For Companion Animals

Day Six: Gratitude for Companion Animals

When placed up there next to some of the other massive issues (yesterday I was talking about global food security, for example), the blessing of having a companion animal in one’s home at first doesn’t seem to be in exactly the same league.

But human-animal bonds are ancient and strong. I have argued on this blog in the past that the history and development of humans would have been considerably different without domesticated animals–especially dogs (dogs are my ultimate favorite animals, so I admit I’m sorely biased).

It’s a really incomplete picture to leave out cats, horses/donkeys/mules, cattle/oxen/water buffaloes, sheep, goats, swine, chickens and other poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs, camels, and llamas, though. Indeed, without mice, rats, and other animals, our medical history also would have progressed much differently.

But this post is particularly concerned with companion animals–the very dearest pets, the ones we invite into our homes, and often consider to be members of the family. Readers of this series with exceptionally good memories will recall from the latter paragraphs of Monday’s post that I do consider ours to be family members.

We have several decades’ worth of studies that affirm their value, at this point, though the unenlightened in Western society still all too often insist “it’s just an animal.” Poor things: they simply have no idea.

I can personally attest to the importance of companion animals for meeting people and staving off loneliness (yes, that’s me in the photo above, with my current dog Jake). The very best way to meet people in our neighborhood is to take the dog out for a walk.

As to staving off loneliness? My dearly-loved Chihuahua-MinPin mix (who stayed right beside me through three successive bouts of pneumonia one horrible winter, and who still is featured in my Facebook profile pic) died the Christmas before both of my kids moved away to college and took all the other resident animals with them. With my Beloved working extremely long hours, if I hadn’t gotten my little Iggy-girl Brenna that following November I think I’d have gone into an even deeper depression from sheer loneliness.

My daughter spent more than a year, living mostly–except for her animals–alone in California, doing hard, undervalued work as a caregiver to an elderly relative. She did make friends, but her animals helped keep her sane. They still do, even as she faces new challenges.

I also can attest to the beneficial effects of companion animals on children. In my family’s case, two Border Collies and a Bernese Mountain Dog-shepherd mix helped my Beloved and me rear our kids, assisted by several cats and an assortment of gerbils and hooded rats (at our church, my daughter became known as the “gerbil-whisperer” for good reason!).

It is perhaps needless to say that I believe that the initiatives to use therapy animals for everything from the “reading dogs” who help beginning readers strengthen their skills to the “comfort animals” who visit hospitals and hospicesdisaster sites, and nursing homes are well-advised to tap into the almost-magical connection humans have with companion animals.

I’m a strong believer in the value of the human-animal bond. As our society splinters into ever-smaller family units and as people “cocoon” in their homes more and more (the telecommuting fad seems to have peaked, but internet sales still continue to gain on actual face-to-face shopping in brick-and-mortar retail stores), humans’ essential, social-animal nature hasn’t changed. It’s healthier to connect with an animal than with nothing and no one at all. I could argue that our animals are one of the last things keeping us connected to ourselves.

The health benefits of companion-animal ownership–both mental and physical health–are well-documented and hard to dispute. The soul-benefits are harder to define, but no less important.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. Likewise, the three quotes from Allan M. Beck and Marshall Meyers all were extracted from an article by “Anna” on Ethical Pets The Blog, but the photos are variously by my daughter and me, of ourselves and some of the dogs in our lives. I did the design work for all three of those quote-images. Feel free to re-post them, but please include an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks! The Jane Goodall quote image is from the Eco Watch site, from a post by “True Activist” last April. The Anatole France quote image is from One Green Planet (featuring a photo by Wendy Piersall), via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

For Food Security

Day Five: For Food Security

I feel more conflicted about this one than I have about my previous gratitude topics. Not that food security is not a marvelous blessing–it truly is, in every sense of the word. 

But I’m aware that all around me–in my community, across my nation, and around the world, there are many, many people who do not share this blessing.

To express public gratitude for it, in the knowledge of such widespread lack, almost feels like gloating. That’s not my intention at all. If I could, I’d extend this blessing to everyone in the world, so that no one anywhere has to go to bed hungry, or wonder where their next meal will come from.

