What do you think about birthdays?

Numbers have such an important influence on our lives. And sometimes have no bearing other than to reinforce expectations – and unfounded ones at that.

We ask little children how old they are – perhaps because we don’t know how else to start a conversation. They soon learn to answer proudly “I am four!” But what does “four” tell us about that child and how he or she is being shaped by their experience? Have they had opportunities to learn to swim or climb or look closely at insects or run very fast over a field or learn alphabet, counting or any of a myriad things?

Every so often, I think about the number of years I have lived, because I am at an age when people say “Are you still working?” Whatever they mean by that! (“Are you too poor to stop?” or ”Aren’t you getting tired of the job?” maybe “Aren’t you too old?” or even “Lucky you! I wish I were”)

This week two women friends quietly confided they were approaching birthdays that end in zeros.

I note that those are the ones that give you pause because the number preceding the zero is about to get bigger than it has been ever before.

Lithe and fresh-faced, with a habitual look of mischief, my  first friend announced that she was going to publicly stay in the 9 year preceding her birthday. Then she strapped on her bike helmet and pedaled off on the several miles’ ride home. She lives fully. Health is important to her, but not only her own. She has made her home as environmentally sustainable as possible; she just finished working on building a Habitat for Humanity home project; and her job involves her in research for sorely needed treatment for a fearful disease. Why should it matter how old she is?

The other woman (with a different birthday) is a mover and shaker who has steadily expanded a well-known non-profit to serve increasing numbers of people in innovative and needed ways. She is also writing a book on her area of expertise. Sweet-faced with kind-eyes, she looks like someone you want to have a good long conversation with. And many people do! She confided with a wry smile that her sister told her that they are old ladies and she should start behaving like one.

I remembered a time when visiting family in England and being told that I scandalized the locals because they learned I was in graduate school and had 2 children. I was in my mid-thirties, but by their standards I was too old to be a student. I remember how grateful I was for living in California where I would not have that prevalent attitude wearing me down.

I am also fortunate to work in the field of aging where I meet people who I know are in their 70, 80 and 90’s who sparkle, who are passionate about something, sing at bus-stops and who don’t buy in to the toxic message that tells us to act our age.

When my daughter was in the 2nd grade, her tap-dancing class was scheduled to perform on the hospital geriatric ward where I worked then. I asked her teacher if I should prepare the kids for the audience with whom they would be mixing after the performance.  I learned that my daughter had already oriented her class and I was curious to know what she told them about the geriatric patients.

“Just look past their wrinkles and you will see nice people with really cool stories!”

Great advice for us all, for meeting someone new, for collaborating in a professional arena – and for looking in the mirror each morning.

A few researchers have interesting things to say about the mindset of “acting your age.” In several studies Ellen Langer, Ph.D. put older assisted-living residents in environments that replicated those of their youth. When they weren’t reminded by their surroundings that they were old, their physical and emotional behaviors changed to more youthful ones (including a formerly wheelchair bound man walking with a cane).

Although the results of her studies were often discounted, one of her colleagues, Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. Medical and Clinical Director at Harvard’s McLean Hospital said of Ellen Langer “She’s one of the people that really gets it”….”That health and illness are much more rooted in our minds and our hearts and how we experience ourselves in the world than our models even begin to understand”. (1)

It is tough to hold onto our strengths and vitality in the face of the prejudices of a society suffering from Decline Fatalism (the assumption that we are doomed to decline when we reach a certain age). The age at which decline is supposed to start differs from culture to culture (note earlier reference to suburban British attitudes).

Dr Gene Cohen demonstrated that participants in their eighties who worked consistently in programs with artists made improvements in various areas and did not decline as their peers in control groups did. (Creativity and Aging)

Experiencing ourselves as being passionately interested individuals involved in a number of interests or exciting work can get us through any number of those birthdays ending in zero in fine style.

Hooray for the French who may have coined the phrase “being of an uncertain age”. If we act and think like 30 or 40 year olds combined with the experience of 60 or 70 year olds, of course other people will be uncertain of our age.

And in the doing of it all, we will be age-uncertain, too.

Just saw a FB post from an artist whose work I hope to show next post – absolutely showing us examples…

  1. Grierson, Bruce “In What if Age is Nothing but a Mindset?”  NY Times 2014
  2. “..those involved in the weekly participatory art programs,at the one and two year follow-up assessments, reported: (A) better health, fewer doctor visits, and less medication usage; (B) more positive responses on the mental health measures; (C) more involvement in overall activities.” Gene Cohen, M.D. The Creativity and Aging Study. <…>


2017 –>Creativity, Vision, Imagination, Stories, Belonging –>2018


In the spirit of Janus, the two-headed Roman god after whom January was named, this post looks back, reflects, and looks forward with some inspiration to share….



                   How dismantling social institutions can actually benefit us.

