21 December 2011

Texting Here and Texting There...

...texting almost everywhere.
  • At the intersection: the crossing guard, after the kids have all gone by (and only after, I hope)
  • In the coffee shop: people at the same table texting other people instead of talking to each other
  • At the beach: the dog standing ankle-deep in water watching the guy texting, waiting for him to play
  • At the wheel of the car: driver swerving into one lane or the other, or drifting forward at the red light
  • At the wheel of the stroller: mom or dad pushing with one hand, or in suspended textimation, not having noticed the light has changed.
  • In the synagogue we didn't end up joining: teenagers everywhere
  • In the classroom, particularly in the first few weeks of a term: students, until they get the idea that I really mean "no texting"

06 December 2011

Greenest Christmas Tree

Okay, I give; this is an easy one for me since I don't celebrate Christmas.  We have two menorahs; one comes from The Mate's family and the other was a gift to The Offspring several years ago.

A few years back I bought a package of window-cling Hannukah decorations because The Offspring was glum about the lack of Hannukah glitz to be seen in a city full of Christmas decorations.  Yeah, they're plastic -- but we're not eating out of them, and we've been reusing them now for at least three or four years.

Recyclebank wants you to know about the pros and cons of live, cut, and artificial trees.  They make a couple of out-of-the box suggestions; those are what I'm intrigued by. Decorating a tree that lives out in your yard is a possibility if you have a yard with a tree in it.

Decorating a house plant intrigues me the most.  It would need to be a fairly hardy plant in order to tolerate stuff hanging off it; I think attempting to decorate any of the plants clinging to life in my own apartment would be the end.  But if your thumbs are greener than mine, would you consider making miniature ornaments and carefully decorating, say, a ficus or a cactus?

What about decorating a hat rack, or putting some branches in a vase and hanging decorations off them? Or get the Charlie Brown Christmas Book and Tree kit, and begin an annual holiday tradition of decorating that tiny tree:
Am I clueless? Let me know what you think.

05 December 2011

The Offspring's Pick

I was trying to figure out how to divert to good works some of the money usually spent on holiday gifts to The Offspring, and (I'm slow) eventually it occurred to me to talk to him about it. 

First he wanted to know if he was still going to get some presents.  Yes.  Then he wanted to know what charities I had in mind, and I told him about Toys for Tots and the Heifer Project.

"The ASPCA," he said.

Okay then.  That's where that's going.

I'm now thinking that the same conversations with other usual gift recipients might be the way to go, rather than trying to choose on their behalf.


Also: check out this good article from Treehugger on connections between household budget and sustainable living.  The most important point, I think, is that actions on an individual level (switching to CFLs, forgoing the cheeseburger, even buying an electric car) are not going to be enough. 

We need to work toward systemic change, toward changing the ways that everything from local governments to international businesses work.

04 December 2011

Holiday Shopping

Jenny The Bloggess and Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times have some suggestions for places to make donations instead of giving gifts.

Jenny writes that she buys a bunch of toys every year and takes a picture.  The toys go to Toys for Tots and the picture goes to her parents.  I love that idea.

My own parents have been making donations for several years now to a school in Nicaragua and to the Heifer Project in the names of various family members.

30 November 2011

Ecology And Time

It's that time in the semester when I have no idea how all the work is going to get done.  I have a half-day meeting to organize for next week, classes to teach, papers to grade, an article to revise for publication, exams to write and eventually to grade. 

I'm going to be seeing a lot of the very wee hours between now and December 27, when final grades are due (at 6 a.m. -- are you kidding me?!?), and there's a good chance I'll end up pulling at least one all-nighter.  And let me tell you, it takes a lot longer to recover from staying up all night working when you're pushing fifty than when you're barely out of your teens.

Unfortunately, the time crunch means my environmental commitments slip.

Yesterday, breakfast home fries came in a styrofoam container; the coffee to go with it was definitely not fair trade.  My lunch? beans and rice on a paper plate, but salad in a plastic bowl; both got thrown away as soon as I was finished eating.

In the afternoon, I was flagging after getting only four hours of sleep.  I bought a Hershey bar at the student commissary for some extra energy, despite the fact that Hershey refuses to stop using child labor to pick cocoa beans.

When I got home last night, I made a commitment to try harder.  This morning, I fixed myself coffee and breakfast.  Still ate both lunch and dinner out of plastic take-out containers, but since it was a 12-hour work day, I'll cut myself a break for now, and try again to do better tomorrow.

I'm also going to do some better planning and shopping this weekend to give myself better options for packing meals to take to work.

Anyone have any good ideas for me?

28 November 2011

Can You Avoid Holiday Shopping?

Patagonia's message on Cyber Monday: "Don't buy this jacket."

The email message I got earlier today enumerated the liters of water and pounds of carbon dioxide produced in the production of the jacket -- even though it's made out of 60 percent recycled material. Only when you really need a jacket, the message said, should you buy one.

So what about all those people you exchange holiday gifts with? Herewith, some ideas:
  • Socks.  Everyone needs socks, we all wear them out. Buy your loved ones a couple of pairs of really nice socks.
  • Food.  Ditto; we all eat.  Fancy mustard?  Stinky cheese? Smoked fish?  A basket full of stuff beyond the usual budget that will get eaten and won't clutter closets or go to the landfill unused can make an ecologically sound gift.
  • Soap, bath salts, oils and emollients.  You know what your potential recipients will actually use; not much ecological sense in buying stuff that will sit around unused for a couple of years and then go to the landfill.
  • A gift to charity.  Preferably one both you and the recipient think is a worthwhile cause.
  • Something home made.  Jam, chocolate confections, miniature carrot cakes or banana breads if you're a cook; a scarf or hat if you can crochet or knit; a framed photo or piece of art.
Or reduce gift-giving with a family round-robin, or agree to give up the gift-giving altogether, and go volunteer in a soup kitchen or other charity in your community.

Other ideas for home-made gifts? Other ideas for reducing gift-giving? What do you do with kids? Let me know.

13 November 2011

Oh, Right: Cain's Supporters Don't Like Women

I keep looking slack-jawed at the poll numbers for Herman Cain, because it appears he's gaining support in the wake of allegations of sexual assault, followed by jokes about Anita Hill and calling Pelosi "Princess Nancy."

I finally realized: I shouldn't be surprised. Cain's support is increasing not in spite of his demonstrated antipathy toward women, but because of it. 

Those who would vote for Cain are the same people who write and vote for legislation that would deny a hospital the ability to save the life of a dying woman, that would limit women's access to birth control, that would allow health insurers to pay for Viagra but not for contraception, that deny a woman access to abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

These people have been assaulting women legislatively.  It should be no surprise that they would support the presidential candidacy of a man who has so thoroughly demonstrated his disrespect for women.

08 November 2011

Getting Away With It

If I said I was sexually assaulted last week, would Herman Cain call me a liar?

