the foyer from the upper level.

This is looking up the stairs from the lower level to the foyer. Maddie is happy we carpeted them. The rest of the house is all laminate flooring. I hate carpet. No way to really keep it clean.

I can’t say why I feel this way. I really only came to the realization that I do this very morning as I was heading down two flights of stairs to the lower level where the laundry closet is. It’s sheet washing day today.

Most of the homes where we live here in Riverton, Wyoming, have stairs. It just seems right somehow.

You never know what will happen, but we figure we will spend the rest of our lives in this house with its stairs up to the front door, and stairs to the upper level, and stairs to the lower level, and a long flight of steps from the back door to the ground level. And it’s my contention that instead of being a problem, the stairs will help to keep us fit, younger if you will. Well that and the cat and the dog.

So stairs are in my life for good. And it’s good.

Nobody Told Us: Projectile Car Ramps

Courtesy of Dragzine. Bernd’s car was white like this one but lifted higher in the back. The Chevy Nova of the time also looked a lot like the Chevy II, so it’s hard to be sure if this is actually the Chevy II.

Years and years and years ago, when Bernd and I were first going together, he owned a Chevy II. It was a boxy thing and lifted on leaf springs in the back.

It didn’t have power steering and the steering wheel was huge and took a lot of muscle to turn. The brake pedal was hard to depress too. Ordinarily, it was a bitch to drive. As short and small as I am, it was a real difficulty for me.

Bernd got this job putting up directional signs to housing developments. They had to be up by 4:00 p.m. on Fridays and taken down no sooner than 4:00 p.m. on Sundays. It was difficult work in that he had to get out of the car at each position, get the sign (if it was a staked position he pounded it into the ground with the sign already stapled to the stake, or staple it to whatever was handy … like a telephone pole), put it in place, get back in the car and drive to the next position.

Wasn’t long before he figured I should drive his car while he planted the signs. And then not long after that I was also driving while he took the signs down.

We streamlined the whole procedure by putting the signs in the back seat instead of in the trunk. We did it all pretty quickly and efficiently.

Around this same time, in an effort to be further efficient and save some money, Bernd decided to do his own oil changes. He invested in some ramps, figuring he’d be doing oil changes on into the future.

Came the day he wanted to change the oil and his dad was at work and his mom was off doing something so there were no cars in the garage. We set up the ramps.

They were nice ramps, with a dip at the top to cradle the tire. But I had my misgivings. They were unformulated misgivings. Mores the shame.

I didn’t want to stand in front of the car and direct him as he drove up onto the ramps (I make no claim to having a sixth sense, but sometimes I wonder). So we painstakingly got the car all lined up with the ramps. We had the ramps as straight as we could get them by eyeballing them. Then Bernd proceeded to drive up on them.

Boy was I glad I was behind the car.

One of the ramps shot forward like a bullet and slammed into the back wall of the garage. It missed the washer and dryer and the spare refrigerator by just a hair.

The other ramp shifted and got wedged underneath the car. We had a hell of a time getting the car off the ramp.

We did get the oil changed that day with a jack and jack stands.

Later, when we were married and Bernd had tired of the whole jack and jack stands routine, he bought another set of ramps. This set was more expensive with a longer run-up to the top and the top depression was larger.

We used a masonry bit and drilled holes in the garage floor. We drilled holes in the base of the ramps.   And we secured the ramps in place, front and rear, with very long and heavy bolts dropped into the holes in the garage floor.

Worked like a charm.

But nobody ever said to us that we should secure those first ramps. Now maybe that seems like a no-brainer to some of you. But it wasn’t to us. Luckily, the damage to the garage wasn’t that extensive. And we learned something about physics that we never forgot.

Courtesy of Calm Sage

Nobody Told Us: Frozen Waste Pipes


We are accustomed to cold winters. We lived for almost 28 years in the higher elevations of Arizona. Temperatures could dip into the single digits in the winter and we would get snow. But we never had a waste pipe freeze. We never had to do anything special to keep them from freezing. Didn’t even know that was a thing.

Here in Wyoming, it’s different. And no one told us.

Most of our waste pipes are well within the house. But the one that serves the kitchen sink and the clothes washer runs along an outside wall. And unfortunately, that wall is on the north side of the house.

