Thank you, Ms. LeGuin

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Lake Michigan in winter by E.A. Schneider

On January 23rd, I found out that one of my heroines died. At the age of 88, Ursula K. LeGuin passed from this mortal realm into whatever dreams come next. All of us are left behind to grieve and ponder the mark she left on our lives. Ursula K. LeGuin was a legend. I find myself thinking of her in terms of the line from Robert Frost’s poem “Take Something Like a Star” that, to paraphrase, she was an ever fixed point that asks of us a certain height because, even though she wrote diverse things across fiction, essay, poetry, and children’s literature, the moral tone of thoughtful curiosity and beautiful prose seemed constant to me.  As a reader, her work demands a certain imaginative courage to leap into new ways of thinking and her elegant word craft makes the leap a joy.

Unlike many people, the first Ursula K. LeGuin book for me was a short story anthology called Changing Planes and it changed my life. I grabbed the book on impulse in a local bookshop in middle-of-nowhere Northern lower Michigan when I was home on college break because I had liked “The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas” in creative writing, I soon found myself in love with her perspective. Changing Planes  was unlike any book of sci-fi I had read before. It was so scientific, so ethnographic, so purely imaginative, filled with wisdom and humor. Here was science fiction that did not rely on whizbang technology or ray gun fueled space opera but rather the sublime exercise of the if/then question: If humans did this, what then happens? It was a thrilling thought for a writer that here was science fiction (by a woman no less!) that I felt I could maybe in 10,000 hours write: something about people rather than things. I was inspired. I’ve been working on science fiction ever since in addition to my other fiction interests.

I soon found out that Changing Planes was a small star in the LeGuin firmament and was giddy at the thought of reading more of her celebrated work. I have generally read at least one LeGuin book a year ever since that day in the bookshop. Left Hand of Darknessthe Earthsea trilogy, and The Dispossessed are justly lauded; I cherished reading those books and look forward to re-reading them. I will say that there is a purity to this grief because LeGuin lived such a long, lauded life and left such a plethora of work for us to enjoy. Her voice will carry on as it should.

Maybe I’m selfish but I have a confession to make. When I first saw that she died, my immediate thought was “Oh no! I never sent her a thank you note!” and I felt guilt. I was raised to believe that no matter what, if someone really makes a difference in your life, you better find a way to tell them and that the best way was a handwritten thank you note. I am an avid writer of thank you notes and an inveterate procrastinator of writing thank you notes, particularly when they are for something really important. It is a vexing contradiction. To this day, I have never gotten up the nerve to thank an author who made a difference in my life. I have drafted letters in my journals but always quailed at the moment of truth. Fear and introvert-ness keep winning over fandom. In that moment of reading the fateful headline of LeGuin’s passing, I felt the double loss of her, with all her stories yet untold, and the missed chance to say the two words to her that every artist finds gratifying: thank you. I will always have her books. In fact, there are many books of hers I’ve never read that I’ve been saving for a future day’s enjoyment and years of pondering. I can hardly wait to share her work with children and students yet unknown but now, I will also always have that regret of never finding the nerve to thank her for being her and that is too bad. So today, I will share with you my unsent thank-you note below.

Dear Ms. Ursula K. LeGuin,

Thank you for being you. Your incredible books, essays, and poetry have changed my life. Your human focused science fiction with its fascinating if/then hypothetical structure thrills my imagination as both a scientist and a creative writer. I’ve been writing fiction, reading everything I can, and dreaming of making a difference since I was a little girl.

I confess that I did not encounter your work until I was in my early 20s but when I did, it had a profound impact on my artistic approach. Before I read your work, I felt daunted by sci-fi and fantasy. As much as they drew me and I struggled to write stories in those genres, I felt in the back of my mind that there wasn’t quite room for stories that didn’t necessarily rely on complicated mathematical physics or epic violence and war but rather operated on a more individual, human scale. Reading your work and learning about your life as a mother, a feminist, a poet, and an apologist for Sci-fi as literature, I felt like not only was the world of options infinitely wider than I had supposed but that I could find a place there too, if I persevered.

Thank you for blazing your path and lighting the way for the rest of us. You have left the world infinitely more beautiful than you found it and I look forward to reading your stories yet to come. Please also know that in a biology lab in the Midwest, your poetry hangs over my desk and it inspires me as I work on my day job experiments even as the experience of reading your fiction hovers in my mind while I write my own creative stories. Both pursuits require imagination and your work has been invaluable encouragement in each endeavor.