If I said I was sexually harassed 25 years ago, would he say it was because I was living in sin with The Mate? Financially unstable, racking up debt while finishing graduate school?  Would any of that have anything on earth to do with it?

If I said I was sexually assaulted 30 years ago, would he say I was making it up?  Trying to get attention?  Making a big deal out of some little thing?


This situation is making me more and more furious.  It's hard for me to type those words up there, hard for me to talk about the assaults, the words, the threats behind them.  It makes me feel sick to remember. 

It makes me feel sick to see the attacks on the women who have come forward to say Cain assaulted them.  It makes me feel sick to see Gloria Allred, a courageous and smart attorney, attacked for helping one of the women Cain assaulted.

All week, I've been silently cheering on the Shayne Dejesus, who kicked and slapped the guy who groped her, and then took his picture.  He's been arrested.  I've been wishing I had the presence of mind to snap a photo of the guy who grabbed me ... because he could ... and got away with it.


Police?  Sure, I talked to police.  Didn't see the guy's face; wouldn't have been able to identify him beyond white, middle-aged and balding.  Not a damn thing they could do.

02 November 2011

Some of My Favorite New York Place Names

Sheepshead Bay
Utopia Parkway
Hell's Kitchen
Neptune Avenue
Dead Horse Bay
Spuyten Duyvil

Also: Did you know that the Belt Parkway, also known as the Shore Parkway, is also also known as Leif Ericson Drive?

23 October 2011

I'd Like To Be Blogging

... and I have many things to tell you about.  But the paying job calls, and calls again.

17 October 2011

Instead, A Piece of Pie

I missed International Blog Action Day.  It was yesterday.  I've been swamped with work and haven't had time to blog.  I chose the topic of food, and was planning a serious post about food production as big business.

Instead, I give you a piece of pie.  Pumpkin pie, to be specific; pumpkin pie I made last night and ate a slice of for lunch today.  When chatting with other parents in the neighborhood recently, I've been struck by the fact that several have apologized for their pie.  "Well, I made the filling, but I used a crust."

My grandmother taught me how to make a pie crust, probably 40 years ago.  Whenever I'm cutting margarine into flour, or adding ice water a teaspoon at a time, I remember spending time with my grandma when I was a kid.  Summer air, coastal Maine, rhubarb from the garden, the company of a gentle soul.

Plus, I like the fact that making a pie crust takes a few ingredients and turns them quickly into something real.

(Most of my work deals with words.  My words, students' words, scholars words.  Pixels on screens, easily imagined as ephemera, non-real, non-concrete, not significant.  But that's a subject for another day.)

Maybe it's important that I was around seven years old when my grandma taught me to make a pie.  Because making a pie crust isn't difficult.  But it seems that by selling pie crusts in the supermarket, food manufacturers have slipped into the minds of the adults of America the idea that Making Pie Crust Is Hard.

And so people buy pie crusts instead of making their own.  Which means Big Ag makes more money selling a prepared product instead of four everyday ingredients (flour, butter, salt, sugar).  And with that prepared product: more packaging, more processing, more chemicals, more preservatives.

As a representative sample, Pillsbury's pie crust has partially hydrogenated lard, whey, sodium metabisulfite, BHA, BHT and two kinds of food coloring in addition to flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda.  It comes in a disposable tin foil pie pan wrapped in plastic.

There's a lot we can make from actual ingredients that takes, if anything, only a few minutes longer than using a prepared product (though it may take preparation time in advance).  Idea to leave you with for today: think about the prepared foods you buy, and see if there's one item you can, instead, make from scratch.  Any ideas?

05 October 2011

Commuting Costs, Part II

I live in New York City; I work in suburban New Jersey.  The round trip by car is 110 miles. There are many people who think I'm nuts, and people regularly tell me I should move, but I have reasons that seem reasonable to me.

Still: it costs.  The costs are mitigated by the schedule, which allows me to work at home a lot: I'm on campus three or four days a week during the semester, once a week most of the rest of the time.

I wrote last week about the economic costs. I also pay in time.

A round trip in the car takes around 3 1/2 hours; a round trip on the train, five.  Assuming I drive half the time and take the train half the time and average three and a half days a week on campus, I spend almost 15 hours a week in transit. 

It's not all dead time.  In the train, I get around 3 1/2 hours to work (or doze or just stare blindly out the windows), plus a cumulative hour of exercise at the ends of the trip.  In the car, I learn Greek from CDs or catch up on the phone with friends and family (yes, of course: hands free).  But it's not free time, either.

It makes the days long.  Yesterday, I left home at 7 a.m., got home at 4:30.  That's a short day; this morning I left at 8, and I'll get home around 8:30 tonight.

(That's assuming the trains run on time.  Don't ask me about last weekOr the week before that.)

Next week I'll tell you about the psychic costs of commuting.  Or about my apparently reasonable reasons.

04 October 2011

October Unprocessed

I've signed on to the pledge at Andrew Wilder's blog, Eating Rules, to avoid processed foods for the month of October.*

Andrew has some thoughts on how to define "processed" and "unprocessed."  Basically the test is this: could you make the food in your kitchen (even if you don't)?  Then it's okay. 

Sugar, corn syrup, hard liquor: No.  Coffee, chocolate, beer: Yes.  Oils and salt are on the border, and nut butters and bread require a look at the label.

I already eat a diet that's pretty close to the ground, and most of what I eat would be reasonably recognizable to my great-grandmothers, or at least somebody's great-grandmother.  But when I found out about October Unprocessed at the very end of the month last year, it got me thinking.

I don't eat fake meat much, but I use fake dairy products all the time -- soy milk, soy cheese, soy margarine, soy yogurt.  I could make soy milk and soy yogurt at home. but cheese and margarine? No way.

I've already given up margarine, and discovered I don't miss it between the toast and the (home-made!) jam.  Andrew has me thinking about giving up the soy cheese.  I could do it in cooking by using more herbs and spices instead of cheese, and on sandwiches by substituting nut butter or hummus.

I could make tofu at home, but whole beans are probably healthier, and I've been eating them more often, since last October.  Another advantage is I've been using a variety of different beans and legumes, rather than eating tofu several times a week.

I've been thinking for some time about getting a soy milk maker for home use, and then using home-made soy milk to make my own yogurt.  Besides the reduced cost, there's a major advantage there in reduced packaging. 


* I'm not forcing my family to join me, in case anyone is worried about The Offspring having to give up his soy milk or his tofu pups.  (Soy milk because he's allergic to dairy; tofu pups because we're vegetarian.)

03 October 2011

Some Good Stuff My Institution Is Up To

My employer, Monmouth University, has been doing some good work in environmental terms.

The University's Community Garden has donated more than 1000 pounds of fresh produce to social services agencies in the community. Read more in the Asbury Park Press or on Monmouth's web site.

They've already installed a bunch of solar panels and are planning to install more; and they've developed a new interdisciplinary minor in Global Sustainability.