So one morning while attempting to do the breakfast dishes, I got a nasty surprise. And I mean nasty.

The water that backed up into both sinks was smelly and full of black tarry looking stuff.

We are careful about what goes down the drain. We keep strainers in both sides of the kitchen sink and food bits get emptied into the trash can. Very little goes into the garbage disposal. We developed this habit in our previous house because we had a septic tank.

We also use paper towels to wipe out anything oily. And when I wash anything even a little bit oily, I am careful to run some very hot water afterward.

We’ve only been in this house for about two years and I’m going to guess that the previous occupants were not nearly as careful as we are. Hence the black, slimy, smelly, sludgy stuff.

Oh, did I mention it was the day before Christmas Eve?

Bernd tried snaking the drain first. At that point, we didn’t know it was frozen. We thought maybe it was just clogged. The snake would only go about three feet and then Bernd said it was like it hit a wall. That was when we started thinking about ice. Several times we put some very hot, just off the boil, water down the drain, but it didn’t help.

We’d been having some insane overnight temperatures of like -32. And we have insulators on our outside hose bibs. But we never thought about our interior pipes.

When we couldn’t unblock it, we called our plumber, Service Plumbing and Heating. Our plumber said they don’t do anything more than what we did and suggested we call Schooner Sanitation. Service Plumbing said that drains are all that Schooner does. So we called them.

Schooner called us back that day and we got an appointment for 9:00 a.m. Christmas Eve day. We were amazed he was willing to work. We thought for sure we’d be washing dishes in the bathroom sink until sometime about the middle of the next week.

He didn’t make it until 10:00. We’d had a lot of snow and his van is rear well drive and he didn’t have chains. But we didn’t care when he got to us. We were just glad he was coming at all.

He did try snaking it first. His snake was way more powerful than our little hand-cranked thing. But he hit the same wall.

So he hooked up some tubing to the hot water under the sink and fed the hose as far as it would go and started running hot water directly on the ice. It took a while and quite a few buckets full of water to be emptied into the toilet, but finally, he broke through the ice.

So, we wondered, what do you do to keep that from happening?

One, we have to keep the doors to the laundry closet downstairs open all the time so the heated air can circulate and warm the wall behind the washer and dryer. Two, we have to keep the cabinet doors under the kitchen sink open overnight. Three, we have to let the cold water tap trickle water all night. Running water won’t freeze. Or so we are told. Also, first thing in the morning when we get up, we run very hot water down the kitchen drain for a minute or so. And four, we have a space heater on a thermostat in the laundry closet just in case it gets a little too cold down there.

I looked into other recommendations. Some folks say to be mindful of the temperature of your garage. We already do that. The downstairs baseboard heating zone extends into the garage. But we also have an oil-filled radiant heater out there just in case. We’ve done that the last couple of winters because we store canned food and other food items (like apples and onions and potatoes) in the garage and don’t want that stuff to freeze.

And we are careful not to leave the big garage doors open for too long. And we don’t open a big garage door at the same time as the people door so that cold air doesn’t wash through the garage.  I don’t know that we could do anything more.

It hasn’t frozen again. Yet. And I’m grateful for that. But couldn’t someone have warned us?

AZ Quotes


This one is from 12/22/22. There is even more snow now but the driveway looks messy so I didn’t include a picture from today.

As a child, growing up in Southern California, I loved snow. The few times my parents took us to Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear were like magic for me. I couldn’t get enough of snow.

At age 41, Bernd and I moved to the higher elevations of Arizona. It snowed there. Not a lot where we were. But usually every winter we’d get at least one snow storm.

Sometimes it would snow as early as October and as late as April. Now and then we’d get a big storm that would last a couple of days and dump 16+ inches on us. I was in heaven.

Then at age 68, we moved to Wyoming. I anticipated a lot of snow. I was looking forward to a lot of snow.

Our first two winters here (this is our third) there was hardly any snow.  It was disappointing. We got what I called “tourist snow” when we lived in Arizona. And inch or so that would stick around for a week or less.

All the longtime residents said those first two winters were really mild. Still, it was colder than it was in Arizona and we thought mild was a misnomer despite that lack of significant snow.

The icicles are amazing too. This one is about three feet long.

