Category Archives: environment

Mirror, mirror

It may surprise some of you that mine has not joined the chorus of voices condemning BP.  The oil company has all the makings of a great villain – large corporation, terrible safety track record, environmental disaster.  The urge to paint an evil black moustache on the whole damned company is almost irresistible.

Yet, I have resisted.  Sure, I think BP fucked up.  And lord knows the oil spill is horrific.  I get why people are pissed at BP.

I just don’t think BP is the only culprit here.

While we’re at it, I know it’s fun to attack Obama from the left and the right, but that is futile at best and erroneous at worst.  Hell, I’m not even entirely sure we should be shaking our fists at George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and the “Drill, baby, drill” chorus.

Because we don’t get to blame other people until we examine our own deeds.

We have created an insatiable demand for oil.  We drive when we could walk.  We eschew public transportation because our cars are under our control and we really don’t want to have to wait for the bus.

We demand ripe blueberries in December.  Here’s a news flash: I live in New Jersey.  I don’t get to eat fresh blueberries in December.  That’s just the way it goes.  Any berries I might buy in the grocery store were flown in from another continent using a tank full of petroleum.

We think nothing of importing wine and food and goods and jet around.  Most of us aren’t complete numbskulls and don’t leave our SUVs idling for 45 minutes while picking up our kindergarteners, but I know at least one person who does.  I’m thinking of sending her a bill for her share in the oil spill.

We are to blame here.  Until I can say I live a life free of oil – and even Sara can’t do that – I don’t get to point fingers here.  You can if you want to, but I am treating this as a call to further reduce my dependence on oil.  The less oil I demand, the less need there is for drilling.  It’s that simple.

Now, since it is the summer, I’m going to go eat a fresh blueberry muffin.

No more hall passes

Today is my birthday.  I am thirty-six years old.

My mother died before she turned thirty-five.  She left behind two small girls.

Last year, I dreaded my birthday because I was afraid I would die just before it.  Instead, I was in the hospital with a two-day-old baby, celebrating life every which way.

Now, I am thirty-six.  In some ways, I have accomplished little in my life.  I recently watched a video of Springsteen from the mid-eighties and thought, “Shit, he was my age and he was already one of the greatest living musicians.”  Yes, Toni Morrison did not publish a book until she was thirty-nine, but Barack Obama entered the State Senate when he was my age.  I don’t have a book deal or any major articles.  I am not a full professor, despite the Ph.D., a degree that is sort of a pointless accomplishment if one uses it to drive carpool and wipe asses.

However, I get out of bed every day.  I am a reasonably good parent.  I am in a stable marriage.  I floss my teeth, am nice to at least 65% of the people I meet every day, and wear clean underpants.  None of these may seem like monumental accomplishments, and perhaps they are not.

But with my childhood, I have every reason to be howling at full moons and ripping the hair off of my head.  To be more or less sane is actually a pretty big deal for me.  Yeah, I have a tendency to thrust my tongue up against my teeth and I have a short fuse.  Yep, I like to be in control of my life because I feel totally vulnerable if things spiral out.  I think I probably have earned the right to these mild neuroses.

Other than that, I am a pretty average member of society.  And average is a sizable accomplishment for me, given how far back I started.

While my childhood gives me a hall pass out of being extraordinary, it does not excuse me from being responsible.  I do not get to sit back and say, “Eh, I’ve suffered plenty.  I’ve paid my dues.”

Because we all have dues.  Yearly dues that we must continue to pay as a price for residency here on this planet.  We are renters here, not owners, and we must treat the property with dignity and respect.  We cannot throw the clothes in the drier on a sunny day because we’re too busy rushing out the door to hang them on the line.  We cannot say, “Fuck it.  It’s been a long week.  I am just too tired to cut up my own fruit, so I’ll buy it wrapped in plastic and already cut.”  We don’t get to use paper towels just because we deem ourselves too busy to cut up stained clothes and make rags.

Every single choice we make must put the environment first.  We don’t get to put our convenience first anymore.  It has gone on too long, and there are no more excuses.  Every thing we do, every moment of our lives, every bite we eat, place we go, decision we make, must take into account the impact it has on our planet.  We will not always be able to buy local or organic or used; sometimes, people affect the world they live in.  But even when we are forced – due to any number of factors – to do something that is more injurious to the planet than we would like, we must be cognizant of that fact and understand it as a problem, not just the way things are.