Sincerest thanks again,

Ellen A. Schneider, MS a.k.a. E.A. Lawrence

I also hereby will endeavor to make 2018 the year I send the other draft letters to those living authors who, like Ms. LeGuin, opened my mind, wrote on my heart, and have helped me find my voice as a writer. Every artist deserves a thank you.

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Engaging Books: A Book Club for the next 4 years

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Summer wildflowers by E.A. Schneider

Salutations, dear pond readers! Today, I am excited to launch a new project at Technicolorlilypond just in time for Summer. This project is a book club for the next four years that I’m calling “Engaging Books.” The election for the 45th president of the United States has made the world an extra tumultuous place and stirred up a lot of feelings in people. I think that if we could all be on the same page of the same book engaging in the imaginative exercise together, and then sharing thoughts on it in a polite way, that that would make the world a little bit better place right now with a little bit brighter future. What can I say? I’m the child of librarians; I can’t help but think that books are the best place to start when faced with crises.

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Ring-tailed Lemur hugging its tail by E.A. Schneider

Engaging Books is designed with three specific goals. Goal #1: pierce our self-made bubbles of knowledge and, by so doing, achieve Goal #2: foster consideration for each other as human beings whilst doing Goal #3: read some amazing books. In short, the ultimate goal is to become a more engaged, informed, and polite member of society. Our self-curated bubbles of information have highlighted our polarized political climate in the United States as well as contributed to a crumbling sense of community. There is data to support this belief and there is no shortage of evidence that we are more likely to believe that the “other” is a subhuman enemy when we don’t know anything about them personally. I’m hoping that reading these books and works will help us all see the world with more compassion.

Like a lot of others in the USA, I felt a little blindsided after the November elections and I want to read up on points of view that I’m now aware I knew nothing of as well as perspectives that I might have mistakenly taken for granted.  A lot of thought went into this list of books. The books are a mix of fiction and non-fiction and every book is less than 600 pages long.

Because this is the Internet, everybody reads at different paces, and there’s this pesky thing called Real Life that rudely interrupts one’s ability to read, I have some guidelines for how this is going to work. Naturally, these are subject to revision as things develop. The books are listed below in the rough order I will aim to read them in. There are 60 books on the list which works out to 15 books a year for the next four years. As I read, I will post thoughts on the books here on my blog as well as on Goodreads in the Engaging Books Group. If you are reading along, please post your thoughts. If you’ve already read something on the list, feel free to post your thoughts on the work even if it’s way down on the list. However, all people posting will need to put SPOILER warnings on their comment where applicable and always be politely respectful in their remarks.

The books on this list are purposefully challenging. I fully expect many of them to contain content that is disturbing, offensive, graphic, and emotionally affecting. That is the point. Again, we all curate bubbles for ourselves regardless of facts to protect our identities. It is our nature. However, we can and should challenge that nature to stretch because that is how we learn and grow.

This isn’t a class. There are no grades and no credit beyond the personal. All I can offer is my own written commentary, some cute animal pictures, and the truth that when you read a book, you’re going to learn something you didn’t know before. Personally, I think that reading these books is a worthwhile endeavor and I hope you do too. On to the list!

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Relaxed Seal by E.A. Schneider  Seals are one of the cutest animals around!

 

Engaging Books: The List  

# / Title / Author / [page count]

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood [311]
  2. Tracks by Louise Erdrich [226]
  3. News from Nowhere by William Morris [167]
  4. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher [272]
  5. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed [274]
  6. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance [272]
  7. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis [400]
  8. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler [345]
  9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley [288]
  10. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglas [160]
  11. Bus Girl: Poems by Gretchen Josephson [107]
  12. The Irony of American History by Reinhold Neibuhr [174]
  13. We by Yevgeny Zamayatin [225]

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    Diving sea turtle by E.A. Schneider

  14. 1984 by George Orwell [322]
  15. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond [418]
  16. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood [400]
  17. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank [200]
  18. Selected Poems by Langston Hughes [320]
  19. Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston [243]
  20. Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Hothschild [288]
  21. Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt [527]
  22. Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach [181]
  23. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg [308]
  24. Muslims and the Making of America by Amir Hussain [150]
  25. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine [160]
  26. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot [370]
  27. Waist-high in the World: A life Among the Non-Disabled by N. Mairs [224]
  28. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai [352]
  29. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver [436]
  30. Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson [240]

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    Summer wildflowers at dusk by E.A. Schneider

