TIDBITS Blog Archives

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!

Winged Wonders

Your imagination may be virtually limitless, but the sky’s the limit for the birds that gracefully glide through the open air. In my story, “Polly’s Portmanteaus,” Polly is a feisty blue-and-gold macaw with a mind of her own. In “Monique’s Melody,” Coral recalls how she was comforted by the song sparrow who regularly sang outside her little room. And she shares the story of how a childhood fascination with the Carolina wren in her native North Carolina inspired her years later. Let’s get acquainted with some of these beautiful and inspirational birds.

Blue-and-Yellow Macaw
Blue-and-gold macaw

Polly is the star of the show as she guest lectures to a high school class in “Polly’s Portmanteaus.” Paige Pritchard is the quirky English teacher who has adopted Polly, and is the marvelous macaw’s number one fan. Paige provides excellent care for Polly, including a diet rich in fruit, nuts, seeds, and other goodies. With the loving care provided by Paige, Polly is likely to live about twice as long in captivity—about sixty to seventy years—as do her relatives in the wild. Her ancestors hailed from South America, where macaws still are widespread in the forests and woodlands. The blue-and-gold (or yellow) macaw is listed by BirdLife International as a species of “least concern” with a current wild population between one and two hundred thousand. This strikingly beautiful bird sports mostly blue top parts and deep-yellow underparts with various shades of green on top of its head. It typically weighs between two and three pounds and is approximately two and a half feet in length. In the wild, the macaw mates for life and nests in palm trees. The female lays two or three eggs, and sits on the nest for about four weeks until they are ready to hatch. Once the chicks hatch, only the dominant offspring, who grabs the food for itself, will manage to survive. This bird will go on to enjoy producing loud vocalizations (particularly flock calls), and will delight in its food, which it will chew thoroughly with its strong beak. In my story, Polly provides the supercilious principal with a close-up view of her tough, black beak, sending Mrs. Dougherty racing out of the classroom on shaky legs.

We find some rather different sorts of birds in my story, “Monique’s Melody.” Coral has found comfort in the vocalizations of the song sparrow she encounters in Beverly Hills, and inspiration in the behavior of the Carolina wren she recalls from her North Carolina childhood. Both of these birds are small and love to sing; when Coral hears the song sparrow’s song each morning, she is reminded of the Carolina wren she loved to watch as a girl on her grandmother’s farm. In my story, Coral recounts that her employer’s daughter, Zoe (a budding ornithologist) was able to identify the song sparrow. Zoe would have heard the bird’s song, and she would have noticed its brown upper, the dark streaks on its back, and the dark streaking with a dark brown spot in the middle of its breast. She would have seen the bird’s gray face, with a brown streak running through each eye. She would have observed that this one-ounce bird was only about five inches long. And Zoe would not have been surprised that this bird was living in a tree in her suburban backyard: The North American song sparrow thrives in human-dominated areas like suburbs, as well as in brush land and marshes.

Though the song sparrow is happy to range across most of North America, the Carolina wren, a relatively sedentary bird, prefers to stay closer to its home in the eastern half of the United States. It is the official bird of the state of South Carolina; in my story, Coral’s childhood neck of the woods borders South Carolina. Both male and female Carolina wrens are staunch defenders of their territory and nests. In my story, Coral decides to leave Melody with “the music lady” when she is two weeks old, taking her cue from the Carolina wren who sent her offspring flying away when they were two weeks old.

The Carolina wren and song sparrow are both gifted singers in the wild. The male Carolina wren takes center stage with his song, in a bid to keep the female’s attention and to defend his territory. His repertoire typically consists of about thirty-two different song patterns, which he learned in the first three months of his life. He has a great ability to mimic the songs of nearby birds and even other species; in Pennsylvania, this talent has led to the bird’s sobriquet of “mocking wren.”

For the song sparrow, singing consists of repeated notes and trills, which are clear and precise. A song sparrow can have as many as twenty different tunes in its repertoire, with up to a thousand improvised variations. These clever birds can distinguish neighbors from strangers according to their songs. Females prefer their mate’s songs to those of other birds, and they prefer the songs of their neighbors to those of strangers. The male employs a complex song to attract females and to declare ownership of his territory. Enthusiasts have recognized one of the songs of these birds as strikingly similar to the opening four notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5!

So next time you’re out and about, listen carefully to that birdsong as you observe our fabulous flying friends. It may open your appreciation of life to majestic new vistas in sight and sound.


  1. Wikipedia: “Blue-and-yellow macaw”
  2. Wikipedia: “Carolina wren”
  3. Wikipedia: “Song sparrow”

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

Blasted by the Blizzard

In my story, “Cold Welcome,” Logan has run away from his Alaska home just before a powerful blizzard hits. His uncle and his grandmother are in a panic—and for good reason. Blizzards have been notorious for their destructive nature, causing accidents and taking lives. Let’s take a look at what qualifies as a blizzard, and why they can be so dangerous.

According to the United States National Weather Service, a blizzard is a storm with large amounts of blowing snow with winds greater than thirty-five miles per hour. The difference between a snowstorm and a blizzard is in the power of the wind, not in the amount of snow. In addition, visibility must be poor (under a quarter mile), and these conditions must last at least three hours. Snow may be falling, or previously fallen snow may be blowing around; the latter is called a ground blizzard.


Extremely poor visibility, as the ground and sky seem to coalesce into an endless panorama of white, is known as whiteout. In “Cold Welcome,” Officer Martinson informs Cody that the search for Logan has been paused due to such conditions. The literature of historic blizzards has cited numerous incidents of people dying in close proximity to their homes as they lost all sense of place and direction in such severe circumstances.

A severe blizzard is characterized by winds over forty-five miles per hour, near zero visibility, and a temperature of ten degrees fahrenheit or lower.

Blizzards typically build up on the northwest side of a strong storm system. This is characterized by ample snow and strong winds caused by a difference in pressure between the low pressure of the storm and high pressure beyond. In the United States, the jet stream dips southward, permitting cold, dry air from the north to clash with warm, humid air coming from the south. Mix the cold front and warm front, and—voila!—a blizzard forms at the border line.

A particularly vulnerable area to severe blizzards is the Great Plains in the United States, an area with few trees or obstructions to blunt the force of the winds. Low pressure systems moving from the Rocky Mountains toward the Great Plains, a large expanse of prairie and grassland, can lead to thunderstorms to the south and strong winds and heavy snow to the north. The Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888 and the Snow Winter of 1880-1881 were two examples of some major nineteenth-century blizzards on the Great Plains that were captured in novels like The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin.

Blizzards can occur just about anywhere, even on high mountains in Hawaii. But Antarctica deserves the dubious prize of being home to the world’s most severe blizzards. In Antarctica, blizzards are often associated with winds over ninety-nine miles an hour. Under such conditions, the penguins hang tight and huddle in a bid for survival. A study published in PLOS ONE showed that emperor-penguin huddles are extremely dense, with about two penguins crammed into each square foot of space. The huddles are strategically and continuously reorganized, giving each penguin a turn in the warmer middle.

But will Logan find a way to survive as he confronts the frigid, forbidding conditions into which he has unwittingly run?


  1. “Blizzards,” article in University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
  2. “Blizzard,” in Wikipedia
  3. “The Blizzard of 1888: America’s Greatest Snow Disaster,” Weather Underground,  March 12, 2020
  4. Anna Norris, “How Do Baby Penguins Get Through Antarctic Blizzards? With Lots of Adorable Cuddles,” The Weather Channel, January 29, 2016 

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