Imhotep, the Original Genius of Geniuses


In writing the Lexi Catt series about famous scientists who made significant contributions to the field of medicine, I had to make some tough choices.

For example, I thought about writing the story of Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of the x-ray. But the trouble with that story was that the story ended with the discovery. Roentgen gave away the concept, which was generous of him, but he did not develop it himself. His story was short-lived. But it led me to Marie Curie who used the x-ray as a means of saving countless lives in World War I. Her story was rich in character and detail.

A similar choice occurred with the story of Lexi and Imhotep. I harbour some regrets in not telling his personal story. I made the choice to invent Imhotep’s descendant, and set my story during Ramses II reign, because there was so much more information available about that era, and Ramses II did encourage community health. There was almost no information available about Pharaoh Djoser of the Third Dynasty, which was when the original Imhotep lived. My regret was placated by writing Imhotep’s real story in the Pawscript of Lexi and Imhotep to the Rescue! Luckily, Imhotep wrote “books” on papyrus paper, and so passed on his medical knowledge. He also wrote books on philosophy. Has those books survived, I might have written about him directly. Imhotep was a dedicated physician. He saved the Queen’s life during childbirth, and that of her baby, who was the future Pharaoh Djoser. Unfortunately, his own wife and baby died in childbirth at the same time. (I did not feel that this fact was appropriate to include in a story for children.)

King Djoser experienced seven years of drought before he asked his physician and vizier Imhotep for advice. This story was most interesting but had little to do with the science of medicine. Imhotep was a practical man, but he also knew the value of faith and hope as they supported positive attitudes. So he first advised the King to appeal to the gods with offerings and ceremonies. Then, while the king attended to creating positive outlooks, Imhotep, being practical, created better storage facilities for food supplies, and improved the irrigation system. It is said that he invented the Shaduf, an irrigation tool which is still used today in parts of rural Egypt and Africa.

When King Djoser wanted a more imposing tomb for himself, he once more asked Imhotep for one that would last longer than the mud brick of the day. Imhotep invented the first stone building—the step pyramid—and he invented the tools and the method to build it.

Though one reference referred vaguely to Imhotep’s children, there was nothing in my sources to indicate how or where he lived, or what he thought. It’s a pity those papyrus books he wrote on philosophy were lost. I’m sure he was a remarkable man.



Lexi Catt’s Meowmoirs – Tales of Heroic Scientists

Lexi Series

Religious Freedom is Vital 

22-fear-of-sobekIt is difficult to find fault with a civilization that existed for 5000 years under a polytheistic system that fostered broadminded attitudes. The ancient Egyptians respected more than 80 gods, and also respected an individual’s right to worship which one or ones he or she chose. If a person invented a new god, that was okay too. This was a society that practiced religious freedom.

However, one man defied the system. He invented his own god. And then he made the mistake of declaring that his god was the only god, and that everyone must worship his god and no other god. Soon, bias, discrimination, and hatred developed. The man was Pharaoh Akhenaten, and his god was Aten. The unrest in his time continued until his son Tutankhamun became Pharaoh and he erased his father’s restrictive religion.

This history does give a person pause to think about what we conceive as religious freedom today. To think that one god and one way of thinking is the only correct way is to destroy acceptance and freedom.


Water – the source of life

There was no rain here for over 100 days. There are 249 fires burning in our province as we reach the end of our summer. I have personally never experienced a drought. It’s scary.drops-of-water-578897_1280

The area where I live is required to observe measures of water conservation – rules that are imposed on everyone. My household are doing their best to conserve and comply with the water restrictions. It gives me pause to think about how much society in western North America is dependent on water and how much we assume it will always be available in quantities that can support our wasteful habits.

During my research for my book Lexi and Imhotep to the Rescue I became so immersed in life in ancient Egypt that my mind was there, seeing everything and everyone and accepting it all. In fact, I was so immersed that I missed the obvious.

The ancient Egyptians lived in the middle of a desert. They had very little water. One documented drought in King Djoser’s reign lasted seven years! And we’re experiencing difficulties  (249 fires) in less than 100 days!!


