Earth Day: all the stuff we cannot see

We are running out of places to store our oil. Farmers can’t get their pigs slaughtered because the meat plant workers are sick and can’t kill them fast enough. Economies are toppling because of one little virus. Which brings us to the reminder: our life here hangs in a fragile balance.

Earth Day is 50 years old. It was launched by Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and the date was chosen to be just before finals week at colleges. Problems with the oil industry were thought to have inspired him–both the deadly used of lead in gas and an oil spill off the coast of California.

Environmentalism has long been in the fabric of our nation.

Environmentalism embraces  the Pragmatic Utilitarian perspective (hunting, fishing, hiking are worthy pastimes) and Idealist Naturalist (every species is important) perspectives. Most scientists are Idealists.

Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), a utilitarian and the first director of the U.S. Forest Service, saw conservation as being for the good of the greatest number of people and saw businesses as selfish exploiters of resources.  He felt that the government was a representative of the People and should manage our natural resources.  The Utilitarian approach can be found in the Izaak Walton League and the  National Wildlife Federation.

Many events lead up to the formation of Earth Day:

•1930s  The Dust Bowl showed the need for soil conservation.

•1962 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson linked DDT use and bird death. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring connected DDT use with the disappearance of the bald eagle and other birds in the US.  (When I was a girl, most people in the US had never seen an eagle and its mysterious vanishing alarmed patriots as as well as nature lovers.)  Like Galileo and Paracelsus, biologist Carson wrote for a general audience, achieved nearly instant fame, and rattled authority figures.  Yet she had the admiration and backing of other scientists and  some politicians so her environmental movement took hold.

1968 First photo of Earth from space was taken during the Apollo 8 mission. Earthrise shows our planet rising over the moon. The Earth’s beauty contrasted with the dead surface of the moon helped people fall in love with it and see how precious it is and for the photographer, William Anders, human conflict and loyalty to divisive causes looked so petty. “This is the only home we have and yet we’re busy shooting at each other, threatening nuclear war, and wearing suicide vests,” he said. “It amazes me.”

1969 Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted with industrial wastes that it caught fire and burned.

1969 Santa Barbara oil spill causes by inadequate safety regulations, spilled 21,000 gallons of oil off the coast of California, killing thousands of animals. The explosion it caused cracked the sea floor!

By 1970, people in the US had had enough. In 1970 , the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) was created. Environmental laws increase from 20-120.

•1970 First Earth Day on April 22 was celebrated.

•A major advancement in environmental science came when the field of analytical chemistry (testing for chemical composition) was developed in the US in the 1960s and 70s.  This new branch of chemistry revealed  that small amounts of synthetic chemicals persisted in the environment.  Before this time, they were undetectable and assumed to be broken down when put into the air and water. I’m an analytical chemist and perhaps my love of environmentalism is at the core of it.

  In 1989 75% of people in US identified themselves as environmentalists. Recently, this has fallen to 42%, in part because it has been wantonly politicized and partly because the problems are less obvious.

•Astroturfing is a big problem for our environmental awareness these days and can be blamed for the lack of support and politicization. Here’s how it works: if scientific evidence points to a consensus but it could harm your profits,  a group of “scientists” will  be formed and they will refute the evidence. They will often not use the scientific method and rarely publish in peer reviewed journals. Sometimes they will get a letter to the editor published in a peer reviewed journal and then they will use it as a citation, as if they had published an article in the journal. Astroturf groups pretend to be “green”. If they employ scientists, the scientists are not working in their area of expertise. There are also social influencers who roam the internet with their name calling ex: saying environmentalists are hippies or earth worshipers, & calling good science “junk science. ” To oppose this, Scientists have had to march and speak out.

Science can be powerful. It’s hopeful yet skeptical–hopeful that problems can be solved but skeptical of the influences of power and money on science. With this, scientists are reacting with alarm to political and financial pressures more than ever before.  Companies are spending money to publicly refute accepted science and regulatory agencies are underfunded.  We even have a president pushing medical cures that don’t work! (Watch the Movie: Thank You for Smoking). These forces aren’t always able to be seen, yet, like a virus, they damage scientific progress and integrity. They damage democracy as well.

