Interesting Facts About Halloween

A pumpkin is actually considered a berry, although the pumpkin’s hard shell is what makes it different from all the other berries.

The first Jack O’Lanterns were actually made from turnips. We credit the Irish for adding the “O.” (When I taught Latin, we discussed Druids in Roman Britain, and we carved faces in turnips and hung them around our necks with a cord.)

The game “bobbing for apples” is believed to have originated from an ancient pagan Roman harvest festival that took place in late October. The festival honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees – Pomona.

Choose your costume carefully if you live in Alabama. It is illegal to dress up like a priest on Halloween in Alabama.

In several states, it is illegal to have a picnic in a cemetery.

Legend has it, if you see a spider on Halloween, it is the spirit of a loved one watching over you.

Halloween tricks can actually trigger a medical condition called Samhainophobia, described in medical terms as an intense and persistent fear of Halloween that can cause people to have panic attacks.

Other Halloween-related phobias include Wiccaphobia (fear of witches), phasmophobia (fear of ghosts), and coimetrophobia (fear of cemeteries).

Forty-six percent of American adults carve a pumpkin for Halloween.

(Sources: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Guiness Book of World Records, National Retail) Adapted from KENS-5 on Facebook.

Copyright or Copyleft?

I recently stumbled upon a concept called “copyleft,” a play on the word “copyright.” The term has been around for quite some time, but I had never heard of it.

Basically, I would use copyleft if I create a work and wish to give anyone else the right to distribute, modify, and share it. I also would insist that anyone who modifies my creation must agree to pass on the right to distribute, modify, and share the new adaptation that ensues. All versions that future adaptors create should also be made available for modifying and sharing down the line at no cost.

The goal of copyright, of course, is to ensure that the creator of the art, software, or literary effort will receive monetary gain in addition to recognition. Under copyleft, on the other hand, derivative works are allowed as long as their creators insist that other users who adapt and distribute the new works do so at no cost to recipients. The original creator may require that all future derivatives give credit to him or her, but monetary gain is neither required nor expected.

The term “kopyleft” was used as early as the 1960s, in Principia Discordia, or How the West Was Lost (1965), later revised as How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate Of Malaclypse The Younger, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything. One of these original versions (I could not find out which one) contained a K in a circle followed by the words All Rights Reversed—Reprint What You Like.

The concept of copyleft was used by Richard Stallman, a software expert, as a result of what he perceived as a wrong. When Stallman was working on a Lisp interpreter and Symbolics asked to use his code, he provided them with a public domain copy, giving them the right to use his creation and modify it at will. Later, when Stallman asked them to give him a copy of the code they had developed using his software, they refused.

Stallman called this “system hoarding” and began working to prevent such tactics in the future. Around 1984 he created the first copyleft license. His goal was not to deny copyright as it is historically understood, but he believed that the creator of a work could allow others to revise the original as long as future revisers allow others to do the same.

Copyleft is often used for software. The creator gives anyone else the right to modify and share the code, as long as the recipient insists that the resulting software could be used and modified. Creative Commons provides ShareAlike, which uses a similar license.

Copyleft is still being used mainly for software; however, an amazing artist who supports copyleft is Nina Paley. She gives anyone the right to distribute and adapt her work as long as the adapter allows the same rights down the line.

Currently, there are four levels of permission. Copyleft can be divided into “full” and “partial,” and different countries have different laws for copyleft. At this time the backwards C in a circle has no legal significance; instead, the copyleft terms should be stated in words.

I recently attended a workshop held by a lawyer who is an expert in intellectual property rights. She said that many young people believe that all works should be free to everyone with no restrictions on copying or revising the original.

What are your thoughts?

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Five Reasons I Hate Facebook

5. It is too enticing, like a siren’s song. I love following my friends, family, and fellow writers. I can easily spend all day returning to it over and over.

It’s too much like the time I made a pecan pie one day. My husband and I each had a piece for dessert. The next evening after dinner, he said, “I’d like another piece of pie.” I hung my head and said, “There isn’t any more.” I started nibbling on the pie in the morning, left a fork in the pan, and kept returning to eat a little bit more all day. Facebook is like that pie.

4. Facebook makes me cry. I am a big softie, and I can cry at almost anything. One day, I was passing through the TV room, and someone was dying on the screen. I started crying as I walked. My daughter said, “Mom, that’s Al Capone.”

