Pass on the Plastic: Save the Planet

I stopped into a small local store recently, The Paper Pedlar. After being in the gift-wrap business since 1950, the owners are retiring and everything was 70% off. There wasn’t much left to buy but I found some boxes of taper candles, a couple rolls of wrapping paper, glider planes, pens, and eraser party favors for the grands, and a nice wicker basket that I’m sure I’ll find some use for.

I’m always a bit sad when a local store closes and this one is no exception. It’s been a reliable go-to for gift wrap, sold at a discount; paper party goods, stationery items, and gifts. I’m even sadder that the historic building is being razed, along with a few of its neighbors, for a Wawa market.

I think the owners may have tried to sell the business if they weren’t being forced out. It’s successful, convenient, and they were ever so helpful. I don’t quite understand the need for another market, as there’s a Shop-Rite next door.

Wandering around the near-empty store, I remembered the many parties where I carefully selected colorful paper plates, napkins, and plastic ware. My basement still holds many leftovers. I resisted buying more.

I’m trying to move away from single-use products. I ordered reusable mesh bags for produce and bring my own bags to the market. I have plenty of cloth napkins so they can replace paper. I’m trying but don’t feel it’s nearly enough. So many foods come shrink-wrapped, or atop unrecyclable Styrofoam trays. So many non-food items come triple wrapped in plastic difficult to remove.

Remember The Graduate, the 1967 movie, starring a young Dustin Hoffman playing a recent college graduate, Benjamin Braddock. He’s given this advice:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it….

 There’s very little in our daily lives that doesn’t involve something plastic. And we’ve created a monster. Our reliance on plastics has pervaded the environment; many types aren’t recyclable. The story about a dead whale found with 80 pounds of plastic in its stomach should scare us all.

Last week, teenagers around the globe participated in a strike to draw attention to climate change and the environment. We haven’t been very good stewards of the Earth; I’m worried about the planet I’m leaving my grandchildren and their children. Thankfully these teenagers are taking action where world leaders have failed. Earth Day is next month. Let’s act.



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Read: Susan Orleans’ The Library Book

Run, don’t walk to your library and borrow Susan Orleans’ page-turner, The Library Book. Sure, you could download it or buy a copy. But it’s about libraries and library books, so getting it from the library seems like the right thing to do.

A devastating fire at the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986 prompted Orleans to undertake this story. And while the fire— the amount of damage, the arson suspect, the rebuilding, renovating and restocking are all part of the tale, there’s much more.

History of libraries. History of library fires. History of the LA library and its eclectic series of directors since its founding in 1926. And a love of reading and books, page after page, after page.

For non-fiction, it reads like a mystery, a romance, and a history. Orleans deftly lists statistics – numbers of books, periodicals, artworks, maps, and so on lost in the fire. She describes vividly the vast array of characters involved in the library’s story, past, and present.

There are plenty of anecdotes, each more interesting than the next. I loved the description of Ray Bradbury. Growing up in the Depression, he couldn’t afford college. So after high school, he spent the next 13 years at the LA Public Library, reading profusely, across genres, fact, and fiction. He called himself “library- educated.” With four small daughters at home, and unable to afford an office, he went to UCLA’s Powell Library to write, rented a typewriter for 10 cents an hour, and wrote “The Fireman.” Looking for a better title, he called the chief of the LA Fire Department and asked what temperature paper burns. Hence, Fahrenheit 451 was born. When the library burned in 1986, all the fiction from A-L was destroyed, including all books by Bradbury.

I’m a library lover from childhood. I remember being thrilled when I could get my own card. The general policy of public libraries is children can receive their own card when they can write their own name. I’ve witnessed this rite of passage with my children and grandchildren. I remember card catalogs, dates being stamped in the back of the book, and paper library cards. But I’m not nostalgic: wooden card catalogs have been repurposed, and I’m quite comfortable with using the online catalog.

I usually visit my local library weekly. I borrow fiction and non, travel guides, children’s’ books when I know the grands are visiting, and books on cd for the car. I love browsing the shelves with new acquisitions, sampling titles from genres I might normally overlook. I know the knitting book collection by heart and love when I search the stacks for a specific title, I end up scanning the shelves near the title, reading book flaps and backs, and borrowing even more books.

Support your local libraries. Thank your librarians. And read Susan Orleans’ The Library.





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Orchid Show: NY Botanical Gardens

The weather outside is cold and there’s still snow on the ground. Inside, it’s warm and humid, thanks to annual Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens. We made our yearly pilgrimage and then ate fabulous Italian food on Arthur Ave., in the Bronx.

This year’s theme is Singapore, a city- state known for its diverse population and commitment to the environment. I’ve never been, and after the garden visit, I’m eager to go.








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Bare Legs in Winter

Between climate change and overheated buildings, I never know what to wear in winter. Layers help. Still, I err on the side of caution; gloves, scarf, and hat are always part of my daily attire. Since I became a dog owner  I’m out early in the morning and bundle up, prepared for wind and longer walks.

