Books, Plants and Animals

Silent Seasons Inspiration Story

Here is my original inspiration story for Silent Seasons. It really hits at my “why” for all of the work I do, including creating this book.

Warning: this is a sad dog story.

I started writing Silent Seasons with the Book Creator program and New Degree Press last November. The first piece of writing that my development editor, Cassandra, read and reviewed for me is my book’s “inspiration story,” which didn’t make it into the book. Although I was going to include it in the Introduction, Cassandra and I agreed to leave it out because it was so sad and in the end, more disconnected from the rest of the book than I originally expected. I am saving my animal stories for the next book 🙂


One afternoon in November 2020, I said goodbye to my parents’ dog, Archer, on the kitchen floor of my parents’ house, located on a dead end road in a small town south of Buffalo, New York. Archer was a 100-pound Rottweiler in a lot of pain from the ravages of bone cancer at age 9. On this particular day, the last one he spent on this Earth, Archer was laying on my parents’ kitchen floor of dark green tiles while I lay next to him. He welcomed the warm touch of my hands, but was too weak and in too much pain to move much or get up. A large tumor had been growing on the back of his neck, at the base of his skull, for months now, and he struggled with doing much of anything anymore.

I petted him, and softly said, “It’s ok, Archer. You’re an amazing dog and don’t deserve to feel this type of pain. I will tell the world who you are, what has happened to you, who did this to you, and that so many more of our family dogs have died this way before you.”

Archer, being a dog, didn’t answer me back in words, but he always had a soulful, human way about him (especially in his eyes) and he looked at me in a knowing, resolute way. He remained calm and peaceful while I was talking, and I could feel his pain and fatigue while I petted him this one last time.

While we lay there quietly on the floor, rainbows flashed across his black fur as the sun shone light through a kitchen window at just the right angle. I noticed that it matched the new pair of black Vans with rainbow stripes down the side I was wearing.

I still wear this pair of shoes and remember my last day with Archer, and the importance of writing this book.

I’ve stayed silent about how the past six dogs in my family have died young of cancer because revisiting this truth is SO PAINFUL, but it is a big reason why I devote my life and work to environmental law, sustainability, and what to do about climate change. My family’s dogs have always been like “extended siblings” to me. Too many people and animals I love have died of cancer, and as an environmental lawyer and planner with 15 years of education and experience, I know it’s (largely) because we are all living in an environment that is steeped in low-grade (to high-grade) poisons.

I have stayed silent about what I see and what I know in my personal and professional life for too many seasons – literally years of seasons. I am writing this book to break the silence.


Silent Seasons is available as an e-book now, and a paperback within the next couple of days! Check out the “Book” page on this website for more information.

Books, Plants and Animals, Podcast, Post

The Animals of Animalia

My podcast begins by saying that I interview people who are “keeping things alive in work and play,” but I more-or-less never bring up the play part.

So this is a fun post that lists out the animals depicted on each letter page of Animalia by Graeme Base. Well, not all the animals, only the ones that are obvious and “real” (not a painting, photo, or statue in the illustration). And I didn’t look any of them up (if I am missing any, which I am, please let me know!).

Continue reading “The Animals of Animalia”

Gardening, Mind and Body, Plants and Animals, Post

Plant Love: Snake Plant

Although as I child I vowed to my mother that I would never own a single plant because I did not enjoy taking care of hers, I now have approximately 15 house plants in my one-bedroom apartment, plus a small outdoor vegetable and herb garden. My perspective on plants changed when I got my own place because I realized that not only are they beautiful, but they are functional. My aloe plant is great for my skin, my thyme plant tastes great, and all of my plants improve the indoor air quality.

Today I am going to showcase my first and in many ways favorite indoor house plant: the snake plant (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue).

Snake Plant
One of my snake plants…

Anytime someone asks me about my plants and is interested in getting one for themselves, I recommend a snake plant to start. Snake plants are great because they are easy – they don’t like a lot of water or direct sunlight. It seems like the more I neglect them, the more they thrive. The only time I had trouble with a snake plant was when I gave one too much water and the leaves got soggy and fell over. I had a snake plant in my cubicle at a former job where there was only fluorescent light and absolutely no natural light – the beast just kept growing and growing, and it still lives in that maze of cubicles with a friend today.

