Sunday, July 29, 2007

weekend with the girls

I have two of my close friends in town, Daline and Laurie. It's so cool to get my friends together who don't know each other and have us all hang out. Friday Laurie got in from San Antonio and we drove down to Galveston to pick up Daline. We went to the Strand and walked around a bit (a historic shopping district). Then we drove to Rice University and I showed them where I went to school. I walked to my lab (my college ID still works as a key card - go figure) and saw a few old friends. We went to Valhalla which is the campus pub, that looks a bit like a hobbit hole. We had a couple drinks there and then went to Rice Village and met another friend, Clea, who is still in grad school. Rice Village is another shopping area with a lot of restaurants, shops, and bars.

My favorite Greek restaurant (Dimassi's) went out of business, I'm so bummed! So we went to Mi Luna which is a Spanish Tapas bar and it is really good too. We sat on the patio and ate lots of yummy things and had a great time. Clea is going back to Italy soon and I told her I'm coming to visit! My Check Engine light blinked on driving back from Galveston and my car was not getting gas properly because it was jumping. This makes me very nervous! But the light stopped blinking and went away. Well we got back in the car heading home and it was on permanently. We made it home, but I am not driving again until Monday when I'm going to take it to the shop.

Yesterday we went and got some groceries and then went to see the movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry which was really funny and brought up some good issues the nation needs to reckon with. I liked it. Tonight I'm having a party with some friends and I can't wait! Woohoo!!! But first we're going to church!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

objectivity in journalism

I just added the text of the talk I gave as an invited guest speaker at the University of North Texas (UNT) Nature Writing Symposium.
Changing the World One Story at a Time: Don't get me wrong, I believe objectivity is an ideal to strive for, but, is it truly possible? And what are the very real drawbacks?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

blink and obama

I just finished the Obama book, and at the end of the CD it had his speech from the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Wow. That was one powerful and moving speech. All I can say is that I hope that the people who seem to feel apathetic and cynical about the hopes of our country will rise back up and not let cynicism keep them from hope, and from doing something about the way the world is. I know a lot of my friends were so depressed after Bush got re-elected, literally really traumatized. But now, I hear many of these same people saying things like they don't think Barack Obama can get elected, that our country is still too divided by race, that the same people who elected Bush would not elect Obama even if they don't like Bush now.

I don't believe that for a minute. I believe in America, and I believe in our people. I think that even though people re-elected Bush, it was a very narrow vote and there are many swing voters. There were many people who wanted to give him more time to see what he could do with a 2nd term, and there are certainly right-wing fundamentalists and die-hard Republicans who would never vote a different way. But I think there is a narrow minority who would not elect someone because of their race, not a vast number of people. Now he may not even get the Democratic nomination but I just think it's disappointing to hear people who WOULD vote for him in the regular election not wanting to vote for him in the primaries because they don't think he'd be elected, especially because the people have not really paid enough attention to him, like take the time to read his book or hear his views. (Same goes for any candidate). Listen to him talk, he has what it takes to get elected if more people heard him give a speech and not just snippets of the debates. Obama is smart, eloquent, down to earth and real from everything I can gather. And he's incredibly moving. I'm impressed. He could do something to unite America and to remind us of the beauty of our roots, our history.

Now on to blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, the audio CD I started yesterday (none of the titles listed in my last post were yet in at the library, I requested them). He talked in the first part about these studies by John Gottman (whose book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail I have) who got some attention for being able to predict, well, duh, why marriages succeed or fail but within something like a 3-minute snippet of video of them conversing. One key, he found, was contempt. Contempt included rolling eyes and insulting the other person from a position of being "higher than" the other. It was a condemnation of who the other person was. He also mentioned that in terms of being able to overcome insults, criticism etc depended on whether one was in a positive sentiment override or negative sentiment override. Basically, in the positive state, one would just attribute the insult or slight to them being in a bad day, and would forgive easily. When in a negative state, small slights were interpreted worse than they were, and even apologies were not accepted. People I think tended to stay in these states - they weren't something you flitted in and out of easily. It indicated the state of the relationship. (You can read the Chapter here)

I found this interesting for several reasons. One thought I had was that I'm convinced my mom and I are in a negative sentiment override mode and have been well since my childhood, and I wondered how we can get beyond that. I need to look into that... even when I apologize it doesn't seem to register, and she never apologizes but that's another story altogether. I don't think that info is in blink, but probably in Gottmann's book. Mom and I tend to get upset at one another at ridiculously little things, and I want to move beyond that. I also want to make sure my daughter and I don't get there (or Sam but he's so laid back it is more of an issue with Savi) as she goes into the teen years soon. I miss my babies!!

Lats on friendship, two of my wonderful amazing close friends will be coming from out of town this weekend and I'm having a party and it will be soooo fun!!!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

working away

I've been working hard while the kids are gone at their grandparents, trying to finish revising my book proposal. Yes, the same darn book proposal I've been working on for over 2 years! The first version was more of a straight narrative nonfiction type book, which I called The Fish Wars: How Evolution and Christianity Can Make Peace. My agent sent it around to publishers but it didn't fly for various reasons - too many competitors that were about to come out, I didn't have enough of a platform (i.e. I'm not a pastor or an academic scientist). But after meeting with my literary agency (the Carol Mann Agency) when I went to New York City in April, I came up with a new idea that we're very excited about.

