Welcome to my blog, TIDBITS, which is an acronym for “The Interesting Details BehInd The Stories,” where I provide a window into my writing world. As I write realistic fiction, I do research into topics relevant to my stories. In addition to offering the magic of the imagination, I hope to provide my readers with a behind the scenes look at some of what comprises the work behind my work.

Pack Up Your Boot

In my story “The Glass Slipper,” Ashleigh Edwards packs her purchases into her boot, pulls out of the slot, and later heads off to her flat. Though this may sound confusing to most American ears, its meaning is unmistakable to the inhabitants of London, the setting for my story.

London phone booth

Since separate dialects within the same language are mutually intelligible, albeit confusing on occasion, I decided to write my story with authentic British dialect. By placing unfamiliar words/expressions in otherwise clear contexts, the American reader is able to quickly comprehend the story as it unfolds.

Though London is home to a large variety of dialects, I confine my characters—all well-heeled London natives—to the standard British dialect you would typically hear on BBC broadcasts. Let’s take a look at some basic differences between American and British English.

Although there are grammatical distinctions between these two dialects, let’s focus on the most striking differences: spelling, pronunciation, and vocabulary. For example, in my story, the word cozy is spelled cosy, which is the accepted spelling in British English. The word favorite is spelled favourite, as most words ending in –or in American English will find themselves with that ubiquitous u jumping in between the o and the r as they appear in British dialect. The Sondheim in London is a theatre, not a theater, as we would see it in American English. And Alice confides in Ashleigh, “…between you and me and the lamp post, he’s got some ridiculous notions.” Typically, British English speakers write lamp post as two words, as in my story, though Americans write it as one word, lamppost.

In reading “The Glass Slipper” silently, you won’t hear the pronunciation. However, you can certainly imagine it if you’ve ever heard it spoken in person or on the silver screen. And we can just imagine that slightly trilled r sound as we think of conversations in British upper-crust, stately manors.

However, the most striking illustration of the differences between the dialects, in my opinion, is in vocabulary. In my story, Ashleigh tells Alice that she’s on holiday, rather than on vacation. She speaks to her best friend on her mobile, not on her cell. And she takes off her trainers, rather than her sneakers, as she prepares to try on a new pair of shoes. If Alice were to offer her some goodies along with tea, we would see them enjoying biscuits, not cookies. And when Ashleigh returns to her Bloomsbury flat, she’ll get into the lift—not the elevator. Gabriel tells Ashleigh that he has just finished invigilating exams; an American professor would proctor them.

The flavor of a faraway place comes alive in the private musings and conversations of these compelling characters as we sip our tea, savor a biscuit, and steep ourselves in the atmosphere of this modern fairy tale.

An Engaging Gem

In my story “The Queue,” Kyle traverses thousands of miles to bring a precious diamond ring to his girlfriend. And in my story “The Glass Slipper,” Ashleigh begins to see her six-carat diamond engagement ring in a wholly new light. The cachet of the diamond engagement ring is recognized far and wide. Yet this engaging piece of iconic jewelry carries a story that may surprise you.

Engagement ring

Engagement rings of various kinds had been slipped onto the fingers of numerous brides-to-be for many centuries prior to the advent of the diamond engagement ring. In 1477, the first known diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy by her fiancé, Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Yet it would take nearly five more centuries before the diamond engagement ring would be widely embraced.

In a bid for more customers, the British diamond mining company, De Beers, launched one of the most successful  advertising campaigns of all time, “A diamond is forever,” in 1947. Frances Gerety, a copywriter at the Philadelphia agency, NW Ayer, is credited with creating the exceptionally recognizable tagline. The ads featured smiling Hollywood stars (think Marilyn Monroe) swathed in diamonds. In the 1953 film adaptation of the 1949 play “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee (referencing engagement rings), declares “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” The De Beers advertisement had led to a sentiment that had become a cultural icon.

