Whispers from the Tree

Hello, Kids, Readers, and Current and Future Genealogists,

Have you ever researched your Family Tree?

I’ve been having fun this week climbing among the many branches of mine on a helpful site called FamilySearch.org. My friend Daniel put me onto this tremendous resource; thanks, Daniel!

My father’s side of the family is firmly English and Welsh. But I learned this week that we are also Scottish and Irish. The bulk of my family’s records are from this side, thanks to various ancestors who tended the tree, enabling us descendants to trace our family back to the 800s.

And I have just discovered that hiding behind some of the tree’s many leaves are assorted famous ancestors!

Imagine my delight when I found that most of them have literary or artistic connections. So . . .

According to FamilySearch.org and my initial findings, here are some of my cousins who were Literary Luminaries: Edgar Allan Poe (“The Raven”); Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn); The Bronte Sisters (Wuthering HeightsJane Eyre); Agatha Christie (Poirot and Marple mysteries); Lord George Gordon Byron (“Don Juan”); Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice); Louisa May Alcott (Little Women); Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), and Abraham “Bram” Stoker (Dracula).

And since I mentioned Frankenstein and Dracula, I think it’s fitting that another cousin is the late actor Lon Chaney, Jr., who played the Wolfman (as well as the Frankenstein monster and Dracula) in many Universal Studios movies in the 1940s. Oh, and what about actor Boris Karloff, who famously played Frankenstein’s creation? He married my ninth cousin!

All this information has enriched my appreciation of literature, reading, writing, and those old classic monster films! And I have long wondered why I love to write and can effortlessly disappear into magical realms and Gothic musings. Perhaps I’ve been hearing whispers from my ancestors . . .

So, get a clue, Readers. Who might be hiding in your family tree that could add more dimension to your life? Give it a shake and find out. May you, too, have wonderful discoveries!




Ssss–In Hawai’i?

Hello, All Readers and Present or Future Herpetologists,

Sneak Peek: In Book 4, Saffron Street: Island Danger, our four detectives travel to O’ahu to solve their latest case. Moki happily announces to Lanny that there are no “fangs of death,” i.e., snakes, on the Hawaiian Islands. Fearing reptiles as he does, Moki is pleased to be back home where he can relax. Or can he?

Wait one minute, Moki. Look again–carefully!

There are snakes in Hawai’i, and some right on Moki’s native O’ahu! In fact, the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture (HDOA) has reported sightings of seven different kinds of snakes on the islands in the past few decades.

According to John Alois from a-z-animals.com in his article dated June 21, 2022, all seven types of snakes are invasive, not indigenous, to the islands. Some were smuggled in for pets while others hitched rides in cargo containers on vessels and aircraft or on the ocean waves. And given that the nearest land mass is over 2,000 miles away, that’s some serious swimming.

Possession of a snake in Hawai’i is a crime that can bring a $200,000 fine or three years in prison. The reason is that Hawai’i is isolated. If snakes take hold on the islands, they could throw the ecosystem into chaos, even decimate native animal and plant species. And they could become increasingly dangerous to humans and possibly impact tourism negatively. Fortunately, most snakes have been contained. Most, which means there are still some on the loose that might be reproducing.

Here are the seven snakes. Be on the lookout the next time you’re in Hawaiian Paradise and report any snakes you spot to the HDOA: Good news: The agency’s efforts to crack down on the snakes are paying off.

Nonvenomous:  Brahminy Blind Snake, Ball Python, Boa Constrictor, Garter Snake, Corn Snake

Highly Venomous:  Brown Tree Snake, Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

So, get a clue, Readers. No need to fear the beautiful Hawaiian Islands. Just be on the lookout for “island dangers.” I’m sure Moki will be from now on!

The Ultra-Radical Graham Cracker

Dear Kids and All Readers,

Do you love graham crackers?

