Monday, August 14, 2017

Peak

I've spent the past week on a little vacation, and what a wonderful one it was!

It included movies, a day at the beach, a lot of ice cream, tours of interesting historic homes, miniature golf, go-kart race cars, and climbing and traversing an aerial obstacle course made of rope bridges and zip lines.

Yes, you read that correctly: I set down the knitting and went a-climbing at an "adventure park."

It bruised both my ego and my body, but I did it. The zip-lining was actually fun, but crossing rope bridges and logs and narrow beams suspended high in the air was challenging, to say the least.

I'm not afraid of heights, really, but I also don't consider myself Cirque de Soleil or tightrope-walker material, and this was kind of that.

My people are solid citizens, going back generations. If you need light and nimble and graceful, you'd best go elsewhere and find someone else.

But if you want someone to yell and maybe throw a punch or block and tackle, my people are your people.

In general, I prefer a more stable substratum beneath my feet, and this park denied me that. I didn't really realize that it would, or I probably wouldn't have gone--and that would have been a shame.

That said, I would never throw shade on anyone who took one look at this place and said, "Not for me."

Their website offers perhaps the best description of what I undertook: "Each trail has 12-14 elements which include tunnels, moving planks, zip lines, rope walks, cargo nets, and similar features."

"Elements." Isn't that a nice word? Yeah, I thought so too. FYI, this is what they mean by that:


Needless to say, my best friend's kids LOVED it. It was a great idea. For them. They want to go again.

For her part, my best friend said, "Okay, it's like we're in the army." This was when we were talking about crawling through a barrel suspended 20 feet in the air, like so:


My BFF handled the things like a boss, though. She went on some of the more difficult trails and owned it. I felt slightly queasy just looking at a couple of the "elements" that she tackled.

Me? Well, I fell off an "element" on one of the intermediate trails. This one, actually: 

 
 
Yes, that's an "intermediate" "element," and no, that's not me in the picture. I got to that midpoint, the whole thing began swaying when I tried to transition from one beam to the next, and I slipped and fell and ended up dangling next to the beam instead of perched on it like the little sparrow I was supposed to be trying to be.

So I had to have a staff member come up and attach me to a pulley and lower me to the ground. They don't put that image as their cover photo on Facebook. (I hope.)

Once that had been accomplished, I crawled off to tend to my wounded ego. I also took that opportunity to marvel at the large hematoma on my shin--that was from a previous "element."  This one, in fact:



Those logs eventually go up a little incline. One of them swung back and hit me in the leg. It hurt, but I was so high from the adrenaline rush that comes when you're clinging to a wire and thinking you might actually have paid for a ticket to die that I just thought, "ow" and kept going because all I wanted was to reach that glorious, beautiful, three-foot wide platform on a tree that means that you've completed an "element." 

To her credit, the staff member who helped me tried to convince me to keep trying after I fell.

I appreciated her confidence in my strength and balance. I think their attitude is, it's a question of mindset: if you put you mind to it, you can do it!

They're so young, these park attendants. It's really sweet to see. Such a shame they'll eventually get older and learn that things like time and gravity are not kind and not at all on their side.

Her attitude was, even though all 140 lbs of me was dangling between those two beams in that center photo, theoretically, with the right attitude, I could have pulled myself up on a narrow wire, set myself back on that swaying beam, and continued. That was her claim.

I mentally calculated all of the various laws of physics that were not in my favor as I listened to her. As I said, I sincerely appreciated her optimism. To hear her describe it, I was a mere wisp of a thing and with a simple grunt and a "hey, presto!" I could right myself and be on my way.

She cheerfully told me that the alternative was, if she came up there, all she would do would be to lower me to the ground.

I confess, I've replayed that sentence several times in my mind since this incident and I'm really not sure why that would have ever been unappealing, in that situation or in any other situation in which a person found herself helplessly dangling 20 feet in the air.

Suffice to say, I'd had it with that particular "element" so my mindset was basically, "Oh, f*** this, I'm nearly f***ing fifty years old and I have nothing to prove. I have a Ph.D. and right now, I'm feeling pretty stupid for even attempting this, so get me OFF this effing thing. Please."

But I didn't say that. I just cheerfully said, "Okay" and nodded vigorously to encourage her to climb up there and help me. Which she did.

