Things just got weird.

That’s me in the pic above, smelling cow manure.

And below, comparing the stink to pig manure.

Now, before you judge, you need to hear the whole story.

Sometimes, writers get an assignment that takes them to unexpected places. In this case, I was writing a piece and needed to describe the smell of cow manure. I hadn’t been near the stuff in quite some time. So, I called a farmer friend from church and asked if I could stop by and sniff around. He was more than happy to help and even gave me a tour of the pig and chicken pens for additional comparison.

What did I learn? Not all pooh smells the same.


This year is my 25th anniversary as a freelance writer. Along the way, I’ve churned out remarkable – and remarkably strange – stories. To celebrate a quarter of a century and millions of words, I’d like to share a few unforgettable assignments.  


Of my top five favorite types of assignments, case studies definitely make the list. A case study requires me to examine a problem—usually a topic I know zilch about—and uncover how someone solved the problem in a brilliant way. I’ve written case studies related to high-end car companies, meal delivery services, and candy, hardware, and grocery stores.

My all-time favorite case study involved knives. Lots of knives. And swords. And axes. When I toured the knife distribution center, I had no idea how many people collect anything with a blade. In fact, the center processed more than 800 orders A DAY!

If you’re wondering, the problem the company solved was finding a way to organize its growing inventory using the latest technology. The case study assignment gave me new appreciation for why my family members spend so much time (and money) making, trading, and buying blades to support their hunting hobbies. For example:

The above is a pic of my Dad’s favorite Buck® knife. He’s used it since the ’70s and keeps it shiny and sharp. I asked him how many deer he had cleaned with this knife over the years, and he said, “A wall full.” (Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.)


Yep, I’ve had my fair share. I once had to lean out a helicopter to videotape cattle trying to swim through flood waters. I don’t know what was more frightening: the idea of me falling or the panicked creatures who didn’t have my helicopter view, showing no dry land for miles.

My what-was-I-thinking assignment took place when I was asked to cover the annual rattlesnake roundup in Oklahoma (yes, it’s a thing). I actually climbed into a pen of rattlesnakes with a handler, who showed me how to pick one up without getting, well, dead. I did it. And somewhere in the video archives, I have the proof, but I’ll never try that again. I did, however, enjoy the fried rattlesnake on a stick. It tasted like chicken.

Thankfully, I don’t have rattlesnakes in my New Jersey gardens, but I have plenty of these critters. Harmless fellas, so please don’t reach for your blade if you see one.


By far, the best assignments that land in my inbox are those that represent people who step up, look out for others, and overcome daunting challenges.

I’ll never forget my interview with a woman who had been living on the streets with her dogs for years. A nonprofit organization provided free veterinary care for her pets—the fur babies that protected her and offered unconditional companionship. The nonprofit also connected her with human health resources. Today, she has a home, a job, a new life, and healthy dogs, all because some strangers cared.

And there was the time I got to spend a weekend interviewing and videotaping the oldest person living with HIV in Canada…or the time I interviewed a young man hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness of suicide prevention…or the time I wrote a video script to raise awareness of sex trafficking, or the time, well, I could go on.

I’ll stop reminiscing here and address the question that may be lingering in your mind from the beginning of my blog.


What did that cow dung smell like, anyway? The descriptor for the story went something like this: “a stinging stench of ammonia laced with stale corn.” Yum.

Yeah. Writing for a living is pretty great. Here’s to the next 25 years!

Why do you garden?

During the next three months, I’ll bookend my days with gardening. My fingers will dig in the dirt a couple of hours before and after I plow through my daily story assignments.

I am obsessed with gardening, almost as much as writing. And as with any obsession, it’s healthy to get to the ROOT of the issue. So, I perused the poets, scoured the literature, and even asked my friends to answer the question: Why do you garden? Here’s what I learned.


