Salvaging Our Future: True Resource Management

I don’t like seeing anything go to waste. Not anything. Does this stem from the stories many of us heard as kids as we sat stuck at the dinner table until we cleaned our plate because “children are starving in Africa”? Or is it wise management? Or perhaps guilt and wisdom combined. Children starving in Africa created an early awareness that resources are not infinite for everyone. Now, several years later, we’re aware that infinite resources are no longer a given for anyone anywhere.

I reuse, recycle, and recreate everywhere I can, and get great satisfaction from such efficiency. I do believe, however, that many of the young adults stepping in to take over the running of the world find this tendency quaint, old-fashioned, or just plain annoying. They are aware of basic environmental stuff, saving trees and recycling containers, but do they get that resource management just starts there?

My nephew was recently hired to film a documentary about a man who salvaged scraps from restaurants to create good meals. His mother observed, “I do this almost every night, and no one is making a documentary about me!” I do, too, and–no film crews. According to my sister-in-law, this is a hot topic, with recent articles in The Wall Street Journal about top chefs holding competitions to make meals from scraps and in the The Washington Post about using scraps, along with less than perfect agricultural specimens in support of the farmer. I love these ideas, but do the perhaps 20-something and 30-something writers and editors now in charge really see using leftovers to create another meal as a breaking new trend? Generations coming up behind me so totally immersed in having their meals, and beverages, prepared by someone else, at Chipotle or Starbucks or wherever, only to throw out the leftovers, and buy a new meal next time hunger strikes that they can’t fathom this type of efficiency and creativity? Say it isn’t so! I made a conscious decision not to follow the path of my parents’ generation, not to color my family’s dining times with bleak pictures of children starving in Africa. But now I’m thinking, maybe we all should have bleakened a meal or two by bringing the focus back to the starving children in Africa, or India or China, for that matter.

When my husband and I began to search for a home around Pittsburgh as newly-weds, we drove along the old highways south of the city past mile after mile of buildings, bricks and steel, crumbling and going to seed because there was land available in newer areas that could be developed in a flashier more contemporary way. We did not move anywhere near these wrecks, but the waste of all the resources to develop these now crumbling and abandoned structures was disheartening. The sadness pervaded the very air in these towns, and stayed with me…while I stayed far away.

We bought a house, a new one in a newly-developed area, and soon I was not driving around crumbling towns or spanking new ones; I was parenting my young son at home in my new neighborhood. As I joined with other formerly working mothers in my neighborhood for play dates with our toddlers, I began envisioning a new type of employment service, an exercise that intensified when I moved to a Boston suburb with a now school-aged son. My neighborhoods were busting with mothers professional in so many areas. Lots of work experience, multiple undergraduate degrees, masters and doctorates we were, filling up that sippy cup, or driving the carpool. We wanted to be hands-on Moms, but many of us would have also loved the mental challenge, and value, of working…not to mention the income. I dreamed of an employment service that matched parenting moms with corporations who valued their abilities and wanted them as flex-time employees or consultants.

But the problem wasn’t just lack of an infrastructure to bring the two camps together. There was no serious pervasive interest in or value placed on all this talent languishing away around the swing sets. If you had a contact from when you were working full time, you were good. Otherwise, forget it. I discovered that anything I had done or written more than 24 months ago (and the fact that it had been in different states didn’t help) didn’t matter. What had I done in the last two years? That was the only truly important fact. Really? So rather than valuing my years as a writer amassing experience, and clips, once I’m home with my child not writing every week for money for a few months, I have also forgotten everything I ever knew and lost every ability I ever had? How does this make sense?

Now someone like me is apparently an even bigger buzz kill for potential employers: I’m over fifty. I’ve got more to contribute to any organization than I did in my twenties or thirties, as do my female, and male, colleagues. Do we bring different qualities than younger counterparts? Or course we do. That’s the point. We may not be as speedy. We may not want to multi-task because we know better. We may not be as technologically savvy. But we may very well be more organized. More skilled. More able to identify a problem with more experience in solving it. More stable. More dependable. More “we” then “me”.

And how about more joyful? Some of us can work now because we want to, not because we’re worried about paying our bills or because we have to prove ourselves, but because we like what we do, we’re good at it, and we want to contribute. Lowered stress frees up a lot of energy to fire synapses. When I hear repeatedly about ageism in the workplace, employees being phased out because they are in their fifties—oh, horrors—the creative efficient resource manager in me wants to tear my hair out, again. More waste. More horrible, and unnecessary, waste.