“I can’t help it,” I said.

“He’s dyyyying.” I told you I am a softie.

3. Facebook has lots of political lies, such as when a posting made the rounds that said President Obama had the flags across the nation put at half-staff after the death of Whitney Houston. Actually, it was Republican Governor Chris Christie who made that announcement for his state alone. I wonder how many people never learned the truth. I have even been guilty of reposting something I thought was true, only to have Snopes tell me I was wrong. Heavy sigh.

2. Every time I see a recipe, I want to try it. If I see someone’s enticing meal in full color, my mouth waters and I want to head for the kitchen. I think Facebook is bad for my diet.

1. Facebook is ruining (or may have already ruined) one of the old, useful rules for punctuating titles. Once upon a time, we English teachers taught that titles of short works (short stories, short poems, chapter titles) should have quotation marks (“The Trouble with Tribbles,”) and titles of longer works (novels, epic poems, series) should be underlined or italicized (Star Trek).

Since Facebook does not allow underlining or italics, however, people could only use all caps for titles of longer works. Some writers on FB used all caps for a while, which makes sense because we are supposed to use all caps for our novel titles when we submit a query letter to an agent. Other writers just omitted any punctuation at all for titles on Facebook, perhaps because we associate all caps with shouting.

That would not have been so bad, but then authors (AUTHORS!) stopped using any punctuation for titles on their own blogs, even though those sites allowed them to use italics or underlining. I wish I could convince everyone to use single quotation for novel titles on Facebook, but—alas—I am only one person. So I sigh whenever I see a title with no punctuation.

We can’t even tell whether we are looking at one or two novels when we see a sentence like this: I enjoyed reading Basted and Tasted. If we used single quotation marks, we could write: I enjoyed reading ‘Basted’ and ‘Tasted,’ or I enjoyed reading ‘Basted and Tasted.’ I know I won’t win this battle, so I merely move on and sigh dramatically.

I hate Facebook. It is the reason I have not finished my novel or my memoir.

I think I will just go see what my friends on FB are doing right now. They’ll understand my pain.

Bye. Sigh.

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I prefer to proofread carefully.

I prefer to proofread carefully.



I recently ordered a porcelain cup that showed proofreaders’ marks on the left side, with examples of the marks being used in sentences on the right side.

When I opened the box, the first thing I saw was the slogan “Proof carefuly” on the side facing away from the drinker. Oops.

The other side of the cup listed eleven proofreaders’ symbols with examples for each one. Unfortunately, half the sentences used as examples were incorrect. The symbol was used correctly, but some of the resulting sentences were incorrectly worded or punctuated.

For the symbol denoting “Insert a comma,” the example sentence was
“A stitch in time, saves nine.”
The sentence violates the rule “Do not insert a lonely comma between a subject and its verb just because you feel like pausing.”

But wait. There’s more.

The better to see you with. said the wolf.
was changed to
“The better to see you with.” said the wolf.
but it should have been
“The better to see you with,” said the wolf.

The win dows (Two words for windows?) on the bus goes up and down.
was changed to
The windows on the bus goes up and down.
but it should have been either
The windows on the bus go up and down.
The window on the bus goes up and down.

“I’ll huff and puff” said the wolf.
should have been
“I’ll huff and puff,” said the wolf.


Some of my friends have suggested that perhaps it is a joke mug, but I think they would have gotten all the examples wrong if they had meant it to be funny.

I contacted the company that sold the mug and received a gracious reply telling me that they would refund my money. They also said not to bother sending it back. I’m not surprised. They are probably happy to get rid of one of them. I wonder how many more they have on their shelves.


(Note: All the names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Not long ago, I became Membership Chair of an organization I’ll call San Antonio Mystery Writers Association (even though it isn’t). Weeks went by before I was told that I needed to talk to the previous chair to get the box of materials so I could perform my duties. The chapter called it “The Membership Box,” but hereinafter I shall call it “The Box.”

“Rosa” had not been attending the meetings for quite some time, and I had never met her, so I asked the current treasurer for her phone number and email address. I phoned her, but the call went to voice mail, so I left a message asking for her to call me. I explained what I wanted so she would not think it was a sales call.

I also emailed her a request for the box of materials, even offering to go pick them up at her house, if needed.

A week passed and I did not receive a response, so I left another message and emailed her again.

