Batting Clean-Up


So the kids came through on my subtle hint and had Santa Bezos deliver a copy of “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” this weekend.  It’s a charming little tome about getting clear (and clean) in your life so loved-ones won’t have to spend all their energy cleaning up after you when you leave this plane.  My father, the inscrutable Boris, always talks about leaving the Earth “debt-free,”  and I take that to mean he’s not going to leave much to clean up either.   Thanks in advance, Pops.

So I got (gently) pumped to start my death cleaning.  (BTW — you don’t have to be imminently facing mortality to start cleaning.  Although I’m in good health, you never know when that proverbial bus is going to come out of nowhere.)  And one of the first things I found was from a previous death-cleaning of my beloved mother-in-law’s house.  In the photo for this post I used it to cheerfully shroud my book.  Anybody care to venture a guess as to the purpose of this pink zippered mesh sack?

I’ll give you three choices:

A.  Shower caddy to contain all those multi-colored shower poufs.

B.  Make-up shroud to keep your “face” intact when you need to pull a garment on over your head.

C.  A cover to keep the dust off your beloved Hummel figurines.  … that you collect and curate with a sort of maniacal zeal thinking they will be worth enough to finance your grandchildren’s college tuition.

Thanks Mom.



I enjoy plants and flowers, but I don’t have a green thumb.  What I do have is patience.  I planted peony bulbs three years ago and last year I was rewarded with this fuchsia flower — a singular diva bloom.  This year my reward was the pink peony — again, a spectacular solo performer.

Thanks Mother Nature for changing it up and giving me something to look forward to, because I sure can’t remember what colors I planted.


Journalism vs Marketing


For the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over the topic of Facebook as a news source. This mulling was sparked by the recent accusation that Facebook was blocking more conservative posts from its members’ feeds. Although I’d classify myself as active on social media I would not characterize myself as a heavy FB user, but I cannot deny that FB is a driving force in contemporary life.

But as a heavy consumer of news, this provoked me into thinking more critically about how news is packaged now. I began by looking at Random House Webster’s College Dictionary’s definition of journalism:

journalism: (1) the occupation of gathering, writing, editing and publishing or broadcasting news. (2) newspapers and magazines; the press. (3) a course of study for a career in journalism. (4) material written for a newspaper or magazine. (5) writing marked by a popular slant.
Then I added the Five (Plus One) Questions of Journalism that I learned in school:

Although many FB users like the ability to share personal content with both their friends and in some cases, the public at large, Facebook is a business and the reason its platform is “free” is because its users have a value to their business. I respect that Facebook is a business model and the positive elements it brings to its users’ personal and professional lives, but I don’t give it any higher, altruistic attributes.

Facebook evolved from a cool way for college students to engage with a defined population into a global tool for people (with internet access) to share personal content. That personal content shapes and drives what you see, and it is driven primarily by those mystical algorithms. The recent news kerfuffle revealed by Gizmodo is that there are humans (primarily young, East-coast educated humans) who curate the news feeds, and while this isn’t surprising from an employment standpoint it does make me consider what the employer’s motivation is in regard to this staff.

And then I remembered the Three Big Questions of Marketing:
1. Why do you do it?
2. How do you do it?
3. Why should we care?

But if Facebook considers itself a news source shouldn’t  it be held to as high a standard as news outlets? Recently I read an op-ed letter that described Facebook’s news feed as akin to getting your news out of a gumball machine. Although that resonated with me I’d be more inclined to describe it as getting your news from one of those arcade games where you crank a crane over the stuffed animal of your choice before you drop it. You may not get THAT animal but you’ll get something. Since Facebook is using “likes” and “friends” to drive the feed the reader will never know what s/he DOESN’T see. There’s nothing inherently wrong with click bait and recommended content, but I have a problem with the limits on “why” is it selected for you.

