KN, p. 321 “Death by Scorpion”

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It was 2 a.m. Awakened by the call of nature, I remembered I was in Texas and slipped on my shoes. Ya never know what is going to greet you in the middle of the night, but scorpions were not at the top of my list to be inside the house I had rented.

Surprise! A two-inch brown fella was lurking near a wall as I flipped on the bathroom light. He froze, then waved that pesky tail. I froze, then grabbed a can of Lysol and kept spraying at him from five feet away until he stopped moving. I knew that wouldn’t kill him, but it would slow him and give me time to drop a wet paper towel on top of him. I could then stomp the daylights out of him and dispose of the body.

Having lived in Texas for a dozen years a decade ago, I was familiar with the various poisonous critters that the State is known for, but I had only known scorpions to hang out near swimming pools. No swimming pools within ten miles, so where did it come from? Hmmm… too tired to deal with that question, I returned to bed, but left the light on behind me.

The next night, around the same time, I awoke as thirsty as a parched traveler in the high desert and headed to the kitchen faucet. I was not alone. A scorpion sat in the bottom of the sink and as I waved my hand above it, saluted me with his threatening appendage. I reached for the avocado oil conveniently nearby and sprayed until he stopped waving that tail. It took a minute… or three. This time when I dropped the paper towel on top of him, I heard a crunching sound as I pressed. Ewww. But, he was deader than dead. Whew!!!

Leaving the lights on at night kept the critters out of sight for the rest of my stay. The homeowner had sprayed outside before my arrival, but definitely needed to do more.

So, what’s the big deal? Most scorpion stings result in minor swelling and crazy burning itching, but a few cause more severe reactions. Back in 2021, scorpion stings caused over 3,200 deaths in the world. There are over 100 varieties of scorpions in the USA, with a surprising 1,750* varieties on the planet, and only twenty-five of those have deadly venom. Phoenix, Arizona, is recorded as having the highest incidence of scorpion stings in the USA in the past, but the area has worked hard to correct that in recent decades.

Featured in multiple movies (Gods of Egypt, Bordertown, etc.) and TV shows (Death in Paradise and more) as bugs that kill, scorpion stings are a public health problem in hot, humid countries like Africa, India, the Middle East, and especially Mexico where 1000 deaths from scorpion stings have happened some years. By comparison, only four people have died in the last decade in the USA after scorpion stings. However, lest you think you’re safe by living outside the range of the venomous scorpions, they wander elsewhere by crawling into luggage and shoes, and can travel home with you by plane, ship, car, or boat.

A scorpion has a flat body and their hiding places in people’s homes during the day include the many, many cracks near floors, windows, and doors close to water sources. Like any other living creature, they need water to survive, but hang out in those areas because their food source is there as well (insects, spiders, other scorpions, lizards, and even small mice.) They have four pairs of legs, a pair of claws, and a segmented tail with a venomous spike at the end. Scorpions vary in size from a half-inch to a whopping seven inches in length. I have been told by doctors who handle the victims of bites that the big, dark brown/black scorpions won’t kill you, but the stings will hurt like a ball of fire. Young children and older adults are likely to have more severe reactions to the stings of any size and variety and need to be treated ASAP.

In general, scorpions are not aggressive and only attack when bothered. A Texas friend tossed a shirt on the floor, left it there overnight, put the shirt on the next day, and was stung by a scorpion stuck in the folds of the shirt. She’s fine, but experienced the wild burning and itching for a couple of days. No other ill effects, except for having to dispose of the dead scorpion.

The best way to avoid the bites altogether is to shake out shoes and clothes before putting them on…or before packing those clothes into the suitcase. If you like to garden in an area where scorpions have been sighted, long sleeve-shirts and closed-toed shoes are a necessity.

Frequent cleaning and dusting, and being especially thorough with cracks and seat cushions, will help keep the buggers at bay. Screens on the windows and doors keep them outside where they belong, as will filling the cracks with plaster or expanding foam. Anti-scorpion spray can be used around the foundation on a regular basis, but weeding around the foundation and clearing trash away is also important.  

By the way, the smaller brown ones are not nice to people, so beware, and keep your shoes on. Death by scorpion can be a bit grisly, with paralysis, blurry vision, rapid tongue movement, thrashing, vomiting, irregular rapid heart beat, high fever, multiple organ failure, and closing airways to follow if not treated in time.*  When symptoms reach this level, antivenom may not be enough. Fun fact: scorpion antivenom can cost $40,000. for each vial.

Maybe the night light should be a bit brighter.

*Some information from the US National Institute of Health.

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KN, p. 306 “Secrets of a Crime Writer”


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My little sister, Bridget, and I chat every few days. We trade stories and joke as we catch up on the stuff of life. She calls to pester me about coming to visit her in North Texas. I call her to make sure she’s staying out of trouble with the Sheriff and avoiding speeding tickets on 287 South.

This time she had me choking with laughter. She has been keeping a list of handy bits of information she swears that she picks up from Kerrian’s Notebook. This is what she shared tonight. Bridget’s guidelines are based on a few articles on the site, and I’ve included some links in bold so you can see what she read.

