Earth Day 2018



The State of the Planet

and What You Can Do to Help Fix It

So here we are again, April 22, Earth Day, the one day a year that belongs to the “Mother of us all,” Senator Gaylord Nelson, environmentalist, conservationist, consumer advocate, small business proponent and a lover of peace founded the first Earth Day, held April 22, 1970, a “teach-in” to raise the nation’s awareness on environmental issues. About 20 million people showed up and Nelson’s efforts paid off, resulting in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency on December 2, 1970 by then President Richard Nixon.  It also led to the expansion of some of our most important national legislation like the Clean Air Act, (originally passed in 1963 and amended in 1970), and the Clean Water Act (originally enacted in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and reorganized and expanded in 1972).  Now, almost 50 years later, we’re still gathering, raising awareness, and trying to do right by Mom because that’s what kids are supposed to do, right?

According to the Brookings Institute,  the UN, the World Health Organization, among other organizations, and good ole’ common sense, we need to do a little better, particularly when it comes to environmental policy.  It’s no secret that the current administration is not a fan of the environment, preferring to focus on the economy and building borders, but  I believe it’s safe to say that good environmental policy = good economic policy, especially with all the new technology out there waiting to be developed, so let’s get on that, people and save the planet while we’re making a few bucks.  

In the interim, here are a few things happening in the U.S. and around the globe, like the good, the bad, and the ugly of environmental issues.  I’ll let you decide what categories they each belong in.

  1. U.S. household water use, thanks to states like California who, probably thanks to climate change, always seems to be in a drought these days, has returned to 1990 levels.  
  2. The Paris Climate Accord which hopes to reign in climate change, one of the biggest challenges of our lifetimes, is going strong, but sadly, without the presence of the U.S. who pulled out of the deal last year and is showing no signs of changing its mind.  
  3. Plastics, that ubiquitous compound that has improved our lives on so many levels, is not going away any time soon.  From a product standpoint, that’s good, but from an environmental one, it’s scary.
  4. Over 2.3 billion people don’t have access to improved sanitation (and are often forced to defecate in the open) while about 1 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water.  Think about that the next time you turn on the tap.
  5. The water burden is women’s burden and it results in all kinds of health and economic disparity.
  6. We are going extinct and we didn’t even know it, and it’s happening at levels that were last seen when we lost Tyrannosaurus Rex.  
  7. Civility has left the building, just like Elvis.  I don’t need to give you a link for you to see this one.  Just walk out your door.  We’ve are being horrible to each other and we’ve got to stop.  

So what can you do to contribute?  There are so many things, way too numerous to mention, but anything you can do to improve your little part of the world will help.  As for me, I helped plant a rain garden with a group of high school students and some lovely homeowners who wanted to do their part for the planet.  

Rain gardens look cool, they help water hang around for a while so it can seep slowly back to groundwater rather than rush off down the storm drain, they filter out toxins and pollutants from entering the streams and rivers so they improve water quality, and it’s another connection with your mother, earth, that is.


Earth Day is not just about bugs and bunnies, but people, too.  We are part of the earth, just like the soil, the sand, and the air we breathe, and we need to replenish ourselves the same way we need to replenish our mother. So before you dismiss Earth Day as just some environmentalist fluff, remember, we’re all stuck together here on this tiny little globe so if Mom says go take out the trash, or clean up your room, or don’t throw your smelly socks on the floor for someone else to pick up, maybe it’s time to listen to her.

Make this Earth Day count.

pjlazos 4.22.18

p.s. and coincidentally, just found out that we got an award for our efforts.  This is the third of four planned rain gardens this school year.  It feels awesome to be part of this team effort.

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Cleanup In Aisle 7!

Cleanup in Aisle 7

We’ve all heard the term nature abhors a vacuum, meaning nature makes use of all its spaces even if it’s just a space filled with air.  We humans have interpreted it a little differently, sadly, and taken things all too literally.  Every day we watch the world’s farmland giving way to more development, our forests (the earth’s lungs) being burned and converted to graze cattle and grow coffee beans, our very identities merged with artificial intelligence (thanks, Apple and Alexa), and the rules about what it means to be a human living on planet earth blurring more all the time.

Despite the rhetoric we spout to our kids about playing nice with others, we adults don’t always heed our own advice, especially if there’s something we want, but there are times — generally in crisis — when people of different mindsets do work well together (I hope that doesn’t mean we need an alien invasion to stem the growing tide of populism, but that’s a topic for another blog post.).