When you buy a newspaper or visit a news-specific site there is visible paid advertising, so why is that any different from Facebook? I don’t necessarily read every article in a newspaper or every ad, but the people who run the newspaper make it very clear which content is which. They even make it clear when they aren’t just giving me the facts; such as the Op-Ed page where they invite folks with differing opinions to share them. And maybe that’s where I get hung up. I don’t want anyone to presume that because I liked something once, that’s the limit of everything I like. I may be open to liking something new and different, but the only way you’d know that is if you get to know me. And getting to know me is a privilege earned by your professional behavior.

But let’s get back to journalism, which is what I’m calling “news” for this exercise. Most adults realize that although journalists should be unbiased professionals many of the organizations who employ them have a distinct slant. I try to read from as many news outlets as I can and pay attention to the bylines.  I follow news organizations on Twitter — and that has sped up my own personal news cycle in terms of delivering breaking news. But there is something warmed-over about Facebook news — like it’s pre-digested. Sometimes news is like a punch to the gut.  When it’s bad news it will sadden you or even make you shake with rage.  News shouldn’t be trying to sell you on something.  Its first purpose is to inform you, its higher purpose it to enlighten you, but its most noble purpose is to make you uncomfortable.

Facebook’s purpose is to get your eyes to linger as long as possible so somebody somewhere can figure out how to sell you something.  It is far from FB’s best interest to make you feel like logging off (which may also explain why trolling and negative behavoir get a lot of attention).   I enjoy a good cat video as much as the next guy, but until cats can get press credentials I’ll get my news from the journalists.





Forever, Plastics

Perhaps my goal here is to further “afflict the comfortable,” but this BBC Earth video from 2009 left me awestruck.   I discovered it visiting the site of the poet Liz Brownlee who is participating in the A-to-Z Challenge again this year (her “A” entry is about the albatross).  I became her WP follower two years ago when I first survived  A2Z and she continues to inspire me with both the depth and breath of her work.


“Just One Word: Plastics.”

That quote is from the 1967 film The Graduate.  An innocuous little quote, but it is what’s been keeping me up nights.  More specifically it’s the growing amount of plastic in the water.  Let’s start small and consider the microbeads from beauty and cleaning products that may have already entered the food chain.   These tiny (smaller than 2 millimeters) bits of plastic are added to our face washes, toothpastes and nail polishes to help us exfoliate.   But unlike organic grainy products like sugar, sand, shells or coffee grounds that break down, these microbeads travel down our drains and into the sewer system. Since they are too small to be filtered out at local water treatment plants they flow right into the ocean (they are even too small to join the huge floating garbage patch — more on that in a bit) where they are eaten by fish….who are in turn eaten by bigger fish…. and, well, you get the idea.  The plastic bits are also great at absorbing other pollutants in the water — intensifying their toxicity as well.

Maybe there’s hope.  Congress passed and President Obama has signed legislation banning the manufacture of polyethylene microbeads late last year.   ( H.R. 1321, or the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015), but the ban on products containing microbeads isn’t in effect until January 1, 2018.  The manufacture of products containing microbeads begins six months earlier on July 7, 2017.  This legislation was sponsored by New Jersey’s  Representative Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.)  So let’s give thanks to some bipartisan efforts in passing legislation to protect us (and our waters) just a little bit.

One of our local environmental advocates is NY/NJ Baykeeper.  The good folks of this organization published the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Plastic Collection Report. (You can access the link to the February 2016 report from NY/NJ Baykeeper.)  Their estimate is 165 MILLION plastic particles are floating in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary ~ that seems like a big number for a localized area that prides itself on water tourism.

But the West coast isn’t immune to the growing footprint of plastic either.  It’s a real thing, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – 270,000 tons of plastic garbage  floating across the ocean.   How can we possibly think that our children’s children are going to be able to swim in the ocean on a summer day?   I grew up within a 2 mile walk to the Atlantic Ocean.  I took for granted that I could go to the beach anytime, in any season.  I’ve scavenged for driftwood in the deep cold of winter and I’ve walked on the beach at summer’s twilight, feeling the sand cool between my toes. I’ve cleaned beaches with various groups and marveled at the junk coughed up by rough surf.