Science and Democracy, ideally, are a lot alike. Shared values include –openness to critical scrutiny –a skepticism toward claims that too neatly support reigning values –a willingness to listen to countervailing opinions –a readiness to admit uncertainty and ignorance –a respect for evidence gathered according to the sanctioned best practices of the moment.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road / the one less traveled by / offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel Carson.

These words stand true today, more than ever. Please, celebrate Earth Day today.

Where folks do NOT shelter in place, will a mask help?

Here in Iowa, we are one of the few states without a shelter-in-place order. The governor’s guidelines are reactive, not proactive, and she is waiting until her metrics are reached to rein us in. These metrics include

  • Percentage of population greater than 65 years of age
  • Percent of identified cases requiring hospitalization
  • Infection rate per 100,000 population in the past 14 days
  • Number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities

As some have said, she is using the canary in a coal mine approach and our population is a the canary.

People in Iowa are NOT doing a great job of social distancing. Many of us see or hear of groups out and about, parties, and even trips to the church for coffee, And a friend recently had his/her business broken into by unsavory types roaming about. It’s like the wild west here. I’m lucky I can shelter in place at home, despite the 60 + assignments coming in each week. Going out is pretty terrifying. To this end, I decided to wear a dust mask when I walk my puppy. I have allergies anyway and the mask can also scare people away from me. Lord knows, they are not getting the message otherwise.

Professional masks are for the healthcare folks right now. Providers wear an N95 mask to protect themselves and a surgical mask over it to protect it. Although there isn’t a consensus yet, the virus appears able to spread as an aerosol, tiny particles like a mist which hang, not only on a cough or sneeze, but even when talking. This excellent article has all the in and out of aerosols vs droplets. And it makes a good case for why we should all wear masks to protect others.

It’s terrifying here and I have to ask: How helpful are non-medical masks? A study from several years back noted that they are half as effective as medical grade masks. Which in my opinion, is twice as good as nothing!

Being a chemist, I like protective equipment anyway. It makes me feel at home. Not to mention, I have always had ample saliva–I might as well keep it to myself.

My local hospital has distributed this pattern and are asking people to donate masks, making sure they have a tissue pocket to give one more layer of protection. This site recommends putting a vacuum cleaner filter in the tissue pocket.

One source recommends two layers of high quality cotton (as in quilts) with ties. “You have to use relatively high-quality cloth,” Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said. Thread count should be at least 180. Hold the material up to the light to make sure nothing peaks through. If light can get through, so can a tiny virus. The article mentions inserting flannel can be a good option. I went through my meager stash of material and found that t-shirts are not “high quality” and neither was my favorite bandana, or any of my scarves. My trusty potholder didn’t let any light through and smells like cookies! But would it be stifling? Not to mention, a potholder wouldn’t fit securely across the face. Look here for guidelines on masks, including taking them on and off properly.

dust mask
bandana
potholder

Wash in a pillow case with hot water but don’t bleach your mask. A friend passed along the advice to have one side different than the other to make sure you know which one to put face first. And don’t use them when wet. This site has more advice, including limiting time worn to 2 hours at a stretch.

As for hospital masks, we need them. Production is ramping up. Companies are making masks in my home state and nearby my home town of Pella.

Wearing a mask is polite–it keeps your germs from the outside. Just don’t let it make you feel invincible. The efficacy of masks has not been proven. And I for one, plan to shelter, no matter what my governor says.

With warmer weather ahead, some models predict, unlike the flu, that the virus will spread more. Remember, the only way to stop it is to remove the host. That’s me and you.

What’s free: books and advice

Last week was the beginning of spring break. I was planning to go on a trip but cancelled it (it remains to be seen if I get a refund from the airline) and instead, have begun putting my lectures on line. Yes, I’m a teacher and like all teachers, I’m doing my best to keep learning going. I can’t imagine what will happen if education halts and future health care professionals and scientists can’t get proper training. Oh wait, yes I can imagine it and it is a part of Lost in Waste, where a self-trained medic takes on a variety of roles in society.

In fact, you can read all about it for free this week. My publisher is hosting a give away and Lost in Waste is free as an e-book from 3-25 to 3-27.

