How Facebook Became My Landline

I used to go on WordPress more than I did Facebook. I was happier then. I appreciate being in touch with old friends, but there is something overly exposed and in some ways debilitating about it. I guess, if you’ve been around as long as me and remember a time before there was voicemail or even answering machines, and consider how you responded when the phone would ring, this is much likely a predictor of your Facebook habits. If you would rush to pick up the phone, slamming the big brown paper bag of groceries onto the Formica, even risking crushing the Little Debbies or big bag of cheese puffs just so you could get to the ringing phone before it became nothing but a lonely dial tone, you likely have the same Facebook habits I have today.

I remember once breaking my toe in my mad dash down the hall and into the next room to answer the phone. I told people later I had broken it doing tae kwon do. (I was in both martial arts and dance classes at the time – I figured I deserved to have broken my toe in some respectable way, even though it was from nothing more than embarrassing eagerness and lack of grace, but no one would be the wiser).

So now my computer has a silent ring audible just to me, and I respond like a dog hearing a whistle just outside of human range.  On my way to the closet to hang a jacket, I lean over and tap the keyboard to wake up my laptop, and we proceed to speak our secret language.

“Hey,” I say silently. “Were you ringing?”

“Uh, no,” he says, wondering why I’m bothering him again. “I didn’t mean to be. Maybe I was snoring.”

“No, really. I swear I heard someone say something in there.”

“Well sure. Someone’s always got something to say in there. Doesn’t mean it’s all worth hearing.”

“But, yeah,” I reply. “If they bothered, might be worth checking out. And, besides, what if it’s a direct message meant for me. Don’t you think I should check it out ?”

By now, I have touched his buttons and I am full on waking him up as he grumbles slowly, ignoring my additional clicking of the keyboard while he yawns and rubs his eyes, oblivious to my incessant pressing. I tell myself this is different from the eager, embarrassing, anxious mad dash to get the phone.  This is just me wanting to check quickly (in case it’s important, I tell myself) and get back to the dutiful path I was on, picking up and putting away kids’ clothes, and washing dishes that never change or tell you the news or post pictures of dreaming kitties, or…

Finally he is fully awake. And I’m on, leaning over my desk — not sitting at it so I can quickly get back to the very important work of the day — but then as I scroll down there is something that catches my eye.  And then another something, and a group of somethings, and then an onslaught of somethings.  They may be posts about Monsanto, or an increase in crime in my neighborhood, or a picture of a new baby of a distant relative, or my high school frenemy posting pics of a new house of car or lover or shoes.  As insignificant as all this is, something about it becomes impressively important for me to know or see or sign or share or like or…  Next thing I know I am full-butt planted in my chair, clicking away, while my legs stay draped sideways behind me so I know I can escape this at any time — this barrage of truly unneeded “news,” of minutiae of really near strangers, of saccharine sweet platitudes I couldn’t bear in person, of heavy, depressing tales of woe and kids getting accidentally shot or maimed, of “friends” sparring over politics and religion and sports and things a third party has said or written (probably secretly on the Facebook payroll), of an incessant string of instructions of how to be a better parent, lover, friend, sister/mother, father/brother, human being as if all we are is a bundle of failure in endless need of improvement. Cleaning the house is less exhausting.

But instead of returning to my soulless chores, I now have one leg tucked beneath me and I am snug in my Facebook mind-numbing buzz.  Footsteps up the stairs are the only thing that snap me out if it.  My partner, admirably, must never have had my Pavlovian response to the phone ringing and can pass by the computer umpteen times a day without even a glance toward it.  So I don’t like too often to get caught in the act.  I quickly switch to anything without the recognizable blue lines and boxes.  I’m now on Google and wondering where to go next.  There’s no screeching news here reminding me of the banality of people and the pervasive pain – physical, emotional, personal, political, philosophical – of being human, or the escapades of friends of friends, or the cheering and jeering of Packers fans, and articles about whose city is best, and quizzes to show just how alike or not you are from Dr. Phil and Oprah and others, and so much more to show you just how far you have to go.  Just a plain white background and a few options – the boxes beneath the search window showing recent visits – reminding me where I’ve been.  There’s Yahoo, WordPress, and reliably Facebook.  I rise above it all and return to my busy work, till I hear my laptop ring again.

