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The contents at this location are archives only, as this blog was reformatted in April 2019. To find new posts, go to the new URL. Comments have been disabled on this site, however, I still want to know what you think, no matter how old the post. Please email your comments and feedback to blogger @ Thanks!

You are the template that others follow

July 24th, 2014
It seems the news just keeps getting worse. The battle in Israel continues. Three hundred Malaysian airplane passengers were assassinated in the sky after a few hundred more had simply disappeared altogether. More than 100 schoolgirls were kidnapped while tens of thousands make up an immigration crisis. Newly discovered holes may have formed in Siberia after more ice has melted on this warming earth. It seems too much to bear. The headlines are always shouting bad news. We try to live in the moment without regret for the past or worry for the future, but painfully, history keeps repeating itself. I've written about dealing with bad news in past posts. I'm back at it again because we must all be reminded from time to time to stop and regain perspective. We must remember this reality: hopeless as we may feel, we each play a role in creating the kind of world in which we want to live. We can't get there though without first being thankful for what is good. For all the serious problems we DO have, there are many, many more we DON'T. For all the pain and suffering we are experiencing, there is a great measure of comfort in our lives today when compared to the past. No longer must we bite down on a stick to endure the pain from an amputation. No longer does war mean hand-to-hand combat with shields and knives and leftover fields of blood. No longer do the rich climb bleachers to get the best view to see who will die first, the poor peasant or the ruthless gladiator. Yes, these things past and present are horrible. Heinous wrongdoing is everywhere and always. And even the prescriptions that numb our nerves for weeks after surgery cannot change the fact that every body hurts. Yes, it is in our compassionate nature to stand up and demand something be done, someone be held accountable, measures be taken to ensure this never happens again. Yes, we want to correct the imbalances in our ecosystem, especially the ones that have resulted from human impact. But when bad things happen or when the environment does not heal, it will not be my fault or your fault or your neighbor's fault ... unless I, you, and he throw up our hands and quit. Maybe we can stop the devastating and invasive Asian Carp from reaching the Great Lakes and destroying that marine ecosystem, but we cannot change the fact that, sometimes, the bigger fish wins. We may even bring peace to Gaza and the Ukraine and Afghanistan, but we cannot change the fact that, often, different people cannot live together. I'm writing this as much to convince me as you. I'm reminding myself that the world will spin with or without me. I'm returning my attention to the path on which I am walking -- the one that winds through peace, kindness, compassion, and good health -- so that I can maintain my footing and avoid slipping down a cliff into despair, anger, worry, and guilt. I am putting into perspective the nature of our times by comparing them to the nature of all times. Where 200 years ago we felt great pain in our frontier shacks located far from a doctor, today we feel sympathetic pain from remote shacks located on the opposite side of the globe, transmitted to us through the same network of wires and satellites that were built to reduce isolated suffering. Breath. Relax. Be grateful. Don't become so fearful and frustrated about the stranger in a foreign land that you are unable to be kind to your neighbor, for such kindness is the link in a chain, one that (if unbroken) will eventually lead to that stranger. Don't become so filled with despair about the condition of a changing earth that you forget to notice the astounding scene -- the canyon, the mountain, the cliff -- that was formed as a result of earth's changes, for such awareness leads to appreciation which leads to a willingness to adapt which leads to harmony. There is only so much you can do, but there is one you thing you must: live your life as a model of that which is in your heart, and then you will have done your part.

The Most Real Post You'll Ever Read

June 13th, 2014
This past Saturday I walked into a Taco Bell for possibly the first time in my life. (Don't tell my doctor.) Such mainstream places are not ones I venture into often, but when I do, I usually return consumed with thoughts of what I noticed while I was there. Filled with first impressions, this hyper-awareness isn't always easy, but when taken in the right light, it can be comical. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the crunchy taco I had ordered. Not bad for $1.19. As I was chewing though, I read the taco's paper wrapper that touted its ingredients: "100% real beef." A short time ago I wrote a post about critics who love to slam an author's use of adjectives. I was countering their resistance by standing up for the noun modifier. Not this time. I think I would have been better able to blissfully enjoy my bad choice of food had I not been subjected to the word "real?" That was one adjective they should have left out. Did they mean it was 100% real (as opposed to partly fake) or 100% beef (as opposed to partly chicken or pork)? If the beef was real, what else wasn't? Who was serving stuff that was 99% or less? And what was in the fake stuff? Real as an adjective raises doubt at the exact moment it is meant to build trust. For example, if someone said to you, "This is a real Rolex watch," wouldn't you wonder a bit? Why wouldn't they just say, "This is a Rolex watch" and leave it at that? Real also tends to indicate surprise, like when someone says, "Are you really going to eat that?" When my husband uses the word "really," it's often an expression of surprise AND frustration. If I tell him, "I forgot to pay the mortgage last month," he will respond, "Really?" Or if "the sign says the place is closed," he might complain, "Really?" Authentic is another word for real, one that still seems to have held on to some credibility. I suppose it isn't as overused by advertisers since they tend to steer away from those tedious extra syllables. Whatever the reason, if you really want to express real truthfulness, you have a better shot with authentic, at least for now. Remember when epic used to mean unusually great? As I chewed, happy to know my beef was real, uncertain about the lettuce, cheese, and taco shell, I crumpled up the paper in preparation to leave the rushing mainstream waters and return to a place where I make my own tacos. When I do, I always use really real ingredients. Honest. ---
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Staying Put

