Category Archives: Food for Thought

Part Two: It’s Not Easy Being Green

The world is in transition—either burning or flooding. This summer has been especially bad in too many places. Clif and I have decided to take action in our own small way. Being two green beans for a long time, we have always aimed to live lightly, and by American standards, we have a modest lifestyle. For many years, we have been a one-car family, very unusual in this country.  We limit our driving.  We don’t fly. We recycle. We don’t use plastic straws, at least not most of the time.

But that’s the low-hanging fruit.

Chickens looking for low-hanging fruit

 

To continue with the metaphor, the higher up you go, the harder it gets.

Chicken jumping for fruit higher up

 

In short, it’s not easy being green, and it would be remiss of me not to write about this issue. Every person has a different situation, and what’s hard for us might not be hard for you, but I suspect there is enough overlap so that our problems are common to many.

But never fear, I have also included possible solutions to our problems.

Item One: Being green is more expensive. Local, organic food costs more, and ditto for electric cars and bikes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Clif and I have a budget that’s as big as a minute, and we have to be careful not only with our nickles and dimes, but also with our pennies. For us, this is a large obstacle that must be dealt with creatively.

Solution: Lucky for me, I can cook. I am not a gourmet chef by any means, but I’m a good home cook who has mastered the basics. My immediate plan is to bake from scratch—even more than I do now—so that most of our bread and other goodies come from my kitchen.

Item Two: We live in a world of packaging. The next time you go grocery shopping, take a good look at what’s in your  cart. Note the boxes, the plastic, the foil, and various other wrappings. Cereal, milk, cheese, butter, eggs. Shampoo. Laundry detergent.  Everything comes in a package and must either be discarded or recycled. And now that China is no longer accepting much of our plastic trash, recycling has gotten more difficult.

Possible solution: We will be making a greater effort to buy food  that isn’t packaged. Not too far from where we live is the Gardiner Co-op. They sell bulk items and will let customers bring in their own containers. We will be giving this a shot very soon. I also plan to check with Hannaford to see if they will let us use our own containers for bulk items.

Item Three: Being green is not convenient. Or, we want to go where we want to go,  and in this country, for most of us, that involves driving. You want to go to a movie? Get in your car. Visit with friends and family? Get in your car. Go shopping? Travel? Get in your car, or even worse, fly.  This is a very tough nut for Clif and I to crack. The town we live in—Winthrop—is beautiful but not exactly dynamic when it comes to anything cultural. We do have museums, cinemas, and theaters in nearby towns, but going to any of things involves driving as we don’t have much in the way of public transportation.

Short term solution: Bike as much as we can and limit our driving. Longer term solution: We would like to buy an electric car, and every year, the technology improves. But even then, we need to be mindful about how much energy we use.

There. That’s enough for now. I’d love to hear from all of you about your problems with being green and  your solutions.

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Part One: Climate Change Is Here

Today, It was 90° outside, and the air was so heavy that it seemed as though I could feel it press against me. Because of this, I set up a temporary office in our basement—or down cellar, as we would say in Maine. Once we had a family room in part of the basement, but when the kids left it became a sort of catchall, a jumble of castoffs that we aren’t ready to part with. Let’s just say that this room has zero ambiance, especially when you add the litter box for the cats.

But it was cool down cellar. I was not sweating as I typed on my laptop, and man oh man, was that a good feeling. To heck with ambience.

We have lived in this house in the woods for thirty-four years, and in the past the trees and the shade have protected us from the worst heat of summer. A fan in the attic was enough to cool the house down at night. For the most part, no air conditioner was wanted or needed.

How things have changed in thirty-four years. Our once pleasant Maine summers have become brutally hot, and there have been ozone alerts on the coast. Extreme fires are burning in this country and in other countries, too. In California, one fire was so hot and so large that it had its own weather pattern. There was even a fire tornado, something that sounds like it came straight from hell.

At least there are no fire tornadoes in Maine, and we have had enough moisture to keep us out of a drought.

But it is beyond my comprehension how anyone can deny that climate change is real and is happening right now. Some people do, but it seems to me that most folks, whether liberal or conservative, understand that a big change has come to this planet, and it’s not especially good for us humans.

In my heat-induced stupor, I accidentally published this before I was ready, and I know some of you have received the email notice. So consider this to be Part One, with more coming later this week.

In the next post, I’ll write about changes we are planning to make in our lives so that we are living more lightly, more minimally, more sustainably, whatever you want to call it. Because we are all responsible, at some level, for climate change, and while big corporations certainly must play a larger role in addressing the problem, I feel I must play my part, too.

Onward, ho!

 

 

How Far North Do You Have to Go?

This summer, the weather in central Maine has been miserable—hot and humid, with mold growing where it usually doesn’t grow. On Saturday, it was so hot and humid that I spent the afternoon on the couch. I just didn’t have the energy to do anything else, even though there is always much to do around here.