The Storms: Death and Destruction, Help, Hope and Recovery

While counts of the toll the two storms that hit the northeast in recent weeks continue toward a final tally, people of the area busy themselves donating to others still in need, waiting in gas lines, resuming (or trying) semblances of normal in their work and personal lives, while others wait for electricity and struggle to stay warm. 400,865 homes in the eastern U.S. remain without power as of yesterday.  The least fortunate of us trudge the long uphill road of grieving lost loved ones. For those, the pain will last long past the clean up crews and news media. For those, the recovery never really ends. The death toll of victims in the U.S. has reached 120. At last count, it was close to 70 victims in the Caribbean, hitting Haiti (52 fatalities) the hardest.

Flashes of hope of the basic compassion of humanity are present in the vast relief efforts underway. From local long-standing businesses such as Two Boots Brooklyn, organizing food and clothing drives, to the new and innovative Mealku, making sure those who have lost much are receiving home cooked meals. And of course there are so many others lending a hand and organizing volunteers: Red Cross, NYC Mayors office, New York Cares, Congregation Beth Elohim, Occupy Sandy, the Humane Society (leading pet search and rescue efforts), Staten Island Recovers, and of course The Salvation Army. If you are donating, please remember the victims in Haiti, whose suffering is all that much greater given its extremely impoverished state and particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters and global warming. Please consider contributing to groups such as Direct Relief and International Medical Corps and Americares.

Most everyone I know is in some way in the trenches, whether by helping a family member or hard hit local business (like Rocky Sullivan’s in Red Hook – my friend, part owner, was there with a pump before realizing the task ahead was too great — he was able to keep himself safe but the bar/restaurant itself has suffered serious damage). (Please check out this NYT blog post if your small business was affected by the storm).  Others are rolling up their sleeves and coming from our of state to see what help still needs to be done. At Greenwood Cemetery, they’re busy removing the 150 trees that were destroyed during the storm, and restoring many broken monuments. Donations for that restoration are being accepted online.

Please let us know of other disaster relief efforts you are supporting, what people can do to help, and any useful links you may have. In the wake of so much destruction, the helping hands of others is the real source of recovery.



























On Watering

Over-watering is one of the most common gardening errors.  Not only is it unnecessary to pour large doses of water on in-ground plants, but it also hurts the environment to water in-ground plants frequently.  Survival of the fittest plants produce the most useful produce.   Therefore, if you have a plant or two requiring lots of time and attention, it is okay (and good in fact!) to let it go.  Yank that whiny, pesky plant up out of the ground and toss it into the compost pile, where it will be put to good use.  I have had several tomatoes (I started late but they are starting to come up), but I am not yet harvesting the seeds because these tomatoes are not totally satisfactory.  Some have had a bit of blight (nothing serious), or they were not pickably ripe for very long.  Since I do not want these traits next year, I’m not bothering to save the seeds of those particular plants this year.  If I have learned anything so far this season, it is that I can save seeds and expect something to grow from them, and that I do not need to save every seed.   I may soon be overrun with tomatoes.  My problems could be worse.  I don’t mind the burden of abundance.  However, any of my plants that can’t stand the heat will have to be allowed to transition to the other side.  I am not a primping, preening, prompting gardener.  I admittedly want to put in as little effort as possible for the greatest harvest, and simply enjoy sinking my hands in the dirt to see what comes back up.

On the question of watering, remember that even house plants and potted plants are easily over-watered.  Use a gentle touch with them.  Do not doused or drown them.  Keep in mind that drowning is what happens when you give your plants too much water: you seal off the root ends which need to be open to receive nutrients from the soil.  Think of all the trouble you went to putting broken pieces of clay pots and other spacers for the roots to “breathe.”  Filling the root ends full of water defeats the purpose of creating pathways for the plant’s lifelines.  There is great variation in the amount of water plants need.  Fortunately for us, however, some of the signs they’re getting too much water are often the same plant to plant.  The following are a few such indicators.


1. drooping leaves all around and general wilted appearance

2. browning of young leaves

3. existing leaves turn yellow (or a shade lighter than their natural color), and wilt

4. the plant stops growing new leaves

5. the soil itself may have a greenish hue (this may be algae)

If your plants are showing these signs, take a break from watering for a few days, and see how they respond.  When you do water, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to check moisture at least an inch or two beneath the surface of the soil, since looks can be deceiving.  Some soil gets dry quickly on top but is masking saturated soil beneath.

