Wednesday, December 31, 2014

missing the bus

Here's a random walking story from yesterday. I have a mandatory 2-week holiday while the university is shut down. So, I decide to take the bus to the hippie grocery store next to a consignment store I haven't yet visited, as a fun outing. I get up there in good order, enjoy my leisurely shopping and head to the bus stop. My official bus tracker app says no bus coming for the next 15 minutes. So I figure I must have just missed the one I was hoping to catch. The next one is due in an hour. Google agrees, next bus in an hour. What to do? I don't have a heavy bag, it's cold, but sunny and it's about an hour walk home. Ok, I'll walk.  The bus I thought I missed passes me in two blocks (of course!). Ok, now I'm really committed to walking. 

The neighborhood is beautiful, I'm in the Museum District. The gorgeous old houses are decorated for the holidays, the sun is shining and I'm having a nice walk. I am able to help out a woman who needs a plastic bag for her dog waste, and we chat for awhile.  I get to the big park by the university and there are two people walking in the park, me and another man. Our paths are converging. I see that it is my friend K from Sierra Club. He's walking to the laundromat. We stop and have a nice chat and make arrangements to carpool to the next Sierra Club training session in Ashland

At this point, I'm wondering why I even thought about taking the bus. I give the bus fare in my pocket to the next homeless person I see. I don't normally do this, as I prefer to support the organizations that help the homeless, but this is some kind of karma trip.

One of the subjects K and I touched on in our chat in the park was suicide. I can’t remember how he brought it up (I’m trying to work on my listening skills, but that’s a ongoing challenge). I mentioned that I think it is a horrible thing to do to one’s family and friends. We spoke of religion, etc. But I got to thinking later why my first reaction to suicide is the ones left behind. It comes from high school.

I was on the bus going home, in the front seat, as usual. My seat mate that afternoon was my neighbor J, another kinda nerdy kid. We were acquaintances but not super good friends. I don't think we had been speaking much during the trip. I was knitting, again, as usual. As we approached our stop, he said something about not being able to sleep lately. Every night he was still trying to get to sleep when the birds started singing. I can’t remember what I said. We got off the bus and parted ways.

He was dead before dinner. No one knows if he meant to die, but I heard he hit his head on a rock in the creek. The creek wasn’t very deep. What if I had said instead, “Hey J, would you like to talk? We can walk for awhile together.”? 

What if? I think I've been trying to walk that off ever since.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


It's about that carbon footprint again, and convenience, and buying local and recycling (or not).

I bought a growler.

I live in a city and have no handy car. To buy good, local beer from a store, I have to walk .7 miles to a grocery store. That's not a long walk, but beer is a tad heavy. So, it's not very convenient to run and pick up a six pack.

I like to buy beer made locally. The grocery stores will often carry some, but the selection may be spotty.

My building does not have any facility for recycling. Seriously, none. To put a beer bottle into a recycling container, I have to leave my building, wait for the light to cross Main St. (a 3-lane busy street) and walk down that block to a stand-alone recycling container on the sidewalk. It's awkward.

I finally found a great solution. Across the street, one block up from the building I work in is a tap house.  They have lots of great local beers on tap and will fill your growler on Thursdays with a $5 discount. So, I bring my empty growler in my canvas bag to work with me on Thursdays, toddle across the street after work, have a nice chat with a bartender, and fill up my jug.

I get local beer, a delightful short walk, and a "reuse" instead of a "recycle". A total win-win-win!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle 

I was that person, in the 1980's, who gathered all the recycling from the neighbors on the block, stuffed my station wagon up to the tops of the windows and waited in the line at the recycling center to keep all our metal, glass and plastic out of the waste stream. When the city finally introduced curb-side recycling, I heaved a sigh of relief and thought I'd left all that behind me.  

I took recycling for granted all those years. It was easy to set out the bin every week. Then we sold the house and moved aboard SV Red Ranger. Most marinas don't bother to separate recyclables from regular trash, so I had to stockpile as much as I could until we found a place that would take them. Needless to say with the premium on storage space, I wasn't doing 100% on the job. I did find one city where I could sneak into the adjacent neighborhood on recycling pick-up day and add my pile to some homeowner's bin. With our recent move back to land, I was looking forward to the convenience of weekly recycling pick-up again.

Not so. Here in the downtown portion of Richmond VA, there is no recycling. Well, there is a small nod to recycling. There are a few solar-powered compactors placed on the sidewalks on a few select streets. They only take bottles and cans. I do bring my bottles and cans. I have to cross a 4-lane street to get to the box. I don't have a place to easily take my cardboard, plastic jugs of regular paper. I have to pile it up and load it in the car.... just like the 1980's. 

I'm also practicing my writing, so I thought to do some whining to the local paper.  They actually printed my letter.  Here it is, if you want to read my rant in its entirety. I guess there are other people who feel the lack of recycling in downtown, because the next day I was contacted by an organization working to change this and asking if I wanted to stop whining and start working on it.  

Cool.  Maybe a bunch of us together can get this done.

This cannot handle an entire apartment building's worth of recycling. Just sayin'.

Friday, December 12, 2014


One of the joys of not owning much to maintain (yard --> garden tools --> shed to hold them --> it doesn't end), is that discretionary spending moves from purchasing stuff to purchasing experiences and philanthropy. While experiences are important for expanding one's mind and I love traveling around doing things, I also love creativity and supporting creativity. Art, music, literature and those things that people do and make are just as important to me as going for a hike in the mountains.

I'm talking about patronage here. Not the political, back-office-dealing kind, but the good kind, the supportive, promotional, and sponsorship kind. I am happy that we have enough to share with the creative community. I get more joy out of buying a book or music that some I know has created than buying almost anything else (except food!). 

