Monday, August 17, 2015

Monarch Waystations: Creating Butterfly Habitats

*An article I'm working on getting published in my neighborhood newspaper. Prairie on! :)

All summer long I have been watching butterflies float from bloom to bloom treating my garden as a nectar smorgasbord. From the yellow eastern tiger swallowtail to the iconic orange and black Monarch. Sometimes they'll linger for minutes, other times for hours. All I have to do is to bring their favorite foods to the buffet line!

Following the purchase of our home during the polar vortex of 2014, my husband and I made the transition from a front lawn filled with grass to a garden oasis filled with edible food, native plants, and habitat for birds, butterflies, and other small wildlife (luckily the deer haven't followed suit - yet)!

At the top of the list was creating a Monarch Waystation. With a migration that stretches from central Mexico to southern Canada, monarchs need stopping points along their 2,000 mile journey to fuel up and to continue the survival of future generations. While adult butterflies can get their nectar fuel from a number of flowers, they can only lay their eggs on milkweed and the larva (caterpillar) can only eat milkweed. Similar to humans, as adults we can consume a variety foods, but as infants, we survive on a limited number of foods.

Perhaps in the past year, you have heard of the Cincinnati Nature Center's Milkweed to Monarchs Initiative in which free packets of milkweed seed were available for consumers at local businesses (i.e., Graeter's, LaRosa’s, REI). In May, when the White House unveiled its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, the Monarch was given specific mention with a plan to increase its overwintering numbers to 225 million by 2020.

Why the sudden notoriety? With experts estimating a 90% decline in the eastern population of Monarchs over the past 20 years, the overwintering population in Mexico hit its lowest recorded level in winter 2013-2014. Among the reasons for its decline is the significant decrease in milkweed availability. The organization Monarch Watch estimates that 2.2 million acres of potential milkweed, thus Monarch habitat, is lost in the United States every year. The loss is due in part to the conversion of land for development and agricultural practices and the increased efficiency of herbicides for non-crop plants.

The good news is that we can create flourishing habitats for monarchs, even in urban spaces! The organization Monarch Watch which developed the certifiable Monarch Waystation program recommends the following guidelines for creating a monarch habitat:
Sun Exposure. Butterflies and butterfly plants need lots of sun; therefore, Monarch Waystations need to be located in an area that receives at least six hours of sun a day.
Milkweed Plants. It is best to have at least 10 plants, made up of two or more species; however, a large number of plants (more than 10) of one species is sufficient.
-Nectar Plants. By providing nectar sources that bloom at different times, your Monarch Waystation can provide resources for monarchs throughout the breeding season and the migration in the fall. Some good native nectar plants include: black-eyed susan, coneflower, liatris, aster, joe pye weed, and goldenrod. 
-Minimize the use of pesticides. You don't want to have a dinner party and then accidentally poison your guests!

If you are able to meet the above requirements, you can submit an application for an Official Monarch Waystation, name your waystation, be listed on the national registry, and install an official waystation sign. My niece helped us name ours: Rosie's Monarch Resort! For more information, go to 

Autumn is a great time to get a head start on creating a monarch habitat. With mosquitoes and unpleasant temperatures at bay, you can take your time sowing seeds and/or putting in your milkweed plants. Of the 13 milkweeds native to Ohio, swamp milkweed and butterfly weed are the most commonly found in the nursery trade and are best in smaller garden spaces. Common milkweed will gladly take over, so choose accordingly. Regardless of which milkweed(s) you choose, they are all perennials and will eagerly return year after year without any pampering.

Keep in mind, whether you plant one milkweed or many, no effort is too small to have a positive impact!

Sources for milkweed:
Seed Packets: 
Local Native Plant Nurseries:

Local Native Plant Sales:
  • Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (at EcOhio Farm & Wetland) hosts multiple native plant sales spring through fall.
  • Great Outdoor Weekend, September 26-27th:  includes a number of native plant sale events including Cincinnati Nature Center and Cincinnati Zoo.
  • Civic Garden Center Plant Sale: held the 1st weekend in May has a “Necessary Natives” booth.



Wednesday, July 25, 2012

almost August, is it?

Okay, so it has been eons since I last sat down, pulled out the laptop with dying battery, and put to words the last many months. The idea of such is exhausting and near overwhelming.

Back in March, I spent a fateful weekend on a journey to Chicago. Stopping in Indianapolis to catch up with my best friend from grad school and then onward to catch up with my best friend from undergrad. Nothing quite like catching up with friends who have taken different routes since the days of becoming close, and then, falling right back into place.