Well. This winter is different. Way colder. When Bernd and I were out clearing the driveway after the previous storm, it was -20 degrees. We had to take breaks from pushing snow to go into the garage and unfreeze our hands over a space heater. The overnight lows were insane.

We’ve had another storm since that one, but it wasn’t as cold. It did, however snow constantly and lightly for two days and the official snow total from that one for our city is 10.2 inches. When we cleared the driveway yesterday, there was eight inches. So this morning when we cleared it before Bernd had to leave to go to work, there was only about two inches to move. We do it with snow pushers and snow shovels. Some of our neighbors have blowers. I’m not envious … really.

It’s a big driveway. You can easily park four cars on it and if you are careful, probably six. So the snow banks on either side of the drive are close to four feet high now.

Snow piled up on the deck rail. The deck surface is about two feet deep.

With all the snow from the three recent storms (and it being so cold that not much has melted), the backyard is buried in over two feet of snow. And you know what, I still love snow. I’m so thrilled to have had this. To have watched it coming down. To see it layering the landscape and piling on the rooftops. Coating the naked tree branches. And sticking in the pines and the junipers so that it’s just like a painting of the perfect winter scene. It’s still magical for me.

I think I will always love snow. If I live to be 90, I’m still going to be out there in it. Pushing it around. Reveling in the utter whiteness of it. Being amazed by the way it sparkles like glitter in the sunshine. Watching the air filled with ice crystals on the wind with the sun making it seem like we live in a snow globe.

Yup. I love snow.

Safe Winter Driving

Outside the front door, Dewey, AZ

In actuality, the safest thing to do when the snow is falling and the temperatures are below freezing is to just stay home. That was advice that I gave myself and planned on heeding in the future no matter what my husband, Bernd, might have to say.

Because we had everything set up for our move to Riverton, Wyoming at the beginning of December in 2020, we had no choice. South Pass was a mess. Never want to do that again.

It had snowed in Wyoming a day before we were to leave Arizona. It was a big snowfall. South Pass is one of the passes (Togwotee is the other) that go over the Continental Divide. It is almost a mile and a half in elevation and is the lowest point on the Divide. There was probably some other way to get to Riverton, but we had no idea what it might be.

It seemed like the road was mostly ice. The windshield washer in my Jeep had quit working. I was following Bernd in his Escape and it was making a mess of my windshield. We were creeping along and I thought it would never end. By the time we finally got to Riverton, I wanted nothing more than to sign the final papers, get the keys to our new house and pass out for a while.

But when we got to the house, the previous owners were still in it. Yes, they were mostly out, but they were not completely out for nearly an hour and a half of sheer torture. I kept thinking “please just get out of our house … NOW.”

However, what really inspired this post was something that happened while we were still living in Arizona and made me give myself that advice in the first paragraph. And yes, Arizona gets snow. Quite a lot of it, actually. Not all of Arizona is like Phoenix. Apparently that is a popular misconception. We lived at about 5,000 feet of elevation in central Arizona. It got cold and it got snowy

So anyway, one weekend, we had our first major snow storm. I don’t remember exactly when that was. Bernd and I found ourselves without much direction late on a Saturday afternoon and he suggested we go check out the new CAL Ranch store that opened up in downtown Prescott in the old Kmart building. I had wanted to do that for some time so I was pretty gung ho to go … except for the snow. Bernd thought it should be okay. I reminded him that Prescott was a few hundred feet higher in elevation than at home, but he was not to be deterred. Frankly, I was somewhat nonplussed by his desire to do this. Normally he didn’t have much interest in anything having to do with my obsession with horses at that time. Then I found out that on the way home from CAL Ranch, he wanted to check out the Fry’s grocery store in town.

All his co-workers had been telling him that it was better than the Fry’s that was closer to our home. Suddenly it all made sense to me. If it has to do with food, he’s all for it. So we dressed warmly, put on our sturdiest footwear and loaded ourselves into my Jeep.

The Jeep I had at the time was old, but still plucky. It had four-wheel drive and good tires. It did well in the cold weather, even if the power steering did tend to get a bit stiff. I topped of the gas tank at the gas station right at the entrance to our housing complex and we headed for downtown. We took the back way because it involves fewer traffic signals and I was already anticipating having trouble stopping.

