Wednesday, April 25, 2018

My Little Corner of the World

So, was I really going to spend the whole time here talking to you about how I couldn't maintain the plans I made to save the world from climate change? About how I failed my New Year's resolution so we were all going to die?

The other day, I had to correct a student who made fun of a tiny sculpture another student made out of a kneaded eraser I let him use.

The kneaded eraser is like a fidget spinner, allowing a kid to manipulate something with his left hand while he completes his work with his right hand. It's better though, because it actually functions as an eraser and allows for bits of creative endeavor in the form of sculpture. I love handing a kid a kneaded eraser to work with when they can't sit still and focus. It's all about focus.

There was one kid for whom it didn't work because he didn't need a fidget and could focus already and he got distracted from his work by playing with the thing. I'm learning to hand out the kneaded erasers judiciously.

So, back to the student who made fun of the other kid's tiny dinosaur sculpture.

"That's a terrible dinosaur," she said looking over her shoulder, away from her work. "It doesn't even look like a dinosaur."

I think she was aggravated because I'd given her the kneaded eraser that she'd dirtied the time before and she wanted the clean one. I looked at her until she made eye contact with me.

"Please don't make judgments regarding someone else's artwork. People are where they are in there work and moving forward from there, not from where someone else thinks they should be."

"Why not?"

"Because I want you to use compassion?"

"You can't change the world."

"I can work to change my little corner of the world and in it, I want people to express compassion for each other."

And then she went off on a rant about how her life didn't contain any compassion so why should she give any to anyone else? It made me sad. I neglected to point out that she currently held my pastels in her hand and was working on my toned and textured paper even though she was there, ostensibly, to learn her math facts. That was compassion, wasn't it? I had figured that if I could teach her to focus for longer and longer periods at a time, that was as important a lesson as any. But instead of lecturing her, I let her rant while I thought of my own corner of the world and what I needed to do with it.

I did want a freer sense of learning than I had seen in the rest of the world around me, one with less judgment and more encouragement. I wanted an environment in which students found curiosity and the love of learning instead of the drudgery of worksheets and learning to the test.

And I still wanted to do my part to save the world from climate change. But what was that role? Believe it or not, I've been thinking about climate change almost daily since I last wrote to you.

In his book, The Songs of Trees, David George Haskell stated that we do ourselves and nature a disservice by mentally separating ourselves from the natural world. We are not separate. He wrote that where people have integrated themselves into the scenario, the local environment around them had become more beautiful even if it is urban. An urban setting is often thought of as separate from nature. Don't think of cities as apart from nature, he said, but find a way to foster nature within them and they become better habitat for animals and people. At least, I think that's what he meant.

I loved his book.

But I read it two or three pages at a time just before I fell asleep every night. I can't entirely say that he wrote everything I believe he wrote or if my mind just took a line or two and dreamed on it and turned it into something else every night.

Either way, I loved his book. I plan to read it again. I don't do that very often.

This book changed my world view. It really made me think about how I am not just a being, but a colony of beings, including bacteria and mites, that cannot survive without the other beings around me. These include the people I depend upon, Mike, Nick, my friends, my acquaintances, and myriad people who invented the infrastructure I live within every day. I still want to thank the guy who invented guardrails.

It's not just people that I depend on.

Three Western red cedar trees hold my house in place on the steep hillside. I am grateful to these ancient beings. I sit under them and look up into their boughs. I watch how droplets of rain hang from the tips of their needles like jewels. I think of their roots, clinging to rocks and holding the earth underneath me. I foster the seedlings they plant in my flower pots. They have a network of plants and fungus that grows around them.

The greenery around me freshens the air with oxygen and I in turn breathe out carbon dioxide for them. Have you ever wondered the effects of looking at your houseplants when you water them? Do they breathe in the nice CO2 with the same joy with which I breathe in their exhaled oxygen? We are lovely together, the plants and I. We depend on each other.

But we are still exhaling too much carbon dioxide to maintain the nice balance we need. Coral reefs are bleaching. Polar ice is melting. The trees can't keep up and as an integral part of this environment, I want to keep trying to move toward a better balance.

