Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy days

New Year’s is a time packed with meaning, so it often disappoints. Much of my life I wished I could spend that night at a party, with adults I loved. Instead, I always seemed to be the designated babysitter, left home alone with my kids and, often enough, the children of others, while the grown-ups went out to party. As my personal consolation prize, and to amuse the children, I started making a chocolate fondue each New Year’s Eve for the kids and for me. I turned the clocks back (so the kids would think it was midnight shortly after their regular bedtime), melted a good chocolate bar with a little cream, and set out an assortment of fruit, pretzels, and animal cookies. My children and nephews still have sweet memories of that, and now I am continuing the tradition with my grandchildren. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like a second-best choice anymore, it is my New Year’s celebration of choice. So on Monday, while others are dressing up, heading out to their fancy dinners and drinks, I will be smudged in chocolate and grinning from ear to ear.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy holidays?

I feel like so many people in my life are struggling with sadness this holiday. A friend lost her husband this year, another lost her mother this week, still another lost her stepson, all of them aching with grief. My young Namesake is displaced and homeless, my old friend is being treated badly by his only child. So much sadness at such a joyous time of celebration. My answer to it all? Grab the simple pleasures while you can, enjoy every minute. And hold one another tightly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Christmas Junonia

Back in the saddle again

After a two-week respite on Sanibel Island, it is a shock to be back in Detroit. Here, in the frigid cold, I must again use my car for trips that would be within walking distance on Sanibel, and will need to turn my heat up again now that I am occupying my house. It was depressing to come back to the dirty airport and dirtier air, but my grandchildren are the bright lights that hold me here like a moth to a candle.

While on Sanibel, where my favorite activity is shelling (the ideal in low tech hobbies), I found one of the coveted Junonia shells, apparently named after a Roman goddess, and, according to my sister, an omen of changes to come.

As thrilled as I was to find the shell, it does not appear that the goddess is smiling on me. It turns out that there will, indeed, be changes in my life, but not all of them all entirely welcome. My daughter, the Namesake, has decided to fly back from New York and move back in with me “to save money.” Even overlooking all the money it will cost me to have her here, I think it unlikely she will be able to save a cent given the job climate in Michigan. In New York she was able to find work when she felt able to deal with the stresses of actually going to a job, here she is unlikely to find it at all. So she will be in my house much of the time, and, because she demands a much warmer house than I can justify, I am sure there will be a struggle over the thermostat. Oh well, it will be nice to have the family together for Christmas. But I sure will enjoy my clean house and simple life for the next couple of days, because it’s going to be a different world after that!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Is this the other shoe?

With my mother’s Namesake back in New York, and no excuse any longer to pamper a houseguest, I turned the thermostat down and was freezing this morning when my clock went off at 4:45 a.m. I handled it in my usual way, by falling back asleep. What the heck, this is my birthday weekend and lately the best celebration of all is a little rest.

Heard from the younger Namesake, she is in a New York emergency room with an abscess on her foot. She said she knew a few days earlier that it hurt but she thought she had bruised it by kicking my table . . accidentally, I hope, although it is a moot point, since there is clearly something more going on.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cold feet, warm heart

My sweet retro-namesake leaves for New York tomorrow. She was so cold while she was here, I finally took pity and turned up my thermostat for her . . . ahhhhhh, what luxury. I have been dialing down for so long that I had forgotten what a warm house was like this time of year. No shiver of dread as I push back the covers, no morning shock as I race to the bathroom to do my necessaries. It has been a real treat. Soon I will be in Sanibel for a couple of weeks, where I willingly jump up on (much warmer) mornings to comb the beach for shells, but I will return to frigid Michigan workday mornings after that. Thank goodness the little namesake will be back for Christmas so that I can get warm again! In the meantime, I will get back to doing my part to save fuel. I am getting to old for these cold nights alone, if I were a better environmental activist, I'd start looking for a warm body to warm my feet against!

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I am having pretty good luck with my homemade grocery shopping bags, which I am finally remembering to take with me almost everywhere. (apparently I am having better luck than my sweet daughter-in-law has had in her local area, where the switch from 'their bag' to 'her bag' is too challenging. (Imagine the cool link I will someday learn to make to her blog at here.) Honestly, some of the five bags I've made so far are kind of neat, although the others are embarrassing losers. I bought a remnant today to make one out of patterned fleece, we'll see how that goes. Someday maybe I will also learn to post photos, but don't hold your breath. You will just have to use your imagination for now.