May 23rd, 2014
Last week's post prompted a comment from one of my favorite, online writer friends. In his A World of Words blog, and well as widely published articles and guest posts, Sven eloquently captures how I feel. He points out eco-focused problems with an appropriate dose of humorous storytelling and then wraps up his perspective with real possibilities for change. Like me, he is of German descent, so he is tenacious. He keeps laying down building blocks, because he stubbornly believes things can change. He spun my rant against a disconnected, forever-traveling society into encouragement for more tales about the benefits of remaining grounded in place when he wrote:
"...structural changes have to be driven by cultural changes. And those cultural changes I believe can come through the stories we tell about how enjoyable it is to have mom & pop stores or nearby farmers..."
Although better described as heartwarming than enjoyable, The Valley Cafe immediately came to mind. Admittedly, I must drive 20 minutes to get to this little restaurant, but residents in the communities of East Greenville and Pennsburg are within walking or biking distance. (Again, admittedly, one would have to use the shoulder of a very busy Route 663 to get from Main Street to the cafe, but that's one of those structural issues.) Last year, I nominated The Valley Cafe for the local Chamber of Commerce's Outstanding Small Business award ... and it won. As the nominator I was asked to introduce the catering manager and owner at the award ceremony.
Karyn and Craig Keyser

Below is a copy of what I said, offered to you (and Sven) as an example of the value in soliciting your local restaurant instead of migrating to a fancy chain in the next town:
When traveling back through history on a visit to any historic American town, three buildings seem to always be left standing: the jail, the bank, and the gathering place. The jail and bank still stand because their walls were fortified. The gathering place still stands because it fortified the town. Sure, in these modern times, we’ve done a great job of building the ability for people to succeed alone. We have everything we need to remain isolated yet connected. However, I still believe that the gathering place is relevant to a community’s success. Therefore, I nominated The Valley Cafe for this award, because it is managed in a way that understands the simple strength that is community. Any given weekday, you’ll find businesspeople using the cafe as a meeting room, allowed to linger, never rushed in order to fill the table with more orders. But what made me think of the Cafe for this nomination comes in the form of a story told to me by Karyn, the Cafe’s catering and marketing manager. It was in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Neighbors were beginning to venture outside. They were beginning to realize that the public service warnings were accurate: the power was going to be out for days. Many were prepared for an outage; too few were prepared for week or more without heat, light, or stove. It may have been luck that kept the lights on at the Valley Cafe following the hurricane, but it is the compassion of the staff that made it a respite to those in need of a warm place and a good meal. I got to talk with an exhausted Karyn one week after the storm; I learned just how much the cafe cared about people. Doing what it does best -- food -- it kept serving up what it could while allowing folks to eat slowly. She described one elderly lady who came regularly during that period, always alone, looking more weary and colder each day. Karyn told me she respected the woman's privacy, but would gently inquire as to her well being, to make sure she was O.K., if there was anything she could do. In the end, it seemed just being open for business and letting her be at a table was exactly what she needed. It’s a little story, told with an authenticity that could not be faked. This hospitality in an age of hurry-up-and-catch-the-next-customer is why I nominated The Valley Cafe for the Outstanding Business Award.
Nothing in that introduction talks about low prices, outstanding food, or unbridled variety, the things for which we drive all over the globe. I bet if you look closely enough, you can find a Valley Cafe in the shops and restaurants close to where you live, but in order to find out, you need to stay put. And thanks for the encouragement, Sven. Consider this one more brick in the wall of change. ---
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Behind the Wheel

May 15th, 2014
We all want a good life. Yet, for many of us, our desire for happiness and satisfaction is met with anger and frustration. After a short errand this morning--a four-mile drive during rush hour--I wondered how good it would be if we all got out of our cars. Americans drive constantly. It's not just the ridiculous daily hours spent sitting in commuter traffic, it's engrained into everything we want or have to do. Expose your kids to extracurricular activities? Gotta' drive 'em. Get food for the week? Gotta' drive. Catch a ballgame? You don't just gotta' drive; you have to cut out in the seventh inning so that you can beat the traffic home. Want to go out for a few drinks? Gotta' designate someone to drive. Go on vacation? Getting there involves the longest drive of the year, a dread-filled fact that haunts your entire holiday, because if you want to get home, you gotta' drive it again.
Rolling past one scenic view after another during a vacation to Colorado.

