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.

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!

A Whirl Around the Carousel

In my story, “The Merry-Go-Round,” four-year-old Ginny, seated on a fancy turquoise-and-gold painted pony on her first merry-go-round ride, is feeling jittery about finding her way back. Her grandpa, Mayor Marty, declares, ‘”What goes around, comes around,” as he accompanies her on the merry-go-round, also known as a carousel. Let’s take a look at the iconic carousel, a ride that has, for generations, faithfully returned its happy riders right back to where they started from.

Jousting traditions from the Middle East and Europe were forerunners of the modern-day carousel. Knights would gallop in a circle as they tossed balls to one another, sharpening their skills as they played. The word carousel comes from the Italian word, carosella, which means “little battle,” referring to a combat preparation game originating in Turkey and Arabia in the twelfth century.

By the seventeenth century, the game had evolved into a cavalry spectacle, popular in Italy and France. The balls had been dispensed with; instead, the riders had to spear and rip off small rings that hung from overhead poles. The game gained popularity with the general populations; the cavalry games inspired rides using wooden horses, which began to spring up at fairgrounds across Europe.

By the early eighteenth century, an increasing number of carousels could be found all over Europe, as well as in England. Families would craft the wooden horses (and other animals) during the winter season, and then go touring with their creations later, as the weather warmed. These early carousels did not yet have platforms; the wooden horses would hang from chains and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism. The rides were powered by real animals walking in a circle or even by people pulling ropes.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the platform carousel was developed. The horses (or other animals) and chariots were attached to a circular floor suspended from a center pole, from which they would rotate. The first steam-powered mechanical carousel appeared in England in 1861. Soon after, English engineer Frederick Savage became the top innovator of the carousel (known in England as the roundabout). His innovations were purchased for fairgrounds the world over. By around 1900, electric motors began to replace steam-powered merry-go-rounds.

During the heyday of the merry-go-round, from about 1870 to 1930, between five and six thousand carousels could be found throughout the United States. They were fixtures at just about every fairground and amusement venue. Pleasure seekers everywhere looked forward to getting their whirl around the colorful carousels. Today, only about 160 of these historic carousels remain. National Carousel Day is a salute to the summer day in 1871 when William Schneider of Davenport, Iowa, was issued the first American patent for a carousel.

As we gallop ahead in time, over a century later in small-town Iowa, Ginny learns an important lesson. At a crucial time, her painted pony will bring her right back to where her grandpa’s lesson will take on new significance in her life—and in the life of her kind and wise grandfather.


Matt Blitz, “Take a Spin on the Most Beautiful, Handcrafted Carousels in the Nation,” in Travel, July 24, 2015

“Carousel,” Wikipedia

The JKO Reservoir and the Central Park Reservoir Loop

In my story, “The Bicycle,” Garret has an extraordinary experience on the running loop surrounding New York’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. It is early spring, the sun is shining, the cherry trees are blossoming, and the wind is blowing vigorously. Let’s acquaint ourselves with this unique and scenic locale as we imagine it through Garret’s eyes.

The JKO Reservoir covers 106 acres in New York’s Central Park, which is about an eighth of the area of the park. It contains over a billion gallons of water. When it was built, back in 1862, it was one of two receiving reservoirs of the Croton Aqueduct system inside Central Park. The other, smaller, reservoir was decommissioned in the 1930s and covered with grass; the area is now known as the Great Lawn.

A new main under 79th Street ultimately rendered the larger reservoir obsolete. In 1992, amid news of the impending decommissioning of the main reservoir, people began to express their concerns that the reservoir would be covered over, as the smaller reservoir had been. A flurry of letters of protest from residents and advocates to the city government and the Central Park Conservancy successfully rescued the beloved reservoir. It was allowed to remain untouched, even after it was decommissioned in 1993.

Originally known as the Central Park Reservoir, it was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in 1994, in recognition of Jacqueline’s contributions to New York City. She served as a board member of the Municipal Art Society of New York. She was admired for saving the Grand Central Terminal from demolition and encouraging its restoration as an architectural landmark. And she protested against the proposed building of structures that would have hindered Central Park’s natural beauty, something she clearly appreciated on a personal level.

