Tuesday, May 28, 2013

hot potato, or whose trash is it anyway?

Since writing the return of the cheeto and "the story of stuff," I've continued to think about our trash. While I know I've done a lot to reduce our output, it doesn't feel adequate. Like stink bugs, invasive weeds, or the mold in my shower (darnit!), I just cannot put an end to the appearance of trash.

In addition to my own unavoidable trash production, people keep giving me trash: retailers who insist I need a plastic bag to carry one teeny pack of hair ties, the pharmacist who insists on printing out pages of instructions for the medication I've taken for years, the dentist who sends each of my family members home with their own teeny sample of toothpaste sealed needlessly up in a heavy duty zip lock envelope.

I keep trying to give it back, but once bestowed, no one wants to accept a return. We push the offending item back and forth between us like a hot potato - exactly whose trash will it be when the music stops?

And if I manage to refuse a plastic bag only to have the clerk shove the crumpled thing in the trash as I whisk myself victoriously out the door, have I really accomplished anything?

One piece of trash that unmistakably belongs to me: the refrigerator that's been sitting on my carport for a month (yes, we're turning into one of those families).

Actually, between that last paragraph and this one, I figured out that my county has a recycling center for appliances, including refrigerators, so wew! that's one big fat hot potato I get to pass happily on around the circle!

I mean, what if it's not our lives that flash before our eyes when we die, but our trash!? Imagine: instead of a guilt-inducing playback of that time when you refused to apologize for knocking the neighbor-kid off his bike, you see images of the things you threw away: all those take-out food containers from the nights you were too lazy to cook, the potato chip bags you didn't know what to do with, the cellophane encased junk mail, the dental floss, and the many pieces of plastic crap that seem to follow your kids home like flies on poo. I'm telling you, I am so happy not to have a refrigerator on my conscience too.

With that in mind, I have to ask you, what the heck do I do with this?

perhaps i could mount it in my yard and pretend it's a bit of sculpture.
in an ominous statement about kitchenware and the environment,
I could call it "heat on Tupperware bowl"

The problem of what to do with this bowl only raises another question: why haven't I gotten rid of all the plastic in my kitchen?

Really, that's the subject of another post (that I promise to get to eventually), but in the meantime, getting rid of plastic in the kitchen still brings us back to trash. When we rid our kitchens of plastic, where do we send it all? Some of it is recyclable, and other stuff we can put to non-food uses. If you're me, however, much of it remains in the drawer because you're lazy and it doesn't fit neatly into either of those two previous categories.

When you leave stuff in the drawer, I can tell you, it ends up getting used. 

While making popcorn this week, Olivia inadvertently set this bowl on the hot cook top, creating a fascinating and dangerous looking puddle of goo.

Still, there's lots of good news: Olivia didn't tar and feather herself with the melted muck; the house didn't burn down in a toxic cloud of plastic infused vapor; I managed to scrape the gummy stuff off the stove while it was still warm; this very handy, but very plastic bowl no longer tempts me to mix that too-big potato salad in it, and last, I feel motivated to finally eliminate the rest of the plastic from my kitchen.

But now, now I have this useless hunk of molded and polymerized petroleum on my hands. Will this be one of the pieces of trash to flash before my eyes at my death? How the heck did I end up with this hot potato?

To dispose of it, I checked with Tupperware and discovered that they accept old stuff for recycling. They also claim that recycling one ton of plastic could save 600-800kg of crude oil. It sounds good, but I can't help but wonder if sending it back simply feeds the plastic producing beast. They say they'll grind it up and use it for plant pots, garbage bags and low-grade pipe--not the kind of stuff I'd particularly like to see in greater abundance.

If I send my trash to a place that makes more trash, have I really unloaded the spud?

I don't know, so I think I'll hold onto my "bowl" a while longer.  I've at least learned that when deciding where to pass my potatoes in this game of accountability & responsibility, I should look beyond the music to consider who has come to play.

Meanwhile, if you have a suggested use for "heat on Tupperware bowl," or if you'd like to display this lovely sculpture in your yard, please let me know!

Speaking of trash, if you're an email subscriber and you received a weird jumbled post from me in your box today, I'm sorry! That's what happens when you let your mouse hover over "publish" while still brainstorming an idea. egad.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

SOL in horizontal acrostic (yes, I made that up)

Standards Of Learning?

Stupid Obligatory Law
Shows Only Lists

Silly.  Obnoxious.  Lost.