Though diamonds had first appeared in the United States over a century earlier, the ad campaign sent the diamond’s popularity as an engagement ring skyrocketing. For decades thereafter, the diamond ring was widely associated with marriage proposals. Prospective grooms were advised by the ubiquitous De Beers ads to spend one month’s salary on a diamond ring. This was later expanded to two (“How can you make 2 months’ salary last forever?”), then three months’ salary. Regardless of price, the diamond ring became a “must” for every guy who dreamed of getting engaged to the girl of his dreams. To the delight of the De Beers company, who held a virtual monopoly in the diamond market, diamond sales in the United States increased from $23 million in 1939 to $2.1 billion in 1979.

The price for a diamond engagement ring varies widely, depending on cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. These factors are known in the diamond world as “the 4 C’s.” In “The Glass Slipper,” it is clear that Ashleigh’s affluent fiancé has spent a small fortune on her brilliant six-carat diamond ring. But will Ashleigh be willing to pay the price to keep this pricey ring on her finger?


  1. Editorial article: “1948: De Beers ‘A Diamond is Forever’ Campaign Invents the Modern Day Engagement Ring,” The Drum, March 31, 2016
  2. “Engagement Ring,” Wikipedia
  3. “The History of the Diamond as an Engagement Ring,” American Gem Society
  4. Maggie Kreienberg, “The Surprising History of Engagement Rings,” Brides Magazine, May 1, 2023

When Laid-Back, Strong-Backed Horses Lead the Way

In my psychological drama, “Cold Welcome,” Cody is tormented by hidden demons from his past. Only by exposing and confronting those demons might he head in the direction of a significant transformation and possible redemption. Surprisingly, horseback riding shifts him in the direction he needs, becoming indispensable to his life’s journey.

Horse and rider

Just as horses play such a significant role in Cody’s life, domesticated horses have played an essential role in human life throughout much of human history. Horses have been employed for millennia variously in agriculture, warfare, police work, transportation, and recreation. People had owned and benefited from goats, sheep, and other cattle for thousands of years before the horse was finally tamed. However, it was domestication of the horse that set civilization galloping forward.

Until recently, knowledge of exactly when and where this domestication happened was unknown. Finally, on October 20, 2021, a major scientific study, headed by Ludovic Orlando, a molecular archaeologist of the French National Center for Anthropobiology & Genomics, solved the mystery. Based on rigorous DNA analysis, scientists discovered that the ancestors of modern horses were initially domesticated in the Bronze Age, about 4,200 years ago, in the steppes of the Black Sea area. Herders in the Don-Volga region had hit upon a method to increase the local horse reproductive pool, selecting for specific traits that could be reproduced in successive equine generations. The specific genes associated with these traits are linked to docility and to a stronger backbone. These cooperative horses could be connected to wagons hauling goods. Between 4,000 and 3,600 years ago, these horses spread rapidly across Europe and Asia. The Sintashta culture, in a region that is today between southern Russia and northern Kazakhstan, played a significant role in this spread. They developed early spoked-wheel chariots, which would have a transformative impact on warfare and transportation.

William Taylor, assistant professor and curator of archaeology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, co-authored Orlando’s study. He remarked:

Horse domestication was an absolute lightning strike in human history, leading to incredible, widespread, and lasting social transformation all across the ancient world. Horses were an order of magnitude faster than . . . the transport systems of prehistoric Eurasia, allowing people to travel, communicate, trade, and raid across distances that would have previously been unthinkable.

And, as Orlando commented, “Horses can probably be considered as one of the animals that most impacted human history.”

Nearly everywhere domesticated horses were introduced, they soon reshaped human societies. Horses became the essential animal of farmers, kings, and warriors across diverse landscapes and climates. As Indo-European and Eurasian people were migrating across Asia, it appears that they traveled with their horses to new regions like India, China, and the Near East. People in these new locales welcomed the migrants with their amazing horses—animals that could now be used for a range of reasons, notably agriculture, transportation, and warfare.