JKO Reservoir, Central Park
JKO Reservoir, Central Park. Photo by Andrzej Barabasz (License: CC BY-SA 4.0. Photo has been cropped from original.)

Mrs. Onassis, who had a view of the water from her Fifth Avenue–residence windows, enjoyed jogging on the path surrounding the reservoir. This 1.58-mile jogging path is variously known as the Central Park Reservoir Loop and the Stephanie and Fred Shuman Running Track. In springtime, it is lined with blossoming cherry trees and rhododendrons.

The reservoir area is an important ecological sanctuary. It attracts numerous species of waterbirds, including ruddy ducks, coots, loons, cormorants, herons, and egrets. It is also a favorite watering place for various species of gulls, in addition to the familiar mallards and Canada geese. Beloved by birdwatchers, locals, and tourists, the area has also found a prominent place in popular culture. The iconic trail and reservoir have been featured in several films, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Marathon Man, and Hannah and Her Sisters.

Of course, it is also featured in my story, “The Bicycle,” where we find Garret making his way along the reservoir’s running track as he resolutely clings to Annie’s old bicycle against the raging wind. Safeguarding the old bike, he feels the jolt of the path he must follow to an unknown future.

“New York,” TripTins, January 6, 2023
“Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir,” Wikipedia
“Restoration: Stephanie and Fred Shuman Reservoir Running Track,” Central Park Conservancy

Welcome to the Igloo: Warmer Than You Might Think

Note: In the Inuit language, “igloo” can refer to any sort of house, not just a winter snow house. However, in English—and other languages—an igloo specifically means a snow house, particularly the type constructed by the Inuit peoples of Canada, Greenland, and Alaska; this is what I mean by “igloo” in this post.

In “Cold Welcome,” Cody discovers, in a most unlikely place, the elusive warmth that has evaded him for so long. The wintry igloo he builds with his long-forgotten nephew becomes a catalyst in rediscovering precious familial connections. Though an igloo is an ice-cold snow house on the outside, the interior can be significantly warmer—both physically and emotionally. Let’s take a look at this unique dwelling, which has withstood the test of time in some of the most forbidding places on the planet.


The interior of an igloo stays warmer than the outside thanks to three mechanisms: radiation, convection, and insulation. In the process of radiation, the people inside radiate heat from their bodies, acting as an internal heat source within the igloo. Next, this warm air, which is a fluid, gradually moves around the igloo by convection, circulating warmer air upward and cooler air downward, helping distribute the heat.

Then there’s insulation. Ice’s thermal conductivity, like that of air, is low; it stops heat from being transferred into the surroundings. The snow’s ice and still air trapped within are highly effective insulators, creating a barrier between the cold outside and the relatively warm interior.

Fresh snow is up to 95 percent trapped air. Ice, on the other hand, is very dense and is an excellent wind breaker. Since the super-dense ice is too heavy to lift to construct the igloo, the intrepid igloo builder uses snow that hits the sweet spot: dense, but not too dense. So the igloo blocks that are chosen have more air pockets (i.e., air trapped among tiny crystals) than a solid block of ice. Since the air cannot easily circulate inside this snow, heat gets trapped inside the igloo.

When snowflakes fall onto the roof of an igloo, they melt and refreeze, providing a replacement layer of insulation and transforming the snow blocks into an icy, well-fortified, domed refuge. This dome’s cross section is a catenary arch, which is a highly stable shape. Now the igloo will even withstand a feisty polar bear who fancies it as his trampoline!

The interior of an igloo is a quiet, calming environment; snow is a natural insulator of sound and heat. In my story, Cody and Logan are able to connect inside the igloo free of outside distractions. Though still cold, inside it is significantly warmer than it is outside. Hot cocoa and colorful stories help to keep them cozy. And, since they have carved the igloo in multiple layers, they can hang out on the upper sleeping platform, as warm air rises.

Inside the igloo, the snow does melt somewhat, but the water doesn’t drip because the dome’s roof is curved. Instead, it gradually soaks into the blocks. Later, once summertime brings warmer temperatures, the igloo will melt away.