Last year, when I witnessed in horror the dismantling of major elements of a democracy,  I felt afraid and helpless. I must confess that there were too many weeks of feeling depressed and immobilized.  Only when I remembered learning that movement can help loosen the clinging, stifling, isolating fabric of depression could I shake myself free. Being a builder by nature, I decided I must re-frame (1.) and look at how the dismantling of social institutions could become an advantage to the citizens of this country – We the People! It is horrifying to see the destruction, but what cannot be destroyed is experience, is vision, is the energy to build anew. How can we build a better program there, and there and…? (read education system,  healthcare, poverty abatement (2.), and/or the issue that most concerns you)

So forward to 2018…..

I know how much we can accomplish by collaboration. Working together we can discern the flaws and shortcomings of our institutions and, with creativity and experience and love, clarify the vision needed to build better ones.

2017 Divide and Conquer

Looking back, I am most struck by the danger of complete, unswerving identification with the political party we voted for and the polarization that overwhelms the possibilities of working together for the good of all (and in this way keeping democracy alive). We all have the same basic needs. People of all political stripes suffer in the same ways, want the best for our children and ourselves. We all feel hunger, suffer poverty and may be homeless. We all become ill and need proper healthcare; red states and blue states alike are destroyed by fire, storms and floods. In spite of that, there is a huge effort in every sector of society to emphasize the differences. A divided people is easily manipulated and dominated. Divide…and Conquer!   Looking at history we see the long lasting effects of this colonizing strategy on countries all over the world – the Middle East, Asian subcontinent, African continent — and the US. Millions of people have been, and still are, living with the results.

We have to ask ourselves who benefits from this “time-honored” colonial strategy of Divide and Conquer? When we are fighting each other we don’t have time and energy to fight FOR what we all need.

2018 — Building visions

My wish for 2018 is that each one of us chooses a particular problem and focuses on possible end goals. In doing so, we must accept that we all have similar human needs and desires regardless of our political stripe. Once we acknowledge that all the problems facing us are so complex that they require many different approaches. If we can accept that there is not “one right way”, we may become unified by building a vision together and understanding the feasibility of a variety of different methods to attain it.  Remembering that we are all interconnected and so the gains, as well as the misfortunes of other groups, affect us. Once we each take that step, and look for allies, wherever they are doing that work of visioning and taking action.  I believe that by banding together on the “issue” closest to our hearts, we can create a vision of the desired end result even though the means may differ.

Vision and Dreaming

A vision can be a pole star – we may not be sure how to get somewhere but we know where we want to arrive.  Cathedrals, great pyramids, temples and democracy all grew from dreams that became visions. Many cathedral/pyramid/etc. builders did not live long enough to see the finish of their dream, but sharing in the vision, believing in the process and in its benefit to their children’s children kept them going. I imagine that they took delight in the process, and comfort in knowing they belonged to a group that was making something beautiful.  They each did what they could, propelled by the vision.

We builders like to turn ideas into reality, and have learned the importance of a vision, a trust in the process, and how necessary it is to examine the stories we tell ourselves and others about the world, life and meaning.


Stories are how vision is shared, either intentionally or unconsciously. The stories we tell ourselves can strengthen the vision and our belief in it – or undermine it. Listening to the stories we tell ourselves, and where necessary changing them, is vital.(1.)  Determining which stories coming at us through media, marketing, speeches, etc. are designed to make us afraid and to disempower us. Once we recognize this, it is easier to discard them. We cannot let what earlier generations believed in, strived to build and inspired other countries to follow, just slide away into oblivion because of our own disempowering stories (excuses) that we were too busy, too powerless, too much in denial, or did not have enough money.

Listening to others’ stories that help us imagine the possibilities is vital. There are enough of us who know what it is like to be educated, to freely speak, to vote, to have decent health care and enough to eat. There are enough of us who have honed critical thinking so that we can unravel the stories embedded in propaganda and the marketing of confusion. There are enough of us who remember that we had healthy food, free clean water and who experienced the wonder of land, waters and skies thick with wildlife. There are enough of us to build visions to live towards. Let’s pool all this knowledge and experience.  Colonialism does not like empowered populations!

My goal is to encourage you, the reader, to join me in picking an issue. Together we will imagine the story behind recent progress (noted below),  be inspired – and, act in the spirit of “well if they can do it with so few resources and advantages, then we can, too!”

(Thank you Andrew Hervey, in Future Crunch December 5 2016 – 99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year

We can research which persons and organizations are dedicated to working towards the vision that is important to each of us and join them. (As an aside, I feel it is important for maintaining our drive, our sanity and our energies to narrow our focus. This includes the difficult task of ignoring pleas for help or dire warnings of doom from elsewhere. We can do that if we remind ourselves that there are many others who want to build there.)

