Why I Love Archivists (2)

(Re-formatted – Sorry, something went screwy in the layout. I’m such a perfectionist – hopefully this looks better!)

Like a kid in a candy store, I was surrounded by boxes of old documents from the 1850s to 1915, selected for me by the Archivists at the Yolo County Archives at my recent visit to Woodland, California in September. After years of researching my Yolo Pioneer and activist Great-Grandmother using online searches and old family documents, I was eager to locate primary sources, especially personal correspondence. But COVID hit in 2020, and I had to put my research visits on hold for two years.

Boxes, Ledgers, Maps, and Files
Emily Hoppin’s Scrapbook

I’m excited to finally be writing a comprehensive biography of Emily Hoppin, my great-grandmother.  Not just as an ancestor, but because she lived in an era where women were coming into new power in their communities. She was part of the struggle for women’s suffrage, and she fought to eliminate the devastating effects of alcohol from the lives of women and children. She was a farmer who ran an 800-acre farm and won the 1915 statewide election for President of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs (CFWC) based on her rural perspective, and she was a WWI peace activist.

Emily Hoppin 1915

But her gift, as Heather Lanctot, Yolo County Archives and Records Center Coordinator noted, is that she left a paper trail. Hundreds of women had joined in her efforts, but Emily left writings and speeches for posterity. Much of what she wrote has wisdom for today and will be part of her biography. Additionally, many Hoppin descendants had the foresight to donate family papers to the archives. Not many people think to do that, according to Mollie Watson, Assistant Director of the Niles History Center in Michigan.

I think about today’s electronic communications and wonder how much of our lives will be lost if not also documented in paper and archived. We may be saving trees and time, but those who follow us will have less access to our history.

As I fill in the details of Emily’s life, the deeper I research, the more content appears – like the multiplying brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice! Yikes! My cousins are now helping with Emily’s early days in Niles, Michigan. Nancy Peters, who lives in Michigan, and Cathy Altuvilla from LA, took my research questions to the archive staff at the Niles History Center to find answers, and while visiting, took photos of Emily’s family house, church, and the nearby St. Joseph River.

Niles History Center Assistant Director Mollie Watson,
and Cousins Nancy and Cathy
St Joseph River in Niles – also a setting in “Heart Wood”

Closer to home in California, I had the new experience of watching professional archivists at work. Before my appointment at the Yolo County Archives, I had sent two pages of areas I wanted to research, as well as some perplexing questions I had. Archives and Records Center Coordinator, Heather Lanctot, and Rachel Poutasse, Library Assistant, were on it!  I arrived to tables and carts filled with ledgers, maps, voter registrations, deeds, wills, probate records, and fragile bound newspapers from the 1850s to 1915. They not only gave me what I asked for, but as professional archivists, they knew what else would be relevant from their vast archive storage – materials I didn’t even know existed. You may enjoy this link to a behind-the-scenes look at the Yolo Archives: https://youtu.be/SEw0cZNhEdA .

Shirley with Yolo Archive Staff: Heather and Rachel

 After giving me an overview, I was set loose…like a kid in a candy shop!

There’s nothing comparable to the feel, the smell, even the sound of fragile pages rustling in my hands. But holding my great-grandmother’s actual 1911 voter registration (first woman to register in the Cacheville precinct after California women gained suffrage in 1911!), and examining her hand-written will? Those took my breath away.

And then there’s witnessing a gathering storm as I turned the bound pages of the 1915 Mail of Woodland newspaper and viewed the events leading up to World War I and the parallel events leading to Emily Hoppin’s election as president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.

I wonder what people in the future will say about the progression of today’s aggressive headlines and where we are heading. 

My dream was still to find Emily Hoppin’s personal letters or journals as a way to glimpse her inner world. The next afternoon, across Woodland at the Yolo County Historical Collection at The Gibson House, Iulia Bodeanu, Yolo County Museum Curator, presented me with more Hoppin file boxes.

Iulia Bodeneau with the Hoppin Files

I held my breath, for behind the folder of Gold Rush letters from my great-uncle, John Hoppin, was a thick folder of fragile, hand-written pages. Yes, Emily’s handwriting! Not personal letters, but about a dozen of her speeches, written in pencil, words crossed out, edits made, notes on the margins. Some I had never seen before. It was like discovering gold! Of course, Iulia wouldn’t let me have them, so we arranged to have them scanned and sent to me.

Selection of Emily Hoppin’s Handwritten and typed Speeches

I asked these ladies what it takes to be a professional archivist and was impressed with their educational background:

Heather Lanctot: BA in Music History with an emphasis in History and Literature, MA in Musicology (both from University of Oregon), MLIS with a specialization in Archives and Records Management (San Jose State)

Rachel Poutasse:  MLIS with a specialization in Archival Studies from UCLA

Iulia Bodeanu:  Masters in Museum Studies from San Francisco State University. Bachelor of Arts in Art History and English from UC Berkeley


I returned to my mountain home, not only with a digital trunk load of documents, but with great respect for all the professional and volunteer archivists who work as guardians and guides to our past. Thank you!


Heart Wood is fictional history inspired in part by the life of Emily Hoppin. Many of her life events and writings are incorporated into the novel in the character of Eliza. My initial research on Emily and Charles Hoppin is posted on my website: shirleydickard.com under “Historical Research.”

Heart Wood can be found at your local library, bookstore, and online .