When our son began to be interested in music in high school, I realized the critical role that patronage plays in the lives of creative people. It was then I decided I was going to try buy a copy of everything created by someone I know. I limit it now to digital copies, but I buy all the music and books that I can.

Feel free to explore the list below. This is my ever-expanding circle of creatives. Make your own list: buy a book by someone you know or support your musician friend. It's fundamentally more satisfying than any other random crap you could buy and it keeps the creativity going around.

Xander Lott  (our son!)
Karen Chase

Someone "designing sound". Yes, this is what it looks like.

Monday, December 8, 2014

book review: This Changes Everything

During my immersion in the People's Climate March a few months ago, I became aware of the new book by Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate. Being a fan of instant gratification, I pre-ordered it from the Kindle store and eagerly awaited the publication. I love reading popular non-fiction science type books, so I was looking forward to a good read. 

When it arrived, I settled in to enjoy it. I did not enjoy it. I realized quickly that it was not a "good read", it was a tough read. I don't mean that I didn't appreciate and respect it when I say it wasn't enjoyable, it's just the my expectation of "enjoyment" was misplaced. For instance, I enjoyed Michael Pollan's book Cooked. This book I had to take in small, digestible chunks, so it took me a long time to work through.

Her basic premise is that in order to turn around our global carbon emissions, and try to forestall climate disruption, we have to change our entire economic system. This isn't news to most environmental activists. I saw people carrying signs at the people's Climate March with the slogan "System change, not Climate change", but that extent of that message hadn't penetrated my brain fog yet. 

Here's a sample from page 169 of the Kindle version: 

"Extractivism is the mentality of the mountaintop remover and the old- growth clear- cutter. It is the reduction of life into objects for the use of others, giving them no integrity or value of their own— turning living complex ecosystems into “natural resources,” mountains into “overburden” (as the mining industry terms the forests, rocks, and streams that get in the way of its bulldozers). It is also the reduction of human beings either into labor to be brutally extracted, pushed beyond limits, or, alternatively, into social burden, problems to be locked out at borders and locked away in prisons or reservations. In an extractivist economy, the interconnections among these various objectified components of life are ignored; the consequences of severing them are of no concern. Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones— places that, to their extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress."

Klein systematically exposes Capitalism, the basis of our cherished economy, as the perpetrator of environmental destruction, the successor of imperialism, and the source of much of human inequality and injustice. Yeah, it's a tough read. 

But even as she describes the corner we have painted ourselves into by trashing our planet's resources for short-term economic gain, she writes of hope. She gives us portraits of key leaders in the global fights against the extractive industries. She shows alternatives to the "business as usual" path that we are currently on.

In section three, Starting Anyway, after describing many pockets of system change all over the globe, she writes:

"And contrary to capitalism’s drift toward monopoly and duopoly in virtually every arena, these systems mimic nature’s genius for built-in redundancy by amplifying diversity wherever possible, from more seed varieties to more sources of energy and water. The goal becomes not to build a few gigantic green solutions, but to infinitely multiply smaller ones, and to use policies— like Germany’s feed-in tariff for renewable energy, for instance— that encourage multiplication rather than consolidation. The beauty of these models is that when they fail, they fail on a small and manageable scale— with backup systems in place. Because if there is one thing we know, it’s that the future is going to have plenty of shocks."

Change is a constant in Nature. Change is a constant in our daily lives. Climate Disruption has moved our cheese, and we will have to react. After reading this book, I'm convinced we will have to react with some serious economic upheaval. Hopefully we will learn how to steer that change toward learning to respect and replenish the natural systems we need to survive.

Monday, December 1, 2014

house party

The suburbs are pretty far removed from our current lifestyle. We've been living small and tight for about 5 years. The contrast between our city digs and the suburbs was on my mind when we recently attended a Thanksgiving Wedding Celebration in Las Vegas.    

The house we visited is palatial by many standards. It has five bedrooms, cathedral ceilings in two adjoining rooms downstairs, a huge great room. Outdoors is a patio, two side yards, perimeter gardens, a porch swing, picnic tables, pool and hot tub. Lots of outdoor space. Outdoor space for grilling, hanging out, swimming, gardening, eating, dogs and cats playing, and more hanging out. I've been so used to sharing my outdoor space with strangers, it was luxurious. 

But this is far more than just a house and yard. It is a home, lived in and dedicated to friends and parties. A couple owns it, but they have roommates that share their lives, as well as their space. The space, indoors and outdoors, is designed to maximize activities with people. 

The front door enters what could be a living room. Instead, it's a music studio: drum set, microphones, keyboards, guitars and an explosive sound system. Ok, and a couch. The next room in the open space might be used for dining, but in it lives a pool table with a ping pong conversion cover. 

Through the pool room is an extensive working kitchen with a large table (seats 10 easily), and dinner service for 40. Two turkeys in the oven, crockpots with side dishes, more side dishes on the island, pies and cakes, oh my...

The sitting room adjoining the kitchen has a couch, coffee table, 2 love seats, an entertainment center, extensive bar cabinets and the double doors to the outdoors. It literally took 2 minutes to move the furniture to open up the floor for dancing after dinner.

It was beautiful weather, so the hot tub, the porch swing, the picnic tables were all full. Oh, and our daughter and new son-in-law got married on the raised area behind the pool. 

Even the upstairs was used. There were multiple costume changes: turkey suits, bathing suits, bathrobes, a wedding dress replaced with jeans. The beds and floors and couches were full of sleeping people when the music finally faded.

Many people with big houses just fill them up with furniture, almost wasting the huge spaces they own. People have beautifully decorated rooms that they never go in. In contrast, every inch of this house was used for friends to relax, play, laugh, dance, eat, and make music.

It was a bit hard to come back to our tiny space. We have two barstools and two easy chairs, no outdoors. No room for much of a party, but at least we have the ukulele.

Playing, in the "living room".