Our best way to navigate forward, for the environment, for the economy, for our humanity, is as a multi-aged, multi-experienced team. Holistic management of all our resources, animal, vegetable, mineral? Now that’s a trend to follow…



What Would the Butterfly Say?

The year 2013 was the year of the fox, according to a recent magazine, because of the hit song “What Does the Fox Say?”  For 2014, by process of a hip little tree of elimination, this writer lands on the leopard. Not buying this lame, and redundant, suggestion. Supposedly a fashion trend this year, but leopard print is always a fashion trend in some populations.   

Then I read the latest newsletter from my town’s garden club. The April meeting features Going Organic at Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens.  The executive director of the gardens in Boothbay, Maine, is talking about the results of adopting organic practices:  The plants are healthier, pollinators more diverse, visitors happier, and costs have remained the same or decreased. Retire the myth that organic has to be much more expensive.

The next article that caught my eye was about Monarch butterflies.  Their numbers are in serious decline; an independent study has linked the Monarchs’ decline to the use of Monsanto’s Roundup.  Roundup kills milkweed, the butterflies’ primary food source.  Losing these butterflies means wiping out insects, birds, and small mammals that are all part of this food chain.

Maybe 2014 needs to be the year of the butterfly. This article pushed an old hot button for me. Round Up is dangerous to our ecosystem and the creatures who live in it; we’ve known this for some time. We knew it when I was studying for my horticulture degree, and need I say, that was a while ago. Scientists have demonstrated that the glyphosate in Round Up can cause cell death in amounts 200 times below agriculture usage. This same chemical has also been cited as responsible for the rise of gluten intolerance and celiac disease. I have several friends and relatives who suffer from this condition; one almost died before the condition was identified. I surmise the problems that this dangerous herbicide causes to living creatures is limited only by the amount of studies undertaken to link damage to source.  

I’ve seen good friends spraying Round Up around the yard to kill the weeds—no face mask, a dog playing nearby. I’ve seen neighbors at the beach drench their stone driveways and stone “yards,” with this stuff–there is an Ultra Max version now–no face mask, dog nearby. I watch as we both stand there, on different sides of the street, at sea level, both of us, and our dogs, as this neighbor basically sprays this killer chemical mix directly into the water table.

When will we rethink leafy “pest” management? Rethink chemical herbicides across the board. There is nothing natural about monoculture. There is nothing natural about a yard that is just grass, about a gravel driveway that has no plants peeking through, about a sterile brick walk.  Some British home owners seem to get this more than we do. Think British cottage garden–over grown, diverse, wild even, but happy. These gardens read happy. Think of our American suburban clipped and manicured lawns and gardens. These landscapes read sterile, cold, and racist. Only this type of grass blade or this particular bush is permitted; everything else is not welcome, and will be killed.     

These “unwelcome” plants are not the only ones being destroyed. Not to mention that one creature’s “unwelcome” leafy volunteer is another creature’s “welcome,” or as we’ve seen with the Monarchs, critical, volunteer. The destruction wrought by this rampant use of herbicides goes way beyond, say, that single dandelion plant—with the bright yellow flower and interesting leaves that also make a snappy salad. This widespread destruction seeps into all areas of our food chain and ecosystem. We are all connected.  

Would it kill us to allow a little more natural diversity in our yards? No. But it may kill us if we don’t.  

What would the butterfly say? Stop. Please.


Children and Animals, Welcome (in my stories)

There is an old adage in theater – “no children or animals on stage” – for good reason.  They can be great distractions from the rest of the action.  Get a four year old kid or a small, furry animal, and it’s too cute for words – the audience ooh-ing and ah-ing. Or, the spectacle of fear, terror and readiness to flee  – also quite dramatic. But mostly, just too unpredictable. The animal may bark or wander off, the child may turn somersaults or start to sing. Or worse. In any case, it’s too big a risk, for the most part, unlike in film, where those scenes may be re-taken, edited, or cut.

Fiction is different. All kinds of creatures, great and small, may habit the same world of the book, although, for the most part, there seems to exist a fairly strict divide between books for and about kids, books for teens, and books for adults.

I like to mix it up a little, throw a few kids and animals into the worlds of my protagonists. Some of them are more developed and others have bit parts.

