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".