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


It's that time of year - when the cold weather sets in to our hemisphere and, along with our woollies, the decorations come out. I thought we had gotten rid of all the decorations years ago, but upon opening the box of our coats my mother-in-law so kindly sent us from her attic, I found the one seasonal decoration I still had.

I actually love decorations. I love the change of the seasons: the pumpkins, Easter lilies, and red-white-blue buntings hung from porches. I used to enjoy my annual trip to Experience to stock up on bayberry candles. I love buying shelter magazines at holiday time. One year we decided to completely revamp our Christmas tree decorations and created a silver and white theme tree with ample glittery snowflakes. It was lovely, but it was also kinda lonely.

Slowly, I began to realize that what I really love are not decorations in a home, but the over-the-top decorations in public places. The ones involving cranes. Once we took the kids down to NYC to see the city decked out in its holiday splendor: Macy's windows, FAO Schwartz, Tiffany, Rockefeller Center - all of it bigger than life.  Now we're talking decorations!

While the visual sensation of all the glitter, ribbons and lights is heady, the real experience of big decorations in public spaces is the shared experience. We are looking at the big snowflakes hanging from the vaulted ceiling at the James Center together with other people. It's the press of noisy people on the sidewalk that make the line at Macy's windows exciting. It's the lighted bows on the street lamps along the shops that are just a backdrop for cheerful people. 

I can understand the desire to decorate one's private indoor spaces for the holidays. It is delightful to see the candles and greenery decked out across the mantle and a welcoming wreath on the front door. A bit of seasonal color here and there can go a long way. But, we don't have a mantle anymore, nor any horizontal surfaces worthy of candles. We also don't have any storage space for seasonal decorations. 

That's all more than fine for me. I don't feel the need to decorate indoors anymore. Been there, done that nesting. Now, I delight in stepping out the door and reveling in the huge Christmas tree that the advertising agency has erected in their courtyard. The trunks of the trees on the sidewalk are wrapped in lights 15 feet high. The shop windows are full of greenery and ribbons. The hotels have lights everywhere. The air is cold and nature has plenty of decorations of her own to share: pretty designs of frost on the parked cars, piles of brightly colored leaves on the sidewalks, the stark empty branches against the grayish sky. 

I have lots of decorations to enjoy *and* I get to share them with other people. 

Even this one is shared, since I don't wear the coat indoors much.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

coffee shop tour

My phone claims it's -7 C out there. My bed is snugly warm, my husband snoring contently. I'm wide awake, enjoying the thought of a Saturday with no commitments and no plans except to write and finish a tiny quilt. What about breakfast? I have some delicious leftover homemade waffles in the fridge and my favorite tea. But the sun is coming up, the world is calling.

Time for walkies!! Now that we have tucked in Red Ranger for the winter (a new experience in itself), it's time to explore our new digs. I've done my research on foot and on Yelp and we are now embarking on our extensive coffee shop reconnaissance tour. Our ideal early Saturday is spent sampling pastries and hot drinks while writing (or in my case, sometimes reading) the morning away. The shared space of a coffee shop is one of the joys of life. People bustle in and out, some staying to chat and recharge their lives with friends, neighbors and total strangers. I love it! The smells and sounds of the baked goods and oven door banging and the steamer foaming are backdrops to the welcoming comfort of people, not like a quiet kitchen at home (even with yummy waffles).

When we were nomads, we often had a different coffee shop in a new town every week. Now we have to go deep, not broad, but going deep is fun, too. I am a prodigious bookmarker. I have a folder for Richmond with several sub folders of links to various establishments: local food vendors, farmers markets, bars, historic sites, and an entire sub folder devoted to coffee shops. We are starting the march through the list. There are three coffee shops that are less than two blocks away. We've been to those many times. Time to branch out and explore. 

Favorite coffee shops on the Eastern seaboard, from the days of being tech nomads:
Annapolis MD - City Dock Coffee
Deltaville VA - Cafe by the Bay
Norfolk VA - Ghent Starbucks
Wrightsville Beach NC - Cafe del Mar
Summerville NC - Coastal Coffee Roasters
St Marys GA - Blue Goose
Ortega JAX FL - Starbucks
St Augustine FL - Kookaburra
New Smyrna Beach FL - Hotties
Vero Beach FL - Cravings
Port Salerno FL - Sammies
Coconut Grove Miami FL - Starbucks

Many pastries and cups of tea and coffee to consume! 

Monday, November 10, 2014


It's an instinctual urge in me, to collect things. Or maybe it's just because I'm a Bowers (see Bowerbird). I love things that match or have a common theme.  As a child, I cut out pages from the Sears catalog and lined up the pictures of the same object shown in different colors. I also love little things, whether they have any commonality or not. Growing up, I had a small blue velvet-covered watch box in which I collected tiny things: rocks, shells, kitten teeth, a tiny blue jay feather, a blue marble that looked like the earth. 

There's something about collecting that just sucks me in. The enumeration, the visual grouping, the treasure hunt for the next member of the set, whatever it is that connects with my brain hardware, it's an addiction. One item is interesting, two items has potential, but three items is a collection. The growth trajectory of a collection is dependent on the type of item. Most things are open-ended, there is an infinite number of things that could be added to the collection. Shells are a perfect example, one could collect shells forever, the collection could be as big as external constraints (time, money, space) allow.

Open-ended collections give the collector the opportunity for curation. Curation is defined as organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts. This is where the fun comes in. One of the collections I had in the past was doll furniture. Scouring yard sales, antique shops and eBay for just the right piece makes part of my brain just plain happy. I still look for pieces, but I don't buy. Looking is just as much fun as it always was. I have a large watching list on eBay most of the time, but haven't bought anything there in years. Etsy also figured this out and offers a Treasury tool in which one can pick 12 items to create a curated collection of object images for any theme one can imagine: color, function, season, or any other random idea, just for the fun of it.