We must plan ahead so that we don’t take too many trips to the store but also so that we aren’t throwing away wasted food.  We must think in advance about what we will need, voluntarily forgoing convenience because it comes at too high a cost. It is simply too late to do it any other way.

That is, if we want to continue having birthdays for ourselves and our children.

Life is not always convenient or easy.  We need to suck it up and accept that. We must live life with fewer new machines, working with old technology instead of replacing a phone because there is a jazzier model and accepting that the business of our lives is not to have fun but to survive, and that there is work involved in that process.  We need to stop excusing ourselves because we think somehow our lives are harder than everyone else’s, so hey, we can drive three blocks instead of walking.  I don’t get out of it because I had a fucked up childhood, and you don’t get out of it either, no matter what your reasons.

Today, on my birthday, I reaffirm my commitment to make choices based on what will keep my planet and my children safe, even if it means I have to work harder and give up conveniences.  That is the price I pay for getting another year here on earth.


As you may recall, I made a pledge back in December to buy no new clothing for one year, with the exceptions of any necessary undergarments, socks, and shoes.  Some of you were looking forward to hearing all about my adventures in thrift shopping, and so you may wonder why I have gone silent on the topic.  Well, there haven’t really been that many adventures…

Faced with the overwhelming task of sorting through rack after rack of fuchsia paisley polyester blouses and rayon sweaters with the size tag cut out while Lilah fussed in the stroller, I did what any sane woman would do: I stopped buying clothing.  I did not want to buy new stuff with my body changing so regularly, yet I get overwhelmed even in the most coyly organized boutique, so the jumble of a thrift shop when I no longer know my size on a day-to-day basis was just too much to wrap my hormone-fuzzy brain around.

I did buy a beautiful brown dress for $35 in January because we had a wedding to attend.  Of course, I also had to purchase Spanx in order to make my post-partum body presentable in anything other than sweatpants, but I figure that an undergarment that sucks in and firms up is an investment well-made.  Not that it really mattered, since I wore Lilah in the Baby Bjorn through the entire reception.  What can I say; I know how to accessorize to accentuate the positive.

Since then, however, I have bought only a couple pairs of jeans that I thankfully no longer fit and a few t-shirts that are long enough to cover the spare tire I am ever-so-attractively sporting.  And I had to buy them in 7.3 seconds, because Lilah, unlike her eldest brother, takes after Mommy and hates to shop.

Well, this last week, I found myself with that rarest of all jewels – an afternoon to myself.  So, I hightailed it over to a thrift shop benefitting a Jewish charity, ready to get a few cute tops to cover the remaining seven pounds that I don’t have the energy to chase away.  It was a good shop with some nice things, crammed into the racks with absolutely no recognizable system, of course.  I selected several items and turned to go to the dressing room.

Whereupon I realized that there was no dressing room.  This is not uncommon among thrift stores, but it is always shocking to me.  These things have been worn and washed; are there really people who buy them on faith that “eh, it looks about right”?

Not to be deterred, I marched over to the mirror in the center of the room.  I managed to get a tank top on under my t-shirt, then removed the t-shirt to see how it fit.  I kept the tank on to try on all the other tops, but skirts were a bit more complicated.  I suspect there is a large family of Hasidic children that got more of an education than their mother would have liked that day.

At any rate, I left with three tops for twenty-three bucks, all of them with the tags still on.  And I learned a valuable lesson that I will pass along to you today: when shopping in thrift stores, wear spandex shorts and a tight fitting tank top.

You can thank me later – right now you have some eco-friendly shopping to do.

Momma’s little boy

Sorry I have been MIA from your blogs.  In fact, I marked all as read (hangs head in shame).  I was working on a big writing project last week, and it left me too drained to do much else, with the obvious exception of scrubbing poop off my living room rug.  So, while there is much I want to blog about now, it’ll have to wait a few days.  I offer you instead two recent quotes from Zachary, who, when he isn’t driving me insane, makes me very, very proud.

“Mommy, I have an idea for my birthday party.  We could do recycle art!”

“My teachers have a plan for cooling down the earth.”  I waited to hear this plan, thrilled to hear that my son’s preschool teachers had resolved global warming.  “We can write our names on our water cups and leave them by the cooler.  Except if there’s milk, those have to go in the trash.”  