I’ve been busy giving my lectures a voice over. Fortunately, I was a DJ back in the good old days of radio, before it was swallowed up by huge corporations like I Heart Radio. However easy it is for me to record my lessons, accessing courses remotely is not easy for every student.

These are weird times. The people who once warned of Killing Granny now say go out and stimulate the economy. Are they hypocrites?

This is why we need to be cautious of politicians dictating our health decisions. Many cannot be trusted. And when it comes to going out, listen to those who say “DON’T” if you can. There are several reasons

  1. You might get it. No one knows exactly how this new virus might act. It’s not just a cold or flu, but you can read about viruses and the flu here for a refresher on viral diseases. People of all ages are getting covid and being hospitalized–even babies. Of those who live, some develop a lung condition. It’s possible that a heart condition may also occur. And as far as immunity goes, in general people who have been infected with other coronaviruses have only a short lived immunity.
  2. You’ll spread it. You can have no symptoms and spread it. Even if you have it and recover without needing a doctor, you can spread the virus for up to two weeks following recovery. If you can stay home, please do. Not everybody can. You might need those who are affected. In fact, in at least one case, a relatively young police dispatcher has died from COVID.
  3. Your doctor might get it. Your local paramedic or firefighter might get it. Many states, including lots of rural ones, have doctor shortages. States with plenty of doctors are currently overwhelmed. Doing procedures such as inserting breathing tubes makes healthcare providers more vulnerable than the average person. What will happen if this disease spreads across rural America? You won’t be seeing a doctor, or there won’t be anyone to take you to the hospital, that’s what will happen.

4. Historically, as illustrated by the 1918 flu pandemic, ignoring medical advice in order to make money has been a disaster for the nation and the president.

I admit, sheltering in place is boring. My hair is starting to look like that insider trading chick from Georgia’s. And it’s only the beginning. Sob! In the mean time, these books are free on Amazon for a short time. Please, click away!

I’d like to thank author Lisa Edmonds for the graphic. Here’s a link to her newsletter. Please consider following her!

High cost of rural life

The tranquility of rural life will cost you

When I visit city relatives, I like to shop and stock up on certain things less expensive in the city such as coffee and over the counter health and beauty products. In rural United States, goods usually cost a little more. Less volume means higher prices– and we suffer from higher energy costs.

It’s not all bad. After all, we have low cost housing. Sadly, this also corresponds to low wages and resulting low Social Security. Rural families need more than one vehicle and it takes more energy to get places.

All in all, urban life is cheaper by 17% but city folks make 32% more in wages.

Currently, as we face the coronavirus pandemic, lack of medical care jumps to the top of the reasons not to live in rural America. Here in rural Iowa, our hospitals send critically ill people off to a big city such as Des Moines or Iowa City. It’s one of many reasons we face higher health insurance costs. On top of this, rural people are less likely to have paid sick leave and less likely to have a job which provides health insurance. If asked to work from home, a third have no access to reliable internet.

A rural person is more likely to die when critically ill than the urban counterpart. Low patient volume and cuts in Medicare funds translate to hospital closures and hospitals that remain face shortages in trained medical staff. Rural hospitals have fewer doctors, but sicker patients. They have less capacity to deal with a “medical surge” event, be it a mass shooting or a pandemic. The doctors and nurses are skilled. They have to be. They don’t have the back up teams urban doctors have. But they lack space and equipment. Rural hospitals even have a cap on how many people they can handle.

I was at the farm store picking up dog food today. After waking up in a coronavirus induced panic, I went early to avoid the crowds. Only the elderly were out, getting food for their pets, batteries, and soap. The mood was grim. The Country Muzak was silent because who needs a reminder of how bad things could get? After weeks of denial, the old dudes passing each other in the aisles were acknowledging the coming plague, talking between themselves about things getting really bad. I’m with them. For the next two weeks, I’m working from home.

If you venture out to the store, rural folks, don’t forget light bulbs. It’s dark in rural America. Real dark. And we’re out of toilet paper, like everybody else.

Dirty Butts

Butts can keep away parasites in a nest but also spread poison and disease

Last week, while driving, I turned the corner on Main & University and a woman going the other direction in a white car sat at the stoplight. As I passed, she flung a cigarette butt in my direction from her open window. I had to wonder: do cigarette butts carry coronavirus?