State Organized Lessons
So Obviously Limiting
Students Over-Legislated
Stopped Offering Learning

Someone Oughta Listen
Shit Outa Luck

I'm just so frustrated.  Would love to hear your versions in the comments to cheer me up!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

lazy locavore, lettuce liability & a strawberry surprise

During the spring and summer, a lot of posts go up around here about the incessant washing, hulling, paring, chopping, freezing, and canning - oh the canning! 

Have you noticed that talk goes a bit quiet over the winter?  I barely have to cook during those colder months.  Need some soup? Chop an onion, thaw some stock, toss in some premeasured and frozen black-eyed peas, crunch some thyme off the sprigs still hanging amid the pots and pans (I don't even have to search through the spice cabinet!) and when it's almost finished, dump in some already-chopped greens (perhaps a collard ball--remember those?!). 

Dear God, do I really have to turn that pepper grinder? 

I'm telling you, just call me Molly Weasely, because I think the food has been making itself. 

And I, my friends, have gotten really used to it. 

You know how I usually pine for the spring markets? Counting the days until we'll see the first sprightly asparagus, green onions and arugula?  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  For whatever reason, this year I've been perfectly happy to just keep on keepin' on with my jars of green beans. 


In all of this lethargy, I have to admit something scandalous.  I missed the first spring market.  I didn't blow it off--it's worse: I forgot.  The usual farmers were there, waiting and expectant, eager to show off the fruits of this weird spring, but I didn't show.  Did they miss me?  They said so, but they know how to play a girl like me, right?  The worst part, while I was missing the market, a bag of lettuce, precious and left over from my winter co-op, languished in the fridge uneaten.

What's happening to me?! 

Whatever it is, today is the day to snap out of it because word is, the strawberries are in!  I don't just mean any strawberries.  I mean the only local and organic strawberries I've been able to find in my area.  The ones that are only available when they're available, until they're not.  I wrote about them and my aversion to methyl bromide and other such yummies last year.

So I found out today that, surprise! the berries are ready...TODAY. 

That means I need to get my act together folks.  It's time to start writing again about the washing and the hulling and the slicing and the freezing and the jamming.  It's time to WAKE UP from my green bean stupor because strawberries don't last.  In fact, their perishablity beckons a certain frenzy, one that years ago so gripped my sister and I that we disappeared ninety pounds of them into jars and freezer bags with such fervor that we forgot to save any to eat fresh.  I looked around when it was done, surprised to find nary a berry in sight!

I doubt this grouchy old bear will muster that kind of hustle right out of the den this time around, but with 30lbs of berries coming my way, some kind of rally is in order.  I'm thinking Bruce Degan.  Have you read his picture book Jamberry? 

"Raspberry.  Jassberry.
Berryband.  Merryband.
Jamming in Berryland."

That's what I'm talking about!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

charles ramsey, white folks & living language

photo credit: abcnews.go.com

I think it's high time for white folks to stop laughing at the way black folks talk.

Of course, I'm referring to the latest social media sensation: Charles Ramsey.  But you know he's not the only one.  There are others such as Sweet Brown and Michelle Clark.

Some will argue that instead of mocking Ramsey, the Internet attention celebrates Ramsey's heroism.  I'd suggest it's a little of both: a sensational story told by an easily sensationalized guy.

The great irony of it is, many white people laugh at black vernacular because they think it's ignorant, when in fact, it's actually white ignorance about black vernacular that lies at the heart of the joke.  With little understanding of the origins, intelligence and cultural value of black vernacular, it might be easy to mistake it for an unsuccessful attempt at Standard English.  In that light, black speech can come across as charming, child-like, hilarious, or even offensive. 

As Americans, we hear a lot about the many things slavery took away--things like freedom, dignity, family, and wealth.  We need to know about those things.  However, white folks also need to understand that three hundred years of living and dying in bondage did not happen in a cultural vacuum.  Slaves developed rich cultural traditions, especially around religion, music, and language.

While our high school teachers drilled into us the importance of proper grammar and vocabulary, the reality is that language is alive and ever-changing. That's why it's hard to read Shakespeare and  nearly impossible to read Chaucer.  It's why we don't say "thee" and "thou" anymore, and it's why "ain't" and "bling" now appear in the dictionary.   It's also the reason that enslaved Africans, when thrust into their English speaking bondage, did not speak a precise copy of the language they heard from the mouths of their captors. 

Inevitably, slaves blended Standard English  with the many African languages they either spoke themselves or were introduced to over the course of the slave trade.  This kind of blending typically simplifies grammatical structures in language.  We see this especially in verb conjugations such as that used by Charles Ramsey when he says "It's" instead of "There were" in the phrase, "It's some mo' girls up in that house." 