Then I realized with great shame that even with self-awareness and best intentions, I am part of the problem.  I buy bottled water, I drink coffee in a to-go Styrofoam cup, I eat  my morning yogurt from a plastic container.  My newspapers are delivered dry in plastic bags.  I can rationalize that I recycle plastics at home, but it that enough of an effort to stem the tide of floating junk?   I began to really look at every product I touched today.  Here’s an abbreviated list:

Lip balm and tubes of make-up

Personal care products: tube of toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo and hair dryer 

Plastic bag to carry my ice cream home from the market

The garbage bag in my plastic kitchen garbage can is also plastic 

My electronics:  laptop computer, cell phone, e-reader (not just plastic, but toxic e-waste, too)

Okay, then, what’s the alternative?  The NY/NJ Baykeeper Report includes guidelines to move towards a “plastic-free” lifestyle.  I’ve added them below as well:

Bring reusable bags to the grocery store.  Shop products sold in bulk at the grocery store.  Check out ECOBAGS®, ECO Lunchboxes, and EcoDitty for a great selection of produce bags, lunch bags, sandwich bags, and more.  Use a reusable glass or stainless steel bottle or mug, such as Klean Kanteen and Love Bottle.  Carry reusable utensils with you. When ordering take-out, opt-out of plastic utensils.  Ask your server to wrap your leftovers in aluminum foil instead of using polystyrene foam boxes.  Say no to plastic straws. Check out Glass Dharma for durable glass straws.  Dispose of cigarette butts in a receptacle. The filter is composed of plastic.  Use fewer garbage bags by composting food waste and paper.  Check out all natural personal care products that do not include plastic microbeads. When in doubt, check the product label for polyethylene or polypropylene. If the product contains either of these ingredients, it contains plastic microbeads.


The reality is that Nature will do her own cleaning after humans have polluted themselves out of existence.  But I don’t want to just ride the plastic gravy train until we can walk back to Russia from Alaska.  So I’m also going to give a shout-out (and link) to young New Jersey company looking to reduce hard-to-recycle waste, Terracycle.  These folks started out in 2001 and have taken some creative approaches to waste, recognizing that in case it’s too late to put the brakes on our disposable society, maybe we can alter the life cycle of waste. Hey, outside the box thinking means never needing a box at all.




Snowzilla 2016 Musings: Is Michael Pollan’s Advice That Useful?

In the words of my spouse who once said, “You have to eat EVERY day!” I thought this recent post from Moderately Charmed Beginnings was spot-on and raises a number of questions about access to food and the amount of energy it takes to plan and cook your meals.

Moderately Charmed Beginnings

IMG_0720.JPG The view of our street after the storm ended.

A few weeks ago, the Obama administration released its updated dietary guidelines. The guidelines directed Americans to consume more fiber and vegetables and reduce added sugar. I read many articles on the guidelines, and most of the articles concluded that the guidelines were somewhat vague and abstract, and therefore unhelpful and confusing. As usual, it seems most Americans would be better off if they followed Michael Pollan’s dietary maxim: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Food, as Mr. Pollan defines it, is the fresh food you find in the perimeter of the grocery store–vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruits, fish–the kind of food that eventually rots. Generally speaking, it’s not the food you find in boxes and bags. Eating “mostly plants” means that the majority of your daily food consumption comes from vegetables, pulses, fruits, and whole grains. His advice is more nuanced than that, but…

View original post 2,141 more words

Short Fiction, Uncategorized

I Knead Words

The dough is still tough, cold but in a little while it will be elastic, warm.   My hands will pull, throw, twist and fold until it glistens and obeys my commands.  I’ll make sure it will look forward to its rest in the warm buttered bowl.

But now I focus on the work and anticipate the earthy smell of the yeast, the chewy crust and the warm crumb.  A story turns itself over in my mind as I knead. Words are like bread.  They rise and sometimes they turn out tasty.  Sometimes they don’t, but like my less-than-perfect loaves, I’ll enjoy them anyway.