Category: "Possessions"

Make Your 4th Red, White, Blue and GREEN

July 2nd, 2015

In typical American style, we sure know how to push a celebration to grandeous proporations. Fireworks, beach trips, picnics, parades, concerts, cookouts, and more. For most of us, this is our big vacation. Moreover, freedom and independence is certainly something to acknowledge, and I applaud a ceremony that honors these liberties, for they shall not to be taken for granted.

It's just too bad our traditions have grown to clash with our desire to live in harmony with the earth. In short, our big parties now have a big impact on our environment, and that doesn’t have to be.

There are ways to tread lightly while still making the occasion sparkle. Here are just five ideas:

1.) Grilling. Burgers. Hot Dogs. Ribs. Lobster. This is the holiday to make use of that grill and outdoor dining set. Why not also support your local farmer or butcher at the same time? Consuming small-farm raised, seasonally ripe foods is not only easier on the environment than the other stuff, it deepens your connection to the rhythm of the cycle of summer. Challenge yourself to create a menu that is 70% or more locally sourced. Then, let me know what time I should come for dinner.

2.) Picnic Supplies. Tableclothes, cups, forks, knives, spoon, bowls, plates, decorations and other supplies. I am older than the commonplace use of disposable products. Yet, in my short lifespan, the oceans have formed islands of plastic and the landfills have been stuffed with the burden of short-term thinking. Encourage guests to bring their own cups. Buy colorful, reusable, easy-wash plates. If you cannot avoid disposables, setup recycling stations for guests to separate out their plastics (utensils and cups included) from the trash. And never buy styrofoam.

3.) Helium Balloons. I’ve lost count of how many of these I discovered during hikes to remote, woodland locations, tangled in the trees or mangled on the ground. Decorate instead with flowers and flags. Let the kids make a sign if you need to bring attention to your driveway for guests. As for balloon releases, let burning sage or incense carry your intentions to the skies, without the mylar and latex.

4.) Fireworks. I like a good loud show as much as the next gal. However, the old-fashioned community gathering has turned into a competition to outdo each other. The traffic and smoke and explosions are only destined to grow bigger and bigger, each little township spending thousands of dollars, fields littered with leftover trinkets and glowsticks and trash. Meanwhile, a dead pine tree placed on a glowing campfire can create a fascinating ember show. Emerging fireflies can provoke a sense of wonder and mystery. Create a celebration around nature's displays. When done with intention, they can be far more meaningful than dashing to and from a stranger's pyrotechnic show.

5.) Sing. Parades and concerts are fun, but why not create your own music and pageantry? Host a talent show. Dig out your guitar. Dress up in costume and stage your own block party parade. Participate in creating your own entertainment instead of paying someone else to do it for you. The self expression is not only good for you, it connects you to your own desires and emotions, thus opening the door to a better connection to the natural world.

We are a great country because we are free. Don’t let traditions shackle you to consumerism and waste. Party in a style that is in harmony with your intentions, and you will party in a style that is in harmony with the earth.

And most of all, have a happy 4th of July.

Lost Without Recollection

April 17th, 2015

Here comes another attack on technology. I can't help myself; things have gotten absurd.

It's not that the tool isn't good. For the right application, it can be very useful. However, like buying a field mower to maintain a center-city plot of grass, our chase for the latest and biggest has as run us right past common sense.

GPS. Global positioning systems. The Garmin. The talking dashboard. The I-can't-tell-where-I'm-going-without-her box that, in my opinion, is the new "boob tube," a nickname once reserved for the mind-numbing television set.

Yes, if you are a salesperson who must mow a large territory or if you are a scientist who needs to document your remote location via satellite, you should have a GPS. But if you are a parent driving back and forth between local rivalry soccer fields, you do not need a GPS. You need to have a friendly conversation with a live person who can tell you how to get there. You need to look at $5 map instead of programming a $200 machine.

Still, to each his or her own. Except that stupidity frightens me. Not only do I fear for my future, I worry about people. And today's overuse of dashboard GPS products is about as stupid as firing up a 70" tractor to pass over a 36" piece of ground. I've heard of stories in which drivers, following the digital instructor, have crashed after turning onto roads that didn't exist. A good friend of mine--an otherwise intelligent and perceptive gal--allowed her GPS to get her lost inside in a very harsh neighborhood, one that was so bad a police officer saw her, came to her aid, and escorted her out of town.

