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I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

You Gotta' Read This Book

October 18th, 2018

It's only been a week since I borrowed a copy from my library, and I'm already getting sick of hearing myself say it.

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Teacher: "The kids are acting so tribal these days."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."

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Observer: "I can't understand how people believe this stuff."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."

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Friend: "I'm amazed at the rage in these petty arguments anymore."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."

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Talking to each other

If you can relate to my essay from April 2018, "Why I Left Facebook," then you will most certainly relate to this book.

If -- whether by choice or by ignorance -- you don't have a single social media account, you should still read this book.

And if you stand at the other extreme -- you're a social media guru or a social media influencer -- you should definitely read this book.

Before you lose faith in humanity, read this book.

The book is called, "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts RIGHT NOW," by Jaron Lanier. It does not bash technology. It only criticizes the big BUMMER that social media has become.

I think it would be safe to categorize Lanier as a genius, so this isn't light reading. You may not like his writing style. You may not agree with his politics. You may not grasp every point he makes. But I dare you to read this anyway.

His is an uncomfortable yet indisputable answer to the question, "Have we all gone mad?" Lanier challenges us to look at how ugly the world seems to have become from a different lens. He offers the viewpoint of someone who worked in Silicon Valley when the vision for the Internet's impact on society was purely positive.

As long as you have hope that the people around you still have the capacity to be kind, you will benefit from reading this. Fewer than 150 pages, written with humor and the benefit of personal expertise, I urge you to explore his words and see why he recommends we all DELETE OUR ACCOUNTS RIGHT NOW.

Find it at your local library or Powell's Independent Online Book Store.

Plus, once you all read it, I can stop repeating myself.

Tuned In or Tuned Out?

September 7th, 2018

I have written nothing, because what I want to say is just too large, too intense, too heavy. Where do I start? How do I arrange my points? What is my point exactly? The only thing prolific about the material I'm producing right now is the writer's guilt over a lack of material.

White floods my page. The non-color reminds me of chocolate stormwater, because my clarity is so polluted with the sediment that keeps washing into my mind—every grain another analogy that broadens the initial point—I cannot frame the picture. I cannot decide which brush to use to apply the first stroke, and so I decide to pick up no brushes at all.

chocolate water

Huge gaps between the public posts on this page indicate abandonment. But only I have the password to look behind the published curtain. There I find the weedy list of unfinished drafts. Every one has been held back for the same reason: rambling. Instead of writing nothing, I have written too much.

I blame it on the times. Stay positive. Trust your instincts. Be grateful. Inspire others to find the best within themselves. These are the messages I want to convey. But I can't hear past my own internal clamor of frustration, concern, worry, distrust, and dissatisfaction. I want to shout, "Can't you see what's happening here?"

How many other artistic expressions are hiding in the shadows of rampant discord? How many brushes have fallen silent from the dust of hopelessness?

And why is this happening? I propose the reason is fear. I am afraid. The jury is now filled with cruel peers. The penalties for missteps could go viral. The best intentions are easily tarnished with the assumption that every one of us is either racist, self-serving, and combatant or all-loving, selfless, and peaceful. No one is allowed to fall in between. Almost all of us fall exactly in between.

A silent, blank canvas is a signal to the audience that the artist has tuned out, which adds to the artist's pain, because an artist's mind is endlessly, relentlessly tuned in. I must click the button marked "Publish!" now quickly, before I change my mind.

Stand Up Straight

August 3rd, 2018

Just watch a cable television station long enough to catch a few commercial breaks and you'll be wondering how we ever got along without medications, surgeries, fitness equipment, or weight loss pills. In response, I'm recycling the following post from 2013. I want to remind you of one, simple, basic practice that can help prevent the need for any of that: learn to stand tall.

You too can have strength, confidence, poise, and vitality. But wait, there's more. Proper posture makes you more attractive. And this can be yours today for the bargain investment of just two minutes of your time. Beautiful models, successful salespeople, effective leaders, and focused athletes all know about this secret. Read on to learn how you can have all this and more today.

Hiking the mountains

Okay, enough sales talk. Our moms and dads told us to stand up straight when we were kids. But there is more to it than just straightening up and pulling your shoulders back. Feeling tall. Holding your head high. Centering your balance. Commanding a presence. These are auxiliary goals, which require a mindful timeout from hunching over our 40-hour-work-week positions.

You probably spend most of your day in a physical position that is redundant. Our accommodating bodies remember this. Then, for another 56 hours per week we sleep, curled into a reflexive comma. This leaves very little time for our skeletons to be in the state of equilibrium required for our whole bodies' optimal function.