Here in the USA, today is Thanksgiving. Everyone in the country is presumed to be eating their fill, then waddling into the next room to zone out in a “food coma” while watching American football games. However, despite the best efforts of community charities, not everyone will be able to do that. Statesman Jacques Diouf put it well:

Everyone alive should be acknowledged to have a basic human right to adequate, nutritious food. That this is ignored, pushed aside as inconvenient, left to the vaguaries of climate change, governmental style or unregulated capitalism, or even actively subverted so hunger can be used as a weapon is inexcusable. Yes, people have been doing it for millennia; it’s a crime against humanity every single time, in my opinion.

How can persons of conscience work to fight food insecurity? Acknowledging that we who can eat well are blessed, we can make charitable donations on both the local (link to find US agencies) and international (this link: UN) level to help fill immediate shortfalls.

But we also must advocate for longer-range goals: 

Creating systemic improvement is a large, difficult goal, fraught with practical difficulties, cultural pitfalls, and unintended results. It also is desperately necessary, as long as people anywhere are hungry.

Creating changes in public opinion is a way to begin. Funding empirical studies by unbiased researchers is a reasonable step forward. Involving all involved parties in design of solutions is a reasonable, respectful necessity that is likeliest to result in the best solutions. Many initiatives have already begun. We all must work together to bring the best ones to fruition.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “Food security definition” quote by Pattie Baker is from Quozio, via Pinterest; her book Food for My Daughters is available from Amazon Smile and other fine booksellers. The Jacques Diouf quote is identified as sourced from Live58, though I couldn’t find it on their site; I did find it on the website for GRIID (the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy). The quote from Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam America is courtesy of The Huffington Post, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

For my Callings

Day Four: Grateful for my Callings

The idea that one has a “purpose” or a “calling” on one’s life is another one of those universal thoughts that many different spiritual traditions have identified. I’ve connected to mine through my Christian faith, but you don’t have to be a Christian to know you have gifts and talents, or passions in life that call to you.

I think it’s part of human psychology, deep-rooted in our social-animal nature, to want our lives to make a difference in the world. We find our reason for being in what we perceive to be our life’s purpose.

Conversely, I don’t think I’ve ever met any more unhappy kind of person than those who don’t think they have any particular purpose, no reason to exist. They swell the ranks of the suicidal, because they really don’t believe they matter–even when they very much DO.

My faith-tradition tells me that I was uniquely created by God, and placed here in this moment and location for specific reasons–with tasks set before me, which I was specifically crafted to do well. It is part of my faith-walk to seek out my callings (we all come with several), and fulfill them as faithfully as I can.

That means I must know myself, in as much honesty and fullness as I can. I must look at myself critically, and evaluate my strengths and weaknesses to the best of my ability, nakedly before God (God already knows, of course; there’s no fooling, or faking God out).

What am I drawn to do? Where do my skills, talents, and natural abilities lie? If I was created by God to fulfill certain callings as faithfully as I can, then I must also believe that God has attuned my heart to them (why else would they be identified as callings, after all?). When I am fulfilling the best uses I can find for the callings I feel most passionate about, then I believe I am operating at the heart of God’s will for me.

I don’t know any other way to faithfully answer my calling. Some things–some causes, some works–resonate more deeply for me. Throughout my life, it has been the same: Writing; artwork; teaching; giving; nurturing the animals and people entrusted into my hands. God and I have pretty much reached an understanding, six-plus decades on. I do the work as I understand it; God provides the way to sustain it.

So far, that’s working for me. I hope you’ve found your own path–the one that works for you. Blessings come, along your calling’s paths. Follow your passion, when you think you’ve lost your way.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post.  Many thanks to Chellyepic on Instagram, for the “things that excite you” quote image; to Heart and Soul Coaching for the Mark Twain quote image; to The Soul Purpose Project, for the Picasso quote image; and to Awesome Quotes on Tumblr for the “purpose and passion” quote image. I deeply appreciate all of you!

For Peace

Day Three: Grateful for Peace

Peace is a slipperier concept than you might at first think. For starters, what kind of peace am I grateful for?

Do I mean inner peace? Yes. Do I mean domestic peace? Yes. Do I mean peace in my community? Yes. Do I mean peace in the world? Yes. I am grateful for whatever moments, or fragments, or aspirational visions of peace I can grasp.