So what a delight to find that there are not only people but entire organizations working well together and on behalf of the environment.  The William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia is pumping $42 million into protecting the Delaware River watershed, an enormous amount given over to an enormously important river.  The Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) is a collaboration among 65 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), showcasing the power of partnerships.

The Delaware River provides drinking water for 15 million people as well as shipping for supertankers, fishing for the most enthusiastic fishermen, kayaking, boating, swimming, and other recreational activities.  It houses industry along its shores, and preservation for some of its wetlands, all the while being the longest undammed river this side of the Mississippi.  Having a coalition to keep the pollution in check, make recommendations for improvements, and monitor water quality, among other things, was the best thing that could have happened to the river.  Great things can happen when we lead with science!

So three cheers for the William Penn Foundation.  Your benefactor would be proud.  Long may the Delaware River flow clean, clear, and unimpeded.  Truth is, there’s a lot of work to do to get to clean and clear, but never underestimate the power of commitment.

Back when I was writing Oil and Water, I did my own research on oil spills along the Delaware.  I’ll leave you with this little excerpt from the book.  Enjoy.

pjlazos 4.16.18



The Delaware River, the longest undammed and only remaining major free-flowing river east of the Mississippi, also lays claim to the largest freshwater port in the world. The river flows three hundred and thirty miles from Hancock, New York, and makes a pit stop in the Delaware Bay before spilling into the Atlantic Ocean. It serves as the dividing line between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and services twenty million residents of the New York, New Jersey and the Philadelphia area with drinking water. Washington’s famous Christmas Eve ping-ponging across the river began and ended on the banks of the Delaware at Trenton, New Jersey. But the river’s abundance isn’t limited to battles, boundary lines and the provision of potable water. It’s a dichotomy in uses: heavy industry draws on her for its needs as do bald eagles and world-class trout fisheries. As evidence of the latter, about one hundred and fifty miles of this magnificent river has been included in the U.S. National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

In the late 1800s, approximately one million Philadelphians lived within the boundaries of America’s third largest city, which boasted the second largest port in the country located in the Delaware Bay. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the entity charged with assuring the river’s safety, dipped its long, federally-funded fingers into a bevy of construction, flood control, and navigational projects designed to improve, among other things, the river’s navigability. In 1878, before Philadelphia had electricity or the telephone, sixteen hundred foreign trade vessels arrived each year, and six thousand coastal trade vessels docked in the river’s port. Trade vessels have given way to supertankers: seventy million tons of cargo arrive in the river’s waters each year. From sails, to steam, to the supertankers, the Delaware River and its Bay have lent their banks and waters to the growth of the interstate and international commerce of not only Philadelphia, but also the nation.

At its deepest point, the Delaware is only forty feet, which means the river can’t abide a thousand foot supertanker between her banks. Roughly the size of three and a half football fields and bearing three million gallons of oil or other cargo, a ship that size has forty-foot drafts, and sits forty feet below the water line, as deep as the river’s most navigable channel. Low tide causes the water levels in the tidally influenced channel from the Delaware Bay to Philadelphia to drop as much as eight feet which would leave a thousand foot ship incapacitated, floundering like a beached whale.

When the Corps of Engineers began its first deepening project in 1855, the depth of the Delaware stood at eighteen feet. The Corps dredged down to the current depth of forty feet during World War II and maintained this depth by periodic dredging and removal of silt buildup in the channel to the tune of about 3.4 million cubic yards a year. Since 1983, the Corps has studied the feasibility of dredging the Delaware’s main shipping channel down to forty-five feet to better accommodate the world commodities market by making the hundred-and-two mile shipping route from the Delaware Bay to Camden, New Jersey, more accessible.