Logical intelligence is being traded for gadgetry dependence.

Both those examples were hearsay. But last summer I came face-to-face with a nearly tragic example. Were it not for the kindness of a brave bystander, the outcome would have been worse.

I was camping in a wooded Pennsylvania State Park with friends. So spread out were the hiking routes that you had to drive to the trail heads if you didn't want to spend more time hiking to them than on them. My friend, Jane, and I set off in her hybrid Ford for a short, late-afternoon excursion to see some of the park's most impressive waterfalls, including one that was 94 feet high.

We climbed the steep trail and oohed and awed and snapped photos and breathed in the lovely scent. Then, we climbed back to the parking lot. The sun was falling toward dusk. Exhilarated, Jane said, "Hey, while we're out here, do you mind if I stop by the payphone to check in at home? There's no cell service out here."

(For those who don't know, a pay phone is metal box with a wired handset and buttons numbered zero to nine. You put coin money into a slot so you can place a call.)

"Absolutely not," I said. "Sounds like a good idea."

The phone hung outside the park office, which was closed since it was after 7pm. Knowing the weather bulletin was accessible in the foyer, I walked inside while she dialed. I snapped a photo of the threat of thunderstorms to report to my friends back at camp. On my way out, I met a young man. Our conversation was a little chaotic, because he was a little panicked. Did I work there? Did I know how to reach a ranger? Could I point out where we were on the map? Isn't there some sort of emergency number to call?

The severity of his dilemma came out eventually. He was completely lost and nightfall was coming. The three others with him looked tired. "I'm never going to get my family back to the car before dark," he said hopelessly.

"Where is your car parked?" I asked.

"It's in the lot where you must cross the road and then there are bridges and then a trail...." None of that sounded familiar to me. I desperately searched my mind so I could help him.

By now Jane had finished talking with her family, and she walked up to see what was happening. "They need help and there is no way to reach a ranger," I explained. He repeated his story while his family rested on a wooden bench. The young girl swung her feet, the mom remained calm, sweaty, and collected, and the teenage boy showed no emotion at all.

"Well, I can give you ride," Jane said in the same emphatically helpful way she approaches most situations. While I was still trying to picture bridges to a trail, Jane dove right into a carefree and generous solution. It seemed obvious this was not a ploy to hurt us, but it was notable that risk or inconvenience never caused Jane to hesitate. Old-fashioned humanity came first.

I wasn't sure how we were going to fit anyone else into a vehicle stuffed with camping gear. Jane quickly determined that the best thing to do was to drive him to his car so that he could come back and pick up his family.

"Oh my God; thank you." He looked as if he might cry.

"So, where are you parked?" she repeated my earlier question.

"I don't know...bridges...cross a road."

"Is it the Beech Lot?"

"I have no idea."

"Hmm. Okay; it's probably the Lakeside Lot. Let's try. We piled in, waved to his slightly worried-looking family on the wooden bench, and yelled, "We'll be right back." In the review mirror, I saw them walking toward a water fountain.

But as we drove, Dad just kept repeating his description and nothing looked familiar.

"Jane, can I have that park map?" I asked. I scoured the 8 1/2 by 11-inch photocopy for other parking lots. "I bet he's parked down on Route 118." I turned to the stranger in the back seat. "Did you come in on 487 or 118?"

"I don't know; my wife used GPS and just told me where to turn."

"Did you come in from the north or the south?"

"I have no idea."

"What towns did you pass through?

"No idea...GPS."

"We gotta' give it a shot; he must be all the way down in that lower lot."

Mind you, this was NOT around the corner. He was probably parked on the other side of 13,000 acres. The road would take us six miles down to an elevation that was more than 1,000 feet lower than where we found him.

Along the way, he began to recognize things. "We were here," he almost shouted. "This is where we came out of the woods when we knew it was getting dark. We were told the trail would loop back down, but it never did. I had to get my family out of the woods. Then some guy told us to turn around. We should have kept walking."

I assured him that it was best he turned around, because we were only about a half-mile into our six-mile journey. "This is going to be a little bit of drive. The road veers away from the park for a bit."