Balance is the key to a fruitful life.

So, did you know that some bright scientist/inventor at a company called Blue Planet has figured out a way to harden concrete building materials with carbon? They're even saying it is more flexible to endure earthquakes.

I really think that Andy Weir said it right, "We need to science the shit out of this problem."

And it may be my job to tell you about these brilliant new ideas and discuss whether or not they're going to work for us.

No, I don't come up with the ideas, but I can definitely spread them and think about their consequences. Maybe that's my role in saving my little corner of the world.

And maybe I should start washing out my Ziploc bags.

Thank you for listening, jules


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Buying Cat Litter in a Cardboard Box

This morning, I cut open a plastic package containing tortellini. I emptied the pasta into the pot of boiling water and dumped the packaging into the trash. Already, there was a plastic wrapper from a package of bacon, a large plastic container that had held four days worth of spinach, and a plug from my carton of milk.

I stood and stared at my garbage for a moment. It was 6:17 am.

"So much plastic," I said.

"Yeah," said Mike, "and most of them could package this stuff in plastic made of cellulose, stuff that would eventually break down in the landfills."

"Shit, we throw away enough to kill an animal every day."

"Cellulose, I'm telling you. It's the future."

Where are you food producers? Organic Girl? Are you in?

What about you Buttoni? We eat your tortellini twice a week. That's the weekly lives of two birds or a big fish. Can you make the switch?

Nutribiotic? Can you be a harbinger for a brighter future by switching to a more sustainable packaging?

I can't exactly boycott plastic altogether, but I'm trying. I'd really hate to lose my Organic Girl greens, but I'm already buying loose bunches of romaine lettuce more often. See, there's one thing I can do, buy less plastic.

I already buy Arm and Hammer Fragrance Free Cat Litter because it works well and it comes in a sturdy cardboard box that I can recycle every week! Go Arm and Hammer!

Thank you for listening, jules

Friday, March 23, 2018

Aliens May Be Watching Us Burn Ourselves Up

Do you remember your New Year's resolution this year?

Tell me the first feeling you had when you thought about what it was. It was failure, right? You got a heavy feeling in your gut and you felt ashamed to open your mouth. You wished you hadn't told anyone about it at all. You wished you hadn't even made a New Year's resolution.

If that's not you, then great. Now, I feel even worse. You've lost ten pounds. You're exercising every other day without fail. You're eating healthier than you ever have. You feel great. You can wear clothes that haven't fit you in ten years.

Great. Just great.

Not me. Well, I have been eating better than ever, but I'm still not losing weight. It's not fair how a body conserves more energy every single time it goes without during a diet. Fat people aren't sloppy over-eaters. They're people who have tried the hardest and  whose bodies have gone all war-mode rationing and using every single calorie to the greatest extent so they won't starve to death. Isn't that ironic? That fat people are the ones whose bodies think they are starving. Fuck.

Of course, I can't find that article now written by a nutrition expert at Johns Hopkins. You're going to think I'm just a fat person who made the whole thing up as an excuse. Fine. Think what you want. Diets don't work. They just don't. That's what I believe and I'm sticking to it. You can believe what you want, especially if you're a skinny-mini who has never struggled with more than four pounds from your so-called optimum weight.

Some of us haven't had it as easy as you.

I really meant to talk about my New Year's resolution today. I didn't resolve to lose weight. I won't. Not ever.

Mine was to look at my own carbon footprint and see what ways I could shrink it further, to educate myself about what is happening due to climate change, and to encourage the world to "science the shit out of that problem." Thank you Andy Weir. I love that line from The Martian.

I may not have posted in a long time. I started a new job and it required my whole brain for a while. Then, I got a cold and that saturated my whole brain for a while. And  then I felt absolute certainty that we're all going to die when the climate changes and the only animals that are going to survive are jellyfish, rats, and roaches. And hopelessness weighed my brain down and it sat at the bottom of the Mariana Trench for a while where scientists have discovered that sea life there also has plastic in their guts.

