Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: November 2016 Page 1 of 2

What is the origin of joy?

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

The road to happiness is deceptively simple, it seems.

IMAGE: Many thanks to QuotesGram for this quote.

Three great ways to thank first responders (plus a suggestion)

It’s been a heck of a week to be a first responder.

We started off Monday with a horrible school bus wreck that Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher described as “Every first responder’s worst nightmare,” and the next day we were confounded by the shooting death of yet another police officer, Wayne State University Officer Collin Rose, on Tuesday. On Thursday, while most of America was (we hope) relaxing for Thanksgiving with their families, our local Johnson County (KS) Sheriff tweeted this reminder:

For my late-week posts this month I’ve been focusing on ways to say thank you to and for various things. With both the holidays and the coldest-weather months coming up in North America, it seems to me that the least I can do to focus this week on good, practical, creative ways to thank our first responders. 

First responders are law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel (don’t forget the dispatchers!) who work all hours, in all weathers, holiday or not, to provide the rest of us with emergency services whenever and wherever we need them.

How can we adequately thank them? We probably can’t. But there are ways that members of a grateful community can express their gratitude–ways that really do help.  

I asked around and checked various sources online–but probably the most interesting and helpful source I found was a friend and fellow writer, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?). She is discharged Air Force, a former EMT, former administrative head of a police department, and the wife of a fire captain/Paramedic. If anybody knows really meaningful ways that community members can thank their local first responders, it’s Dora! Here’s her advice:

1. Ditch the junk food! 

cheese-meat-and-crackers“Everybody brings cookies and tins of popcorn,” she said. “What they’d really like are veggie trays!” She also suggested food gifts of: fruit; crackers, cheese and/or salami; bread; or sandwich trays.

Consider coordinating with a local fire station, police station, etc. to provide a meal. If that’s more than you can do alone, perhaps you could recruit help from like-minded folk from your church, yoga class, or workplace.

If it’s not anonymous, a big pot of soup or other homemade food items would be welcome (call ahead).

Gift cards for places such as Subway, Jimmy John’s, or Panera (what’s local to you?) also can be a great help for a hungry first responder with little time for a meal.

2. Think small and practical 

zebrapensThere are lots of little things that make life easier for an emergency responder. Please note that I have linked many of these items to websites. This is not an endorsement, but to illustrate what I’m talking about.

With cold weather coming on, consider handand foot-warmers. There are also warming or cooling wraps of various types that can help in weather extremes. Dora knew of someone who made knitted caps for a fire crew, but of course you can buy those, too!

Yes, it’s the digital age, but all first responders still need pens and pads of paper. Dora tells me that Zebra pens are small, easy to carry and you can get refills easily. They’re always in demand. As for pads, get the pocket-size with the top spiral (much easier to use than a side-spiral), especially for cops or members of an ambulance crew. 

police-flashlightsAnd yes, pretty much all cops carry a large flashlight, but Dora tells me you’d be amazed how often those small, intense flashlights come in handy, to use in addition to their bigger brothers. Having several on hand can be a real boon–and not only for cops.

Oh, yes! Don’t forget the batteries! All kinds of things (not only flashlights) use AA batteries.

Update! Dora gave me a new idea, which I share in my post Another way to thank a first responderon 1/10/2017.

Finally, if your police department has a bike patrol and you live in a warm-weather area (or have hot summers and need an idea for the future), consider water bottles that snap to the frame of the bike.

3. Put it in writing 

There’s nothing quite as great as getting a written “Thank you” for something you did. Sometimes people say “thanks” to first responders–but much more often these folks see a worse side of humanity. Sometimes the people they help can’t physically speak their thanks.

We can, though.

We can buy or make a card, or write a letter. Remember the old saying, “if it isn’t documented, it never happened.” As a teacher, I know I’m not the only one who still has cherished thank-you notes from years ago–and first responders are no different. Don’t know what to write? here’s a suggestion.