To do so, the Corps would need to remove about twenty-six million cubic yards of silt and sediment from the river bottom and continue removing another 862,000 cubic yards every year thereafter at a cost of approximately $311 million dollars. Cost notwithstanding, the Corps would need a place to put all that sand, clay, silt and bedrock. While federally owned sites have been identified, environmentalists contend that the detrimental effects to drinking water, aquatic and bird life, and the potential contamination from the disposal of dredged material outweigh the benefits. That story — small town need vs. corporate greed; environmental stewardship vs. environmental recklessness; the rights of the few vs. the rights of society — has existed since the dawn of creation, and, because of constraints of space and time, is a story best saved for another day.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

The Ryujin dropped anchor at Big Stone Anchorage at Slaughter Beach, Delaware, in the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The “parking lot” in the Bay was crowded this morning with a dozen supertankers waiting to offload their cargo onto barges that would take the goods upriver to Marcus Hook or Philadelphia Harbor or Becket Street Terminal in Camden, New Jersey. Once offloaded, the supertankers were light enough to make the trip upriver. Some had been waiting as much as a week while tugs and taxis cruised back and forth, bringing food and supplies to the waiting supertankers, crisscrossing the Bay like a checkerboard and leaving white caps in their wake. The great ships were parked far enough apart to allow them to spin on their anchors, a necessity when considering the vagaries of the weather. From the air it looked like a mechanical ballet: dozens of ships turning and gliding on their axes, a synchronized dance brought to life by the formidable forces of wind and tide.

The Ryujin traveled from the Arabian Gulf and had been parked in the Delaware Bay for the last week, awaiting the offloading of a million gallons of its crude oil onto a barge which would make it light enough to navigate the Delaware’s forty foot channel upriver to the Akanabi refinery in Marcus Hook. While waiting, the Ryujin took on skid loads of food, supplies and mechanical parts sufficient to tide her over until arrival at the next port. And since the suppliers were not interested in receiving credit for these transactions, the Ryujin carried vast quantities of cash to pay for those stores as well as armed guards to protect it. The ship’s superstructure housed a three-story engine room, a machine shop, steam turbine and diesel engines, a mess hall, living facilities for her Captain and crew, and a single cat who relished the job of keeping the mouse population down. Where the mice came from was anyone’s guess given that the ship had spent the last three weeks at sea.

Beside the Ryujin sat the Sea Witch, an engineless barge a third the size of the Ryujin, but with considerably less girth. Motored by The Grape Ape, a seventy-five foot, single-screw, diesel-powered tugboat, the Sea Witch sat, waiting to remove a million gallons of elemental crude oil from the Ryujin and shuttle it up the Delaware River channel for her. Afloat on a tidally influenced body of water, both boats were subject to the fickle, yet predictable, moods of the moon.

Named for the Dragon King of the sea, an important Japanese deity said to have the power to control the ebb and flow of the tides with his large mouth, the Ryujin wasn’t living up to its name today. It seemed that the ocean, the Bay, the moon and the tides were all in cahoots, as the Ryujin spun on its anchor at the wind’s ferocious insistence, and the Sea Witch tried to make amends.

The process of lightering was a tricky one. The tanks needed to be drained one at a time in a specific order, or the Captain would have an imbalanced ship with the bow rising higher into the air as each tank was emptied, a disaster in the making. Therefore, the Captain took great pains to ensure that the oil was skimmed off the top of each of the tanks in a controlled fashion, draining some from one tank, moving on to the next, and back and forth until the process was completed.

After several hours, Captain Heston Reed was barking out orders like a man possessed. There was nothing he could do until the barge, the Sea Witch, had tied on, an event that, despite tidal fluctuations, was close to completion. The fendering bumpers, which consisted of a large piping structure encapsulated by dozens and dozens of tires, and worked like a ball bearing in between the two vessels, were lowered into place, the black scrape marks from previous lightering operations still visible on both ships. With the fendering bumpers properly lined up, Captain Reed gave the command and the Sea Witch’s crew tied on to the Ryujin. The giant mooring ropes creaked and groaned as the crew cranked down on the winches, pulling them tightly into position. Satisfied that the ships had no visible gaps between them, Captain Reed signaled the operator of the Sea Witch and gave the go ahead to his own crew. The crew began the arduous process of lowering a dozen twelve-inch round, rigid rubber pipes down some twenty-five feet onto the deck of the Sea Witch. The pipes were attached by cables to small cranes. The cranes swung them into place, enabling the deckhands to make the mechanical connection to a screw coupling which was part of a larger manifold system on the deck of the Sea Witch and which fed into the barge’s holding tanks. The deck hands inserted the pipes and, using a special wrench and the sheer torque of their body weight, screwed the couplings fast. The rubber pipes originated from a similar manifold system on the deck of the Ryujin, and once Captain Reed and the Sea Witch’s operator were satisfied that all mechanical connections were secured, the transferring, or lightering process, could begin. Captain Reed personally checked each of the connections. The individual pipes were hooked to another, larger pipe so the ship and barge operators could control, via computer, which tank would give and which tank would receive the oil.