Another week went by, so I asked the treasurer for her address. All SAMWA had was a post office box number. I told the president of the organization, and she said we would just have to wait for her to contact us.

Several more weeks went by, and I was asked to do some work with the membership forms.

“What membership forms?” I asked.

“The ones in The Box.”

I had only the forms for the people who had joined after I took office. The rest of the forms were in – you guessed it – The Box.

I went online and used a website to locate her address.

I was determined to track her down. If I can write about how a sleuth manages to find out information, surely I could do it myself.

I found three different addresses and a phone number that was different from the one I had tried. I dialed the phone number, but it was disconnected.

I found out from the Internet that she worked in one of the public libraries in town. When I went there and asked for her, the young man went into the back room and said she was not available.

“Will she be in tomorrow?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.” He looked at me as though he thought I might be a collections agent or bounty hunter.


Would I receive the same answer every day? Perhaps he had been the victim of a bill collector or process server and did not want to help me find her. He even might become an obstacle in my caper.

I was now determined to locate The Box. My terrier instincts kicked in. If she wasn’t at work, maybe she was at home. I decided to try the first address on the list, 803 W. Aberdeen. (Don’t try to find it. I changed everything for this story.)

I went to that address even though it was 30 minutes from my house. The numbering system seemed not to be quite right, so I stopped at a McDonald’s nearby and asked what their street address was so I could work backward.

After finding 805 W. Aberdeen, I assumed the next house was 803. I did not find a street number, just a faded place on the curb where the number probably once was. The house I found looked haunted, with an unpainted exterior, loose boards on the porch, and yellowed lace curtains in the windows. It did, however, have four mailboxes on the wall beside the front door.

An electric bill peeked out from one of the mailboxes attached to the house.

Hoping it was not illegal to just look at a piece of mail, I pulled it up just enough to see the address, which turned out to be 801. That meant that 803 was the vacant lot between 801 and 805.

Well, perhaps it was E. Aberdeen. I drove there. It was now a doctor’s office, housed in a relatively new building.

I had another home address from the web, but one said “Oak Street” and one said “Oak Lane.” I found both on the city map, but they were both 30 minutes from my house—in different directions.

I decided to try the library again before I drove to those addresses. Just in case the guard dog (excuse me, her fellow librarian) was going to hide his friend from me, I used a little deception. I carried with me a brightly wrapped present. It was not for her, of course. It was just to get past the young man.

The next day, I went to the library, casually held the package in full view and asked for her again. He looked at the present and said, “She’s in the shelves somewhere.”

When I said, “Can you describe her for me? I don’t know what she looks like,” he looked puzzled, but he did describe her well enough for me to find her.

Once I located her, I looked around to make sure our discussion would not be overheard since I had a bad feeling about what she was going to tell me. I didn’t want to embarrass her.

First, I introduced myself and told her that we would really like for her to join SAMWA again. She graciously replied that she was too busy, with school and work.

I then asked if I could go to her house to get the box, or perhaps she could bring it to the library for me to pick up.

She said, “I threw it away. I had paid for everything in it anyway.”

“Even the lapel pins that cost three hundred dollars?”

“Little gold pins?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“I never had those.”

That was not what the president had told me, but I know a lost cause when I see one.

So I now have no membership box and no pins, but I did get my man. Er, woman. At least I did not have to go to the two addresses to find out The Box no longer existed. My task was finished. Unsuccessful, but finished.


My Book House Books

When Elmore Leonard died recently, I read his biography and was surprised to learn that he had enjoyed My Book House Books when he was growing up.

My mother bought the set of twelve books from a traveling salesman when I had two sisters: my twin Evelyn and our older sister Nancy. She was nine years old, and we were five. Dad was in the Army, and the books became our constant companions as we followed him to various bases and posts.

The books traveled with us from Waco, Texas to Tachikawa, Japan; Yokohama, Japan; back to Waco; then to Tokyo; back to Waco; then to San Antonio, Texas; then Lawton, Oklahoma; then Fort Richardson, Alaska; then Thornton, Texas; then Groesbeck, Texas; and back to Waco, Texas.

The set of books survived five more siblings: Susan, Sherrie, twins Bill and Phil, and Corliss. After my parents died, the books in the set were distributed among the children and grandchildren. Three of us have bought our own set in various states of disrepair. I was fortunate enough to find one that looked as though it had never been read. I gave it to my daughter.