The lingering thought from that weekend was - change. When asking my friend's husband if they were planning to fly or drive to Cedar Key, Florida for their vacation, he said, "In college we drove because we had the time but not the money. Now we fly because we don't have the time."

So true. Every day of vacation I have is accounted for before it's even accrued. Gone are the days of being able to spend weeks, months in a place to truly get to know it. Reading has taken the place of experiencing. Yearning has taken the place of doing (well, to the degree that I like to do it).

I pondered a remedy. How about working in the schools? Then I could have all the regular holidays off and summers too... which evolved into the thought of how about working in the schools with a travel company? 13 weeks in one place, onto the next. Lots of fun, lots of change, right?

While these thoughts were circulating a rather ominous one came to the forefront. Ubiquitous even. Modern day slavery. Human trafficking. Two months after returning from my human-trafficking-focused trip to Cambodia, suddenly, I was surrounded by the conversation chatter of "modern day slavery" "fair trade" "sex trafficking"... People I barely knew would approach me, inquire, share their story. I'd make the rare trip to church and it'd be the topic. In some ways, it culminated with an email. An email inviting me to apply for a fellowship with the modern day slavery movement. A 6-month unpaid fellowship south of San Francisco.

I questioned the signs. Questioned moving across the country without the background of what the fellowship expected. I was in the middle of moving to a new place, moving in with my twin sister and being so excited for this chance to reconnect after so many years. I was in the midst of a slow to recover fractured foot bone and coping with a plausible underlying diagnosis: a connective tissue deficiency. And was boarding a plane to the Congo, round 3 with Operation Smile.

The deadline day, I responded to the signs. I submitted my application. My closest colleagues were aware. My coordinators were aware. My immediate friends were aware. With a years worth of living crammed into one month, I was just going through the motions. Checking another item off the to-do list, one that carried with it, much anxiety.

I scaled back. Put my prized, loved furniture for sale on Craigslist. Smaller items on ebay. Gave away clothes to friends, even the coveted shoes. Traded my daily morning mocha for tea. Relinquished 6+ boxes of books to Half Price Books. Added dentist, doctor, and vaccinations to the line up, appreciating at least the facade of insurance coverage. Went through a round of interviews.

Within the hour of leaving for the Congo, I got the email. No fellowship for me, not this time. The 11th hour arrival of my application kept the positions I had been seeking at bay, they had already been filled. What remained were positions not suited for me. I was in all honesty, relieved. My 3rd trip to the Congo proved to be the antithesis of the previous two. Emotionally exhausted. The high I felt on day 1 in meeting the little boy who had been named after me 2 years prior had been depleted by day 3. Every day and every face, though, worth the exhaustion.

Returning home, I was so happy to see my boyfriend, Kris. Happy to see that black cherry chip was still Graeter's flavor of the season. Happy to be where I am -  both in a state of mind and geographical being. Happy. Happy in the knowledge that change is lurking. Maybe it has already happened.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Robbie's home & celebrating!

Detox tea.

It’s what my friend Robbie is drinking right now. He returns home with tales of fun day and nighttime adventures, staving off a hangover until 4:25pm with a continual flow of lucid-inducing beverages. Circumnavigating tales of a likely blackout, an opportune bathroom journey, caring friends and serendipitous meetings.

My remedy – a detox tea beverage. With his ever smiling and grateful way, he always accepts. He knows you can’t detox away the fun. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where's the silence?!

My mind is stretched like a near-to-popping balloon. Disorganized. As if a recipe box tipped over, displacing all the tidy note cards to the kitchen sink, and then in one fell swoop tossing them back into the box, closing the lid, and pretending outwardly that all was well inside. Neatly compartmentalized. Calm.

My bedroom, my office, my bookshelves, the front of my refrigerator door, the array of post notes trailing in my wake have never given the impression of organization. Outwardly. But inwardly, my mind, I have prided on being as put together as a well-tended recipe box.

Not today. Not yesterday. And probably not tomorrow.

“God moments.” That’s what my writing friend calls my more-than-coincidence encounters of late. I don’t know. One minute I like to think that yes, this is God speaking. And inwardly, I think I know it is. But I’m not sure how I feel about God. Or maybe I don’t want to call him God. Maybe I want to give him a different name or a different essence. Whatever it is, these encounters of late I can only contribute to something greater than myself. Something equally, if not, more stubborn than myself. This essence wants to have a conversation with me everyday if not all day. I almost want to (and I have) blame it for the rare spare hours I’ve had at work of late. Today at work I spent noon to 5pm waiting on patients who never came. My boyfriend is in another state this week, preoccupied with family; my twin sister is on a meditation retreat, also in another state; and my best friend who I consult in times like this, is on a silent retreat. All the while, I seem to have endless amounts of time to think with a mind that’s far from silent.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Slavery: A Timeline that Continues

History isn’t my forte. So when I heard the name “William Wilberforce,” my first thought was, “Ah, yes, an 18th century American President!” UHRR – wrong answer. No, apparently, William Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament circa the late 1700s. Right time frame, wrong dude. Sigh.