If you’re interested in getting a snake plant, I’ve purchased them at Home Depot, Ikea, and the indoor plant section of a local nursery.

Mind and Body, Plants and Animals, Post

Gratitude

Yesterday I made a “plan for my weekend,” which included re-writing a legal article to post today. But I just got back from a walk with my dog, Sunny, and I realized that I’d much rather take a few paragraphs to recognize that I am so grateful for having one of the best weeks in recent memory. I was recognized for doing good work at my job, I had a number of great conversations with new and old friends, I got to see the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play backup to a Beatles cover band with my family (their rendition of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was awesome), I ate well, and I started brainstorming a new creative project with one of my favorite environmental “colleagues.” It’s kind of blowing my mind that all of these wonderful experiences happened over the course of five days.

I’m also grateful for being in the midst of my favorite season in Western New York. Last fall I was distracted with my personal life and driving pretty much everywhere, but this year I am much more present and living in an a city apartment where I walk all the time. The leaves are gorgeous!

Food, Mind and Body, Plants and Animals, Post

Ben the Phoenix Cat

Here is a story of how I recently saved a (cat) life!

This past summer, my parents traveled to a few of the National Parks “out west” for a month, leaving my sister and I to take care of their house and pets. My parents have two 13-year-old cat brothers, Ben and Jerry (yes I named them, yes I used to be addicted to Cherry Garcia ice cream). My sister was doing most of the house-sitting and living there every day, while I traveled into town a few days a week to help her when she got busy. So she was seeing the animals every day, while I was gone for days at a time.

One day I came over, and Ben was totally different. He had always been a rather obese cat – eating a lot, never going outside, and barely getting up from the couch. This time, though, he was skinny! And he wasn’t grooming himself. My sister hadn’t really noticed, but since I mentioned Ben was looking weird, she paid more attention and texted a few days later to say he was getting skinnier and more lethargic.

So I took Ben to the vet, who confirmed my suspicions. Ben had gone from weighing 15 pounds to 10, and his blood sugar levels were off the charts. Ben has diabetes! Shit.

The vet said I (really my parents) had two choices: (1) hospitalize him and then give him two insulin shots at the same time every day for the rest of his life, or (2) do nothing and expect him to die within 30 days. Shit.

My parents chose #2 due to his age and their survival-of-the-fittest, raised-in-the-country belief that giving a cat two shots a day for the rest of its life would be cruel and unnatural. So I spent the next two days petting Ben, crying, and beating myself up for not being nicer to him over the years. I wasn’t mean, but he was never my favorite. . .

That night after crying, indulging in a selfie photo shoot with Ben, and drinking a couple glasses of wine, I decided that I owed Ben some Internet research on cat diabetes to make sure that the vet’s “Only Two Options” decree was actually true.

It wasn’t. Did you know that cats aren’t supposed to eat dry food? Did you know that feeding a diabetic cat dry food is just fueling their diabetic fire and killing them even faster? Did you know that Fancy Feast (classic seafood variety pack specifically) has the lowest carb, highest protein canned food you can buy at the grocery store? I didn’t, until I used that amazing tool called Google.

So the next morning, I woke up early, went to the grocery store, and bought Ben and Jerry their first pack of Fancy Feast. Jerry wasn’t impressed at first (he now loves it), but Ben loved it from the first bite. He ate a lot Fancy Feast. And he has been eating high protein/low carb canned food ever since (my mom buys him something from the natural pet store now).

It’s been two months since Ben’s dead-in-30-days diagnosis, and he is lean, active, and super happy to see me every time I stop by my parents’ house. He could go downhill at any time, but I definitely bought him some time and a higher quality of life.

Today my dad called him “Ben the Phoenix.” I’m so proud.

Climate Change, Plants and Animals, Politics, Post, Sustainability

if it is to be, it is up to me

I’m loving the storms that have been passing through Western New York this weekend. It’s been great to fall asleep to the sound of rain, hear thunder, and not water my garden with tap water (the plants grow so much faster and bigger on rainwater!). I’ve been helping my sister take care of my parents’ house and pets while they are on a trip out west.  Unfortunately one of the cats, a 13-year-old tabby named Ben, has been rapidly losing weight, so I took him to the vet, and the diagnosis is diabetes. My parents lean towards the “let nature take its course” pet care approach, so I’m doing my best to spend time with him, keep him comfortable, and feel him food that he likes.

