Niagara is a region rich with gardens, orchards and vineyards and over the past year we have delighted in sampling local wine, fruit and veggies. The roadside fruit stands offer up baskets of local produce, the content of the baskets slowly changing as the summer weeks pass by. The asparagus marks the start of “fruit stand season,” and is quickly followed by the strawberries, then cherries. Peaches, blueberries and sweet corn are in season at the moment, tomatoes will soon follow. The local produce is delicious, beautiful, affordable and readily available. I guess that is why I get so angry when I walk into a supermarket (to buy non-produce items) and find cherries and corn from Washington being sold just down the street from where local farmers are selling locally-grown cherries and corn. I recently discovered the website, Niagara Culinary Trail and hope efforts like this will encourage more awareness about the pleasures and benefits of eating locally-produced food whenever possible.
Since we moved to our lovely little lakeside community we haven’t been able to use our cell phones at home. About 4 out of every 5 calls are dropped within seconds. This is kind of weird considering we didn’t have this problem in our old house which is less than a kilometre away. As far as I can tell this is the only drawback of our new location and it is, at worst, a minor annoyance. I’m not really much of a phone person anyhow, so this new development has resulted in my poor old phone being chucked in the bottom of my bag and virtually forgotten about. Until today! I was so glad I had my phone today! No, I didn’t need it to call for roadside assistance or any of the typical reasons people are glad they carry cellphones. I needed it to help me read the call numbers on the library books at the university library. In the course of working on big research project #2 I hit upon a side topic that I think might make a good article and that would be fun to write. I’m quite excited about this little article project so I headed down to the library today to pick up a few books I needed. I went right up to the top floor where the books I needed were and was surprised to discover that the lights were all shut off. I know there isn’t much traffic in the library on Saturdays in the summer and I am all for reducing energy consumption, but it is really, really hard to find books in the dark! As I had already climbed up to the top floor (did I mention it was stinkin’ hot today?!) I decided to just find the darn books and used a combination of window light and the glow of the LED display on my cell phone to track down what I needed. When I signed up for my cellphone plan a couple of years ago I never dreamed that this was the kind of “emergency” I’d end up using my phone for!!
I’ve been a little distracted this past week, so in an effort to refocus my attention I went and stocked up on school supplies. On the way home from campus I stopped and bought pens, notebooks, printer paper, highlighters and paper clips. I have a Pavlovian response to school supplies. I see shiny new school supplies and all of the sudden I’m in the mood to do my homework. When I was a kid, the day we went shopping for school supplies was always one of my favourite days of the year. In grad school, I can’t count the number of times that we decided that the reason we couldn’t focus on our readings/papers/assignments/dissertations was because we didn’t have proper supplies. This usually necessitated a march on down to Staples to stock up on new goodies. It usually worked — after one of these trips I always felt like I could get more done and was more organized. In all likelihood it was probably the exercise and fresh air from the walk that really did the trick, but I like to think it had to do with the new highlighter/sticky notes/pens/notebooks. As long as the association between new school supplies and productive research days continues, I’m not going to look too hard for the answer!
As I was browsing the aisles of school supplies like a kid in a candy store, I saw a cute little girl, about 8 or 9 years old, grab a blue binder from the shelf and run over to her mother. I noticed her because she was clutching the binder to her chest and had a big grin on her face, not unlike my own reaction to school supplies when I was her age. As she ran she shouted excitedly, “mommy, mommy — how about this pretty one?” Her mom looked at her and said “no honey, blue isn’t a very nice colour for girls.” The poor little kid look crestfallen and put the binder back on the shelf. I couldn’t believe it!! We are talking about a binder, not a box of hair dye!! (for the record, I have no problem with blue hair, but I could see how some parents might not want their wee ones walking around with indigo locks) Further, the whole notion that “blue isn’t a nice colour for girls” (or “boys can’t play with dolls” or whatever other gendered stereotype you prefer) makes me nuts! Blue is the colour of the sky, the lake and, for all I know, this little kid’s eyes. As someone who studies visual culture and art history, of course I understand that colours hold symbolic, social and cultural meanings (one of my favourite books on this topic, by the way, is Victoria Finlay’s wonderful book, Colour), but to see gender stereotypes perpetuated so casually this way makes me kind of sad.
In other school supply-related news, something possessed me to buy a tub of 30 gel pens. 30 gel pens! Who in their right mind needs 30 gel pens? In my defense, they were on sale for a pretty good price…
PS: secret message to the guy who tailgated me all the way home from the office supply store — I generally assume that stop signs mean I am to stop my car and proceed when the way is clear. If you don’t like this plan I suggest you find someone else to tailgate. Deal?
I just read this story about a little octopus who, in an attempt to evade some fishermen in South Korea, grabbed a plate and pulled it over his wee head. The plate turned out to be one of many pieces of ancient porcelain treasure submerged during a 12th century shipwreck. Neat.
Like many folks in this country I had to rely on student loans to help pay for part of my post-secondary education. Thank goodness I was able to get funding and scholarships in grad school, or the total I owe would be even more staggering than it is. I have a “good job” now and am actively making payments on my student loan, but am continually frustrated with the inefficient system we have here in Canada. Paperwork routinely goes missing, monthly statements about payments/balances are not issued, there appears to be much confusion at the other end of the 1-800 numbers you are now given to call for any inquiry about student loans, the interest rates are much higher than they should be, and many people have to choose between making their loan payments or paying their rent.