Believe it or not, cigarette butts are the most prevalent trash–4.5 trillion are discarded annually world wide. They consist of cellulose acetate, a fairly standard plastic. Seventy-five percent of smokers admit to tossing their butts onto the ground or out car windows. They persist in the environment for a long time, and what’s caught in them flows out into the wide open spaces.

Chemists have been studying the environmental impact of cigarette butts on the environment. Being the kind of chemist who might study such a thing, an analytical chemist, I’ve attended talks about butt pollution. In one study, chemists at a university tested the ground at a pristine park and at a well known smoking area near by where butts littered the ground. No surprise, nicotine was found in the soil in the smoking area. More surprisingly, other chemists found that the butts emit vaporized nicotine and other toxins for up to a week after they’ve been used. Cigarette butts give off heavy metals such as lead and arsenic (which are toxic). They contain cholesterol (also in smoke according to a 1971 study). They leach plasticizers. Butts inhibit plant growth.They sicken kids who eat them.They are almost as dangerous as cigarettes themselves. Being near an ash tray is like smoking. (Some people advocate coffee grounds in ashtrays to soak up the smell.)

Sharing a smoke spreads all sorts of things–viruses, bacteria, flu, Hepatitis A. Cigs are not well regulated and are filled with toxic mold and bacteria. Do butts carry coronavirus? I can’t find any evidence. Yet, it seems likely they do.

New York is covered with butts and they have an outbreak.

People smoke most in Southeast Asia. They haven’t been hit hard by the virus, or are underreporting.

Even tidy Singapore has coronavirus. Health officials there are looking askance at disposable items such as napkins used in outdoor markets as “mini biohazards.” They note that birds will fly around with disposable items such as tissues. Birds also pick up cigarette butts, and sometimes feed them to their babies, not only in Singapore but across the globe.

The butts create water pollution. Even if they don’t spread coronavirus, which can live on surface for days so it is a possibility, they are harmful. People are rushing to stock up on toilet paper in case of a quarantine. It would be good if other butts, along with disposable napkins, cups, etc. were cleaned up as well.

An interview with ManyBooks

Lost in Waste is launched. It’s for sale here. If you do Facebook, I’m having a “party” with giveaways here. Comment for a chance to win. Facebook doesn’t allow competition and winners will be selected randomly.

Writing my first novel six years ago was a supreme struggle. I’d written and published short stories but never a novel. Who should be the focus? What should happen? How do I write a dialogue tag? And what is the theme? Every novel I ever read showed me what should be done, but none said the same thing. Because unlike science, there are numerous answers to any question in the arts.

I wrote two versions of Natural Attraction. The science romance version and the paranormal version. The romance was picked up and published as Natural Attraction. My first publisher told me to start a blog and get social media accounts, because writing is a business. I’ve been in this novel business for five years. Social media’s become a crowded place.

I like writing books. I love being edited and working with an editor to make a book the best it can be. Promoting my own books is much less fun. I can see why there is a whiskey called Writer’s Tears. I understand how the arts have a high suicide rate, just below that of people in the construction and building trades. There’s no sure way to know how successful a book will be. Or what even defines success.

One year, I got a rejection for that first novel on my birthday. I faced the same struggles many female authors do with virtually the same comments as a writer who submitted under a male and female name and found much more success as a male. For example, my main characters aren’t emotional enough or maybe are too stereotypical. The thing about rejection is, it’s not you getting rejected–it’s your characters, who for a short while, were more real to you than you were. You hurt for them. You let them down.

A writer can learn from rejection. An encouraging rejection from Harlequin Romance explained why a novel was not a true romance–because it highlighted the time and place of the characters. After that, I embraced the milieu novel. I moved forward.

People enjoy binging these days and series are popular. Mixed In is the first book in the Unstable States Series. It’s on sale for a short time right here.

