Monday, July 25, 2011

Respect: People, Animals, and the Earth, Our True Mother

Wisdom learned, wisdom to pass on from Celia Rees' Sorceress, her sequel to Witch Child. The former, what happens to Mary after fleeing the colonists. I'm so grateful the prior reader bought the book as a physical copy and not an eBook, or this story would never have entered my life.

"We cannot win this war. I see a land with no place for us in it. I have looked for an end to the white men coming, but see none. They will make this land their own, and there will be no room for us," White Eagle tells Mary. I often reflect how people fleeing persecution persecuted an entire population that was living here. When I hear the song, "This land is your land, this land is my land" I think of it differently. I don't think this land was "made" for you and me.

"Both groups believed in dreams and portents," Mary says. "The scalplock moon shone down on all alike, and they would have looked back with equal disquiet. A time of trial approached, and both would look to great spirit for guidance and blessing. Be it God or Manitou, what did the naming of him matter?"

Agnes had an aunt, "Aunt M." who was the passer on of knowledge. Isn't it so that often there is the wise older or elderly person who passes the torch of wisdom on to the next generation? Singer Tori Amos recalled memories of her grandfather, who was Eastern Cherokee. "He would tell me stories about his ancestors escaping the Trail of Tears and their walk and their spiritual beliefs. And they felt that they were caretakers for our true mother and it was instilled in me but I guess I didn't think about it in this way until I became a mother myself and I always hear him saying in my ear 'I've put a chip underneath your skin and you will remember.'" In Ben Gadd's Raven End told from the perspective of a raven, the young raven Colin becomes the apprentice of wise old Greta to be the keeper and passer on of the old ways.

In Sorceress, it is Agnes's Aunt M. who "was not averse to adopting and adapting the practices of the older people. The ways to wisdom are many. She did not see one religion, one nation, or one people as having the monopoly on the truth. Her own path had led her to different teachers from different traditions." Looking at those who embrace a hate-filled, one path-only world, I remember these words. I want more than one teacher in life, and to be exposed to different cultures, don't you?

A door in Tangier, Morocco.

Agnes observes the custom of the native people leaving gifts by the stream (white pebbles, quartz crystals, a bead or two), "Offerings to the Mother, for water springs from her and flows free and pure to give us life. People had thought that from the beginning of time."

I think of what we leave now. Remnants of our disposable society: plastic water bottles, bags, and cups and more I've picked up during the Hackensack Riverkeeper cleanups I volunteered at. Waste which could have been avoided if people made different choices. I reflect on how we are so reckless with the water that bears the names of Indian peoples and languages, like the Hackensack River.

To the great hunter Jaybird, "all life was sacred. He would stand in solemn prayer before the creature whose life he had taken, saying "We are sorry to kill you, little brother, but our need is great. We do honor to your courage and speed to your strength."

I don't challenge people's right or desire to consume meat and animal products. I don't eat meat but do have some animal by products in my diet. My issue is with the great exploitation that comes with a population that wants to consume them in such excess and at the cheapest prices available and an entitlement attitude that we can treat animals in any manner we please and show no respect for their lives. Things are "cheap" for a reason: because of factory like conditions where animals are treated like machines.

Why can't animals live a natural life? Why can't we consume a little less? There's is a life too. I stand with Jaybird: All life is sacred.

There are prayers said before meals thanking God for the blessings about to be received, but what about the acknowledgment for those here in Earth who made the meal possible? For each meal...

For the farmers who so nurtured and toiled
For the animals who sacrificed life
For the land whose soil bore its bounty
For the water, giver of life
For the spirit above
I give thanks and gratitude.

In this New York Times article, A Northwest Journey by Canoe to Reconnect With the Old Ways, it spoke of "a deliberate effort to recapture cultural, linguistic and intertribal connections they said they had nearly lost as Indian ways of life were overwhelmed, first by European settlers and more recently by substance abuse and suicide."

I think many of us long to recapture and maintain a way of life that has been threatened. I want to connect with what matters most, and I want to be a caretaker, not a taker, of the land, its animals and its people.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Support Solar Energy Now: Hang Dry Laundry

Eyesore? I don't think so. Laundry out to dry in Burano, Italy.

"If 95 percent of Italians, some of earth's most fashion-conscious inhabitants, don't own a dryer, then why are Americans so adamant about tumble drying their clothes?" This was the question posed by Chelsea Hodge in a New York Times piece, "Rethinking Laundry in the 21st Century." Compare that to the approximate 80% of U.S. households that owns a dryer.