QUESTION: do you remember the first time you watered a plant?  picked a flower?  became aware of the interdependence of people and plants?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

I Lost My Spliff

Now that I have your attention,* I wanted to see if all of us revelers could take a little pledge.  This weekend, please do not buy anything not made in the U.S.A.  While you don’t have to buy American to be American, it does make you a better American.  And it makes me and your neighbors better off as well, financially and ecologically.  I don’t have to recount all the reasons to avoid goods made in other parts of the world (which may and often include a bigger carbon footprint, poor quality and cheap parts, lack of rigorous standards, excessive and harmful chemicals, poor working conditions without fair wages, use of child labor, etc. etc.).  Let’s keep the spirit of Memorial Day alive by honoring those who have sacrificed to fight our wars and protect U.S. interests abroad by doing our part to improve the U.S. economy and send the message that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is.  An item made in the U.S. may be a few cents, or more, greater than a cheaper item made elsewhere.  Consider the cost, though, if we fail to consume responsibly and patriotically.

Love your world neighbors but patronize your local ones.

*Based on what WordPress tells me, the greatest number of hits to this site came when I posted “Still on the Weed.”  Let’s see if we can beat that.  Don’t bogart this post.  Pass the dutchie.

Pass it on.

Project EATS

I satisfied my herb search today at my local nursery, Shannon Florist, and supported a new-ish and innovative local business, Brooklyn Commune, and a non-profit organization that fosters urban growing, Project EATS at their plant and seedling sale. I came home with basil, a couple heirloom tomato plants (insurance in case my seeds don’t germinate and an opportunity to expand my varieties). I also brought home a couple small cucumber plants because I got wrapped up in a moment of gushing gardeners. The purple kale is because the lady from Project EATS (pictured below) was, wisely, offering sample tastes.  I also compared notes with several other visitors to the stand on what’s the best way to grow beets in Brooklyn (I was relieved to know I’m not the only one who has struggled to get them to grow, container or ground).  A lovely woman who I learned is a neighbor gave me a suggestion for using an empty kitty litter container for cucumbers.  (Ironically, the reason I’m looking to raise them off the ground is that there is a stray cat who prowls the yard so I want to keep them up, up and away but I don’t have much trellis space).  The sale started in the morning.  I got there around noon, and it still had a few hours to go.  I left with hands, but not arms, full. I was proud of myself for the restraint, given that I really wanted to snatch up every single one of those plants and soak in hours of the casual chatter, brimming with advice and anecdotes. But I left with just enough, and no more than I needed.


Rain, Rain, Go Away

But until it does, let’s think about how to make it greener. These tips from Daily Dose of Fiber are a good start:

Eco-Friendly Rain Tips:

1. Collect rain water in a barrel and use this water to water your garden and grass!

2. Buy an eco-friendly rain coat (check out Patagonia).

3. Buy an eco-friendly umbrella for two.

4. Turn off your sprinklers when its raining.

From my own experience, I’ve found that indoor plants especially appreciate water imported from the great outdoors. Granted those of us in NYC may have rainwater that picks up pollution, but my informal research has found no indication that it’s enough to do any harm.

QUESTION: What ways have you found to incorporate green uses to springtime’s abundant rainfall? Go ahead … gimme the dirt!


My Beef With Bittman … But, Actually …

Mark Bittman, author of Food Matters (Simon & Schuster 2009), How to Cook Everything (who cares who published it?  But age maters — it was ’08), and author of the former NYT column “The Minimalist,” was on NPR recently, hawking a follow-up to his break out success.  I was listening on my headphones, probably scarfing down yet another overpriced meal from Pret as I listed to Bittman explain that How to Cook Everything: the Basics (with 1,000 photos – for reals) is his response to feedback/criticism he got on How to Cook Everything.  The Basics describes – and apparently illustrates – everything from the most simple (boiling water) to the most overwhelming (how to select kitchen equipment and stock a pantry).  I sat down to write this post, ready to argue him up and down on several points, and to set forth with crystalline clarity why in fact one should never use soap on a cherished cast iron skillet, why having good kitchen equipment does indeed make one a better cook, and why not every star chef should jump in front of a camera.  (When did “triple threat” turn from sing/dance/act to write/cook/be-on-every-show-even-peripherally-relating to food?)

Then I made the mistake of looking him up online.  I should’ve just stuck to my workday tainted impression of Bittman as another media hungry foodievangelist.  But now I can’t.  How can I argue with a guy that uses his good name to make a case for limiting junk food ads in schools?

The Revel Mama in me is cheering him on even as I’m dreading my partner’s turn to watch down our DVR list and as I’m silently casting my curses against Spain: on the Road Again.  I love Spain but I will gouge out innocent olives out if I have to sit through one more awkward dinner with Gwyneth and Batali, whose recent croc in mouth disease further deflates my appetite.  (In November, Batali was quoted as equating bankers to Stalin and Hitler, and just last month shelled out $5.25M to settle claims that he cheated waitstaff out of tips).