They're letting me teach a 200-level course on environment and literature, and I'm in the process of writing a syllabus for an interdisciplinary 400-level course on environment and literature that also brings in history and archaeology.

All this is great stuff, but I also have a list of things I'd love to see the University taken even more initiative on....

I wish the Student Center would stop selling food in plastic and styrofoam plates and containers.  I've talked to the folks in charge about selling a reusable food container analogous to a reusable coffee cup, or at least switching to paper.  So far, no uptake, but I'll keep trying.

There are a handful of bike racks on campus, but the surrounding community isn't very bike friendly, or for that matter pedestrian friendly; I'd like to see the university work with the town on increasing public transit transit, creating bike lanes, and making sure sidewalks are kept clean and in good repair.

And smoking isn't allowed indoors anywhere, but outdoors it's not really restricted. Limitations on smoking within 25 feet of doors aren't well enforced, and in effect push smokers to well-traveled pathways outside buildings.

All in all, though, I'm proud to be part of an institution that's done so much already in encouraging sustainability and environmental stewardship.

29 September 2011

Commuting Costs

Round trip by train from the World Trade Center PATH station through Newark to Long Branch: $26.
  • PATH train: $4.00
  • NJ Transit: $22.00
Some recent expenditures for my bike:
  • new headlight: $20
  • new reflective vest: $4.99 at IKEA
  • spare inner tube: $7
  • tire patch kit: $1.99
Round trip in the car:  $29.07
  • Tolls: $18.60
  • 3 gallons gas: $10.47
Or, round trip in the car, 110 miles at 55.5 cents per mile:  $61.05

Recent car expenditures:
  • Inspection: $37.00
  • Registration: $60
  • Hubcaps: $41.00
There are also psychic costs.  More on those another day.

26 September 2011

Mark Bittman wrote an interesting piece about the price of junk food in the Times this weekend.  He went to the McDonald's near his office and found:
a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28.
He further writes, and I don't doubt he's correct:
You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9.
He acknowledges that if you don't have access to a supermarket, this becomes more difficult:
There are, of course, the so-called food deserts, places where it’s hard to find food: the Department of Agriculture says that more than two million Americans in low-income rural areas live 10 miles or more from a supermarket, and more than five million households without access to cars live more than a half mile from a supermarket.
When we lived in Washington Heights, we lived four-tenths of a mile from a supermarket, in a fifth-floor walk-up.  I'm in good shape.  I've run a marathon, I've done triathlons, I've done a lot of backpacking.  While I didn't maintain that level of conditioning after my son was born, I did continue hiking regularly, walking a lot, biking, and jogging.

But going to the supermarket to do a week's worth of shopping was impossible.  I can carry two bags of groceries reasonably comfortably nearly half a mile and up four flights of stairs.

That's enough food for a couple days, maybe three.  So somebody in the household has to go shopping two or three times a week.

Now add a toddler.  Does the toddler walk?  Too far.  Does the toddler ride in a backpack?  Probably; add two bags of groceries and it becomes quite a strain.  Does the toddler ride in a stroller?  Sounds like a great idea: walk efficiently to the store, load up the stroller, roll it all home.... and how do I get everything up the stairs?

And the quality of the produce at that supermarket was terrible, by the way.  We occasionally paid the premium to shop from FreshDirect, we joined Urban Organic and had a box of good fresh produce delivered once a week, we shopped in other neighborhoods whenever we had the chance.

But still we ordered in or ate out regularly.

Before that apartment, we lived in a ground-floor apartment around the corner from a supermarket. Shopping regularly and carrying home enough for a few days was feasible, and we ate our meals at home.  Now we live in an elevator building around the corner from a supermarket. We shop, we eat in.

How many families living in the lowest income quartile live in apartment buildings without elevators?  How many of those buildings are even a quarter of a mile away from a decent supermarket? 

Mr. Bittman needs to try carrying enough groceries for a week even a quarter of a mile and up several flights of stairs and then revisit his analysis.

23 September 2011

Some Things You Can't Do At The Mall

Get shoes repaired.
Get a watch repaired.
Buy an organic apple.
Buy any kind of apple.
Buy any kind of fresh vegetables, whole-grain products, or pretty much anything healthy to eat.
Look at the view.
Unless by "view" you mean the window display at Victoria's Secret.
Sit under a tree and read a book.
Breathe fresh air.

22 September 2011

Bike of the Week

Parked in the East 70s, caught my eye with the color combination and the painted tires.

21 September 2011

Liking The Mall?!?

I drove to work instead of taking the train today because... well, because I'm tired.  The beginning of the semester is already kicking my butt, and I couldn't wrap my mind around biking, and getting wet, and biking in the dark, and schlepping up and down stairs, and sitting for hours in a train, with no control over the temperature.

(I think I'm fighting a cold.)

And on the drive in, it occurred to me I had time to stop at the mall and buy a watch to replace the Timex Ironman that got wet in the rain and went belly-up a few weeks ago, following the Swiss Railway and Swiss Army watches that have failed me in recent months, and that I don't seem to be able to find time to get repaired.

And once I thought of the mall, I thought of all the other errands I need to do. 

And in one stop, I was able to buy a watch, some birthday presents for The Offspring (eight next week), the basketball I promised him months ago and the lap desk I promised weeks ago, Offspring-sized underwear, a cup of coffee, and a handful of other items I've been needing.  AND a lot of it was on sale.

In the city, this would have required several errands, or a single trip encompassing several bus and/or subway rides, or a long loopy multi-stop journey by bike.  In my mall-less home town, it probably would have required a drive to the next town, and maybe a couple of different next towns.

I've always thought of malls as horrible places, earth-destroying in their sprawl and soul-destroying in the homogeneity of their ostentatiously manufactured indoor environments.  But today I experienced the mall as a place of personal and environmental efficiency.  In fact, had I not run out of time, I could even have gotten more errands run.

Worth thinking about some more....

Recalibrating Goals

Lunch today: home made baked beans, home made applesauce (thanks to The Mate), organic carrots (cooked), organic celery (raw). Dinner: chinese take-out (bean curd and broccoli with curry sauce; no extra charge for the hair).

I've been trying to bring my own lunch to the office.  Less salt, less fat, less money, less throw-away plastic.  But I've decided not to beat myself up if I don't succeed every single day.

I've also been trying to work a weekly swim into the schedule.  Ha! I've decided to try to swim once this month.  If I can do that, maybe I can do it again next month ... and maybe eventually I can work up to twice a month.

I've been trying to take the train and the bike to work as often as possible, to avoid the various ecological and personal stresses of driving 55 miles each way to work.  Yesterday was a long day; The Offspring is sick; I'm tired.  I can't get my mind around carrying the bike up and down all those stairs at the PATH station.*  I'm driving.

In other words, I'm lowering my horizons, reducing my aspirations, giving in to overwork and over-scheduling.  And I'm trying to cut myself a break about it.