We need to remind ourselves what perfect posture feels like. We have to practice. Like the computer you are now sitting at (and have been sitting at for too long), your posture needs to be rebooted regularly. The muscular system needs to be reset in order to let the frame return to true alignment. The kinks must be gently stretched to spread out the workload evenly across the entire body. Even our inner ears need to be reminded of what balance means.

When you stand tall, oxygen and blood circulates more effectively. Overworked muscles get some much-needed assistance from one of the other 600(+) muscles in the body. Thought, strength, and agility sharpen. And you just feel better.

And good posture takes visual pounds off in an instant, particularly in the abdominal area. Have you ever seen those before-and-after photographs for diet-pill commercials? We joke about how obviously the subject is sucking in his or her stomach for the after shot, but the truth is, holding in the stomach to some degree is what we should be doing anyway. Engaging those muscles as we stand, sit, and move removes some of the burden from the lower back, reducing its sag and its pain.

A popular yoga position called Mountain Pose starts at the ground and consciously moves up each section of the body until the crown of the head is reaching for the ceiling. But you don't have to practice yoga to learn how to feel like a mountain. Of course, you should never feel sharp pain when doing this. If you do, stop immediately and address the problem with a doctor. Otherwise, getting into perfect posture goes a little like this:

Take all the time you need to achieve each step; don't hurry.

1.) Stand on a level surface with your feet parallel to each other, about hip-width apart.

2.) Spread apart every toe, so your balance is even on each, then center your balance between the ball and heel. Be sure you are not leaning forward, back, left, or right; your weight must be centered.

3.) Focus on your knees. Aim them straight ahead and engage your thigh muscles to make it feel as if you are pulling your kneecaps up. Make sure your knees are directly above your feet. Do not lock your knees.

4.) Focus on your pelvis. Engage your stomach muscles to tilt the top of your pelvis back (to adjust for the involuntary sag) and align your hips above your knees, which are above your feet.

5.) Lift your waist to hold your rib cage, feeling your back straighten as each vertebra spreads apart toward the ceiling. Fill the rib cage with oxygen.

6.) Pull your shoulders back (to adjust for involuntary hunch), adding more air to your lungs and more space between each vertebra. Let your arms hang comfortably, but extend each finger toward the floor. Do not lock your elbows. Shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and feet should all be on the same vertical plane.

7.) Relax your face, but lift your chin enough to get your head above your shoulders while pulling the crown of your head toward the ceiling.

8.) Stand and concentrate on this posture. Program it into your mind. Breathe deeply and slowly. Tell yourself good things. Come out of the stance gently; sway around if necessary to shake any out any stress that gathered anywhere.

Also, when sitting, center your upper body parts on your hips, while keeping your feet flat on the floor.

The stronger you are, the more difficult some portions of this may be for you. If any part presents problems or produces discomfort, then take measures to stretch out the overdeveloped muscles, or better yet, make full body stretching a part of your daily route. And breathe. Muscles need oxygen. In fact, forcing a cold, suffocating muscle to stretch can cause more harm than good, so it's good to get the blood pumping a little first.

Don't be frustrated if this doesn't come naturally or feels uncomfortable at first. Keep practicing every day. When you are able to get to perfect posture without effort, you can practice it in the grocery line, while cooking dinner, while watching a soccer game, etc.

Don't waste time while waiting for the ship to come in.

Our mental and physical wellbeing relies heavily on our body's alignment. You can improve this, no gym membership, pills, or surgery required. Subtle results will yield great benefits, one muscle, one action, one breath, and one thought at a time.

by Ruth Heil

    United in Independence

    July 3rd, 2018

    The Fourth of July: Our nation’s prime summertime holiday. We may choose to celebrate with a vibrant parade, picnic, or fireworks display, or we can observe while quietly sitting on the beach, hanging in the air conditioning, or reading under a tree, all because we are free. Still, every American should take at least a few moments to reflect upon the reason why we celebrate this national holiday.

    sparkler

    On the surface, we commemorate a document, one carefully written more than a decade before the United States had its Constitution. Of course you know it's not just any document, The Declaration of Independence inaugurated the first 13 states of America as a unified force for freedom, paving the way for the nation we know today. With acknowledgment of its continued relevance, I have summarized its contents below with quoted material indicated with capital letters.


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    A summary of the Declaration of Independence

    Declared was the intention of America’s founders to DISSOLVE THE POLITICAL BANDS WHICH HAVE CONNECTED THEM WITH ANOTHER while putting in writing THE CAUSES WHICH IMPEL THEM TO THE SEPARATION.