Bittman brings to our attention the fact that only one state has banned junk food advertising (I could survive on Maine lobster) while nine states (and this number is growing) expressly permit advertising on school buses.  How can I say one bad word against this man when I, myself, envision retiring to Sao Paolo for the sole reason that in 2006 its mayor passed the “Clean City Law,” which banned outdoor advertising of all kinds.  Despite urgings from alarmist businesses against instituting the ban, now 70% of the city’s residents agree that it’s been beneficial.  Pictures of the city, wiped clean of visual pollution (not even fliers are permitted — can we get that in Brooklyn??), speak for themselves.

Not only does Bittman have a compelling fiscal argument (the ad revenue cannot begin to cover the cost of the obesity epidemic it feeds), but he has a sound legal one as well.  While the environmentalist in me was questioning the necessity of publishing 1,000 photos (1,000!), the Revel Lawyer in me is more impressed by Bittman’s command of the law.  He clearly understands BigFood’s efforts to twist the First Amendment in a way that would make the drafters’ stomachs churn.  Bittman explains that the First Amendment was applied to advertising in the 1970s to give the public access to information about products, but now it’s being used as a corporate sword to swipe away at kiddie consumers’ protections.  The legal test for whether the First Amendment applies to permit unfettered commercial speech, Bittman notes, is that the speech itself must be truthful and not actually or inherently misleading.  As he further explains, authors of a recent article in the journal Health Affairs make the (obvious to any parent) point that children under 12 cannot discern bias in marketing and so all advertising targeting them should be subject to regulation because it is inherently misleading.

Well, Mr. Bittman, I guess your deft legal ability makes you a quadruple threat.  Now, back to my beef with you.  Hmm.  I think I’ve forgotten.  Or maybe it wasn’t so important.  Perhaps it was more a green-eyed author than work-a-day tedium that initially inspired this post.  Either way, I’m glad it led me past your shiny celebrity chef veneer to hear what is clearly an important voice in pushing back the BigFood giants and protecting our most valuable assets.  And for that, I thank you.

One little barb I can get in on Bittman: he teases the Health Affairs article authors about the boring name of their article (“Government Can Regulate Food Advertising To Children Because Cognitive Research Shows That It Is Inherently Misleading.”) but in my opinion slightly missteps with his own headline.  When I first read the title, “The Right to Sell Kids Junk,” in The New York Times Opinionator, 3/27/12, I thought he was going to tell me it’s okay to sell my daughter’s Thomas the Tank Engine collection on Ebay while she sleeps – which I was fully ready to agree with.  Then I read it and realized it’s something far more important than clearing kids’ clutter, which is putting limits on the clutter they can’t control.

Good Stuff’s Going On

Instead of gorging on hyperconsumptionism this Friday (and helping stores full of foreign manufactured crap increase their sales enough for the first time of the year to get out of the red and into the black, thus the origin of the name “Black Friday”), why not occupy some space and take a stand against excess by participating in Buy Nothing Day (originated by Adbusters, those quirky Canadians behind the Occupy Wall Street protests that took over Zucotti Park in Manhattan and sites across the globe).  Don’t do it for Adbusters but do it for yourself.  In Brooklyn, a potluck is being held at All Souls Bethlehem Chruch in Park Slope.  I’ll be working but I recommend it for anyone who wants to avoid the crowds and the pocketbook drain typical of Black Friday.  Details as follows….



Come to Sustainable Flatbush’s first annual Buy Nothing Day Community Meal!

Buy Nothing Day offers an alternative to the consumerist excess of Black Friday: a chance to unshop, unspend, and unwind. Bring a dish to share, or bring ingredients (Thanksgiving leftovers are great) and join the communal cooking fun! Meet your neighbors and join Sustainable Flatbush as we build a local sharing economy.

The idea is to create a space where people can come together to enjoy a healthy free meal, get to know each other, and exchange ideas on how we as a community can become more engaged in the transformation to a society that is more equal and sustainable. To plug out of the mainstream for a day, abandon the tradition of Black Friday that comes with excessive consumerism, and discuss real alternatives.

Hope to see you there!

Sustainable Flatbush first annual Buy Nothing Day Community Meal! 

