The Suitcase Lady


July 18, 2017, 9:10 pm

Say the word “sand” and most of us think of beaches, deserts or sandboxes. We don’t think of the word “scarce”. So I was surprised to come across a New Yorker article entitled, “The End of Sand”.

Living on top of a sandbox with a beach at the end of the yard, I thought I was fairly well versed about these teensy, tiny rocks. It appears I have much to learn.

For example, geologists define sand not by composition, but by size, the grains being between 0.0625  and 2 millimeters across. Next above it on the scale is gravel and below it is silt.

Sand is mostly quartz, the commonest form of silica, but ocean sand will have lots of shell pieces mixed in. The White Sands in New Mexico are gypsum and black sands are from volcanic rocks.

Rocks go through a rock cycle (the universe being crazy for circles) and one geologist notes that “perhaps half of all sand grains have been through six cycles in the mill, liberated, buried, exposed and liberated again”. We do live on a geologically active planet or, as I explain to my younger students, earth really does rock and roll.

According to National Geographic, deserts cover more than one fifth of Earth’s land. However, the majority of these deserts are not sand. Only about 10 to 20 per cent of deserts are sandy. The rest are made of gravels, boulders and various soils such as clay.

Now for the real surprise. As improbable as it sounds, the planet, or more correctly, the human species, is running out of sand. According to a United Nations report, “sand and gravel (aggregates) are the largest volume of raw material used on earth after water. Formed by erosive processes over thousands of years, they are now being extracted at a rate far greater than their renewal.”

How can this be possible?  An American Geological Society report states that the typical American house requires a hundred tons of  sand, gravel and crushed stone for the basement, garage and driveway, and more than two hundred tons if you include the street that runs in front of it. A mile long section of a single lane of an American interstate highway requires 38,000 tons. And we aren’t the only ones on the planet who are digging and dredging. China hopes to complete 165,000 miles of new roads by 2030…..that’s three and a half times the  length of our Interstates.

There is a conclusion to be reached here: go to the beach before it gets turned into a skyscraper, interstate, computer chip, fracking fill or artificial dune in front of some threatened oceanfront McMansion.

Magnified grains of sand.

Magnified grains of sand – Source

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July 11, 2017, 9:43 pm

Last week, I was driving  home through a small town and spotted a little red and green plaid, upholstered couch curbside in front of a house. A hand lettered sign was propped up on the cushions:


That brought a smile to my face. No highly paid  copy editor, I thought, could have expressed it more concisely.

Since I was not in need of a couch, even one sans vermin, I keep on driving. I’m sure our cats would have loved the sofa for cuddling and scratching purposes, but they will have to do without.

The funny sign got me thinking of things that are free. America is a place where a price is put on almost everything, including the space where you put your feet in an airplane or the air you put in your tires. Sometimes it seems like we are only free to be ripped off.

So I love a bargain, and getting something that is genuinely free is the ultimate bargain. But I am also somewhat of a minimalist and I don’t take free stuff if I don’t have a need for it.

Our home has many useful and beautiful things which have come without price tags. For example, I rescued my wonderful wooden palette and paint chest from a New York garbage can. Our beach glass collection is getting so heavy, I fear for the floor. A starfish sofa pillow washed up on the beach one night, and all our beach toys were gifts from the lake. I must add, however, that the waves recently took back all the beach toys.

One of my favorite things to get free are books. Every Saturday when we take our recyclables (and garbage) to the town’s recycle center, I get something in return. Our recycle lady selectively retrieves books that people toss in the paper recycle dumpster and has created an interesting little free library.

Perhaps my father is responsible for teaching me to find joy in the ultimate free things. I remember him often singing one of his favorite songs, The Best Things in Life are Free, which was written in 1927 for a musical called Good News. Click here for the Jo Stanford version.

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July 4, 2017, 10:43 am

It’s the Fourth of July, and many of us are not in a celebratory mood. We are too consumed by fear that the precious remains of our Democracy are slipping away. But instead of expounding on our national nightmare, I would like to think of the greatness that remains in our country.

Heroes these days tend to be superheroes, fictitious characters that  swoop in and miraculously, and often violently, fix all problems. Real heroes, on the other hand, have strong moral compasses, incredible work ethics, unglamorous lives and the usual human failings.

The patriots I have in mind live in a modest mid century ranch house and were thrilled when a Dollar General store moved into their tiny rural town. They sleep in a Murphy bed when they visit their other place…The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

After leaving the White House in 1981, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter went home to Plains, Georgia. Wishing to give purpose to their remaining years, they conceived the idea for the Carter Center. A nongovernmental organization, the Carter Center has three objectives: waging peace, fighting disease, and building hope.

