29 January 2011

Shopping, or Not, for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is coming around again, and with it, the decision: buy your sweetheart a bunch of stuff?

Well, if you're going to buy chocolate, get it with a Fair Trade label. (What's "Fair Trade"? It means that manufacturers and retailers make sure producers of coffee and chocolate, as well as other goods, get a fair price for the crop, rather than allowing middlemen to set exploitative prices. Check out the Fair Trade Federation or Fair Trade USA for more information.)

If you want to buy jewelry, consider seeking out conflict-free gold and gemstones. Eh? Well, it turns out that so-called "blood diamonds" are mined and sold to pay for weapons in countries riven by civil war. National Geographic has more, here.) Some sources of conflict-free jewelry: Brilliant Earth; Manufactured stones from Diamond Nexus Labs; Bario-Neal; Green Karat.

Or forego a gift altogether, and give to a charity you or your loved one (and hopefully both) support.

What Difference Does It Make?

from "Ethical Shopper," 6/6/09

Why bother? What does one small action do for the planet?

Well, there's the cumulative effect. If, every day, you use your reusable mug to buy a cup of fair trade coffee, rather than buying conventionally grown coffee in a cup that will be thrown away, at the end of the year that's 365 cups that didn't go to the landfill and one farmer who sold ten or so pounds of beans that were farmed using sustainable practices and sold at a price that allowed her to support a family -- rather than at artificially depressed prices created by middlemen forcing a bargain.

In addition, there's a potential ripple effect when your friends notice what you're doing. I'm not talking about spending all of your time preaching. But it will come up, and you can use the opportunity to let them know, politely, what fair trade coffee is and why you prefer to buy it, and there will be a ripple effect. Some friends will ignore you, others will respect you, and a few will follow your example.

Same goes for all of the other purchases made, deferred, or decided against that crop up in your life, one at a time. Cumulative effect plus ripple effect ends up being more powerful than you think.

Mr. Miyagi's Guide to Ethical Shopping

from "Ethical Shopper," 6/28/09

Over at Planet Green, Matt McDermott describes the approach to green shopping demonstrated by Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid:
  1. Is it reusable?
  2. Is it biodegradable and/or recyclable?
  3. If it's none of the above, don't buy it.
  4. Can you pronounce the ingredients? If not, stay away.
  5. How did it get here? Locally produced is best; after that, ship, train, truck, plane. (Recent studies, though, have shown that the impact of shipping is greater than was thought: More information here.)

Check out Matt's full post for details and commentary.

A Thousand Bottles of Water

from "Ethical Shopper," 9/17/10

One bottle of water doesn't seem like much in the way of plastic packaging, right? But consider this:If you're in the habit of drinking bottled water, think about how the daily bottles add up over the weeks and months. And think about the alternatives.

I've been using a stainless steel bottle from Klean Kanteen, refilling it at water fountains or just at the sink. They make great bottles in a variety of sizes.

But it also dawned on me the other week that if I'm carrying around a refillable coffee cup, I can fill that with water whenever it doesn't have coffee in it, and that way I only have to carry one thing around at a time.

So... just think about it. How can you get your drink of water without petroleum packaging plus shipping emissions?

Imagine ONE Community

It's occurred to me that it's a little odd to have this blog entitled "Imagine1Community," but then to write in a whole separate blog about environmental issues.

I've already killed that blog once before, because I wasn't posting regularly to it, but then resurrected it because I wanted to have a place to post on issues having specifically to do with the environment in a separate place from posts about, well, everything else.

But I've decided to kill that blog again. I may migrate some of my favorite posts over to this blog. And then I'll blog about environmental issues here, mixed together with anything else I might feel like blogging about.

28 January 2011

Winter and Wheels

They're getting buried, deeper and deeper.

But I've seen several people out riding their bikes, too -- plus two people motoring down the street in wheelchairs because getting to the sidewalk was too difficult.

27 January 2011

Winter Storm

From behind double-pane windows, it was a sight to behold as visibility dropped until we couldn't see the buildings across the way. I was very glad not to have to be out in it, for any of the many reasons people might have had to be out last night.