* There's an elevator, and escalators, from street level to turnstile level at the WTC PATH, but I haven't found one from the payment level to the train platform.  Maybe I just haven't looked hard enough -- I can't really imagine that it's actually not accessible.  Actually, I can, but I don't want to.

20 September 2011

Could I Live Without A Car?

Last week I worked from home on Monday.  On Tuesday morning I drove to the office; I then commuted back and forth by bike and by train until Friday afternoon, when I drove back home.

Over the course of the week, I spent twelve hours in PATH and NJ Transit trains; biked 27 miles; and drove 110 miles. 

I averaged just under eleven hours a day away from home.  Twenty-four hours in the office, 14 hours working on the train, three hours biking, an hour waiting for trains, and nearly four hours driving.

I got up early every morning to check my email, and checked it again after I got home, to make sure I hadn't missed anything important or interesting during the time in transit.

Downside: it was tiring.  Given that I was pulling ten-hour days, including time spent working on the train and time spent checking email morning and evening, it's probably no wonder.

Upside: I got ahead on reading and writing assignments for my classes, so when the papers start to come in next week, I'll be ready for them.

19 September 2011

Foraging and Farmers' Markets

At the farmer's market yesterday I bought some concord grapes to share with The Offspring.

When I was a kid, on the footpath to school, there was a crabapple tree, and a concord grape vine had twined itself up the trunk and along a branch.  In late fall, I'd climb up there, slide out along the branch -- I wonder if my parents even know this? -- and, suspended eight or ten feet off the ground, eat the grapes.

We've spent enough time hiking where blueberries, blackberries and raspberries grow wild, and picking strawberries and peaches and apples at farms and in orchards, that The Offspring does know how to forage.

Eating grapes, even concord grapes, on a bench in a playground in a park in New York City, just isn't the same.

18 September 2011

Is "Vegetarian Friendly" the Same as "Vegetarian"?

Burnham and Morrill have been making beans in Maine since 1867.  Recently, The Mate came home with this can:
Wait, what does it say in that little green strip?
That's right, "Vegetarian Friendly."  Is "vegetarian friendly" the same as "vegetarian"?  I hope so.  Here's the ingredient list:
The B&G Foods web site doesn't include this product.  I wonder what "spice and color" are made out of.  I've written to them to find out if the product is vegetarian, or, in fact vegan.  I'll let you know if they tell me.

14 September 2011

Blogging While Thankless

My friend and inspiration Julia wrote about thankfulness over at her blog, Lotsa Laundry, the other day. She wrote this:
And so I am struck by this irony: for all the times I've cried, I need a break! I still do not appreciate the respites when they happen. I take 'normal' days as entitlements rather than as answers to prayer. 
I have that problem when it comes to illness.  I was finally able to get out for a run the other day -- first time in eight weeks, after Lyme disease followed by a cold that turned into bronchitis.

Lyme disease has, of course, nothing to do with chronic illness; that I caught it was just a fluke, or a cosmic joke, or an accident, or something.  And after two weeks of antibiotics, I was starting to feel well enough for exercise again.  And two weeks of down time isn't fatal to an exercise plan, even if it's an exercise plan with a half marathon at the end,

Where I got bogged down was with the cold, that left me short of breath on its own, but then turned into bronchitis, which left me really wiped out. 

And that run left me with a big dose of bitterness.  Shouldn't I be thankful that I'm able to run at all, to cover a distance of 2.5 miles, albeit with lots of walk breaks? Shouldn't I be thankful that I'm not worse off?

Instead, I'm angry.  Angry that after gaining fitness for the first half of the summer, I'm back to where I was in the spring, coming off all the winter illnesses.  Angry that I won't be able to do that half marathon -- not this year, and maybe never.

And afraid of what the winter will bring, yet again.  Somehow, I had hoped that being well conditioned would help stave off the winter illnesses.  Not only did that not succeed -- I came down with a "winter illness" in August.

I'll conclude with Julia's closing question: "Is that normal?"  Yes, I suppose it is.  But I wish I could muster something different.

Irritation Is Not The Right Word

My environmental commitments collide with my lungs every time I take a ride on New Jersey Transit.  (That's okay; don't try to picture it.)

I have to stand around on the platform waiting for a train, and almost invariably, some other passenger lights up. And smokers are a particularly suggestible bunch, so as soon as one lights up, others follow. Sometimes I point out they're not allowed to smoke, or ask them if they're aware that smoking is not permitted.  This is always a mistake: they get hostile, they keep smoking. 

Other passengers peer at me. I can never tell if they think I'm a jerk for challenging other people's liberty to pollute the air whenever and whenever they want to, if they're worried that I'm going to go postal next, or if they secretly agree with me but they're worried the smoker is going to go postal.

Sometimes I tell my impromptu audience that I have asthma triggered by cigarette smoke.  This is also a mistake: the smokers get hostile, they continue smoking, and they insist that it can't possible be harming me.  Meanwhile, I feel like a jerk for standing around telling everyone about my health.

I'm taking the train because I want to reduce my environmental impact, and the fact that I ride my bike at each end of the journey is good for my health.

Inhaling cigarette smoke is not good for anyone's health, but it's particularly not good for my health, because it sets off constrictions in my lungs that make it difficult to get oxygen in, and through to my muscles and my brain. It's not just an annoyance.

Try explaining that to the person puffing away under the "No Smoking" sign?  Nahhh.

12 September 2011

Another Thing About Public Transit

Another thing I've discovered I really like about commuting by bike and by train is it forces me to think about what I can carry back and forth, and about what I can accomplish en route.

When I drive a car back and forth to work, I tend to pile in everything I think I might need at the other end.  I end up moving huge piles of stuff home for the weekend, or to the office for the day, and then end up cranky because I didn't have time to deal with it all.

On the bike ride, there's a real limit to how much I can manage, especially since I need to fold the bike up and carry it, and whatever I'm carrying on it, up or down stairs at various points on the journey.  I can't comfortably carry more than about 45 pounds (including the bike) up and down stairs.  25 pounds of bike; 20 pounds of books, papers, water, food, repair tools, waterproofs, helmet, lights and reflectors.

So I take time to think: what can I do on the train?  How much time will I have to get work done at the other end of the train ride? What's most urgent among the pile of stuff I have to get done?  And I've been getting my work done more efficiently and with less guilt, because I have to think very hard about what I can get done and what needs to get done next, rather than shoving everything I might want into the car.

(The people who tell you how to manage your time want me to have asked myself and answered those questions years ago.  And I'm generally fairly good at prioritizing the things I need to do.  The problem is I tend to haul lots of extra stuff in case I get the other stuff done more quickly than expected.  Then, see "cranky.")

The bike/train trip takes just over two and a half hours.  Five hours, round trip in a day: seems like a brutal commute. (If I drive, it's three to four hours, round trip.)  But nearly an hour of that is biking, broken up into four nice little chunks at either end of the train ride.  A half hour is waiting for trains and making the transfer from PATH to NJ Transit or back.  The other three and a half hours is work time.  Uninterrupted work time, with no internet access, no phone calls, nobody coming to my office or my desk at home to ask me for things.