Finite collections come in two types, open and closed. An example of an open collection is US postage stamps, the passion of my middle school years. The list of all stamps produced is known, so the collection is finite, but more members are added every year. This gives the collector a framework for the collection. For stamps, we had paper books with a place for every stamp to be mounted. One could even complete full pages of stamps in the book. This type of collection gives the collector a defined goal and a progress indicator. 

A closed collection is one in which the members are defined, but no new members are being produced, such as artwork created by a deceased artist. I encountered this type of collection during my recent hunt for used apartment furnishings. I found a fascinating shop of 20th century pieces and asked about a certain vase that I instantly loved. I don't need any vases and it was totally out of my price range, but I went home to research the artist anyway. The shop owner had done his homework and this was a fair market price. The artist died in 1964, she won't be making any more vases.

Ok, so all this about my fascination with collections and collecting things: it's deep, it's ingrained, it's compulsive. But wait. I'm also a minimalist. I try to keep the things I own to a small set of useful items. How can I indulge my bent for collecting things while still keeping my possessions minimal? 

One way I've found to satisfy my urge to collect is by creating virtual collections. Virtual collection methods can involve pictures, research, lists, and experiences. For example, I have a collection of cute trailer pictures on Pinterest. I certainly can't collect trailers (although that would be so much fun!). I also like to learn all I can about decorative arts, so in a sense, my knowledge about furniture, ceramics and textile styles is a type of collection. Research doesn't take up much space, keeps me interested and dusting is not required. Lists and experiences are probably overlapping forms of virtual collecting, but examples are the list of books I've read on GoodReads, the countries I've visited and the microbrews I've consumed. 

Another collections strategy is to keep things tiny. Sometimes the urge to collect physical objects is hard to combat, so I indulge in a few. These all live in a mason jar. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

the salad dressing conundrum

I have issues with commercial salad dressings. My issues are probably a bit obsessive-compulsive, but here they are.

Commercial salad dressings have too many ingredients. Seriously, I don't want to eat any more preservatives, thickeners and manufactured vegetable oils.

Commercial salad dressing bottles are not designed to allow the last little bits to be used, unless you want to turn the bottles upside down and be very patient. So, there is a food waste issue and a bottle cleaning and recycling issue. By not purchasing these bottles over and over again, I'm reducing the packaging we consume.

Making salad dressing at home is pretty simple. My mother always did it. It's easy to find recipes and adapt them for small portions that are always fresh. I use small jars left over from other purchases (jelly, pesto, etc - yes, I know I could make these at home, too, and I have in the past, and may again in the future, but we are just talking about salad dressing today).

Here are a couple of favorites. I make a small batch and then we use it up before I make another batch of a different flavor. There is no row of bottles in the fridge with 1/2 inch of congealed dressing in them. In fact, most of these don't get refrigerated at all.

Yogurt dressing:
1 cup strained or Greek yogurt
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Ginger-Sesame dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced

Mustard dressing:
6 T olive oil
2 T vinegar
1 t. prepared mustard
1/2 t. salt
black pepper

Russian dressing:
2 T tomato paste
1/8 c mayonnaise
2 t white vinegar
1 t honey
1 t Worcester sauce
1 t lemon juice
1/4 t onion powder
1/8 t salt
1/8 t black pepper
1/8 t mustard powder
1/8 t garlic powder
1/8 t cayenne powder
1/8 t celery seed
1/8 t paprika
1/4 t parsley flakes
1 small dill pickle, minced fine

the current batch of ginger-sesame, great on a big green salad with tuna!

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Next week we are attending what I call the Upper Chesapeake Annual Whitbys Brewer Sailboat Association Rendezvous. It's a long name for what is essentially a tribal council. 

When we were first contemplating leaving home for the nomadic life, a friend of ours said she could never leave her tribe. It was the first time I heard of a particular group of family and friends called a tribe. That word is a great one to describe the interdependencies that allow a single person to survive. And I mean survive in the complete sense of the word: to live, to grow, to thrive, to contribute. The word implies that survival is totally a group effort.

While I will always feel self-inflicted-bandage-ripping guilt and sadness about leaving our Schenectady tribe (and the Syracuse tribe before that), that break has enabled the formation of new ones. And while no tribe can substitute for one's original tribe, new tribes are amazing. We found a new tribe in Norfolk. We found a new tribe in Deltaville. We are finding a new tribe here in Richmond. These are location-centered tribes, building on the day to day interconnectedness of running into each other at the coffee shop, exploring places together and working on community projects.   

The tribe that will gather next week, though, is a location-independent tribe. It's a tribe built of passion for a boat and her people. It's no accident that boats built by the same designer are called sister ships. The kinship developed through sailing these boats and gathering to share our stories is a special one. (I'll pretend there are beach bonfires instead of electric lights to go along with the storytelling.) 

Here's to tribes! To the people who we bond with, who share our survival, and who enrich our common lives.

A sub-tribal gathering, in St. Augustine, Winter of 2013.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

carbon footprint

In light of my recent experience with the People's Climate March, I'm examining my carbon footprint again. I've also started reading Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. While I am only one person, and my actions are small, I have to believe they are important in some way; as an example, as one small wallet and pair of feet. If I try as much as I can to reduce my consumption, especially the consumption of goods that have to travel halfway across the planet, maybe it will make a small difference.

What do we consume? Well, since we just moved from a boat to an apartment, we've done a s**t ton of consuming this summer. We bought furniture, some work clothes for the breadwinner and a car. Yikes! Now that the spending spree has settled down, I'm back to thinking about our regular habits. We don't buy a lot of stuff. My devotion to minimalism and the 519-square foot apartment has much to do with that. 