Consider also that slaves had only limited access to Standard English.  They didn't, after all, sit around chatting over tea with their overseers (those men probably didn't speak it very well anyway).  In addition, a systematically enforced illiteracy denied them access to the written word.  Without the corrective of written language, transmission of language becomes less specific, with the proliferation of substitutions like "wif" for "with" and dropped endings  like "mo" for "more."  In the context of an evolving language that communicates effectively, these alterations aren't errors, they're simply changes that reflect the given circumstances.

You may be thinking, "But that was a long time ago, why doesn't Ramsey learn "proper" English now?"

I can't speak specifically for Ramsey, but I can point out that slavery continued for three hundred years.  That's a lot of talking.  It's certainly plenty of time to develop a rich oral tradition that serves not just as a means of communication, but as an important source of cultural identity and pride.

Black vernacular can be inspirational and participatory.  We see this in call and response patterns that still characterize political and religious speak today.  It can also be double-voiced, which means it is intended for two audiences: an insider and a an outsider.  It is intentionally and creatively indirect, with "yo' mama" jokes providing just one small but popular example.  And finally, it is subversive.  Since black vernacular evolved under extreme stress, with its speakers under constant surveillance, it carries with it an awareness of a listening third party, one the speaker will invoke or evade as necessary. 

We can see Ramsey's awareness of a third party in both his 911 call and in his initial live interview.  He references McDonald's early in both.  On the call he gives the address then says, "Hey, check this out.  I just came from McDonald's right?"  Similarly, at the beginning of the interview he explains that "I heard screaming.  I'm eating my McDonald's."  Rather than a hilariously irrelevant piece of information from an ignorant neighbor, this savvy tidbit offers up an alibi to police or other officials who will eventually overhear these conversations.

Ramsey appears to recognize himself as at risk in a racially charged situation where a distressed white girl has called 911 in the presence of a black man (who also happens to have a record of domestic violence).   While he sets up the story for the reporter (It all started when I was eating my McDonald's and I suddenly heard screaming), he communicates a slightly different narrative to police who might eventually overhear (a white girl started screaming but it didn't have anything to do with me because I had just come from McDonald's and was minding my own business eating my food on the porch).

Later, Ramsey makes his awareness of the racialized narratives around black men more explicit when he says, "Bro, I knew something was wrong when a pretty little white girl ran into a black man's arms." Again his statement is double-voiced.  For a black audience, this statement is a joke that he punctuates with, "Dead giveaway!"  For a white audience, the statement is a veiled accusation about how racist stereotypes unfairly represent black men as dangerous to white women.  While people in the background laugh at the joke, the white reporter hears the accusation and runs away.

In light of all this, it doesn't make sense to ask why someone like Ramsey doesn't make more of an effort to learn "proper" English.  If his speech is part of his identity and serves as a positive signifier for his community and its history, why would he want to give it up? And why should he? 

Ramsey's grammar reminds us that abducted Africans brought their languages here and blended them with that of their captors. His animation illustrates a long tradition of story telling in a culture that suffered centuries of forced illiteracy. His content shows his social and political savvy as well as his ability to speak to two audiences at once. 

If Ramsey's interview entertains you, I think that's okay, just as long as we see that entertainment not as an accident of stupidity but as a product of the richness and artistry of living language.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

try-athlete extraordinaire

a freddyboo illustration
I am supposed to participate in a sprint triathlon in just 3 weeks. 


If you aren't familiar with these kinds of races and you're feeling impressed by the "sprint" aspect of it (thinking that I'll be traveling faster than participants in those "regular" triathlons) then you should know that the "sprint" part refers to a shorter course, not a faster participant.

I'll need to swim 1/4 mile, bike 12 miles, and run 3 miles. 

To be honest, I have the bike/swim thing pretty well covered.  If you've visited here before, you might know of my propensity for life on a bike.  This old bird does hit the lap lanes fairly often as well.  HOWEVER, taking my knees out for a run measures about the same on the misery meter as taking my kids to the Smithsonian.  Oh, the strain! The lack of endurance! The pain! Need I mention the whining and complaining? 

They're just not cut out for it.

While I vehemently refute the idea that my kids are genetically unsuited for museum browsing, I can't make the same objections about my knees' suitability for running.

Apparently, there is a deformity.  Crooked knee-caps or some such thing. 

