slowly growing garden bounty

This year, the family planted an almond tree and a cherry tree. The fruit trees planted in previous years are becoming laden with young edibles. One tomato has shown up, and the bird house is filled to capacity. A little bit of paradise, here.

gardenbounty

columnar apples












peaches











first tomato












occupied bird house.






We don’t have an extra big yard; it’s just a regular house lot. But the family makes the most of it. Such is suburban farming.

Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

(On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

Suburban Farming on a Shoestring

With all of the concern over GMO foods and pesticide contamination, suburban farming has become a big deal these days. Our family has been growing veggies in a small plot of backyard land for several years now. This year I decided to extend our planting areas to other spots around the house. Instead of flowers, I have planted veggies.

tomatopatchHere is my tomato strip, which runs along the fence that separates us from one of our neighbors. I am experimenting with this red plastic mulch which is supposed to make the tomatoes grow faster and better. It sounds a bit like sympathetic magic to me, but there also seems to be some scientific connection, based on light waves and such.

I have planted beefsteak, Paul Rebeson, yellow grape, and green zebra tomatoes, as well as one that will be a surprise because I lost the marker and can’t remember what kind it was. If all goes well, we should be in tomato heaven.
sidetomatovinewatercress garden
This is a small spot at the front corner of our house that gets nice afternoon sun. Before I took it over for a cherry tomato vine and assorted other edibles (basil, kale, mesclun, dill) it was a patch of useless grass. I threw in some marigold seeds around the tomato plant. Bugs and other critters don’t like marigolds.

A raised bed space alongside the back stairs to my rooms gets sun all morning, and so I planted watercress, purselane, parsley, and cilantro. I never heard of purseland before I went to the Farmers’ Market this afternoon and saw a plant on sale. I like to try a new edible every year, and this is it for this year. Last year’s ground cherries didn’t fare very well.

rosemarywelcomeAn old chiminea that wound up on the front lawn and then lost it’s chimney seemed to be a good place to plant some rosemary and hang a fuschia plant. I put the chimney section aside and will probably plant some kind of vine it by the divider my daughter erected to block the part of the driveway where she puts a table and umbrella.

Folks in our neighborhood never use their front lawns, never sit on their front steps. We do. But then, again, we do a lot of things that the other folks in our neighborhood don’t do, including home-schooling.

And, for me, the best part of our front yard is this, where I often sit late in the afternoon and read, knit, listen to a book on tape, or just snooze. And from this vantage point, I can watch the hummingbirds visit my little hummingbird garden (more on that another time). In another month, the long branches of the willow and the tall grasses planted behind the swing will seclude it from the driveway and the road. This is my little piece of heaven.
readyswing

almost the best time of the year

The best time will be summer, when the vines are loaded with tomatoes and beans and peas and, hopefully, the couple of exotic edibles, the seeds of which I planted in March and the seedlings of which I planted today: peach/mango/melon and cucamelon.

With my bum knees precluding any dancing or even minor walking, gardening seems to be the best exercise for me, and I, along with the rest of the family worked up a good sweat today — they tilling and enriching the garden soil and planting some seeds; I tinkering with the little shade garden plots and tending my seedlings. The little orange birdhouse (upper right of photo, below) that my daughter made last year from scrap pieces of wood in the cellar, has just been taken over by a pair of Carolina Wrens.

The Northeast is a marvel-filled place to live this time of year.

the readied vegetable garden behind the bank of glorious spring blooms

the readied vegetable garden behind the bank of glorious spring blooms

basil, parsley, sage, dill, garlic scapes seem to be doing well; some tomato seedlings are iffy, but I haven't given up on them.

basil, parsley, sage, dill, garlic scapes seem to be doing well; some tomato seedlings are iffy, but I haven’t given up on them.

the little shade garden by my little porch is overrun with Creeping Jenny -- but that's just fine because I keep moving some to other parts of the yard that are bare

the little shade garden by my little porch is overrun with Creeping Jenny — but that’s just fine because I keep moving some to other parts of the yard that are bare

the prettiest part of the yard is always the Japanese maple and the Buddha statue

the prettiest part of the yard is always the Japanese maple and the Buddha statue

I took the photos with my new LG Optimus G Pro from AT&T. I figured I’d treat myself with the money I’m saving by not having to buy cat food and litter any more — and also not having the expense of dance/exercise classes because of my bum knees. One door closes, another door opens.

on mysteries, miracles, and metaphors

This afternoon, as the kid from next door sat on our front steps playing Mine Craft on his iPod, my grandson stood nearby, tracking the flight of our resident red-tailed hawk. Suddenly the hawk loosed a feather, and my grandson watched as it caught on a tree branch, and then let go, and finally landed in his waiting hand. He ran into the house shouting that he caught a hawk’s feather, wanting to share this miracle with the world.

Two kids, roughly the same age. One is home schooled. Easy guess, which one.

So, you could say that my grandson, Lex, received a message from his totem animal. Such is the spirit mystery of the natural world.

