Saturday, October 22, 2011

See America: Yes, I Can!

Well, I'll have to have this playing when I arrive: Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque.

After taking journeys each year to destinations like Paris, Switzerland, Mexico, Italy and Spain, Steve and I are off to, at last, see America for just over two weeks.

It's really humbling when you travel in Europe and people are more well-traveled in your own country than you are. Do places across an ocean seem more exotic?

I can't wait to see Sante Fe, and I'm really excited to be visiting the national parks. I haven't been to any. Have you seen any of Ken Burns' series on the National Parks? I just started watching some videos online, and could spend hours doing so.

"Parks represent the wildness inside us. They're the place where we can be lonely, where we can experience solitude. They're a place we go to as refuge, as sanctuary. It's the place we go out to, to come back in. It's the only place in many people's lives where that's possible," said writer Gretel Ehrlich in a clip on the Petrified Forest in Arizona, which I'll be visiting.

I've already started my book for the journey, which I found for 50 cents at the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop, "These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 Arizona Territories," by Nancy E. Turner, which was inspired by the author's great-grandmother, Sarah Prine. It is set in Territorial Arizona. Pioneer women keep calling out to me, telling me to learn and share their stories, and seek our own frontiers.

We're ending our Southwest journey in Vegas where, of course, I hope to see the King! Lawdy Miss Clawdy from the '68 Comeback Special.

While unlike Elvis I can't say "I won't be coming no more," I will say for now, "Down the road I go." Let's meet here again for the ongoing journey exploring history, the beauty of the land, continuing education and embracing a life of discovery.

Friday, October 21, 2011

At the Occupy Wall Street Protest: What Would Your Protest Sign Say?

Amendment I of the United States Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

If you've never done so, you can read all of the amendments here.

Why do we so rarely exercise our right to free speech, to assemble and to petition the governement? History is being made in New York City's Zuccotti Park. I agreed with the sentiments of the sign, "If you're not angry, you're not paying." After visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, Steve and I stopped by Zuccotti Park, where the electricity of protesters with their signs were infectious. It's about time.

What would your sign say? Mine would perhaps say, "Support Farmers, Not Chemists" or "600 Chemicals in Fracking Fluid: Nothing Natural About Natural Gas." Read my post on Josh Fox's Gasland.

"My daddy was a miner,
He's now in the air and son.
He'll be with you fellow workers until the battles won.
Which side are you on boys, which side are you on?" - Florence Reese's "Which Side are You On?" as covered by Natalie Merchant on House Carpenter's Daughter.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

History Lesson: Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

More than one hundred million Americans can trace at least one ancestor who went through Ellis Island during its years of operation in 1892 and 1924.
Are you one of them? My parents came separately from Switzerland, my dad in the 1950s and my mother in the 1960s, both settling in New York City where they met and married. After living in Queens with my sister, the year I was born, 1975, they were off to the suburbs in northern New Jersey where they still live. No escaping poverty, hunger, or political strife, just wanting to pursue happiness and live the American dream.

Would you be able to make a new start in a country, leaving virtually all of your cherished possessions behind, not knowing the language, unable to read or write, with no money in your pocket after months or years of saving for the passage across a sea?

That was the question posed to us by a ranger. A "sterner people who gave us the Greatest Generation" is what he called them.

Our guide asked us to ponder our many possessions, stumbling out of our closets, garages and such. All the things (we think) we can't live without. Not to diminish today's hard times, but one takes pause considering how little people truly had, while we grumble about not having enough to pay our cell phone and cable bills.

Knowing how hard it is for my parents to be separated all these years later from their families, I think of the permanent separation immigrants endured.

"The day I left home my mother came with me to the railroad station. When we said good-bye, she said it was just like seeing me go into my casket," said Julia, a Lithuanian immigrant. In our very modern world of instant communication tools like Skype, twitter and even e-mail (the last of which is slow for some) consider how different it was.

I considered this sign about fear of immigrants taking American jobs, but it seems it's often jobs Americans don't want, as evidenced by some farmers inability to get Americans to do the work in this recent New York Times article. Land of plenty? I recall a remark I read during my first visit to Ellis Island from a new immigrant to our shores that he thought the streets would be paved with gold, then he found out they weren't paved, and that he would have to pave them.

Eight of the 12 million immigrants would leave New York City to points all over the country. Here a sign enticing new arrivals to come to California.