Great. Just great. We're all going to die.

Eventually, a new species will reach the pinnacle of the food chain. I imagine intelligent aliens that might have been wondering about contacting us to warn us about other aliens that might come to Earth to kill us and consume all our resources. If we can't get onboard with sustainability, they won't even bother since we're killing ourselves just as efficiently on our own. Hopefully, they'll come to Earth anyway and quietly collect some monarch butterflies, the white rhino, and some of the undiscovered fungi in the Amazon that cures cancer and heart disease before it goes extinct along with all of humanity. Maybe they'll 'harvest' a few humans for their collection and plant them on a planet that could harbor our forms of life. Maybe we are an experiment in a huge laboratory. Maybe we're an exhibit in a zoo.

Okay, I'm back. It's hard to think big. It really is. There are so many possibilities I hadn't thought of, that I don't know.

But let's look at the ozone layer. The hole in the ozone is getting smaller. Did I already tell you that? I think I did. It is a tiny ray of hope for humanity. We had a problem and together, we solved it.

So, if we can beat that problem as a population, can we also work science magic on climate change as well.

The problem with my New Year's resolution is that there is no way for me to get a satisfactory outcome using a model of an independent individual acting on her own. This is a global fucking problem so there isn't going to be a single intelligent cowboy played by Bruce Willis or Brad Pitt who can solve it for us and bring Earth back to a balance that we had before the industrial revolution. (Notice that the hero is suddenly a white male in the movie. I hate when that happens. Somebody told me recently that it was a woman, Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the structure of DNA and not Watson and Crick. So maybe Sandra Bullock should save the world from climate change. What do you think?)

Climate change is something that must be achieved, not even as a nation, but as the whole of humanity working together. Humanity need to liberally fund climate change research so someone finds a way. Maybe multiple scientists can find multiple ways. Humanity needs to pull together to do what is recommended, even if it feels like we're rationing rubber for tires, sugar, and gas like our grandparents did during WW II.

You know that new movie that's coming out today, Pacific Rim? In that story, everyone in the world unites to defeat the aliens? You know how people in the movie Independence Day suddenly lost all their desire for war and started working together using their intelligence to outwit the aliens bent on genocide? That.

We need to think that way. We. All of us. Almost all countries in the world except for us have ratified the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump has no concern for our future. You can see that with the pipelines and the drilling in the Arctic circle and the reduction in National Park lands. The other country that held out for a while, Syria, joined not long ago. We're the only one that's staying out. What idiots. There are a few countries that have yet to ratify it. Did you know that technically, we're still in the Paris Climate Agreement since the first time we can withdraw is just after the 2020 election. That's cool.

At least, as a whole, humanity believes a tsunami of problems are happening regarding our climate. We  recognize it. It's a start.

But will we motivate ourselves as individuals fast enough to make global changes soon enough?

I'm seeing a whole lot of inertia, even in myself.

Thank you for listening, jules

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When Scientists and Policymakers Work Together

Some days, the best I can do to fight climate change is to read.

It's really easy to get wrapped up on all the political brouhaha in the other Washington and think that the Constitutional crisis needs more of my attention than science does. But when you consider the fall of a nation compared to the fall of humanity, perspective straightens itself out. Doesn't it?

I'm still stuck in the zone of what I could do that would make any difference. But I've decided that my tiny voice is still a voice. I can still make calls, write letters, and protest. I can still make my tiny little difference. So, today I read in order to make a difference. Yes, I said that I read.

Not only that, I read the National Geographic.

Now, I don't exactly trust National Geographic as much as I did before Rupert Murdock bought it and started printing Jesus covers with the National Geographic brand on them. But, I read their article about oxygen levels in our oceans. Did some tenured National Geographic writer sneak this one under the wire? Thank you Craig Welch.

It's worth reading. The story is that tuna, marlin, sailfish and other diving ocean predators are having to hold their breath or hunt closer to the surface because of huge areas in which oceans no longer hold enough oxygen to support life because of rising temperatures.

Rising temperatures.