Here’s two-year old Frankie at the Bronx Zoo from Spanish Soap Operas:

Right off the bat, there was a problem. Outside the zoo entrance, a vendor was selling balloons and toys, including a big stuffed animal which Frankie wanted very badly. He was making a stink, kicking and screaming in his stroller, “Elmo!”

Marisol, unaccountably, was dressed for a party. She was wearing dress pants, a silk blouse, and low heels – for the zoo!  Ay, Dios, thought Gretchen, this is not starting well. Marisol argued with Frankie that Elmo was too big and too much money. He wouldn’t listen. Marisol, behind her sunglasses, was getting testy and loud. Gretchen searched the vendor’s wares until she spotted a splash of bright red: a small plastic Elmo figure, and next to that, Big Bird – fifty cents each.

“How about this one?” she said, picking it out and showing it to Frankie. He looked at her suspiciously, but at least he was quiet.

“Elmo,” he said, reaching out. Marisol bought the two figures: one for each fist, and they were able to make it through the gate.

They were ready to head to Jungle World, still some distance off. After a few minutes, Frankie wanted to get out of the stroller, badly. Marisol, perhaps fearing dangerous animals, was set on keeping him strapped in.

“What am I going to do with this boy?” Marisol complained. Frankie was fussing so loudly, they were attracting notice. She stopped pushing the stroller and looked to the sky. “My sister spoils him bad. She doesn’t never say ‘No’ to him. Look at him – fresh, fresh, fresh.”

Frankie let out another ear-piercing squall of protest.

“He needs the chancletas,” Marisol said ominously, lifting a foot.    

For a shocked moment, Gretchen thought she was threatening to kick Frankie.

“The slippers,” said Marisol, when she caught Gretchen’s expression. “You know, a little slap.”

Gretchen hung back, considering the situation. She had a lot of babysitting experience and wasn’t particularly alarmed by Frankie’s behavior. She was more upset with Marisol.

“Come on, Marisol,” she said. “We’re here now; let’s make the best of it. Let him out.” He liked pushing the stroller, taking his two new little plastic buddies for a ride. And he moved along pretty well, zooming here and there, once in a while aiming for the sedate pigeons that rose up at just the last second.

At last review, I have, besides Frankie, a couple young girls, a teenage female basketball player, a pair of spoiled Pomeranians named Ginger and Nutmeg, various cats, some geese, pigeons, seagulls, and a NYC rat.

Why? Because that’s how I like it, and it’s how I have experienced the world most of my life. Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to the Red Road, the broad term for Native American Spirituality, because it is a way of looking at the world that we share with our two-legged and four-legged brothers and sisters.  And because the view of children seems more realistic to me – not just potential adults, but fully formed beings, with their own rights and dignity.

 Like it or not, every piece of fiction is a depiction of a world, with choices we make of what it looks like, how it works, and who matters.  Sometimes in real life we end up inadvertently in “ghettos”, segregated living spaces in our main relationships, whether old and young, men and women, different cultural groups.  Of course, I realize children and animals do not belong in a novel about a nursing home, perhaps, or on a fighter jet, but you’d be surprised how many places they may turn up. Children and animals can be messy, and unpredictable, and badly written about. But I say, bring them on. Old folks, too. We’ve got room. They’re important, too.


Fireworks Not Welcome

The calendar has not yet turned to June let alone July, and yet my evening was disrupted by the violent “report” of fireworks last Sunday night, May 21.

I enjoyed fireworks growing up, the colors and the designs, not the noise. As an adult, I’ve seen enough fireworks to make the negatives of attending Fourth of July displays–sitting in traffic, walking through crowds, perspiring and swatting at mosquitos, gagging on air thick with Off, and covering my ears repeatedly at the violent noise–completely outweigh the positives–which are, what? Gathering with friends and family? Seeing the pretty colors? I can gather with friends and family without all the hassle, and thanks to the computer, if I have a hankering for fireworks, I can watch some from the comfort of my couch. Or go to Disney World.

So there is never a question where I will be on Fourth of July. Home. Enjoying the peace and quiet? Never. Who invented this idea of entertainment–explosions that can be heard across such distances with such immediacy? The Chinese, according to infopedia. Fireworks are “phow chook,” which translated is “bamboo explosions.” The earliest fireworks were bamboos stems that popped and cracked, making noises that were believed to drive off evil spirits. Over the centuries, the phow chook came to be used to commemorate joyous occasions. And we Americans picked up the tradition to celebrate Independence Day. After a war that shattered the country with noise and violence and death, we now commemorate it with a festival that sounds remarkably like a war has started up again. Couldn’t we celebrate independence and the reinstatement of peace to our country with…peace? 

