Slow Food and Slowing Down
Published on September 19, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the Slow Food movement's $5 challenge, which asks people to prepare fresh meals that cost $5 or less per person, in her weekly column Greenpoint. 

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve been thinking about the slow food movement, a grass-roots push back against our fast-food nation. It’s become a global movement, with a nonprofit association called Slow Food that boasts 100,000 members in 150 countries. Members, according to the Slow Food website, are committed to stemming 'the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.'

The movement began more than 20 years ago, a reaction to the homogenization of food, with the same fast food chains in every city the world over, and to the loss of local agriculture and regional food. The 'slow' also refers to how we eat, an attempt to recapture the disappearing habit of sitting down with friends and family to enjoy food and the fellowship that comes from eating together.

In our own home and gardens, slow food is a family tradition. We wait for vegetables to ripen, and where we live it’s a slow process. We watch the slow march of pumpkin vines across the garden, then out into the lawn or over the stone wall. We simmer tomatoes into salsa, sauces and paste, seek out wild apples to make into butters and wild grapes for jelly.

There’s nothing quick about how we do food. We plant it, we grow and harvest it, we cook and eat it — pies and soups and breads. We like to climb mountains to gather wild berries, then label the freezer bags so we can remember the day we picked them when we pull them out to make blueberry muffins on a blizzardy February morning. We tend to discuss the variety of squash or garlic when we sit down to a bowl of soup."

Flood Donations
Published on September 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

My colleague at the DG, Margaret Hartley, writes about some relatively cost-free ways to aid with flood relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in her column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"When Hurricane Irene flooded the towns around where my brother lives in northern New Jersey, he immediately updated his Facebook status with a list of items he had available for any family in need.

A microwave oven, a television set, a window air conditioner, two baby strollers — those were just the first things he noticed his family had that another family might need.

By the next day, a friend had made plans to pick up my brother’s stuff, and deliver it too.

With so many of our own neighbors in need — in Rotterdam, Schoharie, Middleburgh, Scotia, Waterford and elsewhere — people lucky enough to escape the flooding are examining their excess household goods to see what they have available for donation.

Those items — bedding, decent furniture, appliances, dishes, rugs and curtains — will be needed once people whose homes have been destroyed or damaged get relocated. It’s a good time for the rest of us to take stock of our basements and attics, to see whether that bureau or child’s desk we’ve been storing for years might be useful to someone else, and soon. Spare school supplies? Bring them to a school or donation center in a flooded town. Extra canned goods in your pantry? There’s a food pantry that can take that, and get it to those in need.

We are a nation of hoarders and shoppers, and most people have far more than they need or can use, even in these recessionary times. Even people who try to live simply often wind up with extra tables, pots and pans, or bed frames — items collected over a lifetime, or brought into a household when families merged or parents died."

Cool Treehouses
Published on September 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

When I was a kid, I always dreamed of living in a treehouse, and I still think they're very cool. If you feel the same way, check out this post on Webcoist, which contains pictures of 15 amazing treehouses from around the world.

No, Hurricane Irene Was Not Overhyped
Published on September 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over in my column at the DG, I elaborate on my feelings about Hurricane Irene. The piece touches upon several different themes, but one thing I feel particularly strongly about is my overall disgust for pundits like Howard Kurtz, who wrote about how Hurricane Irene was overhyped BEFORE THE STORM WAS EVEN OVER. He should actually apologize for that column, which was an absolute embarrassment, but famous pundits don't generally apologize, acknowledge that they're wrong, or correct themselves, so I doubt we'll hear a word about HOW ABSOLUTELY WRONG HE WAS any time soon. 

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

"The floodwaters were still rising when some people began wondering whether the storm was simply a lot of hype.
On Sunday at 11:15 a.m. (you know — when it was still raining cats and dogs up here), The Daily Beast posted an op-ed by media critic Howard Kurtz suggesting that the media coverage of the storm was overblown. Hurricane Irene, he wrote, wasn’t such a big deal. “Hurricanes are unpredictable, and it’s a great relief that the prophets of doom were wrong about Hurricane Irene. But don’t expect the cable networks to downgrade their coverage the next time a tropical storm gathers strength.”

What kills me is that Kurtz felt comfortable writing this before the storm had even ended. Apparently media critics are also meteorologists who can see the future? Perhaps he was thinking, 'Well, it didn’t destroy New York City, which is the only place on Earth that matters, besides Washington, which wasn’t destroyed, either. So it wasn’t that bad a storm after all!'