That night, Clif and I went to the Theater at Monmouth to see Enchanted April, and my friend Alice was there. We commiserated about the uncomfortable weather and how the recent thunder storms have done nothing to relieve the heat and humidity.

“It’s just like Pennsylvania,” I said, remembering a long-ago vacation when the girls were young. After that trip, we decided never to leave Maine in the summer again.

“It’s just like southern New Jersey,” Alice replied. “That’s why my family went to Vermont for the summer.”

Heading north has been a time-honored way of escaping the heat, but how far north do you have to go nowadays? Recently I read that because of extreme heat, fires are raging above the Arctic circle. You can’t go much farther north than that.

But on Saturday, I felt revived after seeing the delightful Enchanted April, a story about loosening up, just a little, so that life can be better appreciated. And last night, the humidity broke. It was so chilly that I had to add an extra blanket to my bed. A very good night for sleeping.

Then there are the flowers of late July, the last hurrah for my gardens. I usually have black-eyed Susans to perk up August, but this year they haven’t done well, and I only have a few blossoms here and there. I have had those black-eyed Susans for many, many years. It might be time to replace them.

Anyway, here are some of the lovelies from my gardens.

My favorite daylily. What a mouth-watering red!

This one seems to glow from within.

This daylily is more delicate, but I love its pale beauty.

Hostas aren’t known for their beautiful flowers, but the fringe of purple brightens the shady front garden.

As does this balloon flower.

The meteorologists predict more hot and humid weather for the middle of the week. It looks as though no matter where you live, extreme weather is here to stay, and we just have to learn to adapt to it.

And perhaps not release so much carbon into the atmosphere?

Just a thought.

 

Art Is not Obliged to Be Beautiful

This has been a rainy, humid week. While the rain has been much needed, a few dry days would be nice. The house smells like mildew, and I even had to resort to using the clothes dryer. I know from sad experience what clothes smell like when racks are used for wet laundry during rainy, humid weather. Not good!

On the other hand, it has been a good week for going to the movies and to the Colby Museum of Art.

At Railroad Square, we saw two movies: Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley’s wild, surreal, pointed look at racism and economic injustice in the United States; and Leave No Trace, a sad, beautiful story about an emotionally-wounded veteran and his daughter. If you like character-driven movies, Leave No Trace is a must-see film. In fact, both movies are very much worth seeing.

For a small liberal arts college (1,800 students), Colby has an incredible art museum. It is free and open to the public six days a week. Because we live so close—about thirty-five minutes away—we have the luxury of focusing deeply on one exhibit at a time, which is my favorite way to visit an art museum. For this week’s visit, we focused on Self and Society, a collection of German Expressionist Prints.

On its website,  MoMA notes that  German Expressionism was a “major modernist movement that developed in Germany and Austria during the early decades of the 20th century.” The painters and printmakers—George Grosz and Max Beckmann, to name two—were more interested in portraying emotions rather than the actual physical world. And the emotions they portrayed were usually  dark and grim.

Why wouldn’t they be? Many of the artists had fought in World War I and had witnessed firsthand the ugliness and brutality of that war.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the post-war period was not exactly smooth and tranquil either. Then  we all know what came next. It seems to me that these Expressionist artists, who would be persecuted during the Nazi regime, had their fingers on the pulse of society. Their art will never go on the cover of chocolate boxes, but art is not obliged to be beautiful.

To be sure, beauty is a part of life, and I appreciate  beautiful art as much as the next person. But ugliness is also a part of life, and there are times when that reality is so great that artists have no choice but to face it and portray it.

Here are a couple of photos I took of prints from Self and Society.

Max Beckmann, “Die Granate (The Grenade).” 1915

 

George Grosz, “No. 73 Restaurant,” c. 1925

 

In the gallery below Self and Society, we came across this—Cracked Question by Elizabeth Murray, who was not a German Expressionist.

But somehow, after seeing the horrors portrayed in Self and SocietyCracked Question seemed absolutely appropriate.

 

 

The Better Angels of Our Nature

Right now, in this country, the better angels of our nature appear to have fled. I know our country has gone through worse times, but never in my own memory have we ripped children from their parents and put them in cages. It’s gotten to the point where I hardly know how to respond anymore, which I suppose is a sort of victory to those who hate, holler, and rage against those who are a different color. Who are seeking asylum.  Who are poor. Who are struggling with addiction. Who are mentally ill. Who don’t fit into the narrow confines of what is acceptable to a small but vocal group.

Compassion and generosity, two humble virtues, seem to be in short supply right now in a country that has become addicted to anger. I’ve seen this anger first hand in Maine, and I have certainly seen it on TV, all the way to the highest office in the land. Where will it lead? When will it end? While anger is a human emotion, left unchecked it can be very destructive. This is true even when the anger is “righteous,” which is why so many revolutions become blood baths.