But inside, I was terribly disappointed in myself that I'd fallen and given up. 

Luckily, I was with friends, who were more than helpful and sympathetic. Eleven-year-olds can be very kind to us grown-ups sometimes. And other people came up and told me that were not at all surprised that I had fallen, because they had been 100% certain that they were going to fall too and that it was only by the grace of God that they had (somehow) managed not to.

Once I got over the initial discouragement and inclination to just give up and go home and eat all the ice cream, forever and ever, I was able to go back and try again.

I didn't go back to the same obstacle course: I just didn't feel up to it. But I tried another one that was equally difficult, but in a different way, and I was able to complete it.

Maybe someday I'll attempt the other course again, but right now, the thought of it gives me the willies.

Interestingly enough, before I went on vacation, I was reading Anders Ericsson and Robert Peel's book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2017).

Ericsson and Peel argue that research suggests that "potential is an expandable vessel, shaped by the various things we do throughout our lives. Learning isn't a way of reaching one's potential but rather a way of developing it."

Oddly enough, I thought of this after I was back on the ground and it helped inspire me to keep trying and attempt another aerial trail.

Because, as Ericsson and Peel insist, "We can create our own potential," but "[i]f you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve" (18).

The trick is to push yourself "outside--but not too far outside" your "comfort zone"  (41).

The "element" I fell on was too far outside of my comfort zone--that much was clear to me.

And because I knew that it was, I was willing to try a different trail that put me "outside--but not too far outside" my comfort zone.

I'd already done an easier trail and felt confident on that, so I knew I was ready to move to the next level of difficulty. I knew it wasn't that I "couldn't do it," it was simply that I couldn't do that particular element on that particular day, because it was only the second trail I'd ever attempted.

So I opted for a trail that my friends and the staff worker had told me I should try. It was equally difficult, but in a different way. And I did it.

Don't get me wrong: the minute I did, I was like, "Okay, I am DONE, and I want ice cream and no one had better say a word to me about not having ice cream, because I just will not even at this point."

Because being just far enough outside of your comfort zone to be challenged and learning and stretching your potential is exhausting, no question. 

And maybe also because I'm still nursing that hematoma and there's now a large-scale bruise covering the front half of my right leg from shin to ankle.

Here's hoping it's gone in two weeks or else I may have to teach class wearing my winter boots.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Freedom

As I mentioned in a previous post ("Freeing Myself"), I opted to participate in "Plastic Free July" this year.

The goal of "Plastic Free July" is to reduce--or eliminate--your dependency on plastic.

Because all that stuff eventually ends up in the oceans. And in the landfills. So anything we can do to reduce that tendency is good, and this is goal of Plastic Free July.

So now that the month is over, here's what I've noticed and learned.

First, when you start paying attention to it, you begin to realize that plastic is EVERYWHERE. And you find yourself feeling a bit appalled by it all. Everything is wrapped in it (whether it needs to be or not) or made from it (whether you want it to be or not).

That wasn't always the case. You begin to notice how plastic has crept into almost every aspect of our lives and that this is why it's become such a problem for the environment.

Secondly, you feel a little sad when people don't seem to care. I didn't go around preaching the gospel of Plastic Free, certainly, but I did notice that a lot of people seem to not even notice or, if they do, they aren't motivated to do anything about it.

But that said, there are a lot of people who do care and who did notice, and who actually told me that they'd liked some of my plastic-free suggestions.

So this was good. A couple of little boosts of energy and inspiration like that made it easy to keep going from week to week, implementing changes and sticking with a (mostly) plastic-free lifestyle.

Because I was trying to eliminate or reduce my reliance on plastic, I found out about a number of new products and buying options.

For example, there's this (humorous) toilet paper company: https://us.whogivesacrap.org/

They sell toilet paper and tissue made from recycled paper and/or bamboo, at reasonable prices. You can buy in bulk, and they'll ship it right to your home.

And none of it is wrapped in plastic.

I also invested in bamboo toothbrushes (for when my current plastic one wears out) and a stainless steel water bottle. I've begun using beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap.

I've learned to say, "I don't need a bag" when shopping (because 9 times out of 10, you really can just carry stuff in your arms). For the times when I need something to carry things in, I've gotten better about remembering to bring my own bags with me to the store.