But warm memories from that time in their igloo will remain with Cody and Logan long after the snow has melted.


  1. “How an Igloo Keeps You Warm,” YouTube video with Joe Hanson, c. January, 2017
  2. Scott Welch on Quora, answers “People who’ve built and slept in igloos, what’s it actually like?” updated, 2021
  3. “Why an Igloo Doesn’t Melt Inside,” in Scientific Humans, copyright 2023
  4. Transun, “How Does an Igloo Work?”

Dolley’s Precious Legacy

In my story, “A Gift from James,” an astonishing discovery of a centuries-old treasure gives hope to a struggling young couple. In the process, they are introduced to their rich heritage and their connection with President James and Dolley Madison. Though the gift is bequeathed by James, it is protected for centuries by Dolley’s reticule. Let’s take a look at the extraordinary gift that is discovered, at Dolley’s outstanding legacy, and at the coins minted many decades later in her honor.

In “A Gift from James,” the 1822 Capped Bust Gold $5 Half Eagle Coin is kept safe for nearly two centuries, sheltered in Dolley Madison’s soft cotton reticule. This rare coin was actually last bought for 8.4 million dollars, somewhat less than what my fictional characters earn from its sale. Nonetheless, its sale in March 2021 set a record as it became the most valuable coin ever made by the United States Mint. Though nearly 18,000 of these iconic coins were minted at the time, the vast majority were lost to posterity or melted for their gold content. They soon became so scarce that it became almost impossible to find any. Today, two of these coins are housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; only one is known to be in private hands, the celebrated coin of the March auction. The attraction of the coin has transcended period and generation, as has the allure of America’s fabled hostess and heroine, First Lady Dolley Madison.

Dolley was the wife of James Madison, the fourth US president, father of the Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights. This celebrated White House hostess, with her unifying personality, was known as the first presidential wife to be referred to as First Lady; President Zachary Taylor recognized her as such in his tribute at her 1849 funeral. Unlike her predecessors, who kept political rivals from meeting each other at the presidential residence, Dolley initiated a new approach. She invited everyone to the same dinners, encouraging rivaling politicians to get along with one another. The most popular of the early First Ladies, Dolley was widely regarded as witty, pretty, and a vivacious hostess. She was also esteemed as the heroine who saved the 1796 Gilbert Stuart portrait of General George Washington. During the War of 1812, just before the British set the White House on fire in the summer of 1814, Dolley had to quickly evacuate the White House. Yet she had the presence of mind to remember the Washington portrait. She reportedly ordered that the portrait be turned over to a pair of visitors from New York for safekeeping. Thanks to Dolley’s foresight, this famous portrait still graces the White House.

Dolley Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar

In 1999, as per an act of Congress, the United States Mint made the first coin to commemorate the spouse of a US president. This is the Dolley Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar, designed by Tiffany & Co., honoring her unique role in America’s national history. Dolley set the tone for America’s First Ladies, largely defining their special role in American life. Mrs. Madison’s grace, style, and wit were widely appreciated, as she served as White House hostess for sixteen years (including during the presidency of the widowed Thomas Jefferson). She presided over the first Inaugural Ball in 1809, and is believed to have inaugurated other White House traditions.

In addition to the commemorative silver dollar, the Dolley Madison First Spouse $10 Gold Coin was minted in 2007. First Lady Dolley Madison’s place in US history is a durable gift for ensuing generations.

In “A Gift from James,” Elizabeth brings a special gift of her own for the couple’s new daughter, an antique porcelain Dolley Madison doll. It is beautiful and valuable. Yet it is significantly more precious to the young family: They will forever appreciate Dolley as the distant relative whose foresight and affection kept their treasure safe, thus paving the way toward the safety of their own cherished daughter.


