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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vocabulary Lesson: 'zip ties'

Hello, zip ties. Nice to finally remember your name.
Yes, it has been a while since I have been on the beach to pick up any plastic. (And, yes, I am going through terrible withdrawal from the crashing waves and soothing salt air.) But it's funny sometimes how unrelated parts of life have a way of relating to each other.

I was reminded today (by a WIRED article advocating zip ties as bike-tire traction for snowy days) of the name for these things that I had been simply calling "plastic ties." I just knew there was another name for them — it has been on the tip of my tongue, but eluding me all this time. What a relief!

World, meet "zip ties" — often found cluttering Montauk beaches, no doubt having some important function in the fishing world, but also great for riding your bike in the snow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

For the love of local food ...

The sister's market booth — Beautiful Briny Sea salts.
Rosemary salts, my fave.
I am headed to the farmers' market bright and early this morning to help my sister set up the Beautiful Briny Sea salt booth. But it is almost impossible to wake up at 6:30 a.m. when it's pitch black outside! Here's hoping I can do it when it counts next week, when I am officially filling in as the salt girl.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Did you watch 'The Walking Dead' on Sunday night?

I did. And this line really stuck with me:

"The world runs on fossil fuel. I mean, how stupid is that?"
- Dr. Jenner, "The Walking Dead"

Nothing like a zombie apocalypse to put things into perspective.

Friday, December 3, 2010

When winter is making you blue ...

... open the blinds and let a little sunshine in.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Columbia holiday shopping

More at
I am doing some work on my laptop in a coffee shop today, and a woman from a local news station just stopped by to ask me if I was doing any shopping for "Cyber Monday." I tell her I prefer to shop locally.

She wanted me to come outside for an interview, but since I am working, I declined. Though, I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell whoever is interested where I will be shopping today. And if you're in Columbia, it couldn't hurt for you to check it out, too. If you're not, well, I bet there is an artisan market similar to this one in your neck of the woods.

Sustainable Midlands is having a Sustainable Holiday Celebration tonight from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 701 Whaley. And there will be a market full of local artisans to support! I have never been to this, so I can't give a review, but I'd say it's worth a visit, even if only on principle. I'll be sure to report back on what it's like. I'm excited.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Vocabulary Lesson: 'sabot'

Learned a new word today. Some "sabots" from my November 5 beach walk.
A little earlier, I was browsing a blog called Plastic Forever, by two artists, Judith Selby Lang and Richard Lang, who have been collecting beach plastic and creating art from it far longer than I have even been thinking about it. They are very inspiring — I mentioned them once before, though not by name.

Curiosity and a deeper web search led me to this story on the Fake Plastic Fish blog — in which the blogger spends the day with the Langs and also posts some fascinating photos of their studio, in which they have sorted their endless collection. It is there that I came across some familiar looking items — plastic things that I have also removed from the beach, but never knew for sure what they were. I mused in the past that they were perhaps pieces of fireworks, but it seems they are something slightly more sinister — something called "sabots."

From the Oxford American Dictionary Mac widget: "sabot — a device that ensures the correct positioning of a bullet or shell in the barrel of a gun."

What are these doing on my beach?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Quote of the day: Thanksgiving edition

"Even the compost looks beautiful today." 

- Mom remarking on the cranberry- and apple-peel-studded
assortment waiting to be taken out to the bin

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Turkey Day

Our local turkey farmers for this year's Thankgiving.
Mom and I took a drive out to Blythewood this afternoon to pick up our heritage turkey from Doko Farm. We had a slight disagreement over turkey size at the farm. I had ordered a small turkey and asked the farmer, Amanda, for the smallest she had. Mom wanted bigger. I assured her there would still be plenty of leftovers. Never in the history of Thanksgiving have we ever finished off a turkey. Here's a wry explanation from Esquire as to why:

It was nice meeting the farmer, who also gave us some free strawberry plants that she was planting and had too many of. But it was a little disappointing that the turkey was frozen — then again, I didn't ask why this was, so there could have been a good reason. It cost a pretty penny, but this is the first turkey I have ever purchased, so I can't be sure how pasture-raised, heritage-breed compares to the mass-produced variety price-wise.