Here are the things that have been on my mind this week:

  • I am participating in MIT’s ULab “Leading from the Emerging Future” course for the second year in a row, and the first live session happened this past week. I was able to participate in the live session on the University at Buffalo campus, and meditate at the same time as over 20,000 people from around the world. I’ve never had that “global meditation” experience before (thanks, Internet!), but it was amazing and I felt infused with energy for the rest of the day. Here is the course website, here is the course book, and here is a sister website.
  • Cat nutrition is on my mind for obvious reasons… I learned that cats are supposed to eat wet food, not dry food. All of the cats I’ve known have eaten dry food, so this is a surprise to me. Here is a Quora thread on wet versus dry food. And here is a detailed chart that gives the nutrition information on many cat foods.
  • This weekend I went to my friend’s workshop on making your own herb-infused vinegar for cooking for medicinal purposes. I made mine with stinging nettle, burdock root, and holy basil (infused into apple-cider vinegar). It’s pretty easy to do (I think these instructions are good, although we didn’t warm up the vinegar and I’m sure it will be fine).
  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest of the Dakota Access pipeline continues, and there is a growing community of activists at Standing Rock in North Dakota. I’ve had trouble finding information about the protests on a consistent basis through normal news channels, so I’ve been looking at Twitter and searching for #DAPL or #NoDAPL to find the most current information. Below is a video of Van Jones speaking at a rally in DC, and his comments about “water is life, oil is death” are spot on (my favorite points begin at 2:40).
Mind and Body, Plants and Animals, Post

Ferret-Bindering

There are certain things in life that I discover I really want, and when that passion hits me in the gut, I go to enormous lengths to reach my goal. This all-consuming, tireless effort is what I call ferret-bindering.

The following is an explanation of ferret-bindering:

When I was in middle school, I wanted to have a ferret for a pet, but my parents said no, absolutely not. I did not give up. Instead, I embarked on an elaborate campaign to receive the right to own a ferret.

For over a year, I wrote my parents letters explaining why I wanted a ferret, which I placed under their pillows. I used ferrets as the subject for all of my school reports. I read every book written about ferrets. I poured through my subscription to Modern Ferret Magazine. I surfed ferret websites on the 90’s Internet.

My final feat was a binder about ferrets. I sacrificed a few pages of Modern Ferret and cut out ferret pictures to glue to the front cover (see below). I used divider tabs to create binder sections: a collection of my school reports; Internet printouts; more cute pictures; and then my favorite, “My Ferret Life,” which was a handwritten plan for me to own a ferret (and still keep up with my other responsibilities!). I included a budget, daily schedule, pro and con list, and contracts for me and my parents to sign.

Ferret Binder
My ferret binder in all its glory.

The ferret binder cracked my parents’ resolve after a year-long campaign. For my 14th birthday, they gave me permission to own a ferret (best gift ever!). I was ecstatic.

Ferret-bindering: the process of going all-out to reach your goal, no matter how embarrassing, no matter how many times other people say no, and no matter how much work is involved when you could be having fun with your friends instead.

So why is this relevant? I am ferret-bindering Keeping Things Alive.

Monarch on pink flower
Mind and Body, Plants and Animals, Post

Intentions

I have dabbled in yoga for the past four years, and I like it when teachers ask the class to set an “intention” at the beginning of practice. Setting an intention allows me to have a more meaningful yoga class because it reinforces why I’m taking the time to be there. In that vein, here are my intentions as I begin Keeping Things Alive:

  • Courage: I want to fearlessly speak up about what I know and not censor myself.
  • Creativity: I want to express myself through writing, stories, and other forms of art.
  • Clarity: I want to present my thoughts and knowledge in a way that is easy for others to understand.
  • Connect: I want to connect with others who share my love for keeping things alive. I want to explore and appreciate the connections between everything on this planet.

Well, I didn’t mean for all of my intentions to begin with the letter “C”, but that’s the way it goes.


Bonus track! Check out the monarch butterfly my family and I “raised” this summer:

The monarch as a caterpillar.
The monarch as a caterpillar.

 

Monarch cocoon
The monarch as a cocoon.

 

cocoon shell
Emergence!

 

Monarch on pink flower
The monarch as a butterfly.