This version is much more of a memoir, my personal story about how I became a Christian who accepts evolution, and what that means. It's more like Elizabeth Gilbert's eat, pray, love (which I love, by the way) than like one of the stuffy books about theology and religion and evolution. I hope to reach a far broader audience, and I can use my strength which is my writing style. So wish me luck, send good wishes and prayers as I'm getting close to being done with this new revision and then my agent will hopefully soon send it to publishers again!

My latest article is out in TX Parks & Wildlife Magazine's Annual Water Issue. This year's theme: The State of Lakes. As you may or may not know, Texas has only one natural lake, Caddo Lake. I covered the newly emerging concept of offchannel reservoirs in Dams on the Side: Off-channel reservoirs can help meet water needs while causing less environmental impact than dams that halt a river’s flow.

These are the books I want to read, or more correctly listen to (I don't have time to read these days, I just listen to audio-CDs when I run or drive around). Has anyone read any of these? Comments? Poisonwood Bible has been around for a long time but the rest are relatively new.

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Assault on Reason by Al Gore
God After Darwin by John Haught
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Did I tell you I got Sam a Robo Sapien? I think I blogged a couple Christmases ago about how Sam, Savannah and I just laughed so hard in Radio Shack while playing with a Robo Sapien and Robo Raptor. Well they were God-awful expensive ($200) and I said sorry, no way. But we had fun playing with it in the store. That year, Savannah was the only student in Holy Trinity middle school to get the Superior Achievement Award (which means she got a 95 overall average and never lower than a 90 in any class all year long) and I told Sam, who was about to enter middle school, that if he got that next year then I'd buy him a Robo Sapien! And what do you know, he did! In fact both my kids were the only 2 kids in middle school this year to earn than same award, and I'm very proud of them. Luckily the price has gone down some, and it's only $99.95. There's a V. 2 that has better gripping claws and more programming options. He's a pretty cool little dude. In fact that is what we named him, Dude.

Travels ahead - I'm going to the ASJA East Meets West conference at UC Berkeley Sep 29. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to meet editors from The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Salon, Wired, and Smithsonian. Other than National Geographic, those are my dream markets!! With a book possibly coming out sometime soon, this is a great networking opp.

I may be going to Nepal in November for a story on red pandas, more details soon, and I also WILL be leading a group either to Panama, Belize or Bolivia in Dec 07 or sometime in 2008. It will be a 10-day/9 night trip with lots of wildlife, rainforest and reef/beach time. If you're interested let me know!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dreams of My Father

I'm listening to the audio -book of Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. It's very interesting and I'm enjoying it on my evening runs. I like him, he has an honest way of stating the truth of both sides but somehow seeming to bring a genuine peacefulness and understanding between various sides. As a man who had a white mother and a black (Kenyan) father, who better to bridge the divides that still remain in our country with regards to racial issues? But it goes way beyond that, he just really seems to have something genuine in his words and he seems to want to bring people together. It's a rare gift I've only seen in a few people. The book was written before he even ran for Senator.

One thing on the 4th CD, he is talking about his work doing community development in Chicago, which he did before he went to law school at Harvard. He was meeting with various church pastors because he worked with them in his community development work and this was before he became a Christian himself, and he says, "They all mentioned periods of religious doubt, the corruption of the world and their own hearts. The striking bottom and the shattering of pride. And then finally the resurrection of self, a self alloyed to something larger. That was the source of their confidence, they insisted. Their personal fall and subsequent redemption. It was what gave them the authority to preach the good news."

All I can say to that is Amen, brother! Something in the way I heard it or he read it - in a very unaffected way, no fervor, just plain spoken - moved me deeply, because it speaks such truth. That is exactly what the Christian faith means to me. It's not about being righteous and especially not self-righteous or judgmental. It's about recognizing one's failings, falling down and then finding the strength - the redemption that comes from surrender - to rise back up, truly healthier and stronger. I've had two such times when I struck bottom in my life - in high school after the date rape when I didn't have God or religion and I turned to alcohol and self-hatred and other sources of inflicting pain on myself, and then my divorce over 4 years ago when I did have God and although I sunk into a deep depression, I never hated myself and I mourned and grieved and overcame, clinging fiercely to God in the morning in my prayers, during the day in my tears, and at night as I went to bed, alone, hoping only that through this pain something beautiful could be born, or reborn. And it was.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The best things in life

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.
Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.
--Robert Louis Stevenson

I like this quote and just thought I'd post this quick and cogent reminder to enjoy the small pleasures of each day, because as I often say on this blog, you never know what day will be your last, or when your life might change dramatically. Enjoy the now, not always putting off joy for tomorrow...