We're brining our turkey before we roast it this year. (Doko Farm recommends this, as well.) A few years back, I had Thanksgiving with a friend who used a cranberry brine, and it is the one and only time I have had turkey that I actually went back for seconds of. The friend didn't use a recipe, so I've scoured the internet for something similar and will be using this one for our 8.5-pounder.

I've been planning this meal for over a month now — can't wait til Thursday!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happy 'Meatless Monday'

To be honest, this "Meatless Mondays" thing has not been going so well.

I think I've managed one other "Meatless Monday" since my first — failing mostly out of the habit of eating and ordering meat when I'm out. I'd forget to look for something vegetarian on the menu, remembering it is Monday and that I wanted to try not to eat meat as I'm already chowing down on my Chinese food or cheddar-chicken wrap. Oops. But here we are with a brand-new Monday with which to start fresh and give it another try.

My pescetarian friend Afton gave me some key advice when I told her about my struggles to go vegetarian for even one day of the week — how I don't think I'm getting enough protein, and how when I think of the reasons I would want to go vegetarian (greenhouse-gas emissions, farming conditions, etc.), it seems hypocritical not to cut out all animal products and go 100% vegan.

Her advice in vegetarianism, environmentalism and life in general is this: We can't be absolutists. It is pretty much impossible to succeed if we are absolutists about anything. We just do the best we can.

Good advice, Afton.

I didn't set out to be a vegetarian, and I feel like the most important thing when it comes to food is to buy local — small, local farms tend to have healthier and more sustainable farming practices for both produce and livestock — and I already do that, almost exclusively.

So I've decided to allow myself a little leniency on the vegan vs. vegetarian issue in order to get my protein and keep my sanity as I give this "Meatless Monday" thing a Take 2 — Eggs are OK for vegetarian dishes, as is dairy. At least for now.  

For breakfast: One egg sunny-side up (my fave) with a dash of sea-salt. Whole-wheat sourdough toast (the Heather's Artisan Bakery loaf was one of my delicious takes from the All-Local Farmers' Market on Saturday) with blueberry jam. Iced coffee with milk.

Now, if only I could get my parents to sign on to do this with me. I am staying with them in Columbia, and in the same conversation this morning during which I told them that I intended to have a "Meatless Monday," they decided they would have beef stew for dinner.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Convincing the parents to compost

Talked my parents into starting a compost bin in their garden. Same wire cylinder as I did in Montauk, for now. But I think ultimately they'll be happier with something a bit fancier and more designed, so perhaps this Sunset magazine design will be in their future.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

One of my very favorite things about being home.

I love coming home to South Carolina these days. That's not to say that I haven't always loved spending time with my family and seeing old friends, but Columbia just hasn't always been on the top of my list of destinations in which to see them. There are a number of factors contributing to this (and I won't get into it all here), but one factor that has recently contributed to changing these feelings about Columbia in a big way is a small market I learned about during a quick trip home in May. 

When I first visited the All-Local Farmers' Market in Columbia, I was well into my love affair with Los Angeles' amazing, expansive Hollywood Farmers' Market. Hating to miss the market (which I would visit every Sunday) prompted me to seek out something similar here. What I found at the All-Local Farmers' Market was nothing at all like the Hollywood Farmers' Market, but I loved it from the moment I first set eyes on it. The Hollywood market spans at least four Los Angeles blocks and is so packed with people you can barely move. Columbia's All-Local fit inside one small building with a slower vibe and a real sense of community. Charming.

Oh, and, while I'm at it, here is a more general recommendation: If you ever have reason to visit Columbia, S.C., late April/early May would be an ideal time. Just lovely.