And that's where I've made the biggest changes: at the grocery store. Personally, I don't use a lot of take-out, so straws, cups, take-out containers... they're not a big part of my plastic use.

But the grocery store... well, that's a different story.

So I focused on that as my target goal and I set out to change my ways.

First, I stopped buying any produce wrapped in plastic. That was relatively easy, except for some reason, no one seems to want to sell cauliflower that isn't wrapped. But I'll keep looking.

Second, I stopped putting produce in plastic bags. I acquired a bunch of muslin bags and mesh bags, to go with my reusable shopping bags.

Third, I took all of the old plastic bags I had and put them in the recycling bin at the grocery store.

And, most importantly, I stopped using plastic bags for garbage.

This was a big step for me. I've been composting for several years now, so my garbage doesn't fill up terribly quickly anymore, and when it does, it's typically "dry" garbage. But I still put it in a plastic bag.

I decided that really, there's no reason to do that. More often than not, I have some kind of bag in the trash (as part of the garbage), so if I need to put stuff in a bag, it goes in the bag that's already part of the garbage. Otherwise, it just goes in the can and then, when the can is full, it goes out to the curb.

Because I've eliminated all "wet" garbage (it's going into my compost) and scaled back on plastic, there really isn't a whole lot going out to the curb these days.

Thanks to Plastic Free July, I think I'm at the point where I'll have to put the garbage and recycling out for collection once a month now, instead of once a week. And what I'm recycling is more often than not either cardboard, paper, or glass. Not plastic.

It may be silly, but that makes me happy.

And yes, I know I'm just one person, and the landfills are huge and the problems of plastic in the ocean and the environment are enormous, but it has to start somewhere.

And if I can help contribute to that process, then that's what I'd like to do. And it's what I did for the entire month of July!

So now, I'm committed to staying "free" for the remainder of the year. With my newfound awareness and sense of accomplishment, I'm hoping that the changes I've implemented during "Plastic Free July" become lifelong.

I'm glad I found out about the movement, and I'm very glad I participated. It's been a successful and enlightening month.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Heart of Guilt

I read an interesting book this week, Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart (1994).

Gilmore's brother, Gary, was executed by firing squad in Utah in 1977. At the time of Gary Gilmore's execution, the death penalty had only recently been reinstated: he was the first person put to death in the United States in almost ten years.

In 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court had determined that executions constituted "cruel and unusual punishment," a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and, given the appearance of racial bias against African American defendants in particular, it was determined that the death penalty might also constitute a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the wake of Furman v. Georgia, all death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment and a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty in the United States began.

In 1976, however, in Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court established guidelines that states must follow in capital sentencing in order to ensure that the imposition of the death penalty does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."

The Supreme Court determined that there must be objective criteria that guide and limit determinations of whether or not to seek the death penalty (and this objectivity must be guaranteed by an appellate review of all death sentences) and the judge or jury (whoever hands down the sentence) must be allowed to weigh the record and character of the defendant.

With the guidelines established by Gregg v. Georgia, the death penalty was once again considered constitutional. In Utah in particular, defendants sentenced to death had the option of death by hanging or by firing squad.

What made Gary Gilmore's case unusual was the fact that, when he was ultimately sentenced to die for his robbery and murder of two men over the course of two nights in Provo, Utah, he insisted that the sentence be carried out. Gilmore opted for death by firing squad, stating, "I'd prefer to be shot," and openly objected to requests for a stay of execution filed on his behalf (by his mother and the ACLU).

If you've read Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song (1977) (or if you've seen the 1982 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones), then you're familiar with the story of Gary Gilmore's crimes, his trial, and his eventual execution.

Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart tells a different story-- namely, the story of the Gilmore family, both before, during, and after Gary Gilmore's crimes, conviction, and execution. As Mikal Gilmore insists in the prologue,
I have a story to tell. It is a story of murders: murders of the flesh, and of the spirit; murders born of heartbreak, of hatred, of retribution. It is the story of where those murders begin, of how they take form and enter our actions, how they transform our lives, how their legacies spill into the world and the history around us...