  • In Egypt: during a drought there were no crops – people starved by the thousands in Djoser’s reign
  • In BC: crops are down in yield about 20%
  • In Egypt: there are no forests… therefore, no forest fires
  • BC: Huge losses to the lumber industry
  • Egypt: Water for personal use had to be carried from the Nile (in Dier-El-Madina they had to carry H2O 1.5 miles up hill
  • BC: water flows from a tap in the home
  • Egypt: little water for personal cleanliness or sanitation
  • BC water is abundantly used in long luxurious showers, brushing teeth with the tap pouring, and toilet use, plus dishwashers and washing machines, pools, and lawn and garden watering.
  • The ancient Egyptians used no water in toilets, only sand.

Personal cleanliness was extremely important to the Egyptians who “washed before every meal.” They had no soap so put together a ‘scrub’ made of powdered calcite, red natron, salt, and honey. Deodorants were made from ground carob-pod pulp or a mix of incense and porridge rolled into pellets which they rubbed on, much like a deodorant stick today. Egyptians were famed for their perfumes which were made from scented oils. They had ointments to keep skin soft and moist. Necessity mothered invention.

Water is the most important commodity on earth. Don’t waste it.




The 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I

The 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I was a spontaneous event initiated by the soldiers themselves. Truces today are ordered from military and political authorities and are very brittle as some factions use them to bring about an advantage for their purpose. I remember Marie Curie’s words:

“ It’s hard to think that after so many centuries of development, the human race still doesn’t know how to resolve difficulties in any way except violence.”

There was a Christmas Truce during World War I from Christmas Eve seven thirty to Christmas Day three in the afternoon. Accounts of these events were documented in soldiers diaries from both sides of the conflict.

b70fd40cd1415c2814656d5fe946c310_600x600_a538b01aIt began with the German soldiers singing Christmas carols and lighting candles. The Germans invited the “Tommys” to cross into “no-mans-land” for some wine. One allied soldier accepted and took with him a big cake to share.

Some soldiers held a church service and sang hymns. Then both sides met to participate and exchanged buttons, badges and caps.

Some soldiers played a football game in “no-mans-land” using a bully-beef can to kick and helmets to mark the goal posts.

These practices spread across eight hundred kilometers of the front as soldiers shared cigarettes, shook hands and sang carols.

The truce ended at three pm on Christmas day when they returned to warfare.

The allied soldiers reported that the Germans were very nice, but were tired of the war. The war at its outset was expected to last a few weeks, but continued for years.

Today there is a monument with a wooden cross in Flanders Fields  in western Belgium to mark the truce.


Lister – Father of Antiseptic Surgery

ListerJoseph Lister, the physician who discovered the means to create antiseptic surgery, must have been of strong character and controlled emotions to have withstood the ridicule and rejection from his colleagues.

His idea of contagion was not new; three other physicians had already realized that deaths from puerperal fever (known as child bed fever) were caused by contagious infection. But they did not follow through.

In 1795, Alexander Gordon, a physician, left the navy to set up general practice. He published a paper saying that puerperal fever was spread by doctors and nurses. Outrage was so overwhelming Gordon abandoned his private practice and returned to the navy.

Ignaz Semmelweiss headed the obstetric department in a large hospital in Vienna. It was a teaching hospital with a policy of doing autopsies after every death. By observation Semmelweiss recognized the contagious spread of infection from autopsy to maternity wards. His outrage and accusations did nothing to convince doctors of his convictions. He did not follow thru with tests for proof and did not publish for years. His book then was a mass of statistics that bored rather than convinced. He lost his emotional stability and went into an insane asylum where he died.

Oliver Wendall Holmes, a young physician and writer, was also convinced of contagion in child bed fever. He published an article in accepted journals but was derided by his superiors. He continued to maintain his position but did not prove it with testing.

Staunchly supported by his wife Agnes, Lister was able to test and prove and publish his findings and so deserves the title of the Father of Antiseptic Surgery.


Washing Hands – More Important than Vaccines?

In spite of knowledge as old as four thousand years people still resist washing their hands.

Finally the 2008 was declared the International Year of Sanitation and Global Handwashing Day was launched. It is now observed annually on October 15th.

It has been shown that washing hands routinely after sneezing or wiping the nose, before and after eating, and after using the toilet could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical discovery. Yet in 2009, surveys showed that some medical staff were still not washing their hands enough so campaigns circulated in hospitals along with alcohol-based sanitizers which were placed around conveniently to encourage use.