  • Hand guns are not a good choice for self-defense in the middle of the night if the gun is on a closet shelf in a locked box. I keep an axe next to the bed, so I will use my champion axe throwing skills to take out the bad guy.
  • Bodies in the basement tend to stink up the place. Good thing I don’t have a cellar. Not even a crawl space – in case some nefarious person is looking for a place to hide a body.
  • My phone is not safe from cloning or hacking in these days of cyber attacks, so I shouldn’t use it to pay for anything. That’s okay, since cash is accepted in most places, and I save a bunch on credit card fees.
  • I need to practice at the firing range so that I don’t shoot my foot.
  • Always remember to check the inside of a second-hand refrigerator I might buy, in case the seller stuffs a body inside it while I’m getting the truck ready.
  • Don’t look inside dumpsters at the mall. Ewwww.
  • Don’t travel by air during pollen season. The plane might not make it.
  • Don’t spend the night in jail. There are small spaces and other drawbacks.
  • Avoid having cups of tea in the houses of little old ladies.
  • Attend a writers’ conference. All that talk about murder and mayhem might be fun.

There ya have it. Handy tips from Bridget. Gotta love that sister of mine. Sheila and I just might be taking that road trip soon.



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KN, p. 259 “Poison Gardens, Here and Abroad”




Our Carolina cousins have an enthusiastic love of gardening, so hauling dirt and digging holes for their plants is part of our semi-annual visits. As an extra bonus, Sheila enjoys learning about the Southern flower and tree varieties that our chilly Northern weather prevents us from growing.


This last visit was busier than usual after I noticed quite a few poisonous plants that cuz had added to the garden areas. I mentioned my discoveries about foxglove and a few other attractive specimens and we came up with a landscaping design that would feature their own choices in a special section, nestled up against the deadly oleander. We got busy and transplanted the varieties, gloved up and wearing long sleeves and pants while doing the work.


Here’s a list of the ones we placed in the poison grouping, along with the effects of the plants on humans when not handled properly. There is a mixture of sun and shade during the day in this area, so many of these plants are shade loving or at least shade tolerant under all the pines and in the intense summer heat.


Azalea – all parts of the bush are toxic and can cause progressive paralysis

Bleeding Heart – leaves and roots toxic in large quantities

Chrysanthemums – leaves and flowers can cause blisters, diarrhea, nausea, lack of coordination

Foxglove – all parts toxic, but berries especially poisonous and can kill

Geraniums – handling the plants can cause irritation

Holly trees – eating the berries can cause death in children

Hydrangea – leaves and flowers can cause convulsions and coma if ingested

Iris – underground stems cause severe digestive upset

Lantana – unripened berries can cause difficulty breathing or death if ingested

Lily of the Valley – can cause death in children if any part is eaten

Oleander – all parts are toxic and can kill

Peonies – eating flowers and seeds can cause tremors, severe diarrhea, and vomiting

Pokeweed – all parts of the plant are toxic, and it gets deadlier as it gets bigger and older




Why have all these poisonous plants? With the variety of colors, leaf textures, and overlapping blooming schedules, that area of the yard is a constant source of enjoyment for people and the bees. The cousins don’t have pets or young children, so there are no safety concerns, other than always wearing gloves (and sometimes long sleeves) when caring for the garden.

Some toxicity information is from www.thespruce.com


One of the most famous poison gardens in the world can be found in the Alnwick Castle Gardens in Northumberland, England. In the late 1990s, the Duchess was tasked with improving the neglected landscaping. Rather than repeating the layout found in other famous gardens, she created a poison garden, where every one of the 100 toxic plants has the ability to kill you. The reason for her decision? She thought it would be much more interesting on the tours to chat about what was deadly, rather than what was merely pretty.


Finished in 2005, many are considered cottage garden plants, since they are found in ordinary gardens around the country. Most people just are not aware of how deadly the plants can be, but the workers wear gloves and sometimes full Tyvek suits while working with the specimens. Below is a partial list of the lethal flowers and shrubs in the Alnwick Poison Garden.


Alnwick Poison Garden


  • Aconitum
  • Brugmansia (a type of trumpet vine)
  • Castor Bean plant
  • Foxglove
  • Belladonna – deadly nightshade
  • Hellebores
  • Hemlock
  • Laburnum
  • Laurel hedge (leaves in a jar kill insects dropped in, but leave them otherwise undamaged)
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Oleander
  • Poppies
  • Pokeweed
  • Rhododendron
  • Vinca major




One representative is a plant that both helps and kills. Castor Oil is made from the plant (Castor Bean Plant) Ricinus communis, but a single seed from the same plant will kill an adult in the most horrible way. Ricin causes nausea, severe vomiting, convulsions and subsequent disintegration of the kidneys, liver and spleen.


The Blarney Castle Poison Garden, in County Cork, Ireland, has been nestled against the battlements since the 1400s. Laid out beautifully, it is updated periodically and the head gardener is planning an expansion with a display of carnivorous plants. Open to the public, there are warnings everywhere not to touch the plants.


The Medici Poison Garden, in Padua, Italy, is part of the oldest botanical garden in a university setting in the world. It dates from 1545 and was established because the Medici family developed poisons from plants so that they could dispatch their enemies. These days, the site has a more medicinal/research theme.


Poison or medicine? Sometimes, the difference is in the dosage.


But, no matter what, be careful in your garden. There are many more plants that could be dangerous to your health. Ask questions at the garden center if you have pets or small children at your house, but still want to have a great garden.


*Flower photos taken in North Carolina by Patti Phillips

*Poison Garden entrance – the Alnwick garden website








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