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Cool Announcement Coming Soon... For Now, Lessons from the Garden

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 It's hot today, with the thermometer already at 94 degrees and steadily climbing. So I'm inside, working on a cool announcement I'll be making this week, hopefully. In the meantime, here are some pics of my garden. 

I keep moving my household to different homes, so I haven't been able to get to the point of a well-established garden yet, but the upside is that I've experimented a lot. It's fun and creative in a different way than writing. I love playing with the color and texture of leaves and flowers, growing my own food, and the challenges and victories of a totally organic garden. I've rescued many a rose and turned lackluster yards into whimsical retreats. I always leave a place better than it was when I found it.

Rose swirl

Like many of you, I'm sure, I often feel emotionally shredded by dismal environmental news, like bee colony collapse. I'm very sad to have witnessed the reduction in the numbers of butterflies in my lifetime. So much of that feels outside my control, but the garden is all mine. I plant the flowers the bees and butterflies like, and my own hands are the only weedkillers. 

Chive flowers w bee

The garden is great therapy, too. I know I feel restored when I can putter around out there planting, relocating, deadheading, trimming, and the like. But did you know there's scientific evidence that gardens really do reduce depression? There's a microbe in the soil that could actually improve your coping ability, according to this study. Mice exposed to the microbe were much less likely to give up trying to find an exit route when submerged in water (sucky thing to do to mice, though). So working in a garden might actually make you better able to escape the next time you feel in danger or trapped, or at least find a solution to your next big problem!

Other studies show that the microbiome of your garden can be good for your gut. And since we seem to be finding out more and more how important gut health is for general wellbeing, it's safe to say a little dirt can do you good.

As soon as it cools off, I'm going to pick some arugula for dinner. (I love that pungent green, which works well in both stir-fries and salads.) Happy Sunday!

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How to Visit Seattle Like a Native Even If You're a Newcomer

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On a recent trip to Seattle, I asked my husband to ask me a question, any question. This is a good way to keep things interesting in a long relationship, as you learn something new every time, even if you've been together for years and think you've heard each other's stories already. He asked, "Of all your journalistic articles, which one do you think is your best?" Funny thing, I didn't even have to think about it. 

It's been almost a decade now since I wrote for the new media web site Crosscut. A for-profit startup back then, the skeleton crew of publishers and editors had high ambition that we were going to save journalism. Of course, that was a tall order during a time of massive newsroom layoffs, many papers across the country swallowed up by larger entities or simply folding. But Crosscut is a thriving non-profit now, and I moved on to writing games and books.

During those heady years of '07 to '09, I served as deputy editor and wrote more than 60 articles for Crosscut. Two of them stand out as my best, or at least my favorite, as it's hard to be objective about one's own writing. They're both travel pieces, which surprises me, as I'm not particularly well-traveled, although I've certainly lived in a lot of places. Both express a joy for local travel in and around Seattle. I share them with you now to help inspire your own travel to the Emerald City, my beloved home for a decade. Both excursions are still do-able today; Agua Verde is alive and well, as is Kalaloch, though I suspect they've since swanked the place up. 

 A newcomer goes kayaking

Agua verde

Six years in the Northwest and I’d never set butt in a kayak. Not that this should be that surprising. I know people who’ve been here for 20 years and haven’t so much as touched a kayak’s plastic skin. A friend of mine in her 30s who’s lived here all her life hasn’t been on a floating vessel of any kind except for the bridges and ferries.

But I used to edit Fishermen’s News, a gig that gave me access to 100-year-old halibut schooners and 100-foot ocean trawlers. I live in Ballard, where one sees intrepid kayakers come through the locks on a regular basis. There was no excuse.

On the kind of freakishly warm, sunny day in late September that makes Seattleites feel as if they’re getting away with something illicit, the hub and I went down to Agua Verde Paddle Club to brave the waters of Portage Bay.

| Kayakers look free, but they look awfully vulnerable, too.

At the check-in counter, they make you sign a release form. There’s nothing like a release form to up the anxiety meter. Not that I was feeling anxious. OK, a little. The kayaks are small and sit atop the surface of the water, and the ships passing by are very large in comparison. Kayakers look free, but they look awfully vulnerable, too. My kayaking experience thus far in 36 years of existence was limited to the waters off Miami, which were warm as a bath, and a basin in the Florida Keys where the water was actually hot. This Puget Sound water is so cold, I can’t stand to be in it further up than my knees, during the hottest part of the summer — you know, that one week in August when you partially break a sweat.

To say that I had a healthy regard for the realities of the situation would be euphemistically accurate. To say that I had a perhaps paranoiac fear of the water wouldn’t be inaccurate...

[Continue reading at Crosscut.]

It's stormy, and the Pacific coast beckons

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Seventy-three miles long but just a few miles wide, the ocean beaches of Olympic National Park in Washington have been — miraculously — left wild. There are no fried fish stands, no motels; no one beckons you to parasail or buy a hot dog. You are not to drive your car along the beach as is done with scandalous complacency just 20 miles or so to the south. To get to most of Olympic’s beaches, you must be willing to work, to walk in sturdy shoes for some time, and to climb a bluff or two, perhaps pulling yourself along by the fixed ropes provided for your safety. You must pay attention to the changing tides, as the beach may be for hundreds of feet decidedly walkable when you wake up in the morning, the sand seeming to stretch with flat, mirror-like grace to the far retreating surf, only to, by afternoon, disappear under the swirl and toss of water against the base of a bluff. The beach is there, and then it’s not.

| The beach is there, and then it’s not.