Captain Reed gave the signal and the Ryujin began offloading its crude, the oil flowing from its holding tanks through the manifold system and into the pipes that would carry it down to the Sea Witch’s manifold system. The rigid rubber pipes lurched forward as the sudden thrust of oil was released. Frank Charlton, the manifold operator, sat in the control house on the barge electronically directing the distribution of oil into the various holding tanks and taking great pains to keep the ship balanced.

“All right?” Captain Reed stepped into the computer room to ascertain for himself the integrity of the operation. There’d be hell to pay if someone made an error on his ship. Charlton nodded and turned briefly to acknowledge his superior officer. Captain Reed took a deep breath and the corner of his mouth twitched, but he did not smile.

“Let me know when it’s done then. I’m going to see about the pilot.”

“Yes sir, Captain,” Charlton replied without taking his eyes off the computer screen.

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I Just Want to Say One Word to You…


I Just Want to Say One Word to You…

Imagine sitting on a beach. It’s hot. You’re thirsty. So you pull one of those handy plastic bottles from your cooler, take a big swig and are instantly refreshed. Or maybe it’s been a long day and you’re on your way to meet your mates and hoist a few hefeweizen. Or your just got up and put the water on for coffee or tea. Then you eat, rinse the breakfast dishes, stick them in the dishwasher, take a shower, wash your hair, brush your teeth, maybe throw in a load of laundry and head off to work. (This is all assuming that you’re not one of the 2 billion people who don’t have access to clean water.)

What if I told you that with every one of those hydro-centric actions, you were also drinking or washing with plastic? That your tea, coffee, water, soda, beer, or other beverage of choice contains tiny bits of plastic so small you need a microscope to see them. That the water you shower or clean your clothes with is also awash in plastic. Well, first you’d call me a liar and then, when you read the data you’d be indignant, and finally, resigned and looking for a way to make sure it didn’t affect you personally by buying a water purification system or maybe moving to New Zealand.

Well, a water purification system probably won’t work and even if it did, it’s not going to help you control the 59 million other places you use or come into contact with water. The ubiquitous and handy little item that we call plastic has infiltrated our lifestyle so succinctly that it might someday be part of the human genome. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a teensy bit, but not when it comes to water. Recent studies have shown that plastic fibers were found in over 83% of tap water samples taken from at least a dozen countries around the world with the U.S. coming in first (“Make America Great Again!”) at a whopping 94% contamination rate. If you think that plastic is not an equal opportunity polluter then hear this — samples were taken at such erudite and lofty sites as Congressional buildings, the U.S. EPA headquarters, and the Trump Tower in New York City. Europe, bless their little recycling hearts only averaged plastic fiber contamination in 72% of the samples, but it’s hard to call that a win.

Plastic has not been found in just tap water. A small study in Ireland also found plastics in some well water samples, and natural springs in Beirut, Lebanon were at a 94% contamination rate. Remember all the hubbub about microbeads and plastic islands floating around the ocean? Well, it’s not just water and marine life that’s being affected by plastic, but also wildlife. As human beings occupy the highest rung on the bioaccumulation chain, it’s really only a matter of time until those nasty little fibers have entered our bodies as well, invading cell walls and generally creating chaos.

Microplastics are in fish, and honey, and the ambient air and seemingly everywhere we turn. Our clothes have plastics woven into them to make them last longer, wear better, keep us warmer, velcro us together, and there’s no denying that these have been terrific advances for humans because no one wants to go mountain climbing in wet wool when there’s Gore-Tex, but at what cost has it come?

One study suggested that 700,000 micro fibers were released with each load of laundry while another suggested that since the 1950’s, 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced with very little recycling to offset it. A staggering 91% of plastic is not recycled, a sobering statistic when we’re cranking out one million plastic bottles a minute and if you add that to all the car parts and phone parts and computer chips and circuitry and milk jugs and orange juice containers and fleece jackets and kites and car tires and all the other things we make, plastic accounts for half of all human waste.