26 January 2011

More Water Bottles

Caught the tail end of Upcycled, an art exhibit featuring works made from recycled materials, at the Educational Alliance yesterday.
My favorite: Flotsam Reef Spiral, made out of plastic bottles by Olivia Kaufman-Rovira.

22 January 2011

You Will Never Get Those Minutes Again

Andrew Solomon has this to say about depression in his book The Noonday Demon:
The most important thing to remember during a depression is this: you do not get the time back. It is not tacked on at the end of your life to make up for the disaster years. Whatever time is eaten by the depression is gone forever.... No matter how bad you feel, you have to do everything you can to keep living, even if all you can do for the moment is to breathe. Wait it out and occupy the time of waiting as fully as you possibly can.... you will never get those minutes again (p. 430).
This is true not only of depression, but of any disability, any chronic or recurring disease.

I try to live it myself, but it's a lesson that bears repeating and constantly needs re-learning. I remember my mother commenting, after some teenage disappointment or other, "It builds character," and I responded, "Don't I have enough character already?"

I'm in the long process of teaching it to my son: we send him to school no matter how crappy he's feeling from the asthma and the night-time wakings and the side effects of the medications. (Don't totally jump down my throat: we do keep him home when he's sick with other stuff, especially if it's contagious.)

But it's hard. It's hard in myriad different ways depending on the nature of the disease. I read a blog post a few weeks ago (and I wish I could find it again so I could link to it) that suggested that managing disability is a job, and that really struck home for me. I juggle work and parenting, and disease and its manifestations -- my own, and my son's -- are a couple of other balls up in the air.

But the important thing is to keep living. I keep seeing variations on the sentiment, "Health isn't the most important thing -- it's the only thing." But it's not.

Keeping on going even when health is absent: for those with chronic illness, that's the only thing.

21 January 2011

Bike Detritus

Chained to trees, chained to parking regulations signs, chained to lampposts. They're all over the city, remnants of the increase in biking in the summer months spurred by the building of all the new bike lanes in NYC.
Come spring, they'll need substantial work if they're to be ridden again -- probably new tires to replace the ones that froze and cracked; plenty of chain grease and lubrication everywhere else, if not replacement of all the rusted parts. Maybe they'll just be abandoned, and people will get new bikes to replace them, considering that the cost of summer commuting.
Despite the snow and cold, bikers are still out there; I even saw some out in the freezing rain the other morning. (I'm not one of them at the moment, but I'm recovering from pneumonia and hope to join them again soon.) Meanwhile, London's bicycle superhighways are seeing increased use -- more proof that if you build bike lanes, they'll get used, despite the grumblings of detractors.

20 January 2011

The 100 Thing Challenge

I have way more than 100 things.

In my kitchen alone, just for starters there are fourteen appliances (not including the stove and the fridge), thirteen pots and pans, fourteen baking sheets and pans of various shapes and sizes, and eight sharp knives for paring and chopping. Empty canning jars by the dozen. All of that stuff gets used pretty regularly, though, except maybe the twelve-cup percolator and the ice cream maker.

In my closet, twenty-one pairs of shoes (including roller blades I should probably let go of already, and two pairs of hiking boots), fifteen blazers, and three vests; I'm not going to count pants and dresses and shirts and sweaters. And I'm definitely not going to count books, because I'd have to locate them all and it would just take too long. You want exact tallies, go see a guy named dave at the 100 Thing Challenge.

Dave counts
guitar accessories as one item along with his guitar, and he counts his socks and his underwear as one item each. But he counts jeans and dress shirts as separate items. So one of the questions that comes up is, how do you group stuff?

But the important message behind Dave's counting has to do with resistance to a culture of consumption.

I'm not going to try to pare down to 100 items. I'm not, for instance, going to get rid of a perfectly good pair of shoes just so I can own fewer things, when that means the remaining pairs will wear out faster. But I've already been trying to obtain new stuff more slowly than the old stuff wears out, and Dave's project is good inspiration.

19 January 2011

Accessible Taxis

From Wheelchair Dancer:


The City Council is now considering Intro 433, a bill which would require that any new taxi design approved by the Taxi and Limousine Commission be wheelchair accessible. It currently has 31 sponsors, and we are seeking at least four more sponsors to be sure that, if passed, it is "veto-proof."