Other clowns wondered whether officials overreacted to the storm, which is now estimated to be one of the 10 costliest disasters in U.S. history. That sounds pretty bad to me, but what do I know?

In any case, I’m assuming that the naysaying clowns weren’t among those affected by the storm, that they didn’t lose their power for days on end, that their houses are still standing, that they aren’t surveying their businesses and wondering whether they can reopen, that they aren’t trapped in a small Vermont town waiting for food and emergency supplies to be airlifted to them. Maybe they looked out their windows on Sunday and thought, 'This storm doesn’t seem that bad' and never realized that there’s a great big world beyond what you can immediately see."

Hurricane Irene Observations
Published on August 29, 2011 by Sara Foss

First of all, I'd like to start by saying that I feel terrible for anyone who suffered as a result of the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. 

Now that I have that out of the way, and at the risk of sounding incredibly callous, I'd like to talk a little bit about how mesmerized I am by floods. I wouldn't want them to happen every other week, and the damage and loss of life is very sad. But, wow, are they impressive. I learned this as a child, when the town of Hillsboro, N.H., where I was living at the time, experienced flooding. I don't know what most people do in response to flooding, but in my family we like to go look at it. From a safe vantage point, of course. And I don't think we're unique: My friend Julianne's house in Kentucky was flooded a couple years ago, and she seemed to share the attitude of my family; unable to stop the water, she and her husband got into their pontoon boat and went for a ride. "We figured we might as well have a beer and explore," she said.

I live in Albany, which fared fairly well in the storm. Schenectady, however, is a different story. I was in awe when I drove in to work, and at lunch I pulled off the road and joined the masses who were parking there and walking over to the river to get a look at the roiling waters. After work, I wandered down to the Corning Preserve, where the water had flooded up to the amphitheater, and over the bike path. There was a sign at the pedestrian bridge stating that the walkway was closed, and ordinarily I obey signs like that (at least in broad daylight), but throngs of people were casually ignorning it, and I decided to join them. In fact, it felt like a party! I ran into an old neighbor down there, and we gawked at the debris rushing past, the ducks paddling around the park and the picnic tables that were mostly submerged.

Predictably, some of the flood-related commentary has irritated me. For one thing, I don't want to hear that it was a message from God. (Yes, Michele Bachmann, I'm talking to you.) But she's not the only one saying stuff like that - one of my Facebook friends seems to think that the flooding, coming so soon after the earthquake, is a sign that we earthlings need to get our spiritual house in order. Frankly, I can't take anyone who presumes to know what God is thinking very seriously, and this is doubly true when there's a disaster.

I'm also tired of hearing people suggest that we over-reacted to the storm. I'm OK with criticizing the hysterical news coverage; it's one thing to keep people informed, and another thing to sensationalize and freak people out. (The TV reporters, in particular, seem to think that when they stand out in the rain for hours speaking into a microphone they've become martyrs to some kind of cause.) But I'm not OK with suggesting that too much was done. The preparation helped save lives and reduce the amount of property damage, and if too little was done, or the storm was stronger and deadlier, we'd be hearing a lot of screaming about how not enough was done. Also, the people complaining about how too much was done weren't affected by the storm. Go talk to someone in Vermont or Scotia, N.Y., and see how they feel.

Speaking of hard-hit areas, my onetime stomping ground of West Lebanon, N.H., saw a lot of flooding and nearby towns experienced a lot of damage. Here's a video of the Quechee Bridge getting washed away by the Ottauquchee River.

Rural Gardens Link Neighbors
Published on August 23, 2011 by Sara Foss

In her column this week at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the bonds forged between neighbors who garden. Reminds me a bit of the Robert Frost poem "Mending Wall," except instead of good fences making good neighbors, here we have good gardens making good neighbors. Which is a nicer idea, I think.

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

"Gardens make neighbors, the bonds and connections that come from sharing. And when your neighbors are gardeners too, there’s a good chance your garden failures will be compensated for with someone else’s bounty.

Zucchini, for instance. Like the school nurse, we don’t have any. We had plenty earlier this summer, and enjoyed tiny squashes, sautéed or in salads, and not-so-tiny ones sliced and mixed with other vegetables. We even have a fair amount in the freezer.