While the rest of the family is planning and preparing their vegetable garden on the more fertile side of the property, I have commandeered the side of the yard where the pervasive roots of the ancient maple that was destroyed during the Snowpacalypse two winters ago make it impossible to till soil or grow anything. tree stump Poppies have already spouted in the main stump container, and my mini calla lilies that spent the winter in the cellar are generating buds under the soil of the other.

I emptied the shed of all of the big pots and have begun a kind of container garden that will include herbs, flowers, and all kinds of tomatoes. And garlic. Lots of garlic. The pots are lined up along the nearby fence, which gets sun all afternoon. secretgardenThe soil there is not great, but hostas and wild violets seem to be happy there. I planted three sunflower seedlings and some Creeping Jenny and have lined up the pots, some of which already contain herb and flower seedlings. It is not yet the configuration I want; I will have a better sense of the aesthetics as the bloomings emerge.

In a month or so, it will be fun to compare this photo with one that boasts a more colorful and thriving container garden. There will be some re-arranging and adding to. My projects, be they gardening or knitting or sewing always seem to be continuous ones until something out of my control puts an end to them. Sort of like everything in my life. Circles. Now, there’s a metaphor.

buddhaI’ve been looking for some kind of statuary around which to focus the container garden. For the moment, I’m using a cairn that I found (oddly enough) at Home Goods. We already have a Buddha in a little meditation spot in a shady part of the yard.

In the meanwhile, the family continues work on the addition to Lex’s “fort.” (Original structure is on the right of the addition.) It’s going to be a fun summer around here.
multifort

almost April

A day of almost 60 degrees. We are all antsy for Spring.

wintersowingaMy wintersown seeds are hanging in there. The sunflower seeds already have sprouted.

gardenprep1aMy daughter and grandson are outside starting to get the sunny earth ready for herbs.

peachbudsaThe peach tree has buds.

branchesaThe branches of the pruned Harry Lauder Walking Stick tree make an interesting temporary front yard sculpture in the container that eventually will feature flowers.

I got my windowsill garden started with some herb and berry seeds. Usually I think to start doing this in May, when it’s really too late. Hopefully I’ll have an abundance of heirloom edibles by the time Summer is in bloom.

a total spring cleaning

Obviously, I’ve cleaned out my blog house, going for a fresh new look. Now, the challenge is to clean the cobwebs out of my head and start to write here again. It’s not unusual for bloggers to take a break every once in a while.

I’m also motivated to tune up physically — went to the chiropractor today. Of course, it helps a lot that my daughter (who cooks for the family) has upped our intake of delicious vegetables and cut down the fleshy portions of our meals. That means I’m eating healthier (except for my late night snacking, which I’m trying to control). With Spring will come more walking and a greater willingness to get myself out for the exercise classes at the well-equipped local Jewish Community Center.

My next challenge is to clean out my living space and make room for the new Lazy-boy glider recliner I bought myself for my birthday with my tax refund.

In the meanwhile, I’m still putting out heirloom seeds for wintersowing, even though it’s kind of late for that. I can’t wait to get out and garden.

My son, who is still job-hunting, has been motivated to publish his late father’s novels, which have been sitting on old 5 inch floppy discs in WordPerfect. They are available via Amazon Kindle, and he has put up a website to promote them: www.myrlnbooks.com

10-the-wheel-of-fortune
The Wheel turns.

The wheels turn.

Spring. Sunshine. Energy. Hope.

Surviving the Western Mass Apocalypse

Well, it wasn’t really THE Apocalypse, but, after a week without heat or electricity or phone, and with temps in the house falling to about 45 degrees at night, it sure felt like it could be.

The snow started a week ago a few days before Halloween, and it looked like this.

In three days, it looked like this:

We lost half of the ancient maple tree, the leaves of which were just beginning to turn, and it probably will have to be taken down completely. We lost pieces of the maple in our front yard as well and portions of various trees that form the edge of the property that borders on conservation land. Two days ago, my daughter went out and bought a chain saw.

With a gas stove and gas-heated hot water, at least we were able to eat and wash the dishes during the icy winter week. Our unheated but enclosed porch became our refrigerator as we tried to save as much food as we could.

By the time that the snow finally stopped, power, phone, and cable lines were loosed or down all along our street (and all over this part of Massachusetts). The storm’s strength took out the power so quickly that we didn’t have a chance to charge our cell phones and laptops. We husbanded our battery flashlights and the meager amount of dry firewood that we had available.

We all hunkered down in the living room, blockading its doorways with blankets. This is my grandson, trying to keep warm on the mattresses and quilts piled on the living room floor.

Lines began to form at the gas stations until finally there was no gasoline left within an hour’s drive of our town. I had about a quarter tank of gas in my car and eventually went out to charge my Iphone.

Thankfully, my daughter and son-in-law had the foresight to move our cars far enough onto the property to avoid any limbs that might fall from our neighbor’s rotting oak. One limb did fall — right where our cars would have been. It settled itself over all three power lines that run above our driveway (cable, phone, electricity), blocking our ability to back out when the storm stopped. Eventually, a very helpful neighbor with a chain saw cut off enough of the branches so that the cars could get out; but the limb remained, threatening to take down the lines completely.