Tell them why you are thanking them. Be specific. Maybe it’s a personal experience. Maybe it’s something you saw in the news. Maybe it’s a particular time of the year you know is probably difficult for them. Maybe you just “took a notion.” Whatever the reason, it’s a good way to introduce the subject.

Tell them how you appreciate what they did or do, what a difference they make in the community. Thank their families, too, for the stress they endure. And close with best wishes for their safety, because what they do is all too often frightening, stressful, and sometimes downright deadly. They see people on what might be the worst day of their lives, and sometimes other people’s nightmares turn into their own, too.

4. If you’re so inclined, pray for them 

This is my “(plus a suggestion),” because I know not everyone believes in prayer. I do, however, and whenever I see an ambulance, fire vehicle or or police car, I pray a variation on this prayer:

Dear God, thank you for (that officer’s/those firefighters’/those Paramedics’) life (lives) and service. Please bless and keep (him/her/them), grant (them) strength, wisdom, discernment, and favor. Bless the work of their hands, Lord, and place a hedge of protection around (them), to keep (them) safe on (their) watch. Bring (them) home safely to (their) family (families), and shower blessings into (their) life (lives). 

It’s probably the way I thank my local first responders the most (I’ve prayed that prayer as many as a half-dozen times on a busy day), though they never know it. I can’t keep the bad guys’ bullets (a moment of silence, please, for Det. Brad Lancaster and Capt. Robert David Melton), the collapsing walls (a moment of silence for John Mesh and Larry Leggio), or the job stress away, but I can pray for their strength and beseech their protection. And I can thank God for them.

So can we all.

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Johnson County Sheriff via Twitter (@JOCOSHERIFF) for the Thanksgiving-in-a-cop-car photo (sorry, I was unable to find @EnoughLODD). The “For your service and protection” image is courtesy of Vacation Myrtle Beach (on a page where they offer first responders a $10 off coupon). The amazing cheese, meat and crackers tray is from Pinterest, via their Cheese and Cracker Tray pinboard. The multi-pak of Zebra pens (one of many varieties the company sells) is from Jet. The photo of little “police flashlights” is from Deal Extreme. And many thanks also to Geralt and Pixabay for the “Thank You” pen image.

DIY Space Station: Farmers in the sky

As I’ve been designing a space-based habitat that is home to the characters in my “XK9” novels, one of the recurring questions is how will these people feed themselves?

On the eve of the US Thanksgiving holiday, it seems an especially apt question.

Space Farmer by Jay Wong: if we’re out there, we’ll have to eat.

As you may have picked up from comments I’ve made in several of my previous “DIY Space Station” posts, I have some rather pointed views about agriculture in a space-based habitat. I’ve lived in or near farm country all my life, and I’ve been an organic gardener (I was even a garden club president once!) for many years. Of course I have opinions. 🙂

One thing’s certain: space colonists will have to eat–and for their habitats to be sustainable, they’ll have to produce food where they live. From Yuri Gagarin’s first space meal on Vostok 1 in 1961 and John Glenn’s first meal during the Friendship 7 mission in 1962 to contemporary experiments on the International Space Station, finding ways to fulfill this basic human need in space has been an ongoing concern.

An agricultural area in Kalpana One, as envisioned by Bryan Versteeg

The 1970s-era NASA project designers who created the Bernal sphere and O’Neill cylinder designs assumed that intensive farming, something like the industrialized agriculture that was beginning to become widespread at the time, would be most efficient for space. They designed a separate section for agriculture, the so-called Crystal Palace” of the Bernal sphere. The same kind of structure was planned for the O’Neill cylinder.

Perhaps the “Crystal Palace” made sense in the 1970s.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been near a feedlot or hog farm and smelled the “atmospherics” produced by intensive livestock farming, or if you’ve ever studied the health riskscarbon footprint or water use of such projects, especially as regards beef, but if you have the “Crystal Palace” plan should give you pause.

As I explained in my post on Bernal spheres, we’ve learned a lot about the perils of such practices since then. There’s also growing evidence that all beef, chicken, salmon, and other meat proteins are not equal: the intensively-farmed versions are markedly inferior. Why ever would we take those methods into space?