The Ford's transmission hummed while the low gear prevented us from flying down the hill. We passed a ranger's truck with no ranger it in it as well as a runaway truck ramp (an uphill clearing onto which a truck that has lost its brakes could make an emergency landing). We passed trees and more trees until we finally got to the bottom, where we turned left in hopes that we were headed to the right parking lot. Still, since he hadn't walked all the way down the mountain, this section once again was unfamiliar.

"Let's hope you just came in from the other way," Jane said in a reassuring tone. I think she was trying to ease her own mind even more than the stranger's. People were likely wondering where the heck we were, and we were both in an unspoken thirst for that post-hike beer.

The backseat stranger said, "This is not like me. I know how to read a map. I thought this loop would be clearly marked. I've got to keep my family safe. I want to hike the Appalachian Trail soon, but I guess I'm going to have to get better at orienteering. There's no way we would have made it back to the car!"

The closer we got, the more he seemed to think this was the correct place.

"It should be coming up on the right," I said.

"Yes. Yes. This looks like it. Oh my God; I think this is it."

"Are you going to kiss your car when you find it?" I joked.

"Absolutely," he said. "There it is; that silver Jeep."

The next few moments were filled with a flood of sincere gratitude and relief. "How can I get in touch with you? I want to pay you."

There was no way Jane would have accepted it; her reward was already received. Heightened by his appreciation, the chance to make a positive difference in a stranger's day was more than enough payback for her.

"Do you know how to get back?"

"I think so."

I began describing the two turns, when Jane simply said, "Just follow us."

This time the hybrid complained, unable to exceed 35 mph. “Take your time,” I kept urging her. "You don't want to wreck your transmission over a good deed." We knew the silver Jeep behind us was anxious to get to its destination, but this was a hill that couldn't be rushed.

Once at the park office, we waved happily to the family as they climbed into the car, their ordeal finally over. I was proud of my friend. I'm not sure I'd have realized the gravity of their situation as quickly as she did or be as willing to get involved. I was still stuck on getting a ranger's help by the time Jane had clicked her seat belt.

But while it was all happiness and gratitude, I couldn't get over how an individual who clearly displayed a love for his family and a respect for his responsibilities as a father could not begin to describe where he had been beyond the scenery he witnessed when he got there. I began to understand why he, when we were looking at the map back at the ranger's office, couldn't figure out where he was. All he knew was that he was far from where he started and that he should probably head downhill.

Because Jane had a paper map and because I was familiar with that paper--my guide for the weekend--the three of us are not still driving around looking for a parking lot across the road from a trail with bridges.

In a society that continues to invent new tools to find its way, I see that we are becoming increasingly disoriented. Thankfully there are still a few map-reading humans such as Jane and me alive in this world, people who are willing to help when the way-finding computers fall out of reach.

Why Spring Cleaning Does More Than Make Things Look Nice.

April 2nd, 2015

Read more via my latest newsletter, SOS Signal March/April 2015.

Clearing the Road to Hybrid Car Ownership

January 8th, 2015

Gas prices are down. Drivers are celebrating. But does that mean we can slacken the conservation reins? Not as far as I'm concerned. For me, prices have no effect on my quest to burn less fuel. The cost of consumption is almost immeasurable when you factor in the associated environmental damage, corporate gluttony, health impacts, and spiritual conflict. I conserve because it's the right thing to do.

Which I why I jumped on my friend's suggestion when she said, "Your readers should know what I learned about buying a hybrid car. It's more affordable than you think."

I've known Judy for 15 years. She has always impressed me as a goal setter, a smart shopper, and a caring person. Plus, she has mechanical knowledge. I figured the best way to share her car-buying information was to let her explain it in her own words. Here is my interview with her:

Question: Why did you want to buy a hybrid? 

Answer: For better fuel economy and to help encourage industry to find better ways to be more environmentally friendly.

 

Q: Describe yourself as a shopper. Impulsive? Thoughtful? Unimpeded? Budgeted? 

A: All of these.  I know I can be impulsive, so I stop myself in process and start analyzing. I have a budget; it's small.

 

Q: Why did you initially think a hybrid wasn't an option for you? 

A: I assumed it was way out of my price range before I ever even looked into it.

 

Q: What changed? 

A: While shopping for a new car, the sales people explained to me that there are many incentives from our federal government to buy or lease a hybrid, so that it was not only affordable, but more affordable than a regular non-hybrid car.