I spent Thanksgiving knitting another baby blanket to donate at the "local" Florida hospital when I visit my friend in Cocoa Beach in the spring, because that is my excuse for visiting her. I wanted to try making my own cheese, because clearly I am more cut out to make homey things than to actually do anything really useful to conserve or contribute, and I guess we each have our own path . . . I read about making cheese in (another imagined cool link here:) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, which I read about in another favorite blog, (tah dah, use that imagination again) But I ran out of time and energy and never got past buying the milk. Maybe I can try to be a contented cheesemaker for Christmas, instead.

This month has not been without its challenges, but in my life as, no doubt, in yours, that's just the way it goes. I am grateful to get to take a deep breath between the times when one or another shoe drops. My mom's death was sadly anticlimactic after her troubled and volatile life, and it was a wonder and a blessing that she went so sweetly and gently when the time came. Soon after, her sweet namesake had yet another melt down, such an appropriate term. I picture a graceful, slightly exotic candle that burns down to a puddle and a fragment of wick, so unrecognizable and sad. I hope she will be able to reform herself again soon, there is still a lot of good wax there. Thankfully, she was out of the hospital by the weekend, and she was able to set aside, for the moment, her nearly 30-year old conviction that it is still my failed responsibility to give meaning to her life, and we eventually had a nice dinner. When the namesake of my mother, her bittersweet remnant, was ready to rejoin the world, I made cheesecake instead of cheese, and other exotic healthy foods, and we had a nice time after all.

The drama put everything else on hold, though, and so now I am even further behind than I was before . . . I leave for Sanibel in a week and am holding my breath hoping that things will go well enough til then to allow me to really go and breathe a bit in paradise with as little guilt as possible.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Being thankful

It has been such a long time since I have taken the time to post. I have been using my few "optional" computer minutes to read other people's blogs! There has been illness in my family, both physical and mental, and I have been feeling a bit drained . . .

But I have much to be thankful for, including the wee ones who first inspired me to make more of an environmental effort. In that vein, I have ordered a fairly local, hormone free, free range turkey, even though at this point I have no idea whether we will be having a family thanksgiving any time soon . . . certainly my grands will stop by over the weekend, and nothing says loving like as much local, healthy food as I can muster. I am hoping that a couple glasses of red wine (domestic, to save on petroleum) will help give me the oomph I need to get things done and keep a smile plastered on my face! Blessings of the season to all.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Baby steps

Switching the light bulbs really was inexcusably easy, and should have been done long ago. Maybe I should start giving family and friends compact fluorescent bulbs for their birthdays until they are all switched, too.

I am just starting to get better about reading food labels, trying to pay attention to how far my food has to travel. So last night I made another tiny change when I opened a bottle of California wine. (McManis Family Vineyards, cabernet sauvignon, 2005, surprisingly good at only $8.99) What do you think? Does this count as an environmental action? I figure that having it shipped from California is some improvement over the carbon-cost of the delicious wines I usually buy that are imported from France, Chile, Argentina and Australia . . . baby steps, right?

I’ve also been checking the number of miles I drive – my workplace is 15.6 miles (one way on a freeway) from home. I can’t walk or ride a bicycle to work because of the areas I need to travel though, but I will take this into account if I ever change jobs or homes. But my local drugstore and my aerobics class are each less than a mile from my house, and I am trying to commit to walking. I have been using a pedometer for the past several months so I know that I only walk an average of 2 ½ miles a day, so that extra mile and a half would be a huge commitment for me, and frankly, one that I dread. But the weather was so beautiful this weekend that I managed to walk to the local 7-Eleven for my morning paper, then realized that I should have read it on-line. I have so many bad habits to address!

Monday, April 16, 2007

This little light of mine

I’ve decided to begin the public part of my project with the easiest change I can think of, to help me keep my nerve, because I am terrified at the things I might have to sacrifice later in the game. (Coffee? Wine?) So I am starting with light bulbs. Yes, yes, yes, I should have done this long ago. As with so many of the necessary changes, there is simply no excuse for not making more of an effort sooner, so I am clearly in no position to throw stones at anyone else.

According to, compact fluorescent light bulbs use 60% less energy than a regular bulb. Changing ONE light bulb will save about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. They claim that carbon dioxide would be reduced by 90 billion pounds if we all made that little change.