Why I Love Archivists

Like a kid in a candy store, I was surrounded by boxes of old documents from the 1850s to 1915, selected for me by the Archivists at the Yolo County Archives at my recent visit to Woodland, California in September. After years of researching my Yolo Pioneer and activist Great-Grandmother using online searches and old family documents, I was eager to locate primary sources, especially personal correspondence. But COVID hit in 2020, and I had to put my research visits on hold for two years.

I’m excited to finally be writing a comprehensive biography of Emily Hoppin, my great-grandmother.  Not just as an ancestor, but because she lived in an era where women were coming into new power in their communities. She was part of the struggle for women’s suffrage, and she fought to eliminate the devastating effects of alcohol from the lives of women and children. She was a farmer who ran an 800-acre farm and won the 1915 statewide election for President of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs (CFWC) based on her rural perspective, and she was a WWI peace activist.

Emily Hoppin 1915

But her gift, as Heather Lanctot, Yolo County Archives and Records Center Coordinator noted, is that she left a paper trail. Hundreds of women had joined in her efforts, but Emily left writings and speeches for posterity. Much of what she wrote has wisdom for today and will be part of her biography. Additionally, many Hoppin descendants had the foresight to donate family papers to the archives. Not many people think to do that, according to Mollie Watson, Assistant Director of the Niles History Center in Michigan.

I think about today’s electronic communications and wonder how much of our lives will be lost if not also documented in paper and archived. We may be saving trees and time, but those who follow us will have less access to our history.

As I fill in the details of Emily’s life, the deeper I research, the more content appears – like the multiplying brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice! Yikes! My cousins are now helping with Emily’s early days in Niles, Michigan. Nancy Peters, who lives in Michigan, and Cathy Altuvilla from LA, took my research questions to the archive staff at the Niles History Center to find answers, and while visiting, took photos of Emily’s family house, church, and the nearby St. Joseph River.

Closer to home in California, I had the new experience of watching professional archivists at work. Before my appointment at the Yolo County Archives, I had sent two pages of areas I wanted to research, as well as some perplexing questions I had. Archives and Records Center Coordinator, Heather Lanctot, and Rachel Poutasse, Library Assistant, were on it!  I arrived to tables and carts filled with ledgers, maps, voter registrations, deeds, wills, probate records, and fragile bound newspapers from the 1850s to 1915. They not only gave me what I asked for, but as professional archivists, they knew what else would be relevant from their vast archive storage – materials I didn’t even know existed. You may enjoy this link to a behind-the-scenes look at the Yolo Archives: https://youtu.be/SEw0cZNhEdA .

Shirley with Yolo Archive Staff: Heather and Rachel

 After giving me an overview, I was set loose…like a kid in a candy shop!

There’s nothing comparable to the feel, the smell, even the sound of fragile pages rustling in my hands. But holding my great-grandmother’s actual 1911 voter registration (first woman to register in the Cacheville precinct after California women gained suffrage in 1911!), and examining her hand-written will? Those took my breath away.

And then there’s witnessing a gathering storm as I turned the bound pages of the 1915 Mail of Woodland newspaper and viewed the events leading up to World War I and the parallel events leading to Emily Hoppin’s election as president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.

I wonder what people in the future will say about the progression of today’s aggressive headlines and where we are heading. 

My dream was still to find Emily Hoppin’s personal letters or journals as a way to glimpse her inner world. The next afternoon, across Woodland at the Yolo County Historical Collection at The Gibson House, Iulia Bodeanu, Yolo County Museum Curator, presented me with more Hoppin file boxes.

I held my breath, for behind the folder of Gold Rush letters from my great-uncle, John Hoppin, was a thick folder of fragile, hand-written pages. Yes, Emily’s handwriting! Not personal letters, but about a dozen of her speeches, written in pencil, words crossed out, edits made, notes on the margins. Some I had never seen before. It was like discovering gold! Of course, Iulia wouldn’t let me have them, so we arranged to have them scanned and sent to me.

Iulia Bodeanu with the Hoppin Files
Selection of Emily Hoppin’s Handwritten and typed Speeches

I asked these ladies what it takes to be a professional archivist and was impressed with their educational background:

Heather Lanctot: BA in Music History with an emphasis in History and Literature, MA in Musicology (both from University of Oregon), MLIS with a specialization in Archives and Records Management (San Jose State)

Rachel Poutasse:  MLIS with a specialization in Archival Studies from UCLA

Iulia Bodeanu:  Masters in Museum Studies from San Francisco State University. Bachelor of Arts in Art History and English from UC Berkeley


I returned to my mountain home, not only with a digital trunk load of documents, but with great respect for all the professional and volunteer archivists who work as guardians and guides to our past. Thank you!


Heart Wood is fictional history inspired in part by the life of Emily Hoppin. Many of her life events and writings are incorporated into the novel in the character of Eliza. My initial research on Emily and Charles Hoppin is posted on my website: shirleydickard.com under “Historical Research.”

Heart Wood can be found at your local library, bookstore, and online .

Letting Go…Moving Forward

I took a break from blogging over the last few months for no reason other than it was time for a break. The last time I wrote I was planting seeds in my garden and musing over my next writing project. Five months later, my garden is in overdrive giving me daily baskets of tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplant, squash, and bouquets of flowers, and I have chosen my next writing project. Life moves on….