    The self-evident truth that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL and the rights to LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS are probably the most quoted of all the declaration’s 1300(+) words, for these summarized what Britain's FORM OF GOVERNMENT had become DESTRUCTIVE OF. Thus, they declared, IT IS THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO ALTER OR ABOLISH IT. Subsequently, A NEW GOVERNMENT would be instituted, LAYING ITS FOUNDATION ON SUCH PRINCIPLES, AND ORGANIZING ITS POWERS IN SUCH FORM as most likely to effect their SAFETY AND HAPPINESS.

    They did not take this political separation lightly. PRUDENCE, INDEED, WILL DICTATE THAT GOVERNMENTS LONG ESTABLISHED SHOULD NOT BE CHANGED FOR LIGHT AND TRANSIENT CAUSES. But they also recognized that MANKIND ARE MORE DISPOSED TO SUFFER than to abolish THE FORMS TO WHICH THEY ARE ACCUSTOMED. And so they banded together against A LONG TRAIN OF ABUSES AND USURPATIONS (illegal encroachment, infringement, or seizure) that clearly illustrated ABSOLUTE DESPOTISM (absolute power or tyranny).

    They acknowledged THE PATIENT SUFFERANCE OF THESE COLONIES and deemed it a NECESSITY to ALTER THEIR FORMER SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT. Then, they outlined the following abuses by THE PRESENT KING OF GREAT-BRITAIN:

    • He refused to follow the laws.
    • He refused to pass necessary new laws unless the people first gave up their right of representation.
    • Legislative decisions were made at PLACES UNUSUAL, UNCOMFORTABLE, AND DISTANT ... FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF FATIGUING the public INTO COMPLIANCE WITH HIS MEASURES.
    • He impeded elections and DISSOLVED REPRESENTATIVE HOUSES REPEATEDLY, endangering the state and the peoples' rights.
    • He obstructed the LAWS FOR NATURALIZATION OF FOREIGNERS to prevent the population of these states.
    • He blocked the establishment of courts and judges and paid off existing judges to follow his will.
    • He created a MULTITUDE OF NEW OFFICES, AND SENT HITHER SWARMS OF OFFICERS TO HARRASS OUR PEOPLE.
    • He maintained a military presence without their consent and RENDERed it INDEPENDENT OF AND SUPERIOR TO THE CIVIL POWER, pardoning murderers and QUARTERING LARGE BODIES OF ARMED TROOPS AMONG US.
    • He feigned laws, cut off trade, and imposed taxes.
    • He deprived them of a trial by jury or transported them to BEYOND SEAS TO BE TRIED FOR PRETENDED OFFENSES
    • He abolished A FREE SYSTEM OF ENGLISH LAWS as well as their charters, and he crippled their legislature’s power.
    • He quit governing them BY DECLARING US OUT HIS PROTECTION AND WAGING WAR AGAINST US. HE HAS PLUNDERED OUR SEAS, RAVAGED OUR COASTS, BURNT OUR TOWNS, AND DESTROYED THE LIVES OF OUR PEOPLE.
    • As the document was being considered, he was deploying LARGE ARMIES OF FOREIGN MERCENARIES TO COMPLETE THE WORKS OF DEATH, DESOLATION, AND TYRANNY ALREADY BEGUN WITH CIRCUMSTANCES OF CRUELTY AND PERFIDY (treachery), SCARCELY PARALLELED IN THE MOST BARBAROUS AGES, AND TOTALLY UNWORTHY OF THE HEAD OF A CIVILIZED NATION.
    • He captured OUR FELLOW CITIZENS on the high seas and forced them BEAR ARMS AGAINST THEIR COUNTRY, TO BECOME THE EXECUTIONERS OF THEIR FRIENDS AND BRETHREN or else fall.
    • He stirred up the MERCILESS INDIAN SAVAGES to act out against them.

    IN EVERY STAGE, they claimed, WE HAVE PETITIONED FOR REDRESS IN THE MOST HUMBLE TERMS, only ANSWERED BY REPEATED INJURY.

    They wrote, A PRINCE, WHOSE CHARACTER IS THUS MARKED BY EVERY ACT WHICH MAY DEFINE A TYRANT, IS UNFIT TO BE THE RULER OF A FREE PEOPLE.

    Of their family back home, WE HAVE WARNED THEM FROM TIME TO TIME OF ATTEMPTS BY THEIR LEGISLATURE TO EXTEND AN UNWARRANTABLE JURISDICTION OVER US. WE HAVE REMINDED THEM OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR EMIGRATION AND SETTLEMENT HERE. WE HAVE APPEALED TO THEIR NATIVE JUSTICE and nobility as well as THE TIES OF OUR COMMON KINDRED. THEY TOO HAVE BEEN DEAF TO THE VOICE OF JUSTICE and kinship. Ultimately, the founders considered them as the rest of mankind: ENEMIES IN WAR, and IN PEACE, FRIENDS.