Later, innovations such as the stirrup, saddle, and harness would allow riders enhanced safety and the comfort required for long-distance riding. Soldiers could now ride without the need for chariots. Saddles were initially developed about 800 BCE; they were simple cloth pads placed on horses’ backs. Later innovations, like the leather saddle, significantly enhanced a rider’s ease and comfort. Apparently, the first useful stirrup showed up around 200-300 CE, probably invented in Asia. This innovation was momentous, as it enabled riders to remain on their horses over rough terrain and fast movement. The girth was an important development along with the saddle, as the girth holds the saddle in place. Originally made of cloth or hide, girths were later made from a variety of different materials designed for specific riding needs.

The storied saddle has evolved over time to become the versatile, indispensable piece of riding equipment in use today, providing comfort for both horse and rider. A rider’s concern for the needs and comfort of their horse is indicative of the special horse-human connection.


1. Cavaletti Collection, West Midlands, UK

2. “What has Been the Role of Horses in Human Societies,” Daily History. org

3. Amber Dance, “When Did Humans Domesticate the Horse?” Knowable Magazine, reprinted in Smithsonian Magazine, May 19, 2022

4. Ashley Strickland, “The Moment Domesticated Horses Changed the Course of Human History is now Revealed,” October 22, 2021, CNN

5. “Horse,” Wikipedia

An Old Story

In my story, “A Walk on the Beach With my Aunt,” a rather dissatisfied middle-aged woman, Rebecca, learns some surprising lessons from her upbeat centenarian aunt, Abigail. In response to Rebecca’s question about her aunt’s secret to healthy longevity, Abigail responds:

I say ‘thank you’ to the One who gave me life every single morning when I open my eyes. And then I go out and celebrate life with my morning walk on the beach. The beach inspires my art; I still paint just about every day. That’s my passion, and I would recommend having a passion to everyone. For me, it’s part of living a fulfilling life and it energizes me.

Old couple dancing

In the course of Rebecca’s conversation with Aunt Abigail, it becomes increasingly clear that her aunt’s amazing health and happiness stem from her attitude, not just good luck. Aunt Abigail demonstrates, as she shares her life story, that she embodies traits such as optimism and gratitude, staying active, keeping connected with her family, and remaining passionate about her work as an artist. Rebecca is surprised to learn that her aunt has struggled with some real challenges in her life, but her tenacity and her optimistic attitude have afforded her great resilience. In the real world, personality traits like those exhibited by Aunt Abigail are highly correlated with health and longevity. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from individuals, like the fictional Aunt Abigail, who have lived for at least a hundred years.

While advances in medicine and healthier lifestyle choices have contributed significantly to greater longevity throughout the world, and some people just have good genes, people who are still living at a hundred and beyond appear to be generally happy people. In showcasing a relatively large population of centenarians at one Midwest senior facility, the centenarians were interviewed about their lives—and life choices. They all reported having had very happy marriages. One centenarian couple was still enjoying life together. They spoke of their strong work ethic, their interests, and their close ties with family and friends. Another midwesterner, Marion Hunter, was a supercentenarian who attributed her longevity to dancing throughout her life.

Regions of the world where people live the longest are known as “blue zones.” A National Geographic Fellow and journalist, Dan Buettner, has researched this phenomenon. He pinpoints some prevalent traits exhibited by older individuals in these blue zones. These include daily walks, daily short naps, and having at least three close friends who can be relied on for emotional support.

Much scientific evidence also demonstrates the power of the toothbrush (and dental floss). The risk of heart disease and dementia, among other age-related diseases, can be significantly reduced by regular brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental exams and cleanings. This is because good oral hygiene removes (or prevents) chronic low-level inflammation that can negatively impact on the immune system. The American Dental Association recommends twice-daily brushing and daily flossing. A Scottish study found that those who brushed twice daily had a significantly lower heart-attack risk than those who only brushed once a day, and a much lower risk than those who didn’t brush at all.