Not actually healthy for anybody: cattle on a large feed lot.

In a relatively small, enclosed system such as a space habitat, everything must be recycled. There’d only be room for highly efficient agricultural methods. Intensive livestock farming is still livestock farminginherently inefficient, compared to many other protein sources.

Of course, there’s a question of exactly what does “efficient” mean?

During the recent drought, for instance, California almond farmers have been taking tremendous criticism over their thirsty almond groves. But in general nuts are an excellent source of protein. In a smaller, closed system with a controlled water cycle, trees’ value must be considered in terms of the nutrition and oxygen they produce, not only the water they consume.

Almonds ready for harvest.

Unfortunately, when you look at nutritional protein sources, animal-sourced protein (including eggs and some milk products) tends to be better-suited for human metabolisms than most vegetable sources. A balance of both sources is best, nutritionally–but how do you get meat, milk and eggs in a space habitat where there are no wide-open spaces for healthy animals to roam?

Aquaponics systems can sustain quite a variety of plant crops, but also can produce animal protein from fish, shrimp, prawns, etc. That might provide a partial solution. 

An aquaponics “family plot” grows a wide variety of plants.

Certainly ventures such as Sky Farms in Singapore are pushing the envelope on the potential to grow more food in a smaller “footprint,” and they’re doing it with aquaponics. But so far they’re growing mostly salad greens, not almond trees.

The rotating towers of Sky Farms are designed to make sure all plants get adequate sunlight in a vertical planting scheme.

Sky Farms brings up another important point: the space station designers of the 1970s envisioned farming as something that happened in separate, “agricultural” areas. Yet contemporary trends are opening us to more urban agriculture options. “Farms” aren’t just out in the country anymore. They’re popping up in vacant urban lots and in greenhouses on urban rooftops.

This community garden in Kansas City, KS is not far from my home.
SkyHarvest in Vancouver has located its rooftop greenhouse within biking distance of many of its regular restaurant clients. Their website has a great short video about how they operate.

Another recent trend in urban plantings are so-called “green walls,” planted with a variety of species to create visual interest, produce oxygen, and help clean the air. I can’t imagine those would be hard to adapt for edible plants.

The company that makes this vertical planting system is called–appropriately enough–Greenwalls.

And of course, space-saving espaliered fruit trees have been around for centuries.

An espaliered peach tree at historic Le Portager du Roi (Vegetable Garden of the King) at Versailles, France

Another idea gaining traction lately has been “green roofs.” One has only to look at Bryan Versteeg’s visualizations of Kalpana One to see that I’m not the first person to think of putting them on space habitats.

Bryan Versteeg beat me to the idea of green roofs on a space habitat: this is part of his visualization of Kalpana One.

In addition to providing pleasant green spaces and oxygen, they’d make ideal garden plots if the soil was deep enough. Urban rooftops all over the world support similar green roofs and rooftop gardens.

This rooftop garden in Portland, OR supplies the Noble Rot Restaurant.

If agricultural efforts are integrated throughout the entire space habitat, that changes the picture and the potential. Food could grow anywhere! Why not on pergolas hung with grapevines, squash, or tomatoes, for example?

This is a squash trellis, but lots of food plants grow as vines, which means they can grow up walls and hang from trellises or pergolas–providing yet more vertical growing options.

And while we might not see cattle wandering freely through the streets, we certainly might find “backyard chickens” or other, smaller-scale livestock growing operations (Rabbits? Goats?) tucked in here and there all over the station–another potential partial solution to the “where do we get our protein?” question.

Beyond aquaponics: could small-scale chicken farming be another source of protein on a space habitat?

None of this discussion has so far wandered into the areas of genetically-modified plants, that might be specifically adapted for high yields in small amounts of space, but they are likely to be developed, whatever we may think of GMOs (a discussion for a different post).

Another area that’s still in its infancy is cultured meat. Yes, right now one tough, relatively tasteless patty recently cost about $263,000 to produce, but the Dutch lab that produced it from beef stem cells is anticipating its products could be commercially available and viable by 2020.