Loss of oxygen in many huge areas of the ocean, millions of square miles. Changing habitat, squeezing predator and prey into smaller areas. Dead zones. Stress on the fish. A sixty-three percent loss of  the small deep-sea fishes that feed the ocean. And indirectly, us.


This is what we're up against if we don't start making changes regarding climate change. It's a motivator, right? It got your attention, right? I hope so.

Polar ice melting, species extinction, coral reefs bleaching, oxygen levels dropping making huge swaths of our oceans uninhabitable, seas rising, extreme hurricanes crashing onto our shores, wildfires burning out of control.

We're not looking at our future. This is our present situation. We are beginning to drown in it, burn in it, lose our homes to its fury. Next, we face starvation in the name of climate change. This is going to be bigger than the AIDS epidemic, the pandemic flu of 1918, the cost of human lives in WWII, bigger than malaria, ebola, zika, and all other diseases combined. The only thing that might be as disastrous would be if that big asteroid hits. But that big asteroid is a phantom menace. We can see climate change happening around us if we admit it to ourselves. I spent days this summer looking out the window at a strangely purple sky and trying not to breathe too deeply because of the wildfires burning nearby. And I was one of the lucky ones.

Scientists, you have work to do. Policymakers, you need to fund them. How can we keep ignoring what has hurricanes slapping us in our faces?

And yet I hold hope in what we can accomplish given the drive to do so. Today, I also read that the hole in the ozone layer has healed more quickly that scientists thought possible. It's expected to be completely normal within fifty or sixty years. Scientists and policymakers worked together. Imagine that?

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mostly Excuses

Here's what I want to do to live more sustainably:
  1. Plant a little garden - if I plant a little garden, there's half a chance that it would succeed. A big garden would be a definite fail. I'm not a gardener. I like knowing what the plants are and how they grow, but I've got a yellow thumb and I forget to take care of the plants. Just now, I realized that Seth has eaten the second to last leaf of my shamrock. How unlucky is that?
  2. Buy locally - I used to belong to a CSA, Jubilee Farms. They were wonderful, farming as organically as they could, growing unusual produce for me to experiment with, stretching my palate, and generally teaching me and Nick more about farming. I learned that I don't particularly want to farm. See the first on the list. But as a child, Nick picked strawberries, peas, green beans. I allowed him to play with a collard leaf one afternoon if he promised to eat it. I had to look it up to see if he could eat it raw since he said he didn't want me to cook it. Raw was good. The reasons I stopped being a member of the CSA were that I ran out of time to pick my produce in the summer even though picking peas always reminded me of my grandma. I stopped because I didn't get to pick what I wanted and there were lots of foods I couldn't eat. I stopped because it got to a point that I was the only one eating the produce because Mike couldn't and Nick didn't want to and it clogged the refrigerator and spoiled. I reasoned that being a member of a CSA was not helpful if the food was going into the garbage too often. Plus, I got really sick on the same day I ate burdock root and even the sound of the word makes me a little sick to my stomach even though it is years later. My revised and reduced plan is to visit more farmer's markets. I could find time to do that, buying more locally, buying more sustainably-grown foods. Plus, I think it would be fun to see what people were growing and making out there. But most of the farmer's markets start in May. What are we supposed to eat until then?
  3. Tell you more of my ideas - I admit that the idea of getting all those gym people to put energy back onto the grid was a strange one, but you should hear my idea for wind-farm house paneling to capture breezes. There is always a breeze. When the air is completely still, it's weird. Still, I have no idea if harnessing the breezes would bring in enough power to make the whole idea worth it. But I'm certain it would be pretty.
  4. Donate - When I get money, if I get money of my own, I will donate to endeavors that are working to educate us, to change our hearts, to implement their own ideas for living sustainably. Right now, I don't earn enough to make any percentage of a donation worth anything. So far, I've given $6.00 to the Indivisibles group that was my donation from my Angry Housewife Fights Tyranny book royalties. Six damned dollars. Pathetic, right? But at least I had the idea to benefit the Indivisibles groups with my royalties. A bonus is that if we get Trump out of the Oval Office, we might get on with our fight against climate change. With royalties from a climate change book, I'd support the Sierra Club or the Environmental and Energy Study Institute or - do you have any good ideas? I might even buy carbon offsets, but I have a little problem with the idea that every single person in the world could make enough carbon offset donations to actually fight climate change. See what I mean? Someone has to lean the other direction to make it balance.
  5. Compost - The hard part about composting is that it attracts rodents. Living out here in the forest, we have rodents. We even have a bear. Do they make a bear-proof compost bin? I could see a heavy-duty plastic bin that's been clawed and rolled around until the contents had no need to be turned. Leaves and yard debris would be fine. I could start with that, but we already do that by leaving our yard alone so much of the time. Debris just goes back into the earth without being dug up. See? I'm good. All I have to do is eliminate all yard work and let my yard go fallow. Perfect, right? In a hundred years, I'll have a good inch of useful topsoil. When you ask me to add food scraps into the mix, I start thinking of the rats that plague Mike's power tools in the garage. We lost a drill press to a nest. This was a drill press that could drill a hole into your tailgate. It was a serious piece of equipment. It would still be working if mice or rats hadn't nested inside it, if they hadn't chewed the heck out of the wiring inside it. So, whenever I mention composting, Mike goes all gray in the face and clenches his teeth. He has a war going with the rodents in the garage. He won't even buy grass seed and put it into a hard plastic bucket. Those beasts chewed right through that thing. But I might be able to quietly put some leaves and sticks into an old plastic tub and make my own dirt so I can stop buying that crap they sell at the garden center. Yes, I could make my own dirt, eventually.
  6. Sleep more and do less - just kidding.
I'll have to go to one of those big lists and see if there are any other things I can do to fight climate change. What I've got here are a bunch of excuses. I'm feeling rather ineffective right now. But at least I'm still thinking about how I can have an effect, how I can maximize my impact.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, February 19, 2018