A 2018 Harvard study found that five habits are significantly correlated with longevity. These include eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking, and not drinking too much alcohol. The Mediterranean diet, in particular, seems to be associated with promoting health and longevity.

Getting a good night’s sleep (7-8 hours) on a regular basis has been shown to facilitate healthy immune functioning, essential for healthy longevity. Andrew Steele, a scientist who authored Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old, stresses the importance of all that shuteye. He asserts that sleep is like “spring cleaning” for the brain; it flushes out toxins such as those associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological syndromes.

Tremendous advances in the field of aging biology have allowed scientists to employ methods that can slow down the aging process at the cellular level. As the twenty-first century continues, we can expect much more progress in this field. The probability of a significantly higher percentage of the population aging well, and even becoming super-centenarians (reaching the age of 110), is in sight. In the meanwhile, we all can do our part to give ourselves greater odds of someday celebrating centenarian birthdays.

And, like those centenarians—and super-centenarians—who still shine on the dance floor, let’s hope we’ll all be dancing to 120—and beyond. 


  1. Cory Stieg, “The Surprising Habit That can Reverse Aging–and Other Science-Backed Strategies,” Make It, March 28, 2021
  2. “Centenarian,” Wikipedia
  3. Cory Stieg, “Researchers say the Probability of Living Past 110 is on the Rise–Here’s What you can do to get There,” Make It, July 17, 2021
  4. Steve Brandt, “Obituary: Supercentenarian Marion Hunter Danced Through Life,” Star Tribune, August 23, 2016

“As American as Apple Pie”

In my story, “Pie in the Sky”, a wedge of apple pie on a business flight leads to an enchanting surprise for Derek Smith, a successful young bachelor. Apple pie is Derek’s favorite dessert, a delicious slice of Americana he enjoys every Thanksgiving at his grandmother’s table. But he has no idea how his desire for apple pie will change his life.

We are familiar with the expression, “as American as apple pie.” Yet this darling of American desserts was not always American; even the tasty apple wasn’t always American. Apples are native to Asia (originating in the area of modern-day Kazakhstan), not to America (with the exception of crab apples). Over time, apples found their way into and throughout Europe. In one form or another, apple pies have been around since medieval times. In the fourteenth century, the pastry portion of the pie was just a receptacle in which to hold the apple slices and not meant to be eaten. Back then, sugar was scarce and very expensive; the apple desserts were sugar free. The lattice-style pastry we know today was first created in fifteenth-century Holland. By the middle of the sixteenth century, sugar had become more available and affordable, and the pastry shell was now meant to be eaten. Europeans loved these delicious apple desserts.

Apple pie
Apple pie baked by the author. Photo © Ariel Lepor

In the seventeenth century, European colonists, all set to set out for the New World, were not about to give up their favorite fruits. So they brought apple-tree cuttings and seeds along with them on their journeys. But the soil in America was not well suited to growing these apple trees. Grafting would yield apples more closely resembling the ones from their European past. But grafting requires work and dedication. It was far easier to just throw seeds around (with unpredictable results) or to rely on crab apples (suitable for cider but too sour for eating) native to America. And there were farmers whose religious backgrounds categorically prohibited grafting, anyway. So, whereas there were some apples appropriate for apple pie, they were far from plentiful. Preserving whatever apples one could find, would help; by late in the eighteenth century, Dutch immigrants to America brought their method for preserving apples. Around this time, German immigrants contributed their technique for making flaky pastry crusts. Armed with this new information, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery in 1796. Her cookbook contained the first apple-pie recipes published in the United States.