Questions:  What is your most important concern?    What doesn’t currently work in that area?  What is your vision of what it could be?

For example, talking to a friend who described that she is one of many who find healthcare too expensive, who can’t afford all the expenses of getting sick or needing surgery. She mentioned that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare – what a silly name) was a stepping stone towards something better.  I asked her what that something better would. She replied with little hesitation “Single Payer Healthcare”. That is the beginning of a vision. Where will she find allies working on that?

Some inspiration to contemplate


  • A new study from the world’s leading health journal reported that the number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved since 1990. Guardian
  • Liberia was officially cleared of Ebola, meaning there are now no known cases of the deadly tropical virus left in West Africa.                                                              Vanguard


  • 93% of kids around the world learned to read and write this year. That’s the highest proportion in human history. And the gender gap between girls and boys in school narrowed in 2016 too. Medium

Poverty abatement:

  • In 1990, more than 60% of people in East Asia lived in extreme poverty. As of 2016, that proportion has dropped to 3.5%. Vox

My issue is Climate Change; one inspiration is “In July, more than 800,000 volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in one day. The country is planning on reforesting 12% of its land. National Geographic” and my allies back California Senate Bill 100. (3)

It feels better to look around and see what others have accomplished, are working on currently and then add our own energy to the cause.

It feels better to add to our vision than to feel powerless and upset at each destructive act.

We can use the memories and experiences of all to build something that is even better than we have had, BUT first, each of us must construct a vision of what we want to happen. It takes courage and like the cathedral builders, know that even if we do not see it come to fruition in our lifetime, what we are building is beautiful and necessary.

What is your vision?

Some resources

  1. The Frameworks Institute is very helpful. Also Arran Stibbe’s books on Ecolinguistics.
  2. Income: Timebanks <> Social Security for All or Universal Basic Income <> 
  3. California Senate Bill 100 for 100% Renewable Electricity by 2045


A Gift of Hope for a Brave New Year

A gift of hope and encouragement from Future Crunch –

Take a breath between them. Re-read. Celebrate and savor each one!(my bolding)

Happy New Year and be Brave in 2018.

“Here are 99 of the best stories from this year that you probably missed.