As we drove into slightly higher elevations, the snow started coming down more thickly. The back road (Fain Road) had a speed limit of 65 miles per hour, but I found myself sticking to about 45 because the visibility was so bad. And mind you, it was still daylight. Albeit a very weak and watered down daylight.

The road had not been plowed and no cinder had been put down so my tires were making all sorts of squeaky noises in the snow. When I came to the first bridge, I could hear the crunch of ice under my tires. Because it was snowing so heavily, I could hardly see the first traffic signal even though I knew where it was. I drove this route several times a week on my way to visit the horses so I was very familiar with it. Still, I started to think about turning around and going home. But we forged on instead.

It was impossible to see the lane markings and we and the few other cars that were out were pretty much just driving in each other’s ruts. When I got to the traffic signal where I had to make a left turn onto Willow Creek Road where the CAL Ranch store was located, I had no idea if I was really in the turn lane or not. They hadn’t even plowed that major link between Prescott and Chino Valley yet.

With the snow still blowing and the sun barely lighting the day, we did make it safely to the parking lot of CAL Ranch. I parked and we enjoyed examining all that they had to offer. And it was a lot. Clothing, all sorts of boots, stuff for keeping pigs, chickens, goats, horses and you name it. Along with guns and rifles, and all sorts of hunting, fishing, and camping gear. It was heavenly.

By the time we were ready to leave, the sun had gone down and the temperature had dropped precipitously. And we thought it had been cold before that. Bernd said that maybe we should skip going to Fry’s and just go home. I thought that might be a good idea also. But I could feel his disappointment when I rapidly agreed.

We decided to go home the same way we had come rather than drive through downtown with its hundreds (okay, that’s an exaggeration) of traffic signals and some fairly steep hills. There is one piece of the main road (Gurley Street) that they close when it snows because it really is only good for sledding.

Leaving the CAL Ranch parking lot, I was extra careful to allow myself lots of stopping room. I had gotten immediately into the outside lane because the roads still hadn’t been plowed and it seemed to be more clear than the inside lane. I came to the first red traffic signal and stopped just fine. The next couple of traffic signals were green. But even so, I was only traveling at about 20 miles per hour. I thought that I had a better chance of stopping “suddenly” the slower I was going initially. Hah!

Unfortunately, I had to move into the inside lane due to a car that was stopped in the outside lane. Also unfortunately, the traffic signal just ahead was indicating by the walk/don’t walk signal that it was about to change to yellow and then red.

I had stayed in the inside lane after passing the stopped vehicle because it didn’t seem to be all that bad and crossing over the ridge of snow and ice between the lanes again didn’t really appeal to me all that well. The couple of cars behind me did, however, move back into the outside lane. I wish I had.

Right away when I saw that the signal was about to change, I started very carefully applying pressure to the brake pedal. Very carefully. The back end of my Jeep immediately began fishtailing all over the road. First one way and then the other as I let up and reapplied pressure. I realized that I was not going to be able to stop on what turned out to be ice and said so to Bernd. I looked at the intersection and saw that there was one cross-traffic car waiting to enter the intersection and I started laying on my horn. Just as I began to do that, Bernd rather excitedly told me to honk my horn. Thank you, Sweetie.

The light turned red before I got to the intersection and I went skating right on through. The car waiting to go waited until I had passed. The cars that had been behind me and had moved back into the outside lane were able to stop. I made careful note of that fact.

So, all of a sudden, I decided to stop at Fry’s after all. My nerves were a mess and I needed some time off of the road to calm down. I figured the roads weren’t going to get any worse than they already were. What I didn’t figure on was ice fog.

We had a nice time in Fry’s and picked up a few things that we could use. Bernd decided he was in the mood for hotdogs and so we found some without nitrites or nitrates and got some reasonably healthy buns (well, actually you probably wouldn’t want to eat them if they were actually healthy). We decided that Prescott’s Fry’s was not nicer than the Fry’s nearer to our home. Bernd said he wouldn’t have a need to go back there again anytime soon.

We spent enough time in the grocery store that my heart rate had returned to normal and the buzzing from adrenaline had abated. I could feel my hands again and I felt I was good to get us home.