“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” – May Sarton, poet and novelist

“She turned to the sunlight / And shook her yellow head / And whispered to her neighbor: / ‘Winter is dead.’”- from “Daffodowndilly by A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh books

“I like gardening — it’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself.” – Alice Sebold, writer

“All my hurts my garden spade can heal.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars…And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven.” Walt Whitman, poet

“The evening was hot; it was the fragrance of the lemon lilies that was cool, like the breath from a mountain well.” – Eudora Welty, author

“The man who worries day and night about dandelions in the lawn will find great relief in loving the dandelions.” – Liberty Hyde Bailey, horticulturist


“For me, it’s all about the rebirth of God’s beauty. I can work outside all day in the garden and never get tired. It’s about mental growth. I can relax my mind and just enjoy all the promises of a new day. Bonus is that it brings back fond memories of my mom and her love for nature and the garden.” – Fonda

“Simply one word for me – therapy.” – Mike

“To save the bees! And because I just love the smell of fresh herbs. I’ve never had much luck with flowers, but I’m trying this year.” – Anna

“It reminds me of God’s kindness and greatness. We don’t need flowers, but He provides them for our pleasure. What an awesome God we serve.” – Steve

“I could clear my mind of everything when I had my vegetable garden and fruit trees. Could work for hours. I also enjoyed canning. It was my relaxation after busy schedules.” – Eugenia

“Flowers inspire me to create – like this doily. I love pansies. Their faces are so friendly.” – Rose

“There is just something incredibly peaceful and rewarding about digging in the dirt and producing beautiful things!” – Janelle

“It’s always been my sanctuary. A place where time moves with the rhythm of nature. My medicine place.” – Jay

“I am reminded to slow down and enjoy. It’s not a race to complete a task.” – Kelle

“The color of a flower reminds us to use our spirit of awe and wonder God gives us.” – Tom

“For me, it’s about actually producing my own produce and knowing where and how my veggies are grown. I also enjoy sharing my bounty with my friends and neighbors. Food is love.” – Molly  

“To garden is to have faith in an outcome you can only influence and not control. To feel the pull and urgency of each season and to invest the work necessary to realize the glory of nature. Much like pregnancy and childbirth, it is an opportunity for mere mortals to assist God in the making of a miracle. Each plant and blossom all unique and full of potential. In the garden, life proceeds each day as it should with no regard to anyone’s opinion of it. The garden is always authentic.” – Holly


Thank you, writers and friends, for answering the question: Why do you garden? The responses in this blog represent many comments I received. Having read them all, my conclusion is this:

God started us out in a garden. Maybe that’s why we feel so comfortable in one.

‘For sale: liter of puppies’

Hmm. What does a ‘liter’ of puppies go for these days?

We’ve all seen those signs with misspelled or misused words. They are hilarious. And the mistakes are understandable, considering our language has thousands of words, and more are added every year.

But errors are not so funny when they show up in our professional work. During the past 25 years of writing and editing, I have come across some doozies, such as:

  • The manual that advised people to “always wear shoes when climbing a bladder”
  • The request from a manager who asked me to write a speech using “self-defecating” humor
  • The newspaper article that featured the new “director of pubic relations”
  • The slide deck that listed the speaker’s title as “ice president” instead of “vice president”

The list goes on.

To help you brush up on your editing skills, I have created a list of commonly misused words, delete-worthy words, and new words to know.



The word “titled” means the name of something, such as a speech, book, play, or song. Here’s an example: The speech was titled “How to fall in love after 50.”

“Entitled” means you deserve something: She worked seven days straight and is entitled to some time off.


The abbreviation “e.g.” stands for exempli gratia and means “for example,” like this: You can choose anything you want on your hotdog (e.g., mustard, relish, onions, chili, or peanut butter).   

The abbreviation “i.e.” stands for id est and means “that is” or “in other words.” We use the abbreviation to clarify something: I am a pescatarian (i.e., seafood is the only meat I eat).

Note: Both abbreviations often appear in parentheses and with a comma: (e.g.,). 


Although people use this word to describe someone who is very famous, the actual meaning is a bit different. “Infamous” refers to someone who is famous because (s)he did something bad. Serial killers are infamous.


The word “ensure” means to guarantee; “insure” has to do with insurance.

INCORRECT: I used the best fertilizer to insure my roses bloom.

CORRECT: I used the best fertilizer to ensure my roses bloom.

INCORRECT: The policy ensures all three vehicles.

CORRECT: The policy insures all three vehicles.


Irregardless: This is not a word. Use “regardless” instead. Note: The word “irrespective” means the same thing as “regardless,” but few people use that word anymore.

Heartwrenching: The correct word is “heartrending.” That said, “gut-wrenching” is correct.