  1. This year, the World Health Organisation unveiled a new vaccine that’s cheap and effective enough to end cholera, one of humanity’s greatest ever killers. New York Times
  2. Cancer deaths have dropped by 25% in the United States since 1991, saving more than 2 million lives. Breast cancer deaths have fallen by 39%, saving the lives of 322,600 women. Time 
  3. Zika all but disappeared in 2017. Cases plummeted in Latin America and the Caribbean, and most people in those places are now immune. Science Mag
  4. A new report showed that the world’s assault on tropical diseases is working. A massive, five year international effort has saved millions of lives, and countries are now signing up for more. STAT
  5. Soft drink sales in the United States dropped for the 12th year in a row, thanks to consumer education and new sugar taxes aimed at stemming obesity and diabetes. Reuters
  6. Trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, was eliminated as a public health problem in Oman and Morocco, and Mexico became the first country in the Americas to eliminate it. NBC
  7. Meet Sanduk Ruit and Geoff Tabin, two eye doctors responsible for helping restore sight to 4 million people in two dozen countries, including North Korea and Ethiopia. CBS
  8. Premature deaths for the world’s four biggest noncommunicable diseases­ — cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory — have declined by 16% since 2000. World Bank
  9. Global abortion rates have fallen from around 40 procedures per 1,000 women in the early 1990s, to 35 procedures per 1,000 women today. In the United States, abortion rates have reached their lowest level since 1973. Vox
  10. In July, UNAIDS, revealed that for the first time in history, half of all people on the planet with HIV are now getting treatment, and that AIDS deaths have dropped by half since 2005. Science Mag
  11. There were only 26 cases of Guinea worm in 2017, down from 3.5 million cases in 21 countries in Africa and Asia in 1986. Devex
  12. The United Kingdom announced a 20% fall in the incidence of dementia over the past two decades, meaning 40,000 fewer people are being affected every year. iNews
  13. Thanks to better access to clean water and sanitation, the number of children around the world who are dying from diarrhoea has fallen by a third since 2005. BBC
  14. Leprosy is now easily treatable. The number of worldwide cases has dropped by 97% since 1985, and a new plan has set 2020 as the target for the end of the disease. New York Times
  15. In October, new research from the Center for Disease Control revealed that between 2000 and 2016, the measles vaccine saved 20.4 million lives.
  16. And on the 17th November, the WHO said that global deaths from tuberculosis have fallen by 37% since 2000, saving an estimated 53 million lives. These astonishing achievements were of course, reported by every media outlet on the planet.
  17. Chile set aside 11 million acres of land for national parks in Patagonia, following the largest ever private land donation from a private entity to a country. Smithsonian
  18. China invested more than $100 billion into treating and preventing water pollution, and launched nearly 8,000 water clean-up projects in the first half of 2017. Reuters
  19. The United States, Russia, China and the European Union reached a deal to make the Arctic off-limits to commercial fishers for the next 16 years. Science Mag
  20. In July, 1.5 million people in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh set a new Guinness record for reforestation by planting more than 67 million trees in a 12 hour period. RT
  21. A province in Pakistan announced it has planted 1 billion trees in two years, in response to the terrible floods of 2015. Independent
  22. In August, the Canadian government and Inuit groups signed a deal to create the Serengeti of the Arctic’ by far the largest marine reserve in the country’s history. Globe & Mail
  23. A month later, one of the world’s largest marine parks was created off the coast of Easter Island, and will protect 142 species, including 27 threatened with extinction. Guardian
  24. The EU imposed new, stricter limits on pollutants such as nitrogen, sulphur, mercury and particulates that will apply to all 2,900 of Europe’s large power plants. Reuters
  25. China carried out its largest ever crackdown on pollution, reprimanding, fining or jailing officials in 80,000 factories, 40% of the country’s total. NPR
  26. Indonesia pledged $1 billion to clean up its seas from plastic, Kenya announced a ban on plastic bags, and Chile said it will ban them in its coastal cities (30 countries now have existing or impending bans in place). ABC
  27. Eleven countries continued their plan to build a wall of trees from east to west across Africa in order to push back the desert. In Senegal, it’s already working. BBC World Hacks
  28. Cameroon committed to restoring over 12 million hectares of forest in the Congo Basin, and Brazil started a project to plan 73 million trees, the largest tropical reforestation project in history. Fast Co.
  29. In November, Mexico’s government created a new 148,000 square kilometer ocean reserve,the Galapagos of North America’ for the conservation of hundreds of species, including rays, humpback whales, sea turtles, lizards and migratory birds. Reuters
  30. In 2017, the ozone hole shrunk to its smallest size since 1988, the year Bobby McFerrin topped the charts with ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy.’ CNET
  31. The International Energy Agency announced that nearly 1.2 billion people around the world have gained access to electricity in the last 16 years.
  32. In February, the World Bank published new figures showing that 20 years ago, the average malnourished person on planet Earth consumed 155 fewer calories per day than they needed. Today, that number is down to 88.
  33. Since 2000, life expectancy in Rwanda is up from 49 to 64, child mortality is down more than two-thirds, maternal mortality is down nearly 80%, and HIV/AIDS prevalence is down from 13% to 3%. Mail & Guardian
  34. In the last three years, the number of people in China living below the poverty line decreased from 99 million to 43.4 million. And since 2010, income inequality has been falling steadily. Quartz
  35. 275 million Indians gained access to proper sanitation between 2014 and 2017. Gates Notes
  36. In 1991 more than 40% of Bangladesh lived in extreme poverty. The World Bank said this year that the number has now dropped to 14% (equating to 50 million fewer people). Quartz
  37. The United States’ official poverty rate reached 12.7%, the lowest level since the end of the global financial crisis. And the child-poverty rate reached an all time low, dropping to 15.6%. The Atlantic
  38. Between 2005 and 2017, Afghanistan built 16,000 schools, the nation-wide literacy rate increased by 5%, and the youth literacy rate increased by more than 16%. USAID
  39. In October, a new report by the International Labour Organisation revealed that global child labour has plummeted. In 2016, there were 98 million fewer boys and girls being exploited than in 2000. CS Monitor
  40. Sweden committed to phasing out all carbon emissions by 2045, and the country’s largest pension fund divested from six companies that violate the Paris Agreement, including Exxon, Gazprom and TransCanada. CleanTechnica
  41. New figures at the beginning of the year showed that the global coal industry is taking a hammering. A 48% drop in pre-construction activity, a 62% drop in construction starts and a 19% drop in ongoing construction. CoalSwarm
  42. In May, a shareholder rebellion forced ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, to start reporting on the effect of preventing climate change on its bottom line. Washington Post
  43. France stopped granting all licences for oil and gas exploration, and said it will phase out all production by 2040, a major transition towards clean energy being driven by the new Macron government. Bloomberg
  44. Deutsche Bank, one of the coal industry’s biggest financiers, announced it would stop financing all new coal projects. Ouch.
  45. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the largest pile of money on the planet, announced they were officially divesting from all fossil fuels, and the global insurance industry has pulled $20 billion. Telegraph
  46. In 2017, the United Kingdom, France and Finland all agreed to ban the sale of any new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
  47. China continued its all out war on coal, stopping construction on more than 150GW of coal plants, and laying off more than 700,000 coal workers since 2014. CleanTechnica
  48. In one of the great climate change victories of our time, TransCanada terminated its tar sands pipeline, triggering a $1 billion loss and ending an epic 4 year battle between politicians, big oil, environmentalists and indigenous communities. Calgary Herald
  49. On the eve of one of their major feast days, 40 Catholic institutions on five different continents announced the largest ever religious divestment from fossil fuels. Catholic Reporter