When we left the Fry’s parking lot, I was so darn careful. I didn’t want to go ice skating with my Jeep ever again. I got into the outside lane and stayed there. I drove really slow and didn’t care what anyone might think. When the big black pickup truck flew by me in the inside lane, I thought it was an accident waiting to happen. Luckily, it didn’t happen before we made the turn off of Willow Creek Road.

All went relatively well until about the last, or what I thought was going to be the last, ten or so miles. That’s when we encountered the ice fog. I had been moving along at a nice 35-40 miles per hour after reaching a lower elevation and getting past the ice on the road. It had been just snow on the road for a couple of miles and I started to relax. But I could see ahead of us a wall of white and wondered what the heck we were heading into. Normal fog is bad enough, but ice fog is something else. Once again, we had to slow way down.

There was this one really big bump in the road that comes up just before the “off ramp” for Lakeshore Blvd. I knew that bump well so I knew where we were. Otherwise, we were just surrounded by white and couldn’t really see anything. I thought about pulling over.

 So why it’s called Lakeshore is a mystery to me unless it has something to do with the fact that all of Prescott Valley had been an inland sea at one time many eons ago. Why it’s an “off ramp” is an even bigger mystery. Anyway, after that bump, it was usually just a matter of minutes and about six miles to get home.

But, just ahead of me, I could barely make out a flashing light in the ice fog. I slowed down even more and approached it at a crawl. When I was very nearly right on top of it, I saw that it was a highway patrol vehicle. The officer was standing outside and behind it with a wimpy little flashlight signaling me to get off Fain Road at Lakeshore. I did and the “on ramp” to get back onto Fain was blocked by a snow plow. I thought they could have put that plow to much better use.

Bernd has no real sense of direction and so he was a little bit panicked at the detour. I was more incensed than anything else. I really, really, really, just wanted to be home and I had a good idea how far west on Lakeshore I was going to have to go before I’d come to a street that would take us to Highway 69 where I could head east toward our house. My few minutes from home turned into nearly a half an hour.

We did make it home safely and in one piece. And I acquired a new appreciation for traveling in winter weather. Honestly, I don’t know how folks back east deal with it all winter. Seems like there would have to be a lot of accidents, frayed nerves and cursing.

I know it might still be hard to imagine that it snows in Arizona, but I have lots of pictures to prove it. I’ve included one at the beginning of this post. It is the front yard of the house we had in Dewey, AZ.

Just in case you absolutely have to drive while it’s snowing, I’ve put together a few tips to help you:

  1. Just make any left turn from the outside lane. It’s probably the one most traveled in and more likely to be free of ice. Chances are there won’t be too many other foolhardy people on the road anyway. Hopefully.
  2. High beams are of no use whatsoever in an ice fog. And that trick people tell you about wearing your dark glasses is bull pucky.
  3. Allow way more stopping distance than you think you will need. Even then you’ll need more. Sometimes a lot more.
  4. Stop well back of the car in front of you. This allows you to test your stopping ability before rear ending them. Then too, it allows you some “wiggle” room when the person behind you looks like they are about to rear end you.
  5. Try not to stay out after dark. Previously clear roads will turn icy in the blink of an eye.
  6. Remember that ice will form first on the bridges.
  7. Do not make any sudden changes in direction even if you think you are going slowly enough.
  8. Do not do anything else but drive. I’m serious about this. Turn off the radio, do not have a conversation with any passenger, do not consult a map, and absolutely do not talk on your cell phone. Driving on snow and ice requires your complete attention.
  9. Keep at least one blanket in your vehicle in case you do have a problem. Some water and a few snacks are a good idea too. You can’t rely on emergency vehicles getting to you quickly.
  10. When you do get home safely, congratulate yourself and have a nice hot cup of something soothing. I did.
from pinterest


I’m not sure I know what happiness is. When I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it.

I don’t mean that I am sad all the time. It’s just that I think happiness is a concept and not necessarily a reality.

I think I am more likely to be content. Or satisfied. Or fulfilled.

I can wrap my mind around those. But a good way to define happiness eludes me.

Then I looked online. Sometimes doing that is a good thing. Sometimes it is not. That’s just an observation. Has nothing to do with this post. has this to say about the definition of happiness: “Happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment. While happiness has many different definitions, it is often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction.”