The property taxes in this town are pretty high, but the upside of that is that the town set up an emergency shelter in one of the schools, with cots lining the gym and three free meals a day for anyone whose homes were without power. They distributed water bottles, showed movies in the afternoons, and lined the main hallways with chairs and surge protectors so people could charge their phones and laptops. Eventually they even had wifi.

They were staffed with volunteers that paid special attention to all of the elders who flocked there for the only support they had available.

We were finally able to get gas, and then the two main grocery stores opened with generator power. There was nothing available that had to be refrigerated, but we were able to pick up soups and breads and, of course, lots of Puffs tissues.

We got our power back yesterday, exactly (almost to the hour) a week from when the storm began. The tree limbs are off the wires, but we still have no landline phone service.

Having been sleeping in a 45 degree bedroom, dressed in multiple layers — including a hat — and burrowed under two blankets and a quilt, I now am close to understanding what the homeless must suffer in cold weather.

What I wished I had available were old fashioned rubber hot water bottles for my feet and hands and a book light that used regular batteries. I have ordered these in preparation for what I’m sure will be coming down the pike this winter. We also will be buying some kind of generator so that we can keep the house at a livable temperature should we find ourselves, again, faced with this kind of winter misadventure.

But we survived. My grandson is recuperating from an terrible sore throat virus, and my daughter is exhausted from taking care of him, tending the fire, and feeding us all. Hestia lives in her. Me? I was just too cold to be of much help.

that long-gone gold

Those really were my golden years — those four college years between 1957 and 1961. And so I was willing to help plan our 50th class reunion. I even sewed a big 50th reunion banner and put up a class reunion blog. That was the fun part.

But it turned out that my closest “girl” friends couldn’t be there for the part that was supposed to be the most fun. When I checked in with one of them a month before the event, I found out that she had moved into an “assisted living” facility (in the same nursing home building where her husband, also a good friend of mine, was confined to a wheel chair with a deadly combination of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases). She told me that her daughter had taken away her car and license, and so there was no way she could attend the reunion.

(If she is there, will I not be far behind, I wonder. We are the same age, same height, same coloring; we shared wardrobes for four years and together descended on Fort Lauderdale, Florida for one glorious Spring Break. Life is not fair.)

A week before the event, my other close friend called to tell me that she had just had a mammogram and was told to go in for a biopsy. The biopsy turned out to be early Stage 1 breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy yesterday and will proceed with the recommended treatment. Life is not fair.

So, did I have fun at my 50th college reunion?

Well, I have to admit that there was a certain amount of pleasant nostalgia that propelled me through my planning committee tasks. Some things went right. Some things went wrong. What went wrong had to do with logistics; what went right had to do with having a chance to connect with some of the 50-years-older people whom I knew and liked back in those golden years.

As a female college freshman back in 1957, sharing a room in a small “group house,” I lived under rules that today’s female college freshmen would never tolerate: we had curfew hours, dress codes, no males allowed beyond the front room and not even there after 10 pm. Two of the girls who shared that group house with me came to the reunion. Seeing them again was part of the fun.

At the reunion dinner, a table covered with memorabilia from those golden years included a copy of the annual literary magazine from 1959. No, it didn’t include any writing by me. In 1959 I was too busy dancing in college musicals and writing a gossipy column for the college newspaper. And drinking beer. And dating. And joining a sorority. And cutting classes to TGIF. Many of my reunited classmates tell me that they remember me as always smiling and happy. Heh. Why not. Daddy was paying the bills and I was off absorbing the joys of life, the universe, and everything.

That’s right. I was no scholar. I managed to balance out my Cs and Ds with a greater number of As and somehow graduated as the B+ person I continue to be. But I digress.

From your absinthe tinted green dreams and
soulless wanderings across deserts of the mind, came truth–
ice-essence truth……

On page 32 of the literary magazine, I find a poem that begins with the above lines — lines inscribed on the flyleaf of a paperback book of Rimbaud’s poems by the talented young man who wrote the poem and gave me the book. I learned that he passed away a year and a half ago. I wonder if he had still had that tousled red hair, that red beard, that passionate, dark, beat-poet intensity. He almost seduced me. But I wasn’t ready yet, back in 1959.

The literary journal also had some pieces by his best friend, who also was my friend, and whose family became friends with my family after we both married and had kids. He is still writing. We lost touch more than a decade ago, although I had learned about his wife’s tragic illness and death sometime along the way.

Bob decided to come to the reunion at the last minute, and we sat together at dinner, recalling those mellow days and nights when we hung out together in front of his future wife’s sorority house — he and his dark-haired Irish lovely, and me with my brooding red-headed boy. And he asks me if I am happy. And what I can answer is that “I am not unhappy.” We plan to keep in touch. I went and ordered his recent book of short stories.

I supposed the ego-stroking highlight of my class reunion (which was part of the university’s Homecoming Weekend) was having a good-looking gray-haired guy (who was a college year behind me) come up to me to tell me that he still remembers the first time he saw me. I was sitting at the long table at the bar we all went to on Friday afternoons. He said that he remembered what I was wearing — a brown skirt and sweater. And I was smiling. And he thought I was gorgeous.

I guess it was a good reunion after all.