  31. Prophesy Deliverance! by Cornel West [188]
  32. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks [243]
  33. The Dictator’s Handbook by Bueno de Mequita [352]
  34. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury [249]
  35. Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik [218]
  36. Coyote by Allen Steele [436]
  37. The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force by Eliot A. Cohen [304]
  38. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [374]
  39. The American Jeremiad by Sacvan Bercovitch [256]
  40. High-Rise by J. G. Ballard [204]
  41. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine [291]
  42. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd [296]
  43. Caesar’s Column by Ignatius Donnelly [278]
  44. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks [174]
  45. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer [240]
  46. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin [349]
  47. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman [208]
  48. The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (pseudonym of Stephen King) [384]
  49. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson [448]
  50. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt [528]
  51. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli [140]
  52. Animal Farm by George Orwell [112]
  53. The Wave by Morton Rhue and Todd Strasser [143]
  54. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez [120]

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    Coneflower by E.A. Schneider

  55. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson [433]
  56. Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900 by Ida B. Wells-Barnett Jacqueline Jones Royster (Editor) [288]
  57. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels [48]
  58. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society by Herbert Marcuse [320]
  59. The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama [585]
  60. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins [294]

Thank you for reading to the end! I am going to intersperse my reading of this list with other lighter works and hopefully I will blog about those, too. I’ve already read a couple of these and will be posting my reviews sometime soon. Hopefully, this will help you launch your Summer Reading with some fascinating books and dynamic thinking. Any thoughts? Concerns? What are you reading now? Please, share below, happy Summer reading, and thank you for stopping by the pond today, dear reader.

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Onward by E.A. Schneider

 

 

Thankful Thoughts

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Whale shark and friends by E.A. Schneider

Happy Thanksgiving, dear pond readers! Today I find myself counting my blessings. I’m thankful for my spouse, my family, my friends, my faith, my work, my words, my readers, and this incredibly beautiful world. This post is filled with pictures of some of our magical wild neighbors which I hope you enjoy. Despite multiple setbacks, I’m thankful that I’m still plugging away at NaNoWriMo, slowly but surely (2574 words and counting!), as well as my reading goal of 52 books (43 books and counting!) this November.

This Thanksgiving may be extra stressful for many in the USA because we’re dreading the P-word (P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S) rearing its head over the turkey and sweet potatoes while grappling with the usual stresses of travel, family, distance, and cooking things we only cook once or twice a year. Fingers crossed for no food poisoning or flu! Look on the bright side, given the statistics on political opinion in the USA, odds are high that we’re all stressed out together. If misery loves company, then surely anxiety enjoys a crowd.

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Jellies in the deep by E.A. Schneider

No matter how tough it is or how divided your dining room might be, it is more important than ever to hang on to those we love and find the strength to keep talking to each other. Count your blessings together, I guarantee that you will find many in common if you try. The future may be uncertain with lots of things to be afraid of, but, cultivating a grateful, loving heart can only be an asset. Especially when coupled with yummy food in the company of dear ones.

What are you grateful for, dear readers? Are you in the final sprint of your own NaNoWriMo experience? Are you cramming in some reading time? Or cramming in a new tasty recipe? Please, leave a comment below while you have a safe, happy, and tasty holiday filled with love. Thanks for stopping by the pond today.

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Tanuki in Autumn by E.A. Schneider

 

Finished some reading!

I got to do some reading the last couple of days, dear pond readers, and I have a couple tiny updates for you.

Changeless (Parasol Protectorate, #2)Changeless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is distractingly addictive and I am thoroughly enjoying every page. Alexia is a fabulous heroine and I can hardly wait to read what further adventures she encounters in book three armed with her parasol, glassicles, and preternatural wit.

View all my reviews

Red Hood's Revenge (Princess, #3)Red Hood’s Revenge by Jim C. Hines

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The stakes keep building for the trio of no-nonsense princesses in Red Hood’s Revenge. I absolutely love how Hines is mining the deep, dark recesses of classic fairy tales to tell these very realistically positive fantasy stories. I can hardly wait for book four.

View all my reviews

I’m over halfway through my goal of 52 books this year with 29 books done. Here’s hoping that I can not only power on and finish some more books but also do a longer capsule review heavy post for all of you. What are your reading and writing goals this Fall, dear readers? Please, leave a comment below and thanks for stopping by.

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Budding possibility by E.A. Schneider

 

If you want to support Technicolorlilypond and check out some super fun books, check out these links: Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate) and Red Hood’s Revenge (Princess Novels) Thank you!

