Monday, March 31, 2008

I Love April; it's National Poetry Month

I'm on leave from work now, but at school we'd always do "Poem in Your Pocket Day" to celebrate April's status as National Poetry Month. Most of the students ended up shuffling through the motions to get the class credit, but some really presented their favorite poems. Sometimes the poetry would be famous (Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise" showed up at least twice in any class), other times obscure, and occasionally it would be the student's own poetry.

I usually tried to choose something on the lighter side. Something that would demonstrate how to read a poem for an audience. Marge Piercy usually worked well. Shakespeare's sonnets, especially some of the more naughty bits, were popular. Langston Hughes reads consistently well. And anything satirical (seen as "in your face") was especially fun for the kids who got it.

Since I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to re-print poems in their entirety, I'm going to attempt to present a poem a day - just a stanza - and provide the link to the rest of the poem. That way, those who wish to read more can do so at a leisurely pace.

If anyone out there wants her/his poetry to be the choice of the day, just email it to me (Spell-check it and line it up, please. I'll print it as I got it.)

So, Happy National Poetry Month!

Here's my first offering. I can print the whole darn thing because I wrote it. Granted, I wrote it in the 5th grade. Then I won a poetry contest with it in the 7th grade. By the way, the prize I chose was Rick Springfield's LP Working Class Dog. Yeah! It was wicked good. The LP, I mean. The poem is pretty ridiculous. Here's my 5th grade poem:

Shadows dark and lonely
Drifting through the night
Quietly, quickly they move
Never a sound they make
In their moonlit passages.

copyright kdw, 1979

One More Reason to Buy Organic and Locally Grown

Did anyone else read the OP-ED about pesticides and songbirds in The Times yesterday? It talks about levels of pesticides used in Latin America and the deadly effect on North American songbirds. It also points out, briefly, that the areas in which the fruit and vegetables are grown are highly contaminated. Obviously, that can't be good for the people in the area. That's sort of an invisible aspect to the piece, however.

There are certain items I always try to buy organic. Being on leave from the Coop has made it difficult, if not impossible, to find organic grapes, for example. Since my baby loves blueberries, I cough up the $3.99 for a teeny-tiny clamshell of organic blueberries. We make those things last! We buy organic milk and organic yogurt to avoid fun additives like hormones and such. However, things that have peels are exceptions. Mangoes, lemons, oranges, bananas, avocados...I usually just get the everyday bargain available.

This OP-ED piece made me reconsider what I should be spending money on. The mangoes from Peru are my current guilty object. Not organic, they were probably grown with loads of pesticides. According to the author of this OP-ED, "Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of nontraditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe." Guilt! Our un-natural demand for things that have no business being eaten during Winter is causing extreme pesticide use in Latin American countries. It affects the residents, and it affects the animals that fly (and traipse) over the growing areas.

The types of pesticides and amounts used in these countries are illegal in the USA. However, we're still supporting their use through consumerism. As if the ugly turn in attitudes in the Democratic race isn't depressing enough. Now it's fruit and veggies! Oh, and coffee. Oh my. In case you don't get around to reading the article, here's the run-down of the top items to try to buy organic or US grown:

Organic Coffee is a biggie. Small coffee growers use the natural methods of shade and compost (leaf litter) to sustain their crops.

Organic bananas. Bananas are so bad for the soil as it is. According to the OP-ED, they are one of the crops that use the highest levels of pesticides. When I was in Costa Rica, my naturalist guide railed against banana crops in general due to their disproportionate use of the land's nutrients.

Only buy the following non-traditional Latin American crops if they are NOT grown in Latin America: strawberries, bell peppers, green beans, melons, tomatoes.

I suppose trying to buy food stuffs from local farms is the best idea. And local organic items are even better. It's expensive, but everything is getting more expensive. Also, I know that I could buy one less bag of chips to make up for the difference in price for mangoes or avocados. It's better for me anyway, right?

Here's the link to NYS Buy Fresh Buy Local.

Mission Accomplished: Earth Hour and a Half 2008

I have to admit, a bit sheepishly, I really enjoyed shutting off our lights, computer, television, radio, and even our phone for Earth Hour 2008. Granted, we left the humidifier in the baby's room on, and we didn't unplug the digital clocks. Yet we started just before eight o'clock, and we finally gave in to the pull of technology at about half past nine.

What did we do? Nothing too stunning. We lit a few candles. We chatted about our child, the week, apartment possibilities, how lucky we feel to be where we are (both literally and figuratively). We also shared a bowl of ice cream (Mmmmm. Breyer's Vanilla Fudge Twirl.) by candlelight. Not quite the romantic dinner I had created in fantasy, but it was darn good.