I can imagine the frown on Joseph Lister’s face if he could witness such lack of respect for his effort to prove that antiseptic surgery was a necessary practice without exception.


Let’s encourage more girls to play and learn in STEM

girl-scienceEncouraging and attracting girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas of study and employment has become a growing challenge for parents, educators, and businesses. For example, the US National Science Foundation reports that women now make up only 16% of those pursuing computer science degrees, which is a sharp decline from 40% in the 1980’s.

If we adults in North America want to improve our standard of living, we must motivate more girls to study the sciences in high school and pursue STEM pathways in college and universities. Growth in the number of jobs in technology has tripled that of jobs in the non-STEM sector and will continue to grow.

Bringing more women into these fields would expand the workforce and bring a new dimension to challenges. Women and men think differently. It is frequently said that a project or a problem needs “fresh eyes” so it seems to me different points of view could be acquired by hiring more women for the STEM careers.

Parents, educators and businesses can introduce young girls to the wondrous possibilities for them in these STEM fields. The qualities needed are: curiosity, persistence, and creative thought — the same qualities needed to solve puzzles and problems.

How can we introduce and motivate girls to science?

Expose young girls to hands-on STEM activities via construction toys, natural science kits, and number games. Introduce them to parents, relatives, or friends in STEM fields. Visit science museums to see first-hand how exciting these fields can be. Participation in hands-on experiences makes these subjects and ideas more personally credible.

Encourage girls to start thinking of their future. Ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Girls who:

  • believe they can solve problems
  • believe they can overcome obstacles
  • consider themselves hard workers
  • believe overcoming obstacles makes them stronger
  • feel that whatever boys can do girls can do
  • look for challenges
  • believe “if I work hard, I’ll succeed

are girls well suited to STEM careers.

Encouraging youth into STEM courses and careers starts in infancy for some families.

March-MegsBooks-postSTEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math, coined by the United State’s National Science Foundation in the 1990’s. More recently, educators have been seeking ways to increase the number of young people, and especially girls, studying STEM subjects, and embarking on STEM careers.

Parents are promoting STEM to their children too, some starting in infancy. Pennsylvania software engineer and mom Kelly Mathews is starting her daughter’s awareness of science, technology, engineering, and math before she’s even had her first birthday.

Kelly reads Rosie Revere, Engineer and HTML for Babies to her nine month old daughter, to introduce her to STEM subjects, and empower her to explore these areas as she grows.

How can we interest young people, and especially girls to embrace STEM subjects? Expose them to science, technology, engineering and math concepts from an early age, and read to them! I found it interesting that while Kelly Mathew’s masters degree is in computer science, her bachelor’s degree is in English literature!

Kelly is also working towards bridging the gender gap in STEM areas by working with a non-profit group in Pennsylvania, called TechGirlz, who work with girls in middle-schools.

As a children’s author of historical fiction (and teacher to the core) I write stories about truly heroic scientists, from the point of view of Lexi Catt, a lively feline who has spent his nine lives living with scientists throughout history. In honour of Women’s History Month, and the desire to promote STEM to young people, I invite you to share Lexi’s tale of his life with Marie Curie. Marie Curie was a STEM pioneer, winning two Nobel Prizes, and saving more than a million lives and limbs in World War I.

Associate Professor of Law and Director, Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, University of British Columbia, Janine Benedet says, “This is a fascinating and unusual book for readers in intermediate grades. Lexi and Marie Curie introduces readers to the amazing story of scientist Marie Curie, whose isolation of radium, among other discoveries, led to her being awarded the Nobel Prize in both Physics and Chemistry. Shut out of much of the formal scientific academy, Marie forges her own path, one that paves the way for her daughters and for generations of girls and women whose curiosity is sparked by ‘STEM’ — science, technology, engineering, and math.”


The War to End All Wars – Not!

TheProvince-20140807-Kent-Spencer-300To prepare for my book, Lexi and Marie Curie Saving Lives in World War I, I discovered Marie’s role as a war heroine. It was necessary therefore to know more about the war in order to paint the background in detail. In the research the First World War was called “the war to end all wars.” Of course, it didn’t end wars; but it did change how they are fought.