  1. “Numismatics”: Wikipedia
  2. Ryan F. Warlick, “Dolley Madison and Anecdotes in Early Twentieth Century Textbooks”: Thesis presented at Clemson University, December, 2017
  3. “The History of U.S. Circulating Coins”: United States Mint
  4. “The Allure of the 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle” by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez, in PCGS, April 22, 2021
  5. “Dolley Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar”: United States Mint, 1999

Mamma Mia! What Tasty Tuscan Treats

In my story, “The Reunion,” Emily and her old friends enjoy the Tuscan cuisine at their golden high school reunion. Let’s take a look at some of these treats as we imagine tasting those sweet and savory morsels.

The four erstwhile pals begin to rekindle their connections by warming up with soup, the first course. As they catch up with one another, two of the women are served ribollita, which means “re-boiled.” The key ingredients in ribollita include leftover bread, cannellini beans, lacinato kale, cabbage, and inexpensive vegetables such as carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. This soup—like most Tuscan cuisine—hails from peasant origins. Centuries ago, Tuscan peasants would reheat the previous day’s soup with stale bread in an effort to stretch their meager means. Though this dish is of modest origins, the happy diners find it rich and satisfying. The savory flavor of the ribollita improves in the re-cooking; the women’s friendships take on a richer, deeper flavor as they are rekindled.

Zuppa di farro, Valerie’s choice, is a healthful soup, a type of minestrone with farro. It is a popular dish in Tuscany, particularly in the town of Lucca. Farro is an heirloom wheat with a distinctive nutty flavor. Farro wheat actually includes three species of grain: spelt, einkorn, and emmer. It is known as a nutritious food for its high fiber and protein content.

As the main course gets underway, the women are enjoying sweet, sour, and savory dishes including gnudi, crespelle, and tortelli di patate. Gnudi are light, pillowy dumplings made with ricotta cheese and semolina flour. Gnudi is the Tuscan term for “naked”; these pillowy balls of ricotta are “nude ravioli,” i.e., just the filling without the pasta shell. In Tuscany, gnudi are served with burnt butter and sage sauce, sprinkled with pecorino or parmigiana cheese.

Crespelle are often known by their French name, crepes. They are very thin pancakes, usually made with durum wheat. They may be prepared either sweet or savory. Crespelle can be found at tables in many regions of Italy. In some regions, the savory dish is filled with cheese, sometimes with salty anchovies, ricotta, and dried tomatoes. In other areas, the sweet variety is preferred. It is dusted with sugar and honey on the outside, and may be filled with ricotta cream or fennel seeds.

Tortel di patate

Tortel di patate is a wonderfully filling dish. These are potato pancakes, a staple food in the Italian peasant tradition. The original recipe calls for just three ingredients: potatoes, salt, and oil. This delightful dish is prepared by peeling and grating raw potatoes, which forms a paste that is then salted. Some farina may be added for consistency, if desired. The mixture is typically fried in olive oil. Similar patties can be found in other countries and traditions, including latkes, a traditional warm treat on the Jewish winter holiday of Chanukah. Fun fact: The similarly named tortelli di patate is a type of pasta with potato filling.

By the close of “The Reunion,” we find Emily eagerly anticipating the sweet gelato, a delectable dessert. Gelato made its first known appearance during the Renaissance, when Cosimo Ruggieri created the first gelato flavor, the fior di latte, at the court of the Medici family in Florence. Traditional gelato flavors include chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, custard, and hazelnut. In the modern era, new flavors have surfaced, such as tiramisu, mango, pineapple, banana, and amarena cherry.

Gelato is similar to ice cream, with some clear differences. Gelato is primarily made from milk and cream; only a small percentage of this recipe consists of egg yolks. Ice cream is composed of equal parts heavy cream, whole milk, and egg yolks. Ice cream is much heavier in butterfat than gelato. Ice cream’s butterfat content weighs in at roughly 14-25 percent; gelato’s fat content is only 4-9 percent. Gelato is denser than ice cream, which may contain over 50 percent air by volume; gelato contains roughly half as much air.

And that brain freeze you may have experienced digging into your ice cream? Gelato shouldn’t hit you that way, as it is served ten to fifteen degrees warmer than ice cream. This temperature is thought to enhance the gelato’s creamy texture, as well as its bold flavors, and allows the gelato to melt quickly in your mouth. And the sweet, creamy gelato will soon melt in the friends’ mouths as they cap off their reunion dinner, heralding myriad sweet shared memories ahead.