We're in the midst of a major heat wave on the East Coast, and when I get off the bus after work and pass laundry rooms in my apartment complex, I hear the sound of dryers, instead of seeing sheets, towels, and socks drying in the sun. Why? We can't hang dry our laundry due to restrictions in our lease. Why: because like the lunacy of objectors to solar panels on telephone polls, some think it's worse to look at sheets blowing in the wind than having invisible pollution they can't see blowing through the air.

Alexander Lee, when he was president of Project Laundry List, says the group is fighting the idea that clotheslines are ugly. "It's much uglier to look out the window and see rising sea levels," he remarks.

My view on hang drying laundry: it is an act of environmentalism, economic empowerment, exercise and beauty. I am tired of it being associated with poverty, like in the dark film Winter's Bone, about an impoverished family in the Ozarks.

Liberator of household drudgery? "We would work less and vacation more. In fact, we work more and vacation less than any of the countries we compare ourselves to. And we sit behind a desk and earn thousands of dollars to buy appliances."

Since I can't dry outside, I hang dry year round on a drying rack in my apartment, clothes on hangers on my shower curtain rod, and towels on the racks. Even sheets and blankets air dry. No wasting $1.50 per load in the dryer (it adds up!) or polluting our air.

I think the idea of power consumption as a "status symbol" is intriguing. At a Fourth of July picnic, a guest said what I agreed with: she's offended by people who "flaunt" it (meaning being wasteful with energy). I'm offended too.

And with all these modern conveniences, doesn't it seem like so many don't have enough "time?"

Drying For Freedom Trailer

When I travel abroad, I adore the sight of laundry hanging out to dry. I think of our ignorance on the matter. What is so offensive about the sight of our neighbors trying to save money and energy? If a small act can help provide cleaner air and more money in wallets, I support it. I also ponder how detrimental it would be if everyone consumed resources at the rate Americans do.

Fondly recalling laundry out to dry, on the balconies of Barcelona.

In romantic Tangier.

In a Lisbon courtyard, with bicycles at the ready for a trip to the market.

Also, in Lisbon, I spied a laundry rainbow.

Floating over a quaint cafe in Rome.

Above the canals of Venice.

In colorful Burano, where laundry out to dry is part of the charm. Upon viewing the beauty of laundry drying in the sun, a man declared to his wife, "We're going to start hang drying our laundry at home!"

Also in Burano. What if all these people used an electric dryer instead of the sun?

In this video by American Josh Soskin living in Spain, he calls the act of hang drying "beautiful," "meditative" and "a small difference in how we live" and wonders "if these small details aren't ultimately what will make or break us in the future." I completely concur.

"The tumble dryer is the second largest energy-consuming appliance and the leading cause of house fires among appliances. There is no such sense as an Energy Star dryer; these machines are inherently inefficient, using natural gas or electricity to heat air," Lee asserts in the New York Times.

Check out Project Laundry List's Top 10 Reasons to Line Dry. Quiz yourself on "How Green is My Laundry Routine" from the Sierra Club.

A few years ago, CBS Sunday Morning's Bill Geist featured this amusing, bewildering and though-provoking piece on one woman's battle to combat global warming, one clean shirt, towel and sock at a time.

Watch CBS Videos Online

I like what Rob, a resident of Staten Island, said in the comments section of The New York Times article on Rethinking Laundry. "It's funny how so many of the 'green' things I do, like hanging clothes outside, keeping a vegetable garden, composting yard and food waste, re-using bags (paper and plastic) and walking instead of driving are the kind of things my grandparents did before anybody called it 'green'.

"Green" living to me isn't some fad or about buying some expensive product, it's about being respectful of the planet and current and future generations in my daily lifestyle. Clothes are one of the few things we consume that is a 'need', but caring for them also is a need. I reduce my impact by hang drying, avoid dry cleaning as much as possible, and wash on cold water. Project Laundry List tells us an astounding 90 percent of the energy used by a washing machine goes to just heating the water, and you could save $60 or more on your annual energy spending by washing at least four out of every five loads in cold water.

In Burano. Do you hang dry laundry?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Happened at the Calico Frolic

What did I do last weekend? A phrase I don't get to utter often, "I went to a Calico Frolic!" (where I so admired the lovely dresses of frolic goers). Thank you Bergen County Historical Society.

From the BCHS web site:

"In its plainest form, calico was known as muslin. But the name also applied to cheap, lightweight and often colored cotton fabric, named for Callicut (Kozhikode), its Indian port of origin. By the early eighteenth century, European printing houses succeeded in imitating multicolored Indian fabrics, producing painted, woodblock printed and penciled patterns in cheerful designs.