Almost three decades ago when I was in law school and Editor-in-Chief of the Environmental Law and Technology Journal at Temple University, I wrote a paper entitled, “I Just Want to Say One Word to You … Plastics.” If you’re a movie buff, you know that it’s a line from the movie, “The Graduate,” (1967 – directed by Mike Nichols, starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katherine Ross) about a young college graduate who begins an affair with an older woman and later falls in love with her daughter. The line is from a scene at Ben’s (Dustin Hoffman) graduation party where everyone seems to want to give him advice on how to be an adult. I used it as the title of my paper because that period of time marked the beginning of the burgeoning plastics industry and simultaneously the recklessness and throw away attitude with which we began to view the natural world.   The paper called for a federal plastics recycling law which I felt was necessary to give a uniform structure to the process. With plastics recycling, unless you know where the product came from, you have limited ability to do something with it in the future. For example, a plastic container that once held kitty litter cannot in its reincarnated state become a milk jug. To my mind, a federal recycling law that required coding on all plastics made in the country would go a long way toward helping the nascent recycling business take hold.

Without making a long story even longer, the paper never got published. The next editorial board couldn’t figure out where it fit in the journal’s publication since it wasn’t hard core science, discussing the manufacturing of plastics recycling, and it wasn’t hard core legal, citing lots of case law and arguments for and against mainly (because the case law was tangential or non-existent). At the time, recycling was in its toddler years, and the problem of plastic waste was not in the forefront of people’s minds. The paper was basically a call for more regulation, something no one is ever keen on, and by that time it got nixed, I had already been graduated and accepted a job happily protecting human health and the environment so while I was saddened by the reality that no one would read my brilliant treatise on why we needed a federal recycling law, I let it go.

[photo taken at the HAAC 2017 Sustainability conference]

Fast forward twenty-eight years later — we still don’t have a federal recycling law and we are literally awash in plastic. One thing is certain. Money is needed to conduct additional research as the preliminary studies are just the wart on the witches nose. Sources and pathways to ingestion — mouth, skin, lungs — need to be studied and waste water treatment standards and technology need to be improved. AND, we all need to cut down on our use. Buy a stainless steel water bottle, store food in glass containers, don’t buy throwaway items made of cheap plastic like straws and other one-time use items. All these are good places to start. Otherwise, sometime in the future, we won’t be able to tell the humans from the artificially intelligent beings, and where will that leave humanity besides swimming in plastic?

pjlazos 3.25.18

p.s. How about the answer to the question of how many plastic bags the average American uses each year? 335!

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Interview with the Professor — of Horror!

Interview with the Professor — of Horror!

Today’s guest is Professor Charles F. French.  Professor French lives in northeastern, PA in the US of A.  Trained in English Literature, he writes speculative fiction for fun and as a break from grading all those papers.  He has two novels out now:  Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 1, and Gallows Hill: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 2, through an Indie publisher.  He’s been a raconteur for so long he was probably born telling a story, and reading under a tree in the summer is one of his favorite childhood memories.  While each of  his novels has its own message and readers can draw their own conclusions, a consistent theme is predominant throughout Professor French’s writing:  that ordinary people must oppose evil, bullying, and oppression of all kinds.  A lofty goal!


Synopsis for Gallows Hill

Gallows Hill follows the adventures of The Investigative Paranormal Society
after their battle with the demon in French’s first book, Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 1.

Sam Sadlowski, one of the founding members of the Society.  A retired homicide detective, Sam carries the guilt of never understanding why his teenaged son, Josh, a seemingly well-adjusted boy committed suicide. Sam had always been close to his son, yet never noticed any signs of grief or depression.  In Maledicus, an evil from ancient Rome finds its way to the small city of Bethberg, PA.  In Gallows Hill two intrusions from the past invade the present. One is a human criminal, a man Sam helped to put into prison and who now vows revenge, and the other, the ghost of a former preacher/hangman whose severe Puritanical views have driven him to “cleanse” the contemporary world of sin.  Sam now has to decide how to face these two threats—alone or with his friends. Both his life and his sanity depend on his choices.



And now, onto the interview with Charles French:

Gallows Hill sounds like a riveting story, one that is definitely going on my reading list.  Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you? 

This may sound odd, but I picture characters first, and then I try to learn their stories. Only on rare occasions have I first had an idea for a plot before seeing the characters.


How does a Professor of English literature come to write horror?

I have loved Gothic and horror novels for a very long time. I write horror both to tell engaging stories, but more than that because I believe that horror in a supernatural novel is a metaphor for the very real horror in the world. I always try to incorporate some element of society, whether political, social, or otherwise, into my novels.


Tell us about your writing background and process.