  1. Italian Wikipedia: “Tortello di Patate”: Translated to English by Google Translate
  2. Zeldes, Leah A. “Eat this! Ribollita Ribsticking Winter ‘Soup’ from Tuscany”: Dec. 8, 2010
  3. “Gelato vs. Ice Cream”: Sweetcycle: Retrieved July 6, 2022
  4. Quirk, Mary Beth, “What’s the Difference Between Ice Cream, Frozen Custard, and Gelato?” Consumer Reports, July 14, 2017
  5. Mullan, Michael, “Plotting Freezing Point Curves for Ice Cream and Gelato Mixes”: dairyscience.info: Retrieved July 6, 2022

A History of the High-Heeled Shoe

In my story, “The Glass Slipper,” Ashleigh purchases silver spike heels, otherwise known as stilettos. They are uncomfortable, but she is determined to wear the shoes favored by her fiancé. Though stilettos didn’t enter the fashion scene until the twentieth century, they were part of the evolution of high heels harking back over a millenium. Let’s take a look at how such impractical shoes have made their mark as fashion icons and how this fascination evolved over time.

In the tenth century, Persian soldiers wore high heels as they rode their horses into battle. The extra height must have made them look formidable to their enemies, but it also served to keep their feet secure as they stood in their stirrups. These high heels were decidedly practical and worn only by men.

By the sixteenth century, a strong trade relationship between Persia and Europe led to the high-heeled shoe becoming a fashion icon for well-heeled gentlemen all over Europe. Initially, the shoes served as outer layers to protect the men’s inner shoes from becoming soiled. Though thought of up to this point as strictly for men, Italian courtesans began to wear the high shoes around this time. The shoes these women wore were called chopines and were worn primarily to attract the attention of men. There is only one other recorded example of high-heeled shoes on a woman during this period: Those worn by Catherine de Medici, the Italian noblewoman who became Queen of France.

Other than queens and courtesans, women were still far from having their own high heels. Male European aristocrats enjoyed the more powerful image they projected in their tall shoes. The higher the heel, the greater the status. So high heels, back then, were symbolic of wealth, status, and masculinity.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the history of high heels is associated with King Louis XIV of France in the seventeenth century. He was a short man, but in his fancy high heels, he projected power and glory. His shoes were made of velvet and satin in deep reds and royal blues. He required all men in his court to wear high heels. His unique fashion sense later inspired the likes of renowned shoe designer Christian Louboutin.

Women began to wear fashionable high heels by the late seventeenth century, but with the advent of the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, both men and women set their high heels aside as they eschewed any connection with royalty.

By the nineteenth century, high heels made a comeback—but only for women. Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, noted that “heels were becoming suspect for men as Enlightenment concepts of male ‘rationality’ posited that…‘irrational’ things such as high heels were better left to women.”

Technological advances in the twentieth century allowed for the debut of the stiletto, or spike heel, introduced in Christian Dior’s line in the 1930s. Actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn popularized this style in the 1950s, in what would later be regarded as the golden age of high heels. Health and safety concerns notwithstanding, this popularity is still a trend we see today: Stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift, and Mariah Carey really seem to be reaching for the stars as they sport ever-higher high heels.


  1. “The History of High Heels,” by Emmie Cosgrove, in London Runway, Sept. 11, 2019
  2. “Stiletto Heel,” Wikipedia
  3. “History of the High Heel: It Wasn’t Always a Woman’s Shoe,” by Emma Wynne, ABC Radio Perth, Nov. 12, 2017

Monet Versus Picasso in “The Glass Slipper”

In my story, “The Glass Slipper,” the stark contrast between Picasso’s cubism and Monet’s impressionist art forms plays a major life-changing role for our protagonist, Ashleigh Edwards, an art-history doctoral student in London. She is doing her thesis on Monet’s art, which she adores.