Women who could little afford fine silks turned calico into homemade finery, including gowns, bodices, petticoats, jackets and bonnets. These they wore to country "frolics," which were light-hearted neighborhood gatherings, rich in opportunities for gossip and matchmaking, held before harvest or whenever a communal workforce engaged in barn raising, spinning or husking bees."

Thomas and Anne Ridley were our music makers.

Hitting the hardwood. I know some more modern dances like hustle and West Coast Swing, but this was my very first time with this type of dancing, which I'm told was English country dancing.

Let's go to the Black Horse Tavern for some refreshments.

Strawberry punch after for thirsty dancers.

I adore blue and white patterned things, which reminds me of my grandparent's house in Switzerland when I was little.

I considered how many disposable dishes are around in modern life. Can you imagine if it had always been that way and we were now the generations suffering from the wasteful ways of earlier society?

Admiring the craftsmanship of the pottery adorning the lovely names, "Molly" and "Sally," as well as reflecting on the scriptwriting. Too much beauty is being lost in our digital and modern ages.

History notes from a plaque:

"For the first six months prior to the Declaration of Independence, Americans rallying to the cause of independence raised the Continental Colors, a banner with thirteen red-and-white stripes and the British Union Flag for its canton. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress resolved, "that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white and blue in field, representing a new constellation." Francis Hopkins, of Bordentown, New Jersey, is credited with designing the first United States flag, taking the short but significant step from the first Continental Congress to the first stars and stripes. No original version survives."

Gazing at the lamp in the Dutch Out Kitchen. Do you ever feel like you lived in a different era? I sometimes do.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Know, Savor, Love: Food

Looking at this photograph, I can just taste the lemony goodness of this lemon sorbet on a picture perfect day in Capri, Italy, on a vacation in 2009.

More than any vocabulary I've learned, reading up on French culture has made me aware of the vast differences in attitudes toward food. In my description under "About me" is things like "voter," "reader" and "food lover." I love food. It is one of life's great pleasures.

So many Americans associate food with guilt. But for the wrong reason: for vanity, in particular what it's doing to their waistlines. Not to their health. Not to their environment with pesticides, GM-food, or animal waste (do you want to live near a pig farm?), or landfills that are cluttered with "to go" containers, utensils and bags. Not to animals and workers who suffer so we can have the cheapest food available in excessive amounts (but at the same time we waste 25 percent of our food).

I have a friend who when I dine with always eats chicken, but then obsesses about the carbs she ate that day. When I played devil's advocate once and asked about if she thinks how the chicken is raised and if it bothers her, she gave me the same response most do: she chooses not to think about it. I'll take the bread. Who put the carbs as enemy idea in everyone's head? Someone selling a diet book.

"Food invariably brings out the best in the French and the worst in Americans. We Anglo-Saxons starve ourselves counting calories but what we're really craving is pleasure and ritual," observes Debra Ollivier in Entre Nous - A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl.

"The American meal reflects our Anglo-Saxon obsession with time (it's fast, functional, and all-on-one plate)." I agree with her observations. In our on the go, harried culture what do so many eat for lunch? Frozen meals: likely from animals raised in horrifying conditions and pesticide-laden vegetables microwaved in plastic. Question: what's seeping into your food from the plastic? I saw an ad for Oscar Mayer sandwich combos with the singer Jewel in a "what's in her purse" ad campaign (I'd like to see a "how it's made" video and see if it's still so appealing). I wouldn't want that in my purse, would you? I don't want food to be an afterthought, I want it to enrichen my day.

How about family meals: do you sit down to eat them? We always ate good home cooked meals as a family when I was a kid. Fast food was a rarity.

Food is so nourishing to the soul, and I believe because of the food we consume and the way we eat it, our souls are left unsatisfied, and we are wanderers, always looking for a new shiny toy (a pair of shoes, a new gadget, etc.) to fill a void left in our stomachs.

Ratatouille at New York City's Le Grainne Cafe.

Scene: the charming Pixar film Ratatouille, about a rat who dreams of being a great chef in Paris, emboldened by his hero's motto, "Anyone can cook!" Embittered food critic Anton Ego, who can destroy careers with a bad review, sits at the table, daring the chef (unknown to him a rat) to give him whatever he is brave enough to serve him. Ratatouille comes out. Upon the first bite, Ego drops his pen. Instantly he is transported back to a day in his childhood when he came home so depressed, to have his mother served him ratatouille and his spirits soar. He is immediately softened by the memory.

Reflect on foods that transport you in time. For me: it's my grandfather's mashed potatoes, plum tarts at my grandparents' house, cherries at their old farmhouse in Switzerland. Consider what you have eaten becomes part of your soul.