I have a Ph.D. in English Literature, which I earned from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. In many ways, it is a natural extension of my lifelong love of books and reading. I have always been a reader and a storyteller, especially while teaching. Writing novels is now the next step in that process.

To answer about where I write, I am not someone who has a particular time and place to work. Because of my working schedule—I teach part-time at two different colleges/universities, and I teach more than full-timers—I work wherever I can. I always keep a tablet with me, and I always write my first drafts by hand. While I can never be certain where I will write, I still try to write one to two pages every day.


I also like writing longhand because your brain processes things differently.  Do you think writing is a form of therapy? Has it helped you work through anything in particular?

I think for some people writing is certainly a form of therapy, but it is not for me. I simply love the act of storytelling.


Pantser or perfectionist who meticulously plots out their stories?

I am definitely a pantser. I have a general idea of where the story will go, and I discover the tale as it unfolds. I am not claiming that writing this way is a better approach than planning carefully; I am simply saying that it is mine.


Favorite author?

My favorite author is Shakespeare. I have loved his work since I was a teenager, and his writings are the one indispensable book for me.


What has been your greatest writing lesson? How about life lesson?

My greatest writing lesson is realizing that the creation of any art is mainly discipline, work, and effort. If a writer waits for inspiration, then it is likely he or she will produce nothing. Making art of any kind requires consistency and work.


If you could be a character in any novel, what character would you be?

That is a very interesting question, and I will go with a character I have enjoyed since I was a boy: D’Artagnan from The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas.


If you had endless options, what would you choose to do with your writing?

It would certainly be nice to earn enough money with the writing that I could cut back to teaching only 2-3 courses a semester. I hope that, in ten years, I am still writing every day. I would like to be able to publish at least one book a year, if not more.  And to travel because I love it.  My favorite place so far is Ireland.


And the final question, do you think writing can save the world and if so, why?

I do not know if writing can save the world, but it certainly can have a positive impact. Certainly reading fiction is one of the best ways to develop empathy in children, and the world can use a great deal more empathy and kindness.


Thank you, Professor, and good luck with your writing!

pjlazos 4.2.18


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It’s time again for the We Are the World Blogfest which is ONE YEAR OLD this month!  Want to know more about this blogfest?  Here are the guidelines for #WATWB:

1. Keep your post to Below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The Link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.

3. No story is too big or small, as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar. Some of you have already done so, this is just a gentle reminder for the others.

5. Help us spread the word on social media. Feel free to tweet, share using the #WATWB hastag to help us trend!

Tweets, Facebook shares, Pins, Instagram, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. We’ll try and follow and share all those who post on the #WATWB hashtag, and we encourage you to do the same.Just click Here to enter their link and join us! Bigger the #WATWB group each month, more the joy!

So, lately it seems like just about everything is under fire.  But  you know what?  There’s always a story to make you feel better.  In fact, here are five stories to make even the cynics among us smile.  From Mr. Roger’s convincing a cynical Congress to give the neighborhood some public broadcasting money, a teacher who stopped a school shooter with a hug, and a victim who took his attacker to dinner, and a couple in between. Who doesn’t like Mr. Roger’s, after all?

pjlazos 3.30.18

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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

This is What Democracy Looks Like

“Show us what democracy looks like!”

“This is what democracy looks like.”

The man behind me chanted the first line while those of us around him chanted the refrain, over and over until we were hoarse.

Two weeks ago, my daughter asked if I would take her to the March for our Lives in D.C. Of course, I said yes. I was there when she took her first steps, attended her first school, played her first sports. I took her to her first concert and I wanted to be there with her for her first peaceful protest. Need I even touch on the pride I feel at having a child who feels compelled to peacefully protest? A week and a half later, she and her friends decide to do the march in Lancaster rather than schlepp to D.C. Their class president was going to be speaking (he read a poem) as were some other kids they knew and it seemed like the better place to be, here at home in our own community where what we think and say and do may actually make a difference. Despite the shift in focus to something more teen-centric, I wasn’t left behind.

“But ask Sam’s mom to go so you won’t be the only mom,” Arianna said. It wouldn’t be the first time Lisa and I tag-teamed to bring our kids somewhere so that was cool, too. This past Saturday, March 24, 2018, we joined with thousands of others in downtown Lancaster to march for something that should automatically come with a social security card here in the States — a violence-free upbringing.


