04 December 2009

Screw "greening" your Christmas, make it sustainable instead

Someone sent me what has to be the fourth or fifth list of the ways I can "green" my Christmas yesterday and I've about had it. To a one, each of those lists concerned ways I could either spend more money than I would otherwise on unattractive crap or new and inventive ways for me to wear a hair shirt in public and thereby prove my "green" bona fides to passersby. Please.

Human civilization faces some very real and very pressing environmental problems. Left unchecked, a number of these have the potential to grow into outright crises and they need to be dealt with decisively and immediately. All of them can be traced to an American (and increasingly global) pattern of consumption. It's not just a matter of quantity of that consumption either, it's more a problem of that consumption's inefficiency.

The contemporary "green" movement was no doubt founded with the best intentions, but the more of its popular expression I see the less enthused about it I become. These Christmas lists I've been seeing are a terrific case in point. The problem is excess and inefficient consumption. So the solution cannot be more consumption. Buying a $75 Christmas tree ornament made from an old sock is still buying more unnecessary stuff. It's a more sustainable idea to just keep using the Christmas tree ornaments you already have.

The overpriced "green" trinkets and gewgaws being pitched around the internet are just another manifestation of this consumption problem. What needs to change is the impulse to buy stuff for the sake of buying stuff. "Green" consumerism is still consumerism.

A better way to think about your role in the face of these looming problems is to commit to using scarce resources wisely and efficiently. That goes for all scarce resources: energy, land, water, time and your money. Make a commitment to yourself and at the same time a co-commitment to the people with whom you share the earth.

So rather than a bunch of simple minded lists of how to have a "green" Christmas, why not just stop buying crap? Stop substituting things for your time for and emotional availability to the people you love. Gift giving is a great custom, one of my favorites in fact. But how smart is it to go broke every December?

"Green" ideas for this or any time of year start with the best intentions, but all too quickly become the social equivalent of methadone. Buying crap is still buying crap, regardless of its recycled content. So don't buy crap. See? No hair shirt.

03 December 2009

What's for dinner? Why, a rapier wit of course.

My beloved friend and former next door neighbor Brandon is not only the best home cook I've ever met, but also his generation's greatest story teller. His blog, Where the Sweet Olive Grows, reads like a love letter to New Orleans and I savor his meanderings as I do a good meal. His post yesterday detailed his culinary adventures on Thanksgiving and he includes a recipe for a turkey that makes me long for the days when I could walk next door for a cup of sugar (I'm not kidding) and come away hours later with a full stomach and a head full of stories I'd enjoy telling my grandchildren. If indeed I had grandchildren.

Here's an excerpt:
Even though Martha Stewart is another of my illuminated inspirations, I went with a method that not only makes that bird incredibly moist, but provides the most velvety gravy you've tasted. Here I present my Maple-Roasted Turkey. This also works with a Sunday Night chicken and would be delicious with a pork-loin roast as well. Although with the latter, I would roast some charming lady apples alongside, to be presented as a buttery, spreadable condiment along with the pork. May legions of home cooks take note and grow rich:
Read this man.

Who says you need a huge refrigerator?

I went to a dinner party last night at my old friend Keith's. Keith lives in a recently renovated 1930s bungalow in a historic part of Tampa. He did a masterful job with his home. Despite the fact that it's a historic structure, he stayed true to his modern/ eclectic tastes while still honoring the architecture he had to work with. He did everything perfectly. The scale is right, the aesthetics are right and his use of the existing structure is spot on. Bravo Keith.

When I walked into his kitchen for the first time tonight I saw immediately that he had a suite of appliances by Fisher & Paykel. Again, bravo. He used two separate drawer dishwashers, a 36" gas cooktop, an under cabinet hood, a wall oven and a refrigerator. The refrigerator was the last thing I noticed and I stopped talking when it sunk in what he'd bought.

This is the fridge. It's Fisher & Paykel's 17 cubic foot counter depth. It's width is 31-3/8" and it's height is 66-3/4" and by American standards, it's a small fridge. He enclosed that small fridge with cabinetry on both sides which makes him stuck with that size appliance for life.

I am hardwired to specify at least a 36" wide and 72" tall refrigerator in every kitchen I design. I buy the story  that everybody needs a large refrigerator so thoroughly that even when I don't have a large refrigerator to work around, I leave room for one. I mean, doesn't everybody need at least 25 cubic feet?

So I asked him why he bought such a small fridge. He said, "Because that's all I needed."

Of course. You know, I don't think I've ever asked someone how big an appliance he needs. I automatically specify them to be as big as the space and the budget allow. Keith lives by himself in a small bungalow and his kitchen is a small galley. He grocery shops a couple times a week and he really doesn't need a big fridge.

I spend a lot of my working life helping people figure out the difference between their wants and their needs. Last night I learned that I have been blind to a whole category all this time. So really, how big an appliance to you need?

02 December 2009

One in four borrowers is underwater: now what?

According to a Wall Street Journal article from last week, 23 percent of US homeowners owe more on their homes than they are worth. That's nearly one in four, and by any measure it doesn't bode well.

Those figures reflect the 10.7 million US households that had negative equity in their homes in the third quarter of 2009. Fully half of those households, 5.3 million households have negative equity of at least 20 percent. Further, 520,000 of those borrowers are in default officially. Those numbers were compiled by First American Core Logic, a real estate information company in Santa Ana, CA.

I ran an article on Monday that was a reprint from the St. Petersburg Times and the article discussed what's becoming known as a strategic default on a negative equity mortgage. People are beginning to walk away from these so-called bad mortgages on purpose. These are not isolated instances either. According to a study conducted last year by Experian and the consulting firm Oliver Wyman; 588,000 borrowers who could afford to pay their mortgages walked away in 2008.

The US has exported its major manufacturing capabilities over the course of the last 30 years and such manufacturing as still exists, exists to serve the housing industry. That's a gross simplification of course, but it's not untrue either. So if housing is the new bedrock of our economy, how can all of this negative equity and a loosening stigma against default be anything but a bad thing?

My post on Monday spurred a really interesting series of comments, it's had me musing about ethics and morals ever since. I still maintain that the mortgage crisis, the financial meltdown and all of signs and symbols of the current recession are symptoms of a deeper problem. Such fixes as have been proposed and implemented seem to be slowing the slide into something truly horrific, but I don't think they're addressing any root causes. Chasing short term gains is what let to the current mess and throwing short term fixes at it is just paving the way for the next bubble.

So again, am I out to lunch with all of this? Is the mortgage meltdown an isolated event? I'm not in a negative equity situation mercifully but I know a lot of people are. If you are you have my sympathies and I'd love to hear what that's like. I mean that genuinely. It's easy for me to wring my hands over strategic defaults because it's not something I have to entertain. What's it like to walk in those shoes I wonder.

01 December 2009

Feeling the urge to Merge

This is Merge by Erin Adams and Michael Corney for Ann Sacks.

Merge comes in three sizes and 16 colors, and they're made with and Arts and Crafts press mold technique. Though the colors and the technique hearken back to an earlier time, the effect of these tiles is right now.

Random field tiles in Azul, Copper Blue, Lapis, Winter Blue, Creamy White and Chalk

Random field tiles in Buckskin, Camel and Bamboo

Random field tiles in Storm, Straw and Creamy White

Random field tiles in Creamy White

Ann Sacks sets the standard in production tile and they prove it with each new offering. Merge illustrates that perfectly.