Lost in Waste continues the same dystopia a short time later. It’s my fourth novel and I wrote it painfully slowly. However, I like how it turned out. How did I get my ideas? I watched news and social media, even though I kind of hate a lot of it. I listened to people and what events they were discussing. I don’t base characters on people I know but I do base them on what people are talking about. In Iowa, the topic is water pollution. Our water is so polluted, my city had to put in a reverse osmosis treatment plant. I read books. For Lost in Waste, a friend loaned me her anthropology books and we discussed topics. I went to a workshop. I wrote a little bit every day.

Mixed In is being featured on Manybooks. As part of the promotion, I gave an author interview. Being a teacher, I like author interviews. I explain or possibly defend myself. I don’t really like my photo taken. I feel as if it’s a visual interrogation. And female writers are judged on their looks. Having sensuous lips is apparently a reason for people to buy your books. I had a nice photo for my last book but needed an update. I went with a photo which, in the words of a friend, “made me look as if I could cause some trouble.”

Here’s the interview:

  1. Please give us a short introduction to what Mixed In is about. Catrina moves to an authoritarian city-state to pursue her dream job as a scientist. A chance meeting and deep involvement with rebellious bar owner Ulysses has her questioning the value of science to humanity. But it’s what she’ll need to save him.
    2.  What inspired you to write about someone who moves into an authoritarian society? Along with several other scientists, I was visited by the governor at my workplace. She spoke about Iowa needing more scientists in purely economic terms without any recognition of the joy of science, its optimism, and its commitment to making life better for as many people as possible. From my perspective, she was basically saying she supported science because it could make more money for the super-rich and that was to be its focus. I found it chilling but inspirational. I developed a fictional society ruled by a profit-driven family.
    3.  Tell us more about Catrina.  What makes her so special? Catrina carries the optimism of science and its love of problem-solving to the extreme. No problem is too big for her. She solves problems she maybe shouldn’t. She’s a little naïve. If you’re longing for a protagonist with a can-do spirit, like Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, or Hermione, you’ll love her. 
    4.  In Cochtonville, just about anything that is fun is outlawed – why did you create the story this way? Many people have told me that they think it has something to do with my hometown which is pretty buttoned up. That might have been a part of it. I envisioned a joyless place where there’s nothing to do but go to work and eat ham—and even that gets ruined. I based this on the Comstock Act of 1873 which declared many things to be lewd. I like to have mild sex scenes in my novels to help Mr. Comstock roll in his grave.
    5. Even though your characters live in a strange society, readers found them relatable and real.  How did you pull this off? I think we all can relate to the tension between private life and work life, to the complexities of love, and to being an outsider. 
    6.  Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have? I’m small and walk quietly so I can sneak up on people. Since I’m a chemist, I can make potions. And my last name rhymes with Frankenstein.
    7.  This is the first book in a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one? Yes, it and other books in the series can be standalone. The location is the same but the events and characters don’t depend on the other books. The series can be classified as Milieu, place-based. In each book, different people are fighting a similar battle.  
    8.  Among the wealth of characters in Mixed In, who was the most difficult to create? The male lead, Ulysses. He’s not the best choice for Catrina, he’s made questionable decisions, but I needed him to be likable.
    9.  What are you working on right now? I’ve just finished up the second book in the series, Lost in Waste, about falling in love with a GMO man. 
    10.  Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you? Mixed In is Amazon exclusive right now so they can find me there. I have a blog https://catherinehaustein.com/. I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sciwords/ I’d love to hear from them!

Fortunately, being a teacher has a low sorrow rate. Which is why I won’t quit my day job. This way, I won’t have to get plastic surgery to give myself those sensuous lips I might need to make a living as an author. And instead of my photo, here are my dogs waiting patiently for me to finish this blog and get out into the real world and play.

My dogs want me to pause and play with them in he real world.

How I Wrote Lost in Waste & the dangerous “art” of satire

Cali Van Winkle doesn’t plan to find romance in her life. After all, normal men are practically an endangered species after that last chemical spill. So when she spots genetically modified men while she’s on assignment to clean up a sewage lagoon, she vows to make the best of it. Thus began the first scene I wrote for Lost in Waste, which you can purchase here. (ebook only for now.)