Over time, as the country expanded westward, Americans planted apple trees—lots of them. Settlers were offered one hundred acres each, with the proviso that they plant fifty apple trees and twenty peach trees. By the nineteenth century, Americans were growing over fourteen thousand different varieties of apples; many were perfect for pie. Easy to prepare and affordable, apple pie was now a staple of the American diet, eaten for multiple meals throughout the day, and on multiple days per week. It was served as a side dish or even as a main dish (with cheese). By 1902, all this apple-pie eating led one man to assert that it was time to cut back on apple-pie consumption. Well, a New York Times editor who heard this was quick to defend his favorite food. In his editorial, he wrote: “Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents the calendar of the changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.” In 1926, another article in the same publication proclaimed: “The Tourist Apple Pie Hunt is Ended: American Army Abroad Has Failed Again to Find in Europe ‘the Kind They Make at Home.’” Though this assertion is dubious, it solidified the view of the apple pie as a symbol of American ideals like motherly love, purity, wholesomeness, and the comforts of home. It soon became associated with nationalism and patriotism. Hence, the often-repeated line heard from American soldiers during World War II, “I’m fighting for Mom and apple pie.”

Though apple pie originated in Europe, its storied history eventually led to its becoming fully integrated into American culture and cuisine. The blending of culinary contributions from a variety of national backgrounds, among other factors, led to the apple pie’s emergence as the classic symbol cherished by millions of Americans today.

And Derek Smith, savoring his apple pie aboard that fabulous flight, was never more thankful.


1. Emily VanSchmus, “The Historical Reason We Associate Apple Pie With the Fourth of July,” Better Homes and Gardens, October 16, 2022

2. Meagan Peoples, “How Apple Pie Became the Epitome of American Patriotism,” The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, October 27, 2016

3. “Apple Pie History,” What’s Cooking America

4. Lauren Cabral, “The History of Apple Pie,” Back Then History, May 11, 2021

The Cyclamen: A Delicate Yet Resilient Beauty

In a novel I am currently writing, the cyclamen flower plays a colorful and symbolic role. Through its uncanny resilience, the cyclamen is considered a symbol of sincere love and hope. In the book, the flower’s special messages become evident to the characters—and to the reader.

The cyclamen’s delicate beauty belies its strength and resilience. It is a perennial that can be found, depending on location, in white and in shades of fuchsia, pink, and red. It especially thrives in cool weather. Deep underneath the flowers and leaves, the water-retaining tuber allows it to withstand harsh conditions. When summer arrives, it may appear to have died. However, it is usually simply dormant. After hiding all summer, it reappears in autumn as the weather cools.


It is an appropriate flower to give at occasions of departure, like retirement or moving, as the individual may yet return. This flower has long been regarded as symbolic of sincere, deep love. And, as in true love, even a long separation does not lead to the demise of the relationship.

The supple stems of the cyclamen bend gracefully to lead the fruit toward the earth during the setting, which is the process of the fruit’s formation. Reminiscent of a mother bending toward her young children, the cyclamen also symbolizes maternal love, a theme that runs through my upcoming novel.

Though the cyclamen has been exported to numerous far-flung locales, it is native to the east Mediterranean, notably Cyprus and Israel. In 2006, the Cyprus cyclamen was designated the national flower of Cyprus. In 2007, Cyclamen persicum (Hebrew: rakefet) was elected the national flower of Israel. Though it grows wild all over the country, it is especially colorful in the north, where it thrives in the cool climate of the mountainous Golan region.

In 2013, Anemone coronaria became Israel’s national flower, slightly edging out the cyclamen in a new national poll. However, a special love and affinity for the cyclamen endures among the people of Israel, who identify with its extraordinary resilience. A young German tourist, writing in her college newspaper, may have said it best:

I was comforted and encouraged by a small flower which grows across Israel. Cyclamen . . . is known to thrive in harsh conditions, and stands as a symbol of the Israeli people. Israel has long endured . . . harsh conditions. Yet, time after time, the people continue to persevere, and hold true to their ethnicity and religion. Despite the pain of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, or the bombs that threaten the people of Israel today, the Israeli people stand their ground. My ten days in Israel brought perspective to my life, as now I am inspired to live my life as a cyclamen—thriving under harsh conditions.

Christa Lavoie

A wide array of locations within Israel provides the primary setting for my novel. Against this backdrop, my main characters face heartrending challenges. Yet, like the resolute cyclamen, they live not only to survive, but to thrive.


