Arts, Culture and Happenings in Oaktown

 

How to Have a Green Cold - The Green Scene - July 16, 2012

There’s no way to say that without sounding disgusting. Have a green virus? Suffer sickness in a green way? Gross.

What I mean is, you can go ahead and have your summer cold and flu without damaging the environment. I just recovered from my de rigueur annual summer cold and it was no fun, but guess how many redwood trees or whales or monarch butterflies were harmed in the process? None. I came through this tedious summer malady with my eco-credentials intact.

Gesundheit!

We don’t use Kleenex in this house; we use handkerchiefs. As it happens, my mother-in-law thinks the ideal gift for Mr. Husband is a new package of white handkerchiefs for every Christmas. That’s 50-some packages of hankies, my friends. He was giving them away to Goodwill for a while, but I made him stop. We can use those, I said, instead of endless boxes of tissues.

Photo By: Julia Park-Tracey

I found a pretty box designed for storing photos, etc, and it has a nice piece of elastic around it to keep it closed. All the laundered hankies go in there until someone has a cold. Then the box comes out, and a laundry basket goes near the user, and it’s really no different than using up a couple of boxes of tissues. And it’s much gentler on the nose.

How yucky is it to wash handkerchiefs? Not at all. You wash sheets and towels, don’t you? Throw the hankies in with the sheets and towels, or any other load of whites. Wash them in hot water and dry them on the line or in the dryer. Heat and light will help kill germs (note: this won’t kill every germ — you’ll have to turn your water heater up to 180 degrees and add some bleach for that — not so good for the planet). They are no more disgusting than a dirty towel or baby burp cloths. And since I just fold and put them back in the box, it’s not like there’s a lot of extra work involved, O Lazy Ones. A handful of handkerchiefs will not overload the laundry, I promise. (And why so squeamish about your own body, anyway? Might want to take a look at that; I’m just saying…)

BTW, I don’t iron handkerchiefs because it’s important that they stay soft and absorbent. (I do iron my pretty little lady hankies that I take to weddings and movies for gentle weeping, but those are not sturdy enough for a head-cold.) If you don’t have access to a washer or have some other reason that you can’t use handkerchiefs, at least purchase recycled paper tissues (Full Circle, Seventh Generation, Green Forest are some brands you may recognize). And then dispose of these in the garbage, not the recycling bin. I also recommend against composting used tissues of any sort – home compost piles don’t get near hot enough to kill germs like this, and you don’t want viruses hanging around in the soil. No, you do not. (Note: the link is to a blogger who won’t carry a hankie when he’s ill, so check him out and see the other side of the argument.)

Antibiotics: Just say no

The other major way you can impact the planet for good when you have a cold or flu is this: Do not ask for or take antibiotics. Antibiotics are not for viruses. They are for bacterial infections only. Sinus infection? Yes. Bad cold? No. Go to the doctor if you need clarification, but over prescription of antibiotics is a global disaster in the making. You make yourself resistant to antibiotics by using them when you don’t need them. Then you will need stronger drugs, and you might be out of luck when that time comes. Or you might find yourself with a flesh-eating bacteria or lots worse. So say no to the drugs unless it’s absolutely vital for fighting a bacterial infection. And your summer cold is not that.

How else can you take care of the planet when you’re taking care of you? Stay home and don’t spread your germs around. Wash your hands frequently with plain old soap and warm water. (Stay away from antibacterial soaps for the same reason to avoid antibiotics.) Rest and catch up on reading. Snuggle with your pets, who never get enough cuddle time. Listen to some of your vast music collection. Take naps. Ask someone to make you some soup (any clear broth-based soup is good for you.) Use old-fashioned remedies like steam, hot tea, lemons and honey, to help you get well.

It’s boring to be ill in fine weather, and vexing to have to miss a barbecue or a parade (I missed the entire Fourth of July holiday, boo!). Give yourself the week to be ill. And pat yourself on the back for making a baby eco-step while you’re at it.

Julia Park Tracey feels much better now, thank you.

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Julia Park Tracey is an Alameda eco-freak, writer, author, editrix and conservatrix of her great-aunt’s diaries from the 1920s. You can read more about Julia’s green-ventures at modernmuse.blogspot.com or follow her at facebook/julia.tracey. Her diary project is online at twitter/thedorisdiaries.