Georgeanne Brennan observes of culinary life in "A Pig in Provence," that in Provence they "Prepare not just good food, but food that lives on in memory, refueling the spirit each time it is eaten. In listening to people recount their food memories around a table, I've seen their eyes glow and their body language soften with the telling of the taste, smell, and texture of a beloved dish."

Brennan says, "Each season's food is anticipated: wild mushrooms in fall, wild asparagus in spring, melons and peaches in summer, and roots and truffles in winter," There's something to be said for not having access to something year-round. Americans seem to have too many choices, and everything at their disposal, leading to a complete lack of appreciation. Ollivier's French friend remarked visiting the states upon viewing a traditional U.S. supermarket, "How many brands of breakfast cereal and potato chips do Americans need to be happy?" In Provence, Brennan writes, the "growing of food is part of life still marked by the seasons, a life that keeps people connected to the land and to each other."

I think of the foods I look forward to each year: in Fall, butternut squash soups, pumpkin breads and raviolis, apple cider and a crisp apples; Brussels sprouts, vegetable based-soups and pot pies in winter; in spring, asparagus and strawberries; summer corn, peaches and watermelon.

In the film Babette's Feast, a love letter to the pleasure of eating, a guest at the feast talks about a chef that prepared a meal that made no distinction between the bodily appetite and the spiritual appetite. Shouldn't we feed both daily?

There's an ad for the Dunkin Donuts chain, "American runs on Dunkin." I don't want to run. I want to slow down. I want to quiet any body image issues. I want to savor.

Wine on a balcony in the outskirts of Bologna, Italy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Retro Matinee Double Feature: Funny Face and Paris When it Sizzles

File another one in the "How have I never seen this?!?" category. Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in Funny Face: Hepburn as the bookworm that photographer Astaire and fashion editor Kay Thompson cross paths with during an impromptu fashion shoot at a book store. Soon the reluctant beauty, who dreams of meeting her favorite philosopher and instead of couture, is swept off to Paris.

At the start of the film, a high power fashion editor bemoans the pressure of having to satisfy "the great American woman who stands out there naked waiting for me to tell her what to wear." Isn't that so true, by the way, all those seasonal "trends"?

Thompson has a sudden vision. This season it's pink! Admittedly after watching the infectious "Think Pink" scene, I, who prides myself on questioning things and being an independent thinker, wanted to wear pink! Luckily, I had a thrifted Michael Korrs cotton top (know where it's from: made in India) from the CATS Resale Shop I just picked up for $9. Even warm and fuzziness works on me. Being seduced to go to a department store usually does not.

And who wouldn't want to go to Paris after the charming, "Bonjour, Paris!" number!

If you haven't seen Funny Face and love Astaire, Hepburn, fashion, Paris, or all of the above, watch it, for it is a love letter to all those things. I could watch it again and again.

Paris When it Sizzles takes place around and on Bastille Day, which is today, and finds Hepburn as a smart, savvy typist who aids William Holden in creating a movie script. It's no Funny Face, but I enjoyed it and loved the nod to Funny Face in a scene where Hepburn awakes to find the song played on a record player with a paper trail leading to Holden.

Did you know Audrey Hepburn didn't like her nose, thought her feet were too big and neck too long, and shoulders too wide? And that she considered herself just an average actress who considered Givenchy's clothes "armor" that helped her. I didn't either until I watched the Funny Face extras. Even one of the world's great beauties questioned herself. Why do we as women do that so much?

There's a great scene where Hepburn comes out of the bedroom in this nightgown of sky blue (one of my favorite colors). I'm not a man, but I find her more alluring than anything you'll find in the Victoria's Secret catalogue.

I adore her classic style. When assessing my summer wardrobe this year, I parted with a lot of skirts and dresses I thought were now too short (some just gotten last summer at swaps or thrift). At 35, I felt it was time for a more age appropriate look. Age appropriate - I concept lost many in a losing game of chasing youth. I also love how intelligent her characters were. Something we should covet - wisdom.

I already have her classic Sabrina waiting for me (thank you county library!) I love the frugality of watching all these films for free from the library. I've also recently seen Doris Day's April in Paris and Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson in The Last Time I Saw Paris. Do you have any films on Paris you adore? Or Audrey Hepburn films?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Letter on Paris and the Past

"The old man caught my attention...'Do you know...the single biggest regret of old age...It's nothing to do with making more money or taking better care of the old body...The old folk say their biggest single regret is not having taken more risks.'" - Keith Donohue, Centuries of June.

Dear readers,

I hope this letter finds you well, and that you have wonderful food to nourish your body and soul, books stirring your imagination, and you are taking a slower pace now the summer is in full swing.