    WE, THEREFORE, THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ... IN THE NAME, AND BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE GOOD PEOPLE OF THESE COLONIES, SOLEMNLY PUBLISH AND DECLARE, THAT THESE UNITED COLONIES ARE ... TO BE FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, THAT THEY ARE TO BE ABSOLVED FROM ALL ALLEGIANCE TO THE BRITISH CROWN. By disconnecting political ties, the states could LEVY WAR, CONCLUDE PEACE, CONTRACT ALLIANCES, ESTABLISH COMMERCE AND ... DO ALL OTHER ACTS AND THINGS WHICH INDEPENDENT STATES MAY OF RIGHT DO.

    The Declaration ends with a sentence that summarizes the commitment required for a country like ours to succeed. It is this line that I think, above all others, we would do well to read aloud on this holiday, regardless of our individual beliefs about God. AND FOR THE SUPPORT OF THIS DECLARATION, WITH A FIRM RELIANCE ON THE PROTECTION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE, WE MUTUALLY PLEDGE TO EACH OTHER OUR LIVES, OUR FORTUNES, AND OUR SACRED HONOR.

    Celebrate the holiday with whatever plans you prefer, just be sure to remember such a pledge, for it is in unity that we remain independent.

    by Ruth Heil & Thomas Jefferson

    They're Here: Spotted Lanternflies Hatching

    May 30th, 2018

    Last summer I considered myself lucky. I had been spared the experience of living inside a swarm of the latest (and possibly greatest) pest problem to fly into my region of Pennsylvania. I found something this week, however, that proved my luck has ended. The lanternfly is here.

    (image obtained from https://extension.psu.edu/how-you-can-comply-with-the-spotted-lanternfly-quarantine-regulations)

    Beyond being a significant public nuisance, the Spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is likely to ruin agricultural orchards, grapes, and some lumber products wherever it lives and feeds. If you haven't already heard about the problem, familiarize yourself now, because we must come together to battle this enemy.

    Here are two key resources:

    The authorities have taken this threat very seriously, and they are reaching out to the public for help. For instance, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is looking for contractors to bid on the work of removing tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). The tree, like the lanternfly, is considered an invasive species and has long been an enemy of our healthy, native ecosystem. However, research has now connected the tree to the sustained survival of the lanternfly. Destroy the Ailanthus and you reduce the lanternfly population.

    Additionally, PA's Dept. of Ag posted its latest Order of Quarantine and Treatment, which can be found by jumping to Page 28 (i.e. 3094) at this link: PA Bulletin of May 26, 2018. It essentially states that it is the responsibility of every property owner in the region to help control the lanternfly.

    Since the adult pests die off over the winter, last season's initiative was to find and destroy the egg masses. I looked but didn't find any. Sadly, I hadn't looked close enough. About a week ago, a tiny insect clinging to a pruned branch in my backyard caught my eye. Having seen many photographs of the nymph-stage lanternfly, I immediately knew what it was. I tried to crush it, but it hopped free with the quickness of a flea. Suspecting that nymphs don't move far, I vigilantly searched the area again. Within a few days, I found two nymphs hanging on the side of my shed. Then three. Then four. I was getting closer, perfecting my swatting technique to a 90% kill rate as I went.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    I returned to inspect and slap the shed numerous times over the next few days. Then one morning, I found a congregation of about 29 nymphs clinging to the bottom of one of the shed's wooden shingles. There was the egg mass, hidden cleverly from view.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    I have killed about 100 lanternfly nymphs and removed three egg masses over the last five days. Some nymphs were found on the nearby woodpile, which represents thousands of hiding places. I've come to realize there are two ways of looking at the matter. One is to feel hopeless about the obvious fact that I've removed only 100 drops from a bucket that is about to overflow. Add this to the numerous other bug battles to contend with, such as the Emerald Ash Borer and the disease-carrying ticks. The other way is to be motivated by the fact that I am certain there will be 100 fewer of the buggers come summer. Add this to the work of the many dedicated individuals who are tirelessly seeking a solution as well as the everyday people like me who are multiplying my meager efforts.

    Thus, I am sounding the alarm: the nymphs are hatching! PLEASE take the time to educate yourself about the lanternfly, including identification at all stages and methods for eradication, mechanical and chemical.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    Same shot as above from a greater distance to show how tiny these creatures are.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    The diameter of this log is less than two inches.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    The visibility of the white dots depends on the nymph stage (1 to 4). At nymph stage 5, the black begins to turn red.