The $263,000 burger, before cooking. Is cultured meat the future of protein in space?

While the question of how many resources such “cellular agriculture” might require is still open, it seems likely that the field will have evolved considerably by the time we’re building habitats in space. So maybe our descendants who venture forth to live on the Final Frontier won’t have to forego eating their favorite Kobe steaks after all.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Jay Wong’s website, for his Space Farmer image, to Bryan Versteeg’s Spacehabs Gallery for the Kalpana One farm and green roofs images; and to Wikipedia and NASA for the “Crystal Palace” image (sorry–couldn’t find the artist’s name). 

I’m indebted to “Johnny Muck” for the beef feedlot photo, to Grow Organic for the photo of the ready-to-harvest almonds, and to Friendly Aquaponics for the photo of varied crop-plants in an aquaponics system. 

Many thanks to Urban Growth for the image of the Sky Farms tower, to Kansas City Community Gardens for the photo of the urban garden in KCK, and to SkyHarvest via Pinterest for the photo of their rooftop greenhouse. 

Thanks greatly to Greenwalls Vertical Planting Systems for their photo of a contemporary “green wall.” Go to their website for more beautiful examples. 

Thanks also to Paully and Growing Fruit for the photo of the espalliered peach tree at Versailles, to Noble Rot of Portland, Oregon, for the rooftop garden photo, to Organic Authority for the squash trellis photo, and to the Denver Library’s website, for the photo of urban chickens. And finally, thanks to the Daily Mail for the photo of the cultured meat patty.

The daily thank-yous

The Artdog Quote of the Week

One’s daily thanks are important.

IMAGE: Many thanks for this image to QuotesGram.

6 ways to be creatively grateful for a good Thanksgiving meal

mealtime-blessingviathemagiconionsMy theme this month has been about finding creative ways to express gratitude. As we approach the the US holiday of Thanksgiving, I thought perhaps we could examine some creative ways to show gratitude for our food.

This weekend, the weekend before Thanksgiving, is often a big “preparation weekend” in our household.

My husband Pascal is our household culinary artist (one of his early jobs was Head Chef at a health-foods restaurant, and cooking has always been a creative outlet for him). This weekend in particular is especially fruitful for those of us who love pie!

But how, I wondered, would be some good, creative ways to express gratitude for the food we eat?

Gratitude to/for Animals

animalwelfareapprovedIn some cultures there’s a tradition of thanking the animal that gave its life so a person can eat. Other than saying “grace,” though, how else might people express gratitude, and/or make certain their meal was humanely obtained?

This has been a thorny problem for years, because deceptive labeling practices abound. Recently we’ve been offered some help.

certified-humane-logoThe ASPCA has published guidelines for sorting among the labels you may find on food, as well as a downloadable PDF with comparisons and particulars. If you want to find humanely-sourced meat, milk, and eggs.

Look for the Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, and Global Animal Partnership labels. These are much more well-defined than other, more amorphous, possibly misleading, and sometimes downright deceptive labels.

global-animal-partnership-logoDid you know that “Grass Fed” can apply to animals that were pastured on grass for a while before they went to the feedlot? Did you know “Cage Free” has no meaning when speaking of poultry meat, since only laying hens (for eggs) are routinely caged? Poultry reared for meat is housed in large, densely packed sheds . . . technically not caged, but also not free to act like a normal chicken, turkey, duck, or goose, and certainly not fed normal food.

Gratitude to/for the Providers: 

Migrant farm workers

thanksThere’s a meme going around that reminds us someone–most likely a Hispanic migrant worker–picked the crops that provide the food we eat. Even if you’ve seen it before, it seems appropriate to use it for this post.

Migrant workers certainly do provide essential services that are not easily replaced, as the state of Georgia found out in 2011.

They tightened up their immigration restrictions and enforcement–only to find that migrant workers were afraid to come there and work (even if they were “legal,” which of course many of them were not), for fear of harassment due to racial/ethnic profiling.