I know this story well, because I have been stuck inside it...
His story is an interesting one, in no small part because he is well aware that, due to the eleven-year age difference, his childhood was nothing like that of his brother Gary. For whatever reason, Mikal was his father's favorite son and spared the relentless emotional and physical abuse that was inflicted on his older brothers.

His memoir is an elaborate and eloquent reflection on the nature of guilt and judgment, both his own and others'.

In Shot in the Heart, Gilmore is brutal and unsparing in his reflections about himself, his parents, his brothers, the legacy of his family, and the toll that the notoriety of his brother's crime and punishment ultimately took on all of them.

Gilmore's opening sentence echoes Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Like Raskolnikov on the eve of his double-murder, Gilmore describes how he too has "dreamed a terrible dream." 

Shot in the Heart weaves Gilmore's dreams with his family's stories of ghosts and hauntings and long-standing secrets.

And although Gilmore acknowledges that he has been "stuck inside" the story of murders, hatred, and retribution that mark his family, he also remarks on the irony of the fact that he is in many ways an outsider in his own story. There are gaps he can't fill, questions he can't answer, answers he will never find.

I read Mailer's The Executioner's Song over a decade ago, and I confess, I found it underwhelming. 

Quite frankly, I think Mikal Gilmore wrote a better book. I say this even as I acknowledge that, as Gilmore himself points out, his book does something very different from Mailer's.

Personally, I prefer what Gilmore's book attempts--namely, an understanding of the human circumstances and consequences that surround a situation like the one that eventually engulfed his brother.

When I read The Executioner's Song, I felt like I was inundated with details.

And I mean really inundated. I distinctly remember opting not to read a full 100 pages of the book, once I realized that Mailer was including the court transcripts of Gilmore's trial... after he had already summarized the trial in extensive detail.

I've read War and Peace and I teach a course on 19th-century British novels. It takes a lot for me to decide that a novel "too long." But that was how I felt about The Executioner's Song. It did not need to be nearly 1200 pages long. (YES. It IS. This is what I'm saying.)

In retrospect, the reason I came to that conclusion was that it never felt like Mailer was giving me a sense of ... the human meaning behind it all, for lack of a better phrase.

I set Mailer's text down feeling like I knew a whole lot about what happened to Gary Gilmore and nothing at all about Gary Gilmore. It was clear that something had gone seriously wrong in his life; it was clear that his more or less constant incarceration in "reform schools" and prisons from the age of fourteen until his death at the age of 36 had contributed greatly to that.

It was clear that he was, by the time of his death, a vicious and truly troubled man who came from a troubled family environment. And yet, I could never quite fathom why he insisted on being put to death--and to me, that was important, to try to come to some kind of understanding of that or to offer us the chance to reflect on it.

To hand the reader reams of court documents and letters and interviews... that simply didn't help me understand what I wanted to understand about the case.

That's why I think Mikal Gilmore's work is the better effort. It represents a whole-hearted attempt to understand his brother Gary, in spite of the distance--both temporal and psychological--that always existed between them. But it also doesn't shy away from the horror that was his brother's life.  

Mikal Gilmore makes no excuses for his brother. He is honest about the anger and frustration and desire to simply escape what his brother wrought in his life and in the lives of his family members.

But he also mourns the brother he lost. And I think it is the combination of these two very different kinds of pain that make his writing incredibly powerful and his memoir well worth reading.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Anniversary


Tomorrow at 5:38 a.m., it will be 6 years since this sweet boy, my little friend and godson, Ezra, passed away.

This picture was taken in 2009, when he and his mom and brother and sister came to visit me in my little rental house by the bay in RI, the year I had a sabbatical.

That was a little over a year before everything changed and all of us were blindsided in a way that left none of us the same.

When I took this picture, I named the file "Ezra the Thoughtful." Because that's what he was: thoughtful. In every sense of the word.

He had an insatiable curiosity about the world around him. Bugs, birds, books, cars, coins, toys, rocks, movies, games... the list of things he wanted to find out about--and then tell you about--was unending.

I remember that, shortly after he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, I went to visit, and he sat with me, showing me all the rocks in his rock collection. He explained each one and where he had found it, and why he liked it.

I remember at the time thinking that it just wasn't possible that there would be a world someday soon, and he wouldn't be in it. It just wasn't possible.