These are my current consumption goals: 
Keep acquisitions to a minimum.
Buy local goods whenever possible.
Use public transportation as much as possible.

Keep acquisitions to a minimum.

This goal deals with purchasing both durable and disposable goods. Beyond some very basic furniture, car and a few clothes, we make every attempt not to bring home things (crap, stuff, junk, crud, clutter, etc.). We don't have a book shelf. We don't have a TV. We have a few dishes from Goodwill and two old bikes. Ok, a few toys were allowed in the kitchen, but those are small and used often. I don't see much on the horizon for us in the durable goods category. The entertainment purchases are all pretty much digital at this point. The occasional hard copy book I buy is passed on once it is read. We do buy things like dish soap, garbage bags, shampoo and paper towels, but we try to make those last as long as possible. 

What we don't buy:
Decorations - we have nothing on our walls, nothing for any holidays. We're doing fine.
Personal adornment - makeup, nail polish, costume jewelry, hair products. We're boring.
Pet supplies - There's a big rant here about how much junk people in this country buy for pets (dog strollers!), but I won't bore you with it.
Supplies associated with home ownership - no lawn mowers, grills or garage door openers here.

Buy local goods whenever possible.

Our primary consumption category involves food and drink. I've checked out the farmer's markets, the local grocery store (conveniently on the bus line) and the local breweries. All looks good to be able to source most of what we need to eat and drink as close to home as possible. This means giving up a few things that I've been eating regularly for a long time. Bananas are going to become an occasional treat instead of a weekly purchase. Pineapples and walnuts also travel too far to be staples anymore (thank goodness, Virginia grows peanuts!). The annual bushel of sweet potatoes from the farm in Deltaville will be purchased next week, along with a pile of butternut squashes and cabbages, so we'll be eating a lot of these this winter, as we did last year. It worked out well.

Food is one thing, drinks are another. We already pretty much limit our drinks (beyond water) to coffee, tea, beer, wine and some hard stuff. Coffee and tea have to be imported; there's not much wiggle room there, although I'm going to check out these local herb teas. We have several local coffee roasters to patronize, so even if the raw product is sourced off-continent, the roasting jobs are going to our neighbors.

We have more than enough breweries in Richmond to keep me satisfied without resorting to beer from Colorado or Germany. Many of the bars have the local brews on tap, so it's easy to keep local on this one. It's fun, too, as the breweries have many seasonal varieties to try. From now on, I am committing to drinking only Virginia (and preferably Richmond) beers (unless I'm traveling).

The Captain enjoys a port occasionally in the evenings and there are some Virginia varieties that aren't too horrible. Here is the real hardship part, though. My favorite late evening sip is Laphroaig (and her myriad single malt sisters). This golden stuff has to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, with a considerable carbon footprint (heavy glass bottle with fancy packaging). Sigh. I intend to embark upon a sample tasting of Kentucky Bourbons, with the hope of finding one stinky enough for my taste. This might be the killer.

Use public transportation as much as possible.

This is the really, really tough one. We have two commutes. We chose to live in an area where we can walk for most of our errands, but the breadwinner must drive to his place of employment. We looked at living closer to work, but the ability to walk for errands and entertainment was very difficult: no sidewalks, busy roads, large parking lots to cross. The other commute is from Richmond to Deltaville on the weekends to be on our boat, Red Ranger. This is the commute that probably outweighs all of my other little carbon footprint economies, but we did get a car with good gas mileage and the driver loves watching the little chart on his display about how many miles per gallon he gets.

Beyond our two current commutes, we also love to travel.  We've enjoyed two years of complete nomadism on the boat and loved (mostly) every minute of it. Travel is extremely important to my mental well-being. It's also a huge producer of carbon emissions, so we are re-evaluating our travel destinations and modes. For Thanksgiving this year, we are taking the train from Richmond to Schenectady. We will try to take the train wherever possible. I've even considered taking the train from Richmond up to Ashland (only 21 miles) to do some sightseeing after we put the boat away for the winter. 

For years I've dreamed of extended travel in Europe, Asia and South America. The dream is one of the reasons why I wanted to buy a sailboat. Travel enhances life in more ways than one can count, but global travel also carries a big carbon footprint. Americans are used to the ability to travel the globe and we are pressured by the tourist and transportation industry to view global travel as an entitlement. Travel is (and always will be) a huge status symbol. It seems almost sacrilegious to suggest that we stay home more. I certainly want to continue sailing, but we'll do more sailing in our own Chesapeake Bay. We'll explore Virginia, whether by train, car, bike, hiking boots or kayak, but I'm going to stop daydreaming about flying off to exotic places for now. I'm going to keep exploring, but my area will be smaller and deeper.

Naomi Klein's book is about much more than making slight adjustments to one's consumption habits, but at least these are concrete things I can do.

Barely readable is the Richmond, Virginia on the label. They're very tasty, by the way.

Monday, September 22, 2014

the march

We marched.    We chanted.    We got counted.

Yesterday my long-suffering husband woke up with me at 3:00 am, drove me over to VCU to pick up three strangers, drove us all over to the James River Transportation parking lot to get on a bus with 54 other (mostly) strangers. We came together for a common cause, one that was waking people up all over the East Coast to get on busses headed for NYC. One that was mobilizing people all over the world, in 166 countries, to march together to "peoplesplain" to our world leaders at the UN Climate Summit this week, that it's not ok to continue business as usual. It's not ok to keep acting like the planet has infinite resources and that greed is more important than our environment.

The organizers of this march in NYC were top-notch. They've been driving this action for over two months. They gathered a coalition of over 1500 groups: environmentalists, justice workers, students, spiritual leaders, you name it. They provided simple instructions on how to accomplish the goal of recruiting marchers. They gave us great posters, flyers, sample letters, phone bank tactics, and more.