This is all a preamble to writing about our nation’s birthday, a national holiday and celebrated tomorrow on July 4. We are having a few friends over for Clif’s legendary grilled bread—and other goodies—but neither of us is exactly in a hip, hip, hooray kind of mood.

The lovely lady in New York Harbor, who has welcomed so many, is surely filled with sorrow and shame.

But after all, a birthday is a birthday. So happy birthday, United States. Here’s to better times. May they come soon.

A Garden Visit

This has been a week of visiting with friends and a much-needed break from fiction writing. I decided to take some time off, and I probably won’t return to fiction writing until mid-July.  For the past month, there was a mighty push to get Library Lost finished, and my batteries need a chance to recharge.  Of course, I’ve been thinking about the third book, and I’ve even come up with a new dimension called Down Cellar, which sounds like hell but is really a place outside time.

Anyway, I digress. Today, my friend Gayle invited me to come see her gardens, and that visit was the cherry on the sundae of a wonderful week. Here is the sign that greeted me when I pulled into her driveway.

That sign made this nature lover’s heart leap with joy, and as to be expected, Gayle’s yard and gardens were green and welcoming, filled with bushes, trees, plants, and water—all designed to encourage creatures that scamper, jump, flutter, and fly.

Like me, Gayle has a lot of shade in her yard, but she gets enough sun for various flowers, including white roses,

columbines,

foxgloves,

and a lovely delicate iris.

Most gardeners are very generous, and Gayle is no exception. She even gave me a plant to take home.

This plant is called Brunnera, and it likes shade. Those white patterned leaves are sure to brighten a shady spot in my garden.

Many thanks, Gayle—for the tour, for the plant, and for providing such a welcoming place for wildlife.

So inspiring.

News, Fake or Real

Yesterday, Clif and I went to the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) for a panel discussion hosted by its Senior College and the College of Arts & Sciences. The topic, as indicated in this post’s title, was News, Fake or Real. The panel consisted of Bill Nemitz, a noted Maine journalist and columnist; Mal Leary, a senior political correspondent for Maine Public Radio; and Jessica Lowell, a journalist at the Kennebec Journal.

Fake news is an issue very dear to my heart. Indeed, the notion that facts do matter is a central theme in my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything.

It is my guess that as soon as humans acquired language, despotic leaders have told lies to maintain power and stroke their egos. However, in the United States, the current administration has brought lying to a new high—or low, depending on your point of view. On Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s advisors, even came up with a term—“alternative facts”—that many of us had never heard before. When Chuck Todd, the host of Meet the Press, insisted that alternative facts were falsehoods, Conway did not even have the grace to look ashamed and instead barrelled on with her talking points.

At yesterday’s forum, Marilyn Canavan, the moderator, ended her introduction by asking, how are we to distinguish between news and opinion? How will we know if news is fake?

Jessica Lowell suggested that readers need to think critically to separate news from opinion. And fact from fiction. She noted how easy it was to share things on Facebook without knowing where the news was coming from and even admitted to having done this herself. (So have I.) Now, Lowell is more careful, and she stressed how important it was to stop and pause before sharing anything, to check the source.

Mal Leary spoke of how fake news often has a sliver of truth. As an example, he used a recent story about chocolate becoming extinct.  The bombastic headline was designed to draw people in, providing the site with lots of clicks, which in turn gives data and potential customers to advertisers. As it turned out, the article explained how climate change might affect chocolate production at some time in the future. But right now, there is no reason to hoard Hershey Chocolate Bars. Leary warned the audience to beware of websites that have weird endings such as .co. For example, Newsweek.com.co is not the same as Newsweek.com. Leary also warned us to beware of websites with no “About” section and of single-source stories.

Bill Nemitz told an amusing but sobering tale of how his publicity photo was stolen by “T.S. Hunter”—most certainly not the author’s real name—whose website was putting out information to disparage a victim of a police shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma. T.S. Hunter had even constructed a snappy bio that described how he was a poet, the owner of a health food store, had two goldendoodles, and was in love with a muse with a guitar. (I must admit that as a writer, I was impressed by these specific details.) Nemitz pursued the matter, and eventually the blog was taken off the Internet.

Nemitz then defined fake news. First, it was news that was 100% false, such as many of the stories found in supermarket tabloids. Second, there was a gray area, which included news with a slant or a bias but had a grain of truth. Third, fake news could be pure propaganda. Fourth, it could be pieces that misuse data or scientific evidence. Fifth, it could come about because of sloppy or imprecise writing. Sixth, and perhaps most important, fake news is not news with which you disagree.

A Q & A followed the panel discussion, and many good points were raised and discussed. This forum started at 2:00 p.m. and ended at 4:00 p.m. Such a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon and such a relevant topic. Many thanks, UMA.

To end this piece, I am posting some pictures of UMA’s small but lovely campus in winter. And readers, not one of these pictures is fake.