So much for the myth that immigrants take jobs away from American citizens: crops rotted in the fields. Don’t assume this was a one-off fluke or outlier, either. Alabama experienced the same problem that year. Indeed, we still have examples of this effect happening in 2016.

Don’t be part of this problem! If you’re grateful for the food on your table, seek intelligent immigration reform and fair practices toward those whose labor harvests our crops.

minimum-wage-not-a-living-wageRestaurant workers

I’ve recently written about the minimum wage issues facing millions of workers–certainly including restaurant workers–all over the United States.

If you’re eating out this Thanksgiving, please leave a generous tip, because (with only a few progressive exceptions) most restaurant servers depend on tips to survive.

But also please support efforts to raise the minimum wage in your state and in the US. No one should have to work two or more jobs, but still not be able to feed their children!

Fair Trade growers

“Fair trade” sounds kind of like one of those loosely defined designations, on the order of “Cage Free” or “Grass-Fed”–but for once it’s not just a nice-sounding logo on a box or bag. It actually means something.

fairtrade-logo-svgI’m old enough to remember a time when large corporations from Europe or North America practically owned–and in many ways controlled–entire, less-developed nations and pretty much controlled their economies, and provided the only source for many goods.

These “capitalist imperialists” (more recently called “corporate globalists“) monopolized markets to produce raw materials and food products such as sugar, coffee, and–most famously–bananasin a way that produced maximum profits for the companies, while ignoring the destruction of the environment, the rights of workers, and many other issues in the countries where they operated.

graphics-fairtrade-labelsThey may not have been “the highest stage of imperialism” as Lenin claimed, but there has been an undeniable link between unrestrained capitalism and imperialistic approaches that persists today.

The Fair Trade movement seeks to give indigenous growers and agricultural workers more leverage against the multinationals. When you buy products marked with one of the Fair Trade logos illustrated here, you know that a list of important standards has been applied, and the producers of these products have passed the certification standards.

fairtrad-certified-logoIt’s another creative way to say “thank you” to the people who produce our food, and vicariously to the Earth, because Fair Trade standards take environmental quality into consideration.


Many thanks to Waldorf Education and The Magic Onions via Pinterest, for the “Mealtime Blessing” image. The label images came from the websites of their sponsoring organizations. Please follow these links to learn more about the Animal Welfare Institute, Humane-itarian-dot-org, and The Global Animal Partnership. Many thanks to Blame it on the Voices via Duck Duck Gray Duck, for this image of the “Thanks, Jesus” meme. I also am indebted to Clay Bennett of the Christian Science Monitor, for his eloquent political cartoon about the inadequacy of the minimum wage. Many thanks to Fair Trade USA and YouTube for the Fair Trade logos and video.

The ebb and flow of the tide

Artdog Quote of the Week 

Get ready for a change in the tides . . .

IMAGE: Many thanks to QuotesGram for this image.

3 creative ways to thank a veteran

Artdog Images of Interest, “with interest”

Last Tuesday, I, and many of my fellow Americans voted. Whether you like the outcome or not, the fact that we have the right to vote is largely because that right has been defended again and again through the years, most especially by the men and women of the United States Armed Services. In honor of them on Veterans Day, I’ve prepared a little photo tribute.

In between the pictures, I suggest three categories of practical ways that you can thank a vet or active service member–and do it in a way that makes a REAL difference. Have you thanked a vet today?

1. Say thank-you with a card, letter, or gift. If you have a deployed military service member in your circle of friends or family, here are some tips from Operation We are Here, on writing to them. Another good source of ideas for writing to either active-duty or hospitalized veterans is the National Remember Our Troops Campaign (NROTC). Or get involved in service projects such as knitting or crocheting cold-weather comforts for active-duty personnel or helping to fill care packages. There are countless opportunities, from local, grassroots efforts to national organizations. All it takes is a willing heart.