Without further ado: We hear people use this phrase when they introduce a speaker or performer to indicate “without waiting any longer.” The phrase is correct but sounds archaic, bland, and lazy – in my opinion – so I vote to get rid of it.   

Unbeknownst: Unless you want to sound like Charles Dickens, I suggest you stop using this word. Just stop it.


Amirite: This word is now in the dictionary and is slang for “am I right?”

GOAT: Used in all caps, this word means “greatest of all time.”

Ish: The dictionary defines this as “of, relating to, or being.” This handy little adjective suffix adds umph to lots of other words.

Here’s an example of all three: This blog is GOAT and helpful-ish, amirite?

Happy editing in the New Year!

Could you use some help editing content for external and internal audiences? Do you need someone to write a blog or feature story for a website or employee publication? Contact Terri McAdoo at

All Things Creepy

You may love Halloween, but I’m here to tell you that nature is spookier than any of those artificial ghouls and goblins. It’s true. And the best part? You don’t have to wait until October to experience all things creepy. Instead, simply take a walk around my neighborhood.


I came upon this spooky sight while hiking around a lake near my house.

I thought these birds were getting ready to attack something, but then I did a bit of research. I learned vultures spread their wings to increase the surface area of their bodies so the sun can warm them. This is called the “horaltic pose” – completely harmless, but scary just the same.


So, if you are squeamish, you might want to skip down a couple of paragraphs.

This is a green caterpillar known as a hornworm, and it can destroy a tomato garden. The white spikes are little wasp cocoons. Here’s how this works: A female Braconid wasp (tiny thing and harmless to humans), lands on the hornworm and lays her eggs just under the worm’s skin. As the eggs hatch, they chew their way to the surface (meals on wheels!) and puff out into these white cocoons that look like rice. They will hatch into wasps, which are very good for the garden. Meanwhile, the hornworm grows weaker and weaker until it dies, preventing any additional damage to the plant.

I love to see nature at work, but hornworms with wasp eggs give me goosebumps every time.


These are spotted lanternflies.

They hitchhiked into the United States and are a plague on the East Coast. I have hundreds of them crawling all over my maple trees. They don’t sting or bite, but these planthoppers do nibble their way through crops and trees and leave behind masses of sticky gray putty filled with eggs. Wildlife experts tell us to kill as many lanternflies as we can to stop their sinister path of destruction, and I’m doing my part. You’ll find me trolling my trees with a fly swatter and squirt bottle filled with vinegar and water most afternoons.


Although I was terrified, I got close enough to photograph about 200 baby spiders hidden in a plant off my front walkway.

I was tempted to poke the web with a stick to see what would happen, but then I noticed the mamma staring at me through the leaves.

I backed away slowly and avoided the walkway until I was certain the fanged, eight-legged creatures had left their post. I am sure we will meet again when spring rolls around, and I’m shaking already.


Speaking of spiders…. My yellow garden spider freaks out most people. To me, she’s magical. 

The garden spider is also known as the writing spider because of the zig-zag patterns she weaves. Some gardeners say if you disturb her web, she’ll write your name in it, and death will soon follow.  Not exactly the feel-good “Charlotte’s Web” story you read as a kid, right? I like her because she eats mosquitos and other pesky insects. Bugs should fear her, but this bizarre beauty is welcome in my garden any time.


While I’m having a little creative fun with you, how about looking at the creepy snacks I made?

The pumpkins are simply clementines with a stalk of celery. The monsters are made of sliced green apples, pumpkin seed teeth tucked into peanut butter, a slice of strawberry for the tongue, and googly eyes I picked up in the baking section of the grocery store. 


I recently ran into this strange fellow outside a local restaurant.

Could he be the man of my dreams? No way. I could never date this guy. It’s not that he’s creepy. I just could never date a man whose makeup is better than mine.

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

“I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”— Beetlejuice

Fall is here. BRING. IT. ON.

Mountain Lake, Warren County, New Jersey

“The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let dead things go.” – Anonymous

Even a writer knows that SHOW is better than TELL. So, for this month’s blog, I’ll let my photos serve as your passport to the magic that’s unfolding right now.

Elvis on bear patrol
Trees, Jenny Jump
Pumpkin flowers
Dogwood tree
Autumn’s palette
Ornamental grass
Halloween (son and daughter-in-law, AKA Frank Zappa and Amy Winehouse)

I hope you have a ball this fall!