It seems ironic to me that everyone seems to want peace, or at least they say they do–but still there actually is so little of it to be encountered in the world. If we really want it so badly, why don’t we have it? Lots of reasons, I think. There are many forces working against peace, no matter whether we are talking about personal, inner harmony, or our larger communities. We live in a perpetual state of seeking a balance.

Forces such as a struggle to survive, to thrive, and to control aspects of one’s life are not necessarily bad, in and of themselves, but there are times when they produce strife. Forces such as greed, hatred, and intolerance normally are looked upon as evil or sinful–in others. We tend to give ourselves a “pass” when they crop up in our own mental landscapes.

Is competition good, or does it stir up divisiveness? The answer to both is: it can be/can. Is self-interest essential to individual survival? Yes. Can it also lead to destructive selfishness? Absolutely.

I think the first step for any of us is to find a way within our own selves to cultivate peace. As Anne Frank said:

The imperative need to act lovingly toward others is affirmed in many faith traditions, but you do not have to be Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or a follower of any religion at all, to see the sense in this. If we treat others with love and respect, it is much easier for them to respond in kind.

But it is the “love and respect for others” part where so many of our peace initiatives break down. If we go into a situation believing that the “other” is angry or hostile, it is harder to display peacefulness.

If we start with the assumption that the “other” is stupid, evil, or automatically wrong, we have already decided not to respect them. Granted, there are a lot of people whose opinion we find it hard to respect! But we don’t have to like what they say to agree that every person deserves a foundational level of respect, if we seek for peaceful relations with them.

I think respect is the essential difference between the peacekeeper and the peacemaker, no matter what the setting or the scope of the dispute.


In our lives, our local communities, our social media, our national discourse, and our international relations, I think the people we need most are peacemakers. Blessings upon them! How can we find ways to be them? The road is deceptively simple. Kind of like the idea of peace itself.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “You cannot find peace” quote image is from The Things We Say; the Anne Frank quote image is from Affirm Your Life; the Tabarani 6067 quote image is from e Islamic Quotes; the Angie Lichtenstein quote image is from Pixteller. I profoundly thank each one!

For Religious Freedom

Day One: Grateful for Religious Freedom

On many calendars, this is the first day of the week, so I figure this is a good place to start my Seven Days of Gratitude project for the week of the US Thanksgiving holiday. Throughout my life, gratitude and thankfulness have repeatedly come up as important themes. I welcome this holiday each year as an opportunity to explore them once again.

My daughter recently started a “Gratitude Journal,” a daily recording of at least one thing each day for which she is thankful. Thinking about her project has given me my theme. As a practicing Christian, it is my belief that I have myriad blessings each day to celebrate with joy and thanksgiving to my God.

Massive among of those blessings, for me, it the United States Bill of Rights guarantee that I may practice my religious faith freely, without fear of persecution. It should be a source of great joy to everyone in the USA that this not only is guaranteed to me, but to everyone in my country, whatever tradition of faith–or however much absence of religious expression–they cherish.

Ironically, I think this is the single most important reason why so many people in the United States still say they believe in God (89%, according to a 2016 Gallup Poll. Compare that to most other industrialized nations, many of which have long histories of state religions). It seems to me that if you are free to believe in the God of your innermost spiritual being, you are more able to find reasons to believe in any God at all.

Or not. And that won’t get you thrown in prison either, thank . . . the Bill of Rights.

Our strength, yet again, lies in our diversity. That’s why I shudder when I hear people say “America is a Christian nation!” Many of the founders may indeed have been some variety of Christian (pretty broadly defined, though: consider how many were Deists, or how Thomas Jefferson felt free to create his own “good parts” version of the New Testament), but asserting any specific religion as “the” American religion would have been “fighting words” to them.

And rightly so. I believe that all of us in the United States should be deeply thankful for our guarantee of religious freedomand I believe that we must remember and defend it, any time we see the rights of any religious community under attack. Bad as that is, though, I think it’s even worse when the values of any particular religion are imposed upon others, especially by people acting in the name of some level of government. Any advocacy for either abuse should be “fighting words” for all true Americans.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The illustrated quote from Sir Patrick Stewart is courtesy of We F**king Love Atheism. Many thanks!

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.