Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gardening for Bees

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I have three gardens: one is my front landscape, one is specifically for butterflies, and one is for veggies to feed my family.  The landscape and butterfly gardens are also a favorite haunt of many different kinds of insects, including bees.
 
I get excited when I see bees these days, because worldwide, they're in decline, just like butterflies.  Beekeepers have been reporting a 30 to 50 percent loss of their hives.  That's staggering, and it means trouble for our food industry.  We are much more dependent on bees than most people realize for our fruits and vegetables.  Losing them would mean a huge hole in the food web, and we could find ourselves quite literally starving.
 
The Culprit
 
Research is pointing at systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids, which infiltrate all parts of the plants on which they are used.  That includes the pollen which bees collect and eat.  This mass application of a pesticide is having a ripple effect that, ultimately, harms our food supply rather than helping it.
 
Pesticides are not a new threat.  In 1962, Rachel Carson published a book called Silent Spring, which addressed the negative effects of pesticides on birds.  More than fifty years later, we're still fighting this fight, and it's hard to understand why.
 
Bee-ing the Solution
 
What can you do?  Well, you can do what I did: plant native-plant gardens, and vow to go pesticide-free.  There are many articles and resources on environmental gardening, and the results are healthier for you and your planet.  Share your yard with insects and wildlife, and form a mutual respect for your wild neighbors.  (Most bees are actually quite docile - too busy dotting your flowers in search of pollen to be bothered with you!)
 
There are caveats to bee- and butterfly-friendly plant claims.  A recent article in Organic Gardening caught my attention on this subject, and I did some investigating.  The environmental group Friends of the Earth tested a small sampling of plants purchased from major chain stores like Home Depot and Lowe's.  They found neonicotinoids in over half of the plants tested, even though the plants were labeled "bee friendly."  So, a warning: although that species of aster might be favored by bees, the specimen you're looking at could poison them.
 
Your best bet is to find plants from reputable garden centers that use no pesticides on their bee-friendly stock ... or from a friendly, local gardener who does the same.  Neonicotinoids can stay present in plant tissue for several years, so you could be doing harm to the bee and butterfly populations without even realizing it.  Make sure that what you put into your garden is truly organic and pesticide-free.  The bees will thank you by making sure your flowers, fruits and vegetables come back fuller and more robust each year.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Movie Review: The Lego Movie


If you have a kid, you've heard about this.  Trailers have been all over TV, so unless you're living under a rock, you know that Lego has created a movie with virtually every recognizable Lego character ever.
 
And if you're like me, and you have a 7-year-old kid, you're gonna go see it.
 
Which is totally worth it.
 
The family had a special outing today to watch The Lego Movie, and from what we'd seen in previews, we were expecting a few laughs.  Ordinary Lego construction worker Emmet discovers that he is the "Special," destined to save all Lego-dom from permanent gluing.  There are lots of recognizable Lego figures and sets, and it's not all for the kids.  Adults will have fun with the dramatic irony and wisecracks sprinkled throughout the film.  (This one's for you, Expensive Coffee Drinker.)  Lots of laughs for adults and kids alike.
 
What really brought this movie up from a mere "OK" rating is the last fifteen minutes or so.  I don't want to spoil it for you, so what I will say is that it will make you remember what it's like to be a kid.  The adventure is fun, if typical, but there's that extra element to it that makes it so much better.  Even though the movie could be considered a giant ad for Lego, it's worth the viewing, and you're going to want to hug your children afterward.  And maybe buy a set of Lego and play with them.
 
Er, and invite your kid.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Kickstarting Your Creativity #2


In my last entry, I discussed boosting your muse by using writing prompts, which are short scenarios designed to get you writing in order to answer questions.

There are many such ways to pump up your creativity, and one of my favorites is music.  While some writers find they can't do anything unless it's in total silence (and, I admit, most of WATER was written that way, even though I create a playlist for each book), I find music extremely helpful.  The right song helps me visualize a scene as though I'm watching a movie.  For example, when I wrote EARTH, I used a great deal of country music, including many of the songs from the score of "The Horse Whisperer." (The song "Hooking On" helped me write a key scene between Kincade and Allyson.  The mood of the piece is ethereal and mysterious, which is exactly the atmosphere the scene needed.)  I simply set a particular song on "repeat," and write until the scene is finished.  Lyrics?  No lyrics?  Fast and loud?  Slow and sensual?  Use whatever the book requires!
 
For different books, I switch gears.  My upcoming book, FLASHPOINT (Book Two in The Gifted Series), is quite a bit more action-based, and the music I chose for its playlist reflects that.  For an important scene involving a rescue, I used Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero," during which Hakon quite literally plays the hero.
 
Don't feel that your readers need to like (or even know) the music you use for your book's playlist.  Tastes vary widely, and a turn-on to you may be a turn-off for someone else.  It's a tool to get the job done, and no one needs to see (or hear) it but you.  That said, a playlist is one of those book tidbits you may want to share on your author website.  Readers love to come to your site to discover a little more about the books they love.  (I haven't done so, but I won't rule it out forever!)
 
So, there you have it: another way to kickstart your creativity.  Keep writing!