So, there you have it, folks.  He’s saving the earth one birthday party and one paper cup at a time.

Scrap Kins

You all left such fantastic comments on my post last week.  This is the first of several replies I’ll be posting over the next few weeks.

          When I was eighteen, I dated a guy from the first floor of my dorm.  Actually, I dated quite a number of guys from quite a number of floors in quite a number of dorms.  It’s amazing how much of the freshman class a girl can get through if she dates each one for only two-and-a-half minutes.  They coined the term “serially monogamous” just for me.

            This particular guy was very sweet, so the relationship may have lasted as long as three or maybe four minutes.  Neither of us thought we were finding our soul-mate, and we broke up with absolutely no ill-will.  We continued on friendly-like throughout college, bumping up against one another doing theater or taking classes together.  We were both in Viking History, a small seminar, and then in Greek and Roman Mythology, a lecture that had about twice as many students as my graduating class from high school.  Brian and I often sat together in the lecture, and we joked that maybe we could make a major of Mythologies From Long Dead Societies.  Brian, it turned out, actually did major in that, although he called it “Folklore.”

            Now, a Folklore major may be the only major at Penn that is more useless than an English major, and you can rest assured that Brian got plenty of ribbing for choosing to major in Where the Wild Things Are while all his friends were preparing for careers in investment banking over at Wharton.  After college, he kicked around a bit here and there, and I’m sure all our friends on Wall Street tittered a little about humanities majors as they tucked into their six-figure incomes.

            We all know what half those Wharton graduates are doing right now, which is inserting their thumbs up their butts on the unemployment lines.  But, what is Brian doing?

            Brian has created an entire cast of lovable little monsters named the Scrap Kins.  These little furballs live in a recycling center, and they are the masters of the whole Reuse ethos.  They build their lives out of the crap you and I throw away.  Brian takes his Scrap Kins on the road to schools and parties and other events where children are likely to turn up.  He does art projects with the kids and uses his monsters to empower children to take responsibility for their own eco-living. 

            Brian, in other words, may be the only Folklore major in the history of Penn who actually is using what he learned in college. 

            So, when Lillian asks whether part of my angst is that I am subscribing to values that hold fame and beauty up above all else, the answer is “no.”  Brian, I suspect, is probably not about to start his own foundation with his personal wealth from teaching eco-art, and he looks about his age, which is to say my age.  But, he is using his talents to affect our world positively.  He is living a meaningful life.  That is the standard to which I am holding myself, and I am disappointed in myself. 

Brian has t-shirts and other Scrap Kins stuff for sale on Zazzle and Etsy.  If you are thinking of buying a gift for a child, the stuff he has is adorable, he’ll bend over backwards to make sure you are happy, and you will be supporting an artist who is trying to save the world our kids have to live in.  Please, go look at what he has to offer and think about whether you have any upcoming birthday parties to buy for.  Normally, I don’t review products on this blog because if I were getting something out of it I would feel like I was using my friends, but I asked Brian if I could write about him.  The work he is doing is so extraordinary and I believe in it so fully that I want to make sure you all know about it.

Three is Enough

I have a post up over at L.A. Moms’ Blog.  Go check it out to learn who I plan on suing if I have any more children.

There must be more money

            In D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking Horse Winner,” a little boy hears a recurring whisper in his house: “There must be more money.  There must be more money.”  It’s a great story that you ought to read yourself, but I will be giving nothing away if I tell you that – no matter how much money actually comes into his house – there still is just not enough.

            When I was younger, I read it as a story about materialism, probably because it is.  But, it is also a story about trying to shore up against an insecure world.  The mother, who buys and buys and always needs more, needs lots of Stuff.  And, why does she need all that Stuff?  Because the world is an uncertain place, with hurricanes and recessions and rapists and climate change and two huge fucking flotillas of plastic in the oceans.  Maybe if we have enough Things, we can build a dike to keep the forces of chaos out.

            There are about 98 flaws with this logic, but that doesn’t stop people from trying it nonetheless.  Your husband cheats?  Buy something.  Long day at work?  Try a little retail therapy.  Lose your job?  Max out the credit cards, a particularly foolish thing to do if you don’t have a paycheck.

            Our economy is built on this compulsive need to Get More Crap.  And, when people stop buying crap, there is panic.  What do we do if people stop buying things they don’t need?  We slip into a recession, maybe even a depression.