Stars in my patch of sky

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Flowers at Dusk in Blue Mound State Park by E.A. Schneider

On Saturday night, after two nights of rainy disappointment, I was finally able to see part of this year’s Perseid meteor shower, dear readers. Bundled up in a hoodie and my flannel PJs, I slouched in my camp chair on the deck and trained my gaze on my patch of sky. Suburban sky looks unwell. It reminded me of the coral reefs at Hanauma Bay State Park. Those reefs had a damaged, grey sort of beauty, at least when I saw them, devoid of the vibrant colors I had come to associate with coral reefs thanks to an abundance of nature programs in my childhood TV diet. Don’t get me wrong, they were pretty and I am privileged to have had the chance to see them, but, you could tell an excess of people had left their mark. The same goes for my patch of sky. We have a lot of light pollution. Even if there hadn’t been a half-moon lighting up the night, there is still a perpetual grey sheen to the sky courtesy of the blend of street and porch lights from the neighborhood. At least the moon leant a silver tinge to the tree leaves for that touch of fey light in the gloom.

Sitting there, feeling the slight damp left behind by two days of rain only partially dried by the day’s sun juxtaposed with the chill of night and looking at the motley assortment of weakly flickering stars in the sky, I remembered that heavenly bodies are only part of the reason I star gaze. The real attraction to me is the liveliness of the night’s sound scape. Even here in the burbs, filled with cars, motorcycles, lights, pets, pesticides, and people, there is a rich cacophony of night creatures vocalizing their hearts out (or trying to sneak by unnoticed) that you can only hear when you stop what you’re doing and sit in one spot unmoving for a long time.

While waiting to see the fiery end of Comet Swift-Tuttle’s debris, I was treated to tree frogs, chorus frogs, crickets out the wazoo, insects I am unacquainted with, mysterious mammalian chitterings, soft paw-falls on leaves, and gentle flaps of unseen wings. The only missing element were fireflies and I suspect that I was up too late for their light show. I love the tenacity of wild life in the burbs, the way it is undeterred by all our human ways and thrives in spite of everything we throw in its path. Is the mix of creatures the same as what is in the real country? No. Are we missing out on some brilliant nighttime denizens? Yes. I have enjoyed country nights rife with wild sound before; I know it is remarkable, especially when paired with a visible Milky Way arching across the sky as far as you can crane your neck to see. Such places and skies are worth conserving, they are an inheritance our children deserve to enjoy.

Nonetheless, I love my patch of flawed, human tinged sky. The stars that flickered there were brilliant to shine through all our light. If I stayed very still, I fancied I could detect slight changes in color. I probably can’t with human eyes but it was fun to imagine. Hearing my wild neighbors was absolutely relaxing, their raucous calls for mates and territory a comfort to the soul. And I saw them: the meteors streaked across the sky between the stars, both weak and bright, and made me smile with delight as I made my wishes. Yes, I still wish on falling stars. Don’t you? It is a supreme luxury to sit in the night and enjoy its beauties. I feel so blessed, my cup runneth over.

I will leave you with the poem my mother taught me when I was a little kid and frightened of the dark. Even though I am now a fan of the night, this piece by Robert Frost is a great comfort and inspiration that I cannot help but think on when I revel in stillness beneath the starry sky.

Take Something Like A Star
By Robert Frost

O Star (the fairest one in sight),

We grant your loftiness the right

To some obscurity of cloud–

It will not do to say of night,

Since dark is what brings out your light.

Some mystery becomes the proud.

But to be wholly taciturn

In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn

By heart and when alone repeat.

Say something! And it says, “I burn.”

But say with what degree of heat.

Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.

Use language we can comprehend.

Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,

But does tell something in the end.

And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,

Not even stooping from its sphere,

It asks a little of us here.

It asks of us a certain height,

So when at times the mob is swayed

To carry praise or blame too far,

We may take something like a star

To stay our minds on and be staid.

**END**

What about you, dear pond readers? Did you get to enjoy the Perseids this year? Do you have a favorite poem that keeps your thoughts company? Please, leave a comment below with your ruminations on your patch of the sky and thanks for stopping by the pond today.

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Flower Field at Sunset by E.A. Schneider

 

Flash Fiction: Directions by E.A. Lawrence

Recently, I went on a lovely camping trip in the woods with a good friend. It was so nice to be out in the forest breathing in the smell of detritus, bark, and rain kissed wind in good company. We had some fun adventures that have provided me some much needed creative fodder. I took hundreds of photos and shockingly enough many of them are quite lovely. No doubt several will be wending there way into my pond posts over the coming weeks so stay tuned, dear pond readers.