"It's not often that poets and writers get a chance to save the world," wrote Paul Hunter. "But here we are, on the verge of environmental disater..."

I went to a writing workshop run by Paul Hunter last Saturday at the Book Tree. I wrote about a tree that I loved. I wanted to write about maidenhair fern, broccoflower, tree branching, river braiding, Fibonacci, and fractals in space and time. When I signed up for the workshop, the description referred to Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth. I was reminded of my New Year's resolution to do something tangible about living sustainably. Could driving thirty one minutes to an almost local bookstore for a workshop run by an environmentalist poet qualify as a concerted effort?

I know, I know. I've been absent for how many days? You wanted someone who would perfectly portray what a New Year's resolution is supposed to be? Instead, I've been absent. A zero. Negligent. Plus, I haven't kicked my salads in a plastic tub habit. I'm not very good at this. Admitting the truth might be the first real step. But I've been avoiding the whole thing.

Honestly, some part of me had thoughts of that resolution whenever I drove my errands. 'Can't right now,' I thought. 'Can't write and drive safely.' I know. I've tried it. 

Sometimes my New Year's resolution to do something about climate change was pressed into my thoughts by a radio show, Living on Earth. You may not be a religious science geek like I am, but I get the best nudges from the Universe when I'm supposed to do something and have been shirking my duties. Living on Earth has been a big part of those nudges. Thank you, Living on Earth for that. Then on CBC, I heard about how the managing director of a company, Richard Walker of Icelandic Foods in Canada, has vowed to make his company plastic-free by 2023. He was so awesome that I broke my 'no writing while driving rule' and wrote down his name and #toocoolforplastic.  If all I did during those missing days was to listen, then I'm at least not completely off the rails. I was actually a little jealous of Richard Walker while I listened to his great idea to eliminate plastic from his company because he'd taken a big step while all I'd done was listen to the radio and think about what I should have done last week but didn't.

See, when I was safely at home, free to write, I got distracted. I procrastinated my New Year's resolution to live more sustainably, to make concrete steps toward a world in which I could do that without leaving my husband, son, and home to go native or learn farming in the middle of nowhere. I'm not a survivalist.