  50. In the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, carbon emissions fell to the lowest levels since 1894, and on the 21st of April the country did not burn coal for the first time in 140 years. Independent UK
  51. In November, a new global alliance of more than 20 countries, including the UK, France, Mexico, Canada and Finland, committed to ending their use of coal before 2030. BBC
  52. The cost of solar and wind plummeted by more than 25% in 2017, shifting the global clean energy industry on its axis. Think Progress
  53. The cost of solar plants in the United States dropped by 30% in one year and in the United Kingdom, the price of offshore wind dropped by half in less than two years.
  54. Solar energy is now responsible for one in every 50 new jobs created in the United States, and the clean energy sector is growing at 12 times the rate of the rest of the economy. CNBC
  55. In June, South Korea announced a major U-turn on energy, shifting one of the world’s staunchest supporters of coal and nuclear power toward natural gas and renewables. Reuters
  56. JP Morgan Chase said it will source 100% of its energy from renewables by 2020 and will facilitate $200 billion in clean financing through 2025. PV Tech
  57. General Motors believes “the future is all-electricVolkswagen announced it’s investing 70 billion euros and “putting its full force behind a shift into electric cars” and Volvo said that starting in 2019 it will only make fully electric or hybrid cars the end of the combustion engine-powered car.Atlantic
  58. China is going to install 54GW of solar by the end of 2017, more than any country has ever previously deployed in a single year, and doubled their 2020 goal to 213 GW. PV Magazine
  59. The world’s largest carbon emitter also announced that their Paris Agreement pledges will now be met a decade ahead of schedule, with emissions forecast to peak in 2018. Australian Financial Review
  60. Following in China’s footsteps, India more than doubled its solar installations in 2017, accounting for more than 40% of new capacity, the largest addition to the grid of any energy source. Quartz
  61. A new report from the European Union said that between 1990 and 2016 the continent cut its carbon emissions by 23% while the economy grew by 53%. So much for the propaganda of fossil fuel lobbyists… CleanTechnica
  62. On the 21st January 2017, the Women’s March became the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history. Washington Post
  63. On International Women’s Day 2017, Iceland became the first country in the world to make equal pay compulsory by law. Two days later, India passed a bill giving every working woman in the country 26 weeks of compulsory maternity leave. Economic Times
  64. Thanks to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, suicide attempts by LGBT teenagers have decreased by 14% in US high schools since 2014. Guardian
  65. In May, Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled in favour of allowing same-sex marriage, becoming the first Asian country to do so. SCMP
  66. Saudi Arabia said women would no longer need male permission to travel or study. A few months later, women received the right to drive. BBC
  67. New figures showed that the gender pay gap in the United States has narrowed from 36% in 1980 to 17% today. For young women the gap has narrowed even further, and now stands at 10%. Pew Research
  68. Women now occupy 23% of parliamentary seats around the world, up from 12% in 1997. The Middle East and North Africa have seen a fourfold increase in that time. World Bank
  69. As plunging crime closed prisons across the Netherlands, the government started turning them into housing and cultural hubs for ten of thousands of refugees instead. Fast Company
  70. New data showed that young people are officially less racist than old people. The worldwide trend is towards towards less discrimination on the grounds of skin tone or caste. Quartz
  71. 17% of newlyweds in the United States now marry someone of a different race or ethnicity, a fivefold increase since 1967, when interracial marriage was legalised. Pew Research
  72. The immigrant population of the US (people born in another country) has now reached 43.7 million people, one out of every eight residents, the highest proportion in 106 years. CIS
  73. Canada became the 9th country to allow a third gender, rather than male or female, on passports and government documents. That came two months after country number 8, Pakistan. Vox
  74. India’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling confirming the right of the country’s LGBTQ people to express their sexuality without discrimination. Independent UK
  75. California became the first US state to legally recognise nonbinary genders, and Germany’s top court ruled that lawmakers must legally recognise a third gender from birth. CNN
  76. In December, Australia became the 26th country to legalise same sex marriage. A wonderful victory, hard fought for by so many brave people. About bloody time. ABC
  77. Global deaths from terrorism dropped by 22% from their peak in 2014, thanks to significant declines in four of the five countries most impacted: Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. ReliefWeb
  78. After quintupling between 1974 and 2007, the imprisonment rate in the United States is now dropping in a majority of states. New York Times
  79. The number of executions recorded worldwide fell by 37% since 2015. The decline was largely driven by fewer deaths recorded in Iran and Pakistan. BBC
  80. You didn’t see this story in the evening news — in June, we heard that the homicide rate in Australia has dropped to one victim per 100,000 people, the lowest ever recorded. Guardian
  81. Rates of violent crime and property crime have dropped by around 50% in the United States since 1990, yet a majority of people still believe it’s gotten worse. Pew Research
  82. A new report showed that incidents of bullying and the number of violent attacks in American public schools have decreased significantly since 2010. Associated Press
  83. The European Union passed fresh rules that make it more difficult for armed groups to finance their activities through the sale of conflict minerals.
  84. Heckler & Koch, the world’s deadliest arms manufacturer, announced it would end gun sales to countries falling short of corruption and democracy standards. Deutsche Welle
  85. Nepal passed a law criminalising an ancient Hindu practice called chhaupadi that banishes women from the home during menstruation and after childbirth. Al Jazeera
  86. Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon repealed provisions in their penal codes that allow rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. Al Jazeera
  87. India’s Supreme Court outlawed non-consensual marital sex with child brides, and raised the age of sexual consent for all women to 18. CNN
  88. Snow leopards have been on the endangered list since 1972. In 2017, they were taken off, as the wild population has now increased to more than 10,000 animals. BBC
  89. In March, in a big win for two of the world’s most endangered big cats, the Amur leopard and tiger, China approved a national park 60% larger than Yellowstone. HuffPost
  90. Taiwan became the first Asian country to ban the eating of cats and dogs, with new laws imposing fines for consumption and jail time for killing and cruelty. National Geographic
  91. A decrease in pollution in the Ganges brought Gangetic dolphins, one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world, back from the brink of extinction. Hindustan Times
  92. Germany banned fur farming. This followed similar decisions by Japan and Croatia within the last year. A victory that was two decades in the making. Well done PETA.
  93. Vietnam agreed to end bear farming, and said it would work with Animals Asia to rescue 1,000 remaining caged animals.
  94. The British government unveiled new plans to require compulsory CCTV cameras in all slaughterhouses, in order to enforce laws against animal cruelty. Guardian
  95. In more than 60 regions across the globe, more populations of large sea turtles are improving than declining, a big change from a decade or two ago. Associated Press
  96. China agreed to ban the domestic ivory trade in 2017. By mid year, the price of raw ivory in Asia had fallen by around half. And in October, the UK government banned the sale and export of all ivory items. BBC
  97. Gucci announced it would go fur-free in 2018 and auction off all remaining fur items. It follows in the footsteps of Armani, which went fur free in 2016. Harper’s Bazaar
  98. One of China’s richest women, He Qiaonv, announced a $2 billion donation for wildlife conservation, the largest environmental philanthropic pledge of all time. Bloomberg
  99. The Indian government officially banned the use of all wild animals in circus performances. One month later, the Italian parliament did the same. 40 nations now have animal circus bans in place. Inhabit