But we ignored some wilting leaves until it was too late — a borer had gotten in the main stems and killed the plants."

My Personal Account of the Earthquake
Published on August 23, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I provide my personal account of today's earthquake. Which I wasn't planning to do, as I mention in my post. But then I saw that anyone with access to a computer felt compelled to publicly describe what they experienced - as if there was something unique or interesting about it - and I couldn't resist.

Also, I really enjoyed this blog post from a D.C. resident who also managed to survive the quake.

A New Old Man?
Published on August 22, 2011 by Sara Foss

Being from New Hampshire, I was of course incredibly sad when the Old Man on the Mountain, the granite cliffs in the White Mountains that appeared to form a craggy profile, collapsed in 2003.

To anyone who grew up in New Hampshire, the Old Man was a timeless and iconic symbol, appearing on license plates, state route signs and the back of the New Hampshire state quarter. Needless to say, the Old Man's disappearance left a huge void.

But perhaps that void will be filled ... at least in part. In Sunday's Boston Globe magazine, Charles P. Pierce writes about efforts to recreate the Old Man as a visual image.

Here's an excerpt:

"'The inhabitants of this valley, in short, were numerous, and of many modes of life. But all of them, grown people and children, had a kind of familiarity with the Great Stone Face …'
– Nathaniel Hawthorne, 'The Great Stone Face'

* * * * * *


Dolphins In New York City?
Published on August 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

I love dolphins, and on a trip to the Everglades a couple years ago, I was fortunate enough to see two dolphins frolicking in the wake of our tour boat as we cruised out into the open sea. But apparently you don't have to go to Florida to see dolphins. According to this report, they occasionally show up in New York City, most recently swimming in polluted Newtown Creek and East River.

In a post on the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, Sarah Chasis explains that the presence of dolphins in New York City is a very positive sign, because "it suggests that the water is cleaner and that there are more baitfish to be eaten." She also explains that "These dolphins also can be found offshore in the deep, biologically rich submarine canyons and underwater mountains off our coast. These canyons, including the Hudson Canyon southeast of New York Harbor, lie on the edge of the continental shelf. In the cold depths of many of these canyons, brilliantly colored corals, sponges, and untold numbers of invertebrates are found and great schools of fish, like squid and herring, that dolphins and whales rely on. Without these ocean oases, we might never have the chance to see a number of marine mammal species near New York City."

Leaving the Clothes On the Line
Published on August 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

In her column this week at the DG, my colleague Maggie Hartley writes about the benefits of hanging the wash out to dry.

Here's an excerpt:

"We are committed to our clothes line. There’s no reason to use energy to dry clothes when we have the sun to do it for us. It saves money and electricity, reduces pollution and it’s easy.

By most estimates, you’ll save about $100 a year in energy costs by line-drying your laundry. Electric dryers contribute to CO2 emissions in a big way, around 5 pounds per load. There’s no such thing as an Energy Star dryer because they all use about the same amount of energy — too much. Line drying also will make your clothes last longer, they’ll smell nice, and you won’t need to buy dryer sheets.

And you can make your kids hang out the wash.

It’s getting them to take it in that’s the problem."

No Leeches: Hiking Crane Mountain
Published on August 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my lovely hike up Crane Mountain in Johnsburg, N.Y., last weekend.

Here's an excerpt:

"The ascent to the summit of Crane is fairly short, but steep, and my hiking guide had me expecting the worst. (Or was it the best?) 'After an easy stroll for a few minutes, the trail makes an abrupt change,' explained the hiking guide, titled '100 Classic Hikes of the Northeast.' 'For the next half-mile it powers 700’ up the steep south face of Crane — one of the steeper trails in this book. The clambering ascent up through the smooth, gray boulders — call them elephantine — is so steep that it’s amusing.'

Crane is steep, but I’m not sure it deserves the book’s breathless description. It certainly isn’t as steep as the Tripyramids in New Hampshire, which I hiked on July 4th and subsequently lost four toenails. And I’m not sure it’s any more steep and challenging than New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock, which I hiked a few weeks ago. But it is steep, and we did find ourselves making our way up and over rocks and ledges. 'This is so amusing,' we said, whenever we got to a steep section. 'Don’t you find this amusing?'"