2. Prepare yourself ahead of time so you’ll have a better idea how to talk with military family members. Active-duty service members’ parents, spouses, and children all face unique challenges and encounter all too many unhelpful or ignorant reactions from people who have no idea what they’re dealing with. Even more so do the families of injured veterans and  the families of the fallenDon’t add to their struggle–educate yourself! 

3. Since today is Veterans Day, buy a Buddy Poppy. Buy a bunch of them! The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) uses the proceeds to help disabled, needy and/or homeless veterans all year. There are many other organizations created to help, too. Go to Charlity Navigator to find the best services for injured or disabled veterans. There also are many ways to help homeless veterans. Find  programs to help at-risk veterans through the VA, too.

It’s one thing to express gratitude on a holiday such as this one–but it’s something better and more to “be there” for the veterans who put themselves on the line for us. Let’s be there for real.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Aaron Huss’s “Places to Visit” Pinterest Page for the Veteran’s Day graphic at the top. Thanks very much to KaytiDesigns and PrintFirm via Pinterest, for the “Thank You” montage with the flag and the soldiers, and to the Republican Party of Kentucky for the Thank You photo of the assembled soldiers in the red auditorium. Thank you, Mulpix on Instagram, for the “Thank You” with the emblems of the service branches. And finally, thank you for the Veterans Day poppies with Ronald Reagan quote, from the “Through the Garden Gate” blog. And a heartfelt THANK YOU also to all the brave and amazing people (and their families) who keep this nation safe and free.

Post-election burnout? Here’s help!

ragged-flagWow. It’s over. Are you feeling a little ragged, this morning?

We are now living in the wake of one of the most divisive, dysfunctional presidential-election cycles most of us can remember. Psychologists even talked about “election stress disorder,” while the madness continued, and worried about the very real havoc it wreaked on people’s peace of mind.

However you feel about the results, the nastiness didn’t just stay at the top of the ticket. Down-ballot races often seemed at least as mean-spirited and angry. What is worse, partisan divisions have begun to inspire a lot of mistrust, rancor, and in some cases downright hatred between everyday people all around us. People we may once have seen as “my neighbor,” or “my cousin” many of us now see as “us” and “them.”

But the election’s over. The votes are cast, for well or ill. The seemingly wall-to-wall political ads have finally ended, thank God. Now comes the hard part: living with what we have wrought.

I’m not talking about the politicians, or who’ll be in the White House come January. I’m talking about my fellow Americans. How do we suck it up and start speaking to each other again? 

Our nation’s fate and future depend on our being able to do that. We’re going to have to act like rational adults, and stop casting aspersions on each others’ intelligence and morality. Can we ever be positive thinkers again? Should we even try?

The short-term advice is not to talk about the election results too much, or think too hard on what you learned about the other person’s politics in recent months. But straight-up denial isn’t a winning plan, either. Sooner or later, facts must be dealt with.

But when the facts are inconvenient or unfavorable from your point of view, what do you have left?

Can we muster the hope?

Can we afford not to try?

IMAGES: Many thanks to the “4th of July” Pinterest Page for the “ragged flag” photo–but relax. It’s not really a shredded flag. It’s a decoration made from strips of cloth and lace. Many thanks to the Pinterest board, “Workplace Quotes,” for the Negative/Positive quote, and to “The Teenager Quotes” on Tumblr via the “Positive Quotes” Pinterest board for the quote about dealing with an addiction to negativity. Many thanks also to the “Work Hard” Pinterest Page for the “no matter the situation” quote. Last but not least, many thanks to the “Positive Thinking” Pinterest Page for the “Hope is stronger” quote.

VOTE like your life depends on it! (Because it just might)

Elected officials make policy decisions that affect everyone–sometimes in life-or-death ways. Don’t let the big-money guys fool you into thinking your vote doesn’t count.

The only way for your vote not to count is not to vote!

Voting Matters
IMAGE: Many thanks to Join the Coffee Party Movement‘s Facebook page, for this image!

Change the world?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Expectations are ours to choose. Sometimes that’s harder to do than other times.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Quotes Gram and the “Quotes/Wisdom” Pinterest page of Danica M. for this image. 

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