It really is going to be hard to make changes that we need to make if I'm having this much trouble all by myself.

Someone at Paul Hunter's workshop said that we're all afraid to use the word 'population' when discussing climate change. It's true. Can we really save the world without addressing our burgeoning population?

But at least I'm here, not a complete zero, trying to continue with my resolution. I'm still trying, but sometime, I'm going to have to write about futility and recycling plastic grocery bags. I'm going to have to write about existential angst and the big battery in my Prius. I'm going to have talk about what I've been doing and what I still need to do.

I'm going to have to fail before I can imagine succeeding. Okay, I'm here today to tell you that I've failed for at least two weeks now. Listening to the radio is not a success. It's not.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, February 12, 2018

How to Be a Stowaway

I usually come here to whine.

No whining today! I'm taking a break from whining. Are you with me?

Nick is home sick from school today. This morning, he worried about what he'd miss. This is high school, chemistry, trig, American literature. Serious stuff. Picture a kid who's dizzy from not being able to breathe properly who sits at the computer trying to catch up on work he's too sick to comprehend. He's on all the steroids except prednisone. By the strength and duration of the virus Mike had last week, I imagine prednisone is coming, but later in the week when we hear bubbling in Nick's lungs.

I get nostalgic when Nick stays home from school. He's more independent that he used to be, even when he's sick. I miss the days when we read him to sleep, a chapter each night from a book we'd chosen together. Some of the books he wanted me to read were hard to get through, but when he picked Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, or finally Tolkien, it was a joy. Nick would fall asleep and his chapter would end and I always wanted to read on ahead. Often, I kept reading, my voice quieter and droning its sleep-sleep message. I might have to repeat those pages the next night when Nick said he didn't remember them, but so what?

Did you do that? Do you still?

I wish I could go back in time with a book in hand, Destiny's Gambit by RJ Wood. I'd sit at Nick's bedside to read it to him, chapter by chapter, adventure after adventure. Now that we're past that time, I don't tell my friends that I still read kid's books without being required to, but now you know. When I'm reading a book like this, I almost remember what it was like to be a kid.

I loved Jake this awkward boy in the story who surprised himself with magic he didn't know he possessed. Does it always seem like having a rough time of it leads a kid that way or am I just wishing it were so because I was an awkward girl? This awkward girl still loves characters like Jake.

And now the next book in the series is coming, Beyond the Moon!

Here's where the story is headed:

Beyond the Moon picks up after the battle above the ice planet Nystal, where Earth-kid Jake Flynn and crew have recently escaped from the Crimson Cabal. Their voyages continue on the other side of the galaxy where magic has displaced technology and monsters are real. Jake continues to grow in his new abilities to channel energy and fly tall wooden ships in space, but struggles with having been named the Justicar, a prophesied champion of the light. Pushing forward, he sets course for new planets in search of allies who will stand with him and help stop the cabal from resurrecting a long dead queen. To succeed, Jake must learn more about channeling and how to balance his new and unwelcome responsibilities with the continued search for his missing parents and a way home to Earth.

Aided and mentored by the young Life Magian, Starla Silvertree, her aged protector, Ottomeyer Riversend, and assisted by veteran sailors Jehnna Marik and Captain Billy Goldbar, Jake must make heavyweight decisions with deadly consequences.

Unicorns, ghost ships, pirates, space battles, magi wielding lightning and fire, dinosaurs, and a Valkyrie – Jake must face them all in this epic sword and space adventure. By the end, Jake will take another step toward adulthood, discover truths about his parents’ fate, suffer the death of a comrade, and muster the courage to charge into a final showdown with the terrifying snake-woman, Celia Sable.

I can't wait. You'll find me on the couch, Beyond the Moon in hand, stopping now and then to read something aloud to the consternation of Mike who will probably be in the middle of watching a the mess of politics in the news. He might give me a look. I'll get the hint and curl up with the cat to read quietly.

I'm getting the better deal in this scenario. My imagination will soar through asteroid fields. I'll hear battle commands. And in the end, I'll stow away on the Voyages of Jake Flynn.

Thank you for listening, jules