Friday, January 30, 2015


It's been a week of no walks. Early this week, the flu took over our lives. I did manage a short 2-block walk to CVS to get aspirin and more tissues on Wednesday morning, but haven't seen the sidewalk since then. This morning I discovered a package that has been sitting just outside our apartment door, for 2 days, apparently. The calendar says today is Friday.

Certainly we've had communication with the greater world around us, alerting the office that we're not fit for human contact, calling my sister on her birthday, reading a few news headlines before heading back to bed, but altogether, it's been a surreal week. Everything pretty much stops, except fever dreams and coughing.

Coming down with flu made me realize just how lucky we are. We had each other; someone to wield the cold, wet wash cloth when needed. We had aspirin. We had just gone grocery shopping, so had lots of fruit and some wonderful bread from Sub Rosa, and a tub of soup I froze awhile ago. That's about all we felt like eating. We had a warm, safe, quiet bed to rest in. We had clean water to drink.

Clean water. It's such a basic necessity when you are sick. I dreamt about water a lot this week.

In 1918, when The Great Pandemic hit the world, clean water wasn't so prevalent. If you were a working stiff, living in a big city, you probably lived in a tenement flat with no running water . There may have been water in the building, but it was likely a shared tap down the hall. If you lived in a rural area, you might be lucky enough to have a clean well, but you might have had to boil water from a stream for your water. That's pretty tough to do when you're sick, assuming you had the energy to get the wood from the pile (if you had one) and stoke up the stove.

Nourishment was also a big issue.  Most people in those times didn't have the luxury of going to the grocery store and doing a week's worth of stocking up. Those in rural areas might have had an advantage with some provisions put up, but the sick city dweller often had no kitchen and no money to buy more than a day's worth of food at a time. And let's not forget that GE did not introduce the electric refrigerator until 1927. While we didn't eat much this past week, we had plenty of good, unspoiled food to keep us going.

It's no wonder so many people died. We, on the other hand, only lost a week of work.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

book review: Walkable City

One of my fascinations in life has always been learning about how people interact with their environment: how we use our natural resources, what we do with our waste, how we build our shelters, what we eat, and how we get around. This fascination led me to pick up this book (a real paperback, in a real bookstore, but I passed it on to a friend when I finished it), Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, by Jeff Speck

Jeff also co-wrote, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, and has an extensive background in the education of urban planners and ordinary citizens on how to build our environment to enable people to live well. Since I enjoy an occasional walk (jk, I depend on my feet daily to get me to work, yoga, food and beverage sources, volunteer meetings, etc.), this book really struck a chord.

He outlines his ten steps to walkability, divided into 4 categories. I'll shamelessly list them verbatim here:

The Useful Walk
1. Put cars in their place
2. Mix the uses 
3. Get the parking right 
4. Let transit work

The Safe Walk
5. Protect the pedestrian
6. Welcome bikes

The Comfortable Walk
7. Shape the spaces 
8. Plant trees

The Interesting Walk
9. Make friendly and unique faces (of buildings)
10. Pick your winners (some more examples of good walkable cities)

One of the take-aways I learned was the concept of induced demand. Highway planners are often challenged by people's complaints of traffic congestion. Their response has usually been to build more highways. Studies have shown that the new highways quickly become just as congested. The more roads there are, the more we drive. When roads are more restricted, people find other routes, use public transportation, or choose not to travel.

I also found the sections on urban roads and driving habits interesting. Jeff backs up each one of his anecdotes about driving, pedestrians and bike traffic with accident statistics. For instance, 4-way stop signs are actually one of the safest traffic control devices, because everyone has to slow down and think. Narrower driving lanes and eliminating curbs cause drivers to slow down, making everyone safer. Opening your driver's side door with your right hand forces you to turn your head enabling you to see a bike rider passing you if you are parallel parking on a city street. 