I do! I have a fond childhood memory of the tasty snack beyond S’mores. Every Easter, my mom would make a yellow cake and slather on thick layers of homemade chocolate frosting. Any leftover frosting was sandwiched between two graham cracker halves for my sisters’ and my snacks. When my daughter was small, I started that tradition with her. I can’t think of Easter now without craving graham crackers and chocolate frosting. (Try it; you’ll like it!) But this combo of crackers and frosting is ironic because it’s so antithetical to the origin of the treat as you are about to learn.

Did you know that graham crackers have a rather bizarre, sugar-free history? 

A much blander version of modern-day graham crackers was invented by a staunch, stiff-collared Presbyterian minister in Boston named Sylvester Graham (1794-1851)–hence the name of the crackers. He preached against eating white bleached flour and all products containing sugar as being unhealthy for the body, mind, and soul. (Most people now know that’s true–at least concerning the body.) Graham’s beliefs and his crackers started a small temperance movement with his followers who became known as Grahamites.

To make his sugarless crackers, which were more like yeast bread probably sweetened with molasses, Graham created a brown-colored unrefined flour named–you guessed it!–graham flour, made that way by retaining the bran. He believed that all bread should be homemade with graham flour, reminiscent of Mother, home, innocence, and morality. But it was a hard sell: Wealthier citizens could afford the white refined flour and commercially baked goods; dark bread and graham crackers soon became associated with immigrants and ignorance (!). Graham’s ideas that homemade food made with his flour product could be soul-saving were so radical that it caused a riot among Boston bakers. Many used white flour and granulated sugar and weren’t interested in promoting home-baked goods.

In large East-coast cities, Graham took his beliefs a step further. He established boardinghouses for Christians so he could sincerely help keep them pure in all aspects of their lives. They abstained from “wicked” cheerfulness and actions, snacks between meals, tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, cider, white flour, and sugar; instead, they followed tenets of simplification, back-to-basics routines, and natural solutions supported by Biblical scripture. This was a very radical regimen for the time. In addition, his Christian Grahamites ate a diet free of milk and meat (which could cause animalistic thoughts) making Graham an early voice for veganism. In fact, in 1850, Graham helped found the American Vegetarian Society. His ideas would later influence a certain Mr. Kellogg and his cereal company.

If you would like a recipe for a more authentic graham “cracker” redolent of Reverend Graham’s, please click HERE. You’ll find that the recipe, from Barbara Bamberger-Scott with homestead.org, is doughier and plumper, not a hard, flat cracker. Bonus! At the same link, you can glimpse an image of the humorless reverend himself.

And check out Moki’s Munchy of the Month in my July 31st newsletter. Coincidentally (wink-wink), it features teddy grahams! You may subscribe to my newsletter HERE.

So, get a clue, Readers. Now that you know graham crackers had once been an ultra-radical health intervention with strong, religious overtones, you might enjoy the modern sugary version even more–or not! Regardless, I for one don’t plan to “go crackers” over it.


Dear Kids, Readers, and Verbivores,

Every morning, I find a lovely surprise in my email inbox. It’s from Word Genius, a company with a mission to teach people a new word daily.

A recent word was flocculate. I had never heard of it. Do you know it?

My first thought was that it had to do with a flock, such as sheep. Turns out I was somewhat correct if we fast-forward through the centuries.

Flocculate is a transitive verb meaning to form or cause to form into small clumps, masses, or tufts. 

Flocculate’s etymology, aka, backstory: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, scientists in the late sixteenth century noticed that loose masses separated from a solution or suspension through precipitation often resembled tufts of wool. They began referring to those masses as flocks, from the Latin word floccus, meaning “tufts.” This is not to be confused with the term flock that refers to “a group of animals,” which comes not from Latin but from the Old English word flocc, meaning “crowd” or “band” as in a flock of sheep!

But there’s more: About two centuries later, the Late Latin term flocculus entered the English language and was also used to mean “a small loosely aggregated mass.” By the end of the nineteenth century, a whole word family had been born, including the adjective flocculent, the noun floccule, and finally our verb flocculate! 