Communication on the day of the march was simple and efficient. Our bus captain (she-who-endured-countless-conference-calls) knew right where to direct our bus and a greeter hopped aboard as soon as we were close to the curb. The greeter gave us the marshaling plan (which our bus captain has already given us on nice card stock) and answered any last minute questions, then we were off to grab our signs from the bottom of the bus and head towards our spot on 77th street. We signed up for a text group to monitor for the moment of silence at 12:58 pm and receive other important announcements.

By the time we reached 77th, we were immersed. That's the only word I can find right now to describe the seething mass of humanity that greeted us. And we were there pretty early. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many hopeful, energetic, dedicated, concerned, steadfast and opinionated people of all ages. I saw the stooped veterans of many marches wearing their protest buttons and ribbons covering every inch of hats, t-shirts and vest. I saw thousands of students. I saw lots of babies.

The diversity of groups was astounding. I was marching with the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, so I was expecting lots of other environmental groups. We were, after all, marching in Section 3 (of 6): "We Have Solutions" - a just transition is possible - Renewable Energy, Food and Water Justice, Environmental Organizations, etc. I also saw people from other groups as they made their way to their staging areas. Sometimes it seemed like every third person had on a different shirt. I was happy our group had a big banner to carry so we could attempt to stay somewhat together.

I haven't marched in anything in quite some time and I didn't realize how important it is to wear your message. Headgear is especially important. You want to build something creative that makes a powerful statement. It needs to be big, durable, yet lightweight. Signs are a real pain to carry and when people are marching toe to heel, signs are hard to read. Best is headgear that is also a sign. Noisemakers seem to be pretty popular also. There was plenty of cowbell.

Precisely at 12:58, hands started shooting up in the air and voices (and cowbells) just stopped. There were a few seconds of the inevitable shushing noises as the slower folks got the message and then it started to get really quiet, really, really quiet. The quiet started getting deeper and clearer. The quiet became almost a thing. It got longer and energy settled. Then the wave of noise started from the front and bore down on us, catching our breath as we cheered and hollered. It was forceful. It was hundreds of thousands of people inhaling and exhaling as one.

The official count in the news media was over 400,000 people. We marched as best we could from where we were, at the end of Solutions. We finally realized that at the pace we were going, we couldn't hope to finish the march and meet our bus on time, so we cut out at 65th street, headed over to Columbus and hoofed it down to 37th to meet the bus. Six hours later, my trusty driver was there in the dark to drive us back to our beds. 

I hope and pray that our leaders understood the commitment and energy involved in gathering that many people in one place for one reason. This week, as the UN leaders debate the policies that will drive our planet's future forward, I hope they keep in the minds the image and sound of 400,000 people marching and chanting for a new direction for our finite earth.

full disclosure: I did not buy this, I earned it by being temporary assistant bus captain, taker of meeting minutes, master poster hanger, harrasser of farmer's market patrons, spreadsheet editor, bulk emailer, etc... Any one of you could do this, too. Just saying...

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Walkability is the new buzz about cities. I’m reading a book about walkable cities. I totally get it. It’s what makes a neighborhood vibrant. A person, walking, on two feet, can get around. One can go where one needs to go. I reap the benefits of walking every day. Exploring, however, it what really makes walking fun. To go exploring, especially in a hilly city, means stairs.

Stairs connect streets in places where the terrain is too steep for real roads. Cars can’t go here. Bikes have to be carried. Wheelchairs are rough. Feet are required. Feet and eyes and sometimes hands on the rails, where possible. 

I’ve been on some cool stairs over the years. We stepped up some really long stairs in Juneau. Houses are built into the hillside without any access to roads. Stairs are all you get. In some Los Angeles neighborhoods, the hilly streets are switchbacks and stairs connect the streets in straight lines, through people’s yards, so walkers can zip up and down. We borrowed my son’s roomate’s book on the subject and enjoyed several hours of exploring there.

Here is a set I found yesterday in Richmond, connecting Franklin to Main. So cool!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

hands-on study

book review - Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab 

Sometimes topics surface in multiple times in one’s awareness. The same subject appears in odd angles. Recently it has been, well, I know it sounds odd, cadavers.

I studied in nursing school back in the late 70’s. I was fascinated by the body and health. I find myself thinking about going back, now that we are living 4 blocks from one of the best medical schools in the state. The class I liked the best was anatomy.  We spent all semester with our alley cats and one day took a field trip to the anatomy lab at the state medical school to become acquainted with cadavers. It was amazing. I loved seeing the inside parts of the body all arrayed in front of us. To be able to touch the organs and see how nicely they fit together, to see the connections between bone, ligament, tendon and muscle is simply awesome.

Alley cats are easy to come by, but people are different. It makes one wonder about the path that body traveled to wind up open on the table for students to immerse their minds and hands in. 

So, I’m cruising the free book shelf at our marina for something good to read when I come across Body of Work by Christine Montross  She’s a poet, turned doctor, and she filled this book with reflections, history, psychology and an intimate look inside the process of dissection. She did a wonderful presentation about a topic that not many people like to think about. She wrote especially respectful words about what it means to donate one’s body for study. Some medical schools even have ceremonies honoring the donors after the dissections are completed and the ashes are returned to the families. 

After enjoying a good read about an odd topic, other pieces started to pop up. I chatted with both a retired funeral director and a retired anatomy professor. Then there was this article in the local paper this week about a new embalming process that renders the body flexible and not as toxic. Weird stuff, I know, but it’s all making me think about my own carcass. 

I wouldn’t mind if I was out on a table someday, for a new doctor to explore. Where do I find the paperwork?

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Busyness can get the better of us sometimes.  We go in too many directions at once to listen to the silence of life. The to-do list, the tyranny of the clock and calendar fill up the spaces in our minds that should be reserved for reflection. Sometimes when we open up the quiet spaces in our awareness, things that were just biding their time, waiting for notice, make their way upwards to the light.

