28 April 2013

Small Commitment

A couple of months ago I decided to start doing yoga every day.  I needed some way to address the anxieties surrounding a car accident last year, a persistent asthma episode, and a bunch of other issues having to do with family members -- not my stories.

I've kept it up, even if it's just ten minutes before I collapse into bed at the end of a long day.  (Are there any other kind?)

I started off with the goal of doing a couple of sun salutations every day, and mostly I've kept that up, and I've also found myself drawn to forward bends and pigeon pose.

Neither of these is a difficult post -- no fabulous one-armed balances requiring great strength. But they're difficult for me because I'm not very flexible. I have to accept myself in the poses as I can do them -- just be, just let go.  Let go of the ideal form of the pose, let go of tension, let go of anxiety in the various places it takes hold in my body.

Some things have improved, others haven't.  My shoulder is a little better after a cortisone shot, and I'm remembering to breathe more while driving, instead of turning myself into a string of little knots.  I haven't recovered fully from the last asthma episode, though I'm certainly a lot better.  The unbloggables haven't changed much.

But my level of anxiety is down.  Perhaps I've just gotten used to a whole new level of stress, with that curious adaptability that we humans have.  Perhaps the yoga is doing something good.

There are days I'm tempted to skip it.  But I keep at it, because if I miss one day, it is likely to turn into a string of days.  Who knows what another few weeks or months might bring?

26 April 2013

Plastic: Escape It If You Can

I was at the office yesterday when I heard that New York City is now accepting all hard plastic for recycling.  (Unfortunately, they're still not recycling plastic bags, or toothpaste tubes, shower curtains, and other non-rigid plastics.)

I got to thinking a lot about plastic a couple of years ago and started to make a real effort to cut back on buying things made out of plastic or packaged in plastic.  I switched from shampoo and soap in liquid to bar form and from toothpaste to tooth powder (still plastic packaging, but less of it), and cut back on take-out lunches to avoid all the packaging that comes with it.

It's a constant thought process, because plastic is so deeply entrenched in our lives these days.  (Look around you: can you see five things made fully or partly of plastic? Ten? Fifty?  Just on my desk right now: sunglasses, watch with plastic band, laptop computer, iPad in case, two CDs in cases, pen, mechanical pencil, car key, cell phone, inhaler, phone charger, mousepad, photo album with flowers I pressed back in 1982 (ring bound), folder.  Seventeen items.  Oh, and I'm typing this while sitting on an exercise ball.

I wondered yesterday if my family could eat for a week without eating anything packaged in plastic.  When I got home, I went in the kitchen and took a look.  Here's some of what I found:

In the fridge: bread, mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, tofu, tahini, cream cheese, hummus, celery, carrots.  The mustard is Grey Poupon, and I remember getting that in a jar; has the company switched over?

In the cabinets: a couple of kinds of cereal (plastic bags inside cardboard boxes), taco shells (ditto), various flours and a bag and a half of sugar, two kinds of seaweed, three kinds of oil, peanut butter, several bags of dried beans and lentils, and most of the spices and vitamins.

In short, no.  No, we can't eat for a week without plastic.  Probably not even for a day.

Want to play? Post a list of plastic items on your desk, in your backpack/purse, or in your fridge *right now*.

19 April 2013

Just Questions

News media are saying that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is "of Chechen origin," though he was born in Kyrgysztan and lived ten or eleven of his nineteen years in the US. Wait, when Dzhokhar was a child, Kyrgysztan was a Soviet republic.

What makes identity, national or otherwise?

I guess I'm "of Prussian origin" since my mother was born there.  Hmmm, but Prussia is Poland now; it ceased to exist as a nation nearly two decades before I was born.  Also, I'm "an immigrant" as I was born in Germany.  I guess that makes me "German."  Maybe it makes me "of Nazi origin."

But I've lived in the US since I was six months old.  On my paternal grandmother's side, various ancestors came in various centuries from England, so many generations ago it's difficult to count.  (Hint: prior to the original Tea Party.)  Does that implicate me in the genocide of Penobscots and Wampanoags and Abenakis?

What shapes us, what shapes our views?

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar's older brother, was born in Chechyna, but the family moved to Dagestan and then Kyrgysztan when he was a child.  He recently became a devout Muslim and gave up smoking and drinking. It's said he was a fan (if that's the right word) of an Australian-born imam who has encouraged "holy war."

I'm caucasian, and I speak English "without an accent," which is to say I sound like an east-coast American.  But, wait, I converted to Judaism twenty-odd years ago and gave up Christmas and Easter. I'm a "follower" of Arthur Waskow, a Jewish activist.

What influenced those two brothers?

Ruslan Tsarni, their uncle, has been widely quoted today: "I respect this country. I love this country. This country which gives chance to everybody else to be treated as a human being and to just to be human being. To feel yourself human being."

As a nation, the United States certainly has demons in its past and skeletons in its closet.  Native peoples,  slavery, anti-Jewish propaganda of the 1920s, Japanese internment camps, McCarthy.  And I bet you can come up with more.