If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we need to change the stories we tell ourselves.

Our newsletter is a great place to start.

You can also catch us on Facebook and Twitter.”


A Boxing Day Tradition Reflected in Poetry, Purposeful Proaction and Painting.

December 26th 2017.

After the momentousness of 2017, it was a relief to hunker down with my family and once again to ground myself in important Life ingredients: fun, laughter, compassion, generosity of spirit and love in all its funny little forms. As becomes an older family member, I was part tourist and part-contributor. Tourist, as I observed and sampled the rituals and events (and dishes) that had become important to my children and grandchildren; some were outgrowths of my traditions and some were completely unrelated to the ways I used to manage Christmas Celebrations. I found that setting aside my habitual expectations was a relief and also made the time we spent together much more enjoyable.

Now it is Boxing Day, and, in English tradition, time to consider the needs of others. (some would note that it is a massive sporting day!) Sports aside, I reflect on large scale needs and how I might act in relation to them.

For these last few months my email inboxes and house mailbox have been jammed with warnings and pleas for contributions – much, much more than I could reasonably respond to – and also with cries of ALARM, DESPAIR, and calls to Resist, (all in CAPS accompanied by exclamation points!!!!!!) There were so many that I often felt bruised and depressed. What world, what country are my grandsons growing into?

I am not one just to sit in denial for long– although it is very tempting – I decided to work out some coping strategies for myself. These constitute framing how I can offer just a “widow’s mite” to everything that needs to be done and understanding that there are, by no means, magic bullets or ”one right way to save everything”. It helps to  know that there are many more people like me out there with humble but important contributions.

Long ago I was often encouraged by John Seed, a Rainforest activist from Australia, who was fond of saying “We are not looking to persuade everyone. We just need to reach tipping point. And you never know,  the next person you talk to may be the tipping point.”