Tonight, I got to sit down in a local coffee shop with some up-tempo folk music from a local band and actually begin the fun process of photo editing. That could be a whole other blog post(s) for another day, I do so love me my editing. At the moment though, I want to share a bit of creative writing that I did tonight. It flashed into my mind as I looked at the image below so, naturally, I seized my fountain pen and journal to write it all out before the muse flitted away again. Here it is, dear pond readers, enjoy!

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The offerings by E.A. Schneider Photo taken in Blue Mound State Park in Wisconsin

 

Directions 

by E.A. Lawrence

You must bring an apple. It must be small, with a flush of red on one side over the green. No, they aren’t that hard to find, I promise. All it takes is a keen eye and a deft hand. Besides, if it were easy to find, it would be a paltry gift; the time is part of the present, you understand.

Anyway, once you find the right apple, you then bring it to the cavern in the trunk. It is carpeted with the finest moss and paved with acorn shells. There is a stone lintel of pale rosy hue at the threshold. I am sure you won’t miss it; for it is just to the side of the path in the wood where the eye is wont to linger.

Once you offer the apple, you must wait by the tree but only a little while. It will be less time than it took to find the apple but not as fast as you wish. If you’re very patient, the tree folk will give you a story. You see them when your eyes are closed or when you’re looking at something else. You hear them when you think you hear a noise but you’re not sure. They smell of something you almost remember. You’ll find the tree-folk easier to describe when you’re there.

Depending on how sweet the apple, the story will savor of delight more than bitterness but remember, a good story will feature some of both. A sour note does not a bad tale make just as a too-sweet flavor may not suit. You’ll see.

Should you grow impatient or weary or frightened waiting on the path and move along before the tree folk do their work, don’t worry. A gift must be reciprocated, the tree folk understand these things. They will give you a story, but in a different way.

The story will take root and grow slowly as your mind turns like so much compost in the sun, trash and unwanted scraps metamorphosing into fertile soil for what the tree folk planted. Word by word, image by image, it will burrow like a worm in your dreams. Sleeping and waking it will rustle as it grows, teasing you from rest and distracting you from labor. The sight of a crow’s back in the sun, the sparkles on the water, the aroma of honey in your tea, and the texture of your favorite walk beneath your soles will hasten its growth.

The story will be as different as you every time you go to the wood with every unique just-right apple you can bring the tree folk.

So, to summarize: find an apple. Take it to the cavern in the tree trunk to the side of the path in the wood and you’ll see what happens next.

The End

470 words

What do you think, dear pond readers? Do you have an opinion on my little bit of flash fiction? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for stopping by the pond tonight, dear readers.

P.S. I (Ellen Schneider) am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you buy this lovely ROAR 7 anthology published by Furplanet publications that features my latest short story, “Kitsune Tea,” through this Amazon link: ROAR Volume 7, I will get a small advertising fee. I hope that these fees will help support me as I continue writing and doing creative things here at Technicolorlilypond. Thanks for your support!

Good News

Here is the best piece of news I’ve heard all week, dear readers: Canadian scientists have published a paper in the Lancet detailing an extraordinary new treatment for severe progressive multiple sclerosis.  That link will take you to an excellent write-up of the discovery in Vox but this link will take you to the original Lancet article.

I’ve mentioned my personal struggle with multiple sclerosis before here in the pond, heck I even have a tab devoted to it here. This is a big deal to me but I also just think this story is inspiring. Want to know one of the many cool things about science that I think I’ve mentioned a few times? Everything is connected. That amazing miracle up in Canada was only possible because there was a bunch of basic scientific research available to draw upon from stem cells, leukemia research, lymphoma research, auto-immune research, and probably many other fields that I’m unaware of; the publication has 38 cited references and 25 co-authors. The implications of the work these 25 scientists did extend beyond multiple sclerosis to other auto-immune diseases and who knows what else in the future. Just thinking about all of the citations that had to happen to make all the 38 works possible that made this paper possible, fills me with awe at the breadth of research necessary to facilitate each discovery scientists make. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Each discovery, each eureka moment, fuels the next one, even one you might not expect. Every penny towards research, be it private or public, helps the researchers do their necessary work. I also personally believe that every prayer and positive thought contributes in some way to these sorts of discoveries, too. I hope contemplating this story, and all the hands that made it possible, fills you with hope & wonder, too, dear readers. Have you read or experienced something that gave you a feeling of hope? Please share it below in the comments and thanks for stopping by the pond today.

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Light and Leaves from Michigan by E.A. Schneider