This is especially important now, as the TLC is considering three finalists for the "Taxi of Tomorrow," which would be the "iconic" taxi of New York City, which would make it the main New York City taxi for ten years. Only one of the three, the Karsan, is wheelchair accessible.

We need your help in calling Speaker Quinn and your local council member to ask them to sign on. Below is a list of those Council Members who HAVE NOT SIGNED ON, the link next to their name is where you can get their contact information:

Please call Speaker Quinn to urge her to support Intro 433 and to vote for the Karsan as the "Taxi of Tomorrow."

Christine C. Quinn http://council.nyc.gov/d3/html/members/home.shtml

Staten Island
You can find out about the taxi here.

18 January 2011

Some Other Things We Recycle Around Here

Wrapping paper and birthday candles.

My grandmother used to use sewing scissors to cut carefully through all the pieces of tape so that the paper could be reused. On the other side of the family, some of the great-aunts didn't even use tape -- just carefully folded the paper around the package and then tied it with string, never knotted, so both paper and string could be used again (and again and again).

Back then, I think the main reason for it was probably economic good sense. On one side of the pond, there were Great Depression memories; on the other, post-war privations.

It makes sense economically for the Great Recession -- have you priced those little gift bags lately? -- but it also makes sense ecologically in a planet that's being slowly cooked.

And another thing. I really dislike shopping, and reusing paper and gift bags and birthday candles means fewer trips to the store.

15 January 2011

The Birthday Card

My Aunt Carlene and Uncle Robert first sent it to my father in May of 1972. The text inside says, "Don't throw this card away ... Recycle it to a friend."

And that's what my family has done for the past 39 years, except for a few years in the late 1970s and again in the early 1980s when it got misplaced. In January 2008, I misplaced it again, and went through months of panic before I found it again in time for my mother's birthday in June.

It's long since fallen apart and is now held together by that string on the left side, which also holds an extra sheet of cardstock to note the various family members it's been passing between.

It's almost like a family bible with records of births and deaths in the end papers. And an emblem of the lengths of environmental awareness, or the depths of plain Yankee cussedness, that run through the family.

I'm proud to be one of them.

14 January 2011

Honoring Rev. King

Monday is a national day of service organized to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. King said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?' "

I'm in the grips of pneumonia, so I'm going to be doing a couple of very simple things this year once I've shaken loose: I'm going to invite my neighbor Goldie, who lives alone, over for coffee, and I'm going to donate a coat to One Warm Coat. (They take donations before and after Martin Luther King, Day.)

I'm also committing myself to doing more environmental activism this year. I don't know how much I can do, between work and family and keeping myself healthy, but I'm going to try to do more, and I'm going to try to make it build, year after year.

What are you going to do?

13 January 2011

Boys and Dolls

Me: What if they made American Boy dolls?

Mate: They do make boy dolls. They call them action figures.

10 January 2011


Words have power. Violent political rhetoric has power.

A couple months ago I ran into another hiker out in the woods. He was carrying a folding saw and looking for firewood, and jokingly I put my hands up in the air.

He waved the thing at me. "You don't look like Pelosi or Obama, so you're safe."

It's out there, this idea that assassination is a possible solution to what many perceive as the dire threat of a black man (and some women) in power. And when a kid gets unhinged, the presence of that rhetoric may encourage one path, rather than another.

That kid also wrote on his MySpace page that Mein Kampf was one of his favorite books -- and Rep. Giffords is Jewish. Relevant? Who knows. Maybe we'll never know.

But this, I do know: bullets also have power. And a semi-automatic gun with dozens of bullets, that has more power. And that it should be that easy to buy these things, this is a problem.