I've enjoyed the first sweet corn of the season, a peach sorbet cone on a steamy July night, and I've just started Stephanie Cowell's Marrying Mozart, which I found at a thrift shop for 25 cents and my mother and a coworker already borrowed and devoured. When I see so many people mindlessly scrolling through Facebook statuses on their phones, I think how much more fun it is to be with young Mozart in Mannheim. The modern impulse to project or follow emotions constantly in real time isn't for me. Real time is fast moving, slipping out of our hands, too precious.

I've been thinking a lot about the line about taking more risks. What risks do you wish you had taken? Reflect on them silently, or share them out loud. Is it too late? Famed French singer Edith Piaf sang how she regretted nothing, but I think most people have some regrets.

I wish I had lived in Paris, even for a semester of school or for a year. I've lived in New Jersey my entire life. I slept walked through my twenties through a boring job in suburbia I didn't like and a series of bad relationships (not abusive, just time-wasting relationships). I sadly consider my twenties my lost decade. If I had a life do-over, I would trying something brash like living in Paris. A week's vacation there several years ago wasn't enough time to fully explore her soul.

Owen Wilson's character Gil in the film Midnight in Paris wanted to live there too. Unable to cope with the present, Gil, a writer, keeps time traveling back to Paris of the 1920s, where he encounters F. Scott Fitzgerald and his tormented wife Zelda, Hemingway, and other great writers as well as painters of the era. Of course, many of his heroes have their own demons. Demons transcend time. But who can blame him for wanting to be part of a thriving arts culture and one not focused on Keeping Up with the Joneses or living life for appearance's sake?

I too feel unable to cope with the present sometimes and wish I lived in another time, before reality television, texting and phones out everywhere (including among the Kindergarten set now). I went to hear historian David McCullough talk about Americans who moved to Paris between 1830 to 1900 in The Greater Journey. He spoke of how people went to Paris to excel not for ambition for money or power, but to excel in their fields: medicine, writing, painting, and such. Why don't we want to excel as individuals in our lives even just to better ourselves? He spoke of the idea of people passing on what they learned in Paris back in the states. Why don't we embrace of the idea of cultivating knowledge and passing it on?

In addition to wanting a better arts culture, Wilson's Gil couldn't cope with his materialistic fiancee and her parents, shopping for possessions for a house not even bought yet and Gil worrying about how he'd pay for it all. He'd have to take writing jobs he'd hate to maintain a lifestyle society tells him is required. How many of us do that? How many instead of rejecting what society tells us is needed work excessively to get it? I'd rather work less and make less money and live without things (cable, expensive clothes and bags, upgrading home interiors and electronics, etc.) and have time for my books, my passions, my ideas. Even if I had a lot of money, those things aren't so desirable to me. Gil craved ideas - those can't be bought in a store.

I want a mysterious car to pick me up in the midnight hour and go back in time. Do you?

Perhaps it's human nature to want to go back. A character Gil encounters thinks the era he so idolizes is nothing special - she longs for the era of La Belle Époque. Go back then? Those crave to live among the artistic geniuses of the Renaissance era. We need to make peace with the era we are born with (at least I do). But we can say no to ideas and things society thrusts on us.


PS- since it's Bastille Day this week, and Paris is so on my mind, I think I shall do a few French-themed posts.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Poison in the Well: Gasland

"O, they tell us there's poison in the well, that someone's been a bit untidy and there's been a small spill. All that it amount to is a tear in a salted sea...They'll have it cleaned up in a week. But the week is over and now it's grown into years since I was told that I should be calm, there's nothing to fear here. But I drank that water for years, my wife and my children.

Tell me, where to now, if your fight for a bearable life can be fought and lost in your backyard?"
– 10,000 Maniac's Poison in the Well

Somehow, having clean water, air and soil is sinking lower on our priority list.

In 2011, "Gallup finds the widest margin in nearly 30 years in Americans' prioritizing economic growth (54%) over environmental protection (36%)...The results...continue the trend toward Americans' assigning a higher priority to the economy since the economic downturn began in 2008. That trend was interrupted by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; Gallup found Americans returning, rather dramatically but only temporarily, to a pro-environment position last May, shortly after the spill occurred."

The nation has a short attention span. We care about the environment when there'a natural disaster, but then sooon we forget all about it?

On the start of Fourth of July weekend, when most Americans are thinking about beaches, barbeques and fireworks and not about their domestic energy supply, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed reversing a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York State (read The New York Times coverage). Why is that bad? Josh Fox's Gasland documentary tells us precisely why.

"In 1972 the year that I was born Pete Seeger reminded people that if they polluted the upper Hudson especially the watershed areas, New York City's drinking supply the water would be ruined. Nixon signed the clean drinking water act.