Good work time.

11 September 2011

I Buy Too Many Bags

I buy too many bags, backpacks, messenger bags, purses, waist pouches, computer bags. I always think the next one is going to be the perfect combination of weight, comfort, storage capacity, and organization options.

Francine Jay, also known as Miss Minimalist, has an idea I think is finally going to get me off that treadmill: One in, one out.  She's written several books, and the one I got my hands Kindle on is called Inspiration to Downsize, Declutter, and Simplify.

Her suggestion for managing the accumulation of stuff is that if you're going to buy something, it actually has to replace something that's already in the house, and that will leave the house when the new one comes in.

In other words: Is the bag I want to purchase superior to something I already own?  Is there a bag in the house that I'm willing to get rid of, if this new item I'm contemplating purchasing comes home?

It doesn't sound particularly revolutionary, but in fact it's a whole different way of thinking about stuff. We tend to think in terms of constant addition and accumulation, with the idea that we'll always just keep getting more stuff (and then a bigger house or a bigger storage facility so we have room to keep it all).  Capitalist economy and culture depend on constant new purchases.

Miss Minimalist suggests, though, that we assume that we can own only a finite--and relatively limited--amount, and purchases need to replace things we already own.

The idea has served me well this week.  I own two pairs of shoes that are old, beat up, and uncomfortable, but I've kept them around for way too long with the idea that I might want to wear them some day.  Some day came, and now I have sore feet.  So I've just bought a new pair of shoes, and not one but both are now on their way to the recycle bin.*

Still need to work on the bag problem, though.


*Yes, the recycle bin.  On Sundays, you can take your old clothes, towels, shoes, sheets, and other textiles over to the Greenmarket at Tompkins Square Park.  Other Greenmarkets in New York City** also accept textiles. If the items can still be used, they'll be sold; if not, they're recycled for rags, car seat padding, or insulation.   
**Don't live in New York? Check your area for clothing donation bins and keep your unused clothing and shoes out of the landfull.

10 September 2011


I will never be able to forget.  For me, that day was lived in real life.  A mile away, a building with a hole the shape of an airplane.  A sudden cloud of dust and smoke where a moment ago the building had stood.

Silence.  A stream of silent, shocked witnesses walking uptown.  Military helicopters overhead.  Cars, buses, subways, el trains, cabs, planes -- everything silenced.

Phones dead, internet dead (it was all dial-up, then) and no one knew; would electricity go next? water?  Rumors flew.  I lined up with hundreds of others to give blood for which, it turned out, there was no need.

A day later, my university reopened, and I had to leave the city.  Carrying a small backpack, I walked to Penn Station -- no buses, no trains running. All the bridges and tunnels closed.  New Jersey Transit was running out of the city, but not back in; I didn't know when I'd be able to return.

Eventually, I tracked down news of various friends and family members.  In personal terms I was lucky, because no one I knew died, but that sentiment is no good to those who did lose loved ones.  I had a student whose father was one of the 343 firefighters.  I read about him in the paper.  Somehow, she made it through the term.

Today, I know it's an important commemorative weekend because of the police boats on the river and the helicopters overhead.   A red seaplane taxi-ing around on the East River near 30th Street. Police cruisers with lights on parked at odd spots all over the city.

I didn't have television then; I don't have television now.  Then, I became obsessed with the news; these past few days, I've been carefully avoiding it.  I don't want to see the pictures and the videos, I don't want to relive that day and the days that followed.

I will never forget, I can never forget, the images that remain seared against the backs of my eyeballs.  Do I wish I could?

09 September 2011

I Had To Take A Cab!

I thought I was thoroughly kitted out for biking to and from work in any conditions.  Lights for front and back of the bike; waterproof jacket and pants, gloves, helmet, reflective vest.

And then yesterday I was on Fulton Street on my way to the World Trade Center PATH station, and my front tire felt squishy.  And a moment later, it was flat. And a moment after that, it was most definitely completely flat, entirely out of air.  Fortunately I was close enough to the station to hop off and walk, and still have time to make my train.

On the train, I dug out my glasses and checked the tire, and found several pieces of brown glass still wedged into it.  Thanks, whoever tossed a beer bottle onto the pavement....  One good sized gash in the tire told me there was no way the tube was going to hold air.

And I have no spare tire, not even a patch kit, and no tire levers on me.  And no time to walk the two miles at the other end of the train ride.  I had to take a cab to campus.
Back at home, I bought a new patch kit from the bike shop around the corner and dug out the tools.  First time I've ever needed glasses to see what I was doing while patching a tire. Also the first time I've needed six patches to fix one blow-out.  (Next time I'm down to the rims, maybe I'll hop off the bike faster.)

08 September 2011

Summer By The Numbers

1 family reunion
1 night camping on an island
1 tick bite
1 wedding celebration
1 expired passport
1 article accepted for publication
1 conference proposal turned down
1day at Coney Island
2 articles finished and sent out
2 marmots eating carrots and peanuts out of The Offspring's hands
3 suitcases lost misplaced by the baggage handlers at Heathrow
3 countries
4 nights camping next to a field of sheep
4 weeks of antibiotics
4.5 weeks of vacation
5 gondola rides up Swiss mountains
5 days without luggage
6 European cities and towns
8 hours flight delay
15 train stations
20th anniversary
82 assorted relatives at the family reunion
3 million Borrelia (give or take)

All in all, a good summer, despite the unexpected developments.

07 September 2011

Cyclist of the Week

This is Andrea Diodati of electric love light. I asked her if I could take her picture because I loved the way her dress was billowing out around her as she rode along Bleecker Street.  She told me that her bike has been her primary mode of transportation around the city for the past five years.
 I also love these awesome platform shoes.  Just wish she had a helmet ... maybe she'll design one to match.

Ride safely, everyone!

06 September 2011

Props to the Commish

At the beginning of the summer, I rode my bike from the Lower East Side to the New York Public Library -- the research branch on 40th Street and Fifth Avenue.  It was a hair-raising ride accompanied by aggressive cab drivers, city buses disgorging passengers going in all directions, and in fact vast numbers of pedestrians doing all kinds of crazy things.  I kind of felt lucky to get home alive.

So I emailed the Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, to tell her the city needs more bike access to midtown.  Since she was appointed to the position by Mayor Bloomberg in 2007, she's been a huge advocate for cyclists.  Eventually, between responding to criticism of new bike lanes, she had a chance to get back to me with an email message that was mostly boilerplate about how many new miles of bike lanes the city has installed in the past half a decade, but concluded by acknowledging that Midtown ... needs work.

On the plus side, I recently cycled from 181st Street all the way down to West 10th Street.  The last time I did that ride, there were parks along sections of the river, but between them, you had to go out into the street or through a parking lot, or you could choose between street and a dirt path a couple feet above the water.