Most recently, I’ve been practicing letting go. It seems to be the work of my mid-70s. By nature, I’m a saver – just ask my husband about my shelves of uniquely-shaped boxes, glass jars, seed packets, vases, old jewelry, and family memorabilia. Some things will be easy for my family to toss when I’m gone, but I should pass on other things now while I can do so with care.

A vase for everything, and everything in it’s vase

I recently opened my jewelry boxes and invited my teenage granddaughters to select anything they’d like (with a few exceptions). There were a few pieces I had to take a deep breath and let go of but knowing how much I love having my great-grandmother’s amethyst broach, I gave the jewelry my blessing and passed them on.

It took the threat of fire for me to let go of other things. Wildfires are an almost year-round threat here in the Northern California Sierra (and in a scary way, for more and more of the world). We have “Go-Bags” packed by the door with valuable papers, clothing, food, and water.  But my drawer of family history artifacts? No room. That’s when I decided to start giving them away for posterity’s safe keeping.

The first to go was my Great-Grandmother Emily Hoppin’s personal scrapbook from 1870s-1915. If you followed my blogs and website, you know how much I loved using it for my novel Heart Wood. Before leaving on vacation this June, I presented her fragile scrapbook to the Yolo County Historical Archives. It was a fair trade because they had digitalized the entire scrapbook for me earlier, so I have it on my computer for continued research of my next book and they have it in their database.

The personal scrapbook of Emily Anna Bacon Hoppin 1854-1915

The second album was the history of my Grandfather Charles Jensen’s Botanical Garden in Carmichael, near Sacramento, CA. After retiring in 1958, he and grandma converted three acres of blackberries into a park-like garden. After their death, the Carmichael Park District bought it in 1976 and created The Jensen Botanical Garden, lovingly tending it as a public park known as “The Jewel of Carmichael.” I recently gave them my family scrapbook of historic news clippings for their records.

My grandfather, Charles Jensen in his garden, 1974

And last, after a recent fall and broken bones in my left foot, I’ve had more than enough time to practice letting go. It’s humbling not to be able to get up and do what needs to be done, but to have to sit back and ask for help. I’m learning to let go of having a tidy house, of zipping up and down flights of stairs, of walking up the hill to my garden. In exchange, I’m learning patience and gratitude for my husband’s endless generosity (and his cooking!)

I’ll write about my next writing project in the near future. In the meantime, Heart Wood can now be purchased in Sierra County at the Sierra County Art’s Council Gallery in Downieville, the Kentucky Mine Historic Park and Museum, and the Sierra Mercantile in Sierra City, as well as ordered from your local bookstore or on Amazon.

Every Seed Holds a Story

Inside every seed awaits a story. I’m currently holding two different seeds: one for my vegetable garden, the other for my next book. I know from over 40 years of gardening how my tomato seeds will grow, but my next book? I’ve only the seed of an idea. Who knows if or how it will grow.

First – the garden seed, because this one always makes me happy.

Like a child who begs to be read the same story over and over, I get excited every spring when I pull out my seed boxes and start the planting cycle. I start with a packet of tomato seeds – one tiny disc floats onto my open palm – saved from last year’s tomatoes to start this year’s crop. It’s both the ending and beginning of life. Within this little seed is the story of my 2022 garden.

Growing season has been coming earlier and hotter – one consequence of climate change. This year I decide to push my luck and start two early-ripening tomatoes three weeks earlier than usual – a calculated risk that may pay off. I place the six pots on a warming pad in the sunroom and with great patience and faith, wait for the seeds to begin their magical transformation. About a week later, I notice a little bump of soil pushed up by an emerging seedling. From the bare stem, two leaves unfurl. I turn on the overhead grow lights and watch for the second set of leaves, then call my gardening friends in excitement.

I know how this story continues. As the plants grow, I’ll repot them in ever-larger containers. Eventually they’ll join the other seedlings in my outdoor nursery: pepper, eggplant, squash, cucumber, chard, kale, and a selection of other tomatoes. At this point, I’ll start exchanging extra plants with neighbors – we’re always eager to try something new.

In the Sierra, we traditionally don’t plant until Mother’s Day, but I’m having to change old patterns of gardening because the growing season is getting progressively hotter and unpredictable. Tension and plot twists may be important for good fiction, I can do without it in my garden story! Still, my gardening friend John and I agree that our gardens are our happy places, and with COVID, they’ve become our havens.

Like a book I’ve read many times, I can anticipate what will come of my seeds: celebrating the first tomato (and saving its seeds); sliced tomatoes sprinkled with basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil; thick tomato sauce for spaghetti and pizzas; and weekly gatherings of family and neighbors to share the bounty. In late summer I’ll shift into canning tomato sauce, catsup, and whole tomatoes, or dehydrating thin discs of tomatoes to thicken up winter stews. I try to remember to save the seeds of my earliest and most flavorful tomatoes to cultivate those characteristics for future seasons.

Last tomato of 2021 – enjoyed on March 14, 2022 !

When frost threatens, I pick all the viable tomatoes and store them in newspaper on the back porch. Although at least half don’t make it, the ones we enjoy over the winter are a reminder of next year’s story.

Both gardening and writing require a time of quiet renewal and regeneration. I don’t plunge right into my next garden when the summer vegetables are over. Same with writing. There’s a reason winter is dark and fallow – it allows time for contemplation and integration.