Years ago I drew a portrait of the remaining members of a few species thinking that the drawing would help people see their beauty and help to stop their disappearance. I have not had the courage since to see if any of the creatures depicted have made a comeback or even survived. I had high hopes then that we humans would soon reach a tipping point and the destruction would stop. But I forget that it takes a long time to recover from centuries of damage and it requires patience and concerted effort to reverse the processes our ancestors put in place. (Except of course for the indigenous people on every continent)

This post is dedicated to Tipping Points!

Having settled on the scale of my own modest possibilities for proactive participation, I needed to contemplate the direction of my path. In doing so, I started to build my coping and my strategies. My reflections often  connect 2 images, which are deeply embedded in my felt memory.

One is of the dense jungle (The Bush) of Guyana, my childhood home, and the other a newly clear-cut area in Mendocino County, California, where I lived for a time as an adult. I still remember the pain when I saw the silent, desolate clear-cut and how I wept long and hard. It was such a sad contrast to the vibrant Bush, of which I had written the following:

“…..when it rains in the tropics after a long, dry season, it feels like a miracle.……The drumming of huge warm drops on every surface breaks the spell of quiet, drowsy waiting.  In response, a frenzied dance of wild growing begins. To be on the edge of the Bush after a downpour, is to be caught up by the stir, body buzzing in rhythm with all the strivings of surrounding growth. Each plant and tree, it seems, is birthing whole new generations with such energy that the air vibrates. Birds and monkeys scream with joy, accompanied by the sounds from orchestras of insects. I feel the life inside me, and outside. I know that Nature is alive and much bigger than I am. “ (1995) 1

The juxtaposition of these two memories continues to give impetus to my project. I have to decide where my efforts are going to be made. One of my needs is to be involved in something that inspires me and gives me hope. Funnily enough I note that when I am protecting and nurturing, I feel protected and nurtured.

I read that there are places on the planet that are like cradles – nurseries for huge number of diverse species. In the name of enlightened self-interest, I want to help protect these nurseries so that they thrive and eventually spill over into areas that we have turned into cemeteries for millions of other life-forms.

One of these nurseries is the Amazon Headwaters. There are others to be protected as “No-Take” reserves in the oceans. An oceanographer inspires when he says that if we made 20% of the oceans into no-take reserves there would be a great chance for healthy oceans.

These give me hope. Researching the protectors is easy online. I am thrilled to find that there are a number of organizations at work to protect these bio-diversity “nurseries”. (2  and 3)

During my reflection process, where I typically use images, in paint, I find myself  I returning to my own habitat – my garden. I discover that bees are flying into my paintings. My attention also becomes focused on the precious bee. Consequently I am making my garden a welcoming place for them. And petitioning against the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture and gardens. I am encouraged to hear in the November news that Europe is banning their use.

The painting that follows is an homage to bees – it incorporates a poem by Mary Oliver, which is on The Honeybee Conservancy web page (

Mary Oliver has a way of opening up language to expand experience.



What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They’re small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness? The little
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing. I have found them-haven’t you?—
stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings
a little tattered-so much flying about, to the hive,
then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,
should the task be to be a scout- sweet, dancing bee.
I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t
admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I
haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,
and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and
read books, I have to
take them off and bend close to study and
understand what is happening. It’s not hard, it’s in fact
as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,
it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.


bees 2

Discovering the sweet joy in little things.


  1. From “Mindscapes into Landscapes” M.Kellen-Taylor, p85
  2. Several Amazon Headwaters Protection Organizations; Pachamama Alliance; WWF; Blue Moon Fund; Wyss Foundation; Upper Amazon Conservancy and more
  3. Enric Sala’s Ted Talk at



After a long absence

Events of the last few months have made it so easy to feel powerless!

Seeing news footage of the ocean pouring over the Malecon in Havana, floods in the streets of New Orleans, fires raging through Santa Rosa, I walk through these familiar places in my memory, grieving. I worry about the safety of friends and try to quell horrific images of fleeing people, animals, birds. We inhale the smoke from the ever-encroaching Los Angeles fires. As I read about the reckless short- sighted cupidity of government law-makers, a feeling of mounting hopelessness for the fate of the world that I love, and was certain would endure, overcomes me. I long to hide my head under the blankets.

                                                …and then I think of Jay.

 I had the great good fortune to meet him when I recently co-led an art/collage group on expressing cultural values for low-income seniors. He rolled into the class in his electric wheelchair, his beaming smile lighting a pathway into the group.  I looked from his deformed hands to his smiling face filled with expectancy and I resolved that, if this man wants to create something, we would make it happen. The project – to collage a box that would not only remind people they are creative and to express their values but it would be a box to store special objects.

The first week when I was getting signed photo releases from everyone, he refused.

Jay and I settled at our own table. The first challenge was how to communicate because he is deaf and mute and I don’t know how to sign.  I quickly learned that he can force a pen between two fingers and write, so with the aid of a small whiteboard, we conversed.  In answer to my written question about what is important to him, he wrote the names of the Los Angeles basketball and baseball teams. This is where my learning began.