The doctor did tell me (twenty years ago) that I could run as far as I wanted if I just strengthened my knees regularly with a few easy exercises.  That was good news.  Except I still had a problem. I hate to run.  Given that, I figured never doing it again was also a good option for optimal knee-health.  I put the latter plan into immediate action. 

Except now I like this idea of a race.  My cycling friends and I all want to challenge ourselves.  It could add a whole new dimension to our current work-outs (riding at a leisurely pace through the countryside before pampering ourselves with a luxurious dinner).  OK, perhaps I shouldn't downplay it too much.  It's true that we have conquered a monster hill or two over the years, but we have never really emphasized speed on our rides. 

Besides, it turns out that peer pressure works on grownups too--I don't want to be left out!  If they can run three miles, surely I can too, right?  If I can't, I figure, I can at least try

For the last few months I've been all, "Oh, yeah, I'm doing a triathlon this summer," like I'm a super ready, all over that, regular multi-sport mama.

My kids totally believe me!  I actually think that's important because they see me getting older. They like to tease me about my age, my emerging gray hairs, my FORGETFULNESS.


What was I saying?

Oh--they like to tease me, but you know that under that laughter lurks anxiety.  Kids don't like to see their parents age and become vulnerable.  While I believe the discovery of our weaknesses is part of growing up for kids, I also want to set a good example. I don't like how older people, especially women, get so little positive air-time in youth culture.  I'm middle-aged, yes, but I'm not dead!  If I at least try, and they can see me as a try-athlete at 45, then maybe they'll feel inspired later in life to try something new themselves.  In other words, if I enjoy my middle age, maybe they'll enjoy theirs.

So I've been running. which I don't enjoy at all, but we'll ignore that irony.  I walk the downhills because I accept the limits of my knees, but aside from that, I'm up to two miles. 

I know. That's really far!       For me.

I want to be inconspicuous because this might be one of the most embarrassing things I've ever done.  It's not working, however.  After 17 years of morning walks, the neighbors notice when you change the routine, no matter how hard you try to slink past their windows without anyone noticing the odd wheezing sound from the road. 

In my walking days (one short month ago), I was a hot fast chic.  I was!  My speed in the 'hood is legendary.  No one can out walk me.

Now, that's all coming apart.

Neighbors wave in consternation, "Hi?" they say with questioning and lingering gazes that follow me down the street. 

Walking, my body always felt firm and swift and under control.  I blurred my way past the dogwoods and the azaleas, leaving a flutter of pedals in my wake.

Now, all my softer parts seem to have come loose from the frame, giving a sort of gelatinous effect to my form and evoking words like "rollie" and it's humiliating counterpart, "pollie." 

Worse, I saw my shadow the other day.  I'll leave my shockingly small head out of it for a minute and tell you I could see my "running" pants are high waters, and bell bottoms to boot.  Really?  The word "dork" popped into my head unbidden and I started to giggle.  I tried to stop right away because laughing takes way too much energy when you're "running," but trying to stifle it made me snort which only worsened the crisis. 

I didn't care about fashion in my speed walker glory days.  It didn't matter! But now, if I want to cover my inadequacies, I should probably gear-up: a flashy tank, a svelte ipod, some trendy shoes.  Maybe a blinking something-or-other? You notice that it's always the inept beginner who has the best sports paraphernalia, right?  Instead, I'm out there snorting and gelatinous in a tattered sweatshirt, crooked knee-caps and a pare of too-flared "capris." 

When I got home the other morning, I laughed with Steve about how I stopped and walked in front of our neighbors' house so they wouldn't see me lumber through the frame of their living room window.  Gareth heard me huffing and broke in: "Mom," he said with the drawn out exasperation of an all-knowing teenager, "you just have to pace yourself!"

I choked on the water I'd been sucking down, "PACE MYSELF?!" I spluttered.  Did this foolish child think I could possibly run more slowly? Did he not know how I teetered, just a millimeter of a hop from a walk?  "Honey, I promise you, there is no slower pace!"

"Oh," he said with dawning realization.  I heard him giggling as he walked away.

So there you have it.  He saw my vulnerabilities after all, but that's OK because I wasn't really hoping to hide them.  I just wanted him to see me try, no matter what that may look like.

Meanwhile, I wonder: will my knees survive the race?  I don't know.  Stupidly, I haven't even done those exercises the doctor advised me about.  All I can say is that I will try to get to that tomorrow...

How about you? Are you a "try-athlete?" 