I could put up with the noise, as annoying as it is, and illegal a large majority of the time, for most people setting off random fireworks are breaking a law. But I have a dog, and she cannot put up with the noise. Here’s one of many warnings I found on the internet about fireworks and animals: “Fireworks may pose a problem for animals, both domestic and wild, who can be terrified by the noise, leading to them running away or hurting themselves in an attempt to escape.” So even if I wanted to go to see fireworks on the Fourth, I wouldn’t, because it would be cruel to leave our terrified dog home alone to face this fright of a night. Right now my dog has a major leg ailment, and is not supposed to be running or jumping, scrambling or clawing, all of which is impossible to stop when she starts hearing those loud bangs and wants to take flight.

So special thanks, people, for partaking in what is apparently your idea of fun, and my idea of illegal torture, almost seven weeks ahead of the Fourth of July.



Chester.jpgMy beloved Chester died 4 weeks ago.  Chester was my 12 year old basett hound.  I got him from the pound 101/2 years ago.  He was a love of a dog.  All basett all the time.  He had the elongated body close to the ground, long ears, very short legs and big feet of his breed.  And, like other basetts he was as stubborn as they come.  I could never make Chester do something he was set against.  If he wanted to go out – hurry up and get him out.  If he wanted to go for a walk – he liked to choose the direction.  If he was tired – no prodding could make him move. Not the easiest dog to care for in the world.  But a total love.  He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.  And, he made people laugh.  That’s one of the great things about owning a basett hound; everyone smiled at Chester.  People in the park, people on the sidewalk, people in cars – they all looked at him and smiled!  And, I smiled too.  Basett Hounds look like God’s mistake, but as funny as they look they are actually God’s angels – everyone feels better looking at a Basett Hound!

Real Estate Hint – Two things you should change when listing your house: Carpet and Wallpaper! Today’s buyers would rather have hardwood floors than wall to wall carpet.  So, if your carpet is covering real wood floors, take it up before you put  your house on the market.  Also, wallpaper is OUT.  Paint is IN. If possible, take down all the wallpaper in your house and paint the walls. Not only is wallpaper out of vogue (homes are like fashion – the expectations change!), but the buyers don’t want YOUR wallpaper – even if it was expensive in 1979!!!!


Snow Nasty

Boston has received about 71 inches of snow so far this winter, and we’ve another good month to go.  An average winter, an entire winter, in Boston yields about 42 inches.  Here west of the city, we always get more, and much of the white stuff is still on the ground, including plenty of snow piles that still come up to our chins.  At this point in this incredibly snowy winter, we have reached the stage of snow nasty.  This is beyond cabin fever.  We are not just restless and itchy anymore.  We are feeling irritable, and even mean.  

With all the snow plowed up along the edges, the roads are still one to three feet narrower than normal.  The parking lots and sidewalks still have patches of ice. Traveling around to do much of anything is tedious, if not difficult and still dangerous–which makes this interface, of drivers and pedestrians and snow, a very inviting arena to focus erupting snow nastiness.  So here I go:

*Handicapped parking places
If there were ever a time that people who need handicapped slots NEED handicapped slots, this would be it.  And since our club has a pull, many elderly and disabled come for therapeutic swimming and exercising in the pool.  Parking close would be their only prayer for getting around in this terrain.  Much to my dismay, as  I was walking into my health club a couple days ago, I watched a car pull into the one remaining available handicapped slot, and the driver get out.  He was definitely elderly, grey haired and a ever-so-slightly stooped…and he had a squash racquet in his hand.  Am I missing something?  Handicapped?  Squash player?  I know getting approved for a handicapped space is a game fairly easily played.  Hard to believe that man wasn’t taking the place from someone noticeably needier…

*Walking/Walking the dog
In our neighborhood, a neighborhood of walkers, the dance between pedestrians and cars is always an issue.  When the streets are normal widths, and cars go flying by on the 25-mile-an hour streets at 45 plus, regardless of pedestrians, children, animals, those of us making our way on foot are definitely annoyed, but from a safe distance on the side of the road out of the way.  Not so now.  With the snow build-up, getting out of the lane of traffic is literally impossible, but does this make these drivers slow down?  Not at all.  In fact, they may just glare all the harder, or stare a confused way like they’ve just seen a giant purple mushroom and can’t quite process the sight, but none of that effects the old pedal foot.  My dog is a walking speedometer.  If a car is going the correct speed limit, she’s pretty mellow. Too fast, and she’s jumping and barking and ready to go after  that menace.  And she’s right. These people are a menace.  Drivers, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? 