Now, it's a wonderful, uninterrupted path from one end of Manhattan to the other.  What a great ride.

05 September 2011


Turns out it was in fact an even dozen trees that came down near us during Irene.  Seven in the courtyard between the next building and the FDR drive; two in the sidewalk just north of the courtyard, and three more in Corlears Hook Park, across the street to the south.
Those would be historic bricks, the remains of a dockyard on the location until the land was cleared for park space at the end of the nineteenth century.
Part of the fence by 455 FDR Drive. The workers cleaned up the bus shelter nearby with a shovel -- the glass was pulverized.
This one was 75 years old, give or take.
There was a bench here. Thankfully, there weren't any people under any of those trees, and given the number of trees down and the amount of flooding all up and down the eastern seaboard, it's a wonder more people weren't hurt.

28 August 2011

Back to School Un-Shopping

Junk mail, advertising, email alerts.  Everyone is telling you that you need to go shopping to stock up for school.

But do you really need everything you think you need?

Kids outgrow stuff, it's true.  But you know what? Last winter's clothes still fit The Offsrping, so that's what he'll wear until the next overnight growth spurt.  (I bought the next size up on sale last spring, so worry not: he won't have to go to school in high-waters until I catch up.)  Last year's backpack and lunchbox are still perfectly functional.

And yes, they need school supplies.  We're lucky: our school has a program where all parents are asked to contribute a fixed fee, and the school buys everything in bulk, so we don't have to go schlepping around Staples in August.

They also need supplies to do homework.  The easiest thing would be to go through The Offspring's room and throw away everything to buy new stuff, rather than sorting through broken crayons and dried-out pens and locating the pencil sharpener and the scissors and the ruler.  But I'm going to spend an hour doing it that way.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to buy a couple new glue sticks, because I know I used one up making a photo album a couple months ago, and it might be time for a big-kid pair of scissors, as he's going into third grade -- but that's probably it.

The Mate and I are also both on academic schedules, which might imply we need back-to-school wardrobes.  But he's a filmmaker, and teaches his classes in jeans.  I go more formal, but I buy clothing that will last for a long time.  I did make one new purchase: a pair of bike-to-work pants from Betabrand with reflective fabric inside the cuffs and back pockets.

Question for the day, then: Will that item actually get used if you buy it and bring it home?  Corollary question: do you already have something at home that will serve the purpose?

27 August 2011

Hurricane Conditions: Park Closed Today

The East River Park, that is.  It's in Zone A, as is the FDR drive, which runs about 250 feet from my apartment building. 

But I'm a dumb cluck, like so many of my fellow human beings, so I ignored the sign and went into the park anyway.  The rain and the wind were at a lull at the time, plus the dog likes his routine.

Things of note:

It was just past high tide, and the water was very high, and running very fast; faster, I think, than I've ever seen it.  It's not going to take much to push it over the low points in the city's seawalls at tomorrow morning's high tide, after a night of heavy rain and wind.

It's quiet out there.  No subway roaring over the Williamsburg Bridge overhead, no ferries on the water, no buses creaking along the streets. I heard, then saw, one lone truck cross the bridge; otherwise, just a handful of cars.

A bunch of them were police cars, though.  With lights flashing, in a hurry to get someplace.  Wonder what's up.

The construction workers involved in the unending project to renovate the East River Park have loaded a bunch of extra equipment onto Uncle Leo, and parked him four feet or so away from the sea wall.  Somehow, this doesn't seem adequate.  But I have to assume they know what they're doing.

Also: the gulls.  I noticed during the big snowstorms last winter that the gulls would come in astonishing numbers to take refuge in the East River Park ballfields.  This evening, they are circling, circling, low over the water.

The wind picked up, and the rain resumed, and I was glad to be able to go home and get dry.

Disaster Shopping

In the face of worst-case-scenario planning from public officials up and down the eastern seaboard, people are shopping like crazy to stock up in case they run out of power.  And I wonder: how much of that stuff is going to get used?  How much is going to go straight to the landfill after the storm passes?

The mayors and governors aren't wrong: they need to plan for problems.  But do people really need to buy that much stuff to prepare?  Are people's kitchens and refrigerators really completely empty?  Or am I the rarity, in that I have a large kitchen cabinet full of food?

Yes, I'll cook today, in case the power goes out later.  A big pot of soup, maybe some rice, maybe some grits.  An extra pot of coffee, in case the I can't boil water tomorrow morning.  I've already filled several containers with filtered water; I'll fill the tub later after everyone has showered.

We have plenty of candles and matches in the house, and a handful of flashlights of one sort or another ... but it's not far from midsummer, and there's going to be plenty of daylight, too.

Disaster planning should involve making good use of what's already around one's home -- which includes, first and foremost, the brains inside our heads.

26 August 2011

Getting off the Plastic Wagon

I'm a little obsessed with plastic, as I might have mentioned once or twice.

In recent months, I've made some progress at getting plastic out of my life, but there's still work to be done.

On the down side, Tom's of Maine made the switch from an aluminum toothpaste tube to plastic this year, and I've been looking for an alternative. For one thing, the tube is made out of plastic, and for another thing, the fact that it's made out of plastic makes is more difficult to get all the toothpaste out of the tube.

Ideally, I want tooth powder (no need to ship water), and fluoride is important* because I want to keep The Offspring's teeth healthy, and so far I've struck out. I bought a package of toothpaste from Burt's Bees today, in the hopes that it would be aluminum (the box was glued shut, so I couldn't check) but no dice.

On the up side, Burt's makes a deodorant to which I'm now devoted. Powered by sage, so no potentially toxic chemicals; totally works even if I ride my bike around with layers of clothing on; packaged in an aluminum can.** Only the pump mechanism is plastic.

Also on the up side, I've gotten more in the habit of putting food leftovers in glass instead of plastic containers. I looked at some lovely stainless steel lunch containers at Whole Foods, but the price put me off. Maybe next year on those.

I'm washing dishes with bar soap, specifically Dr. Bronner's citrus-flavored one. I keep it next to the sink in a metal soap dish. Nice soapy water collects under the drain section, and this is handy, though I can also just rub the bar of soap on a sponge or directly on a dirty dish, if I need more power.

I haven't yet persuaded The Mate to make the switch from liquid soap packaged in a plastic bottle; I'll keep working at that one. Maybe when we run out of the liquid he'll give it a try.

* I know, I know, there are those who think fluoride is irrelevant, harmful, or a liberal conspiracy. I would welcome comments, however, from anyone who knows where I can get toothbrushing powder.

** In case you're wondering, here's the full list of ingredients: alcohol, sage extract, lavender oil, lemon oil. Yes, that's it. Full stop.

25 August 2011

The Kindle Update You've Been Waiting For...

... with bated breath.

I've been using Kindle quite a bit; I've uploaded numerous books for The Mate, The Offspring, and myself, including some essays for an academic article I'm currently writing and a couple of things that might be helpful in teaching and advisement.