I suggested that we do a version of Earth Hour every week; my husband seemed less than thrilled, but he'll come around. I actually felt more relaxed and peaceful than I have in a long time. It was great!

Always the contrarian, hubby pointed out that we were probably the only ones within several blocks who were doing this. The lights from the park did penetrate our blinds with ferocity. Always the contrarian's answerer, I said it didn't matter. Did he have a problem with just hanging out with his loving wife and some candles? And wasn't it nice that we could snuggle and talk on the couch without the drone of electronic entertainment in the background?

We'll see if it becomes a weekly occasion. I hope so, but then I also thought I'd change more of my habits after seeing An Inconvenient Truth.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Planning for 60 minutes in the Dark

Earth Hour is basically a movement about turning off electrical equipment for 60 minutes.  It's not really that complicated, but it can take some planning.  I mean, what does one do on a Saturday night without the TV, computer, lava lamp, or blender?  

My romantic self is picturing a candlelit dinner of mushroom risotto, red wine, a mesclun salad, and lots of hand-holding and eye-gazing.  However, the fact is, we will have eaten before that, and my hands are unmanicured and dry from Winter.  
The website has some ideas for darkness activities.  One is "Clean Up Your Neighborhood!"  They suggest taking a flashlight and roaming the neighborhood picking up trash.  While my street could definitely use that, I wouldn't want to go alone, and I can't imaging hiring a sitter to wait for us in the dark while we are out cleaning up.  Next.  If we had older kids, their suggestion of "Do a Recyclables Scavenger Hunt" would be kind of fun.  Traipse through your apartment (or home, if you are so lucky) looking for and/or identifying opportunities to recycle.  I'm sure we have some lingering in the cupboard.  However, our off-spring will be sleeping.  Or he had better be sleeping.  And I don't think I can get my husband to go along with that without a child involved.    

I like the "Unplug and Chill Out" suggestion.  Interpret it any way you like.   Either that or having a few friends over for wine and cheese by candlelight.  I suppose that can be chilling out as well.  Either way, the lights and TV and Desktop will be off for at least an hour.  Who knows, maybe I'll even get a full night's sleep out of the deal.   

The concrete results are up for debate, but the most important impact, I think, is awareness of how much unnecessary electricity we use.  Are lights left on in empty rooms?  Do we lean into the Fridge pondering our next snack?  Is the computer left to its own devices while we go out and perform tasks and errands all day?  Ah well, I hope NYC joins in.  At least this one little household in Sunset Park will be tuning out for 60 or so minutes.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

IKEA Appears on the Horizon

About two weeks ago, the IKEA store put up its trademark yellow lettering. Even though the store won't open until early Summer (maybe sooner?), we now have the pleasure of anticipating its future place on the double-decker tours of Brooklyn from the green grass of Sunset Park. In fact, now the IKEA store is the most immediately recognizable point on the horizon. You can kind of see the blue strip lighting up Red Hook. If you click on the photo, you'll be rewarded with a glimpse of the yellow IKEA lettering. Otherwise, unfortunately for my photo, my camera is weak in the far-off detail department, so you'll need to check it out in person.

Signs of Spring in Sunset Park

Over the last few weeks, there has been a steady increase in playground attendance in Sunset Park. More parents and care-givers are coming with their munchkins in tow, and they are staying for longer periods of time. That's a definite sign of Spring's arrival. It is caused (I think) more by intense cases of cabin fever than pleasant weather. Still, it's nice to see more life in the park.

Another sign of upcoming Springtime glory is the appearance of tiny flowers in various nooks of the park. They've shown up kind of randomly so far. The photo shows a set of crocuses that I haven't seen in the park before. It'll probably be all over the place next week.

Friday, March 21, 2008

No Dine-In Brooklyn for Sunset Park

Apparently, from March 24th through March 31st, Brooklyn is having its own version of Restaurant Week. When I surfed to the official Visit Brooklyn website, I thought how cool that would be for Sunset Park. I mean, there are so many places on 4th, 5th, and 8th Avenue that I'd love to try. Sometimes a little incentive is what I need to leave my familiar trail of elotes and "#7 spicy" sandwiches. I entered Sunset Park into the menu bar, and waited. It reloaded, and then stopped. I figured the page had to load or something. All I saw was "2 for $23 at the following restaurants." Above it was Windsor Terrace, and below it was a list of the places that had what was promised: 2 for $23. Nothing from Sunset Park! Not even the new-ish Maria's Bistro Mexicano was listed. Its original location is participating, however.

At first I was annoyed. Then I realized that most of the places around here don't need to offer $23 (or even 2 for $23) special menus for three courses. Go to Tacos Matamoros on 5th, and you'd have to eat 10-15 tacos to reach the $23 price. Stop in at Nyonya on 8th, and you can already get an appetizer, meal, and dessert for around $23. Well, unless you order the Curry Fish Head or Jumbo Prawns. I suppose Nyonya would have been a good candidate.

