30 November 2012

Reader, I Shopped

Yes, I went into an actual temple of commerce on Black Friday.  Two, in fact.

I've chronicled my relationship with stuff and shopping for stuff: I feel as though I have too much of it, yet I'm reluctant to get rid of things because I might need them some day.

Some months ago, I decided to try not to shop any more.  I didn't last long: I'm addicted to books, and even I need a new garment now and then.  Or I want a new garment now and then.

But the attempt to stop buying things did reshape how I shop.  I had been shopping on-line sales to buy stuff I might need some day, rather than things I actually needed at that moment, and often things I didn't necessarily want: colors that were on sale rather than colors I wanted to wear, for instance.  This was a contributor to the excess.

I'm still on the email lists for some stores, because if I'm going to buy something, it might as well be at a discount.  But most of the time I delete the sale announcements unread, and don't waste all that time scrolling through sales listings to see if there's anything I might want some day.

Instead, I buy what I actually want, or see an actual, immediate need for.

I try to buy only items that replace other things: a threadbare blazer, a pair of pants that's gotten too short in the wash.  I also have gotten better at giving away (not throwing away) things that I can no longer use, but that others can, in one way or another. And sometimes I even get rid of something and don't replace it.

The closets and cabinets are far less stuffed than they were a year ago, and I've been saving time and money by not shopping.

Oh, and my purchases this Black Friday?  A pair of mid-weight lined hiking pants, and for The Offspring, a book and a book light for reading in the car in the winter. I went into the stores with the specific intention of buying those items, and that's what I came out with.  No extras, no impulse purchases, nothing I thought I might want on some future occasion.

19 November 2012

Bike Lane Rant

Did you know that bike lanes are only for bikes?
 That's right, bikes only.  Also: No Pedestrians:
Plus, they're one way.  Bikers, did you know that?  Here's a hint: the bike icon is right side up:
Also note the arrow indicating direction of travel:
 Still not convinced?  How about this?

16 November 2012

Greening Black Friday

Black Friday is often (but not always) the busiest shopping day of the year.  How do you lessen the environmental impact of your Black Friday?

Best bet: stay home.  Don't buy stuff, don't drive long distances to get to the mall, don't burn gas sitting in traffic jams.

Second best: do your best to shop responsibly.  In the right-hand column of this blog, there's a list headed "Where to Shop," where I've listed places that sell Fair Trade or otherwise environmentally sustainable goods, including used books and clothing.

Get, or make, gifts that don't include excessive packaging and that you know the recipient will use, rather than stuff that will end up re-gifted, stuck in the back of a closet, or at the dump.  Food, a fabulous scarf, a pair of really nice gloves or socks, a magazine subscription.

For Uncle Joe, who has everything?  Some nice chocolate or cheese, along with a gift in his name to a charity he'd appreciate.

Mostly, before you shop, think.  Don't make impulse purchases.  Consider the impact of anything you buy on your budget, your credit rating, and the environment.

15 November 2012

How To Help: NYC and NJ

[Updated 11/15]

At this point, it's all about volunteers and money.

People are still needed to go to the hardest-hit areas and help climb stairs, clean buildings and parks, sort donated goods, and transport food and other needed items to the people in need.

Cash is still needed to pay for help.  Food donations are still needed, but check your location's needs before you shop or donate.  If you can donate blood, please follow the links below to find your nearest location.  Bonus: you can get away with eating a second piece of pie on Thanksgiving.

New York City

Occupy Sandy was the first volunteer presence in much of the city and continues to coordinate aid to several areas.  Right now, they need blankets, flashlights, aaa batteries, gallon ziplock bags, cleaning hardware, especially brooms, flat shovels, mops, masks and gloves, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, baby/toddler food and formula, duct and scotch tape, toiletries (deodorants, tampons, soap, etc), can openers. To view the updated list or sign up to volunteer:
Occupy Sandy has set up a wedding registry on Amazon, where you can purchase needed items:

The City of New York has a list of ways to help:

Blood supplies were affected after the cancellation of many blood drives and the closing of blood collection centers in the area, and donations are needed:

New Jersey

The Community Food Bank of New Jersey is taking donations of cash, non-perishable foods, and diapers.  Check the website for the list of specific items:

The United Way of New Jersey is taking cash donations:


Please help me crowd-source this page.  Add confirmed information in the comments, email me at imagine1community@gmail.com, or post to my Facebook page, and I'll add items in the next update.  Thanks.

12 November 2012

Clean, Clear Water

It was the lettuce that got me thinking.  A head of lettuce from the farm, still shedding soil.  I looked at it on day three or four of our power outage and realized I couldn't eat it, unless I was willing to wash it at the fire hydrant while other people stood in line for water.

And then I realized I have no idea how people live in a drought, or in places without access to clean water for drinking and bathing.

I'm not talking about the kind of drought we get on the east coast of the United States every few years, where they tell you not to water the grass.  Nor even the drought we had in the west and midwest last summer, that cut corn yields and drove up prices and contributed to wildfires.

I'm talking about the kind of drought that caused famine in several north African countries last summer.  I know we have hunger in the US; there are significant numbers of people who can't be sure they'll get enough to eat tomorrow.  But in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia last year, people were dying for lack of food.

And according to UNICEF, there are 2.5 billion people around the world who don't have access to clean water.

I have no idea what that could possibly be like.  I can't imagine it.

Yes, I go camping, and use iodine tablets or a filter to purify water.  But I am so fully embedded in privileged access to clean running water at any time of day or night that I can not get my mind around what it would be like to live without it in my home.