Clean out the Basement - The Green Scene - June 29, 2012

I had a toxic relationship with my garage. It was ugly in there. Cans of half-used paint that were there when we moved in. Pesticide – which I never use. Old building supplies, like hardened bags of plaster and grout that had never been opened but had gotten damp. A bottle of chalk for marking lines at the soccer field (we don’t play soccer). And a rusting can of some kind of tar stuff for patching the roof – stick on the outside and too scary to actually open.

Everyone knows (I hope) not to throw these things in the garbage – they will surely leak into the ecosystem – groundwater supplies, the watershed, wetlands, the Bay. The paint cans and containers are probably recyclable (steel?) but what’s inside is bad news. Please – don’t even think about pouring it into the gutter or down your storm drain. Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200 for that one (or you should).

But still – it seemed onerous to deal with the toxics. So there they sat – for six years. Six years of that corner of the garage out of bounds for storage or use. Six years while the cans and contents got a little funkier and leakier. All in all, not a good scene, and not very green nor healthful, either.

But I got a flyer in the mail from www.household-hazardouswaste.org  one day. It said “Free drop-off” of hazardous materials for county residents. The flyer listed the hours and days the facility was open. So first we put down a sheet of cardboard to catch any drips, then loaded up the back of the car. There is a limit to how much you can take to drop off, but a typical household is not likely to have more than 15 gallons of paint at one time.

The car ride took longer than the drop-off. And it was more painful, too, because the toxics were some nasty, bad-smelling stuff. I felt like we were losing brain cells just driving it across town and over the bridge – windows rolled down!

The drop off? Completely painless, free, and so fast that I wondered why I had waited six years. It went like this:

1.     Drive into driveway. Wait for car ahead of us – maybe a one minute wait.

2.     Nice man gives us a short form to fill out with name, address and what we were dropping off in general.

3.     We roll forward and a couple of workers open the trunk and take everything away, sorting it themselves. This takes about two minutes.

4.     They close the trunk and say goodbye. We drive away, not five minutes in total, and not a penny spent. We can still smell the fumes for a few minutes, but open windows clear the air.

5.     We go spend the rest of our day frivolously.

So what’s holding you back from getting rid of toxic waste in your basement, backyard, garage or back porch?

Here are the addressed of Contra Costa and Alameda sites. No appointment necessary. Check the web site for more information.

West County Facility 
101 Pittsburg Ave., Richmond 
(888) 412-9277 

Central County Facility 
4797 Imhoff Place, Martinez 
(800) 646-1431 

East County Facility 
2550 Pittsburg-Antioch Highway, Antioch 
(925) 756-1990 

Oakland
2100 East 7th Street

Fremont
41149 Boyce Road

Hayward
2091 W. Winton Ave.

Livermore
5584 La Ribera Street

More information is online at www.stopwaste.org and http://www.co.contra-costa.ca.us/depart/cd/recycle/options/v5951.htm

Julia Park Tracey is hazard-free now.

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Julia Park Tracey is an Alameda eco-freak, writer, author, editrix and conservatrix of her great-aunt’s diaries from the 1920s. You can read more about Julia’s green-ventures at modernmuse.blogspot.com or follow her atfacebook/julia.tracey. Her diary project is online at twitter/thedorisdiaries.

Easy Being - The Green Scene - May 17, 2012

Ten Ways to be Green Today (and not with envy)

A friend recently blogged about how she spent her frugal day (hello, Katy Wolk-Stanly and the Non-Consumer Advocate) and all the cool things she did in just a typical day that saved her money.

Shamelessly riffing on her Frugal Day is this, my Green Day, of how I – without pain or needless suffering – make green choices every day.

1.     Reheated yesterday’s coffee. I didn’t finish the pot of coffee yesterday, and sure, I could have thrown it out and made new fresh coffee. But where does coffee come from? Not Alameda County. No, it’s generally shipped from at least Central America or Hawaii, and at most, from Africa or farther afield. Shipping the coffee here uses fossil fuel and coffee in general has a pretty big carbon footprint. As well, it takes energy to grind and brew coffee. Reheating yesterday’s coffee saves the planet in a small way – which adds up if over a year, you make half as much coffee.  (And this one saves you money, too.)

2.     Used waxed paper to wrap up the Boy’s lunch. Plastic wrap takes a jillion years to decompose but waxed paper is compostable. Waxed bags are just as handy as plastic baggies for chips or other crunchy snacks.

