Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sort… Box… Haul… Shred…

We are both orphans now — for a bit over a year. Seriously grown-up orphans, but orphans nonetheless.

I have learned that whether the death of a loved one is sudden and dramatic, or is the result of a long, slow, decline, it still takes you by surprise. And it leaves a hole in your heart that is never really filled.

These losses taught me something else as well. When a loved one dies, you will likely be left with a lot more than memories. There will be stuff, lots of it, to be dealt with and moved out very quickly. 

Unless you have a heart of stone and the willpower to call a company like 1-800-GotJunk? and pay to have them haul it away, it becomes your job to sort through the belongings and decide what to keep and what to donate. And, surprise, you may find some of your old, forgotten stuff in the mix, finally returned to its rightful owner.

These experiences can be overwhelming. They certainly put the fear into my husband and me. When you live in the same place for decades, stuff accumulates. And now we found ourselves with even more stuff.

How could anyone possibly discover our treasures amongst all this trash if something were to happen to us tomorrow? We wouldn’t wish this nightmare on anyone, let alone on our busy kids.

We started picking away — donating old books, recycling magazines, not renewing subscriptions, being more careful about making new purchases. But what we needed was an incentive to make a big dent in our accumulated detritus.

It came in the form of an invitation to participate in a Community Shredding Event, an opportunity to dispose of old documents securely by having them shredded in a mobile shredder right before your eyes. Usually there is a nominal fee or a request for a donation like canned goods or school supplies. In this case the fee is $10 a box, and HomeHaven, a local not for profit, will reap the benefit of anything beyond the cost of hiring the professional shredding service for the morning. [Google “Community Shredding Event” and your state to discover an event near you.]

We have been working on this project for days. The result? Seven bankers’ boxes like this one — full of papers, each weighing at least 30 pounds — as well as a recycling bin full of more stuff not requiring shredding! Kids — don’t let this happen to you! 

As Shred Day (today) drew near, things seemed to be working against us. We were suddenly carless. We woke to pounding rain followed by a threatening sky. But we were determined to get those boxes outta here. With the event about .5 miles away, we decided to put the boxes on dollies and roll them over.

Bundled up. Ready to roll.

We made it, and it feels good! There will be no stopping our great De-Cluttering of 2015!

All seven boxes dumped into one bin, ready for destruction.
Check back for updates and some useful links for responsible disposal of more unwanted stuff. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Meatless Monday: 5.4.15

Where has the time gone? In late March I published my 500th post, and since then I’ve only managed three more. It must seem I have become a slacker.

In reality, I was simply taking a much needed break. 

For part of the time I was on the West Coast, where I saw the sun—DAILY—and enjoyed the opportunity to ditch my coat, my hat, my boots, and even my socks for a few days! What was good for me was not good for drought-stricken California, however. There were no signs of a problem at the Mountain View Farmer’s Market, where strawberries were plentiful and huge, and a bargain, at least by East Coast standards. But we saw many dead street trees and countless scorched lawns, and the new water restrictions were definitely a hot topic in the media and around the dinner table.

The largest user of water in the state is agriculture. In February 2014 Mother Jones published a now famous story “It Takes How Much Water to Grown an Almond” complete with info graphics depicting how much water it takes to grow such popular crops as almonds, strawberries, and broccoli. The amounts are staggering. The almond has been taking much of the bad rap, but stories in NPR’s blog The Salt from April 12 and April 16 point out that there are many additional culprits, and many sides to the story.

What is indisputable are two things:
  • Agricultural crops require a tremendous amount of water.
  • Despite the drought, new crops are being planted in areas not planted before.

As consumers we need to respect the food we buy — to be mindful of the resources need to grow our food, of the farmers who raised it, and the energy consumed to get it to us.

More important than whether a food is local or has traveled a long distance, or whether it is organic or GMO, is whether we will actually use it if we bring it home. There is no excuse for wasting food or water.

What can we do?

We can start with some small steps.
  • Last year I compiled a number of suggestions for cutting down on food waste
  • Here is a tip for saving water that will also save you time, and perhaps even keep you healthier… Just before Earth Day I received an email from the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest urging me to save water by not re-washing pre-washed produce. I decided to check out whether the information was accurate and discovered this pdf on food safety prepared by the FDA. Sure enough the fact sheet states: “If the package indicates that the contents are pre-washed and ready-to-eat, you can use the produce without further washing.” The FDA goes on to recommend: “If you do choose to wash a product marked “pre-washed” or “ready-to-eat,” be sure to use safe handling practices to avoid any cross contamination.” Otherwise your rinsing might cause more harm than good.
  • And don’t forget that one-pot pasta dish from a few weeks back in which no water goes down the drain.

Now that I am back in the saddle again, look for me next Monday, or maybe even sooner.

Happy Meatless Monday!  Have a great week.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Earth Day Reflections on Riding the City Bus, Honest Tea Cap Liners, the Karmapa, and Small Change(s)

The original Earth Day Logo
Earth Day 2015 began as a glorious spring morning. The sun was out, the sky a bright blue, the air almost seasonally warm. I dropped off my bike to get it tuned up for the Rock to Rock Earth Day Ride. I sometimes work for a printer. They needed me today, and because the weather was so nice, and in observance of the occasion, I decided to take the city bus. It stops right outside my house and right in front of my place of employment. After leaving my bike in good hands, I had plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee at the corner store, and even enough time to enjoy drinking it while I waited. The bus came right on time.

Everyone should take the city bus now and then, with open eyes and ears. You can’t help but overhear the conversations about the challenges of being in recovery, troubled relationships, and the dreams of earning a steady paycheck, landing a job that pays $13/hr, or winning the lottery. The coffee on the bus comes from Dunkin’, not Starbucks. People are riding the bus to work, to the Dollar Store, to the Goodwill Outlet, or to the DMV. [Yes, many people who drive for a living do not own a car.]

At lunch I opened my bottle of Honest Tea to discover a very appropriate Earth Day message, an Ojibwa Prayer: “Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor that we may heal the earth and heal each other.”

I had a project to finish. It took me longer than I had planned, and past my usual bus time. By the time I was at the stop to wait for the next one, the sun was gone and the predicted rain had started. I did not have an umbrella. The buses on this route at this time of day do not run very often. I was out there early to make sure I did not miss it; it came late. I know very well why most people with cars do not choose the bus.

I had lots of time for reflection at the bus stop and on my way home.

Taking the bus today definitely made me realize the good fortune I often take for granted. But did it make a difference in the grand scheme of things?

I thought back to an event I attended recently. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje visited Yale recently as a Chubb Fellow. I had the opportunity to hear his April 7 talk “Compassion in Action — Buddhism and the Environment.” The 29-year-old spiritual leader encouraged attendees to make small changes in their daily lives as first steps in combatting climate change. He emphasized that each person must start with themselves and set an example for others to follow; this is why he became a vegetarian, despite his fondness for the taste of meat. He emphasized that we are all connected with each other and the environment in which we live, and that each positive action we make is a step away from negativity.

The Karmapa when asked a tough question admitted he did not have all the answers, and made the point that the concept of global warming is a hard sell in Tibet, where it is so cold that some people would welcome a rise in temperature.

I know that the community who rides on and/or donates to tomorrow's Rock to Rock Earth Day Ride makes a substantial difference in the world, in both dollars raised and positive energy generated. 

I hope that this blog matters, too.

For a positive start to your day, check out this example of what a stalwart crew of volunteers can accomplish.  The story about “The Big Night” aired on NPR and was shared by my cousin Joanne on Facebook. 

Happy Belated Earth Day.