Archive for June, 2010

Running and Music

Yesterday, The Tragically Hip saw me through the last hill (and it’s a helluva hill) of my run.  As the song built in intensity, I was inspired to push harder when I could have easily quit and walked.  Today, as I got to the top of that same hill, Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah finished and my run ended up feeling like some deeply inspired religious experience.

I know that some runners can’t do the music thing.  I totally respect their focus–listening to breathing, being “in” the running and all.  But I can’t do that.  I need to be as distracted as possible.  And my tiny little iPod shuffle, on “shuffle,” magically provides a soundtrack that makes me feel thoughtful, nostalgic, worldly, or powerful, all at the right moments.

Now, we can go into the whole “which came first” q & a:  Do I think I need the song because the song happens to come up?  Or does the iPod know what I need?  But I’d rather think of this as some divinely serendipitous culmination of universal forces feeding my body and soul (how’s that for reaching?) just when I need them.

And while the iPod is predisposed to provide me with music I love (I loaded it, after all) sometimes the order of the songs is so perfect that it really feels like it’s sensing my mood and needs.

Regardless of how or why it all works, I’m grateful for that tiny miracle of music that in all my wildest dreams I couldn’t have dreamed.  Who from the Sony Walkman days could have thought that something as tiny as an iPod Shuffle could provide something so necessary?  I can’t even imagine running without it.  Running without an iPod would be like starting my day without coffee.  I just wouldn’t.  Running changed my life and my iPod made it first tolerable and eventually something I can’t do without.

And so, to the music that fuels me and the tiny device that brings it to me, thank you.


Ethical Reflection: Part One

Though always part of my peripheral vision, ethical living hasn’t been as fully investigated as I’d like, so I’m spending a few days… or  weeks… evaluating.

There are some general lifestyle things that I definitely know I’m doing right:


We joined a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.  It’s local and organic.

Other Food Purchases

We basically shop the outer edges of the grocery store.  The only “processed” food we buy is breakfast cereal. I use my reusable shopping bags 90% of the time.  (I’ll talk about the other 10% in the section “Things I’m not doing right.”)  We buy from local, Fair Trade or organic suppliers whenever possible.  We purchase no beef and almost no other meat.  My daughters are vegetarian, and I’m vegan.  My husband eats poultry or fish about once a week at our house.  Those products are always free range/organic.


I started composting last summer, but am now really getting the hang of it.  Almost no food ends up in our trash (or a landfill).  We recycle everything that our municipality allows.  In an average week, we throw out about 3 white trashbags of stuff.  If we had a better recycling program in our neighborhood, we could cut it down to less than  one, I’m sure.  This said, we know of people who do better.  They actually save everything that can be recycled and drop it off at other recycling centers when they go out of town.  This might take more patience than I have and might demand that we travel more than I’d like.

Energy/Resource Efficiency

We have low-flow showerheads, a front load washer, other Energy Star appliances (please note, however, that the Energy Star rating system is not the greatest) and energy efficient lightbulbs.  Every winter we put plastic on our windows to cut down on our heating.  It really works!  But we have issues.  See # 2 and #7 below.


The last 2 pairs of shoes I’ve purchased have been Toms.  For every pair you buy, they provide a pair to a child who doesn’t have any.  As for clothing, I spend so little money on clothes, it might be embarrassing.  My older daughter is a fan of Plato’s Closet, a teen-oriented second-hand store, and Goodwill.

Eating Out

On average, we probably eat out once a month.  When we do, we only patronize local restaurants.  Most of them work really hard to use local growers/farmers.  We have sworn off chain restaurants.

Things that are not so good…

1. I almost never hang my laundry out to dry (at least not literally).  I plan to get a clothesline tomorrow.

2. My air conditioning occasionally gets turned on.  It was turned on for 24 hours over the weekend.  And though I set the thermostat to 80 (the house was up to 85), it’s still using electricity, burning dirty coal. This is not good. ( I know that you’re thinking I’m nuts.)

3. I drive my car to work.  The bus schedule would work for me to get to work, but not to return home at the right time. My daughter has been begging us to move downtown.  This would mean that I could walk or ride my bike. That would be great.  The conundrum is that we love our neighborhood and selling a house seems really drastic.

4. I do sometimes shop at box stores (though never Walmart).  I shop at Target, which has also been embroiled in sweatshop/child labor issues.  I’d really like to shop more local businesses.

5. I know we could do better with charitable giving.  We only give about 2.5% of our annual income to charity.

6. When I’m not using my reusable shopping bags, it’s typically because we run out of grocery store plastic bags which we use to line our bathroom garbage cans and to pick up doggie doo-doo.  It’s always been a money-saving strategy for me. I’m not sure that buying plastic bags is better than getting them for free at the grocery store.  Still, I’m using and throwing away plastic bags.

7. We bought a small fridge for our garage.  The primary reason was because the produce we’re getting every week from our CSA won’t fit into our regular fridge (oh, the irony).  The secondary reason is that during the holidays or any other time I’m hosting a gathering, I have no room for all the food.  The third reason is my husband’s beer.  Still, we have two refrigerators.  I’ll see how much higher my electric bill is next month.

So, this is my overview of what I can easily see.  I’ll be picking these apart and sharing ethical dilemmas as they come up….

I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts on this stuff!!!

Is “perfectly ethical” possible?

Casually strolling across a beautiful campus after teaching two courses that morning, I was thinking about how lucky I am.  I have, literally, everything and I need, and then some.

It started me thinking about a topic I always return to:  How does the way I live help or hurt others?

As I’ve written in earlier blogs, we make choices with our dollars everyday that count as votes for certain products and companies.  Those products and companies have vast and complex ramifications.  Participation in their existence makes me culpable.  By patronizing a particular store or purchasing a certain product, I am endorsing everything about it.

The problem is that we consumers are mostly ignorant about the products we buy.  And it’s often too much work, or it doesn’t even occur to us to wonder about the origins of our purchases.  Corporations make great efforts to put on a happy face, both figuratively and literally (Walmart, anyone?).  But I really believe that we have a serious responsibility to act wisely; to do this, we have to be informed.  We can’t allow our privilege to be both a physical and intellectual shield from those who are victims of economic, political, or environmental powerlessness.

Meanwhile, I have doubts that our society allows for us to change so drastically.  Our lifestyles are such that we consume more than anyone else in the world.  We have large homes, drive big cars lot of miles, spend lots of money on lots of things…  I thought I was doing well, actually, until I took one of those on-line quizzes and found that if everyone in the world lived like I do, we’d need 3 Earths to support us all.

Is it possible, then, to make choices that, at the very least, hurt no one and at best, help people?

Clearly, there are obvious answers and then some not-so-obvious ones.

Obviously, anything produced by people who are exploited and abused is unethical.  Anything that degrades our environment is unethical.  And so some of my choices are clear.

In an all or nothing scenario, however, there are some murky areas where I feel I’m a bit tied down.  Is it realistic to investigate every purchase I make or store or restaurant I patronize?  I suppose it’s possible…

And then there’s the matter of opinion or values of varying weight.  For example, some would argue that it’s better to buy local than organic.  Some would argue the other direction.  If I buy clothes at a second-hand store but those clothes were still made in a sweatshop somewhere, am I immune from responsibility?  I kind of think, “No.”  Here, my values will be differently ethical from someone else’s.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be concentrating on lots of stuff and sharing my victories, defeats, and questions.  I’ll be thinking about my consumption of resources, behavior, spending, and we’ll see what else.

Stay tuned…