I was attending a wedding that weekend, so I knew I wouldn't be cooking, but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy some delicious South Carolina-grown goodies, and I decided to give them as a wedding gift to the bride and groom.

Anyway, that was a very long introduction to a simple statement, which is this: I am very happy to have spent a beautiful morning at the All-Local Farmers' Market this November morning.

I have high hopes for the market for Thanksgiving, which my sister and I are cooking this year. (After the market, we did a little menu planning.) This morning, I was eying a pumpkin and some hard cider, which I think would make especially nice additions to the meal. I ordered a heritage-breed turkey at the beginning of October from Doko Farms, a Blythewood farm that does sell at some Columbia markets, though not the All-Local.

The All-Local Farmers' Market is every Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon, at 711 Whaley — except on home-game days when it moves to (another very cool thing in Columbia these days) City Roots.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The mighty bottle return

59 bottles to return.
In New York, there is a 5 cent deposit on cans and even many plastic bottles. Since I'm packing up to head south for the winter, I had to take all the cans back so I could get the deposit back on them. And since I didn't buy any of these beverages (some came from my beach cleanups, but most from when my parents' friends were visiting), I made a bit of a profit. 

Unfortunately, some of the beach cleanup cans were ineligible for return since they were pretty beat up and the machine couldn't read the bar code. Which is a little annoying, seeing as the machine reads the bar code and then smashes the can after anyway.

At the end of the day: + $2.75 to me! 

I grew something!

Azalea is blooming!
I got an azalea for my birthday back in May. I don't really do house plants, mostly because I've been moving a lot over the past couple years and plants are hard to move. And the mint plant I had brought back from the Hollywood farmers' market was quickly adopted by my roommate at the time who, with good reason, was afraid if she didn't water it that it would die. 

She assumed the same with the birthday azalea, and it promptly shriveled with the deadly combination of too much water and too much direct sunshine. And it's been barely breathing ever since.

I thought I would kill it when I moved in August, but it survived — though it was still very scraggly-looking. I decided to bring it to Montauk with me to see if I could nurse it back to health, and, look, a bloom! I leave Montauk today to head back to my parents' house in South Carolina for the holidays, so hopefully the ride home won't stress it too much. Yay for growing things!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sea of foam

Blustery beach.
By my estimation, no one's been on the beach for weeks. It's been downright frigid here in Montauk. And the only reason I went down to the beach on this blustery day is that the waves were actually scary-looking from the road and I felt the need to check them out in person. Some sort of sick calling, I guess.

But I was surprised when I got down there to find the beach absolutely covered in trash — mostly tiny bits of Styrofoam this time — washed up by the angry waves. I didn't dare venture farther than about 10 feet in either direction — I could have easily spent my entire day walking the beach and picking up plastic, but I had other obligations that required my time today.

For every piece I picked up today, I begrudgingly left 20 in its place.

Today's tally:

32 pieces of Styrofoam
+ 1 piece of plastic fishing gear
+ 1 tennis ball
+ 4 pieces of plastic film (one with a hard-plastic snap)
+ 1 plastic cigar tip
+ 1 plastic glow stick
+ 2 Chap Stick tubes + 1 unidentified plastic tube
+ 1 Bic pen (couldn't get the cap off to find out if it was working)
+ 4 plastic Ring Pops rings
+ 5 plastic things I have to assume come from fireworks
+ 14 pieces of hard plastic
+ 2 plastic lollipop sticks
+ 4 plastic straws
+ 29 plastic caps
Saved today from the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch: 102 pieces of plastic.

Total saved: 294

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Plastic Beach

Apropos art in Share With...
Saturday, I stopped into Share With..., one of my favorite shops in Montauk. Share With... is a small store that boasts sustainable, recycled, handmade, local and eco-friendly products. I snapped the photo above when I was there once earlier in October, but this time I got to ask about this "Plastic Beach" art, made from plastic lighter casings, and I was told that "Plastic Beach" is actually the name of a company that sells jewelry pieces at the store — made from plastic found on the beach, of course.