I find reading the "digital ink" screen very soothing to my eyes, and I like being able to customize the type size and line spacing so I can cram quite a bit of text onto a single page. (I read fast. Very fast. Having to turn the pages really really fast in the "page-turner" section of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves was a cute little joke, but it also got kind of annoying.)

But I'm also still buying hard copies of books.

Yesterday I biked over to The Strand to pick up some half-price books. On for The Offspring, two for The Mate, and one for me: a pre-release copy of Laurie R. King's newest book, The Pirate King. Most of the rest of the world has to wait until September 6 to get it in hardcover or on Kindle, but I started reading my copy last night.

Right now, a box containing most of the books in the Redwall series arrived from Better World Books. The Offspring will tear into it the minute he gets home.

Why Kindle? Why "real" book?

It depends on two things: availability and price. Redwall, the first book in that series, came out in 1986, and you can't get it on Kindle. The series is being reissued in a fancier paperback version, but I got the backlist used at $3 a pop. Given the speed with which The Offspring reads, price is not insignificant.

The article I'm writing is about blogging and academic identities. I'm reading a lot on my computer for this project, as usual with academic writing, though I've downloaded a few reports from Harvard on identity and new media to Kindle. Oddly enough, the book Uses of Blogs: Digital Formations is available only in hard copy. It came out in 2006, though, which in blogging history is pretty much light-years away.

It is theoretically possible to download pdf's to Kindle. I haven't tried it yet; I usually just use the computer screen for those. I assume the Kindle software must reconfigure pdf's for their screen, but I just keep imagining tiny, tiny pages.

The other issue is annotations. I've tried the annotation feature on Kindle, but the keyboard is, well, there's that word "tiny" again. Also, when I read articles while working on an academic project, I have a couple windows open at a time so I can take notes in one while reading in another. I'm going to have to take notes off these articles in Kindle soon, but I anticipate it's going to be awkward.

The other issue is cost of documents. It seems utterly reasonable to me that as backlist gets more distant from publication date, the cost of the eBook should drop with the cost of paper copies. But (so far anyway) that doesn't seem to be the case.

That said, there's plenty to read for free or cheap. Amazon offers links to gazillions of free "classics" (running the gamut from Jane Austen to Zane Grey, Aristotle to War and Peace). I could go the rest of my life reading just books I can download for free.

24 August 2011

Don't Blame The Bikers

Some obstacles I encountered in the bike lanes on an outing this evening:
  • a double-parked car
  • a taxi taking on a passenger
  • numerous jay-walkers going various directions, variously multi-tasking
  • a jogger, going the wrong way
  • several bikers, ditto
  • another double-parked car, this one with a bike rack on the back
  • a Prius making a left turn on red (!)
  • a young fellow on a skateboard, also going the wrong way
  • another taxi, another passenger
  • a man sitting on a milk crate
  • half of a mini-van trying to get out of a tight parking spot
  • a big puddle and some even bigger potholes
  • another double-parked car
  • taxi number three
Yes, I was once run down by a cyclist going the wrong way on a one-way street. Far more frequently, while cycling or walking, I've narrowly avoided being hit by cars. I've had run-ins with pedestrians not paying attention, with pushers of strollers and Halal carts, with rollerbladers and skateboarders, and other near misses beyond memory.

This is a busy, crowded city; everyone (except maybe the occasional tourist or toddler) is trying to get there (wherever "there" is) as fast as possible.

Unfortunately, there's a culture of blaming the biker. All I'm asking: remember the chaos that is this city's glory and its grit, and negotiate it lightly, recognizing the varying elements that contribute.

Light in August

It was pretty out there the other night.
I wasn't the only one snapping away with my cell phone.
Are they ever going to finish rebuilding the park?
This barge (named "Uncle Leo," though you can't tell that from this photo) has been floating at one point or other in the East River water for years, while the contractors do a little work here, then a little there, all the while putting off repaving the road, which is growing dangerously pot-holed.
The anticipated completion date keeps getting put off. Last I checked, it was Fall 2011. It does not look at this time as though that is a reality, unless by "Fall" they mean "December 19."

23 August 2011

Thinking About Words

To "expire" is to breathe out, but also to breathe out one's last; i. e., to die.

To "inspire" is to breathe in, or to strike with an intellectual or artistic or emotional idea.

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Most of us, most of the time, take inhalation and exhalation for granted. I'm having a little trouble with them today; a lingering cold has left deposits of gunk* in my lungs, and getting air around it has caused a couple of head-exploding coughing fits today.


Is "invalid" the opposite of "valid"? If you haven't already, put the stress on the first syllable. I hate that word.

I spent the better part of a day in a wheelchair, about a month ago, in transit in two airports. I was felled by Lyme disease, and the airline wanted $2200 to postpone our flights, so we traveled anyway, and I nearly collapsed at JFK.

In New York, there was hollering. "Wheelchairs don't belong here. I've been telling you all day, no wheelchairs in this line." The hollerer was mysteriously removed, and I proceeded through the line.

In New York, there were also starers. Most of the children were well beyond toddler age, and should (I opined to myself) have been taught better. What can I say about the adults?

In London, there were no starers, adult or child.

But the wheelchair to which I was assigned for the duration of my six-hour stay at Heathrow operated on the same principle as a luggage cart, with an automatic brake accessible only from the rear, making it impossible for the person occupying the chair to move the thing.

Making the attempts of the user to move the chair invalid.


*Yeah, that's a technical term.

Claiming a Token, or Tokening a Claim?

I've been asked to write an article for an academic audience about blogging. Usually it's the other way around: I blog here about issues in which I have academic interest, because I can be more explicitly political than I can either in the classroom or in a peer-reviewed journal.

I started researching blogging, because that's what we academic types do when it's time to write an article, and learned my blog should be listed among Technorati's 1,277,952 other blogs, to claim my space in statistical analyses of blogging or maybe drum up some more traffic, or something like that.

In order to verify that I actually exist, I have to put a particular code (sorry "claim token") in a blog post. So here you go, Technorati: 9PP5HZ4QHU9C.

Faithful readers, have you any idea what this means? I feel a bit as though I'm making a blind leap off a dock into some very muddy water of unknown temperature and filled with who knows what manner of physical obstacles or biting creatures. Who is (or are) technorati, really?

18 August 2011

Birth Defects, Anyone?

If you're in the East River Park, you'll be warned against smoking...
... and against littering, in three different languages each.
But if you don't read English, you won't find out that the city recommends against pregnant women and children eating the fish.
I made a phone call to the parks department some months ago to point out that the majority of those fishing the East River are speakers of Chinese or Spanish, and that they ought to add signs in those languages warning about the dangers of eating the fish.

No reaction.

Today, I spoke to a couple of parks employees; one of them saw the point and said she'd talk to the superintendent. Do you think they'll do anything about it?