After I wrote the following post on Tuesday, August 5, 2014, I was amazed to read Kent Spencer’s article in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Province. Mr. Spencer’s article supported the points I was making in my post so beautifully that I altered my post to include quotes from Mr. Spencer’s article. In recognition of the Centenary of World War I, please consider the following thoughts.

Since time began, men have settled differences by fighting. Fighting began hand to hand. Soon stones and blades became weapons. Men next made swords and spears – ever seeking to distance themselves from the killing.

The bow and arrow increased the distance, and then guns and canons increased the distance even more. But accuracy became a concern so leaders lined up their bowmen and later riflemen to increase the number of enemy destroyed. This was accepted practice until the American Revolutionary War, when the colonists took cover and shot at the British soldiers all lined up. (The British didn’t think that practice was fair at all!)

One hundred forty years later, French soldiers and soldiers from Newfoundland were ordered to march – not charge – into enemy fire. They were slain by machine gun fire. Thus trench warfare evolved as the soldiers on both sides hid. Always inventing more lethal means, gas warfare and long distance canons were added to the mix. These weapons, with more range, grew more lethal, more accurate, and even rained down from the skies.

The Province newspaper’s Kent Spencer wrote about Corporal Filip Konowal, a Ukranian Canadian and WWI war hero, on August 7, 2014

Corporal Konowal was awarded the Victoria Cross for single-handedly destroying nests of enemy troops and their machine guns with his bare hands and bayonet. Spencer’s article includes a quote from Konowal, “I was so fed up standing in the trench with water to my waist, that I said the hell with it and started after the German army. My captain tried to shoot (me) because he figured I was deserting.”

In Spencer’s article, Professor Lubomyr Luciuk of Kingston’s Royal Military College commented, “The bayonet was up close and personal,” referring to the corporal’s actions.

In my opinion, the soldiers who take personal action, these are the men who are often labelled ‘heroes’.

Today, Man has invented weapons that do his dirty work for him and keep him so far from the killing that he doesn’t even admit responsibility for it. Today, men sit in computer rooms controlling flying, robotic drones, and kill people continents away.

Yes, man is very clever, very inventive, and more distant from the killing, but he hasn’t worked out how to avoid wars in the first place …

… yet.

The men who figure out how to end wars altogether will be the heroes of the future.


Lest we Forget

poppyEvery November the poppy reminds us … of what?

What does the phrase “lest we forget” and the little red flower remind you of?

Of war? More than that. Of veterans? More than them. Of bravery? More than that. We are reminded of our culture and what it stands for, because that is exactly what the brave soldiers fought for.

Around the globe people are observing the 100th anniversary of the start of the “War to end all wars,” World War I. There was a ceremony in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, on August 4th. Prime Minister Stephen Harper laid a wreath at the National War Memorial, and, recounting how 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders* fought in WWI he said, “Canada is still today loyal to our friends, unyielding to our foes, honourable in our dealings, and courageous in our undertakings. This remains the character of our country.”

There is a series on CBC TV on Sunday nights called The Doc Zone, and their recent series entitled THE GREAT WAR re-enacts scenes of WWI in England, France, and Belgium.

The producers of THE GREAT WAR explain, “In 2005, CBC-TV and Galafilm put out a call to descendants of Canadian First World War soldiers to participate in the living history component of the Great War project. Over 6,500 Canadians applied and 150 made the final cut to take part in vivid battle recreations, and to experience what their ancestors went through in the killing grounds of Europe. Of the 150, 14 descendants were chosen for a special mission – to travel to the battlefields of England, France and Belgium where their ancestors fought and sometimes gave their lives.

“In documentary style, THE GREAT WAR follows the 14 young men and women – representing a cross-section of Canada – as they voyage through time to understand their ancestors’ experience as soldiers and nurses at the front. Viewers will watch as the great-grandchildren relive the horror of that time and how they are transformed by it.”

It is so important to pass on our cultural stories and through them, our principles and ideals to our children. Let truth, justice, steadfast courage, and freedom from tyranny, pass on to our children and keep us strong.

*Newfoundland was a colony and dominion of the United Kingdom until March 1949, when it became the 10th province of Canada.