I noted how he painstakingly picked up sheets of paper, forced his working fingers (two on each hand) into the handles of scissors and cut out his collage materials. He carefully looked at each of 35 pages of photographs I downloaded from his team’s webpage and selected those he wanted to use.

On week 3 he wrote “take my photo!” and on Week 4, I presented him with several copies of his infectiously, good-humored face.

Over the series of classes he assembled, cut, composed and glued the pictures in place. I steadied the paper sometimes, took the top off the glue, brought in an exacto tool and cutting board and marveled at his focus and determination. The box became an object of art that was meaningful to him and I must confess, to me and everyone else in the group working at another table. My encouragement was transmitted with gestures, smiles and a few words scrawled on the board. In turn, I never left the classroom without being uplifted by his enthusiastic attitude.

winning box

I wanted to know more about this important bond between his team and his feelings about himself. The obvious connection was Jay absorbing the images of strong, lithe, powerful and successful African-American men. I remembered a practice where Zen painting teachers tell their students to sit with their subjects – be it rock or a tree-  “until their souls intertwined”. It seemed to be so here. Jay could become one of these magnificent athletes and heroes for a short and glorious time. (As an aside, Social Psychologists understand that identity is social and that if an individual is proud of the group to which he or she belongs, their sense of self is strengthened. They also know that belonging is one of the top psychological needs and motivators. (Harre,

Every week Jay wheeled in, beaming and waving his arm like a stick. Every week he settled into his labors. Every week he progressed towards completion.

I asked him to point out words from a list of values to incorporate into his work. He chose Education, Winning, Fun, Belonging, Beauty, Collaboration and I continued my learning. And yes, sports are all of those and Life too!

The highlight of his art-making was to place a picture of a poster in his box as the first thing to see when the lid comes off. His motto and that of his team……


And if this man can feel this as he deals with enormous challenges – every day and up close – I ask myself “who am I to give up??”



(photos- M.Kellen-Taylor 2017)

OWLS Poetry

singing ink

Poetry is just the evidence of life – Leonard Cohen

“I just don’t read poetry!” the young mother said, as she watched her toddler drawing in the shade of a tree with obvious delight.

After a moment’s reflection, she continued, “There was some poetry in a high school class – but I didn’t get it.

It was too hard to understand!”




I thought of the OWLS**, a group of women in their seventies, and their poetry teacher, Oshea Luja. How they all revel in poetry! And I silently wished something similar for the mother when she reached “retirement age”.

One of an enthralled audience last weekend,  I watched the OWLS speaking their poetry with tenderness, passion and joy.  It was the long-awaited launch of their exciting first anthology “Singing Ink”.

Every Wednesday, in the library of their senior apartment building, they meet with their guides and teachers, Oshea and Melanie Luja.  Oshea and his Muse, Melanie, are talented and acclaimed Spoken Word Artists (Food4Thot and Queen Socks) and to this community of poets, they are also gently encouraging and greatly inspiring guides.

What does poetry mean to the OWLs?  Obviously discipline, but also commitment, and community, — yet there’s more!  In their own words from “Singing Ink “:

Kit, who never ever seems to stop writing, “Poetry is my bliss/The cosmos whirling inside my bones/The hard work of plucking the miraculous/ From thistles”

Dolly, who now laughs at how often she has incredulously asked if her writing is poetry, answers “Translucence of words/becomes a mirror reflecting my life/embodying forgotten memories”

Felicia, who asks many questions in her poems, including those about the process of poetry “What walls have I hit?/ What is standing in my way?/ I see my shadow standing in my way./Dare I push her aside to meet my creative needs?”

Abigail writes “To my surprise/ I bleed joy/ I was waiting for pain and sorrow and rage/and here is joy.”

Jo-Lynda, after a lifetime of writing, affirms that “a poem/will gush forth/becoming a stream/a river, the sea/pressed down/and overflowing/covering the planet/with verse.”

Oshea describes the meetings where “a word orchestra took place. Readings were shared and the fabric of this group’s melody began to sing beautiful ink across the fabric of these pages…..while we’re here, we have decided to play every note, every sound, chord, piano key, and sing our beautiful song like no one’s listening, watching or judging.”

For my part, I see you, poets!

I believe in you!

And I gratefully hold you as inspiration to create fulfilling lives as you age.

(Who knows, I may even write a poem or two one day! Until then, yours is there to savor.)

Singing Ink by Felicia Soissons-Segal, Kit Harper, Dolly Brittan, Abigail Howard and Jo Lynda Blake is available on Amazon Books.

(** as you will discover in the introduction, OWLS initially called themselves “Old White Women” but, after processing in their group some of the racial divisiveness afflicting the country, and experiencing together the universality of being human, they are now Oshea’s Wise Ladies.)