Anyhow, the good people over at the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness are attempting to form a critical mass of people who have had enough of this kind of nonsense. This is not a group of people who are trying to get out of their obligations. This is a group demanding that people with student loans be treated fairly, and their demands are starting to be heard. If you have a student loan, if you know people with student loans, or if you simply concerned with the mismanagement of this system, please consider visiting their website.
I really, really, really want a new bike. Really. We used to have a pair of bicycles (nothing fancy, but they did the trick), however they didn’t fit into the moving van on one of the cross-country moves we’ve done so they got donated to the Yellow Bike Action Project in Kingston a few years ago. Now that we are done moving for a while I’m thinking about getting a new bike and have no idea where to begin. There are some amazing bike shops in the Niagara region, but they seem to cater to the very serious biker who has a lot of spare cash and time — I’ve got neither. At the other end of the scale are shops like Canadian Tire. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Canadian Tire and make several trips a week there (sadly, I’m not kidding!), but in the bike department they leave much to be desired. For starters, I’m not at all interested in mountain bikes and this seems to be all these sorts of stores carry. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll be cycling, but I can assure you that there will be no “off-roading” involved. I’m looking for something a little less aggressive-looking than a mountain bike, something that can be adorned with a cheery basket and something that doesn’t scream “sporty”! (Nothing wrong with a sporty look if you are the sporty sort, but I’m far more “bookish” than “buff”!) The Amsterdam bike from Electra is simply gorgeous, but a little out of my price range at the moment (still reeling from the cost of buying a house and two international trips within the span of a month…yikes!). I found a fantastic-looking vintage bike on Kijiji tonight, but someone else beat me to it. I’m not sure if it is worth my time to look on Ebay — how does shipping work for something large like a bicycle?
We went and checked out the Green Ribbon Trail this afternoon. The weather has cooled off somewhat and it is not as humid as it has been, a great day for a walk! The entrance to the trail is not far from our new house in Port Dalhousie. The trail isn’t very long, but it is a lovely spot to go for a walk. One of the things I love so much about living in this region is that there are a ton of trails and parks close by. We managed to take photos of some of the creatures we encountered on our walk, but the zoom lens on our little point-and-shoot camera wasn’t powerful enough to let us take any decent photographs of the turtles or the bitterns we spotted.
I just finished reading Dava Sobel’s book, The Planets and I absolutely loved it! I remember being fascinated by things astronomical in elementary school science class, but haven’t spent that much time thinking about things like planets and stars and orbits in recent years. Perhaps it was Sobel’s own discussion of her childhood fascination with the heavens that quickly drew me into this book. She opens by discussing the model solar system she made as a child (a project that has been a fixture at every science fair I have ever attended!), and the sense of wide-eyed wonder that drove that project lingers throughout the rest of the book. The book is certainly grounded in meticulous scholarly research, however it is the mixture of personal anecdotes, mythology, art, history and science that makes this such a fascinating read. The facts, figures, stories and histories in The Planets are wonderfully woven together in a narrative style rarely found in non-fiction writing.
The Planets is a cultural history that focuses on shifting knowledge and belief systems about the solar system at various points in time and, as such, ancient mythology sits comfortably next to discussions about the chemical make-up of specific planetary atmospheres. Whenever I read about the history of science I am always fascinated by the changing process of creating knowledge and, indeed, what types of knowledge are privileged and promoted in different historical contexts. In this vein, I was intrigued by Sobel’s comments on how astronomy has become much more of a collaborative effort in recent years (she uses the large team involved with the Cassini spacecraft as a particularly illustrative example here).
From the BBC: “A 70-year-old US woman has been left bruised and bloody after an unexpected clash with police who came to arrest her because her lawn was dry and brown.” Click here for the full story.
I think it might have been next to impossible to miss the hype surrounding the “Live Earth” concert this weekend. The concert didn’t interest me at all in terms of music, but it fascinates me as a cultural event. In the lead-up to yesterday’s event I found myself inwardly rolling my eyes and thinking along the lines of “how is a rock concert going to make a difference?” I also wondered why it takes a global spectacle of this sort to make the mainstream news when there are so many musicians, artists and writers who have been advocating environmental sustainability in their work for ages (Sarah Harmer and her “Escarpment Blues” is the first example that pops into my head, but there are, of course, many others).
The buzz surrounding the concert has been interesting though. In the news articles and blogs I’ve read today I haven’t noticed much mention of the musical acts, but, rather, the focus has been on things like the Live Earth pledge, the activist t-shirts that some of the musicians were wearing, and the fact that Al Gore rode mass transit to the event in New Jersey. Yes, the event can be seen as a celebration of rock stars who live a jet-setting lifestyle of mass consumerism. Yes, there was a ton of litter left behind at the various concert venues. I don’t think anyone is claiming that this event was perfect. Clearly environmental sustainability can not simply be achieved by consuming more products, attending concerts or clicking on a button on a website. However, is it too naive to hope that at least some of the people who took part in yesterday’s event might follow through with some of the promises they made when they signed their name on the Live Earth pledge?
The nagging sense of unease I have surrounding the event has more to do with the (perhaps unintentional?) message that concern for the environment is fashionable. “Green is the new black” proclaims Ben Mulroney’s t-shirt. What is left unsaid is that like all fashions and fads, something will come along and, presumably, be the “new green.” This troubles me. Well, that and Ben Mulroney kind of gets on my nerves.