Now Mr. Wilberforce, as I’ve come to learn, wasn’t the typical political fuddy-duddy of the era, in the I-fancy-wearing-silly wigs-and-sporting-a robust-potbelly -way. No, he was a game changer. And with the support of fellow political abolitionists like Thomas Clarke, William Wilberforce became a notable force in turning the tide of slave trade. Breaking the triangular tide that flowed from Africa to the West Indies to Great Britain, the tide that brought Britain its chief import during the 18th century. For 15 years, Wilberforce presented Parliament with the truth – via 3+ hour soliloquies, petitions of upwards 1 million signatures, and law proposals upon law proposals encouraging the end of Britain’s role in human trafficking. Parliament relented after 15 years, but didn’t fully concede until 26 years after Wilberforce initially presented them with the truth – completely abolishing slave trade with the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Penniless, William Wilberforce died 3 days later.

This knowledge, I acquired, not from tired history books or internet sleuthing, but rather, from going to church. A church I had not stepped foot in for over 18 months. A church I’ve only been to a handful of times. A church professing a religion I have been vacillating with for most of my adult life.

Earlier that Saturday morning, my alarm woke me before sunrise. I had signed up to help with the Run For Shelter 5k Run/Walk event, which was a fundraiser for Transitions, an organization that provides aftercare programs for survivors of sex trafficking in Cambodia. Two months prior, I had gone with Transitions to Cambodia to engage in the work they were doing on the ground floor. I came back feeling empowered, yearning to help. I shared stories with friends and colleagues, posted Facebook articles about human trafficking, signed up to sponsor a girl, wrote a piece for my employer's newsletter, and volunteered for events to bring awareness and financial support to Transitions' and their mission. As I dressed for my volunteer position at the event registration table, adorning four layers of clothing and spare tissues in my pockets, my mind kept iterating - "It's Saturday. You should go to Crossroads Church tonight." Random. I haven't been there in 18 months. Whatever, pushing it to the back of my mind.

The event went well. I met up with my friend Linda who had gone with me on the engagement trip. Chatted briefly with the founders James & Athena Pond. Everyone was excited that I was out of the orthopedic boot I had acquired whilst traveling in Cambodia - broken foot bone the first day in. Afterwards, I visited briefly with my twin sister who had vaguely remembered the morning event. Onwards, I went to my boyfriend's place, summarizing the morning events (minus the bit about church). He was going to catch up with friends for dinner at the Comet, a neighborhood eatery specializing in the best cheap burritos. He encouraged me to come but I felt more inclined to stay in and take some time for writing. As I left his place around the hour of 4, the thought returned, "Why not go to Crossroads Church today. If you leave now, you'll make it there in time for their 4:30pm service." Alright, alright. I succumbed to my mind's persistent coaxing.

As I drove the 20 minutes to Crossroads, I contemplated my role with Transitions. What more could I do at this point? What should I be doing? A couple weeks prior during my first writing class with Women Writing for (a) Change, I had shared my short story about my journey to Cambodia with Transitions. One woman had recommended that I share the story with Oprah's readers. Submit the story to O magazine - It might be just the story they're looking for! Might get in, might not. Wow, to have Oprah spreading the word about Transitions! Wow. Think what that could do for sex trafficking, for Transitions! Oprah, the One with the Golden Touch! Ecstatic by the idea, I searched online for how to do this. The more I read, the more discouraged I became. How does one even go about submitting a story? Who do I send it to? Is there a certain format? Oh wow, I don't think this is it. I don't think I can do this. My story probably isn't good enough... The self-deprecating thoughts marinated, circulated, populated as my tires crossed the threshold into Crossroads’ parking lot. As I entered Crossroads expansive complex, one glimmering, hopeful thought leaked through, "Well, maybe, you can..."

I sat down. Lights dimming. Opened the weekend brochure. The topic: Sex trafficking. 

Woah. My mind - silenced. The room - silenced.