  1. “List of National Symbols of Israel,” Wikipedia
  2. “The National Plant of Cyprus,” The Press and Information Office of Cyprus
  3. Christa Lavoie, “Living Like a Cyclamen Flower: What Israel Taught me About Resilience,” in The Collegian, January 17, 2019
  4. Connor Lowry, “Fun Flower Facts: Cyclamen,” Grower Direct Fresh Cut Flowers, August 26, 2012
  5. “Flower of Love, Flower of Art,” https://www.cyclamen.com/en/consumer/find-out-about-cyclamen/cyclamen-stories/flower-of-love-flower-of-art

Music of the Islands

In my story, “Monique’s Melody,” the elderly Dr. Whitaker plays his ukulele for hours on end as he imagines his life with his wife, long before in Hawaii. As his daughter explains to her prospective employee, her parents had learned to play the ukulele on an extended Hawaiian vacation during their retirement. When we think of the ukulele and its sweet, mellow sounds, we typically imagine the Hawaiian islands. However, this iconic instrument evolved from a similar instrument first seen on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Let’s take a look at—and an imaginary listen to—the history of the ukulele and how it became the instrument dreamed of by people the world over.

The ukulele has a storied history. Its roots can be traced to Portugal, particularly the island of Madeira. In the nineteenth century, Madeira boasted rich woodlands and was known for its vineyards, its wooden furniture industry, and its manufacture of fine musical instruments, notably the braguinha or machete de braga, crafted of wood from locally grown trees. Late in the nineteenth century, a series of natural disasters destroyed much of the woodland, severely curtailing the island’s previously thriving industries. Now there were a great many able-bodied men in Madeira who lacked the livelihoods they had come to rely on. They didn’t have to search long to find work, as right around that time (in the 1870s), the burgeoning sugarcane industry in the Hawaiian islands required many more workers to labor on its plentiful plantations.

Many Portuguese men began arriving in Hawaii, along with their families. On August 23, 1879, three woodworkers, Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, and Jose do Espirito, along with musician Joao Fernandes, arrived in Honolulu Harbor. Upon their arrival, Fernandes sang a thanksgiving song as he strummed the machete. 

The Hawaiians fell in love with the music. So impressed with how the Portuguese musician’s fingers seemed to leap over the strings so quickly, they nicknamed the instrument the “ukulele,” which means “jumping flea” in Hawaiian. Once in Hawaii, the machete evolved into the original ukulele; it changed in size and shape and was tuned to make it easier to play as it developed its distinctive ukulele sound. The Hawaiian king, David Kalakauna, was one of the Hawaiians who adored the sounds of the ukulele. King David’s royal imprimatur made the ukulele part of the Hawaiian musical tradition. Not long after, his sister, Queen Lydia Lili’uokalani (who composed “Aloha ʻOe”) declared it the official national instrument of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The queen’s interpretation of the name “ukulele” was “a gift from afar,” in recognition of the Portuguese who journeyed to Hawaii with their musical instruments.

In 1915, the Pan Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco, California. Jonas Kumulae, a recognized Hawaiian ukulele maker, presented his prized instrument to the crowds of mainlanders; this led to the world’s first “uke” craze outside of Hawaii. This segued into the ukulele’s prominence in the early Jazz Age. Throughout the 1920s, the uke was in great demand by amateur players; uke chord tablature was used in published sheet music for popular songs. People loved the music and its association with the celebrated islands of Hawaii.

Beatles George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon were fond of the ukulele; they were all proficient players. Tony Award winner Tessie O’Shea was a British ukulele player who appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show the night the Beatles debuted in 1964. Though its popularity began to wane somewhat in later decades, the ukulele enjoyed a revival beginning in the 1990s. Ukulele sales have been catapulted in recent years to an all-time high.

The humble ukulele, with its sweetly mellow sounds, once again has found its rightful place in the hearts of so many—like Dr. James Whitaker—who appreciate the musical treasure embodied in the magical Hawaiian Islands.