3.     Reused a bag to hold his school lunch. We used to have about five reusable lunchboxes but somehow they’ve been lost along the way. I am hoping to find a decent one at Goodwill or other thrift store; in the meantime, we’re reusing bags that show up at our house.

4.     Parked at the mall and walked to all the stores I needed to visit. I batched my errands to avoid using fossil fuel for repeated stops and starts in the car. Walking to the post office, pet food store, office supply store and more made for free exercise as well as a savings in the fuel budget. Note that green activities often save you money, which is just completely bonus.

5.     Purchased recycled products: paper for the home printer, aluminum foil, and ball point pens made from recycled materials.

6.     Attended a marketing webinar at home, which saved on travel expenses, fossil fuels and all the expenses of leaving the house (coffee, parking meters, bridge tolls, etc.)

7.     Switched out rechargeable batteries for son’s video game controller.  We haven’t bought new batteries in months – maybe years. Invest in a charger for AA and AAA batteries, and 2-3 sets of batteries. Put one in each room where batteries are always in use (TV remote control or garage door opener?). That way it’s easy to find them when you need them, and the batteries get used over and over.

8.     Cleaned out empty paint cans and half-used junk from the basement. These are loaded in the back of the car for next time I swing through Oakland and can drop off (for free!) at the toxic waste place. (More on this in the next blog.)

9.     Took own water and coffee in the car; take own coffee cup to the coffee house whenever we go there; hang onto the cardboard coffee-sleeve (or use one of my home-knit ones) for reuse. I keep coffee sleeves in my purse and glove box just for this. I also keep one of those fast-food 4-cup cardboard cupholders in the car, under the front seat, for the next time we do a drive-through. Why not reuse the one instead of getting a fresh one every time?

10.  Ate leftovers for lunch.  How is this green? Food waste is one of the biggest offenders in creating methane gas. And studies show Americans throw out as much as 40 percent of the food they buy. That’s just not cool.

What are you doing to be green today? And, just a thought, how much are you saving by greening your life?

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Julia Park Tracey is an Alameda eco-freak, writer, author, editrix and conservatrix of her great-aunt’s diaries from the 1920s. You can read more about Julia’s green-ventures at modernmuse.blogspot.com or follow her at facebook/julia.tracey. Her diary project is online at twitter/thedorisdiaries.

Occupy Oakland May Day Protest - May 1, 2012.  Protestors congregated around Frank H. Ogawa Plaza and marched through downtown Oakland on Tuesday, May 1st.  

Photographer: Bincy Stephen

Unwanted Buzz - The Green Scene - May 4, 2012

We had a case of hives here. Or hive. I came home Friday evening with my arms full of groceries to discover that my kitchen was full of bees. (Full is a relative term.) One bee is slightly alarming in the kitchen. There were about 50 bees. And when I went into the living room, there were about 50 more in there. The kitchen window was open and I know it’s swarming season (when a hive has grown too big, it splits and half leaves with a new queen to find a new hive). I could see bees outside the window, too, so I assumed there was a swarm outside the window and that some had come in by accident.

Silly me.

First order of business was to wave the bees outside.  Although I’m the last person to want to get stung, the chances are actually slim when they’re swarming. Bees sting to protect their hive, and without a hive, they’re not on the defensive. So we gently ushered them out with manila folders and a soft whisk broom (it’s not unlike the bee brush I’ve used when brushing bees off the honey frames). But as soon as we got the last bees out, more appeared. We finally discovered that they were coming from under the sink — from out of the wall. That was bad news, for us and the bees. We were in a bit of a panic — not only did I have a kitchen that was still full of bees (and full means 20 or more at a time), I had a houseful of family coming for dinner in an hour. And it was a Friday at 5 p.m. Not good if you want to call for professional help.

We managed to use duct tape to cover the hole under the countertop, and kept all drawers and cabinets closed. I called the landlady, the property management and my husband in short order. After more sleuthing, we found that the bees were buzzing cheerfully in and out of a hole outside the building, in the shingles where a pipe goes in. More bad news for the bees. It’s easy for a bee-wrangler to rehouse a swarm in a tree, but not so easy to get bees out of a building. Since it was a new swarm, only a few hours old, we had time to get them out before they built comb and started foraging.

