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Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

(today I bring you a dispatch from the wilds of suburbia)

I just mowed the front lawn. I hate mowing. We have an electric mower that’s great, it’s a small yard, no big deal, but it is not my cup of tea.

English estates popularized lawns, but it took America to democratize the things. I’ll cite a few lines from a nineteenth-century book based on Frederick Law Olmsted‘s work (via this excellent article by Michael Pollan), but the real push for lawns started in the 1950s.

“Let your lawn be your home’s velvet robe, and your flowers its not too promiscuous decoration… A smooth, closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban house.”
— “The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds,” Frank J. Scott (1870)

Pretty? Sure, if you like uniformity. But in terms of land use, water use, and pesticide chemical use, lawns are terrible for the environment. They are also a massive time suck. Don’t get me wrong, I love Olmsted’s take on keeping nature in cities and improving society through physical design, etc. But there has to be a better way.

We planted a clover-grass mix (yes, on purpose:), but by the time the clover is tall enough to flower, the grass is twice as high and seeding. The neighbors have beautiful, chemically-induced perfections of green. They look askance at our “grass plus” mix, and at the way we wave the weed control van on when it comes around.

And so to keep the peace, I mow. Even when the clover is flowering and the bees are buzzing and can’t understand why I would take away their glorious buffet. I’m not sure why either. I ask the bees for understanding, and I mow in slow motion to give them time to leave the all-you-can-eat-restaurant-turned-food-desert and under my breath I’m asking myself “What’s the flipping point?” I mutter it as I mow the clover, the edible wood sorrel and lamb’s quarters, and the wild strawberries that spring up under the bushes.

Except I don’t say “flipping.”

We’re still looking for ways to shift our lawn to something more useful, but it’s a process. Want to save time, money, and the planet? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

The back yard doesn’t get as much sun, and only patches of clover flower there. I let them grow anyway.

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My bird feeder is half full.

It’s an extra large “squirrel proof” version that almost lives up to its name. It’s tall and has a red metal cap and four weight-sensitive perches designed to give smaller birds a chance against the jays and cardinals and squirrels in the neighborhood, and mostly it works. Watching birds come into the yard is fun and satisfying for both humans and felines. Except that there’s a lot less to watch these days.

I haven’t refilled the feeder since last year. And it’s still half full. Where are the birds?

I’ve been wondering this every time Mr. Man and I are out and about. We live in an established suburb and when we first moved into our house the yard hosted raccoons and rabbits and groundhogs and once, a fluffy orange fox. Now only the squirrels and a few birds remain. The city is going through a burst of expansion, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the decline in surrounding farmland is taking a toll on the wildlife. Still, this shift feels new.

* * *

A New York Times article* brought this to a head for me. It’s not the first report I’ve seen on the topic, unfortunately, but we do (with apologies to The Day After Tomorrow) appear to be reaching a critical de-avian-ization point. Agricultural practices in particular have done a number on the insect population. Is it any surprise that birds will follow?

Insects and birds are all part of that delightful staple of elementary school classrooms, the food web. The next obvious questions are, “What’s next?” and “How long until it affects us?”

Public policy is one way to improve the situation. For example, the Farm Bill helps preserve habitat on private lands and provides an often much-needed economic buffer for farmers and other land owners. Don’t have acreage at your disposal? You can still make a difference by creating bird-friendly (and pollinator-friendly) yards.

But before we can make a better world, we need to envision that world.

* * *

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
― J.K. Rowling

One of the best things about speculative fiction is that it allows us to test drive ideas, to spin them into the future, to weigh the potential positives and negatives without actually having to live through that AI or medical or environmental apocalypse.

It reminds me of something I said to a friend facing a life-changing decision: “Whatever you decide, do it on purpose.”

* * *

“We are our choices.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

Some of the most terrifying words in the English language are “unintended consequences.” Fiction, particularly of the speculative variety, can help steer us through those dangerous waters, between Scylla and Charybdis.

Have a goal, consider the consequences. Then act on purpose.

Making sure that we aren’t on the list of species in decline by protecting the species around us? That seems like a terrific goal.

And maybe next year I’ll have to refill my bird feeder more often.