And so, Dine-In Brooklyn munches on without Sunset Park. Our gentle neighbors to the north and south have the largest number of restaurants listed. Not too far a trip for someone who wants to support Brooklyn's nod to Restaurant Week.

Considering that we ordered in Maria's tonight, and despite the large amount of food, it was considerably less than $23 per person, I'm satisfied that we're getting a better deal here than everywhere else in Brooklyn will get with Dine-In Brooklyn going on. Eat up, Sunset!

*edit: According to the insert in the Spring 2008 Brooklyn! issue, Maria's Bistro Mexicano on 5th and 39th is indeed participating in Brooklyn's Restaurant Week.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

People Can Be So Good

Last week I was a bit soured on People. Some friendly neighborhood car-parker felt the need to push my car back three or four feet to make room for his (sorry, but I do think it was a guy) much larger car. He PUSHED it back while I had the emergency brake on. Crazy. I have a very artsy dent on my bumper, and the fancy license plate frame (free from the dealer) is broken into four pieces. Besides all that, he was still parked too close to the fire hydrant, but I guess the PAL license plate and stickers protect and serve more than neighborly actions.

Anyway, today sweetened my mood. I had taken my toddler to Key Food to pick up a few things for dinner, and somewhere between the arugula and the pie crusts, his hat went missing. I guess I was too distracted with winning at the stroller slalum course up and down the aisles. It's the cutest hat ever. In fact, it's so cute that I get a little embarrassed when I put it on my cherub's head. I prefer the less flashy side, but that baby loves the duck, or the "Quack Quack," as he calls it.

Once I'd carried the stroller up the stoop stairs and folded it up and brought the groceries and my son into the apartment, I realized that the duck was missing. I trotted back down to Key Food with babe in arm to see if it was anywhere to be found. It wasn't. I asked the very pleasant cashier. I asked the manager. I scooted up and down the aisles. I'll even admit I gave a side-long glance at several carts to see if it had been found by a fellow admirer of ducks. Nothing.

On my way home, I ran into a neighbor who spends a good amount of time on the block. He hadn't seen it either, but he said he'd keep an eye out. Pretty much, I had already started to come to terms with a life without the duck hat. Oh well. It wasn't a tragedy, but we never even had much of a chance to wear the hat!

Long enough story short, after about 15 minutes of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and throwing a few balls around the place, our doorbell rang. I figured it was another delivery for my downstairs neighbor. I think it's her birthday this week; she's already gotten two fancy cards and a FedEx package.

As I went down to answer the door, I saw the neighbor with whom I had chatted about the missing hat. He was holding a Key Food bag...and the hat was in the bag. Hooray for neighborly behavior! Hooray for people who turn things into the Lost & Found at Key Food! Hooray for doing the right thing and then some. It turns out, I had been too quick about getting back to the Key Food. The hat was with the cashier and when my neighbor asked about it, they very excitedly and happily gave it to him to bring back to us.

I love this place.

By the way, if you want a cute duck hat too, you can buy one here:

Duck Hat

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I really want a Stop Sign on my block.

Last spring, local groups (Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors and Friends of Sunset Park) began gathering signatures for traffic calming around Sunset Park itself. The areas of concern include 41st and 44th Streets between 5th Avenue and 7th Avenue. Cars and trucks use these streets as short cuts to and from New Utrecht and Fort Hamilton, and they gather speed as they go up the hill. It is treacherous for those crossing towards the park as the parked cars (and idling ice cream trucks!) often block a reasonable line of sight.

Almost 18 months ago Community Board 7 requested traffic calming measures, but they were denied. From what I understand, CB7 plans on re-submitting this request.

Late 2007, I wrote to the Mayor's Office. After many letters, I was informed that someone came to assess the situation. This person decided there was no speeding on the blocks, so no signage or speed bump was necessary. I wish they would come when I see all these cars racing up the hill!

Recently, I wrote to Marty Markowitz about this thorn in my side. I figured he might appreciate a photo opportunity in a community like Sunset Park. What better than opening the park season with Marty brandishing a new stop sign and providing safe passage for children, the elderly, dogs, and anyone else visiting the Best View in Brooklyn? Sadly, I was told that I'd have to wait for CB7 to get going on it again.

Maybe I should have pointed out that people who drive through Sunset Park don't watch for pedestrians. We're notorious for hit-and-run incidents! Grrrrr.

To supplement the SPAN and FoSP paper petitions, I've started a petition on-line. Please consider signing it!

Stop Sign Petition