Just 2 percent of those who came were sent back. This was one of them, an Austrian laborer (reason unknown). In a short film we watched, one man said he would leap into the water rather than face a fate of going back to Russia again.

"My boyish imagination was aflame with America...At that time I accepted as truth nearly everything I heard about America. I believed that a single cattleman owned more cattle than were in the entire Balkans, and my credulity was not strained when I heard there were gold mines in California, and trees more than a thousand years old with trunks so enormous that it required a dozen men, clasping each other's hands, to encircle them with their arms. In America, everything was possible," said Louis Adamic, a Slovenian immigrant in 1913 in his autobiography, Landing in the Jungle.

Photo, of an Italian boy.

Checking for trachoma, a highly contagious eye disease that could lead to blindness. Almost unknown in the United States, it was common in southeastern Europe. Passengers being inspect with a tool for an inflammation of the inner eye lid.

Picture brides courted through the mail by immigrants longing for wives from the old country with a shared language and customs.

A food menu from November 19, 1906:
Coffee with milk and sugar, and bread and butter.
Crackers and milk for women and children.

Beef stew, boiled potatoes and rye bread.
Smoked and pickled herring for Hebrews.
Crackers and milk for women and children.

Baked beans, stewed prunes, rye bread, and tea with milk and sugar.
Crackers and milk for women and children.

The Statue of Liberty. From the National Park Service web site,

"The idea of the Statue originated around 1865 with Edouard de Laboulaye who saw the United States as a country that had proved that democracy was a viable type of government- after all they had just survived a Civil War and abolished slavery. Laboulaye also saw the gift as a way to reflect his wish for a democracy in France. Artist Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who was known for large-scale work, was commissioned to design this sculpture. Nothing happened for some time, but finally in 1871 Bartholdi came to the United States to look for a location for his monument. He saw Bedloe's Island from his ship as he sailed into the New York Harbor, and realized it would be a perfect location - since here his statue would always have an audience." Learn more.

Do you think America is still the land of opportunity?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Confessions of a Former Mall Shopper, Now a Thrift and Consignment Store Shopper and Clothes Swapper

Explain it to me like I'm a four-year-old, Denzel Washington's character, Joe Miller, an attorney, would say in court in the film Philadelphia. I feel like Joe Miller. Explain it to me like a four-year-old:

Why, every season, does the media subject us to another round of must have's? Wear hunter green! Houndstooth clothing. Stripes. If we must have it, they (whoever they are) should send us all one for free. Remember in the Audrey Hepburn classic Funny Face the New York fashion editor decides pink is the it color and says the American woman is standing there naked waiting for her to tell her what to wear? My must haves: an independent sense of style, financial empowerment, and caring where my clothes come from.

Why is it repulsive to wear a used sweater, but not to fork over a premium to retailers who have decided to use cheaper foreign labor instead of giving Americans jobs? Did you know in the 1960s, the United States made 98 percent of the shoes, and now imports 90 percent of them, according to The New York Times. Clothing has similar numbers - 95 percent produced here in the sixties, five percent now, says the Nightly Business Report on PBS. Occupy Target, Occupy H&M anyone?

Why do we give no thought to the people laboring to feed America's appetite for fast fashion? Because like a lot of the food we eat, it's just too disturbing to think about it.

I like most people went to the mall, to retailers like H&M and Payless Shoes. In the past few years I've been co-hosting seasonal clothing swaps at work. The value at retail of these clothes taken would be thousands of dollars. Financial empowerment is a great thing for women. Why would you want to pay something if you can get it for free? Explain it like I'm a four year old. While I won't say I'll "never" shop at the mall for anything, if I can get it at a swap, support a charitable thrift shop, or one of the consignment shops popping up on main streets, I will.

For our fall swap, we provided refreshments from Trader Joe's, this time - apple and pomegranate sparkling juices, maple leaf and snickerdoodle cookies, olive hummus with multi-grain pita chips, spinach dip with sesame flatbread crackers and kettle corn.

We picked three charities to donate leftovers: CATS Resale Shop in Westwood, New Jersey, to help homeless cats and dogs, Housing Works in New York City which assists homeless and HIV positive New Yorkers, and Cinema Verite, to benefit Process Studio Theater.

My sister donated these Coach logo bags and a Jessica Simpson bag (made in China) she no longer wanted, and some logo items from a friend (her friend was going to throw these out!) The Juicy wallet, made where else, in China.