I had such a quiet space a few weeks ago in Wilmington DE. I was there with no agenda, just accompanying Steve on a business trip. I wandered into the local bookstore with a quiet mind, listening to the spaces, looking at all the books. And there sat a new book by an author I have been a fan of ever since when, Bill McKibben

It was Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, a reflection on his movement from quiet author, to international environmental activist. Bill has written and taught about his love for the earth for many years, but recently he realized it was time to use his body and his voice to bring his message to more people. He began with some of his students and began to organize marches against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This mobilization brought him to jail. Jail is something most people strive to avoid with all their being. The helplessness of being locked up is something no one looks for. Bill began to be arrested and detained for civil disobedience. Being jailed is a huge personal sacrifice to show the world how strongly one's belief is held. Luckily, he doesn't spend a lot of time there.

I've always joked that one of my life's goals is to avoid jail, so it is with sincere admiration that I watched Bill's last few years of organizing environmental leaders to do that very thing. I bought the book and dived into reading it. Bill's writing always makes me feel like I am sitting with him in his cozy Vermont kitchen telling me the story over a cup of tea. I feel close to him, even though I've never met him. He feels like my neighbor. We share a common church, and a love of the outdoors, especially the Champlain Valley.

So, I'm reading his book, thinking that I am the proverbial armchair environmentalist. I haven't joined a protest march since my daughter was a baby, more than 25 years ago. Sure, I write a check from time to time, but I have every excuse not to get my hands dirty. While I'm reading his book, I get an email from 350 about the People's Climate March.

This is an invitation to change everything.
In September, world leaders are coming to New York City for a UN summit on the climate crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging governments to support an ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution.

With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.

To change everything, we need everyone on board.
Sunday, September 21 in New York City. Join us.

There's that link at the bottom: JOIN US.

It bubbled up out the space that had been open, listening for something. I looked at my calendar. My summer schedule of trips was winding down and I was still feeling restless. I need a trip to look forward to or I get mighty depressed. There was nothing on the calendar. I clicked.

Then I started thinking about the logistics. How was I going to get from Richmond VA to NYC? The whole point of this is to go with a group. How was I going to find a group? I have about 4 acquaintances in Richmond. I drilled down into the site and found they were planning to get busses from the major cities. That sounds like the right kind of transportation to me. I mean, it's already weird to think about a massive mobilization of people on a tiny island demonstrating about climate disruption. Aren't we just contributing to excess greenhouse gases by traveling there?

I put myself on a waiting list for a bus seat. There were no listings for any buses from Virginia at all. Then I found the Virginia page and an email address of an organizer in Richmond. I sent her a note about the bus. Would there be one? 

I'm out of my armchair now. I've spent the last three weeks attending meetings at the local Sierra Club office, walking miles and miles to put up posters in coffee shops and working on spreadsheets and mass mailings to local groups trying to recruit riders on the bus. We have a bus and it's getting full. 

Come Sept 21st, I'll be marching.

Friday, August 8, 2014

sea and sky

This is my new happy place. Standing, with my right arm wrapped lightly around the mizzen mast, my bare feet planted firmly on the coach roof, toes tenderly hugging the fiberglass. My eyes taking in the expanse of sky and sea all around me. The colors enveloping me. My skin and hair feeling the wind. My muscles feeling the confluence of forward progress and of gentle waves. Smelling the salt water and the slight tinge of diesel exhaust. Listening to the low thrumming of the engine and the swoosh of the water against the sides of the boat. 
Just standing. Just moving.

Here is how it went down: I am retired. Hubby and I just moved from living full-time on our sailboat to a shore-side life in an apartment in an east-coast city. I had the moving blues. Too much stuff to buy. Too little motion in my life. The call came while we were out at having dinner, could he crew on a sailboat from Marathon to Galveston? Unfortunately, no, he just took a job on an IT contract for a big bank. Sitting there at the bar, not entirely thinking this through, I raised my hand. "Tell him I can do it", I said. 

In a split second, I was committed. It was a boat I was familiar with, and a captain I trusted. It felt right. Thus began a most wonderful journey.

Logistics: the boat owner would buy my plane tickets both ways and pay for my food. Could I leave in two days? We had a weather window that looked good for the whole trip. Yep. I started the packing list there at the bar. Shorts and t-shirts, my SPOT device, iPhone and charger, off-shore PFD, flashlight, books to read, and passport. That's pretty much it. 

G, the captain, and I met at the Miami airport, hopped in the rental car and drove down to Marathon where the boat was in a slip at a nice live-aboard marina. We stopped to provision on the way and got all kinds of tasty, easy-to-prepare food. Food is a very important component to a sailboat delivery. If the weather is nasty, you want food that is easy to eat and comforting. Even if the weather is not nasty, you still want that same yummy food. We stocked up on fruit, trail mix, cereal, coffee, more fruit, and various meal-in-a-bag treats (veggie for me, meat for him). There is no calorie-counting while you are out at sea. It's time to indulge and make sure you can function.

We arrived at the boat in the early evening, checked out what we could with the remaining daylight and grabbed a nice meal at a quintessential Florida Keys ocean-front restaurant. Great fish, good beer and a lovely view of the water. We got back to our bunks and crashed.

Early on, we determined that we might not have enough fuel to reach Galveston, so we settled on a termination point of New Orleans. We could get her that far and the owner could find another crew to take her the rest of the way. We set out in a bee line for NoLA. 

Soon enough, the first day, the shoreline of Florida just melted away as we chugged along our way. The gulf was calm, the wind negligible, so the motoring was easy. G put up the mainsail, engaged the auto helm and we relaxed. I am at a total loss to describe the sky and the water surrounding the boat. It is one of the most beautiful offerings of nature. The horizon is out there, shimmering off in the distance, but the space around one is so vast, it's like being able to take in liters and liters of fresh air into one's lungs all at once. 