I published Heart Wood two years ago. “What’s next?” people ask me. Until recently, I was at a loss for how to answer. Then I discovered a box of love letters from 1968 between my boyfriend in Vietnam and myself in San Francisco. Now we’re married, and fifty-four years later, we’re reading them back to each other. It feels like the seed of something – perhaps memoir, fiction, or simply transcribed as part of our family’s story for posterity.

But recently a friend handed me the seed of an idea for another book. I must admit, I felt a leap of excitement – a good sign that there’s life in this seed. I’ll share more when I see what grows!


Heart Wood can be purchased at your local bookstore and on Amazon (ebook and paperback)

Can We Raise Healthy Children on an Unhealthy Planet?

I’ve been thinking about how my medical background influenced the writing of Heart Wood – prompted by a recent invitation to participate on a panel of UC San Francisco Medical Center Alumni Fiction Writers – a Zoom event on March 15, 2022, at 6 pm. (Details are below).

In my eco-novel Heart Wood, I used family women from three centuries to show the steady progression of health concerns over time in the past, present, and future. Like the frog in cold water where the water is heated slowly until the frog boils to death, it’s easy to accommodate to changing health conditions as they slowly creep up on us – until they become alarming problems.

I saved this cartoon from 2012 – little did we know that 10 years later, we’d still be breaking records for the hottest year ever!

One of the benefits of being 76 years old is having the perspective of time. Starting in the 1980s, I worked for 20 years as a traveling school nurse in small rural northern California communities. Although I didn’t have a mule to tote my equipment down canyons and across rivers, my car was always piled high with file boxes and testing equipment. I served five small schools stretched between the Middle and South Yuba Rivers – all previous sites of the Gold Rush era’s practices of washing away hillsides and polluting rivers with heavy metals used to extract gold.

In those 20 years, I observed trends in children’s health. In the 1980s, children’s health problems were mainly allergies to bees and peanuts, vison and hearing problems, head lice, and assorted injuries. Fast forward to the 2000s where we now have an explosion of allergies and intolerances to foods, asthma, diabetes, cancers, attention deficit disorders, autism, anxiety, and suicide. Seeing these dramatic changes over time alarms me.

Imagine Eliza in Heart Wood in the 1800s reading a box of today’s breakfast cereal: “Does NOT contain gluten, GMOs, artificial flavors or colors, preservatives, pesticides, etc.” I’m sure she’d be incredulous that anyone would put those in foods in the first place!

Yet today, we take for granted having a list of what is NOT in our food so we can navigate the food aisle for the best choices, thankful for the growing number of grocery shelves devoted to food intolerances.

Turn up the heat and fast forward to 2075 where Amisha’s food choices consist mainly of colored Pharm.food packets specifically developed for the multitude of intolerances that the corporate-pharmaceutical industry was responsible for creating in the first place.

One of the underlying premises in Heart Wood is that it’s difficult to raise healthy children on an unhealthy planet. It matters to our children’s health that the atmosphere and oceans are infused with plastic nanoparticles, that drinking water is contaminated, that oil spills into the ocean or lakes, that rainforests are cut down, that food ingredients are manipulated. These seemingly small changes accumulate over time into lethal doses. But small positive changes accumulate over time as well. Let’s each now do what we can to care for the earth and our children’s future!

Here’s registration information for the panel discussion I will be on of three UCSF alumni authors of fictional work 
https://ucsf.regfox.com/aacs-spotlight-on-fiction-writers

Tuesday, March 15, 2022. ONLINE   6-7 pm Pacific time

A woman alone in Brooklyn during the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. The connection between a small, oak writing desk and three family women whose lives are joined across centuries and generations. A cadre of peers fighting a coup in a dictator-controlled West Africa. These very different scenarios share a surprising link – all are snapshots of published fictional works written by UCSF alumni.

Join us for a panel discussion with three UCSF alumni authors led by moderator Sarah McClung, head of collection development at the UCSF Library. During this conversation, Shirley DicKard, BS ’68, RNJames Gottesman, MD ’70, resident alum; and Larry Hill, MD ’67, will share an exclusive glimpse into their stories’ fictional worlds and what brought them to life. We will also learn directly from these creative minds about whether their experiences at UCSF played a part in the stories, what their writing process was like, and how they navigated the publishing world.

This program is brought to you by the UCSF Office of Alumni Relations and UCSF Archives as part of the virtual event series in which distinguished UCSF alumni authors discuss their recently published books

REGISTER HERE


Purchase Heart Wood:

Locally to support your independent book stores!

On AMAZON (paper, ebook)

Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award’s Montaigne Medal for the most thought-provoking books that either illuminate, progress, or redirect thought.

Winner of Visionary Fiction -National Indie Excellence Awards

BLOG:  https://shirleydickard.com/blog/

WEBSITE:  https://shirleydickard.com/

Are We Under the Weather?

While feeling a bit under the weather recently, I had a small “ah-hah” moment thinking about the phrase “under the weather.” As weather is becoming more erratic and powerful around the world, I realized that it’s probably not the prophesied “peak oil” or lengthy drought per se that will change our way of life, but it will be the escalating threats from weather – too much, too little, too hot, too cold.  

Take our reliance on electricity. Do power outages seem to be happening much more frequently? My husband and I have lived in the Sierra for 48 years. We’re used to dealing with occasional winter outages caused by rain, wind, snow, and trees falling onto power lines.

We’re entering new territory now with power outages occurring regularly during the summer months as well. Over the last decade, we’ve been accommodating to record high temperatures, massive wildfires, and Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events meant to protect us by preemptively shutting off our power on Red Flag Days.