The cold war was on, but there was the concept of leisure time and leisure suits. Computers and technology were supposed to bring on the four day work week and everyone was going to have plenty of time romping around fields and swimming in the rivers." Of course, we now know computers and technology have reduced the need for workers, and lengthened work weeks for many Americans. But that's a whole other blog post.

Only when it's in people's backyard does it seem to suddenly move up "the environment" in their list of priorities. Well natural gas came to Josh Fox's backyard, literally, when he was offered in excess of $100,000 to drill on his land, which sits on part of the Marcellus Shale (in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia), called the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas."

At the time of Fox's documentary, 34 states were hydraulic fracturing (fracking) which produces natural gas. Fracking blasts a mix of water, sand and chemicals 8000 feet underground. The fracking itself is like a mini earthquake. The intense pressure breaks apart the rock to release the natural gas. To frack, you need fracking fluid, a mix of 596 chemicals. Digest that for a moment – 596 chemicals. Each time they drill a well they need 1 – 7 million gallons of water. Each time they frack an existing well they need an additional 1-7 million gallons of water. They can frack a well 18 times in its life.

The process produces what the industry calls "produced water" (doesn't that sound better than polluted?) From everything I've read aside from the film, the water often gets sent to local treatment plants, which are unable to deal with the toxic brew and it ends up in our communities.

It gets worse: the 2005 Energy bill passed by Congress during the Bush and Cheney administration exempted natural gas and oil industries from the Safe Drinking Water, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Superfund and a dozen other regulations.

They stated out west: New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and beyond. Fox estimates 40 trillion gallons of produced water have been created. Now they are coming east. They are proposing 50,000 gas wells along a 75 mile stretch of the Delaware river and hundreds of thousands more.

Fox interviews people across the land whose health, water supplies, livelihood and real estate have been destroyed. Imagine the worst of the worst: water that comes out of the tap on fire, brain lesions, hair falling out of cats, dead wildlife, a loss of taste, pancreatic cancer death after drinking out of a well, a farmer who raises livestock who drinks the toxic brew and will end up on a dinner plate (possibly yours).

John Fenton, the cattle farmer whose father and grandfather were old time cowboys who has 24 gas wells on his property remarked, "It's amazing that what took mother nature millions of years to build can be destroyed in a few hours by a piece of heavy machinery."

While I don't eat meat, I respect smaller farmers like this trying to do right by their animals and land. "I think we should strive to be the cleanest and most environmentally conscious that we can," he says. Who can argue with that?

While politicians and natural gas companies are playing the "creates jobs" card, I'm not taking the bait. Does this include medical professional needed to treat those whose water could be polluted? Funeral directors? What are the potentials costs to real estate values when the water supply is damaged.

As one anonymous person stated, "They were making a beautiful, beautiful piece of country and turned it into this big trash dump."

"The whole concept of democracy and looking out for the little guy does not apply here," victim Jeff Locker said. I don't think our government looks out for the little guy at all these days.

The fallout of the Japanese earthquake saw calls around the world for nuclear plants to be shut down, but is natural gas the alternative? I hope not. Why do we never, ever hear this word in the energy dialogue: conserve. Or consume less. It's not just the suppliers – it's our reckless demand and waste. The UN predicted 10.1 billion people on this planet by the end of the century. Imagine how limited resources will be then.

I live in New Jersey where some residents complain about the sight of solar panels on their telephone polls. I complain about ignorance of people who would rather have dirty air they can't see than a solar panel they can.

We are not being proper caretakers to the land. This is simply about taking. Everyone else who lives on the planet including animal species and future generations be damned.

In Celia Rees' follow-up to Witch Child, "Sorceress," she talks of the native people leaving gifts by the stream (white pebbles, quartz crystals, a bead or two), "Offerings to the Mother, for water springs from her and flows free and pure to give us life. People had thought that from the beginning of time." Why do we no longer respect that relationship? We're willing to gamble our water in the false cause of job creation?

Louis Meeks, whose well water was destroyed, had to build another well which led to an explosion of natural gas that for three days bled three million cubic feet of natural gas into the atmosphere. He summed it up the entire state of the natural gas to me:

"Their word ain't no good. And we's all raised that way- if you're word ain't no good, you ain't no good. These are grown men who are lying to you for what? For money and that's it."

That's it.

Please watch Gasland now on DVD, contact your elected officials to remove the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking and call for the disclosure and monitoring of the chemicals used in the process, and spread the word about Gasland.