  1. “Ukulele: History, Fun Facts, and Benefits of Learning,” Stage Music Center
  2. Brie Adams,“Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Ukulele,” May 21, 2015
  3. Sandor Nagyszalanczy, “The Birth of the Ukulele,” May 27, 2015
  4. “Ukulele,” Wikipedia

Libby Riddles and the Iconic Iditarod

In my story, “Cold Welcome,” Cody recounts how his sister-in-law, Miki, had trained sled dogs, following in the path of her Inuit grandfather. In 1985, as a little girl, she saw Libby Riddles become the first woman to take first place in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (popularly known just as the Iditarod). Miki was inspired to do the tough work of training her beloved dogs to become champion sled dogs in Alaska, much as Libby had done. Let’s take a look at the intrepid Libby Riddles and the sled dog race that made her Miki’s heroine.

The Iditarod race debuted in 1973 in a bid to preserve the sled dog culture that had tamed the Alaskan frontier. Dogs such as Malamutes had been an integral part of Alaskan life for millennia, as they were fiercely loyal guard dogs, powerful at hauling sleds and provisions, and provided reliable and necessary transportation across the winter ice and snow. By the 1960s, the snowmobile had become the preferred means of transportation in much of the state, though dog sledding persisted in Alaska’s backcountry.

Iditarod team near Nome
Iditarod team near Nome (CC BY-SA 2.0 by Flickr user ra64)

There are several routes followed for the Iditarod, depending on the year of the particular run. However, these only vary slightly; the courses generally traverse the great Alaska countryside and the Bering Sea coastline. The Iditarod honors and memorializes the 1925 “Great Race of Mercy” as it follows a similar path. The race begins in Anchorage, where the life-saving medication originated, and ends in Nome. This was the isolated Alaskan town about a thousand miles from Anchorage that desperately needed antitoxin serum to combat the diphtheria that was threatening the lives of its townsfolk. Extreme blizzard conditions made plane deliveries impossible at the time. The only way to get the needed medication to Nome, would entail delivery by stalwart sled dogs, trained by the highly esteemed musher Leonard Seppala, who would also serve as a musher guide for one of the sled dog teams. Sending the precious antitoxin cargo with these teams proved grueling and dangerous, but the courage and tenacity of the mushers and sled dogs alike got the medication to the patients in time. Balto was the dog that crossed into Nome first; Togo was the dog that ran the greatest number of miles. These dogs have touched the hearts of millions and have been honored in film, literature, and in statues erected in New York City parks.

Libby Riddles had a special place in her heart for sled dogs; she spent three years breeding, training, and connecting with her dogs before venturing into the Iditarod competition. Eighteen days and twenty minutes after her start in Anchorage, Libby was greeted in Nome by a huge cheering crowd. The first woman to win the Iditarod, she was heralded as the first lady of Alaska. She had endured spills, blizzards and biting cold (temperatures of fifty to sixty degrees below zero) in her determination to win the one-thousand-plus-mile race. Libby credits her dogs’ speed, agility, and tenacity for helping her win that legendary competition. Notably, she was also awarded the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award, as she was judged to be the best of the mushers at taking care of her sled dog team, ensuring they had plenty of breaks to rest and eat.

In contrast to the weeks of grueling racing Libby Riddles faced in 1985, today’s top mushers cross the finish line in nine or ten days. Modern technology and aircraft have made it a significantly easier race. Skillful breeding has resulted in sleeker dogs, who are able to run faster and longer.

Today, Libby Riddles continues to care for her sled dogs, though she stopped official racing about twenty years ago. She gives regular presentations to the guests of Princess Cruises in Alaska and has authored several books on her legendary sled dog victory. Just as Libby’s tenacity inspired Miki decades ago, it has fueled the dreams of countless girls and women all over the world ever since.