Visitors flock to Olympic National Park in ever increasing numbers — visitation grew 10 percent this past year over last – but a trip during off-season is a good way to avoid crowds and experience the beach in its wildest state. The hub and I stayed at Kalaloch Lodge over a three-day weekend in late fall, when the lodge had ample vacancy, and we nearly had the beach to ourselves, especially after sunset.

The Quinault word “kalaloch” means “a good place to land,” and that utilitarian mindset still characterizes it. Kalaloch Lodge is no high-end resort; nor is it a gem in the national park lodge tradition. Disabuse yourself of any vision that includes a massage, stone fireplace, 300-thread-count sheets, or complimentary cotton robe. The accommodations are old-school and basic. Not rustic – you’ll find showers, alarm clocks, and coffee makers in most rooms. But you won’t find a TV, phone, or wi-fi. The furnishings and decor are several decades out of date, and that’s not such a bad thing...

[Continue reading at Crosscut.]

I hope your travels are full of wonder and discovery. Happy Memorial Day!

All photos by me, with the driftwood image appearing previously on Crosscut. Want to read more of my articles for Crosscut? Visit the author page.


What's the Motive? Ellen King Rice

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Debut author Ellen King Rice explores the mysterious world of mushrooms in this "What's the Motive?" post. A former wildlife biologist, Rice discusses epigenetics and the genesis of her character Edna Morton, who one day begins to sprout feathers.

Ellen King Rice:

Proteins. That was my motive. Thank goodness for you, dear reader, I wasn’t interested in high fiber at all (your inner life of fiber is, please, Dear God, your business). For years I’ve been curious: why don’t we see people breaking out in feathers? Feathers, after all, are made of the protein keratin. We produce one type of keratin in our fingernails and hair, so why, oh why, couldn’t a ‘mature' lady break out in angelic feathers instead of coarse chin hairs?

From my years as a biologist, I knew that all life is in a state of constant experimentation. We also know that there are ancient pictographs showing people with wings. Is it possible that there have already been people with feathers? Could that be the origin of our angel stories? 

As I mulled over the idea of modern bodies changing to produce a new protein, I realized I would need a trigger for this new pathway. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider before changing into Spiderman. What could I use? 

One day I was making my tortuously slow ambulation out to the mailbox when I saw a flush of mushrooms peeking out from the undergrowth. Hmm. Could mushrooms trigger anything in a person? I went inside, mulling this idea. A few minutes of Internet searching and . . .  Holy Mother of God! Fungi are everywhere! (There are molds in the shower with you when you are naked and alone. Very creepy.) Not only are there millions of species of molds, yeasts, and mushrooms lurking everywhere, but some of the species absolutely have the ability to unspool dormant portions of human DNA. I had my trigger. 

I began writing The EvoAngel in 2011. It was a stop-and-go process because a very new science was unfolding daily in the news: epigenetics. All DNA for all species has the ability to respond to environmental changes--and the really gobsmacking amazing thing? Once a DNA section is activated or stored, that change can be passed down to subsequent generations. I was writing a gallop through the woods of the Pacific Northwest as a fun thing to do. The more I learned about epigenetics, the more I realized how important it is for everyone to understand this new science. 

Ever beat yourself up? Ever struggled to lose weight, be happy, quit drinking soda pop, or be less anxious? There can be a genetic aspect of each of these struggles--and, even more powerful to know, is that the responsible genetic switches can be jiggled from “on” to “off.” This is huge for mankind. It means that many things that have been regarded as “moral failings” are, instead, part of our cell structure. Furthermore, we don’t have to surrender to the situation. We can take charge and change--and we can do so in ways that will make our descendants healthier and stronger. 

Alas, some of the science is more than a little tedious (Go ahead. Try murmuring “DNA methylation at the Cytosine juncture” into the ears of your beloved and see if you garner anything more than snores.) If I was going to keep readers interest on the science of feathers, mushrooms and epigenetics I clearly needed...lots of sex. Oh, dear. Could I really manage that? Hmm. Villains could help. So might a large adorable dog. 

Buoyed by the reality that barnacles really do have an inflatable penis that is fifty times longer than the average barnacle body, I did my best to add in enough sex, villainy and puppy charm to keep the pages turning.

The end result is a story about an elderly mushroom hunter, Edna Morton, who has sprouted a feather. A trip to the local health clinic exposes her to an ambitious and aggressive physician who wants to take control of Edna and research this new biological oddity. The EvoAngel is a good gallop through the woods of the Pacific Northwest. It is part adventure, part science class, and totally fungi-friendly. My motive is to change the way you see your body and your world while making you laugh, gasp, and blink. All these things go well with a glass of wine and a slice of cheese, so prepare yourself and let’s begin...

Review The EvoAngel on Amazon.

Follow Ellen King Rice on Facebook.

Ellen King Rice photo

Ellen King Rice is a former wildlife biologist whose fieldwork was ended by a back injury. She has reinvented herself as a writer, artist, and chocolate tester. Besides Amazon, her book can be found in Olympia-area retailers Orca Books, Island Market, and Bay Mercantile. She hosts Mushroom Tuesdays on Facebook. See www.ellenkingrice.com for more.