"In the West, you say that I can see behind the mask,
Of those who call themselves the good guys in this, who take and take."
- Tori Amos, Sweet Sangria.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Retro Matinee Feature Showing: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Have you ever taken a photograph of a statue not fully understanding who the figure is? I have: of George M. Cohan in New York City's Times Square. I can't help but notice the word "Disney" flashing over his name. Having watched Yankee Doodle Dandy starring James Cagney, I can no longer say that's the case.

There's a scene at the end of the film where in the later years of Cohan's life some teenagers stumble upon his farm and have no idea who he is, which so troubles him. Have we forgotten him too? Is he standing amid the lights and constant activity of one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city begging, remember me?

His New York Times obituary read,

"George M. Cohan, the Yankee Doodle Dandy of the American stage who gave his country its greatest song of the first World War died his home overlooking Central Park...

The great song and dance man--perhaps the greatest in Broadway history--was 64 years old...A year ago--Oct. 19, 1941--the man who wrote "Over There" and received a Congressional Medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for writing it...

Although he was famous for his songs and dances in many shows, for his impersonation of President Roosevelt in "I'd Rather Be Right" and of the country editor in Eugene O'Neill's "Ah Wilderness!" it was as the author of "Over There," the stirring march of the First World War, that he was internationally respected. Not since the Civil War had so popular a patriotic song been forthcoming. It was his unfulfilled ambition to give American another "Over There" for this war, a war thus far without a song to match it."

When I first started American Dream Finder, I reflected on Wynton Marsalis' words in my post Classic Obsessions.

"It saddens me for us as a nation because we have such a rich cultural heritage and...we would make such better decisions if we could understand what brings us together.

The arts are our collective human heritage. You're a better person if you know what Shakespeare was talking about. If you know what Beethoven struggled with, if you know about Matisse. If you know what Louis Armstrong actually sang through his horn, you're better. It's like you get to speak with the wisest people who ever lived."

I still think about his words a lot. He is so right, but who will pass on this knowledge?

We're notoriusly bad at history, and American students were recently said to be less proficient in history than any other subject, the New York Times reported. Most fourth graders were unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure. As a history lover, it saddens me.

I'm thinking a lot about patriotism too, and what George M. Cohan did to instill a sense of, and his contributions to the arts, which too readily feel the budget cut's ax.

I love my country, and hope you do too. I think some bad decisions are being made, as they are always made, and it's our job as citizens to help steer it to the right course. I hope you feel that way too.

I'm also remembering those whose independence was lost while ours was gained. I try and pay respect to their spirit by being respectful of the land, air, animals and water they so revered. I hope you feel that way too.

I hope you have a great Independence Day.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Clothing

It started as a casual conversation with my coworker in the next cubicle of having too many clothes, and hey, we should have a clothing swap. The seed was planted, and it grew into action (make your ideas become action too!) The first day of summer, June 21st, we held our tenth seasonal clothing and accessories swap. Our winter one in January includes unwanted holiday gifts. My good friend Kristin who pens Wordfall is a fellow organizer.

We do these on our lunch hour and offer light refreshments: lemonade, roasted red pepper hummus with multi grain pita chips and organic cucumbers, strawberries and kettle corn. We also had cherry tomatoes, peaches, and mini campfire s'mores, and vegan cinnamon Cafe Twist cookies. Produce from New Jersey farms, the rest from Trader Joe's.

In the back are books, accessories and beauty products so all sizes could find something. I often hear, "You wouldn't want my things," but we really do! We donate leftovers and all sizes can benefit from secondhand clothes. We get so many small sizes that many people "shop" for their teenage daughters.

A small sampling of what we had. My sister gave me the zebra print bag to contribute. It was brand new but she decided she didn't want it. Someone took it. No takers for the blue broomstick skirt I brought. I would have kept it, but the elastic around the waste was too uncomfortable for me, so I donated it.

We include swimwear. I'm not skeevish about secondhand swimwear. I have two bathing suits both from CATS Resale Shop which I paid about $3 or $4 each for. I'm skeevish about retail pricing on bathing suits, and know from my mother who worked retail about the legions of women have tried those on in dressing rooms and knows how many end up on the floor of fitting rooms.

Here were my finds. I'm including country of origin, because I want to draw awareness to where our clothes are made (see my Origins of an American Closet post). If you're getting something second hand, you don't have to feel guilty contributing to the demand for new resources and questionable labor conditions.

A yellow m/m cardigan (made in China), four scarves (one is Jones New York, the rest are unlabeled, all with no country of origin), and a Body Shop cassis rose lotion (made in the UK).

Raspberry colored shoes perfect for the pool or beach. I would never shop for shoes like this on my own, but am happy to have gotten them. The black Ann Taylor Loft flip flops were donated from a woman who said they were the wrong size, were on the bottom of her closet never worn. Precisely why we hold these swaps! Both have no country of origin.