            But, it doesn’t need to be this way.  We don’t need to judge the economy on new housing starts.  Why is it a good thing to build more houses that we’ll tear down in twenty years?  Why can’t we judge the economy on how much money is spent renovating old houses?  Or on how sturdy the houses are?

            I love the idea of stimulating the economy by fixing our infrastructure because it is about spending on something we actually need.  I do not think a healthy economy and a healthy planet need to be mutually exclusive.  If spending money is good for the economy, why not retool the system so we spend on organic produce, fair wages, and alternative forms of energy?

            There must be more money, there must be more money.  But how will we spend it?

Doin’ it all for my babies

             In December, 2002, we visited friends in Madison because we’re the idiots who think winter is the ideal time to travel to Wisconsin.  One afternoon, we went to their local grocery to pick up a few supplies.  Our friend selected a small kiwi.

            “Now, I’m just curious,” J said.  “Why would you pay twice as much for that one?  This one is much bigger.”  The friend mumbled some hogwash about a commitment to buying organic.  J and I rolled our eyes at one another.  First everyone was low fat, then they were low carb, and now the organic thing.  Whatever.

            We weren’t even sure what organic meant.  Over the next two years, we began to learn and to shift our eating habits because it just seemed healthier to ingest only food with our food.  By the time Zachary was born in 2004, we were trying to buy organic when possible, and we were very careful with what he ate.

            After he was born, there was a fundamental shift in my world view.  And by that I actually mean my view of the world.  The planet.  Whereas once the earth was a cool place to hang out for 90 or so years, it suddenly became the place he was going to have to live.  And the place that would need to feed him, protect him, and provide a nifty little element commonly referred to as oxygen.  The place where my grandkids would be born.

            It was a planet choking from the fumes my car spat out, crowded with the trash I tossed, bedizened with bling I didn’t need, and seizing from the chemicals I put on my lawn or used to clean my clothes.  Suddenly, it seemed like a crappy piece of land to inherit.

            In these tough economic times, everyone is thinking twice before buying, but I have long been thinking thrice.  Not just do I want it and can we afford it, but can the planet support it?  My answer is most often “no.”

            J thinks I am a fanatic, but he more or less goes along with my environmentalism because he knows I believe so strongly in the importance of protecting our children’s life support system.  He does not necessarily disagree with me that if the human race doesn’t make some drastic changes, life could be pretty bleak for our kids.  And by bleak I mean civilization eroding while the strongest among us slaughter the weak in order to hoard the few remaining drops of clean water.  Read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower if you want to get the shit scared out of you.

            J is a forest thinker.  Whereas I see concepts in terms of myriad trees, he thinks in larger terms.  And he just doesn’t think one family changing its ways is going to make a difference.  He wants laws changed in order to make everyone comply.  He doesn’t mind being inconvenienced for the greater good… as long as everyone else is, too.

            That is why Earth Justice is one of our two charities.  We don’t give to lots of different organizations because we’d spend forever researching.  With the exception of sponsoring friends in various walk/run/bike/dogsled-athons, we give to only two charities.  We also ask for and give donations in lieu of gifts.  Most people pick Save the Children of the two, but I honestly wonder what good it does to medicate and feed the kiddos if the planet is going to be uninhabitable by the time they hit menopause. 

            So, I’m happy to send Earth Justice another donation in honor of the Just Posts retiring.  I am long past the days when I would even consider buying any kind of kiwi in Madison in December, but Earth Justice is working to make everyone protect our world.  These are people who litigate on behalf of my planet, the place that is going to need to feed my grandchildren, and I’ll take any excuse to support them.  Because they are damned right: if anyone needs a good lawyer, it is the earth.

            (And Happy Birthday, Jacob.)

I don’t feel like blogging today

Now, this could be due to the total sleep deprivation.  Or it could be because anything I have to say today is vapid compared with what’s going on in Gaza.  And Iraq.  And Tennessee.  And [insert location here].  We’re crapping in our living room and blowing up our neighbors and building an economy out of empty Pixie Stix wrappers and distracting ourselves with shiny baubles so that we don’t notice the sludge we are wading through to get to the After Christmas Sales.  

Next year in Jerusalem.  Next year may all have peace.