. . . . .
* tl;dr: Bird populations in France are experiencing “precipitous declines in agricultural regions, even among common birds well adapted to human activity” and scientists point to “the loss of insects, the major food source for many birds, as a likely result of pesticide use.” And before American and Canadian readers breathe a sigh of relief, “A report two years ago said that the problems for about a third of North American birds were urgent.” Ruh-ro!

 

A post shared by na no (@the_pics_gatherer) on

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I can’t draw, but I do love designing things like maps and logos and books and fun gifts. I use software to make it all work and shortcuts can be a terrific time saver. That’s why I’m excited to report that I recently discovered a very helpful trick for aligning objects in Illustrator.

I came to Illustrator from Freehand and found myself tripping over simple things. This particular tip fixes an issue that’s been bugging me for years, so I wanted to share in case I’m not the only one. (Maybe you already know this trick? Good for you, now give me a sec to share this bit of wisdom with those of us who have been less fortunate;)

I use Illustrator CS5 so ymmv, but here’s the gist, paraphrased from this useful article:

Select the objects you want to align, then (here’s the important bit) click once on the object or guide you want to use to control the alignment of the other selected objects. No shift key needed, just a straight click. The Key Object will show a heavy border outline around it. Align as usual.

It should look something like this:

Enjoy!

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I’m getting back to a more regular writing schedule after this summer (ok, year) of nuttiness, but that’s not all I’m doing. Last week’s project was to make a fleece shawl.


The shawl works as a wrap, blanket or pillow. It’s reversible, washable and nigh-on indestructible. It’s good for foggy mornings or chilly hospital rooms. It also has custom embroidery with what could be the motto for this crazy year. I made it for my aunt, a wonderful, free-wheeling, tough-as-nails woman who carved her own path to San Francisco decades ago and never left.

In related news, cancer sucks.

!

SaveSave

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Dear Republicans, from Georgia to the White House,

Congratulations, you won. Happily, that’s not the end of your journey. Winning means nothing in isolation. Instead, you’ve landed a much harder job. Politics isn’t about the race for office, it’s about what comes next.

You fought for the chance to govern. You won because you managed to convince a majority of voters that, for the moment, you were their best option for a brighter future. Go you.

What’s your prize? Celebrate, sure, but then it’s time to pay up. With great power, and all that. You are now accountable for the life, liberty and happiness* of the American people. Even the ones who didn’t vote for you. Even the ones who disagree with you. And especially the ones who will come after you.

A brief suggestion? Focus on what’s best about our way of life. This is America, imperfect but always striving for more. Look to build open, safe and productive communities, with educated people, well-fed children, healthy places to live and work, and the free and constructive exchange of ideas. Diversity is strength, and if you don’t agree with that ask yourself: did you create the iPhone, go to the Moon, build an airplane, invent video games, the Super Soaker, or make that amazing touchdown in last year’s Super Bowl? I know I didn’t, but I’m proud to come from a country of people who did.

We may disagree on methods, but look far enough down the road and we may agree on the goals. We are much more alike than not. Find those points of overlap and use them to aim for something better.

Don’t think you need to worry about those who did not support you? Take a look at your margins of victory, then ask what would happen if half of your constituents went elsewhere overnight. (Heck, ask Detroit.) That’s half of the people who pump gas, grow food, and teach in schools. It’s also half of those who keep the lights on, pick up the trash, police the streets, set bones, dispense medication, own businesses, build houses and, oh yes, pay taxes.

Even within parties there are diverse views and significant divides. Every day, we work together across those lines to make our communities function.

That’s the job.

So again, congratulations. Time to get to work.

. . . . . . . . . .

* Sounds a lot like healthcare, rights and economic wellbeing, doesn’t it?

 

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white snow on rooftops
red tulips on southern slopes
oh, #MyCanada

❄️

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Adulting is Hard

Brave Sir Tintin (1999–2017)

Tintin was an excellent cat. Orphaned on the frigid November streets of Ottawa at the tender age of six months, he nevertheless established a loving home complete with devoted human servants. Well-traveled and handsome to a fault, he remained a homebody who adored a good cuddle by the fire. He was sprightly enough to catch mice despite having no front claws, but never missed an opportunity to lounge in a sunbeam.

Tintin passed away following complications from lymphoma which, according to his vet, would have felled a lesser cat long ago.

He was loved, and he will be sorely missed.

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