This definition used some of the terms I came up with and by this definition, I have indeed experienced “happiness.” But I still think the whole concept is overrated. The element of “joy” could be left out and I would still be content. Happiness and joy can be very fleeting. But contentment can last. I think that is what matters most.

And that’s my thought for the day.

“I Contain Multitudes:” A Book Review

“I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life” is written by Ed Yong.

Ed Yong (born December 17, 1981) is an award-winning science writer on the staff of The Atlantic. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Wired, the New York Times, Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American, the Guardian, the Times, Discover, Slate, and other publications.

His book not only covers the microbes that live within us. It also elucidates those that live upon us and around us in our environment.

He makes the point that microbes, in and of themselves, are not bad. It’s a label we apply to the ones that are blatantly pathogenic. But the vast majority of the microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) that we encounter in our daily lives are not pathogenic … and a lot of them are downright helpful.

This book entranced me and scared me. I came into it already a convert to the necessity of microbes for a healthy life. I came out of with a zeal for living a more all-encompassing life in harmony and cooperation with the microbes around me.

He makes a great case for nurturing and caring for these tiniest of lives. He shows how they are necessary not only to our health but the health of the entire earth and everything living on and in it. He recounts how Florence Nightingale discovered that her patients in hospital actually got well faster and better when she opened windows and let the world into the sterile hospital environment.

The thing that scared me the most about all that he wrote is how fragile it all is. How the balance can so easily be upset both within us and without us. And how crucial microbes are.

Because he is a science writer and has a massive bibliography at the back of the book, one might think the book will be a dry dissertation. It is anything but. He writes interestingly and kept my attention. I found myself sliding into one chapter after the other, anxious for each new revelation.

Yong sums it up this way in the very last paragraph of the last chapter of his book: “We see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are. We see how they sculpt our organs, protect us from poisons and disease, break down our food, uphold our health, calibrate our immune system guide our behavior, and bombard our genomes with their genes. We see the lengths to which animals must go to keep their multitudes in check, from the ecosystem managers of the immune system to the bacteria-feeding sugars in beast mile. We see what happens when those measures break: bleached reefs, inflamed guts, and obese bodies. We see, conversely, the rewards of a harmonious relationship: the ecological opportunities that open up to us, and the accelerated pace with which we can grasp them. We see how we might start to control these multitudes for our own benefit, transplanting entire communities from one individual to another, forging and breaking symbioses at will, or even engineering new kinds of microbes. And we learn the secret, invisible, and wondrous biology behind the gutless worms that thrive in an abyssal Eden, the mealybugs that suck the juices of plants, the corals that construct mighty reefs, the small stinging hydras that cling to pondweed, the beetles that bring down forests, the adorable squid that create their own light shows, the pangolin curled around a zookeeper’s waist, and the disease-fighting mosquitoes flying off into a bright Australian dawn.

I think just about anyone would find benefit from reading this book. It’s an eye opener.

The Next Great Idea

I thought I had my next great idea for a novel. I was writing every day. It was going well. I had about 24 chapters written and then it all just stopped. Yes, I came down with West Nile fever right about that time and was exhausted most of the time. Feverish. Achy. Pretty darn miserable. But that shouldn’t have stopped the ideas from flowing. Right?

I think that self-doubt is the problem. I’ve never written a story in this genre before. It’s a murder mystery.

Okay, so I’ve really only published five novels. Three of them are science fiction, one is what you might call a woman’s novel and the last one is a semi-autobiographical novel with a smattering of literary license. No great shakes really, but none of them are mysteries. Unless you want to count the mystery of why I wrote them at all. No clue. So don’t ask.

So I asked myself what makes me think I can write a murder mystery. That’s me. Always asking questions. Should have left that one alone and just kept writing.

But, you know, the same could be said for the science fiction novels or even the other two novels. Then there is the other question. The one I should never, ever, never ask myself and that is … what makes me think I can write at all.

What made me think I could write science fiction was the fact that I’ve read an absolute shit-load of science fiction over the years. I know what I like about the genre and what I don’t like. Then I got to thinking about mysteries and realized, I’ve read a lot of those too. Not as many as in the science fiction genre, but enough. Or at least what I thought should be enough.

So shouldn’t I be able to write a mystery novel? And why am I not doing that right now? Like right now, this minute instead of writing this.

If I could figure out the answer to that question, I might be able to move on.