We donate the leftovers to charitable thrift shops: Housing Works, which benefits low income and homeless New Yorkers living with HIV, and C.A.T.S. Resale Shop in Westwood, New Jersey, which serves as a shop and shelter for homeless cats (they foster some dogs too), and money raised helps pay for veterinary bills and food. I love the idea of unwanted clothes and other items finding a new home, and helping homeless people and animals.

At the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop, I picked up this Old Navy lemon top, $2, made in China, and Jordache top, $2, made in Sri Lanka. I'll be the first to admit that if you gave me a map, I could not find Sri Lanka on it, yet someone there toiled to make this shirt for an American. Luckily that American donated it when it was unwanted so another American could wear it: me.

I love these cotton tops in the summer, which I pair with long flowy skirts and, now, wear the scarves I got at the swap in my head.

I've come across clothes in the garbage often (on the eve of the swap, I found 7 pairs of jeans, two tops, including one Banana Republic and four fleeces peering out of a garbage bin (not in bags), mostly made in China. This is disrespectful to the people who labored to make these clothes, to the planet (our landfills are full enough) and to the people who could benefit getting these clothes for free or a significantly reduced cost.

I get all my clothes second hand now, and if people want to put me down, I don't care. I have an increasing retirement and savings account, no debt, have traveled to Paris, Mexico, Spain, Morocco and more and paid for those trips outright, and it's not because I make an enormous salary. If someone wants to feel superior for paying $90 for something I spent $4 on, I let them!

As for stigma and brand obsessions, I point to the I Love Lucy episode that takes place in Paris. Lucy and Ethel long for dresses by fictional designer Jacques Marcel. Lucy stages a fake hunger strike in her hotel room (of course Ethel sneaks in food), and Ricky caves and agrees to buy a dress. When he finds out they were cheating, he gets a tailor to make dresses out of potato sacks and a horse's feed sack and put in a Jacques Marcel label. Fred goes in on it too. Thinking they are the real deal, Lucy and Ethel proudly stroll along the boulevard, but are horrified when they are told the truth. Jacques Marcel was at a cafe watching, loved the look, and copied them. Lucy and Ethel instantly regret burning their Jacques Marcel "originals." It's all about psychology!

I keep hearing about what lean economic times we are in, but everywhere I look I see women of modest means with expensive designer bags and clothes. My sister and I ponder, do people really like the bag because of the look of it, or it's because of the label? Personally, I wouldn't carry one of those high end designer bags if given one for free. I don't know why women feel the need to live the lifestyle of celebrities, and we should all be saving for rainy days (are these women saving?)

I used to think I was "treating myself" to Anthropologie clothes but now think it was a waste of money. Someone asked me recently, "Do you shop at Anthropologie?" and I said, "No but I wear their clothes." (like my $4 thrift skirt). I'd rather show off organic strawberries and thrifty used finds than a $300 bag. I'm more worried about what goes in my body, not what decorates it.

Our grandmothers made it through the depression and war years and acquired thrifty skills they kept for life, yet I don't know how much we've learned as a nation amid the Great Recession. I'm impressed by savings, resourcefulness, recycling, caring about workers' conditions, animals, and the planet. I'm never impressed when someone tells me they have an enormous shoe or bag collection. That's from an animal's sacrifice, from a worker's toil, from the Earth's limited resources. To me, that's greedy. I'm not envious of a Louis Vuitton bag. That's just a status symbol.

As for "trends" the "in" look thrust on American women by unknown forces each season, I reject that thinking, and encourage other women to. Who wants to look like everyone else? It's just an excuse for retailers to get you in stores. I don't need a woman in Indonesia working in a factory so I can look "in." I'd rather see her bent over a book. My sister said every time Kate Middleton wears something, it sells out. Why don't we work on developing our own sense of style?

Find a thrift shop for charity near you through Consider hosting a clothing swap with your friends or coworkers, or donate your goods to a charity, pass them on through freecycle, or even sell them. Keep the reduce, reuse, recycle thread going.

Check out Angela Barton's Thrift Threads column where readers show off their cute secondhand wears, and The Thrifty Chicks, who advocate for a robust reuse market (as do I!) I think every American town and city should offer a freecycle space for residents to keep things out of landfills and give residents a chance to save money getting things for free.

Have you ever attended a swap? Enjoy thrift or consignment shopping? Scoring thrifty threads at garage sales or on eBay? Swap maternity wear or kids clothing with family members or friends? Do you look at the labels of where your clothes are made and wonder about the conditions they were made in?