Repealing the inheritance tax

            I love stuff.  Things.  Possessions.  I love nick-knacks and dishes and towels.  I adore Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn and my local bookstore.  But most of all, I love clothes.  Expensive, well-made, unique clothing from boutiques that feature creative designers.  Owning the right shoes for the perfect outfit for the precise occasion.  Looking funky and individual yet completely appropriate.  Oh, God, do I love clothes.

            You’d never know it to see me in my Old Navy t-shirts and L.L. Bean bargain rack vest.  Most people, in fact, think I don’t give two and a half shits about clothing.  Since I cannot afford to shop at boutiques, I figure why spend the money for the middle ground?  I get the cheap stuff or the well-made boring stuff because I cannot have what my heart desires.  Which is the highest of the high end.

            Most of the time, I don’t bother buying clothes at all.  I mean, I buy them, but not like an American.  I am cheap.  I am very, very cheap.  And every single purchase, I think, “Well, I don’t really need that.”  It drives my husband bananas.  He is the only man I have ever met who wishes his wife would occasionally spend money without thinking about it.

            In fact, not only do I resist buying clothing, but I obsess about pretty much all expenditures other than food and diapers.  Actually, I worry about every time we eat away from home, too, so I guess food is not exempt. 

            This attitude has kept me from acquiring the massive amount of crap that dominates most American households.  People don’t seem to buy less stuff if they have less money – they just buy cheaper stuff.  But, me?  I have high-high-high class taste and not so much the budget for it.  So, I buy a few cheap things and leave it at that.

            But, over the last year, my attitude has started to change.  Because, I have begun to look around my house and realize how almost everything is destined for a landfill some day.  My kids’ Crocs, for example.  Or the body pillow I used in pregnancy.  And the foam letters on our floor.  And dirty tissues.  And stickers.  And the rice cooker.  And the little plastic thing that holds on the price tag.  And the big wooden giraffes with our kids’ names on them.  And our socks, my toothbrush, old telephones, broken fire trucks, all the stuffed animals.

            It makes me gasp with horror.  Go ahead, try it.  I’ll wait here while you look around the room and think about how, sooner or later, all the things that you see that cannot be recycled will be in a landfill somewhere.

            Then look at your kids (or someone else’s if you don’t have any).  You get my point?  They are inheriting our landfills. 

            Recycling is only part of the solution.  We are over-consuming.  We are filling our lives with stuff that must be produced, creating waste and pollution.  It is shipped to us, creating smog and greenhouse gasses.  Then we throw it away.  Nice fucking world to leave our kids.  Talk about an inheritance tax.

            I have started trying to avoid buying new things for the kids.  Toys, yeah, I buy new when I have to.   But baby gear?  And clothes for the children?  Whatever.  They can pass it down from child to child to family to family.  I can buy at the children’s used clothing store around the corner.  I can abase myself before the other parents at the preschool and take their hand-me-downs.  Whereas once I used to just try to limit how much stuff we got them, I am taking it a step further and trying to also make sure we buy as much used as possible.

            There will be things I have to buy new.  I did not like the paltry winter coat selection at the consignment shop, and if I cannot find someone to give Zach a jacket in the next day or two, I’m buying it with our store credit at the Gap.  I figure I have three kids who will eventually wear it.

            I, however, and not growing.  I have a coat.  I do not need a new one.  I might like one, but I do not need one.  There is nothing I need right away.  I can be patient and wait for the things I would like to appear in a thrift shop.  I have lately found myself preferring to just buy there.

            So, the time has come.  The time has fucking COME.  I am taking the plunge and making the commitment.  For the next year.  Twelve months. Three hundred and sixty-five days.  I will not buy myself any new clothes.  I will only shop used for my clothing.  Furthermore, I will not drive a half an hour to find the clothes, but rather shop where I am.

            The only exceptions are socks, bras, underwear, and shoes.  The first three are for obvious reasons, and the fourth has the complicated roots of a Jewish superstition about wearing a dead person’s shoes.  Don’t ask.  But, I honestly have never bought many shoes (that whole cheap thing, again).  Mostly running shoes and sandals.  I may find I need one pair of each in the coming year.

            Ironically, this may free me up to buy more of the clothes I want.  I may actually discover that the cheaper price allows me to actually have funky, different shirts because they only cost $4.  Or, that may start to seem expensive to me.  Times are hard, after all.