I've been trying to find out more about this Plastic Beach group via web search with no success. I knew they didn't have a website, but the guy in the shop assured me I'd be able to find out more about them if I did a Google search. But I keep getting results that send me over to the Gorillaz, who have a new album out by the same name, instead. Interesting video — check it.

I've been thinking a lot about what I should be doing with all this plastic I'm collecting from the beach. I recycle what I can, of course, but it seems like a shame to send the bits that can't be recycled into the landfill. It occurred to me during a bike ride a few weeks ago (along a stretch of highway littered with even more plastic stuff) that maybe I could start making something beautiful from it. Art, jewelry, etc. I'm glad to see others, like these Plastic Beach designers, are already doing this. And here is more artful inspiration from a couple who has been doing this sort of thing for years.

Share With... does not have a website either, but here is a nice writeup from the East Hampton Star.

Friday, October 29, 2010

From 'trash' to art

I had a rare moment tonight, in which I got to listen to NPR — a favorite pastime of mine when I used to get stuck in hours of traffic on my way home from work in L.A.

I got to hear Kai Ryssdal's beautiful voice on Marketplace (he looks different in person than I would have imagined), but I also got to hear this interesting story about a documentary about men and women in Brazil who sift through the largest landfill in the world in Rio de Janeiro looking for recyclables, and the work of Brooklyn-based artist Vik Muniz, who photographed and created fine art based on the photographs and using trash from the landfill.

For the men and women in this documentary, this is a way of making a living — they sell the recyclables to wholesalers. For Muniz, his work is ostensibly a way to make a difference in these people's lives. It's inspiring to see something so beautiful coming out of/being inspired by the "pickers'" work.

Listen to the story:

Watch the trailer:

"Waste Land" opened in New York today. I enjoyed hearing about it. Now, I look forward to (hopefully) seeing it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Beachy Halloween inspiration

My amazingly creative sister just texted me a picture of the Halloween costume she is designing. When she was in Montauk a couple weeks ago, she was inspired by "things that wash up on the beach," so she is going as a giant shark's tooth! It looks awesome — I hope there will be plenty of photos of the finished product.

A friend is joining in on the theme and going as an old boot. I haven't given much thought about a Halloween costume for myself, but Kat asked what I would go as if I were joining in on the theme. I think she half expected me to say "a piece of plastic."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sweet dirt

Happy to report that the compost doesn't stink one bit! Smells fresh even. In fact, there seems to be a healthy bit of soil already starting to form.

I was a little worried when, after I dumped the first of my veggie scraps and some dried leaves into it, I read that "it's a common mistake to use too much water — it's probably the most common reason for failures" — and then it rained for three days.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sometimes nature amazes me.

Like tonight when I was turning out the lights to go to sleep and there was a glow coming from beneath the floor-length curtains so bright that I thought I must have left a light on outside. It is the moon. Beautiful, full, amazing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mini beach cleanup

Just a quick hello (and goodbye) to the beach this morning before Mom and Kat had to head back home to South Carolina.

Today's total:

1 unidentified plastic flower-looking thing + 1 piece of Styrofoam
+ 1 unidentified small plastic green thing
Saved today from the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch: 3 pieces of plastic.

Total saved: 192

Saturday, October 16, 2010

'Are you really going to schlep that?'

(This photo snapped by Kat.)
"Are you really going to schlep that back to the house?"

This incredulous question from a friend of the family who is visiting this weekend caught me a little off guard. Not that I'm looking for approval for taking trash up from the beach, but I haven't yet really had to explain myself. Anyone I've encountered on my walks who has commented on me picking up trash has had something semi-encouraging to say. But this friend can at times be a little brusk, and I didn't know what to expect. I stood my ground and simply said "yes," which seems to have been enough, as conversation quickly moved back to the dogs who were running up in the high grass near the dunes.