It was a picture perfect early spring day, clear, calm and sunny. We gathered at Clipper Stadium on Prince Street and marched to Binn’s Park on Queen Street where we listened to speaker after speaker, many of whom were teens, give impassioned speeches about ending gun violence. We clapped, chanted, whistled, and, per usual, I got all vaklempt as I do when things of monumental importance occur in my presence. Best of all, we passed the baton to those who are willing to run with it, at least for now — our teenagers.


It is not without guidance, because what have we been doing if not guiding them all these years? It is not without support, because what have we been doing if not supporting them since they were born? It is not without knowledge for haven’t we been educating them since their first day? It is not without courage, because what parent would deliberately allow their child to enter the fray and not worry, on some level, that some insidious or explicit harm would not come to them. In fact, one of my primary reasons for going to the march was to keep my kid safe because what better time for some crazed gunman to enter the scene than a peaceful protest against gun violence on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a little town in Central Pennsylvania?


See how jaded life has made me when this is my first thought? I know I don’t only speak for myself when I say that the world has become a jangly place, like loose change falling from a hole in your pocket, hitting the ground and rolling every which way while you run, helter-skelter to catch it. Life here in the U.S. has been particularly jangly. Institutions that we have come to rely upon to keep order are themselves in disarray. Public posts that have long been the bastion of propriety, leadership, and respect have devolved past the point of confusion and are now mired in chaos and a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) form of anarchy. And there are guns, lots of them, more than when the West was settled, and while the adults among us grapple with our institutions and each other to make sense of what is happening, we find ourselves slogging through a day, a week, a year, trying to get to work and back in one piece, praying that our kids get to school and home in the same one piece.

The question on everyone’s lips yesterday was, “Why do we have to?” Why isn’t this country with all of its resources a more peaceful, verdant place. Why does our government want to arm educators, who, as one sign put it, are teachers, not sharpshooters. And why does the NRA have so much control? They used to teach Boy Scouts gun safety. Now they lobby for gun manufacturer’s and want every teacher to carry. Arianna, who has witnessed how destructive classmates with anger issues can be asked how long I thought it would be until, in that scenario, a kid disarmed his teacher and shot up the room? This is what kids think about!

Yesterday’s march was organized by and for students — and the parents were welcome to go, too. It started after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre with the students in Parkland, Florida and has grown organically. Enough is enough, they said, banding together to make their voices heard not just in Florida, but across the nation. Every day, more teens join. Their voices may shake, but they’re going to speak their minds anyway. And while it’s not the first time teens have protested, it’s the first time I can recall their parents saying, “You know what? You’re right.”

Where we have failed, they will succeed. It feels like a great tsunami of hope is heading our way, and our kids are pulling us parents along with them, parents who weren’t apathetic, but who’ve been sandwiched too long between two demanding generations that still needed them — aging parents and their own growing children — parents who had very little time left to do much of anything that mattered to them.

It’s okay parents. You’ve taught your children well. It’s time to let these impassioned kids maybe not take over, but definitely set the pace. Social change starts with a change of heart. The mind then follows. Why not let the children lead for a while?

This is what democracy looks like.

pjlazos 3.25.18

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Requiem for a Sycamore

Requiem for a Sycamore
(Song of the Earth — Part 2)

We are under attack.

First went the buffer trees to the west between our house and the farm behind, culled like a herd of buffalo in Yellowstone, one minute standing there minding their own business, the next, death by chainsaw, soon to be split for firewood or sold for planks to make someone’s house or coffee table in China. I can live with this — I told you how in a previous post — although that doesn’t change the tragedy. But now, the assault comes from the east, the area to the front of our house, down the long, steep driveway and around the bend to the bottom of the hill where the stump of a Sycamore lies upended, the clayey soil stuck to its roots like blood, all that’s left of 80 years of life on this planet.

The tree was planted by the grandfather of my neighbor who lives on the far end of the hill; the grandfather was the one who developed this ridge that consists of a grand total of five houses, each on an acre lot, give or take, each surrounded by trees, trees, trees: heaven on a hill. Generally the word developed has horrible connotations — impervious surfaces that mean stormwater management issues, the end of the natural world, and the beginning of the macadam-covered one — but on our ridge it means ideal leaving where nature and man exist side-by-side, the kind of place that’s damn hard to find, and maybe only a dream as it seems to be slipping from us faster than one. I find myself humming a lot as a way to balance my body and the earth outside my window, but that’s not going to bring back the trees.