I wrote this scene back in 2017. I wasn’t sure where to go with it. I made progress at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival that year. At the week long workshop style course, I developed the character of NezLeigh, an abandoned pre-teen with a potty mouth and a genetic defect–very small eyes. I based this on a sad reality, although I gave NezLeigh ability to see in the dark and to create clothes and rope from plastic bags. I got some laughs when I read aloud to my festival class, so I kept going.

I expanded the relationship between Cali and the GMO man, Remmer, who’d been genetically modified but botched. Using Crispr gene editing as inspiration, I envisioned him as one of many CrispEr men, with the E standing for erotic. No, it’s not an erotic novel; he and his fellow Crispers are meant to be an enticement for women to get them to conform and work harder. Thus, I watched plenty of male stripper videos and Magic Mike as I crafted it. And from there, it grew, little by little, with the help of my English major daughter, into an 89,000 word novel. How long did it take? Nearly a year and a half.

Remmer was modified using the Crispr process, which involves cutting DNA

This was my second novel in my Unstable States series, in which Iowa has turned into an authoritarian nightmare known as Cochtonia. However, there was no guarantee the second book would be accepted, nor did I promise I’d write a series. Despite this, the idea stuck with me and I persisted. Some have said that the authoritarian society emotionally resembles my own home town. I didn’t intend this but obviously, it must have influenced me. I didn’t finish Lost in Waste and submit it to the publisher, City Owl Press, until December 2018! Fortunately, I received a contract for publication soon after.

My next half year was spent working with my editor, Christie. She encouraged me to develop a Style Sheet to keep track of the series so there would be consistency going forward. It turned out to be 14 pages long.

Christie was incredibly encouraging. I tend to write “brief”–I don’t want to be boring– and she was able to tease expansion and elaboration from me. I most certainly need other readers who are willing to critique. One major change she wanted was a new opening. For a moment I was stumped but after a trip to Petoskey, Michigan and some relaxing stone finding and polishing, it came to me.

She also suffered through having to proof read me. Thank-you, Christie.

Next came another proof reading. I admire anyone with the eye and patience to do this! When I wrote my first novel, I hired both a copy editor and a proof reader. Lost in Waste was my first venture into trusting my publisher to help me with this.

In October, City Owl artists and editors created the cover. We knocked around a title for the work. My grandkids loved Lost In Space and I wanted to be sure to have one that hinted at comedy. This is how I got the final title.

And now, at last, it’s almost here. Am I nervous? Yes. While grief flows from us with sad universality, and love is a hormone regulated experience we share, comedy, like plastic, isn’t a natural thing.

A satire is dangerous, too. A satire expresses frustration with the status quo. Satire is intended to expose our foolishness by deploying humor. It exposes and criticizes foolishness by being foolish. For example, Iowa has enacted a ban on banning plastic bags. Thus, you will find plenty of them blowing in the wind in Lost in Waste.

Satire intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles. A writer in a satire uses fictional characters, which stand for real people, to expose and condemn their corruption.” It can’t be a middle of the road experience. It has to take a stand. Most comedy writers use a pseudonym because of the dangers comedy writing involve. In the words of famous satirist Johnathan Swift “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own. Which is the chief reason for that kind reception it meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.” It must “claim no right to absolute truth or goodness.”

Thus, I hope, you will identify with and be appalled by the “out group” in Cochtonia, with the life in the oppressive nation of Cochtonia, and even with a few of the decisions the “good” characters make. Yes, satire can exploit stereotypes and will have some. I use stereotypes for the authority figures. As in Mixed In, there is a ridiculous boss who thinks highly of himself and demands far too much. Do I personally have a boss I hate? Absolutely not. But most can relate to the sense that they are working harder and sacrificing more and getting less glory than others around them.

Why can’t I stop writing comedy? Because, if I don’t laugh, I might cry. Also, I don’t want to “kill my darlings.” I won’t shock you by killing off the main character or even a dog even though I do parody a scene from The Bear.

If you find much about society, including yourself, absurd and unpredictable, you might enjoy escaping into a satire. You’ll be glad you don’t live in the nation of Cochtonia. Then again, maybe you do.

Chilling requirements (not just for plants)

The tulips are chillin’. Are you?

It’s Imbolc today–the time when Mother Earth awakes in the Northern Hemisphere. The cardinals are singing this morning–my new puppy can’t figure out what that mysterious sound is. It’s hilarious to watch her perk up her ears and twist her head around as she listens. Just wait, sweetie, it’s only the beginning.