By the way, isn't Tybee beautiful? She's the friend's dog, and very well behaved. Munchkin, take note.

Today's schlep:

1 piece of Styrofoam packaging
+ 4 plastic caps
+ 1 plastic Barg's bottle
+ 4 unidentified pieces of hard plastic
+ 3 unidentified black plastic circular things
+ 2 unidentified white plastic circular things
+ 3 plastic ties
+ 4 plastic straws
+ 1 plastic lollipop stick
+ 1 plastic permanent marker (doesn't mark anymore)
+ 2 plastic bags
+ 2 plastic forks + 1 piece of another plastic utensil
+ 1 plasticy Billabong beach-umbrella cover
And 1 mini Coca-Cola bottle, which I will be returning for deposit:
+ 5 cents to me.

Saved today from the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch: 30 pieces of plastic.

Total saved: 189

Friday, October 15, 2010

In case you were wondering ...

Cork is compostable.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A good morning at Ditch Plains

Path to the legendary Ditch Plains.
If you've heard of one place in Montauk, it's probably Ditch Plains, this little surfing spot that's been popular among big-name surfers for decades. My sister heard that Vans was putting on a competition out there today, so we headed over this morning to see if we could catch any of the Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational

Turns out there were zero waves. Seriously. This kind of surf is what the cousins and I have always affectionately refered to as "Lake Montauk" (although, technically, geographically, that term refers to an actual place elsewhere in the village). We moseyed down to the competition tent anyway. 

When we got down to the tent, Kat inquired about the competition and I started picking up some of the plastic trash that was laying about in the sand near the tent. I was surprised when the guy Kat had been talking to started doing the same. Of course, I'm sure he had a certain commercial stake in making the beach nicer for the surfers and whoever else might come out to watch the competition, but it is still nice to think that maybe my small gesture inspired someone else to take action.

Then, as we made our way back down the beach, and Kat collected shells and a particularly beautiful fish skeleton, two women — probably Ditch Plains locals — who were walking a dog asked us if we were picking up trash off the beach and, when we responded "yes," one said "awesome," in such a way as to suggest that it had possibly just occurred to her that she could do the same on her morning walks.

Kat did get to catch some of the competition later in the day when the surf finally picked up. Unfortunately, I had to miss it.

Waves finally picked up later in the day.
(This photo snapped by my sister, Kat.)
Today's pickup was pretty big. Oh, and happy birthday, Megan.

Here's the tally:

1 plastic "Megan's 13th-Birthday" bracelet + 1 plastic party popper
+ 1 large party balloon + pieces from 17 other party balloons
+ 19 unidentified pieces of hard plastic
+ 14 unidentified pieces of plastic film
+ 3 plastic bottles + 1 piece from another plastic bottle
+ 6 plastic caps
+ 3 plastic baggies
+ 2 plastic lids + 1 plastic cup + pieces from 6 other plastic cups
+ 4 plastic straw
+ 4 plastic utensils
+ 1 piece of plastic "foil" from the top of a wine bottle
+ 1 plastic grocery bag
+ 6 plastic food wrappers
+ 2 plastic beauty-product tubes + 1 hair tie (not sure just how offensive
to the environment hair ties are, but I'm assuming it is made from synthetic rubber)
+ 3 pieces of smoking paraphernalia
(That's plastic-covered packaging on the left there, folks.)
+ 7 various boat pieces
+ 6 pieces of plastic fishing gear
+ 2 pieces of duct tape (not associated with the surf competition)
+ 3 rubber bands
(again, assuming they are synthetic rubber, which is a polymer)
+ 3 work gloves
+ 3 unidentified black plastic circular things
+ 3 plastic ties
And 2 Coors cans + 1 Bud Light can, which I will be returning for deposit:
+ 15 cents to me.
Saved today from the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch: 124 pieces of plastic.

Total saved: 159