Somewhat spooked but intrigued, I listened. I learned. Wilberforce. An abolitionist. 15 years of rejection. I reflected. The fight isn't over. Slavery in the 21st century still exists. There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (National Geographic)

Modern day slavery needs its abolitionists.I looked down at my volunteer Run for Shelter shirt, still on from the morning event, and I realized, this race isn't over yet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sipping Coffee in a Cocaine Culture

According to Google Images, the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira makes for the optimal Kodak moment. Erected hundreds of meters below the surface in the tunnels of a Colombian salt mine, the functioning Roman Catholic Church is considered one of the most notable achievements of Colombian architecture. I went to the Zipaquira salt mines and all I got was a picture of the men’s restroom. 5 tiny, white urinals lined up against a white wall.  The epitome of a porcelain cathedral in the eyes of the photographer – a Kodak moment brought to me by my boyfriend, the consummate jester.

Months prior, while my close friend Mindi basked in the Guatemalan sun, her freckled skin connecting the dots, I cursed chapped lips, a third misplaced set of gloves, and the never ending gray skies and traffic delays of Cincinnati in February. The groundhog, of course, had seen his shadow.  Growing up in New Orleans, Mindi couldn’t empathize with the misery of an Ohio winter but her timing was flawless.

“Why don’t you visit me for Easter? I’ll have a week off from teaching.” She read my mind.

Unfortunately,, my ticket search engine of choice did not. Airline access to Guatemala City precipitated near $1500 versus $500 to Bogota, Colombia. Mindi loves to travel. I love to travel and my boyfriend Kris, who had yet to meet the effervescent Mindi, especially loves to travel. So let’s meet up in Colombia we decided.

Unfortunately, Mindi’s one-week break from school wound up being long term (Guatemala doesn’t quite have teacher unions like the U.S.), and so the Three Musketeers became 2 – Kris and me. Packing our best Spanglish, to Colombia, we went for a near 3-week foray!

Salento, Colombia was the Google Image for best, quaint-I –wish-we-could’ve-stayed- here- forever village! Save for the progressive recycling bins, it seemed like time stood still here. An ATM machine that only worked part time. A billiards hall where only men trespassed. An ice cream parlor where a carved out cantaloupe overflowed like a volcano with sweet, succulent delights. The nearby Cocora Valley, a hiker’s paradise, where tall wax palm trees begged to touch the sky. The town square bedecked in traditional colonial architecture with the church at the head, the park in the middle, and the sundry shops and restaurants surrounding, a place where one had many tempting options for refuge during the brief afternoon showers. An open village culture where curious locals despite the language barrier chatted through their open windows and encouraged rides on jeeps through the sloping countryside – even if it meant precariously standing on the back bumper, white-knuckled hands holding tight and simultaneously laughing and cringing with each pothole bump in the unpaved road.  A quiescent place that we nearly missed because we fell asleep on the night bus en-route.

Manizales, Colombia was the Google Image for best, are-we-on-an-unstable-volcano-or-the-moon? Everything goes down better with coca leaves we realized whilst summiting the Nevado del Ruiz volcano – embracing the local remedy to avert altitude sickness. (Yes, coca tea is derived from the plant that brought the world cocaine. Only side effect I noticed was the constant attention of my bladder).  My bright pink scarf whipped at me as I stood capturing pictures of the windswept, ashen gray landscape; the volcano peak reminiscent of a disproportionately large anthill. Only seismic instruments could detect the rumbling of the volatile earth beneath my feet. Yet miles below, we could enjoy the soothing warmth of the Manizales hot springs courtesy of the volcano’s fiery personality. Miles surrounding the city, the volcanic ash enriched the soil encouraging Colombia as a hub for damn good coffee.

La Guajira, Colombia was the Google Image for best place to get food poisoning. It was beautiful. And remote. So remote that less than 10% of Colombians have ever step foot on this stunning juxtaposition of ocean meeting dessert. Like lava flowing into a glacier. So remote that it took a flight into Santa Marta, a Caribbean coast city, from there a 6-hour bus ride to Riohacha, the last town of “civilization”, spending the night in a hostel with the appearance of a German fortress (it actually may have been), hiring a native to drive a 4x4 jeep through the desert to Cabo de la Vela, a serene seaside hamlet where we slept in hammocks for the night. Onward we went as the sun emerged the next morning to a simple docking point where we boarded what appeared to be a dinghy. Into the defiant waves, we crawled for 3 hours along rocking waves. The saltwater piercing our eyes and slapping our faces like blows from prizefighters.  At last, we reached our remote destination – Punta Gallinhas on the La Guajira Peninsula, the most northern point of South America. A sparse, arid destination home only to goats and the indigenous people – the Wayuu. A people who have obstinately ruled the land for centuries, removed from Colombian authority. So remote and removed from Colombia that Spanish is minimally spoken and understood here.  So remote that when Kris and I got sick with food poisoning (or something equally unpleasant), we turned to a Red Cross volunteer who shared with us not only his penchant for remote dwellings but also good drugs to make our digestive systems happy again – preparing us for the audacious return route to civilization.