 

Q: What kind did you buy? 

A: 2014 Ford C-Max Energi

 

Q: How do you like your new car? 

A: Absolutely love it!

 

Q: What is it like to maintain compared to a traditional car? More expensive? Less expensive? Bothersome? 

A: Easy, no different than any other new car.

 

Q: Do you have any hybrid-car-buying online resources you'd like to share?

A: No, just Google

 

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the experience? 

A: Don't rule out hybrids if you're thinking of buying or leasing a new car. Explore all options.

 

Q: Please describe yourself.

A: I am retired from two careers, military and civilian, living on a strict budget, and totally enjoying life. I garden, do a lot of volunteer work with veterans and animals, and I support environmentally friendly businesses, especially small businesses.
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There you have it; hybrids are worth a look. When doing your research for tax incentives, add the syntax "site:.gov" to your search to obtain links to government websites.

Earth-caring people get a lot flack about burning fossil fuels whenever they speak out against the companies that produce it. "Hypocrites," the antagonists yell. But Americans have been victims of a manipulated market, one that has blocked meaningful, affordable gas and oil alternatives from getting beyond the prototype stage. That's changing. We've passed the point of such alternatives being "right" and reached the point where they are "critical." Today's options may not be perfect, but if you dig a little you will find more are becoming available, ones easier to acquire than in the past.

Thanks, Judy, for reminding us of that.

Everybody's Talkin'

December 5th, 2014

When Fred Neil released "Everybody's Talkin'," the stuff on his mind was different than what's on mine. Forty eight years later, I sing his lyrics because I too often hear:

Sell. Sell. Sell.

Buy. Buy. Buy.

"You need..."

"Isn't it time..."

"Aren't you ready for..."

"This is the most revolutionary..."

"How did you ever do without...."

Blah. Blah. Blah.

It's gotten worse. Advertising voices are everywhere. They break in at a frequency and volume that has become unbearable. Why?

Is it because there are more of us on the planet, so more of us have to shout to survive? Is it because so many of us already have what we need that sellers have to work harder to convince us to buy what we don't? Is it because our economic engine is straining from the weight of the billionaires, the new millionaires?

The Christmas holiday takes a lot of heat for its role in turning up the volume. I too must wonder if Santa isn't some ploy in a commercial conspiracy, planting a message in kids minds at an early age, "Life is about getting stuff."

However, I don't blame Christmas, because this is the one time of year when commercialism is exposed, like catching Santa with his pants down. Truthfully, I always enjoyed the magical mystery of the North Pole story. And now, being older, I realize that the presents were only a part of what made Christmas morning so great. (Sorry faithful ones; going to church for a birthday celebration wasn't it either.)

To me, the morning was about getting up before dawn (mom's groaning), sitting around a pretty tree and an old train set in our cozy PJs and smiling in the company of family. My brother wasn't mean to me. My dad wasn't yelling. My mom laughed easily. Christmas morning was daily strife interrupted by happiness.

Sure, the presents rocked, but the anticipation was bigger than the receipt. I tried to open slowly, to savor the moment. And it never failed, Christmas night sucked. What did I have to look forward to then?

Whether it's Christmas, a birthday, some Hallmark holiday, or just your daily routine, I'd like to suggest ways you can help tone down the selling chatter? I'm not talking about grinding our economic engine to a halt. I'm simply talking about changing the channel.

• Stop buying junk -- particularly gadgetry junk. Challenge: this Christmas do not buy a single electronic gift. Why? It's too easy and, next to car sales, electronics represent the noisiest babble of all.

• Use your purchases as a vote. Send a message that you will only buy inventions that solve real problems. The inability to lock your car door while flying over San Francisco is not a real problem. That you still need to fuel your drive through town with fossils is.

• Shift anticipation away from materials toward experiences. Extend the happy family time by doing something inexpensively fun.

• Buy from local small manufacturers whose budgets for product development exceed that of product peddling.

• Be creative and give of yourself. Make your gifts. Share your possessions. Offer your time.

• Consider all that you have when analyzing what you need.

• Stop counting billionaires. Who cares anyway?

• Sacrifice low, low prices for high, high quality.

And finally, when they start talking at you, put in some earplugs and say, "I can't hear you."

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Tell me, how do you deal with the noise?