But it was. And it is.

And I think, for all of us who knew him for the short ten years he was with us, since he left, the world has always been a little darker, the light always a little dimmer, the faith and hope never quite so strong, as it was when he was with us.

Once you realize that, yes, bad things really can happen, for no reason, and no, things don't always work out for the best (far from it), and goodness and innocence and love are absolutely no protection against anything, you change.

The change isn't good or bad, it is just is. 

Sometimes, people who've experienced it will tell you that this is how it is, that this can happen--like I'm doing now.

And you can say, yes, you know and you believe it, but unless it happens to you, you just don't know. And you can't possibly believe it, because it really is unbelievable. 

You look back at who you used to be, and sometimes, you marvel at how naive you were.

How naive and how lucky. You had the luxury of ignorance. That's a luxury you only realize you enjoyed once it's gone. 

But instead of staring at that bitter reality, I choose to remember other realities.

Like the reality of Ezra's silly laugh when he and I played with his toy dinosaurs when he was a toddler. I  can still hear it sometimes, when it's late and I'm home and things are quiet and I'm thinking about him.

Or the reality of his love of cake and ice cream and any kind of sweets he could get his hands on. (We shared that love.)  His birthday was exactly one week after mine, and every year, he and I would consult (very seriously) about the kind of cake we were each going to have for our birthdays that year.

Or the reality that he had an amazing ability to draw and build and create, and that we all marveled at it, at how early he showed so much creativity and promise. I think we all looked at the things he made and wondered what great things the future would hold. 

And of course, there's the reality that he once--accidentally, of course, without realizing what it meant--gave his mom and I the finger.

My best friend, his mom, wrote this in 2012, on the one-year anniversary of his death:
Ok. the joke is over, Ezra, you can come out now.  It's been one year, that's plenty of time to carry on this never-ending game of hide and seek.  Who or whatever is in charge of the universe, we've had enough, send him back and let everything go back to the way it was!
A year of marking time, recalling dates, seasons.  What were we doing at this time last year, etc.  So what goes on during the second year after death, I wonder.  More of the same I suppose, each year a little farther away, a little duller, the hole filling in with what I don't even know.  Yet it all does often feel still so fresh, so much like we are right back there in that hospital room again . . . waiting, emptied out of hope...

You begin to realize how the loss of one person leaves such a void, it overwhelms you, catches you off guard regularly and often, like ocean waves hitting you unexpectantly and unceasingly, the bigger ones toppling you over.  You must pick yourself up again and again.  But they are always there to hit you another time.  Another wave of grief.
That's the reality that we still live with.

If you're waiting for the cliched ending, the one with "closure," you won't be finding it here.

On the morning my dad died, when I knew he would die, I was devastated. But at one moment, I also had an odd and profound sense of peace, that I can't quite explain.

It was as if the world went quiet for a second, and I realized that yes, this is just... this. 

The day I arrived at Ezra's hospital room and saw that he had taken a sudden, terrible turn for the worse, I remember feeling an overwhelming feeling that this was just... wrong.

Profoundly, biologically wrong.

And that this would never be something that led to a feeling of peace.

I remember that, I started to cry and cry (and cry), and that I didn't think I was ever going to be able to stop.

My best friend's mom came and found me crying. I remember she hugged me and cried too, and said, "I know."

I think that's the only reason I was able to stop crying. At the time, all I could say to her was, "It's just so sad."

And that was that. And it was when I changed.

And I know that, although Ezra would be sad to know that he changed my life in that way, I also know that he would understand that the change that happened was inevitable, because he had changed my life in so many good ways.

A few weeks after Ezra died, his little brother, who was eight years old at the time, wrote the following:
Ezra was my brother until he passed away.  He was the only brother I had.  He died because of a stupid tumor.  His favorite shoes were orange and yellow crocs.  His favorite jacket was black.  His favorite television show was The Nature Show, and his favorite thing to do was play outdoors.  I really loved Ezra.
So did I. We all did.

We still do.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Little Things

It's been a week of fits and starts and frustrations, and tonight, I'm feeling a bit sad about that. You know, when you had big plans to get a lot accomplished and... nada.

But instead of wallowing in it, I'm trying to take stock of the little things I've done this week that were, in their own small way, worth it.