08 January 2011

Some Things About LA

The tall buildings have setbacks and plazas, and the streets and the sidewalks are far wider than those in New York, and somehow that makes me feel far more dwarfed than the narrow canyons of home.
The crosswalks are brick-red. No, not red brick. At first you think they're red brick, but then you look again and you realize the red is painted on. And then you realize that under the red paint is regular old asphalt, with brick shapes carved into the surface. Somehow that makes me think about early medieval manuscripts, with the lines etched rather then penciled on, and the ink written over them.
There are a lot more small cars and a lot fewer big old SUVs than there are on the streets of New York. Do you think that has anything to do with California's strict emissions laws?
The Marriott Hotel has beer advertising several stories high up the glass sides. More important than "How do they do that?" is "Why is this necessary?"
I didn't realize Bi Bim Bop was comfort food, for me, until I was eating it in absolute bliss yesterday.
The Westin Bonaventure hotel seems designed so that a person could live in it for weeks, maybe months, possibly even years, without ever venturing outside. There's a whole raft of restaurants and retail opportunities plus a health club, and these really cool glass elevators that crawl up the outsides of the buildings so you can get a view of the neighborhood. But I thought one of the reasons people moved here was... for the weather?

07 January 2011

Injustice In Mississippi

There are so many things wrong with this story.

The two sisters, and three teenaged boys, are supposed to have robbed a couple of guys of $11. All three boys have long since gone free, but the sisters are sixteen years into two consecutive life sentences. Each

Double life sentences? for $11???

One of the "boys" mentioned in the article was 18, and therefore already an adult. It might make sense if the minors got less jail time, but why a few years for a legally adult male, and life sentences for the two women? The article mentions that the sisters are black, but doesn't specify the race of the others convicted; could race be a factor in the differential sentencings?

Maybe more to the point: why didn't the reporter ask any of these questions?

The Jackson Free Press has more detail here: Turns out one of the originally convicted young men stated in an affadavit in 2000 (yep, eleven years ago) that he and his brothers were pressured by the police to testify against the women or face life sentences. But the governor refused to release the two women. The boy who was fourteen at the time has testified that the police suggested he'd be raped in prison if he didn't comply. (A Huffington Post article reveals that the youg men were black, too.)

Maybe the truth is on indybay, a Bay Area independent media site, which includes information none of the mainstream media want to touch (or maybe they haven't dug deep enough to find it). According to an article by Carolina Saldaña, the real issue was that the sheriff had a vendetta against the sisters' father -- and manufactured the case against the women in revenge.

Oh, and the reason for their release? So one sister can give the other a kidney transplant. But is this out of concern for their welfare? Here's what Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said:

"Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the state of Mississippi.”

Sickening. All of it.

04 January 2011

BPA Free Soup!

I got rid of my crock pot a few years ago in a move because it never seemed to work.

Now, a confession: late last year, I found another crock pot in the basement of my building with a note taped to it: "It works!" So yeah, I brought it home, washed it thoroughly, watched carefully to make sure nothing crawled out of the motor, and put it into use.

The "new" crock pot worked out just fine* for those black beans, and I made a very tasty spicy black bean soup (with ginger and chili pepper flakes) with no canned-bean taste and no BPAs.**

Next up: yellow split peas. Probably spicy again, with whole mustard and cumin seeds (popped in a hot pan in oil, like popcorn).

And after that: leek and potato. For that one, I'll have to use the actual stove.

*I poured boiling water over the beans, soaked overnight, then cooked for a few hours.

**Did you know that tin cans with beans, tomatoes, spaghettios, and anything else you might be buying in them are made with plastic containing BPAs? And because the contents are put into the cans hot, there's potentially more leaching than from water bottles. Treehugger has a good article with links to even more information. Eden and Trader Joes are a couple of companies that make BPA-free cans, but you'll pay a premium.

This is the major reason why I'm trying to cut back on cans and cook with dry beans instead.

03 January 2011

Nature Meets Artifice

A photo of art on the High Line, taken last October. The grass on the old rail road line: natural or artificial?

01 January 2011


I'm going to keep this simple. Three items.

1. More dry beans, fewer cans.
Can anyone tell me why I have such trouble cooking beans in a slow cooker? Old beans? Insufficient heat? The last time I tried to cook up chick peas, I kept them going for two days after an overnight soak in boiling water, and they were still kind of crunchy. Hoping for better luck with the black beans soaking right now.

2. Make music more.
Birthday wish: get the piano tuned so I can play with The Offspring on his violin. Also, I want to make time to play it more on my own, and to noodle around on the harmonica more of the time.

3. Less exasperation, more peace and quiet.
'nuff said.