What, then, of our origins as "Americans"? What do we attend to? What do we sweep under the rug?

I only have questions.  I have no answers.  Maybe I'll go with Lennon: "Imagine...."

18 April 2013

Virtual Realities

Offspring: There's not enough wood in Minecraft.
Treehugger Mom: Can't you plant some trees?
Offspring: They take too long to grow.
Mom: Well, plant them now and let them get started. Can't you fertilize them so they'll grow faster?
Offspring: I can put bone meal on them.
Mom: Where do you get bone meal? Do you have to grind up the bones?
Offspring: You just use the workbench.


I have Facebook friends that I've met on the walls of other friends.  Most of them are people I know about otherwise from the strange land of academic publishing, but a few are just ... Facebook friends.  I suppose this is the new normal, but I find it a bit unsettling.


When you "buy" something, you don't always actually own it.  This has been true for a while in the also strange land of Manhattan real estate, where you don't buy the apartment, but only the privilege of leasing it from the cooperative.

But it's expanding.  If you buy a cell phone on a service contract and the contract expires, you can keep the phone and switch to another provider ... right?  No, turns out phones are "locked" and it's illegal to lock them.  (Al Franken wants to change that law; you can sign his petition if you're so inclined.)

I've commented on this here before, but you also don't own books that you "buy" for your Kindle.  You just get a license to use them until your Amazon account is terminated ... or you are.

Amazon doesn't want you to think of it quite that way.  Here's how they phrase it:
There is no limit on the number of times Kindle content can be downloaded to a registered device, If any Kindle is registered to your account then you'll be able to access the content on any Kindle device. However, Kindle content cannot be transferred to another account. 

Then there are bitcoins, which are apparently a form of exchange less real than paper money, less real than checks, less real even than credit cards. I don't get it.


In non-virtual news, here's something to contemplate: David Rosnick suggests that if we start reducine the amount of time we spend at work, cutting back on the work week by half of one percent each year and taking longer vacations (kind of like the Europeans), we could significantly reduce carbon emissions.  Half of a percent of a forty-hour week is 12 minutes.

14 April 2013

Unexpected Consequences: News Break

Some time last year we started turning off the computers and iPads and video screens and similar devices on Friday evenings, not to be turned back on again until after sundown on Saturday.

An unforeseen side effect: a weekly break from the news.

I turned into an internet news junkie on 9/11.  Cell phones went down with the towers, and land lines went down because of overuse, but we didn't know until quite a bit later that was why, we only knew we couldn't reach friends and family.  Buses and subways were brought to a halt and air traffic grounded and cars banned from the streets and Manhattan below 14th Street was blockaded, patrolled by the National Guard, and the silence was palpable.

Meanwhile, The Mate was in Italy, and then in England, for the wedding of a friend.  I felt very, very alone.

Rumors flew freely: was the water next to go down? the electricity?  I didn't have TV, and had a radio only in my car, so when the phone lines finally came back on (this was in the days of dial-up internet access), I turned on my computer and started surfing the news, endlessly, sleeping only a few hours a night and obsessed with learning every detail about what was happening.

In subsequent years, I've continued reading the news on the internet, where the links are endless.  And, of course, a lot of what I'm viewing is only very loosely categorizable as "news."

It's only recently that it's dawned on me that by turning off the internet at sundown on Friday, I also turn off the news feed.  I take a break from constant awareness of ecological crises all over the globe, from the antics of news-hungry politicians, from the violence that seems to characterize the human condition.

It's easier to relax, not only because I'm not looking into a glowing screen, but also because I'm not taking in all the awful stuff that counts as "news."  Another, perhaps related, unexpected side effect: Saturday afternoon naps.

10 April 2013

100 Blessings

I learned yesterday that as Jews, we're supposed to say 100 blessings a day.

Yes, 100.

It blows my mind: the idea of acknowledging, 100 times every single day, the things for which we can be grateful.

There are prescribed blessings to be made on waking, at various times of day, with food.  But I'm drawn to the idea of just being thankful -- not for one thing a day, as many people do in November, but 100 times in a single day.  And the day after, and the day after that.  It would require some serious mindfulness, to remember all day to give thanks for things I'm so fortunate to have in abundance in my life.

The Offspring, the Mate, the Dog, the Reptile.  Other family members, connected and caring even though far away.  Friends, good colleagues, good students.  Food, water, shelter in abundance and comfort.

Books, ideas, music, art.  A job I love (most of the time).

Trees, ocean, hills.  Daffodils, forsythia, cherry trees exploding in bloom.  A pair of cardinals darting across the road as I biked to work this morning.

Eyes to see with, legs to pedal a bike, hair to keep my head warm.

Being mindful of all of these things I'm so fortunate to have in my life, of acknowledging them, of feeling blessed, day after day after day: what would it take?  100 blessings?  Can I find them once, remember to see them, day after day after day?

03 April 2013

Bike Commuting: Practicalities

I used to think in terms of biking weather and other kinds of weather, but when I took a sabbatical in Cambridge (UK) a few years ago and depended on my bike for transportation to the library, the supermarket, and anywhere else I needed to go, I learned to carry rain gear and just keep moving.