1. Alice George, “Facing Blizzards and Accidents, Iditarod’s First Woman Champion Libby Riddles Persisted,” Smithsonian Magazine (online), March 11, 2020

2. ”Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race,” in Wikipedia

3. Matt Geiger and Karl Christenson, “Wisconsin’s Libby Riddles: The First Woman to Win the Iditarod,” Wisconsin Life, March 4, 2021

4. “Who Was the First Woman to Win the Iditarod?” A Life of Dogs, April 27, 2021

5. Will Hank, “The True Story of Togo: Siberian Husky Sled Dog Hero of 1925 Nome Serum Run,” American Kennel Club, March 6, 2020/Updated Aug. 27, 2021

Luck of the Lotto

In my story, “Otto’s Lotto,” Otto dreams of an elusive bounty to solve his fiscal nightmare. He seems to have finally hit the jackpot with his lottery number. His financial woes look as though they are forever relegated to the rearview mirror.

All over the world, lottery players have dreamed of hitting the jackpot. Let’s look at a brief history of the lottery, the state of the lottery today, and what the odds may actually be of the “lucky” winners ultimately enjoying their windfalls. 


Between 205 and 187 BCE, keno slips (cards in games of chance) were used in China during the Han dynasty. These were employed in the first known lottery to fund public works. These lotteries are believed to have financed major government projects, notably the Great Wall of China.

The first known European lotteries date back to the Roman Empire; these were raffles with prizes at lavish dinners. The first recorded lotteries to offer tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money date to the fifteenth century in the Benelux Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg). Proceeds were used to support the poor and to fund public projects. The English word, “lottery” finds its origin in the Dutch noun, “lot,” meaning “fate.” England joined the lottery trend in 1566 under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth I. Prior to the establishment of the United States of America, lotteries in the colonies funded the establishment of Princeton and Columbia Universities, as well as the University of Pennsylvania. And at the outset of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress used lotteries to support the Colonial Army.

Though lotteries continued to be popular throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the early twentieth century saw a marked drop in such ventures, which had largely become illegal in the USA and in many parts of Europe. The lottery made a comeback in the 1960s; it is still wildly popular today, as it is played in all but five states. In my story, Otto lives in Idaho, a state which has an official lottery. It was established in 1989 through a voter-approved constitutional amendment. Though Otto has never before played the lotto, he has heard about the winners of Powerball, Mega Millions, and Wild Card 2, and he longs to join their ranks.

Of course, the odds of actually winning any official state-run lotteries are miniscule. Yet the fantasy entices people to spend billions of dollars annually. Of course, someone does win. What happens to those winners after the fanfare has died down?

Robert Pagliarini, a tax advisor, cautions against the unsustainable high associated with what he terms “the honeymoon stage of sudden wealth.’’ Though it would appear that winning the lotto would be everyone’s dream come true, fears of being robbed or scammed can dampen a winner’s initial joy. 

Pagliarini told Business Insider that each winner should assemble a financial dream team, including an attorney, a tax specialist, and a financial advisor to help secure sunny financial horizons. Yet most of those who hit the jackpot fail to do so. And without competent financial guides, a winner may find that even his friends and relatives could seek to take advantage of him, peeling away his new-found wealth. This extreme and disproportionate generosity and the winner’s own mega shopping sprees will typically (in 70% of cases) later find him groveling at bankruptcy court.

But will Otto be plagued by such dangers, or will his dreams uncover surprising hidden treasure?


  1. “Lottery,” Wikipedia
  2. Katie Canales and Katie Balevic, “The $700 Million Powerball Jackpot is Up for Grabs. Here are Disappointing Stories That Reveal What it’s Really Like to Win the Lottery,” Insider, Feb. 4, 2023
  3. “Is Idaho Getting Rid of the Lottery?” in The Doughnut Whole, 2021.
  4. Keith Dunlap, “Rip up the Winning Ticket? 5 Reasons why Winning Lottery can Destroy Lives,” News4Jax, Jan. 12, 2023

Pie in the Sky and Other Stories is available for purchase in both Kindle and paperback at Amazon.com!