*Backing Up
My biggest pet peeve of all, one that takes on gargantuan proportions in this weather, is how people react to a car backing up.  Or should I say, how they DO NOT REACT.  Repeatedly, I am absolutely dumbfounded how people continue to walk in shopping center parking lots or on the street, spacing out, talking away to their walking partner, listening to their music, or whatever, without even glancing for a second at the moving vehicle.  I have seen in my mirrors someone come up on the side of my already backing up vehicle, do a little spin to just get behind my bumper, and I mean just an inch or two–WHILE I AM IN THE PROCESS OF BACKING UP–and keep on hoofing by while I slam my foot on the brake. If I hit this person, it would be MY FAULT.  Do these people have a death wish? I was backing up out of my driveway the other day, slowly coming out from the two pyramid-sized plow piles on either side, when two people popped up, on the very narrow road, behind me, and without the tiniest hesitation, kept right on walking through behind me. I braked, teetering on the hump at the end of my driveway, poking out in the street from between the two icebergs while they strolled on by. Not only do these people have an incredible amount of faith in the ability of every backing up driver to see them in time, what ever happened to common courtesy?  There was not enough room in the road for all of of us, and I was in the roadway there first. Perhaps they might have stopped for a moment and let me finish my arc and drive on, so I wasn’t blocking not only their passage, but the entire road for all other vehicles?!        
I’m yearning for a bit of snow niceness about now.  Is that too much to ask?   


Going Native, But Not By Choice

Every house I have ever lived in has had woods bordering the property somewhere. Which means every house I’ve ever lived in has had mice, sometimes in the kitchen pantry or the attic and we only ever see the droppings, other times they’ve run across the kitchen floor or the extra twin bed. From time to time, I’ve heard noises coming from the attic that sound too big to be a mouse. In Pennsylvania, people mentioned racoon or bat for those bigger-than-mouse noises in the attic. Here, in Massachusetts, people seem to think squirrels first off.

Whatever the interloper, I’m never happy to hear noises of any kind over my head because I am the exterminator in my house. My husband is so squeamish around snakes and rodents, one can only guess in another life, he died in a snake-pit or a rat-infested prison cell, or maybe endured sessions in both. So when lying in my bed one quiet night this spring, I heard scratching in the attic overhead of such volume as to bring to mind something along the lines of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion, my heart just sank. I love animals. I hate killing anything. And I know how to deal with mice, even though I hate it. But anything bigger? Out of my experience, and even further out of my comfort zone. Yet, creatures hanging around in the attic, chewing who knows what and pooping wherever, creating a general health and safety issue? Has to be stopped.

Call the exterminator you think? Uh-uh. I am a do-it-yourselfer. For lots of reason, budget being only one consideration. Non-chemical is another consideration. And I often find that my motivation is so high, and my perfectionist streak is so deep, that only I stay glued to the task to the point where I will actually be satisfied with the result. [Yup, Rodney D., It’s not easy bein’ me.]

My first step with a potential uninvited attic visitor is to wait. If the noise goes away in a couple nights, and I don’t hear it for weeks, I give myself a pass. It has left, I tell myself. Out of hearing, out of mind. After this one night of loud noises, we were clear for much of the spring. At our writers’ gathering, someone brought up the racoon incident when one of our members had a mother racoon and babies in her beach house attic. Much to my delight, this woman announced this time around that the attics are too hot for creatures in the summer. They leave. Yahoo, I thought, relaxing. I can put off investigating our attic entries and guests for another couple months anyhow.

Much to my dismay, I can now attest that this axiom is false. Two weeks ago I heard VERY loud scratching again, and knew this time, I was on to step two–traps. I researched squirrel traps, since this noise couldn’t be mice, but once I discovered the magnitude of the traps for something that size, and the subsequent need to remove and release? or bury? I decided I’d start small anyhow and see if there were any mice, or at least mice.