So, get a clue, Readers. We can describe fur, hair, and wool–and, therefore, certain animals–as flocculated or flocculent since sometimes, that fur, hair, or wool can become woven into a tight mass of corkscrew curls. Which brings me full circle to sheep in a flock with flocculent wool. And pulling a bit more on that woolen thread takes me to my late, great poodle-bichon Jimmy Lambchop with his mass of flocculated curls. Miss you so much, sweet little buddy, and your cute floccules as well. Woof! Baaa!





Dear Readers, Current and Future Architects, and Fans of Ancient Egypt,

Does Egypt call to you? If so, I think you’ll enjoy this . . . 

I have been a proud member of San Diego’s “Save Our Heritage Organisation” (SOHO), for many years. (Yes, that’s spelled with an “S,” not a “Z.”) SOHO does the important work of “preserving the past for the future” here in my city and has saved many fine old buildings and objects from the wrecking ball over the decades.

Loving architecture and ancient Egypt as I do, it’s no surprise that an article in SOHO’s July/August newsletter caught my eye: “Egyptian Revival Architecture in San Diego: An Online Tour.” It features buildings and objects–mostly extant–of the early 20th-century Egyptian Revival influence on San Diego’s building landscape.

You can take this short but fascinating online tour at http://www.sohosandiego.org/tours/egyptian/indexegyptianrevival.htm

Egyptian Revival architecture was inspired by the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 and the excavation of King Tut’s tomb in 1922. Dreams of adventure and treasure in Egypt captured people’s imaginations worldwide, and the term “Egyptomania” was coined.

Who created SOHO’s online Egyptomania tour? A San Diego college student named Satchel Fisher. With his interests and studies in world history and cultural heritage, he was drawn to SOHO’s architectural and cultural preservation mission. With SOHO’s guidance, he created the tour for our enjoyment and education.

So, get a clue, Readers. Is there an untapped avenue for your interests and passions that might benefit others? Don’t let the Sphinx keep it a secret! And don’t forget to pick up your copy of my Book 1, Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets HERE.


Missing Daddy

Dear Readers,

Today, June 23, 2022, is the twenty-fifth anniversary of my father’s passing. I am especially missing him today.

My dad, Donald Johns, was born and raised in North Dakota in a little farming town called Wing, near Bismarck. The northern winters aggravated his asthma so badly, he missed much school. So, in 1930, he, his three siblings, and parents moved to sunny San Diego, California, where he finally finished high school a few years later at the age of twenty-one. An interesting aside: my dad and actor Gregory Peck were in the same graduating class at San Diego High School!

My dad and my mom, Margaret, met during World War II when they both worked at an aircraft factory here in San Diego. My mom was a “Rosie the Riveter,” and my dad was her boss. Stolen looks soon turned to love, and they were married a few years later on May 30, 1947, in their home’s living room. (See photo below.)

Together, they raised three daughters: my oldest sister, my twin sister, and me. My dad’s parents–my grandparents–also lived with us in the same house purchased by them and my dad in 1945. We were cozy in our three bedroom, one bathroom home, but we all made it work, even boarding as well as entertaining countless visiting relatives around the dining room table over the years. That house remained in the family until 2016 when it broke my heart to have to sell it after my mom passed that year.

My dad was very ill the last four years of his life, but he held on so that he and my mom could celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1997. He died three weeks later. Their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary was last month.

I miss you, Daddy, especially today. I miss you, too, Mom. Daddy, I will always remember your soft-spoken, shy nature, beautiful classical piano playing wafting from the living room, love for our pet cat despite claiming to be allergic to her, our Sunday afternoon drives, your hard work (along with Mom’s) that kept us fed and clothed, your examples of kindness and understated humor, and the importance of socking away part of each paycheck for vacations and retirement.

So, get a clue, Readers. Love those close to you every day. Life’s too short to do otherwise.

Donald Johns — August 15, 1911 to June 23, 1997 — R.I.P.