We stood our watches, we rested, we read, we ate, we told stories. We saw one other sailboat and chatted with them for awhile on the VHF. G put down the mainsail (no wind). We played with dolphins. We went through a little squall. G communed with the engine and watched the fuel gauge. I watched the full moon through the binoculars. G fished and served up the best-tasting mahimahi I've ever had. I stood by the mizzen mast.

Too soon, four and half days and 550 miles had slipped under our keel and Venice LA was in sight. A change of crews and a ride to the airport and it was all over, but my happy place will stay with me always.

the crew of Wild Fire, waving at us.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I know I still need to write up my notes from my GOMEX sailing trip, but I've been too busy savoring life to reflect on it lately.

For me, a big part of savoring life is reading. Somehow I started gravitating back to paper books. I have a Kindle and the Kindle app on my iPad and iPhone, plus the iBook app. I have lots and lots of eBooks. I still love having a book to read on my phone at all times in my pocket. It is wonderful technology, not to mention the instant gratification of Amazon purchases showing up on said phone in seconds.

But there's something about a paper book...

And browsing neighborhood book stores...

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Just when I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the concept of land living, an opportunity for some sailing has come up!

RIC -> MIA (plane)
MIA -> Marathon FL (car)
Marathon FL -> Galveston TX (SV Puffin)!! with a possible short stopover near New Orleans.

Then back to Richmond (not sure, probably hitchhiking)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

dining out

I love traveling. One of the things I enjoy about traveling, besides finding new places to walk, is finding new places to dine. One has to eat anyway, might as well make it interesting.

I've always joked that my favorite souvenirs are carried on my hips. I don't enjoy shopping very much, so all the cute gift shops in the touristy locations are kind of lost on me. I went in one last summer with a friend, just to keep her company, it was boring. What I can't resist, though, is a sidewalk table with a white linen napkin or an outdoor bar.

We don't own real estate anywhere, so we don't pay property taxes directly. Dining out at a restaurant is our way of contributing to the towns and cities we visit. We are doing our part to keep the sidewalk economy vibrant. Most of the money spent in restaurants stays local. We are directly paying salaries for cooks and servers. We like to eat in locally-owned, non-chain places that often source their food as locally as they can. I love to see the list of farmers and brewers represented on the menu. It's also about getting to know the people who work at or own the restaurant. In our favorite sushi place in Schenectady, the owner would always come out and greet us. We see this in many locally-owned places. Owners and staff seem more engaged in the life of their restaurant. They aren't just slinging the hash shown on the laminated menu with the pictures of the fried mystery meat. They are nourishing us and we are nourishing them. Food is love.

Dining out gives a visitor the chance to sample the local specialities. When we were in the Bahamas last year, we enjoyed the cracked conch with the lime chili sauce. I love looking for new foods to try. Who knew plantains were so delicious? In Charleston, I can't leave without a plate of shrimp and grits. Don't get me started on the local brews. I collect beer.

Community is another big reason to venture out. I love places with long tables or bars that encourage folks to chat with other patrons. One night we got to discuss the best local thrifts shops with a dapper couple who had strutted out in their finest Miami fashions, all costing less than $10. When we lived in Norfolk, we had a group of regulars that tried to eat out together once a week, following the happy hour and dinner specials from place to place. 

We recently got to experience a pop-up, Waffletina, in Norfolk. They barely advertised and took over a local restaurant that isn't normally open on Sunday mornings. The line to get in was down the sidewalk when we got there, 10 minutes after the slated opening. How cool is that? Oh, and the waffles were heavenly! I got mine topped with whipped goat cheese, sliced peaches and honey.

Ok, ok, I know I'm just trying to rationalize my excesses, but cheers to supping on the sidewalk, watching the world walk by.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

pond life

I found a cool route this morning around some man-made ponds in an office park. I saw water fowl (geese, two kinds of duck, and herons), several kinds of songbirds, turtles from dinner plate size all the way down to one that was the size of a quarter, a rabbit and lots of squirrels. Just a normal day in a pond.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

little nature things

Walking. It is such a simple act for our bodies, but the very act of walking is special on so many levels. Today I have been thinking on the physical, mental, social aspects of simply walking.

I usually walk in the morning, after a few stretches. It's my wake-up routine. I feel my body in motion on the ground, the earth's surface, whatever that surface may be on the route available. I try for grass or dirt, but that's not always an option. The body is good about the job of planting the feet safely, always ready to alert the mind for pain avoidance. It's the sensation of movement through the air that I love, the exhilaration of motion through the wind, the rain, the heat, or the cold, with the grounding of my feet, like the beat of my heart.

So, the body is busy, watching for rocks and holes. What does the mind do while it is along for the ride? Sometimes it's a meditation day, with just enough external focus to keep me safe while breathing in and breathing out. Sometimes it's thinking through tough problems or making plans. Sometimes it's letting the creative thoughts have full rein. 

Sometimes it's noticing things: new things, changing things, colors, plants, or even a restaurant to try later. A friend coined the phrase "little nature things" that she focuses on while she does her morning walks. She collects these things in her mind as she moves along. For example, she notes the first day the live oaks show their buds for blooming, or the birds she sees. 

The physical and mental aspects of walking are experienced by me alone, but part of walking is also engaging with everyone and everything around me. I used to walk back and forth to work and was able to greet the same neighbors every day along the way. I once asked a fellow passerby a question about a plant growing in someone's yard, then after passing the same person over and over, and seeing them in the coffee shop, a cherished friendship has developed. 

Think about sharing that walking space. You and another living thing on two different intersecting paths. Or sharing a whole walk with a friend, chatting along the way. This morning, I temporarily shared my space with this turtle.