Read the Coach label inside. This bag was handcrafted in China. So Coach is marketing their bags as a luxury item but they cut corners with cheaper labor. Their web site features glossy images of New York. Why not any of their Chinese factory?

Who is ready for hot cocoa weather? I am looking at this photo. And how cute is the child's snowsuit!

I was so excited someone brought a bag of clothes from her son. A lot were taken.

I got what would have cost several hundreds of dollars at retail for free at the swap. Among the items not pictured: brown Steve Madden shoes for me, Bosse sunglasses with multiple shades for my boyfriend Steve, an H&M scarf and a bracelet for my mom and a BCBG wrap dress for my sister. Other finds:

Banana Republic vest, made in China, and scarf, made in China, brand unknown. The vest is one of my favorite finds, and something I never would have shopped for. That's the fun thing about the swaps, and hearing a coworker say she's happy someone could use it. I'll take it with me on vacation...with all the money I save with frugal living, I can pay for my two-week trips outright.

Style & Co. top, made in India.

Liz Claiborne LizSport sky blue sweater, knitted in Taiwan, finished in China.

Scarf (so perfect for the fall!), made in China, label unknown, and bag, country of origin and label unknown. Yeah for no logos!

My rule on leather as a vegetarian is it's okay if it's secondhand, but I really try not to buy new. It's a personal decision.

I supplement my outfits with thrifted finds, like the American fashion icon: blue jeans. These, Levi Strauss & Co. may have San Francisco on their label, but inside: made in Mexico (the company has a shaky labor history). Both from Our Thrift Shop in Westwood, New Jersey, which benefits a local arts school. Left pair, $6, right pair, purchased for $2 on a $2-all-jeans sale. I haven't bought new jeans in years.

Boots, $14, Our Thrift Shop. I've been going to Payless Shoes for my fall boots because they are not leather, but I've been wanted to get more thrifted shoes.

I hope to have these boots for a while, and bring them to a local cobbler if they need repair. I love shoes cobblers! There are so few trades today in our mass production, disposable world, and going into one feels like walking back in time. We should fix things instead of dispose.

Red Exhilaration shirt, $12, made in China, from Cinema Verite thrift shop.

Blue necklace, $7, Cinema Verite, bracelet, free from the swap (both unknown label or country of origin), a navy Saks Fifth Avenue gloves made in Italy, $18.

Poncho, $2, from an estate sale.

I've recently started attending estate sales, which for those who are unfamiliar, are where the entire contents of a house are for sale. They're actually extremely interesting as a snapshot on how we lived, and union labels, like the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (made in the U.S.A.) tag in here, are in many of the clothes since they are from decades ago. When is the last time you saw a union label on something you bought at the store?

I saw a comment about Coach making its bags in China: "I don't care where it's made." A society that doesn't care alarms me. I care. I care who I give my hard-earned money to, who produces it, what pollution it creates, and about charities and small businesses.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Being a Caretaker: Cleaning Up Mother Earth with the Hackensack Riverkeeper

A few years ago, I was looking to do some volunteer work and bring more meaning into my life, and I helped cleanup the Emerson Woods in Emerson, New Jersey, with Bergen SWAN, a group instrumental in preserving them from development during my teen years. A volunteer Carl told me about a group called Hackensack Riverkeeper which he enthusiastically volunteers for, and for the past few years, I've participated in a handful of their multiple river cleanups each season.

Picture to the left is a bag of trash I picked up by the river at Foschini Park in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Trash accumulating.

Among the plastic bags, liquor bottles, soda bottles and cans, fast food container waste and other trash are this: bottled water.

We could drink bottled water, which is taken from a local water supply, then transported by truck (using oil), in plastic bottles (made of oil), often packaged in plastic casing (more oil), shipped to landfills or recycling facilities (using oil), or...

We could fill up a reusable bottle with filtered or tap water, or...

do as those before us did: drink from a fountain.

Pierre, a marketing guru in France, behind the bottled water craze? Jim Gaffigan, one of my favorite comedians, has some thoughts.
Jim Gaffigan - Bottled Water
Jim GaffiganCoemdiansStand-Up

Gaffigan has a point. How did we go from "I know I can get water free from any faucet, but I want to pay for it!" Even amid such hard economic times, many of us have been convinced to pay for water.

In Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder recalls her memories of Pa building a well in the chapter "Fresh Water to Drink."