What's your latest challenge?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

a fool for the planet

Earth Day passed with nary a word from me.  I didn't even make the fairly lame gesture of tweeting last year's Earth Day post, have you hugged a republican today?  

And I didn't hug a Republican either.

I admit, last week I was too preoccupied with reading the boys next door at Listen to Your Mother DC to write about anything else (it was great fun, btw--thanks to everyone who came out!).

I haven't been completely silent, however. 

On April, 14th, I trekked down to Richmond with my activist friend Lisa to protest Dominion Virginia Power's plans to spend over one billion dollars to build a fracked-gas power plant in Brunswick, VA.   The plant would increase carbon fuel emissions by 25% over the next 20 years. 

Increase?  Isn't that the opposite of what we're supposed to be doing?

Some may say VA is for "lovers," but it could be that VA is for "losers" - losers in the race to clean energy.  According to the VA Chapter Sierra Club, VA ranks close to last in the nation for investment in clean energy.  While Dominion Power's short-sighted fracked-gas plant commits our beautiful state to decades of dirty fuel and dangerous extraction methods, our more progressive friends in Maryland move inexorably into the 21st Century with plans to build an offshore wind farm 12 miles off the coast of Ocean City, MD.  It would be the second in the nation (after Cape Wind in the Nantucket Sound).  That is exciting!

I wish some of those smarts would rub off on us!  Why in the world would we invest in fossil fuel infrastructure at this late date? In my mind, the Age of Oil is over. 

Dominion Virgina Power doesn't seem to get that. I don't want to let them reduce Virginia to nothing but a carbon powered dinosaur, chugging and slugging its way to extinction with clouds of sooty black smoke ballooning out from our decrepit state chimney. (I wish I could draw).

So, I went to Richmond to protest Dominion's Brunswick plans.

I want to tell you this particular demonstration was in inspiration.  The plan itself, hatched by the VA Chapter Sierra Club, was full of promise and fun: gather outside the Dominion Virgina Power building and dance the electric slide. 

Imagine the stuffy executives watching our antics from their high perch while pacing and rubbing their chins with worried consternation, one saying to the other in an unmistakable good ol' boy drawl, "I need a drink!"  As they toss back their Sunday morning bourbon, they despair over the billions of fracking dollars they worry might swirl down the throat of a more responsible environmental policy.

Ah yes. 

But this is VA, not Hollywood.  In VA, turnout for this protest was poor.  If any Dominion executives watched, they probably used the morning to reassure themselves that everything would be OK.  Ugh.

Meanwhile, my friend Lisa and I, two self-proclaimed introverts, found ourselves in the middle of a sparsely attended protest where we would be expected to dance the electric slide for the cameras like we'd never had so much fun in our lives.  When the speeches ended and the moment came, we looked at each other with silent recognition: "Oh my god, now we will have to dance."

When we heard that those less inclined to dance could hold up a letter in the back, we bee-lined it for the placards.  Somehow, I ended up with a letter, and Lisa did not.  (I should have given her mine, I'm sure of it). 

I'm holding the "R" in "Energy."  Lisa, bless her heart, did the sliiiide.

Then she took pictures (which saved her from being in this one).

To make up for snagging the letter, I did a fair bit of foolish rockin' out of my own, waving my "R" around with my feet rooted in place like a funky dancing flower. Anything to make the fracking and the burning stop, right?

It's hard to be the ones who care about clean energy in a state that apparently, doesn't. It's not that much fun to dance the electric slide by yourself, you know!? But guess what, all the more reason to do it then.   If we're not willing to make a fool of ourselves for the planet, who will?

Eventually, the music stopped and we packed up our signs and went home.  The fight didn't end there, however.  The State Corporation Commission held a Public Hearing on Dominion's plans last week, April 24th.  I couldn't make it, but Lisa attended by herself (no dancing required) and despite her nerves, worked up the gumption to speak (go Lisa!!).   

Regardless of how the SCC rules, I suppose the point is that if we want to stand up for our planet against monopolizing corporations like Dominion, we may have to step outside of our comfort zone to do it.  That doesn't mean you have to dance alone in a field (although that hopefully doesn't hurt)! But it could mean speaking before a commission, or perhaps just posting your concerns to Facebook, sharing a link, or raising awareness among your friends. 

So go ahead, in belated honor of earth day, find a way to be a fool for the planet!

If you're a Virginian concerned with the direction Dominion VA Power wants to take our state, visit their Facebook page and and let them know!

Want to know more about green initiatives in your state? Visit the Sierra Club main page and hit the local tab to find your state chapter.