I wish I could give a copy of this book to every urban planner and traffic engineer out there.  Hopefully some of them are reading it.  For me, a layman, I notice the street scene more on my walks about town. I'm more aware of the building facades, the plants, the sidewalks and curbs. It makes my walks more interesting just to notice examples of the concepts in his writing.

Friday, January 9, 2015

what's in your trash?

From the EPA:
"In 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash and recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.5 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.38 pounds per person per day."

How do we get all this trash?

Where does it all go?

This is one week's trash for two people.

Food: whole food, or mostly whole food purchased at organic/bulk grocery store or farmer's market. Garbage disposal eats most of the waste peels, cores and stems. Meals are generally prepared at home - this week - 13/21 meals - outside meals were 2 breakfasts on weekend, 5 lunches at company cafeteria and one night at the bar up the hill.

Disposables: tissues, dental floss, the usual... We use cloth napkins and dish towels.

Recycling: everything that can be recycled is recycled.

That's it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

new year, new habit

It's the new year, a time I love for it's fresh perspective, it's unlimited potential, the joy of reviewing the past year and focusing on what and how I want to be in the year to come. 

I'm a steady reader of Leo Babuata's blog, zen habits. Following his methods of habit generation have helped me let go of things that weighed me down (a suburban house) and embrace new lifestyles (minimalism and nomadism) as well as the straightforward habits like daily walking, yoga, vegetarianism and eating whole foods. Leo gently prods, exposes fears, and provides logical reasoning to help me on a path to a more intentional life. 

I still struggle with procrastination and silly distractions. I still struggle with sugar. I still struggle with compassion.

Last Friday, I woke to a vacation day, full of possibility and no commitments. I was catching up on Twitter in bed, waiting for the sun to come up and discovered a link to a Mindful New Year meditation series focusing on the 6 Pāramitās:  generosity, discipline, patience, vigor, meditation, and wisdom. It was free, it was online, it was 3 times per day for 6 days and it started in thirty minutes. Up I jumped. I made 15 out of the 18 sessions during the next week. 

I've avoided meditation for most of my life. Thinking of it fondly, but ignoring it. Seeing it at the dance, and waving across the room, but always dancing with someone else. Meditation is patient, it's been waiting for me. I have been to three weekend meditation retreats. I loved the immersion and always came back home excited to practice, and pretty much immediately dropped it. I think this time might be different. I can clearly see how my distracted mind (yes, I'm talking to you, solitaire game on my phone) is preventing me from doing more meaningful things. Clarity is calling.

Habit formation involves some tricks, as Leo points out. One of which is to carve out the time and space to let the new habit in. I already practice yoga first thing in the morning, so adding meditation to the end of that existing habit, rolling up my mat to do double duty as another mat, works well. I want to add the yoga and meditation to the evening routine. I certainly have the time and space for that.

Making sure you have the skills and tools appropriate to the success of the new habit is another trick. I downloaded a cute little meditation app with a chime and a log. Logging/journaling is another one of the tricks. I'm using videos from Shambhala Mountain Center to guide the technical part of the practice.

A big part of successful habit creation is enlisting support. Publicly announcing the intention gives the practitioner a group of family and friends who can help with the simple "How's the meditation going?" support that helps the habit become manifest. Make me accountable.

The other, related, practice that continues what I started learning about with the Mindful New Year series is personal study to better integrate the 6 paramitas into my life. I have a simple journal started. Every evening I make a brief note on this list of how I embodied that paramita during the day. Sometimes it's a stretch. I find the patience line is often blank. 

Date (written out in full)
Location - (where I am - mostly Richmond for now - I will use this for historical context)
Generosity - 
Discipline - 
Patience - 
Meditation - 
Wisdom/Prajna -

Another trick to keeping of track is a reward. This will be my reward if I can stick with this for a few months.

from the Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills, right down the road from the Dai Bosatsu Zendo, where I once dragged my 16-year-old daughter for a weekend to try to get our relationship back on track. I think it helped.

reading list:
Anything by Pema Chodron or Thich Nhat Hanh