Category Archives: taking care of our planet

Failure to communicate: A lesson for our galaxy from Sesame Street Martians

As a child I giggled out loud every time the Sesame Street Martians encountered another Earth object and tried without success to understand it or communicate with it. The ringing phone? Still cracks me up all these decades later.

But these days, when I despair about the harmful actions people are taking in the name of hate-driven agendas, I think those Sesame Street aliens illustrate part of the problem. Groups of people from the same galaxy but different neighbourhoods can’t figure each other out. Research in books leads to wrong or incomplete conclusions. Even if two groups stumble across a common word or phrase, the true meaning of what that sound communicates is misunderstood.

Sometimes the misunderstanding and miscommunication leads to a distrust so profound that people murder each other because of it, without remorse and sometimes with glee. 

Sesame Street doesn’t provide the solution, and guaranteed there is no fast and simple one. But if the Martians spent a little more time on the ground with the Earth objects, instead of just descending now and then in their spaceship, they would figure out what a cow, a cat and a chicken really look like.

Perhaps the modern transportation and communications system of our big galaxy will allow people from different neighbourhoods more time to just be together. Then, perhaps, in time, understanding will grow and everyone will learn that a ringing telephone needs to be answered.

The biology of story: Pick up, listen, restore

I spent the weekend in Toronto, Canada at the Canadian Writers’ Summit. Hundreds of writers from across the country gathered at the Harbourfront Centre to share ideas, learn from each other and evolve as writers.

Are you surprised I chose to attend a session entitled “The Biology of Story”? 

At the session, Amnon Buchbinder, associate professor of screenwriting at York University, talked about the “interactive documentary” he created to explore the idea of stories as living things.

Buchbinder’s documentary, found at, outlines three principles.

1. A story is a living thing

“A story will choose to be with you, but you have to choose to pick up the story.” —Nigaan James Sinclair

If you want to drive a writer crazy, ask them, “Where do you get your ideas?” You might hear something like “Out of the clear blue sky.” Perhaps it’s a matter of writers choosing to pick up the stories—those living beings—that come to them.

Watch: Stories are living beings. Period

2. Living is a story thing.

“Listen and you will see your own story will speak to you.” —Jean Pierre Makosso

Do you drift aimlessly from one event to another in your life? Are you listening for what your story—living being that it is—has to tell you?

Watch: Listen and your story will speak to you.

3. Not all narratives are stories.

“A real story is the possibility of restoring the world.” —Deena Metzger

Buchbinder writes: “We live in a world crowded with narratives. Many of them lack key properties of story. This accounts for the lifeless and/or destructive forms that some narratives take.”

Watch: Stories are about wholeness

Buchbinder’s documentary encourages us to pick up the stories that come to us, to listen for what our own stories have to say, and to work with those stories to restore the world.

I just sent you a story. Pick it up, listen, restore. 

The world’s first sun-heated home? Something to ponder on Earth Day Eve

worlds-first-sun-heated-homeA 1949 issue of LIFE included this article about a house in Massachusetts heated without any furnace at all.

The heat collectors at the top of the house were glass panels in front of metal plates. The sun’s heat waves went through the glass and heated the metal to a temperature as high as 150 degrees F.

Fans then blew the heat down through pipes storage cans filled with a sodium compound that soaked up and stored the heat.


Why didn’t this catch on?

The article, written on the cusp of the 1950s, promised that the sun-warmed house “could be the beginning of a big reduction in the approximately $3.5 billion the U.S. pays annually for household fuel.” At the time, architect William Hamby predicted that solar heat would replace all other types of home heating within 10 years.

Or not.

In 1949 we didn’t foresee the oil crisis or believe that fuel resources would be finite. We didn’t foresee the environmental damage of fossil fuels. We didn’t foresee the number of human lives that would be lost because of wars that had the word “oil” at the bottom of the pile of reasons for their development. We were not nearly motivated enough to adapt.

Oh, scientists of today, how about now? Something to ponder on Earth Day Eve.

Bloom where and how you are planted: The solution to “problem paralysis”

All around us: hungry mouths, people without affordable housing, victims of physical or sexual abuse, ill people suffering from diseases we could help cure, war casualties, crimes against humanity, child soldiers, gender bias, and the list goes on . . .