Friday November 25th from 6 until 8pm 

All Souls Bethlehem Church

Keeping It Green

Maybe I was a little harsh.  My last report on my bi-weekly CSA pick up pointed out the meagerness of some of the offerings.  I’ve been noting all summer the harsh effects of climate change (f/k/a global warming) on home gardeners across the country.  According to an email that I received this week, re-posted below, we are not alone.  Larger local growers, as well, have felt the impact of unpredictable weather this season, which has run the gamut from drought to flooding, and has resulted in various pests brought in on the winds of Irene, blight, rot, increased sick days and low worker morale.  I just wanted to take a minute to say that I do try to give a fair and accurate picture of this – my first – CSA experience, but it doesn’t always capture the whole picture.  This is why I have invited others to tell me their stories, share their experiences, suggest additional alternasources, and, now, why I am forwarding the (very thoughtful) message I received a couple days ago from the organizers of my CSA and the farmers who grow some of the pretty awesome food I’ve been eating this summer.

Recently at a farmers market in Fort Greene, I saw signs from GrowNYC calling for donations to help organic/local farmers whose crops were damaged or wiped out by Hurricane Irene.  Their efforts are still underway.  One of their suggestions for how to help, in addition to direct donations, is to commit to eat locally as much as possible in September (the “locavore challenge”).  I’m encouraging all of you/us to continue this commitment through the end of the year, since it will take more than a month’s effort to help the farmers recover losses from a season screwed up by the environmental mess that we’re in.  Please share your stories here and beyond about what you are doing to participate in an extended locavore challenge (if the Occupy Wall Street protesters aim to make it through the winter, so can we).  Updates ahead on ways I’ve been putting my CSA treats to work.  Please pass along your recipes, suggestions, etc., on where/what/how to advance the local-eating agenda.

Here’s the email….

Chris and Eve have sent an update about the difficulties they’ve experienced this growing season, which I’ve shared below. We’ll be sending everyone an end-of-season survey later on, but if you have any feedback to pass on to the farmer before then, feel free to email the core group at


On behalf of the KWT CSA core group

From the farmers:

This has been a challenging last couple of months and although we were not wiped out by the hurricane the amount of rain has been a huge issue affecting the quality of many crops.  Not just with organic growers, as conventional farmers in the northeast are experiencing similar challenges and losses.

Under the circumstance we try to stay optimistic about the situation. All seasons are different and rarely are they void of conditions at some time that will have an impact on quality, quantity or diversity.    Farms in the northeast can be impacted by one or more problems like pests, drought, disease, flooding or other issues  outside of the farmers control.   Other farms even 100 miles away may have a totally different growing experience in a season.

I met with Cornell cooperative extension today to seek professional help (as I do throughout the season) regarding three different crop disease issues  and one pest issue tied directly to the wet weather.  They believed the steps that we had taken were sound and accurate given the tools we have under the national organic standards.  I also learned about the vast damage and loss of  crops in our region to conventional farmers who can use chemicals as a tool.  That didn’t make me feel better; I just wished conditions were better.

In conclusion, we are disappointed that we were struck with tomato blight this year,  that we have received almost double our annual rainfall total (most of which in the last month and a half),  that we were hit with damaging hurricane winds and pests and insects that were transported with winds.  What does this mean for crops:

Cracking and rotting of root crops like sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes and carrots.  Tomato quality and loss due to blight which kills the plant and cracking and rotting due to excessive rain.  This means we have to throw out a lot of produce.  Heavy rain and pooling of water leads to leaf disease on all kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, head lettuce, beans beets and many more.  In extreme cases plant roots can suffocate leading to the plant wilting to the ground.  That has happened to broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts.  Seedlings that wilt off or get damaged by heavy winds and pounding rains.  Seeding schedules get thrown off because the ground is too wet to work.  Cultivation and weeding schedules are difficult to maintain.  Farm help doesn’t want to work and morale is affected and sick days increase.

These are some of the issues that are a result of the extreme weather we are experiencing.  We don’t like some of the challenges it has created and we feel grateful that it wasn’t worse for us and our csa members.


QUESTION: And you?  What will you do to keep it green?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Taking it to Another Level: fellow blogger learns the secrets of grow lights and water ways

Hello fellow revelers,

Just wanted to share a recent post from a fellow gardening blog, Gardening in the Boroughs of NYC.  I met the author at the recent Big BK Seed, Etc., Exchange.  I love this description of how she went to a lecture on hydroponic farming, which was informative but only served to even further pique her curiosity on the subject.  Instead of setting down her pen and checking off the lecture as another thing done on her list of to-dos, she dug in deeper, and farmed for a way to learn more.  She wound up with an internship to learn the deeper ins and outs of hydroponic farming with Boswyck Farms of Bushwick. 

The post is a good reminder of the virtue in each of us, individually and collectively, to roll up our sleeves, dig in the dirt, learn the earth and its resources, explore new methods of doing, telling what we’ve learned and sharing, to the best of ability, our means to do more with less. 

Revel reading, y’all!