Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Solstice: The holiday that celebrates nerdiness

image from

Solstice is a big event in my family. We decorate the Solstice tree, string the house with as many holiday lights as we can before blowing the fuses, and open most of our presents. It's the day we celebrate our family, just the three of us. There are no outside obligations, like mom wondering why we didn't invite her over, or long drives in Christmas traffic. We often have a few friends over to share a good meal and some good bottles of wine. It's a relaxed, carefree, do whatever we want, kind of holiday.

Plus, Solstice is really frickin cool!

Solstice is a celebration of the return of sunlight. The Sun has traveled as far to the southern horizon as it can get in our hemisphere and it will now begin to climb back toward the north, bringing longer days with more light. Yes, I know, the Sun isn't actually going anywhere, the Earth is doing all of the traveling, and it's the angle of the Earth in relation to the Sun that changes the Sun's position.  Which is exactly why Solstice is so cool. The Earth has traveled to this specific position on it's journey around the Sun, marking the exact location where the days will begin to get longer for us. This is as dark as it's going to get.

Ancient peoples marked this occasion and celebrated with bonfires and music, which is where we get Christmas lights and Christmas carols (maybe I made that last one up). We can't light a bonfire in our yard anymore or the cops get upset, so we wind hundreds of colorful lightbulbs all over our homes to chase away the darkness, just as our ancestors did with their bonfires and candles.

I'm not a pagan (technically I guess I am because I'm not Christian), so my family doesn't attend the Pagan celebrations in our community. I guess you'd call me a Scientific Pagan; my holidays focus on astronomy and nature. I drink champagne when NASA sends a new probe into space, or when scientists discover something new about the universe. I was absolutely giddy when they discovered a new planet in the "Goldie Locks zone." And I cried when the last Space Shuttle flight landed. No more launches.

Solstice and Equinox are the holidays that let me fly my nerd flag, when I can debate with other nerds the exact time of day winter begins. The Winter Solstice happens at the exact same moment all over the world, and is officially clocked in Universal Time at 5:30 pm on December 22nd. But what is the exact time in our own timezone? Here is an article from Earthsky that will help you determine the exact clock-time for your timezone. For Pacific Daylight Time (my own timezone) I need to subtract 7 hours from the Universal Time (5:30 pm on the 22nd - 7 hours = 11:30 pm on the 21st). Did I do that right?

I'm a science nerd, but unfortunately not a math nerd.

The universe is more beautiful and mysterious than you can possibly imagine, filled with wonders and constantly evolving. As soon as you think you've got it figured out, a new discovery will shake your hypothesis into nonsense. And the Earth, our planet, our home, is this beautiful vessel filled with just as much beauty and wonder as the universe it was created from. We should honor that wonder. Recognize the impossible odds that allow us to be here.

This is why I celebrate Solstice. This is why I proudly call myself a nerd.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The most beautiful perspective on Autism I have ever read

This essay, written by Julia Bascom for Shift Journal, is the most beautiful and well written perspective on autism I have ever read. Ms. Bascom is autistic and writes about her experiences on her blog, Just Stimming.

Here is an excerpt from her essay, The Obsessive Joy of Autism:

image from Shift Journal

"I flap a lot when I think about Glee or when I finish a sudoku puzzle. I make funny little sounds. I spin. I rock. I laugh. I am happy. Being autistic, to me, means a lot of different things, but one of the best things is that I can beso happyso enraptured about things no one else understands and so wrapped up in my own joy that, not only does it not matter that no one else shares it, but it can become contagious.
This is the part about autism I can never explain. This is the part I never want to lose. Without this part autism is not worth having."
To read the rest of her essay, click this link. You won't be disappointed.
Queen Teen doesn't have autism, but this essay helped me find new patience with her. Sometimes it's hard to accept who she is, when I still harbor the dream of what she could be. There are days when I'm really sick of all the challenges we have to deal with, but I'm sure her frustration is even greater. She's the one who has to live it; I'm just support staff. Sometimes it's hard to slow down and let her be herself when the world is pushing her to fit in, go faster, be "normal." But when I do, she shows me a world filled with more wonder and joy than any neuro-typical can see. This is her life and she lives it the best she can, usually with a smile on her face. She is strong and smart; don't let her visible frailty fool you. Queen Teen is a force to be reckoned with.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lead Free?

While Christmas shopping at a department store, I was perusing the toy aisle when I saw a Disney Princess jewelry set that proudly announced on the package in bold, sparkling letters, "Lead Free!"

Wait a minute...


I know there have been warnings about lead in toys for years, but seeing that little package of pink plastic, Sleeping Beauty inspired necklaces with the happy announcement that the contents were indeed "Lead Free" made me look around the rest of the toy aisle nervously. I stared at the Barbies in their party dresses and sequins, at the Dora the Explorer play-sets and the Play-School dollhouses with brightly colored plastic furniture, and then at the plastic model ponies. So many lovely, entertaining, fun things our children can play with.

Which ones are full of lead?

And if they are full of lead, why are they being sold to anyone?

Why is it okay for a business to create, import and distribute toys that are toxic to play with? Do the people who sign off on toxic toys as "safe" know they're approving potentially harmful items to kids? And if so, do they then allow their own children to play with them?

Okay, maybe I'm making a big leap here by assuming that just because a toy doesn't have a "lead free" sticker it must be full of lead. This is probably more a marketing gimmick than a statement of fact. But you gotta admit, it does raise a lot questions about the toys are kids are playing with.

Often I hear a politician or business leaders say on the news that stricter controls on lead and other toxins would be bad for business and could cause larger economic harm. They say if manufacturers had to test for hazards, or if those hazardous materials were banned from toys and other items, thousands of jobs would be lost because of the drop in profits for the business.

But I want to know, why should we have to trade the health of our children for jobs?

When I run the world, there will be no toxins, especially lead, in any toy or item of clothing or food or anything our kids might come in contact with. Period. No exceptions. And anyone who bitches about how taking toxins out of consumer goods is "bad for business" will be fined one million dollars. That money will go directly to children's health care.

It will be a great day when every single toy can have a label proclaiming "Lead Free." It will be an even better day when lead in toys will be such a thing of the past a "Lead Free" sticker will be considered quant and old-fashioned.

If you'd like more information about lead and products that may contain the toxin, check out the Environmental Protection Agency website at

Sunday, December 4, 2011

We are all the 99%

With the Occupy Camps being shut-down all over the country, the question is, "What now?" Is the movement over? What was the movement about, anyway?

The occupation camps have been a demonstration of a larger movement, not the movement itself. The demand for economic justice hasn't ended because the tents have been removed. Economic Justice is the point. The movement continues whether people are camping on Wall St. or not.

The simplest way we can show our elected officials that the demands of the people must be listened to is to hang a sign in our windows declaring "I am the 99%." Imagine what a statement that would be if every person in this country who has been effected by budget cuts and unemployment, medical hardship and foreclosure, the loss of their retirement and savings, put a sign in their front window stating that they are the 99%. And it doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican, "red" or "blue", conservative or liberal or something in between. If every person who is angry about the way our economy has been impacted by  greed put a sign in their window, there would be millions of signs. You don't have to march or camp, you can simply hang a sign.

We're all in this together, people. We're all effected by economic injustice. Our leaders need to see that we're awake. Otherwise, nothing will improve.

I am the 99%