Trees store carbon in their trunks, branches, leaves, and underground in their roots. Old growth trees, because of their girth can individually store more carbon than young trees, but a young forest that is growing quickly will use and store more carbon than an old growth forest — just as a young athlete is often faster or more agile than an older one — because they are growing, i.e., photosynthesizing more rapidly, pulling in carbon and releasing oxygen.

The house to the east is taking up the space where the old Sycamore stood, hoarding carbon and spilling oxygen out into the environment, nothing but helpful, as opposed to the copycat house that looks just like a whole development of houses a mile down the road on what used to be a farm, crammed together so tightly that you can’t throw a snowball without hitting a window, like being at the Jersey shore but without the draw of the ocean. As a kid, my family would drive from Jersey to Lancaster drawn by the bucolic rolling hills of Central, PA. There’s really no draw here anymore, the developers have seen to that. The farms are gone because the houses are sitting on top of them and the trees that are left have been clear-cut to make it easier to put the ugly houses in. Progress! Development! Forward, ho! Give the people what they want.

The problem is people don’t know what they want. Home buyers are not generally architects and designers. The American Home Builders Association scores big every time they repeat a design for a house because they don’t need to hire another architect, making way for a booming housing market where the quality of homes declines, and we’re left with six designs of separation, masterful disguises, a first-rate trompe l’oeil — a visual artistic technique that fools the eye — like stone facades made to look like stone houses when it’s really just a few rocks glued onto plywood.

The house below us was most certainly chosen from a book of model homes with a few add-ons to make it special and distinguish it from all the other homes that look exactly the same. I can just imagine the sales pitch now — choose from hundreds of customized amenities — but really the differences are to keep complete strangers from walking in your door at 2 a.m. after a night of partying, raiding the fridge and putting their feet on your coffee table while they watch Netflix because they think they’re home.

“Damn, honey, we should have put the lattice-work on the arbor and planted wisteria so the Joneses could distinguish our back walk from theirs with the arbor and the climbing roses.”

When my husband and I were looking for a home, we would have lived in a tent before we bought a house in a development where no two homes were identical yet every block was the same as every other block, all with exceptional homes starting in the [fill in kajillion dollar amount of the decade], with the very best in custom building (my last house had 13” brick walls — that was custom building!), where the trees have been removed and two little saplings have been planted that will take your entire time living there to become real trees; a place where you press the electric door opener, park your car in the garage, and never say hey, hi, or hello to your neighbor; for us a depressing place. Then we found this house, nested in the woods, only a few neighbors, every house an original, ours a Japanese contemporary that reminds us of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water with it’s cantilevered design and the way it blends seamlessly with nature, built by an architect with a vision as opposed to a builder with a bottom line — high art in housing, not cookie-cutter conveniences. Does it need work? Of course. It was built in 1959 and nothing lasts forever.

The house on the lot below straddles the back yard of three or four houses and the kitchen looks right into a few of those neighbors bedrooms; the builder didn’t have a vision, just a desire to make money. Okay, props for not cutting the trees on the hill down (because then our driveway might wash away with the sediment), but the house sits right where the water used to pond in times of heavy rain, bringing with it the ducks and their ducklings, in the space where the Sycamore used to live. Where will that water go now? Under PA law, they needed to create a stormwater management system so they dug a great big hole, maybe 10’ x 20’, encased it in geotextile fabric, back-filled it with stone and covered it with soil. Will it work? My husband thinks not since it was built on the highest point on the lot. Guess the neighbors better get their sump pumps ready.

Plus, the house looks crooked. My husband says it’s an optical illusion and that it only looks that way because of the hill beside it and the way the trees are growing a bit sideways toward it, reaching for their shot at the light. Fine, okay, whatever, but if you just laid out a few hundred K for a house, would you want it to look like a ship on water, listing to the left?

When did repetition replace ingenuity. Wasn’t American ingenuity a pseudonym for America at one time? Well scrap that. Here in Central PA, we’re throwing up more big box stores than we have farm land to fill them. Do we really need that many Targets? Dick’s Sporting Goods? Chick-fil-As? Do we really want to buy the same things and eat the same meals over and over again, week after week, decade after decade? What happened to our sense of adventure? Of trying something new? When did the entire country adopt the mindset of an octogenarian? When will we say enough to the consumerism that will be the destruction of the natural world that feeds us, nurtures us, and gives us beauty and comfort. And what about the Sycamore?

pjlazos 3.18.18

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