We have a nice layer of snow here in Iowa. Snow is a pain to drive in, I admit it. However, it’s wonderful for the garden, providing insulation and moisture. In Japan, people put out special snow viewing lanterns with flat tops to catch the snow. Maybe instead of cursing the cold and snow, we need to look for ways to slow our culture down.

Although we’ve had the paradigm of hard work getting us ahead, many don’t believe it any more. There are studies and editorials about how productivity is killing us. Numerous companies don’t reward hard workers. They are obsessed with driving up stock prices and to do this they do things such as fire workers, cut Research and Development and trash the environment. This isn’t good for the long term health of the company. And constant work isn’t good for our health either. Employee stress eating after work is a sign of a poorly run company. Do you do that? Can you chill instead?

Meanwhile, Mother Nature tells us to chill. Apples and pears set more fruit after a hard winter. Time spent below freezing acts as a rest period for northern plants. Additionally, many plants have a chilling requirement, which is the number of hours of cool but not freezing temperatures they must experience before springing to life after winter. This keeps them from waking up too soon and facing a frost. “High chill” cold climate varieties need 800-1,000+ hours of chilling, while warm climate “low chill” varieties require 500 hours or less. Tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs require chilling. So do lilacs, dogwoods, and forsythia. Some of our favorite fruits such as apples, pears, blueberries, and cherries do, too.

My New Pup Chilling

Soon we’ll all be springing to life. It’s a time for new beginnings and spring cleaning. However, don’t forget to get your needed chill hours! There’s still time.

Authoritarians vs Art

It’s almost here. Lost in Waste will be released February 18. It’s a comic look at life and love in an authoritarian society, Cochtonia, which doesn’t regulate its agricultural waste. It only regulates its citizens. You can pre-order the Kindle version right here. Warning: it contains mild sexual references, male strippers, and children swearing. (I have never been a fan of the Victorian Era.)

It’s Book 2 in my Unstable States series. These books are stand alone but if you want an introduction to the wold, you can read about Book 1 here. The sad thing about authoritarian societies is that people put up with them easily and fall into the boring routine of authoritarians. They are usually perfectly fine for the average. I mean no offense to those who are perfectly happy with them. This is why, in Book 2, the overwhelming sense of the place is that it’s simply unfair. It’s ugly and drab and wastes people’s potential. But is it evil? You’ll have to answer that for yourself.

I’ve already gotten a suggestion from readers for the next book: have things turn around for the people. Have the environment saved. Let people get healthcare. Give them some freedom. As I turn to book 3, I need to look at how people resist authoritarianism. One way is through art. Take for example, the Judith paintings.

When society turned its back on an artist’s rape, she created a series of paintings to express her outrage.

It doesn’t take much to spot authoritarianism. Suppressing art is a good sign it’s afoot. And in a land oppressed, the “popular” art that the society produces is usually bad, even to the very citizens who don’t have exposure to good art. In Lost in Waste, the national anthem is absurd, but people sing it.

As explained in The Diplomat “The logic is straightforward: Artistic freedom is part and an aspect of the freedom of expression. Without a guaranteed space to explore and articulate their thoughts, emotions, imaginations and sentiments, artists will not be able to function or flourish….Works that are reflective and critical of the status quo are a crucial element of artistic expression.” In other words, free society needs art. Art is freedom. Art can be rebellion, thus dictators quash it. It’s why we need to support it.

Here in the US, the National Endowment for the Arts is under threat. The 2020 budget allows funds only for closing it. However, it’s not a done deal.

Motto of story–when art is suppressed, there’s an authoritarian lurking about.

Other ways to resist authoritarian rule: don’t let Them scare you, don’t let Them divide you, fact check, support women and minorities.

I like my forthcoming book. I hope you read it. I’d love to send you a copy. Contact me and I will. Or pre-order the electronic version. You don’t have to pre-pay.

And while you are here, give a museum with a Judith painting some love. It has some great art…much of it combines rebellion with humor. Vote for the Detroit Institute of the Arts as best art museum. Thank-you so much!