Unfortunately, the compact fluorescents are a lot more expensive than the regular light bulbs that I can get for pennies apiece. I counted, and was surprised to find that I have 21 regular (and an assortment of fan, appliance and night light) bulbs in my very small house. 21 fluorescent light bulbs would cost me a small fortune. I can’t possibly afford to change them all at once to the compact fluorescent bulbs, but I will change a couple of them each week until I have replaced them all. This week I replaced 4 of them (the old ones cost me about $2.00) at a cost of $19.58. I am also writing to my legislative representatives and asking that they support legislation to phase-out of incandescant bulbs.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Getting started

How does one person even begin to make a dent in a problem as enormous as global warning? Using the online carbon calculator at, I learned that my average carbon load is 9.5, larger than the normal 7.5 tons a year. I was shocked. How did this happen? Even if I am not a poster child for the environment, I really thought that I would at least be on the “less than normal” level. Is it because I live alone, so my household use isn’t spread over anyone but me? Is it because I fly to Florida or New York a couple of times a year? Or is it because the calculator didn’t offer my Toyota as a vehicle option, which surely would have given me bonus points. (I really love that car!) I am saddened by my results, and by the negative impact I've already had on the planet, which is even more reason to get serious about becoming part of the solution. I need to list the things I can consider changing, so that I can figure out where to start. What things are really important to my health and happiness? Which are essential? What can I do without? How can I minimize the pain of things I have to give up even if they add to the quality of my life? And especially, which things are really more important than my grandchildren's future . . .

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The times they are a'changing, and maybe it's time for me

As my childhood church would have said, I was “convicted” the other day when I heard No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. No Impact Man has gotten a lot of press lately, and reportedly even a book and movie deal, by creating a year-long project where he and his family hope to make changes that will result in their zero net negative impact on the environment. Although I was not sure that his changes would be the right ones for me, I guess I finally got it that one person can do more than sit and despair. Hopefully by now we’ve all seen An Inconvenient Truth. So we all know, on some level, that we need to make changes.

I have a good life, but I’ve always tried not to take too much advantage of the universe I live in. I don’t think I’m a bad person, or as enviro-greedy or insensitive as I could be. Hey, I listen to NPR. I drive a 1997 Toyota Corolla that has somewhere around 200,000 miles on it (the odometer is broken), and still gets better gas mileage than many new vehicles. I keep my car well tuned (I love my car) and I check the tire pressure about every six weeks. I don’t litter. I don’t travel as much as I want to (doesn’t that count for something?!) I try not to waste food. I dial my heat down and keep my air conditioning at (I think) a minimum; I use a programmable thermostat. I turn off, unplug, and am careful about the use of my electrical appliances. I’ve added insulation to my home, I recycle, within the limits of my city services. I eat many (or at least some) fresh and organic foods. I occasionally donate to green organizations (if there is money left after I buy useless things for my grandchildren). I don’t use pesticides or fertilizers on my lawn (to the embarrassment of my neighbors). And I try not to buy everything I want, even for my grandkids.

But once my grandchildren were born, I became increasingly aware that I am not doing enough. The way things look now, my grandchildren – and yours – will need to make serious sacrifices just to survive. The environment always mattered to me, but it matters to me more now that my grandchildren are living, breathing realities, so they are going to be my incentive for this project. I realize that we – that I, at least - can no longer put things off. Things are deteriorating much too quickly. According to, more than a million species could be extinct, and the Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2050. My grandchildren were born in 2004 and 2006. Do the math.

Unlike No Impact Man, I don’t live in a place like Manhattan where I can walk everywhere, or even where there is mass transit. And frankly, I think it is unlikely that I will compost my own poop, or that I would do it even if I were a vegetarian, which I am not, although I am concerned about the meat and poultry industries. But I am going to see what I can do to alter my own lifestyle in ways that will make a difference, hopefully so that the sacrifices that my grandchildren will later have to make won’t be as severe as it looks like will be necessary at this point.

I have no idea what difference I can make, but I have to believe that one person can make some difference. I also have no idea how to blog my ideas effectively (or, as yet, how to insert a photo or a link!) This is all a new adventure for me. I am hoping that doing it "publicly" will help keep me accountable and help me make the tough choices when I don’t want to. I will experiment with a new goal every so often, hopefully each week, and will incorporate as many as I can into my life.