I will site only one of their many achievements. The health initiative focuses on neglected and life-destroying tropical diseases. When the Center started working to eliminate Guinea worm disease, there were 3.5 million cases in 21 countries. In 2017, only 25 cases were reported worldwide……eradication is clearly in sight. This was accomplished with a small staff and a modest budget compared to other “charities”.

The two people who have done so much to improve the lives of millions worldwide are utterly human. Rosalynn was a teenager when she married Jimmy on July 7, 1946. She was a navy wife for the first seven years of their marriage and her husband was a nuclear physicist working on submarines. Then Carter’s father died and Jimmy decided to return to Georgia as there was no one else to run the family peanut farm business. Rosalynn loved the Navy life.

I must note that what I retell next I heard first hand from the Carters at a Carter Center meeting.

It seems that Jimmy Carter unilaterally made the decision to retire from the Navy and go home to Plains. Rosalynn was furious that she was not included in the decision making process. Being a true Steel Magnolia, she took action, or I should say, inaction. The long drive from Schenectady to Plains was a silent one……..she refused to speak to her spouse for days. President Carter now publicly acknowledges that he did not take the high or fair road in this situation.

In 2009, Jimmy Carter wrote an open letter to his church of 60 years, the Southern Baptist Convention, severing his ties because of the second class status they accord women. He has since been a champion of women’s rights stating that, “The most serious violation of human rights on earth is the abuse of women and girls.”

Many more heroes will emerge as the American story continues. My ardent wish is that the majority of Americans recognize them when they appear.

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June 27, 2017, 9:06 pm

Americans love fads. Foods are no exception. At the current moment, the top celebrity foods are kale, bacon, technicolor sugar bombs known as “unicorn food” and anything without gluten. All are guaranteed to make one immortal, blissful or both.

These ingestibles have one thing in common: corporations can charge obscene prices for them. Just check out the price of a teensy bag of kale chips at Starbucks.

Not everyone, however, is buying in. I did laugh out load when this FB post popped up……”If you stir coconut oil into your kale, it makes it easier to stir into the trash.”

I think I’ll launch my own food fad. I’ll call it the Swiss Chard Fan Club. Like everything else I do, it will be a non-profit.

With the exception of not being Swiss, Swiss chard has a lot going for it. It’s wildly nutritious, low calorie, beautiful and IT TASTES GOOD. Plus, it is easy to prepare. Simply tear the deep green, red-veined leaves off the big red stem and cook them a few minutes.

Botanically, Swiss chard (scientific name Beta vulgaris cicla) is from the beet genus. Beetroots and sugar beets are relatives. The plant is native to Europe’s Mediterranean where it is widely used in the cuisine.

So if you are not completely smitten by kale, “the Lady Gaga of greens”, you might want to give chard a try. Bacon crumbles on top are optional.

Flickr: by godutchbaby

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June 20, 2017, 9:50 pm

The beach in front of our house looks like a giant has been playing pick up sticks with the trees. All down the shoreline, major trees are uprooted, their trunks crisscrossing the beach, their leaves and needles torn off by the waves. This spring has been a wild one.

Twenty feet of our cliff was ripped out in two days by nine foot waves exposing yards of tangled roots. It’s a scene of mass destruction. It’s also totally natural.

Living beside the world’s fifth largest lake is an amazing experience and a privilege. When we mention the recent events to friends, they start to give us sympathy. We appreciate the kindness directed our way. But we also try to explain that we are not upset or sad. Our house is not in jeopardy as it is far back from the cliff. Nature is just doing what nature does….cliffs erode, sands shift daily, trees turn into driftwood as lake levels rise and fall.

We both admit it was hard to watch the waves rip out 40 foot tall birch trees that were just leafing out. Ditto for a dozen little pine trees including the one we did not harvest for last year’s Christmas tree.

But action is better than fretting. At the height of the waves’ fury, we donned rain gear and rubber boots, went down the cliff and did a rescue operation. This was not reckless, but it was a muddy, wind-whipped, wet and hard job.

My husband literally grabbed and untangled little pines trees as they were being lashed about by the waves. Then we hauled them up the stairs with their bare roots trailing behind like streamers. We planted all the refugees immediately, fully realizing that all would not make it but wanting to give them a chance.

It is now about six weeks later. We have a number of brave little survivors pushing out new green needles. With luck, they will see many sunrises and sunsets, and, when they grow up, provide a home for future generations of birds, squirrels and myriad other wildlife.

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