My dog wrote my blog.

Hi. I’m Elvis. Not THE Elvis, but my human’s Elvis. Terri said she doesn’t have anything interesting to say for her blog, considering she’s been hanging out at the house for—well, I don’t know how long. I live in the present.  

Because a blogger’s gotta blog, she said to me, “Why don’t you write my blog? I’ll pay you in bacon.” I’ll do anything for bacon.

So, instead of curling up under her writing desk, I wagged my tail, jumped into her chair, and put paws to paper.

What does a Frisbee-catching  rump-shaking Border Collie have to say that’s worth your time?

Hey, dogs got it going on. Three of us survived the sinking of the Titanic. Others endured a blizzard to deliver diphtheria medicine to families in Alaska. Another dog guided a blind man across the Appalachian Trail. We can see in the dark, detect bad weather, smell your feelings, and sniff out diseases. Can YOU do that?

And don’t forget: We’re fiercely loyal and protective. Here’s a picture of the bear that came too close to my human. I barked, the bear ran, and then I chased him all the way up the mountain. Big ole scaredy cat.

And here’s a picture of my handsome face after running off that 400-pound bear:  

Okay, maybe I’ve put on a couple extra pandemic pounds since that photo was taken. (Haven’t we all?) My point is this: Dogs are cool, which you probably know. I’m blogging to give you the scoop on four things that might surprise you.

#1. We know you adore us, and that’s why you can’t help but hug us. But just stop it. Don’t get me wrong. We like affection, like belly rubs and back scratches. But a big squeeze makes most dogs uncomfortable. Dogs are not huggers in the same way humans are not butt-sniffers. Of course, there are exceptions in both cases.

#2. Stop tempting us with that cold toilet bowl water. It’s like drinking from a keg for canines. We know what happens in that thing (we like following you in there), but it’s just too hard to resist in the middle of the night. Do us a favor. Put the toilet seat down.

#3. Give us pupsicles. Yeah, I spelled that right. Get one of those empty bones from the pet store, stuff it with wet dog food, and freeze it. While you watch your movie and eat popcorn, we’ll snack on a pupsicle.

#4. This is the most important thing. You seem to be home a lot more often these days, and we love that. But you still have your phone calls and video chats and gardening chores and canoe rides. Keep in mind that YOU are all we have. That’s why we shake our rumps so hard when you come in the door. It’s why when you sit down to read or watch TV, we bring you every tug toy and ball from the toy box. We adore you and want to play. How great is that?

And that’s all I have to say for Terri’s blog. Elvis has left the building…in search of bacon.

Welcome to my virtual sip and stroll

At this time each year, I host a sip and stroll through my iris gardens. My friends follow me through my garden paths, sipping wine or tea, and I teach them about these graceful beauties.

Since I’m sheltering in place (SIP) in New Jersey, and my magnificent irises deserve an audience, I’m hosting a virtual tour of my gardens. Please sit back, press play, and enjoy my photos and the soothing and inspiring music, composed and performed by my son, Ragen.

The little-known anniversary I’m celebrating this month

Have you heard of William Stebbins Barnard? He was a writer and teacher from Illinois who received a patent in February 1877 for “improvements in book-supports,” or as I call them, bookends.

Long before 1877, people used all sorts of materials to prop up books, but Barnard perfected the design. Here’s an excerpt from his patent: “The invention consists in a book support or holder composed of two unconnected angular end pieces to be placed at the two extremities of the row of books to be kept upright, each being adapted to receive and to be held in position by the books set upon its horizontal extension or base….”

In honor of William Stebbins Barnard and the anniversary of his “book-supports,” I’ll share some photos of my bookends, starting with my favorite.

I found these bronze praying hands in an antique shop in Pennsylvania years ago. My grandparents had a set just like them.

My Dad gave me a set from his collection: hand-carved elephants connected by a wooden base that slides to make room for more books.

Here’s another find from an antique shop – super heavy but elegant!

I stumbled on these majestic eagle bookends by accident. They were hidden under some old magazines at a used bookstore. I talked the guy into selling them to me for $5.