The return. Boat. Bus. Plane. Train. Car. From La Guajira, Colombia’s biggest secret, to Cincinnati, my home. From the gray, cabin fever days of February - to Colombia’s volcanic peaks and valleys of green – to home on a sultry, June morn, Friday 3am. Final Google Image? A visage of smiling exhaustion, strolling into work 4 hours later, a cup of damn good coffee in hand – Colombian.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

a return to writing! :)!

I use to be brave. I use to want to save the world.

Now. I just want to be happy. I want to find value in me.

2 weeks ago as I wrapped up a speech therapy session with a little boy, Jeremiah, age 3½ with significant language delays, his mother interrupted me as I explained to her that one of his goals was answering yes/no questions appropriately, interjecting, “He says no because he’s bored. He doesn’t like your books; they’re boring. In fact, I’ve been observing you with him the past couple weeks and I don’t feel like you’re connecting with my son.  I’ve been thinking to call and change therapists. I just want the best for my son, and you’re sweet and all, but these books they ain’t connecting. You ain’t connecting.”

So. Out in the hall. Situated between the parent observation room, the restrooms, the waiting area, the elevators up to the speech pathology floor - the traffic center of the department, I stood, nearly mortified. Ok, I was mortified. Thinking, oh gosh, I hope the clinicians who’ve just met me, who’ve been sorority-girl-like - snubbing me because I’m the “new” girl, my bosses who sort-of know me more by reputation, these parents – parents who may someday have me as therapist, and oh, what about little Jeremiah… hope they don’t hear what this mother is saying to me – about me… oh gosh, I wish this conversation was transpiring in a vacuum…

Face ablaze, voice calm, I responded, “Ok, it sounds like Jeremiah doesn’t respond well to books. (Though defensively my mind is reeling. My books are fun. My books are awesome. Why, last week we read Going on a Bear Hunt and then we actually went on a bear hunt in my therapy room! That. is. fun!) Perhaps we could move away from our more literacy-based approach to a more play-based approach. It sounds like that’s what his previous therapist did and perhaps what he’s more accustomed to and comfortable doing. (Inwardly reflecting – and that is why this 3½ year-old doesn’t know how to hold a book, to look at it from front to back, turn pages left to right…! Not to mention I’ve only been working with him for a couple weeks – can’t expect a child to have the same level of rapport with someone they’ve met 3 times versus someone they saw for a year who played games with them…!) And in the end, if we’re not making progress, then we can certainly look to moving him to another therapist.

Mom was agreeable to returning for their regularly scheduled appointment in a week. I was agreeable to exchanging my much-loved books for toddler toys.

That was Monday 10am. A couple hours before, I had opened my work email to read congratulatory notes from my colleagues.  Colleagues who had worked with me before I had transitioned to a new site within the department, my present site, a couple weeks prior. Congratulatory remarks for my mentioned name in the company-wide (a company of 11,000 employees) Outpatient Comment Report. Due to positive feedback from families who I worked with, I received the welcomed nod in the report regarding my positive interaction with families.

Yet, despite this high acknowledgment from parents and the hospital, in the course of a couple hours, I was wallowing in self-imposed thoughts of clinical inadequacy. I couldn’t separate my professional thoughts of, “Hmm, I need to educate this family on the value of literacy,” from my personal thoughts, “I have failed. I have failed Jeremiah and his mother.”

These thoughts just kept festering. Festering. Festering. Festering like an unattended fruit fly infestation.

Then yesterday, my mind bluntly said, “I don’t want to save the world.”
Trying to help people backfires. Backfires are painful. It hurts too much to deal with them.

This morning, my soul bluntly said, “This isn’t you. You are brave; you are passionate. Go to church. I don’t care if you have a broken foot and an awkward orthopedic boot, get outside, go for a walk. Think and express with Mother Nature. Sign up for a writing class. ”

Don’t seek validation from others; seek it from within. Write your personal journey.

So here I am. Writing. Hopeful, smiling – happy.

Serendipitously, the Spring writing class with Women Writing for (a) Change commences this Tuesday! :)