For example, it's blueberry season. I went for my second picking session this week, and got absolutely soaked. If the phrase "catch your death" had any relevance, I would have caught it--it was that kind of chilly and rainy.

But that was okay. I pick a lot of berries every summer (in case you hadn't noticed) and I've come to expect that at least once, I'll get soaked to the bone and at least once, it'll be so hot that I'll think I'm going to pass out right there in the field, unable to get my berries in a basket (so to speak).

When I got home from berry picking, instead of getting down to work, the way I'd planned, I decided I'd better harvest the basil and make pesto. I was afraid the basil would bolt and go to seed, and although I didn't plant as much of it this year as I normally do, I still didn't want to lose any of it simply by not cutting it back in time.

The weather has been cool and rainy for the past couple of days, so it was the perfect opportunity to get these smaller harvesting tasks done.

It was also perfect weather for working on several of the many large knitting projects I have nearing completing. In particular, I'm finishing up an actual dress (yes, you read that right) that I spent months and months knitting.

If I can finish the pocket tonight (and I think I can), all I'll have left to do is one 3/4 length sleeve. Then it's block it, finish it (it will need a button or two) and... it will be done at long last, ready to wear next winter.

I'm also 3/4 of a sleeve (I sense a trend here) and a neckline away from finishing a sweater that would also be nice to have ready to wear next winter.

And then there are socks. Those are always little things that fill in the gaps between big knitting projects. And that work well in the summer, because let's face it, no one wants to sit with a big alpaca wool dress on their lap in the summer. They just don't.

I've been doing a bit of weight training this summer as well, and I added a little more weight to my bench press lifting--that may seem like a little thing, but when you try to lift it, you notice, trust me.

That's said, I'm happy because I'm now bench-pressing 70 lbs, whereas at the start of May, I could only lift the bar itself (45 lbs). My goal is to see if I can get to 100 lbs at some point--maybe by this fall? (Maybe not?)

I also read a little book, that I think is part of why I'm winding down my Saturday evening feeling a little sad. It's Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air (2017). Although it's good, and I recommend it, it's also quite sad.

Kalanithi died of cancer when he was only 37. He was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer around the age of 35, which is when he began writing his book. It describes his life up until his diagnosis, and then his illness itself.

He was unable to document much of his time during his illness because he was so sick. He died somewhat suddenly, after his aggressive cancer "flared" when chemotherapy no longer worked.

Obviously, this is probably not the kind of thing I needed to be reading, given that this is July and I'm rapidly approaching a couple of difficult anniversaries when I lost people close to me to cancer... but there it is. I read the book.

I think I sort of felt like I "needed" to read it now, because I have a funny feeling about this time of year--almost like I don't think it's right to be... too happy, maybe? I don't know how to explain it, except to say that, when you go through some really difficult times at a particular point in the year, I think you forever feel like that phase of the year is a bit of a memorial to that time.

It's not possible to not sense the memories in the air, if the weather changes and suddenly, it's the way it was that year, for example. It's like it's a time that you always carry with you, and even though you're on the other side of it now and can look back and marvel at what you endured, you still feel like it's with you, in a way.

It's a big thing, marked by memories of all the little things, that made you who you are today.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Freeing Myself

I really can't believe we're already over a week into July. Yes, I know there was the little holiday there right at the start of the month, but still.

My latest news is, I've pledged to participate in "Plastic Free July." If you don't know what this is, you can probably guess.

Based in Australia, "Plastic Free July" is designed to encourage people to reduce their use of single-use plastic items (straws, cups, water bottles, soda bottles, produce wrapping, etc. etc.). Basically, you pledge to try to help cut back on the use of all of that plastic out there that you're only using once and then throwing away.

Because once thrown away, it ends up in the landfills or the oceans. And that's just not good.

I confess, I don't do a lot of take-out coffee or food, so I'm not a big contributor on that front.

So, to do my part, I decided I would eliminate using plastic grocery bags.

In particular, I would no longer line my smaller trash cans with those little shopping bags. I took ALL of them (and ye gods, I had a lot) to the grocery store and stuffed them in their bin to be recycled (it was the best I could do!) and that was that.