A series of phone calls, however, made it clear that, since we’re renters, we didn’t have a lot of power or choice about what happened. We’ve just recently moved. We have basically no tools, and no yard at this apartment where we could set up a hive. We had no ladder. I called and contacted some of the bee people I know, but at that time of day had no luck, and they also told me that bees in a building were probably doomed. We had to relinquish it to the property management.

Everyone knows that the bees are in trouble, right? That we desperately need honeybees to keep pollinating all the plants so we can continue to eat yummy food, and all that? I was very anxious not to harm these bees and see them installed safely elsewhere. But circumstances were galloping out of my control. As a certified (certifiable?) eco-freak, I honestly felt sick at the thought of harming the bees. Like I had a baby unicorn in my arms and the power to have it live or die. And I was up against an avalanche.

Under the sink, all exits blocked, the buzzing grew louder and louder. 

The landlady said no to having the bees extracted from the house. She didn’t want the siding damaged. The property management called a pest control company. The husband, trying to protect his family from a swarm of bees literally moving in under the sink, opened the door and sprayed Raid into the hole. My family ate pizza in the dining room and we kept the kitchen doors shut.

After dark, I crept in with a flashlight, on the advice of my beekeeper friend. I opened the door and looked inside. There were dozens, maybe 100 bees under the sink, but they were motionless. Hard to tell what was alive or sleeping. In the morning, when the sun hit the wall of the house, the buzzing began again under the sink. But we had a full day of activities planned, so we left. I didn’t want to be around for the bee annihilation to come.

But as it turns out, the pest company never came. The property manager’s weekend assistant misunderstood our problem and sent a plumber. The plumber sealed the entrance under the sink and outside as well, and the bees were trapped outside of the house. They couldn’t get in anymore, and they flew off. I think some must have died in the process, but they at least didn’t get destroyed, aside from the ones under the sink.

It’s an awkward ending, because I don’t know all that happened. It really illustrates how hard some of our choices are. Our best intentions toward Nature and the environment can come up against expedience, safety, and economics. People who can’t be bothered. People who don’t understand what is dangerous or not. I felt emotionally drained but relieved to find the holes sealed. As much as I love the bees, they can’t live in the kitchen. It just doesn’t work that way.

But to make it right with the universe, if such a thing is possible, I purchased a beehive for a needy family through Heifer International.

So did another friend of mine in my honor. So at least somewhere, there are two more beehives flourishing, and I hope this swarm found a better home.

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Julia Park Tracey is an Alameda eco-freak, writer, author, editrix and conservatrix of her great-aunt’s diaries from the 1920s. You can read more about Julia’s green-ventures at modernmuse.blogspot.com or follow her at facebook/julia.tracey. Her diary project is online at twitter/thedorisdiaries.

Editor’s Note May, 2012 - by Sarah Weld

The word “may”—also, for those paying attention, the name of this month—is a weighty word. May is perfectly open-ended, allowing for any outcome. It may work. It may not. You may make it in time. You may miss it. It allows for free will and random obstacles like weather, traffic, and bad luck. It’s a reminder to stay nimble, not get stuck, concentrate on may, not may not or can’t or won’t or not possible.


I may still become a famous published writer or concert pianist or fabulously wealthy or invent something incredible. May I? My kids may graduate from high school. They may go to college. (Hopefully, neither one is a may, but you never know.)

The month of May certainly does bring possibility, like the feathery pink cherry blossoms the other day. I rounded the corner and was suddenly underneath a cloud of them, their soft canopy just over my head. But as Shakespeare wrote, “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.” Anything could happen.

I asked my children what May meant to them and they said “homestretch, almost there,” which resonates if you are still a student. And if not, the residual rhythms of the school year still course through most of us, slowing us down come June. May is about graduations, college kids coming home, the promise of closed classrooms and summer vacations—and Mother’s Day. Mother may I?

Mothering is weighty, too. After all, you’re only responsible for the entire moral and physical development of a human being. On the other hand, since most of us have no idea what we are doing, it’s more often a matter of luck and pivoting quickly, like when you’re on the way to the supermarket and from the backseat, your 10-year-old asks at what age it’s okay to start having sex. I may have answered right. Or not. May Day!