Back in 2018, I wrote this section of Heart Wood where Harmony muses on what will be the demise of civilization. “Luna Valley, 1987.  During our communal dinners, we first catch up on each other’s week, then turn the conversation to what’s happening in the outside world. Last week we brainstormed how to eat lower on the food chain to avoid the accumulation of man-made toxins in the fish and animals we eat. This week we’re back to the prophesized great collapse of all society due to the impending depletion of oil….We’re so prepared for the prophesy that lack of oil will be civilization’s downfall, that I ignore my dreams where it’s always the lack of water.

If I were writing this today, what would I say? Not lack of oil or water, but chaotic weather extremes?

I think about the escalating number of natural disasters where people are without electricity, water, or communications for long periods of time: hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, wildfires, flooding, even an ice storm in Texas. Huge blocks of the power grid were physically wiped out in a very short time. Can you prepare for these?

After living ten days without power during the mega snowstorm in the Sierra last month, I wrote this in my journal:

“The power’s out again. I’m almost getting used to this. Almost. I’ve got a routine down: Unannounced, the power goes out; I text neighbors to see how widespread the outage is; turn off the beeping powerpack at our computers; phone PG&E to report the outage before our landline goes dead; then re-plan my day.

I must admit, my first thought is usually how long can I go without needing to turn on the noisy generator?  How long can I be content with this peaceful silence, perhaps curling up with a book slanted to catch the window’s light. At some point, the siren’s call of the Internet beckons me to turn on the trusty generator and the spell is broken.”

I may not have answers, but I do have questions.  Sure, we can prepare on the personal level: fill our “Go-Bags” with important documents, food, clothing, emergency supplies, etc. But I think the writing’s on the wall. How do we plan for the chaos of large weather-caused events where huge numbers of people are physically fleeing from the emergency and others are stuck in place without food, water, communication, or power?

Regardless of whether you feel these events are related to man-fueled climate change or are part of the earth’s cyclic nature, we still need to respond. I’m counting on man’s ingenuity and resiliency – like the growth of alternative energy and the energy of youth climate activists

When I get to this point in my thinking, I risk dropping into denial or despair. I know it’s time to close my computer and go outside where I’ll be greeted by early budding apple trees and two Red Shouldered Hawks calling to each other from the pine tops. (Is it mating season already?)  Time to take a deep breath, grab a trowel, and dig into the earth.

My “One Small Thing” Project

I’ve stopped watching the news for awhile – tired of the endless political background noise like kids squabbling on the playground. Who has the ball now? They’re not playing by the rules. They’re just thinking of themselves. I’d laugh, except the ball they’re holding hostage is our planet, with mankind fast becoming an endangered species.

I’ve been surprised that so many Heart Wood readers say they’re really disturbed by what the future looks like in my speculative novel. When I wrote those scenarios over five years ago, I looked at current trends, then projected them out into the future, imagining what life would be like for my great-granddaughter if we did nothing to change the course on our planet.

But the future is already here – much faster than any of us imagined. Take your pick: crazy destructive weather patterns, sea level encroaching on our dwellings, plants and animals slipping away forever, diseases ramping up-fertility down…on and on.

I hate living in despair. Like Harmony in Heart Wood’s present time (yes, she and I have a lot in common) I could fill my desktop with scientific studies, sign email petitions, and donate money to organizations with the strength to apply pressure. But that does not satisfy my soul’s need to do something tangible.

That’s when I developed my “One Small Thing” project. It’s not much, but it’s something I can do.

Does printing this warning to consumers on the plastic mailing envelope absolve the producers of having to find non-toxic solutions?
Just whose problem is this?

My Small Thing #1: I don’t drink water in disposable plastic containers.

If I’m offered one, I politely decline, then briefly share why: I’m concerned that hormone disruptors in plastics are leaching out and altering reproductive systems. Microplastics are now everywhere: high in the atmosphere, deep in our oceans, even baby poop is loaded with microplastic particles (1). No plastic (including disposable water bottles) ever goes away. They’re more likely to saturate our lives as microplastic particles or end up in the humungous island of floating garbage in the Pacific Ocean.

 So now I ask: “Is your tap water safe to drink?  Do you have a glass? Yes?  Then I’ll have some of that, thank you!”

My Next Small Thing #2: Eliminate plastic containers for food storage.

Now that #1 is under my belt, my Next Small Thing is eliminating plastic containers for food storage. This is a bit harder, but I’m about 95% there in my refrigerator. It drives my husband crazy, but he has the job of removing the glued labels on empty food jars so I can reuse them for food storage.  Sadly, it’s getting much harder to buy food in glass containers anymore (like catsup and mustard). Plastic is easier for shipping – it’s lightweight and doesn’t break.

A sneak peek at my refrigerator shelf

Whenever I can, I bring a glass container to stores (like natural food stores) where I can refill them. There’s even a local store entirely devoted to refilling your containers with personal care, cleaning, and other non-food products. (Gaia SOAP Supply:  https://www.gaiasoapsupply.com/ in Nevada City, California), where over 97,000 plastic bottles have been reused and refilled since 2010! 

If you’re thinking of starting your own Next Small Thing project, here’s a few things I’ve found helpful:

  1. Keep it simple and doable.
  2. Involve your family and/or friends.
  3. Lead by example and share what you’re doing whenever you can.
  4. When it becomes a way of life, go on to the Next Small Thing.
  5. Keep in mind that what you don’t do can be as important as what you do.