I haven't been able to bring myself to not line my larger trash can with a plastic bag. They recommend using newspaper instead, but I don't really have any.

What I can tell you (okay, that was a little unintended pun with the word "can" there), is that I've significantly reduced my trash overall.  And I mean, significantly.

Yes, I'm only one person, but because pretty much all "wet" trash from food or eggs (everything minus meat or dairy) now goes into my compost, I'm emptying my actual garbage can every 2 weeks, at most, instead of weekly (or more than weekly).

This is something.

I'm giving reuseable beeswax food storage wraps a try, to help eliminate plastic wrap. So far, so good: I find that I prefer them to plastic wrap, which I was never a huge fan of, quite frankly.

I've also decided to really try to reduce--if not eliminate--my use of paper towels. (Yes, I know they're not plastic. I'm on a little roll, though. HA--I did it again with the pun.)

I'm using rags, whenever possible, and as it turns out, it really is often possible.

For the most part, it's been a question of adjusting my habits and catching myself not reaching for the easy solution offered by a single-use disposable items.

I'm planning, at some point, to make a trip to a local co-op to see about buying bulk foods. This is going to need a little bit of planning on my part, though, if I'm going to opt out of the plastic bags. I'll need new container options.

I've gotten so that I bring my own containers to the grocery store to put veggies in, after my friend mentioned that having them roll around the cart (which is what will happen if you no longer use those little baggies) was no fun.

I'm actually reusing the old plastic veggie containers I had from before-- I'm re-purposing them, in short, which is a good thing. (Just be sure to take the bar code off the base of them.)

As I've said before (almost four years to the day, in fact, in my post entitled "My Half-Life: A Pale Green Wrapper") make these kinds of adjustments works best if you find one thing you can commit to, and then build on that over time.

And if it doesn't work for you, it just doesn't. But you try and you gain awareness, and maybe you simply cut back--or you decide to make some other thing that will work for you.

If you're interested in Plastic Free July, they offer a really handy chart with suggestions for actions that you can take. It also shows the effect that any change you implement will have on the oceans, environment, and land-fills. It's available here, and I really hope you'll join in and give it a try!

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Week in the Life

And what a week it's been--for the garden, that is.

Right now, we've been enjoying some really wonderful garden-growing weather. Last weekend, we had a downpour in the morning, followed by temps that slowly rose into the 80's. Needless to say, these guys loved it.


Usually you have to choose: heat and sunshine, or watering? We got both, and not too much of either (which is often a problem).

I've done things a bit differently this year, most notably putting down mulch, and also spreading plants out a bit more. I used to put the same plants all together, and I still do that (melons, sweet potatoes, cucumbers), but for some of the other things, I spread them around different spots, or put them in different kinds of containers so that I don't lose I'm less likely to lose absolutely everything if we run into a problem with bugs or blight or whatnot (tomatoes, I'm looking at you).

I've also tried to get a bit savvy about pairing plants. So, I planted squash in a spot where it can spread out and maybe, just maybe, use those trademark enormous leaves to provide a bit of shade for my lettuce leaves, so they'll last a bit longer.


I also put broccoli in with the same agenda: can it provide shade as it grows, and extend the lifespan of my lettuce (since the typical July heat and sun will make it bolt in no time).

I've also put basil around the tomatoes this year, instead of planting it all in one planter. It's rumored to keep the bugs away, and I really don't need tons of basil this year--I'm still working through the pesto of years past (my two storage freezers were the best investment ever).

And speaking of storage freezers and investment, yesterday was a day for cherry-picking. It's a 70 mile drive each way for me to get to a place that has them, so every year it's always a bit up in the air whether time will be on my side.

This year it was. I didn't take pictures of them, but trust me, they are quite wonderful. I put over half of them in the beloved freezer, and I'm enjoying the rest. During the winter or next spring, I'll have plenty to make into jam--right now, I'm still working through last year's batch on that too.

Sunday will include a wee bit of raspberry-picking. Although the big push for those usually comes in early August, the first early crop at the picking place was apparently large enough that they've opened it up to the public for a one-day, four-hour extravaganza.

I will be there.

And of course, any minute now, blueberry season will be upon me.

As I said, as a week in the life of the garden (and other assorted fruit), it's been a good one. A growing season to be very grateful for so far.