Public transportation, while good for many reasons, isn't much better. It still involves a lot of time that could otherwise be spent on better things. Whenever I get to feeling low about our culture, I try to imagine what it was like back in the days when we had REAL problems. Typhoid fever. Abusive masters. And a general need to labor over every task. We tackled them through time, especially the general laboring part. Work was replaced by machines, just as walking has been replaced by cars. Now we've taken the matter so far that, instead of weaning us off our vehicular addiction, we're investing in the creation of smarter cars. No amount of technology will fix the fact that we need to stop this constant migration. Life is really good for people like me. I have the tools to deal with the majority of hardships that come my way, and even when I don't, help is at hand. Still, it's in my nature to want things to be better, and in that vein, I prefer labor (walking) to stress (driving). Meanwhile walking--or even biking--simply isn't an option around here; the infrastructure just isn't in place. But I can still dream and hope for a trend that brings us back to community, to neighborhoods, to villages, to being happy with the amenities nearby, and to be able to spend the majority of my days without getting in the damn car.
How some spent a beautiful Sunday in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania ---
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How to turn a sighting into science

May 9th, 2014
I think data is boring. Give me a table filled with numbers and Latin names and you might as well have given me a pillow.
Torn from the website, Nature's Notebook.

Yet, when I want to know the facts, that file is crucial. It is the back story to the environmental novel. It is the tool the dedicated scientists need to find patterns, pinpoint benchmarks, and prove theories. In the right hands, each piece of datum will add up to a picture, one that looks to the past to envision the future. Thus, collecting statistics is part of every conservation effort. How do you know what has been lost or gained if you never measure the inventory? When do you sound an alarm for a species if you can't say how few individuals remain? Yet, field researchers cannot be in all places at all times, making it seemingly impossible to accomplish such counting goals. Satellite imagery may be fantastic today, but they must still rely on actual face-to-subject sightings. This is where you and I can help. Any casual observer who spends recreational time outside can make a real difference by sharing an observation and becoming a "citizen scientist."

A Simple Start

For instance, say you notice an unusual beetle. Its wings glow with a metallic green color so brilliant you can't forget the sighting. Acting on curiosity, you look it up online to see if you can identify the creature. Your bug matches the photo on the emerald ash borer fact sheet, the one that describes it as a seriously problematic pest. Bummer. What you do next is where the difference comes in. Sure, it's great that you were captivated enough to look it up. There's something about identifying the creatures we see in the environment that better connects us to it. But in order to turn the sighting into ever-important data, you must take the next step. You need to report it.

Too Much Information?

Of course, you don't want to report every red robin or black ant you find. That would consume your time and flood the scientists with too much information. Like the emerald ash borer, you want to report what they are requesting. For instance, in a community near me, conservationists are looking for migration data related to a defined list of species. The timing of sightings will tell researchers how early the subjects are moving in spring and fall, which will be useful to prove the theory that climate change is impacting their habits. Whatever the initiative, most often all that's needed from us is a few more minutes spent online, usually at the same site that was used for identification in the first place, especially if it was biology, ecology, or education focused. When I wanted to know what kind of frog was living in my basement, I used While further investigating the habits of a Pickerel frog, I noticed that scientists there were asking Pennsylvania residents to report their sightings to the Pennsylvania Amphibian & Reptile Survey. So I did. And there was the juncture of my amateur observation and a greater effort, one that aims to protect the creature I found.

Why it Matters

According to the amphibian survey site, the program goal is to, "determine the distribution and status of all amphibians and reptiles throughout Pennsylvania." Even if my interest in amphibians is small, it feels good to have shared my froggy encounter with those whose is great. You and I might make decisions based on emotion and inner instinct, but authorities do not. They want facts. They want to know a table exists as the basis for a scientific summary of findings, the ones that they read before going into legislative session. It wasn't enough that the bald eagle was our majestic national symbol; their protection became federal law only after people tallied their dwindling numbers. And they kept counting. Today, the eagle numbers have soared, adding a chapter about success to the conservation story.
Opposite the eagle or a Pickerel frog, the presence of an emerald ash borer is not a good thing. In fact, it is cause for alarm. Serious efforts are underway to understand the beetle so that we can combat the damage it aims to do to every ash tree in its path. And serious efforts are underway to understand the impact of climate change. These are two giant issues that start with tiny observations, ones in which every pair of human eyes on the ground matter. Always take the next step and add your sighting to the list when asked. Include a photo if you're not confident about your identification skills. Most citizen science sites are designed to be easy to understand and you're rarely subjected to boring tables or charts. And if you're serious about broadening the reach of your regular observations, consider signing up for an ongoing citizen scientist project such as Nature's Notebook. Because, like Smokey Bear says about forest fires, only you can save nature's treasures. Now that's exciting stuff. ---
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