In the past, news of events in far-flung lands took days, weeks or months to filter its way around the world. By the time information travelled half a globe, the need for action had passed. And why do something for people so far away anyway?

These days, high-tech global communications systems convey news to us instantly. High-definition videos show us the creases of pain in human faces. Twitter feeds us first-person accounts of injustices. We see things, we know things, and we learn about them in time to do something.

A pointing finger jabs us in the chest. Do something. Do something. Do something. How can YOU live with this injustice?

Why aren’t YOU fixing this RIGHT NOW?

Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Hold on. Back up. Even if we split ourselves into a million pieces we could never fix all the problems. It’s overwhelming. In the face of it, we suffer “problem paralysis.” We think, “I can’t fix it all, so why even bother doing anything?

“Bloom where you are planted,” the floral metaphor suggests. I would add: “Bloom how you are planted.”

Grow fully where you are, and don’t try to be a lily if you’re really chicory.

Sometimes, lilies think everyone should bloom with the same regal beauty they do; they expect all “flowers” to share their same passions. What a boring and out-of-balance field of wildflowers that would be, without the nodding blue heads of chicory, the innocent white daisies, or the blushing pink wild roses.

One of the gifts of age is the gift of self-knowledge. I have come to accept my strengths and weakness. I have learned about my own passions, and I have learned what work I need to leave to others because their passion serves those purposes better.

I’m not here to do it all. I’m not supposed to do it all; I only have to do my part of it. I might not grow with the height or the potent fragrance of a Tiger Lily, but maybe I add something like the healing blue presence of nodding chicory.

The cure for problem paralysis is clear discernment of passions. Figure out what fires you up, and do that. Figure out which things make you say, “Meh” and leave that work to others.  Don’t feel guilty about not sharing someone else’s passion and don’t pressure anyone to share yours.

Act on your own passions and support others in theirs and between us all, what a beautiful field of wildflowers we will be.


The examined life: Shaw Woods

I have become an avid fan of the Facebook page of Shaw Woods.

The site posts photographs and information about the plants and creatures flourishing at the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. High-quality photographs show close-up views of the flora and fauna of Canada’s Ottawa Valley. The accompanying descriptions give background information about what is in the picture. I’ve learned so much.

When I look at the photographs, I feel like I’m on a walk with a toddler. If you’ve ever walked anywhere with a 2-year-old, you know you don’t get anywhere fast, because toddlers take advantage of their place close to the ground to discover everything along the way. Bottle caps, rocks shaped like hearts, bugs, and flowers must survive the intense scrutiny of the inquisitive mind of a young child.

The Shaw Woods photographs depict a toddler-view closely examined life of Shaw Woods: Every tree, every flower, every insect, every bird, every creature noticed, appreciated, studied and chronicled.

And I have to admit to feeling a little embarrassed. I grew up a few miles away from Shaw Woods. I spent my formative years there, and I didn’t even know that many of those plants or creatures existed in that area. How could I live there for decades and never know about a Goldenrod Crab Spider? How could I have missed a spider that stalks prey in flowers and changes colour to match its background? This spider below had just left a yellow flower.

My embarrassment makes me realize how little I closely examine my surroundings. If Socrates was right when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” I’ve got some work to do.

The Shaw Woods Facebook page is a good start. Then I think I’ll go for a walk—toddler style. 

Community rhubarb


The rhubarb patch at the front of my house soaks up full sun and produces a crop robust enough to nourish many families in my community. My neighbours know they are welcome to wander down any time and harvest a few stalks. Goodness knows, I could never use all that rhubarb.

Sharing my rhubarb wealth takes me back to my roots on a farm outside a small town where neighbourhood sharing was the norm, not an aberration, and where natural foods grew wild for the picking. I smile when I see my friends bent over the huge leaves looking for thick, juicy stalks. (I will need to thin the plant next year. They stalks are getting a little spindly.) I reminds me that as a child I broke off rhubarb stalks and munched them down raw. It makes my mouth pucker at the memory of bitter chokecherries we picked to make sweet jelly, or salivate at thoughts of juicy, tiny wild strawberries plucked carefully from their tender plants growing close to the forest ground.

My community rhubarb makes my city home feel like a country place. It reminds me that nature can never really be owned but is there for the picking. 


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