Last week, I sat between my grandchildren and read stories from one of the books to them. I grew misty-eyed as I thought about the memories these books held for me.

Curious, I decided to research the background of the books and discovered that the first volume was published in 1920. Olive Beaupre Miller was a writer who became so wrapped up in her novel one day that she left her little girl, who was only a few months old, on the front porch in her carriage for two hours past her feeding time. Olive was so upset with herself that she gave up writing and burned the manuscript.

Later on, she found that she was unable to find many works appropriate for her to read to her child, she wrote Sunny Rhymes for Happy Children. The book was an immediate success, so Olive followed it with two more books of poetry for children.

As the daughter grew older, Olive found very little worth reading aloud. Many stories were unsuitable, and the ones that were appropriate were difficult to find because they were scattered and difficult to collect.

Her husband, Harry, had been a salesman for many years, and he suggested that she compile stories into a collection, beginning with stories for toddlers and continuing as the children grew older. Their daughter was six years old at the time.

Harry and Olive set up their own company to publish the books. In 1920 the first book was published, with the title In the Nursery, with black and gold binding. It contained stories and rhymes along with full-color illustrations. In 1921 the sixth volume was completed, and salespeople started going door to door. Olive traveled to Holland, France, Russia, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Mexico, Guatemala, the Yucatan, Yugoslavia, Austria, German, and Japan to collect folk tales. She continued working for the company from 1920 until 1962, when she retired. She died in 1968.

The books are still in print, and now the set has twelve volumes. If you click the link below, you can see how wonderful the set is. I’m not selling anything, by the way. I am certainly keeping ours.



In the early seventies, I began a Master’s degree at UT-Austin. Back then, teachers did not have computers or even correcting typewriters at home or school, so we typed all of our papers on regular typewriters.

I finished all the classes I needed to earn the degree, and all that was left was my thesis. We were told that we had to leave a margin of exactly one and one-half inch at the bottom of the page. That meant that if a footnote was just a little too long or too short we had to type that page over and over until we got it right. We would sometimes type the same page three or four times.

Erasable paper did exist, but we were not allowed to use it for the thesis.

“The professors used to just tell the students they couldn’t use erasable paper for the final thesis or dissertation,” the adviser at UT-Austin told us. “Now we tell them why. We had a student last year who ignored that requirement. He was a doctoral student, and he turned in a dissertation over 500 pages long. He had used paper that was so high quality we did not realize it was erasable paper, and we sent it off to the binder.”

The professor took a deep breath. “The binding process uses heat, and erasable paper has a plastic coating. His dissertation came back as a fused brick.”

It takes approximately a year to write a dissertation, and we did not have electronic backups back then.

I still wonder what happened to that doctoral student. Had he thrown away all his note cards when his document received its final approval? Did he still have a backup, handwritten copy, perhaps, that he could retype and resubmit? I certainly hope he did, but I was afraid to ask. They used to lock the tower at UT-Austin when grades came out. I hoped it was locked when he found out what had happened to his dissertation.

The reason these details are so important is that I, too, could not use erasable paper when I typed my husband’s 100-page Master’s thesis. If I did not have exactly one and one-half inches left at the bottom of the page, including footnotes, I had to type the page over and over until I got it right.

If you wonder why Wayne did not type his own final copy, I will tell you I found it easier to do it myself than to watch him type with two fingers while smoking nonstop and cussing vehemently. He wrote. I typed. We survived.

When Wayne started working on his Master’s thesis, the University of Missouri-Kansas City was using the current version of a footnote and citation guidebook colloquially called just “Turabian”.

We followed the rules precisely, and he turned in his thesis in August. His professor accepted the document and said he would read it during the school year and have suggestions and edits ready when Wayne returned for his final summer of classes.

That was when Wayne would enroll in the second half of Thesis 606, make the changes as requested, and turn in the final document as his last act for the Master’s degree. He did not mind that it would take that long for them to look at his thesis because he was teaching on the college level in Winfield, Kansas, and would not have time to work on it during the school year anyway.

The next summer, Wayne headed off to UM-KC, several hours away from our home. He enrolled in his final two classes and planned to finalize his thesis. He went to the professor and told him he was now ready to make any necessary edits so he could turn in the final document.

Wayne called me and said, “The prof can’t find my document. Do we still have my handwritten draft?”