16 August 2011

Why Biking Is Better

The discomforts of riding a bike are physical, and somehow more tangible than the discomforts of driving a car, but the car-driving discomforts are real just the same.

This morning: set off on the bike, got wet, dried out on the train, got wet again, dried out in my office.

This afternoon: flat tire (fixed it with kit The Mate left in the trunk). No rain, not too hot, got the car far enough off the road not to worry about getting run over.

The discomforts came later. Tailgaters, aggressive lane-changers, stop-at-green-lighters that made me irritable, and then irritable enough to honk, and then even more irritable, enough to make regrettable gestures out the car window.

This morning, the wet stuff dried out within half an hour or so. The afternoon's irritations, on the other hand, persist: somehow, I'm still irritated at all those aggressive and just plain lousy drivers.

This is the important part to remember: the physical discomforts seem more important in the anticipation, but in fact they fade rapidly, while the emotional discomforts linger.

Multi-tasking: on the train, I got some work done on a syllabus; on the drive home, I got to talk to my folks. Beneficial adjunct activities both. But there's always work, and if I drive several hours a week, I run out of people to talk to.

15 August 2011

Office Stash

Middle drawer on the right side of the desk. Here's what's in it:

a four-pound bag of almonds, a little more than half eaten
a bag of Walgreens menthol cough drops
a few Lipton black tea bags
"personal supplies"
menus for two Chinese restaurants that deliver
shoe polish
but no toothbrush
forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks, napkins
a bowl

What's in your desk? Link in the comments if you wanna play.

25 July 2011

Kindle Pro and Kindle Con

Yes, I bought one.

And then Borders announced they'll close the remainder of their stores. Commentators said this is related to the rise of on-line retailing, of which eBooks are fast becoming a significant portion.

I have very mixed feelings about all of this.

I was buying most of my books used, before I bought the Kindle. And since I bought it, probably 99 percent of the books I've put on it were either free or 99 cents. So it's not clear that moving to Kindle, for me, has impacted the paper book market (yet).

One Kindle, though made out of plastic and powered by electricity and probably bound in (environmentally toxic) leather, is probably still an environmental lightweight in comparison to printing and shipping the 3500 books it is supposed to hold (and theoretically unlimited books, if you remove books from the device as you finish reading them).

I can see that as technology evolves and improves, I'll be able to upload, read, and annotate books, pdfs, articles, whatever, rather than printing everything out and scribbling notes in pencil and hoping I'll be able to read them a week, or a decade, hence. (No joke: the tiny notes I wrote in books I read in grad school? Today, I need a magnifying glass.) I won't need yards and yards of bookcases to store the books I've read, and I won't need to dedicate living space to book storage. These are also environmentally beneficial aspects of the Kindle.

But browsing for books in an actual store -- holding actual copies of books, leafing through them, reading portions -- is still, for me, a far more satisfying experience than searching for books on an on-line retailer's web site. For The Offspring, it's up there with visiting the library, though after a trip to the bookstore he's likely to own a book, frequently paid for out of his saved-up allowance.

I suspect by the time The Offspring is an adult, eBooks will be fully integrated into his reading experience. But what might the unintended consequences be?

19 July 2011

On the Parkway

The North Haven service station on the Merritt Parkway has recently been renovated, and they put in dual-flush toilets and solar panels.

According to the Connecticut DOT, they've also used better insulation and more energy-efficient heating and cooling units, and the goal of putting in a Subway is to provide healthier food. (So why is there also Dunkin' Donuts? Just wondering....)

Apparently, the plan is to do similar renovations along the Merritt Parkway and on I-95 through Connecticut. All good stuff.

08 July 2011

Environment and the Presidential Pledge

Michele Bachmann has signed The Presidential Pledge. Want to read the whole thing for yourself? Check it out here.

The Washington Post reported some of the most offensive passages. They missed the reference to "vulnerable women ... and the rights of fathers," and references to "anti-scientific bias." Then there's this:
...robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to US demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial security.
Uhh, no. Robust reproduction is not beneficial, not to the United States, and not to the rest of the world. Back in the 70s, people were actually trying to promote Zero Population Growth by encouraging two-child families in which each parent would be numerically replaced.

Since then, the world's population has nearly tripled.

More people means more food, more transport, more greenhouse gas emissions, more global warming. Why do I suspect that the anti-scientific bias of the people who wrote the "Pledge" would lead them to insist there is no such thing?

07 July 2011

Inspiration = Breathing-In

Wheelchair Dancer challenged me the other day. She challenged me to find the joy in disability.

My first reaction: NO WAY.

The emotions that cascaded over me as we sat over coffee included emergency-room fear, frustration with the process of getting back into shape from zero yet again after another winter of difficult breathing, worry about what the future will bring and the family I support, despair over the knowledge that illness will recur, though I don't know when.

Today, I went out for a run after sitting in traffic for 2 1/2 hours on the way back from the office. (It's my disability off-season. The lights are dark, the performers are elsewhere.) I started out slow; my back was stiff and my legs felt heavy.

As usual, I noticed the gimpy, the asymmetrical; I saw those who were struggling for whatever reason. Here or there eye contact; a small nod of recognition.

And I found, for just a moment, the joy. Today, I can do this. The weight room has given me strength, running has given me stamina; my back loosened up and my legs found lightness and I was, simply, running, a runner, wind off the East River cooling my face, my body meant to move across the miles.

Thank you, Wheelchair Dancer. Thank you for inspiration.

06 July 2011

From Bare Feet and Brennessel

I am from bare feet in the summer, from a Volkswagen squareback and from tunnels dug through snowbanks.

I am from the tall white house set back from the street, pine tree out front leaving pitch zwischen meine Finger, on my knees, in meine Haare, on my clothes; I am from the quiet house above the sea, und aus dem Garten mit einem Kirschbaum.

Ich bin aus der Brennessel, the tiger lily, the crack of Donner on a hot August afternoon promising relief from the heat; from the pigweed, the Pusteblume, the trickle of snowmelt in mud season.

I am from gathering Steine and reading too late into the night, from Paul and Gisela and Ruth and Erika.

I am from travelers and from wandern im Wald.

From more than one way to skin a cat, from use your noggin, and from Übung macht der Meister.

I am from fire und singen und skepticism; I have found home among people of the book.

Ich bin aus Ostpreußen und England and Maine, from lobsters und Königsberger Klöpse.

From family stories: the teenager who listened to Harriet Beecher Stowe reading from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and went off to join the Union Army; the mother who passed children through the windows of a crowded rail car and then begged the soldiers to let her in with them, from fighting, from the tank that exploded on a land mine, from the shoe factory, from stories edited and burnished and just plain made up.

I am from Auburn and Harpswell and perhaps an archive somewhere in Deutschland, yellowing pictures curling from walls, librarians charged with remembering, moldering details buried for the forgetting.


This is from Magpie Musing, and she says you should go to Schmutzie to link up yours. The template/prompt is here.