Found this set while on a retreat in Arizona:

Some are just for fun:

Others remind me of home (born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma): 

And I have many more. As long as I have books, I will have bookends. These treasures hold together stories and poetry and truths that enlighten, encourage, entertain, and inspire.

They also look pretty darn cool.

Best Gifts for the Writer in Your Life

Writers hemorrhage over words, sentences and scenes all day. Writing is tedious! How can you show your appreciation and respect for the writer in your life this Christmas?

I can help. I make my living as a writer, which translates into hundreds of hours each month in front of a computer and inside my head. Below, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite things. Maybe they will inspire a gift or two for the writer in your life.

If you want to give a writer a creative boost

Writing every day takes energy, discipline and gumption. When I feel a bit sluggish or burned out, I put on one of my writing shirts – the comfy, colorful shirts I purchased exclusively for writing time. I never wear them for anything else. When I put one on, a switch flips in my brain, and I know it’s time to get serious and get to writing. Maybe your loved one would appreciate a writing shirt. Here’s the one I wear when working on my current novel:

What a writer wears can fuel the imagination and so can the things we hear. Spanish guitar always notches up my creative noggin. My favorites are Azúcar: The Magic of Spanish Guitar with Guido Luciani and Guitarisma 2: The Charisma, Mystique and Pure Expression of the Guitar.

Sometimes, just one song can send me speeding forward on the writing track. Songs like “Focus on Sight” and “Indra” from Thievery Corporation’s Mirror Conspiracy shift my brain into high gear every time.

If you prefer to give practical gifts

Although a lot of wordsmithing occurs in a place nebulously called “the cloud,” there are many times I prefer to print book chapters for editing or print students’ writing papers for grading. This year, I spent $350 on printer toner, paper, legal pads and other desktop necessities. That’s $350 that could have been used for a writing retreat at my favorite cabin or attending a workshop.

If you like to give practical presents, consider a gift card to an online or local office supply store. I would LOVE to get a few of those and free up some cash to spend on my craft.

Of course, a beautiful pen is always a practical and appreciated gift. One suggestion: If the writer in your life takes lots of notes or writes often in a journal, choose a slender pen to make the words flow faster. A chunky pen is best for signing important documents, like book contracts.

Below are my pens. The one on the far right is my fav. It’s lightweight, and I love the sleek design and deep green and black colors.

If you like to give books

Although the internet is a great resource, many writers prefer to have a hard copy of key reference books within arm’s reach. Here are my two favorites:

  • Roget’s International Thesaurus – I have the 7th edition, but there’s also an 8th edition. This thesaurus is a monster of a book, but I use it EVERY DAY. It is the only thesaurus based on the original Peter Roget’s reference book from 1852, and it keeps getting better with each new edition.
  • The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression – This reference comes in handy when trying to show rather than describe an emotion. It’s great for prompts/ideas to bring fiction and nonfiction characters to life. 

If the writer in your life appreciates homemade gifts

If you enjoy making presents, consider creating a pen holder. It’s practical but also serves as a mnemonic device, reminding you of a special someone and a special story associated with that someone. Here’s one a friend made for me years ago. It serves as a little ray of sunshine every time I look at it:

If the writer in your life loves helping others

A number of nonprofit organizations could use your support this year. Consider purchasing a gift for your loved one from Girls Write Now, an organization that mentors young girls to find their voice through writing, or shop at the Women’s Fiction Writers Association store, where all proceeds go to programs and events that help people develop writing skills.

One more thing

No organization or brand paid or influenced me to endorse or mention any of the products on my “best” list. The suggestions are based on my personal experience as a writer. I hope my favorite things give you great ideas to help you show how much you appreciate the writer in your life this Christmas and all year long.

“Start writing, no matter what. The water doesn’t flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour

“The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let dead things go.” – Anonymous

Mountain Lake, Warren County, New Jersey

Fall is almost here. BRING. IT. ON.

Even a writer knows that, sometimes, SHOW is better than TELL. So, for this month’s blog, I’ll let my photos serve as your passport to the magic that’s coming soon.

Elvis on bear patrol
Trees, Jenny Jump
Pumpkin flowers
Dogwood tree
Autumn’s palette
Ornamental grass
Halloween (son and daughter-in-law, AKA Frank Zappa and Amy Winehouse)

I hope you have a ball this fall!