My heart sank. “Yes,” I said. I knew better than to throw it away. I may still have it here somewhere, in spite of moving several times since then. I’m superstitious.

The next morning, before I began typing, he called again. “The professor found the document,” he said. “Not only that, but he had no edits or suggestions.”

“Wonderful!” I was ecstatic.

“There’s only one problem,” he said.

I held my breath. “What?”

“During the school year, the university adopted the newest version of Turabian, and the rules for footnotes and citations have changed. You’re going to have to type it over.”

I managed to keep control even though I wanted to scream. I was pregnant at the time, and the typewriter was getting farther and farther away from me as time passed. Either that or my arms were getting shorter.

That weekend, he brought the thesis back to me, and I spent days typing it over, following the new rules in “Turabian”. The changes were quite minor, such as no longer putting a period after “p” for page and “pp” for pages, but still I had to retype the whole thing. I don’t remember the other changes, but I remember that one. You will know why in a moment.

He took the typed thesis back with him to Kansas City. A few days later, he called again.
“Are you sitting down?” he asked.

“No.” I sat down. “Yes.”

“They decided to follow the new Turabian except for one change. They want to keep the period after “p” for page and “pp” for pages.

I said, “I’ll call you later,” then hung up the phone and cried. Over the next few days, I retyped the darn thing, and he took it back to the university the next Monday.

When Wayne came back the following weekend, he told me what happened next. “I turned it in on Tuesday and went back to the professor on Friday. He told me the document received final approval and I was to take it over to the Dean’s office and turn it in.”

The Dean’s secretary, in what Wayne called her habitual You-stupid-person, you-may-be-a-university-student-but-you-are-dumber-than-rocks, and-I-have-all-the-power-here voice, said “Where are the reader reports?”

“What reader reports?” Wayne asked.

She sighed dramatically. “You’re supposed to have a cover sheet with the signatures of the four professors who were on your committee and approved the document.

Wayne asked, “What committee?”

She rolled her eyes and shoved the thesis at him. “Go back to your professor and tell him you need reader reports.”

Wayne left the office and cursed the whole way back to his professor’s office.

“The dean’s secretary said I had to have readers’ reports,” Wayne told him.

The professor picked up the phone, clicked the speaker button, called the secretary, and said in his most haughty tone, “This is not a dissertation. It is a master’s thesis. No committee is needed.”

“I tried not to smirk,” Wayne said, “when I went back to her and turned it in, but it was hard. She pretended to be very busy trying to figure out what was wrong with her stapler. I think she was just avoiding having to look me in the eyes.”

That was in the seventies. He earned his Master’s degree, and in the eighties we moved to Texas, where we both began teaching at New Braunfels High School. When the library installed 30 computers, I took my students there and taught them to prepare their essays on the new Macs. I wrote an instruction sheet with ten steps for the students to follow. Step one was “Reach around behind the computer and turn it on.”

Step two was “Insert the floppy disk.” It was the eighties, remember. I had the students use colored folders with three brads to house their disks and documents. We also used the folders as their mouse pads since the library had not ordered any yet. I spent one week teaching the seniors how to use the Macs.

At that time, I often muttered under my breath about how much easier life was for them. No typewriters. No faulty margins requiring the entire page to be retyped. Not only that, but the abbreviations “op cit.” and “loc cit.” were no longer used. All they needed was “ibid.”


“Them young ’uns have things too easy,” I thought. “They’ll never get to experience the bad ol’ days of typing pages over because they did not leave the exact one and a half-inch at the bottom. They don’t know how lucky they are. These newfangled inventions make ’em lazy.”

When my son started his doctoral work, he showed me the program that would allow him to enter the author, title, publisher, etc., on one screen. The program would then create the footnote, properly punctuated and with the proper margin at the bottom of the page. Not only that, but the program created the entire bibliography (even automatically alphabetized), with absolutely no effort from the student.

I seethed with anger and envy. When he submitted his doctoral dissertation in 2010, he didn’t even have to worry about getting the periods and commas correct in the footnotes and bibliography. The computer did it for him.

Had I been born too soon? Or too late? Is it better if students can focus on what they have to say rather than whether there will be a period (or not) after the abbreviation for “page”?

I think students definitely are better off today. They can now concentrate on what they want to say rather than the mechanics of typing the footnotes and bibliography exactly right. It is a brave new world, and I am glad I am in it. I was just born too soon.