That said, commuting by bike year-round can feel like a bit of a project, especially when winter weather returns after one day of spring and you have to put all those layers on yet again.

In late spring, summer, and early fall, if it's not supposed to rain or snow, I just wear work clothes.  I keep some blazers at the office so as it gets warmer I can ride in shirt sleeves.  (I also keep extra deodorant and hair gel at the office.)  A skirt with boots, as long as the skirt is loose enough to pedal in, can be easier than long pants, which tend to get caught in the chain. There are various ankle accessories that are supposed to peg the pants, but I always find they come off as soon as I start pedaling.  If necessary, I stuff pant legs in socks.

In cold weather, the trick is keeping the extremities warm but not overheating the core. I use a medium weight wool coat with a reflective vest made of fabric that helps to block with wind.  If it's really cold I start the ride wearing a scarf or neck gaiter that I can take off as I warm up, but mostly I'll just live with being chilly for the first five or ten minutes.

Feet: In winter, I wear wool socks with shoes or boots that are loose enough to allow for some air to help keep my feet warm. If it's below about 20 degrees, my feet still get cold, and I have some neoprene overshoes from when I used to bike long distances in cold weather -- but for the amount of time I'm on the bike at any one time, I'll live with cold feet rather than hassling with one more thing to put on and take off (and repeat, three more times throughout the day).

Hands: Can get very, very cold if it's even chilly.  You can get winter bike gloves, but winter gloves designed for skiing also work fine. Main thing is they need palms and fingers with some traction.  It's also helpful if they're breathable.  I accidentally bought down-lined gloves a couple of winters ago in an end-of-season sale (I only noticed the fill after I'd paid), and I have to say they're wonderful.  Even when the temperature goes down into the teens (the coldest I've biked in) they keep my hands warm.  In temperatures around freezing, windblock fleece works; above 40 I use lightweight long-finger bike gloves.

Legs: if there's precipitation in the forecast, I have rain pants that go over whatever work clothes I'm wearing.  Getting overheated can be a real problem, so depending on the weather I might be best off with light-weight tights and a skirt that I can put on when I get to the office.  If it's quite cold, I might want wool pants.  Neither the rain nor the wind pants are specifically biking gear -- I originally bought both for hiking.

Ears: Like hands, can get very cold.  Two great accessories here, for which I paid retail, and which have been worth every penny: a Gore-Tex helmet cover to keep the wind and rain out of the vents and trap some warm air around my head, and a Pearl Izumi head-band, lightweight enough to use with the helmet but somehow incredibly warm on the ears.

Want to try it?  Start out on a day when you can dress down a little bit and the weather is nice, and build from there.

01 April 2013

Cat Suit. Or, Ignorance Is Bliss.

The town of Swansea, Massachusetts apparently has some issues with ADA compliance, including absence of ramps for wheelchair users and fences that block access.  As part of a fight to improve the town's accessibility, Patrick Higgins, a local resident, asked that the town library stop keeping a cat after others told him their children's allergies were severe enough that they couldn't use the facility.

A local vet posted the story to Facebook.  People responded by vilifying Higgins. Many called the guy names; a few assumed he had allergies himself, and suggested he's to blame.  Many said allergies aren't a  disability.  (They are, if severe enough.)  Others want him dead. 

Some of the comments:
Shoot the man. Idiot, cat bully, bad man, small minded. Get real, allergies are not a disability. Find another library, get lost, get a life, joker, jerk. The man [should be] required to get psychotherapy. Tell him to buy his books. Hater, dick, pathetic. He needs to go jump in a lake. Bitter old man, crotchety man. Take his library card away!  Have the man... put to sleep.  Attention seeking schmuck, selfish.  Get rid of the man.

Mean old SOB.  Bar those with cat allergies.  Dumb man.  Slap the guy so hard his teeth fell out.  Bitter, curmudgeon. He needs to be taught a lesson.  He's not taking care of himself.  Silly.  Kill the man.  Nut case, stupid human, old coot. It is not our responsibility to take care of these people.

Have a little talk with Jesus and leave the cat alone.  Ridiculous, frivolous, animal-hater, mean, grumpy black-hearted man, obnoxious.  He is trying to discriminate against the cat.  Creep, moron, a**hole, fool.  These people are crooks.  Perhaps if he lost weight he could breathe better.  Give that man a mask and a gag!

Old goat, ruins it for everyone.  Roll his fat a** off the nearest bridge.  Keep the cat get rid of the man.  Lonely hateful man, trouble maker, pill, hateful person, self centered, horrible, small minded.  Tell that guy to take a hike.  An affront on people with REAL disabilities."

Ignorant, whiner, crybaby, grouch, rotten, nonsense, chronic malcontent, miserable soul.  Have the guy put down.  Shame on him. Dumba$$.  Put the man to sleep.
Does that look like hate speech to you?

In the end, the cat got so much support from local residents that Higgins gave up.  The cat got her very own library card.  I suppose the kids can go read books in the next town.