When she visits The Glass Slipper (a bridal boutique), she notices her favorite Monet, “La Méditerranée,” hanging on the wall. As Ashleigh observes it, she thinks, A million points of light, like sparkling gems, are dancing on the water. She feels uplifted by the pastels, the airy sense of the art, and the extraordinary way Monet depicted the sunshine flowing toward the sea.

When she returns to her future townhouse, Ashleigh is surprised to find an original painting by Picasso hanging in the anteroom. She is jarred by the painting’s fractured figures, leaving her in a dark and dismal frame of mind. She is quite familiar with Picasso’s art, and cubism, in particular. She detests this genre and much of the work of this artist. From this point, her life begins to take a radical new direction.

La Mediterranee
La Méditerranée

In “La Méditerranée,” the artist intently focused on the relationship between land and sea. Monet painted it in 1888, when he was on a working vacation on the verdant shores of Antibes, in the South of France. This seaside location boasts a rich, deep-blue sea, enhanced by particularly clear conditions due to the mistral wind, for which this region is known. Throughout his career, Monet explored the quality of light as it flowed into water; the deeply saturated hues he found in the Mediterranean were ideal for such endeavors.

Monet’s work, particularly the art he completed on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in 1888, showcases the light, gentle beauty of light, sea, and sand. As he wrote to his wife, Alice, while he was on that working vacation, “What I will bring back from here will be pure, gentle sweetness: some white, some pink, and some blue, and all this surrounded by the fairylike air.” (Quoted in J. Pissarro, “Monet and the Mediterranean,” 1997)

Early in the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso was a father of cubism, in which geometric shapes present fractured figures (including people) in unnatural, abstract states. In his cubist art, Pablo Picasso analyzed, broke apart, and reassembled objects and people from multiple perspectives. And the surprise Picasso becomes a catalyst to open Ashleigh’s perspective as she comes to comprehend her life choices, where she has come from, and the new direction she needs to take.


  1. “Impressionism”, Wikipedia
  2. “Cubism”, Wikipedia
  3. Pissarro, Joachim, “Monet and the Mediterranean,” 1997

Music Therapy in Dementia and Beyond

In my story “Monique’s Melody,” Coral Jones reads a magazine article about music therapy as she awaits Jennifer’s return to the interview. In the background, Dr. James Whitaker, a victim of senile dementia, plays the ukulele. It is a means of connecting with his dear deceased wife, decreasing his agitation and stress. In different ways, music plays a significant role in the lives of all the key players in this story. For now, let’s focus on how music is used for therapeutic purposes in the treatment—and even prevention—of dementia.

Dementia symptoms often include repetitive questioning, agitation, wandering, sleep problems, and depression. Music therapists use music to address these issues as they work with dementia patients. Since musical perception is processed throughout the brain, remarkable results start happening. The music’s comforting sensory stimulation positively influences mood, as well as alertness, balance and coordination, sleep, appetite, communication, cognition, and socialization. Though music therapy is not thought to reverse the loss of mental function, it can enhance what does remain—and may mitigate further deterioration.

Most people have had sentimental experiences with music. Emotional connections, deeply embedded in the brain, are preserved throughout life. Music is better preserved and resilient than other stored information, as it allows more primitive emotional and cognitive parts of the brain to connect. So long-term memories of melodies remain accessible even in individuals with advanced dementia, when only a limited amount of brain tissue can still function normally.

Dr. Jennifer Whitaker, a highly regarded doctor in my story, is aware of the benefits of music therapy as she tries to help her father. And Coral, reading that caregiver stress is also reduced, has another reason to be pleased to accept this job. As Jennifer later observes, music appreciation is Coral’s forte. Coral appreciates how music has played such a rich role, on a deep level, in her own life, in the life of Dr. James Whitaker, and in the lives of those she loves.


  1. “Music Therapy and Dementia Care: Older Adults Living with Memory Disorders,” in American Music Therapy Association, Inc., copyright 2022, compiled by J. Geiger, et al.
  2. “Music Therapy and Dementia Prevention/Mitigation” interview with Dr. Concetta Tamaino, as seen on “Being Patient Alzheimer’s”: YouTube, Feb. 24, 2022