Thanks to aging feet issues, I’ve shifted my wardrobe more towards pants and comfortable walking shoes. Yet, I still own several skirts and a couple dresses, and lots of opaque tights to complement outfits. When I taught middle school, I wore tights of every color and pattern- a signature style my students enjoyed discussing.

With a day in New York City planned, and a weather forecast of mid-40, I opted for a skirt, sweater, tights, and short boots. I knew I’d be walking a lot. I still had a scarf, hat, and gloves.

Part of the fun of a NYC day, is people watching.

I guess I missed the fashion memo about stockings.

Bare-legged, no matter the weather, seems the norm. With high heels.

I saw women stocking-less and felt cold for them. Goosebumps on bare legs.

This style is evident on television shows as well. We’ve been catching up with Madame Secretary where all the women go without hose while wearing winter coats.

When did stockings become passé?




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Knitting as Protest

Frustrated with the delays in her daily train commute, Claudia Weber, an office clerk at a travel agency, returned home each evening and knit.

And knit and knit and knit, each row representing the time lost on her way to work during what should be a 40-minute commute from Moosburg, Germany to Munich. Sometimes she arrived two hours late, having to transfer to a bus thanks to track repairs.

Her four-foot scarf dubbed “Bahn-Verspatungsschal”- train delay scarf, went viral on social media and then raised 7,550 euros ($8,650) for a German charity that provides free assistance to people at train stations.

As a knitter, I admire how she employed her passion to mitigate her annoyance. I wonder why she waited until she got home. I’d carry a small project with me, just in case the train stopped mid-ride. Knitting for me is the perfect anecdote to boredom, when reading takes too much concentration. I knit in doctors’ offices and hospital waiting rooms, in the car, and while watching television.

Yet perhaps Weber is a modern-day French revolutionary Madame Defarge, chronicling history in yarn. Charles Dickens’ character in A Tale of Two Cities encrypted the names of those awaiting execution into hand knit garments.

Imagine if us knitters (crocheters, too) knit every time the “infant in chief “ lied or every time someone incurs injustice? We’d have piles of scarves to give to the homeless. Or we could yarn bomb as expressions of protests.

Grab the needles!

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Fire at CT’s Shakespeare Theater

My heart weeps for a Connecticut theater destroyed by fire recently.

I grew up attending performances at the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford, CT. My mother took my sister and me to its shows, mostly Shakespeare plays; it’s where my love for the bard was born.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate the names of the actors I saw: Katherine Hepburn, James Earl Jones, and Morris Carnovsky. We’d picnic on the lawn overlooking the shoreline and loved the building itself, modeled after the Globe in England.

I played the Wall in the Pyramus & Thisbe scene in Act V of Midsummer’s Night Dream at a local summer camp. Decades later, as a middle school teacher, I taught the same play and directed student productions.

When my then boyfriend first met my family, my mother took us to a performance of Othello. Maybe not the best play for romance, but it began our Shakespeare journey together. Living in London from 1982-1987, we attended as many Royal Shakespeare Company shows as we could. Returning to the US, we were (and continue to be) delighted to find the Shakespeare Theater of NJ 20 minutes from our house.

As yet, no cause of the fire has emerged. Arson? I hope not.

Let’s treasure our art spaces; it’s what makes us human.

The Globe in London




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Grandma Diary: Scrabble!

I try to visit my three grands once a week after school. This week I picked them up. As we walked to the car, I asked the eldest, 9, how his day was. “Great,” he replied.

“What made it great?” I asked.

“Well, for one, you.”


In the car, all three buckled and happy snacking on the mini-banana-oatmeal muffins I made, I asked what else made the day great. By then, the focus had moved onto other things – the three arguing about whether or not to play a CD or just talk, so whatever else occurred during the day was lost for the moment.

At home, we played some Monkey in the Middle (inside), and even though it was freezing, I suggested we go outside. My granddaughter, 7, wanted to play soccer.

It took a little convincing to get them to wear at least a fleece jacket and hats. We kicked the ball a bit in the yard.

Hand-knitted hats

Returning inside, I asked if they wanted to play some games. Often the 9-year-old ensconces himself in Legos; the 7 plays with me a little, and the 5, hovers around, observing. I can still read aloud to him and his sister, especially while they’re eating dinner.

Lately, their games have become very complicated. Too hard to teach me. Too many pieces, requiring lots of time. Gone are the days of a few rounds of Connect Four or Uno. Now it’s intensive board games. Dominion, for one.

At an impasse, I suggested a lifelong favorite of mine, Scrabble.

We agreed to play an open board and not keep score. Even the eldest joined in. I explained the rules and taught a few strategies. We consulted a dictionary a couple times. We traded letters and helped each other. By the time the letter bag was nearly empty, they’d grown tired of the game and we put it away.

But the seed’s been planted. I have another game that I can play with them and in time, they’ll certainly overtake my abilities.

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