Maybe one day they’ll realize we did get it right sometimes. As Billy Collins writes about his mother in “The Lanyard,” “Here is a breathing body and a beating heart … she whispered, and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp … I was as sure as a boy could be that this useless, worthless thing I wove out of boredom would be enough to make us even.”

And sometimes, it is enough. We lay four across a hotel bed last week—my children’s feet stretching almost past mine—discussing cows’ udders and second stomachs, in between reading our books. We may make it after all.

This Mother’s Day—that is, if you can’t make a lanyard anymore— you may want to do something different (check out our Shopping Around story on page 11 for some unusual ideas). Hang out with a mom. Play cards. Eat chocolate cake. Drink red wine. Go for a walk and find more cherry blossoms. Make May the month of “may” in all its unfurling, blooming uncertainty.

The Green Scene - April 19, 2012

I’m not a single female. Happily married, see? (waggles ring finger.) But I’m the only female in this house. So why am I head-down in the trash can? How did taking out the garbage become a gendered job? Should I feel like I’m doing the gentlemen (Mr Husband and The Boy) a big fat favor when I’m taking out the trash? Should I get annoyed when it’s still sitting here in the kitchen? Who died and made me the Boss of Everything?

Uh. No one. Of course, I wouldn’t be alone in thinking that taking out the trash is the man’s job. Check out these marriage experts, and this one, and even these knuckleheads who have strong opinions about the Taking Out of the Trash. Looks like everyone has some thoughts on the matter.

Amusing, but that’s not really our point today. I take out the trash as much as anyone else. It all depends who’s home when it’s full. But more important — it’s not just trash. We have a system of what goes where. Actual real garbage (which includes nasty bathroom stuff, old Band-aids and soiled plastics) is not much in existence at this house (apartment). We have a 1-gallon can in the kitchen that is lined with a small plastic grocery bag and is rarely even filled. One of us takes it down every week or so to the gray can. The gray can is usually pretty empty. We could get away with once-a-month service. Not so for the green and blue cans.

Everything else gets sorted and either composted or recycled. Broken glass? Recycled.

Electronics? Recycled.

Old clothes? Used for rags, then recycled.

Empty paint can? Recycled.

Paint can with some paint left over? Taken to Alameda County Industries for household hazardous waste disposal. (Free!)

Plastic bags? Collected and returned to grocery stores.

Sometimes people (I won’t name names) put the wrong thing in the trash. Bottle caps, for example, are recyclable. Don’t throw them in the garbage. How long do you think it takes a metal can or bottle cap to decompose in “garbage,” aka landfill? About 50 years. More or less.

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Julia Park Tracey is an Alameda eco-freak, writer, author, editrix and conservatrix of her great-aunt’s diaries from the 1920s. You can read more about Julia’s green-ventures at modernmuse.blogspot.com or follow her at facebook/julia.tracey. Her diary project is online at twitter/thedorisdiaries.

Although I hail from New York, a center for some of the world’s most renowned art institutions, it wasn’t until I relocated to the West Coast, that I truly began enjoying and appreciating art.  New York has an extensive art world that runs deep but it can also require deep pockets and projects a very subdued and pristine attitude.  After attending a few Art Murmurs and other various art shows, I was delighted at how affordable and diverse the concept of art is out here.  Beautiful hand crafted pieces aren’t hidden behind secured panels of glass and I don’t have to spend the day in hushed silence as I cautiously maneuver around large intimidating museums.  Art is everywhere in Oakland.  On the street, in pop up shops, in galleries no larger than my apartment and in renovated parking lots.  I can touch the art and speak to the artist, all in the same moment.  It is in a word gratifying.   
-Bincy Stephen, Photographer

Although I hail from New York, a center for some of the world’s most renowned art institutions, it wasn’t until I relocated to the West Coast, that I truly began enjoying and appreciating art.  New York has an extensive art world that runs deep but it can also require deep pockets and projects a very subdued and pristine attitude.  After attending a few Art Murmurs and other various art shows, I was delighted at how affordable and diverse the concept of art is out here.  Beautiful hand crafted pieces aren’t hidden behind secured panels of glass and I don’t have to spend the day in hushed silence as I cautiously maneuver around large intimidating museums.  Art is everywhere in Oakland.  On the street, in pop up shops, in galleries no larger than my apartment and in renovated parking lots.  I can touch the art and speak to the artist, all in the same moment.  It is in a word gratifying.   

-Bincy Stephen, Photographer