So I set four mouse traps and dreamed of a mouse (female) that was my pet that night. The next morning, I had to dispose of the two mice I found dead in the traps. I wished once more that my husband wasn’t so freaked out about mice because I think my response is worse–it HURTS me to kill them. One was flipped over. I didn’t look directly at it, just picked it up with my salad tongs and dropped it in a dark plastic bag. The other dead one’s little dark eyes were open and when I flashed the flashlight on it, they looked back at me, not unlike how our sweet labrador retriever mix looks at me. AWFUL. I have since caught two more. And I am now putting off the inevitable, setting four more traps.

In my circles around the attic, I have also discovered wasps’ nests up there. Small and dormant at the moment, I think, but it appears I have a veritable wildlife sanctuary developing on the top floor. Birds are nesting in the eaves in front, and their nest dirt and bird poop is dripping down around the Palladian window over my front door. And when I pull my attention away from the upstairs fauna, I can find ants trafficing my kitchen and flies multiplying as if our house just touched down in the middle of a fairy tale–every time I kill one, two more spring forth. (Someone must have left the screen door open for the dog for hours, but really, how fast can flies multiply? In minutes?)

Ah, sunny, verdant, hot, humid, fertile summer. I love animals and nature, and I love living on a woods, but my natural colleagues are encroaching more than I care for at the moment!

 (How I wish this was the only type of mouse in my house…)


The Wild Ride

Ava* slips into the pasture. Merry had been bucking, trying to incite Casey to frolic with her, to usher in Spring.  Casey wasn’t interested; Perhaps she knew she’d soon get her chance to burn off some energy. They both follow Ava to the small, old stable where she retrieves the bridle and lead rope from a rusty hook. Casey lowers her massive head and Ava easily slips on the bridle then leads Casey to the gate. I’ve been here dozens of times for Ava’s lessons but never paid attention before to this interaction. It’s amazing to watch a powerful beast so docilely follow my daughter from freedom to captivity, for she must know she will soon be commandeered from the saddle.

Casey is a well-trained, seasoned competitor, yet she has free will and has exerted it. She has refused jumps and thrown riders, including my daughter. At a recent show, I learned from another mom that her daughter received a slight concussion after Casey threw her last year. That got me worried. I asked Ava if she knew about the concussion – she did. I asked if she wanted to try a different horse – she didn’t. I wondered if, as a parent, I should override her desire in the interest of safety.

Hunter-Jumper instructors match rider to horse. I know why Ava and Casey were paired up: Both are strong-willed, independent, and stubborn. When Ava was thrown, she didn’t hesitate climbing right back into the saddle. In fact, she was more determined to make Casey mind, and it paid off. She and Casey earned  first and second place ribbons at their last show.

Our mother-daughter relationship has been one wild ride. We’ve taken turns in the proverbial saddle, and throwing each other. The qualities that have been the most challenging for me parenting Ava – her strong will, independence, stubbornness, and determination – are exactly the qualities that will serve her well through her teen and adult years.  It’s my job to help her direct these traits in beneficial, productive ways, like dressage. As long as Ava feels secure on Casey’s back, and wears her helmet, I will gladly share the load with Casey.

*name changed


Now Let Us Praise….Alpaca

Sometimes something unexpectedly good comes along in life…achance discovery…something that has been around for ages…that changeseverything for the better. That’s how it is with me and alpaca.  I have a new enjoyment of crisp fall weatherwith my black and camel ruana (aka cape) made of alpaca – so cozy, such lovelydrape.  Thanks to alpaca, my attitude andappreciation of cold weather is so much different than it was. A winter walk isso pleasant with an alpaca layer under my coat that will keep me warm but notsuffocate or overheat. Freezing temperatures inside the rink?  Alpaca keeps the body temperature just right,without getting too bulked out.  Alightweight cardigan takes the chill off while sitting at the keyboard.  And it looks good.


Once a true luxury item (prized by Inca rulers), alpaca ismore affordable and more accessible than ever, and green (alpaca live lightlyon the land).  It’s used more and more inblends with other fabrics.  Even some ofthe higher end, “wearable art” sweaters from Peru trickle down eventually to TJMaxx and Marshall’s, where they might sell for less than thirty dollars by theend of the season.  The best garments areprobably still made in South America, (Millma in Bolivia),or a number of places in Peru.These are not cheap, and deservedly so. Well constructed, lasting, and oftenincorporating ethnic designs not only of Native and Hispanic culture, butcultures from other parts of the world. Or modern, or fanciful.  In anycase, pieces that are nice to touch, functional in terms of comfort and warmth,not mass produced, and of natural origins. What more can you ask?