I’m now deciding what my next small thing will be. How about you?

(1) https://www.wired.com/story/baby-poop-is-loaded-with-microplastics/


Purchase Heart Wood at your local bookstore

(support independent bookstores!)

Print and eBooks from online retailers: HERE on Amazon.

Contact the Author at: heartwoodnovel@gmail.com

BLOG – Sign up to follow at:  https://shirleydickard.com/blog/

WEBSITE:  https://shirleydickard.com/



Potato Chip Leaves

Out in my vegetable garden, the late-morning sun scalds my neck as I clip off yesterday’s “potato chip leaves” from my butternut squash plants. In my 40 years of raising vegetables, I’ve never had this problem of leaves air-frying on the vine, crisp and brown like potato chips. My husband comes over with his make-shift shade cover, a contraption of 40% shade cloth stretched over a frame of PVC piping, supported by four bamboo poles. We work together to angle the frame so it protects against the blistering sun. We’ll do the same for the next raised bed…and the next.

In recent years, I’ve focused on growing food we can eat during the winter, so this spring, I over-planted butternut squash. Twelve little seedlings emerged. I transplanted three to another bed, leaving nine healthy seedlings to fill the raised bed. They were doing just fine; the 2:00 AM drip watering and layer of mulch kept the ground moist. And then on July 7th we were hit with a mega-heat wave.

110 degrees Fahrenheit!

I took a photo of the outside temperature reading and sent it to our daughters. “Look at this: 105 degrees! No, wait, it’s now 106.” Every half hour I documented the rising temperature until it peaked at 110 degrees. These were Death Valley temperatures – not our mountain homestead’s. I was so absorbed with the thermometer, that I didn’t think about my veggies until my evening stroll out in the garden.

I’m aware that some leaves naturally wilt on hot days – it’s the plant’s natural response to preserving moisture, especially the cucurbit family: squash, cucumbers, melons. They’ll usually perk up again when it cools if the soil is moist.

But this was different. The sun was hot, but even in the shade, the air itself was pizza-oven hot. About half of my butternut squash and cucumber leaves were dried crisp as potato chips. Young tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants were so shocked and set back, that this will probably be the first year I won’t have enough tomatoes to can.

We’re like the proverbial frog who’s merrily swimming in a pot of cold water, hardly noticing the slowly increasing temperature until it’s too late and he’s boiled to death – which is probably how the extreme heat of 2021 snuck up on me.  Climate patterns have shifted slowly over several decades, but now, they’re ramping up. In the late 1970s when we first settled into the western slope of the Northern California Sierra, it was common to get 2-3 feet of snow at a time. Today we’re lucky to get 2-3 inches at a time. Same with rain. Whereas we used to count on rain starting November, now we’re lucky to start getting substantial rainfall in January or February. We worry that our well might run dry.

The end of gardening as I’ve known it and time for a whole new gardening strategy

The extreme heat wave of July 7, 2021 and subsequent hotter-than-usual days will forever change the way I garden. I’m already thinking of new strategies for next year’s vegetable garden and I’m hoping you might have ideas to add to the list.

Please send your suggestions to me at: heartwoodnovel@gmail.com, and I’ll share them in a future blog.

Here’s my start:

  1. Focus on seeds that are drought and heat tolerant. I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing more of these in the 2022 seed catalogues.
  2. Create moveable shade covers for my raised beds that can also serve as early/late frost protection. You can do a lot with PVC pipes and shade cloth.
  3. Study how indigenous peoples and desert dwellers grow food in hot, arid climates,  such as the “Three Sisters” approach where corn, squash, and climbing beans create a supportive environment for each other.
  4. Focus on plants that grow well in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall when it’s not so hot.
  5. Let the shade of tall or vertical crops shade plants below. I might plant corn as a wall of shade in each bed.
  6. Continue automatic drip watering between 1-4 am, and mulch, mulch, mulch to preserve moisture. Mist plant leaves by hand in the cool of the evening.
  7. Research the “50 Future Foods” project that I wrote about in Heart Wood.

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I’ll end with a new plant in my garden that is growing well in this year’s heat: the North Georgia Candy Roaster Pumpkin. Originally cultivated by the Cherokee peoples in Southeastern part of our country, it’s like a cross between a butternut squash and pumpkin and stores well. I can’t wait to try it this winter!


Purchase Heart Wood at your local bookstore (support independent bookstores!) Print and eBooks at online retailers and HERE on Amazon.

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Contact the author at: heartwoodnovel@gmail.com

Triads of Women Give me Hope!

Political appointments don’t usually excite me, but the recent headlines following New York Governor Como’s resignation that three women now hold the top three positions in New York, caught my attention big time.

Kathy Hochul, 2017, Wikipedia Commons

On August 23, 2021, New York Times reporters Dana Rubinstein and Luis Ferré-Sadurní wrote that:

“Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will become the first female governor of New York on Tuesday, selected experienced political aides to fill her top two administration posts. Ms. Keogh’s appointment, along with the selection of Elizabeth Fine as Ms. Hochul’s counsel, means that a trio of women will be at the helm of the executive branch roiled by allegations of sexual harassment by the outgoing governor.”

Kathy Hochul, 2017, Wikipedia Commons

Why does this give me hope?