"The water was clear and cold and good. Laura thought she never tasted anything so good as those long, cold drinks of water."

How precious water was to the pioneers and to all humankind who need it to drink, cook in, bath in, launder clothing, and how we give it little thought or respect in modern life.

I think a lot about the fear culture marketers perpetuate to drive our demand of products. Someone asked me about if I worry about pipes in a building bringing in the water, but drinking water that's been lingering in plastic and causes unneeded air pollution and demand for oil doesn't sound very refreshing to me.

While this MSN article, "Bottled Water: A River of Money" is from 2007, I still find the information in it staggering:

"We Americans pitch 38 billion water bottles a year into landfills -- in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic. And 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo...

About 1 billion bottles of water a week are moved around in ships, trains and trucks in the United States alone. That's a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (Water weighs 8 1/3 pounds a gallon. It's so heavy you can't fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water -- you have to leave empty space."

You don't need to participate in an organized cleanup to pick up trash. I've seen people doing it on their walks in the woods. You need only look outside your window to see the leftovers of our disposable culture.

In the chapter "Pa Goes to Town" an uncomfortable moment arises in Little House on the Prairie when neighbor Mrs. Scott says of the Indians, "Land knows they'd never do anything with this country themselves. All they do is roam all over it like wild animals. Treaties or no treaties, the land belongs to folks that will farm it. That's only common sense and justice."

"Land knows" - "Land," a sacred word and being, for the land is alive and a life force.

I think a lot about what we as individuals and companies have "done" with this land: litter everywhere, air, soil and water pollution. I hear a lot about "job killing" from some candidates for president seeking to lead our nation in reference to environmental protection agencies and laws (again, playing into fears), but our government is supposed to protect these very sacred things - air, soil and water - from those who would harm them. But we as individuals must be caretakers too. That is common sense and justice to me.

I also don't think land truly "belongs" to anyone. We tread on it for a short time. Remember the Native American lesson: go lightly on this world.

Start with a small change. Any change.

Reduce, and if you use, recycle.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Share Art: "The Show" from Raven's End, by Ben Gadd

Sharing a passage from Ben Gadd's Raven's End, a novel following a flock of ravens each season in the Rocky Mountains. I learned of this book as its words were featured in the documentary, A Life Ascending. It reminds me to be in awe of nature, be humbled by its elements, and that many life forms, not just we humans, delight in "gifts" of the season. Look upward at the sky and admire the birds in flight. Think of the "show" the trees are putting on. I shall always think of the changing of the leaves as "The Show."

"Across the Bow Valley, a large grove of aspen had come into its fall color. Since every tree in the grove was joined at the roots to every other tree, they all got the word at once - "Do it! Now!" - and they did. They let the chlorophyll in their leaves go from green to colorless, and the yellow carotene, present all the while in the leaves but masked by the green, emerged from hiding. Every aspen in the grove went gloriously gold.

Yes, the Show was on. And it grew better by the day. The evergreens contributed by darkening their needles to afford maximum contrast against the aspen patches, which spattered the foothills with yellow. On the forest floor too, the Show erupted. This was wild-rose country, and countless thousands of rose bushes went from summer green to autumn red. Every rose leaf, half the length of a raven's bill, blushed brighter by the hour.

In flight, the birds could look down to the dots of red, each advertising the rose hips - the fruit of the roses - weighing down the plants. Those rose hips were red and swollen with seeds, good for a bird. Good for Colin and Zack and Molly as the bright-blue days of fall drifted on. They feasted on rose hips and raspberries and gooseberries and all the other gifts of that prickly tribe."

Delighting in cranberry sauce just as birds and bears delight in their findings.

"Black bears ran from one bountiful shrub to the next, eating urgently. They ripped at the fruit-laden boughs with their claws and stuffed the berries in their mouths, leaves and all, chewing only a few times and swallowing hard, driven by a powerful hunger. Each bear had to grow very fat if it was to survive the winter-long sleep that was soon to come.

Overhead, the great migration began. Millions of birds-ducks, geese, robins, sparrows, warblers - followed the eastern edge of the Rockies on their way south. The eagles cruised over the rough gray ridges of the front ranges, while the hawks preferred the rolling green-and-yellow swells of the foothills. Some migrants journeyed west instead of south, across the mountains to the Pacific coast, where they could winter by the sea."

Learn more about Ben Gadd's Raven's End