After the power came back on, and then the water, and then the heat, I soaked the lettuce, limp by then, in some cold clean water for a few hours, and then made a salad.

For much of the world, the water isn't coming back on.  And our first-world over-consumption is only going to make it worse.

09 November 2012

Still in the Dark

Walking around the city the day after the hurricane, I looked at the carnage and the chaos -- no, those words are not too strong -- and had no desire to document it, to seek artistic or journalistic frames and juxtapositions.  The emotion was direct and raw, washed over me like the saturated air still seething in the aftermath of the storm.

But a couple days later, I grabbed this with my cell phone: the Williamsburg Bridge, the Brooklyn side lit up, the Manhattan side dark.
Being surrounded by places with power was a good thing.  One day we visited a friend and showered; she cooked us a meal using a stove! a refrigerator! running water! Another day I sat for hours in Barnes & Noble recharging phone and iPad.  One night we went out to dinner, and I briefly noted the atmospheric candle on our table.

If we hadn't lost power, hadn't been without heat and light and running water for those days, I suspect I'd feel a lot less empathy for those still without power; as it is, it's heart-wrenching.

And the region is still like that half-dark bridge: most of us are back to more or less normal lives, others are still suffering.  We need to remember them, and keep doing whatever we can to help.

07 November 2012

Is Cleanliness Overrated?

I sat in my car for a chilly hour and a half this morning while waiting in line for gas.  This gave me ample opportunity to notice how dirty the car has gotten.  To keep myself busy, I shook out the mats, brushed the seats with the snow brush, and dusted the dashboard.

Really cleaning, though, requires a vacuum cleaner.  A thorough cleaning would demand a steam cleaner for the seats.

Think about that for a minute: you can't clean a car without using electricity.  And that electricity probably got generated by burning fossil fuels, although there's an increasing chance of a contribution from solar or hydro or wind or nuclear power.

That got me thinking about cleaning as part of the environmental impact of stuff, beyond the need to use non-toxic cleaning products.

Do we need to wash every article of clothing after every use?  Should the need to vacuum (carpet) rather than sweeping (wood floor), or to dry clean rather than normal washing, be part of the decision making process when furnishing a home or buying clothing?  How can we limit cleaning and its impact?

04 November 2012


Living on the third floor, having no elevator access was little more than inconvenience, though pitch-dark stairwells were a danger.  I live in a 20-story building, and some of my neighbors, unable to navigate the stairs, were trapped for the duration of the outage.  Residents of the building checked on each other, helping where we could.

One night, I heard someone fall in the stairwell.  Thumpthumpthumpthumpthump, a cry, a couple of moans.  I listened for a call for help, and when none came, burrowed back under the covers, knowing I should have gone to help.


Before the blackout, I was in the midst of my worst asthma attack in three years.  I was using a nebulizer four times a day -- a machine that plugs into the wall to help deliver medication mixed with saline solution into the lungs in mist form.  With the power out, I switched to a metered dose inhaler to get the medication.

The next day, the attack finally broke.

I could climb those two flights of stairs.  I could walk the neighborhood and look at the damage.  I could bike to Union Square, where they were supposed to be giving out dry ice for the refrigerator.  I could go to the fire hydrant at the corner, fill buckets, carry them half a block and then up the stairs.


Official help?  Hard to find.  Yesterday, after power had been returned to most of the area, I saw national guard members distributing bottled water on Grand Street.  A few days ago, I passed a truck on East 10th Street with oatmeal and bread.  There were rumors of food in other places, but no system to inform people what was available, and where.

The New York Times posted updates with information about infrastructure, noting "tap water is safe to drink."  Since we had no tap water in our building, that seemed a bit of an insult, along with the Empire State Building, lit up like fireworks beyond the dark buildings of the neighborhood.

Facebook was sometimes the only source of information.  It's how we found out about the dry ice, though the official notice failed to mention times for distribution, so I made my first trip to Union Square before the truck arrived, and my second after it had run out.

03 November 2012

Flotsam and Jetsam

The morning after the power went out, I went for a long walk with the dog.  The wind was still blowing, but not dangerously; it wasn't really raining, but water seemed sort of to be sifting out of the sky.  I walked south along the East River, still bloated with flooding, stinking of marine fuel, and marveled at the things that had drifted in with the tide.  When I got home, I wrote the start of a blog post about them:
a pigeon, feet sticking out straight in front, one leg banded
part of an outboard motor
half a porta-potty
several pieces of PVC pipe joing
a gas mask
a small stuffed toy
bee hives in brightly painted boxes
a life vest, inside out
cars left in clumps, like bath toys

Early this morning I thought I heard surf breaking in the East River as the tide came in again.  I thought it must be my imagination twisting the gusts of wind, but when I saw the high water mark in the park, I reconsidered.
People, too, were washed up in the streets, stunned.  People who hadn't taken in the seriousness of the upcoming storm, hadn't had the information or the resources to gather supplies, to make a plan.  Dark stairwells, no flashlights, no water, cell phones drained of power.  A woman stood, anguish on her face, unable to step into the street.  Two lost young men decided they could bicycle to family, one to an aunt uptown, another to parents in Brooklyn. 

Later that day, another long walk.  In the river, two picnic tables, a length of what looked like metal pipe, at least 30 feet long and a foot in diameter, and an entire staircase.  We were driven out of our dark apartment, compelled to see the damage, yet unable to process the enormity of the destruction