Alapaca has such a romantic history, not least because italmost disappeared from the planet.  Itwas only the efforts of a few Inca survivors who herded alpaca to the highermountain regions to save them from destruction from the Conquistodors, whopreferred sheep. The indigenous population kept the animals and the weavingalive, but relatively unrecognized, until late in the industrial revolution, inpart because it took a long time to develop the technology to weave the alpaca fiber.  Slowly, as ethnic culture became moreappealing in the sixties and seventies, alpaca hats, gloves, scarves caught onwith the hippie set, and then more into main stream. At the same time, Americanfarmers started keeping alpacas, appreciating their docile nature as well asthe high quality of the fibers.  Perhapsnot yet an explosion, but more people are discovering alpaca as an alternativeto wool, more lightweight, and not itchy – really perfect for layering, and forindoor spaces that are kept reasonably warm in cold winter months.


Plus the beauty.  Iremember perusing a Peruvian Connection catalog at one point, taken with thebeauty of the clothing, especially the alpaca sweaters and coats: the textures,the patterns, the colors, so substantial. The prices, however, were more than I would pay.  Then, one day, I saw a friend of mine frombook group wearing a colorful alpaca cardigan – so lovely. I had a chance totouch it and see it up close, and I was taken. So, through EBay I began my search for affordable alpaca, and in time, Ihad a selection of four or five pieces that I have worn and relished.  One in soft cream with delicate embroidery.  Another with a fuzzy texture, a SouthwestIndian pattern in black, rust and turquoise. A third that features the animal designs of the Nazca Plain. And myruana! 


I’ve never been one to love clothes – I use them untilthey’re worn, or else pass them on – but I’m fond, very fond, of myalpaca. 


Turtle Days of Summer

  August may bring the dog days of summer for some, but for me, August has brought turtle days.  I have achieved the rescue and subsequent adoption of a pair of turtles, and this accomplishment gives me a level of satisfaction that is hard to explain, even to myself.  Efficiency crossed with humanitarianism, this appears to have my name all over it.  

Earlier this summer, we arrived at my sister-in-law’s house in NJ with a few hours to kill before a family wedding.  We found her in the kitchen, attempting to get over her frustration at all the time spent on turtle care that day.  The turtles, she explained, were acquired by her second daughter and a former boyfriend years ago, a daughter that has since graduated from college, taken a job in NYC and, as a couple months ago, moved to Hoboken on the New Jersey side of the Hudson.  My sister-in-law returned from an extended stay at the beach to find the turtles bone dry.  She can’t stand these two little creatures (that couldn’t be more than about three inches end-to-end).  She says they give her the creeps.  And although she’s been wishing they’d die for quite some time, she wasn’t ready to kill them.  She’d carried them to the kitchen to clean out their aquarium and replace their water, and broken the aquarium. She drove to the pet store, bought a new aquarium, and as we walked in, she had just finished resituating them.  Happy as the little armored tanks looked swimming around and climbing on their rocks, as she explained all their clambering around wakes people at night, I could identify with the creepy part.  I wouldn’t want creatures of any sort, especially not any with exoskeletons, scuttling around nearby while I slept.          

“Don’t you know anyone with younger kids who might like them?” I asked.  

My sister-in-law shook her head. 

“What about giving them to a pet store?” 

My sister-in-law looked dubiously at the two turtles.  “I think they’re illegal,” she said.  “I don’t think they’re supposed to be in this country as pets.”

My heart went out to the two innocent little critters, death hanging over their little worm heads through no fault of their own. 

So when a few weeks later, the water garden specialist at our local nursery announced he and his son have a frog that is such a regular visitor at one of their own ponds it’s become a pet, a light bulb went off.  Would he and his son consider adopting these two turtles? He would, and he and his son would be glad to have them.  

Now we’re headed to NJ again.  When I told my sister-in-law I had a home for the turtles and I’d bring them back with me, she sounded pleased, and incredulous.  I’m sure she thought I was nuts.   Why would I care about these two little turtles?  Maybe because I have a soft spot for the under dog, er, under turtle?  Maybe because I believe in recycling and embrace the idea of a circular ecosystem, where everything has a home and a use somewhere?  Or maybe because, really, life is sacred, period.