Because it’s time. If you’ve read my speculative fiction novel, Heart Wood, you know that the power of women working in triads is one of the main themes.

It’s time that the feminine approach to decision-making and getting things done becomes our leadership style. Just look around at what we’re experiencing: environmental destruction, political unruliness, polarized communities. I don’t need to rant on about how the masculine approach has brought us to the brink of self-inflicted chaos. (Please note, I’m not talking about males and females, but about masculine and feminine approaches to life. It’s not necessarily gender-based).

Have you ever awakened in the dark of night with the answer to a problem? When I wrote Heart Wood, I struggled with how to portray how feminine leadership is different. I kept putting it off until I had written myself into a corner. I went to sleep, knowing that when I work up in the morning, I had to create a scene to illustrate how the feminine style of decision-making and getting things done differs from the masculine. To make it more challenging, I gave this task to Eliza in 1915.

In a dreamy haze, I awoke thinking about a class I took back in 2007 as part of Sierra Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Program. The instructors, Dave Logan from the Marshall School of Business, USC, and John King, JLS Consulting, had us experience the power of setting up triads in our work setting instead of the more traditional leader-at-the-hub-of-the-wheel or top of a pyramid.  I don’t have a background in sociology or organizational development, but this model has been helpful to me ever since. (You can research Dyads/Triads online for a deeper description).

Triads? Threesomes? Trios? Each person is connected to two others, forming a triangle that can independently problem-solve and move forward. Stable like a three-legged stool, each triangle is connected to other triangles for support. It felt like a feminine way of working: cooperation, collaboration, communication. It wasn’t a perfect model, but it felt right. 

When I began writing that morning, the creation of an analogy came easily. What did women in early 1900s do? Quilt. I envisioned Eliza working on a quilt made of triangle-shaped pieces as she talked with her daughter about how she would organize her departments as the new president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Here’s the scene from Heart Wood, Eliza, 1915 ( page 383)

     Eliza reached for the pincushion, pulled out a needle with enough pink thread to work with, and started on the pink calico triangle. They continued stitching in a silence, punctuated by needles slipping in and out of each triangle with a quiet pop. Eliza thought back to all the times she and her mother had worked on quilts together. And the Bowtie quilt her mother had hung on the back porch. Who would have guessed it was a signpost pointing the way to safety for escaping slaves? Hidden in plain sight, it was.
     “Mother?”
     Eliza didn’t reply, for she was deep in thought, drawing her index finger along the seam lines, moving from color to color, edge to edge, triangle to triangle.
     “Mother, are you finished?”
     Eliza held up her hand; she needed more time to think. After a few moments she rose abruptly. 
“Of course!” 
     Dottie followed her to the dining table and watched her rearrange the stacks of files from one side of the table then back again. 
      “Help me take these into the parlor, Dottie. This table is simply not the right shape.” 
After pushing the furniture back against the walls, Eliza worked trance-like, for the next hour. She covered the carpet with her department files arranged into sets of three, each set forming a triangle by bordering with and connecting to the other two; each of those creating another triangle with its neighbors, until the floor was like a quilt of interconnecting triangles. It was a bit awkward using rectangle files, but as she straightened her aching back, she saw what had been hidden in plain sight. 
     “Do you see how this works, Dottie? Each department head is connected to two other heads. They form a unit; help each other out, share resources. On either side of each woman is, in turn, another triad of women, making each woman and department stronger. You can go on and on, creating as many connections as you need. This is as stable as a three-legged stool. And no one woman has to bear all the weight.”
     Eliza threw open her arms with excitement. “This is how women work - we reach out to each other, we set personal issues aside in order to strengthen the whole. This is women’s power.”

And so I have hope. Hope that the newly installed New York Governor, Kathy Hochul, along with Karen Keogh (Secretary to the Governor) and Elizabeth Fine (Counsel to the Governor), will usher in a fresh wave of New York politics; that they show us how to work together for the community’s benefit, and that we are all smart enough to learn from them.

As Eliza concluded:
     “We’re all so accustomed to the organizing structure that men have handed to us,” she told them. “But it is a structure that keeps women from our power. I propose we try something more aligned to our female nature: a structure that facilitates sharing connections and power, not merely an exclusive hierarchy of power. One that promotes the integrity of our planet, not one that destroys the planet for man’s selfish gain.”  This, the women understood.”  

Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future

Winner: In “Visionary Fiction,” National Indie Excellence Award (NIEA)

Finalist: for “Thought-provoking” Books, The Montaigne Medal, Eric Hoffer Awards

Finalist: Self-published Review Award

Recommended: US Review of Books

Purchase Heart Wood at your local bookstore (support independent bookstores!)

HERE on Amazon, and in Nevada County, California, at Harmony Books, The Book Seller, JJ Jacksons, Reflections Skin Oasis, and SPD Markets.

Please consider leaving a review on AMAZON and GOODREADS. It’s a great way to support independently published authors. Thank you!

BLOG – Sign up to follow at:  https://shirleydickard.com/blog/

WEBSITE:  https://shirleydickard.com/

Contact the author at heartwoodnovel@gmail.com

Elon Musk’s Neurolink: Harbinger of the “Nib”?

Elon Musk has bold visions for the future of humanity. His inventions include the Tesla electric car, Space X Starship, and Starlink– space-based internet. But when he unveiled the latest developments of his Neuralink – a wireless implant into the brain that could someday let human brains directly interface with digital devices, my skin crawled with goosebumps.