Some People Are Just Bad At Math
Published on August 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

I've always been bad at math, and it's always been the subject I've worked hardest to understand. I even read a book called "Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences" to try to overcome my math phobia. Anyway, I'm delighted to see that science has proved what I've always suspected to be true: Some people just aren't good at math, and no amount of effort is going to fix the problem.

According to a new study by a team of scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, people who are are bad at math are probably born that way. Another key finding: numerical talent does not appear to be linked to overall intelligence. Which, frankly, comes as a huge relief.


On Wild Areas and Wildflowers
Published on August 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

My colleague Maggie Hartley writes about wildflowers and the drudgery of mowing the lawn this week in her environmental/nature column Greenpoint. Here's an excerpt:

"Last month my friend told me it was time to work on the 'Wilton meadow project.'

It took me a minute to figure out what she meant: It was time to mow the lawn.

My friend hates mowing her lawn, and while she’s created a neat, trim suburban look in the front to keep her neighbors happy, she lets the backyard go wild as long as she can. She ends up with wild berries and wildflowers, and long grass for the cats and toads to play in. Eventually she tackles the tangle, chops it back down to lawn, and then lets nature take its course again.

I have other friends in suburban Wilton, in a neighborhood with even more perfect, chemically treated lawns, mowed in attractive diagonals. And like my lawnmower-hating friend, this family keeps a magazine-perfect front lawn and a more natural backyard. They have a patio area where they encouraged moss to grow over the paving stones. Sitting out there with the wind in the trees feels more like hanging out in a fairy garden than being in a neighborhood of homogenous vinyl-clad houses. Except that you can hear the Northway through the trees."

Visit the DG to read the entire piece.


The Last Shark Hunter
Published on August 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Interesting essay in The Week by Juliet Eilperin about the last shark hunter in Miami, Mark Quartiano.

Here's an excerpt:

"IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a 21st-century incarnation of Captain Quint, the obsessive shark hunter from Jaws, Quartiano comes pretty close. While he’s a friendlier, more service-oriented version, the Florida charter-boat captain has built his entire professional reputation on his ability to slay the scariest sharks in the sea. Quartiano used to hunt sharks for his own amusement off Miami Beach, but he’s spent most of his career ensuring that other anglers can tell their own big-fish stories. He started out working as a police officer and then became a firefighter, at which point he managed to work four days a week and fish the other three days. Once he cobbled together enough sponsors to support himself by fishing full-time, he made the switch, and at this point he’s the only charter operator who still targets sharks. By his own estimate, he has killed at least 100,000 sharks over the course of his career: As he likes to joke, he’s outlasted his competitors, as well as the scores of sharks he’s hauled on board over the years.

Quartiano models himself in part after legendary shark hunters like Frank Mundus, who fished off Long Island in the 1950s and ’60s—when there were still plenty of sharks around to catch. Mundus earned the nickname Monster Man for the sharks he caught off Montauk, N.Y., and claimed he was the inspiration for Captain Quint, though author Peter Benchley said the character was a composite. Mundus caught two massive great whites in the course of his 40-year career, but eventually he embraced conservation, retired to Hawaii in 1991, and largely gave up shark hunting. Quartiano, however, has yet to temper his pursuit.

In fact, Mark the Shark prides himself on finding new species to kill in order to satisfy his customers, like the thresher sharks he’s managed to cull from a nearby area where they gather to give birth. He is no longer allowed to catch threshers under state law, which complicates this task. While he’s careful to adhere to state and federal rules, he thinks people apply a double standard when it comes to shark fishing. 'You get people who don’t like to hurt animals, but they’re mostly hypocrites,' Quartiano once told a local magazine. 'They want to release everything; meanwhile they go home and eat big juicy steaks.'"

Click here to read the entire piece.

The Beluga Whale/Mariachi Band Video
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm sure everybody on earth has seen this, but I couldn't resist putting it up. (Also, I am trying to teach myself how to post different types of media. The whale in this video looks very happy - do whales like mariachi music - but I have a friend with a phobia of mariachi bands ("they're always sneaking up behind you in restaurants and playing music," she complains) and she insists that this whale is being tortured. Another friend suggests that living in captivity has resulted in an extremely sheltered worldview. "This whale clearly does not get out much," she wrote. "Of course it thinks mariachi is good music! You don't see Def Leppard standing on the other side of that glass playing 'Let's get rocked,' which I think the whale would enjoy." Whatever. I say: Let the whale enjoy its mariachi music!

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