I also wanted to mention a book I heard mentioned on the radio the other day and I just looked it up, and it looks really interesting. Save me from Myself: How I found God, Quit KORN, Kicked drugs, and Lived to Tell My Story by Brian "Head" Welch, the former lead guitarist of the rock band KORN, who got saved by Jesus Christ and kicked his meth addiction. The story is told for the first time here. I am going to have to read this. He has a new solo album called "It's Time to See Religion Die" which is interesting given my own title to the book I'm working on, and the fact that he's a born-again Christian. The music reflects his distrust of organized religion. You can also see more information about him and his music and book at his official website, Head to Christ.

Love and light and peace to you all!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live Earth!

I am recording coverage of Live Earth, the awesome concert to raise awareness of global warming. I watched a bit earlier and it was really cool. I love music! I saw Al Gore encourage everyone to agree to a 7-point pledge, and I love the Melissa Etheridge song that she wrote for An Inconvenient Truth - I saw her play it live.

I plan to analyze my carbon footprint and offset my lifestyle for this year. I encourage you to also! You can analyze your carbon footprint here. OK I just did it: my ECP score was 353, with a carbon output of 15 tons. That is probably high because although I recycle, save water and electricity as much as possible, I fly a lot for work. It says the average score in the US is 325, but the average carbon output is 20 tons.

I have an article coming out in November for E/The Environmental Magazine on Carbon Neutral cruises (including my trip to the Galapagos) and if you want to offset your carbon footprint take heed: A December 2006 report by the nonprofit group Clean Air, Cool Planet released the first review and analysis of offset providers (you can get a copy of the report online at their website), naming the best 8 of 30 reviewed in terms of quality of their projects and dedication to education about global warming: AgCert/Driving Green, atmosfair, Carbon Neutral Company, Climate Care, Climate Trust, co2balance, NativeEnergy, and Sustainable Travel/MyClimate.

Not all are US-based. Offset providers basically do various things that "offset" your carbon emissions - whether planting trees, investing in green energy, methane capture (a more harmful global warming gas than CO2) or other projects. The costs per ton of CO2 vary, but you also want to look at the overall quality of the offset. People like the idea of tree planting (myself included) but it actually is the least effective method, in part due to the impermanence but also because of the slow growth. Many providers will use a variety of projects, and you can also pick which you prefer.

Here is another calculator: CarbonCounter but I believe most of the above have calculators also. The Live Earth one is pretty simple, and a more detailed one may give a better estimate of your footprint.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Zen Living

Here is a link to a CBS TV spot with Daline and some of the others out at Green Gulch Zen Center.

I haven't been blogging much lately about my deepest thoughts as I used to, I realized. Lately I've had a lot of thoughts and internal struggles and I'm not quite sure why I'm not blogging them as much. Maybe because I know the people I'm thinking about are reading this :)

I'm trying to find time to work on revising my book proposal (yes it has been about 2 years now...), the one formerly known as The Fish Wars (new title is secret!) and yet it is really tough to find time amidst the article assignments and having the kids home with me this summer. I love having the kids around all the time, but it does take away the long stretches of alone time I have during the school year, which I love. I think there is some fear there about completing it also - fear of failure, fear of yet another unfinished project which compels me to put it off even more (go figure). There have also been some family struggles, as I'm coming to grips with a new assessment of certain family members that were formerly - as my marriage therapist used to say - "in the China cabinet."

I really struggle with knowing what the right decision is a lot of time. I believe we have warring parts of our personality - some selfish, some selfless, and some that just want different things, and sometimes it's hard to know what my best option is at any given time.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Finally...newsrooms reach out to help

Well here I was about to applaud CNN (or rather for heralding a new thing on their site that allows people to donate to some of the top causes that help poverty, hunger, animals, etc. They just relaunched their website with a new look, and this full color banner was there linking to "Impact Your World." They have a photo of a child and it says above it "What Would Happen if Everybody Cared?" I thought, wow, this is awesome! Finally a news company has taken responsibility and gone to the step of actually helping make people more aware of steps that they can take to HELP solve some of the world's problems, rather than just reading about them. When I clicked on the link it brings you to another CNN site with links to various world issues, including refugees and homelessness, hunger, animals, natural disasters, poverty, and health and this literally brought tears to my eyes.

But then this morning I went back and the banner is not even on the front page anymore! I was like, what the heck?! Why launch some whole new initiative and only feature it for half a day?! What good is that?! I guess Paris Hilton or celebrity news has suddenly become as important again... I went back again and it's there again, but apparently it is labeled as "advertisement" (even though it's an official CNN initiative and site) so it pops up now and again but is not a permanent link. Why?!

Here is the link.

I suspect they will link this to stories that relate to these specific issues, but I think they should have it on the website front page all the time! Also, I found it ironic that they have "animals" but not "environment" because oddly enough newsrooms call the environment a "side" instead of just an issue like poverty. You can be pro-environment and that is supposedly showing a bias. Can you be pro-poverty or anti-poverty? Doesn't everyone in their right mind want no poverty and a clean, healthy environment? Agreeing on the terms of those issues and how to solve them is a whole 'nother can o' worms, but for goodness sake, we should certainly be able to agree that "environment" is as neutral as "poverty" - i.e. it's just a term describing a phenomenon or an issue. I guess the right-wing fundies might get up in arms if anyone considered the environment just another issue that needs listing on their save the world campaign!