Elon Musk describes his “Neuralink” brain implant

I went back to my early 2016 drafts of Heart Wood – to Amisha’s future world (2070-2090) in which everyone has a “Nib” implanted at birth behind their ear– a miniscule micro-chip that eliminates all need for external electronic devices. It would be like having a continual “Siri,” “Alexa,” or “Google” active in your head, clouding or overriding your personal thoughts, providing you with information and giving directions in anticipation of what you might or should want. With less need for other humans, eye contact and physical touch would wither from disuse.

Amisha was a young child when she was retrofitted with the new, mandatory Nib…

“Amisha hardly remembered the time of silence, before her parents took her to the tall building, the line of other little children, the sharp stab in her neck, the prickles that grew behind her ear beneath her skin, and the new voice she began to hear.” (Heart Wood)

I pondered what to call my imaginary implant. “Chip” was too predictable. My friend Mark Jokerst helped me come up with the word “Nib” (Neural Implant Bot Sensor).  I like that “Nib” also had a brief appearance in the late 1800s as the nib of Eliza’s fountain pen – both communication devices, two centuries apart.

Musk describes his Neuralink as like a Fit Bit in the skull with tiny wires that connect the brain to computers/phone via Bluetooth. To insert, an advanced robot surgically implants the Neuralink (0.9” wide/0.3” tall) and its 1,024 miniscule electrodes into the brain matter. Its battery life lasts all day; you charge it at night. Like your Tesla.

“Amisha nodded to the rain pelting the bedroom window and, with a right-flick of her eyes, queried her Nib: Didn’t it already rain twice this year? Last rain: April 14, 2075. Four point six inches of precip in one hour temporarily raised the Bay five inches. Seawall was moved back two feet. Your closest umbrella stand is corner of Grove and . . . Amisha halted her Nib feed with a left-flick of her eyes.”

 Musk is serious about his invention, predicting it will enable people with spinal cord injuries to control their prosthetic limbs. He goes on to say that future applications will cure blindness, seizures, depression, and other mental health conditions. Eventually, he speculates, you’ll be able to record, replay, and upload your memories. Neuralink may one day upload and download thoughts. People with implants would be capable of telepathy—not just sending and receiving words, but actual concepts and images. “The future’s going to be weird,” Musk said.

“Menting” in Heart Wood is a version of telepathy. Like mental texting.

“Orion!” she called from the bathroom. Of course, he was still gaming. She sent him a mental message but got no response to her ment. Breathe in . . . out . . . in . . . out. She left Orion an urgent ment to contact her. –I.P. hours in thirty minutes, reminded her Nib. A pedi.cab is passing in eight minutes. Amisha dropped a handful of general purpose Pharm.food packages into her aquamarine crocheted bag for her midday food, then checked her route for shootings and outbursts and decided it was safe enough to walk. She needed to clear her head from last night’s dream.”

How close is the Neuralink to reality? With great fanfare, Musk held press conferences on August 28, 2020 to show off the Neuralink implanted into normal-acting pigs, and on April 12, 2021, showing a monkey playing video games with its Neuralink-enhanced brain.  Links to these are below.

As new technologies like Neuralink infuse into our future, I see bioethical red flags being raised regarding privacy invasion, consent, and misapplication by military, political, commercial, and government interests.

But I have an additional concern: that something essential to being human will be lost.

As Amisha grew up, she modified her Nib’s voice:

” …first upgraded as girlfriend Talia, then briefly Jordan, until she got tired of hearing a man’s voice. Eventually she installed a nameless voice, programmed to be both competent and comforting to her. Over the last few months, however, she had detected something new, a murmur so faint she thought at first it was static from her Nib. Now and then, a word would break through, then just as quickly be covered over by a wave of Nib drivel. Something was weaving through her dreams at night like a root tip seeking water, seeking her. She’d wake up shivering.”

It’s our inner voice that we stand to lose – the source of intuition, nudges, insights, and the unique expression of our spirit.

Technology will integrate deeper into our daily lives: A.I. leads us to our destinations, Google searches distract us down rabbit holes, podcasts fill our quiet moments, and every click adds to our profile. These probably won’t change. For me, the question is how do we keep our inner voice alive and vibrant?   

I wrote Heart Wood in part as a reminder that beneath all the technology, we have our unique, still, small, voice. The small oak desk is a metaphor for what connects us to a deeper, more universal, earth-based wisdom.  We can ignore it or pile our “stuff” on top of it, but when we finally sit quietly with no distractions, our inner voice can be heard.

I feel this is one of the most important things we can share with our children: to make time every day for the bliss of boredom. Just sit quietly, perhaps out in nature. Notice what you see and hear around you. Maybe close your eyes. And as Shima’a said to the future…

Listen to the Silence

Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future

Winner of the National Indie Excellence Awards for Visionary Fiction.

2021 Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award’s Montaigne Medal for the most thought-provoking books that either illuminate, progress, or redirect thought.

Finalist – Self Publishing Review and RECOMMENDED by the US Review of Books

Purchase Heart Wood at your local bookstore (support independent bookstores!), here on Amazon, and in Nevada County, California, at JJ Jacksons, Reflections Skin Oasis, SPD, and of course, Harmony Books and The Book Seller.

Please consider leaving a review on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a great way to support independently-published authors. Thank you!


To read more about Elon Musk’s NEURALINK: