Useful Framing

IMG_7116Over the years, we’ve accumulated a lot of Russell’s artwork, dating back to his first paintings from the dawn of his artistic endeavors in middle school.  They’ve been stored, and now Russell is home for a brief visit, to decide whether to keep those pieces — or to remove the heavy staples one by one, strip off the early efforts, and recycle the valuable wooden frames and, where appropriate, the yards of canvas, and set them aside for use in creating new pieces that are more befitting his current artistic vision.

it’s kind of wistful to see him disassemble the older pieces that have become part of the family repository of stored items . . . but it’s also nice to see that he is winnowing out the older stuff and looking forward to what he can create with the wood, and canvas.  For artists, and for the rest of us, too, the vision must always be forward looking.

RecycleArt

IMG_6653_2Somewhere along the Maine coastline, you will find Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies.  It’s home not only to some great and inventive jams and jellies, but also to the sculpture of Peter Beerits — an artist who creates interesting pieces out of discarded odds and ends.

The area around Nervous Nellie’s is chock full of Beerits’ work, including pieces organized into an entire Old West town, complete with jail, general store, and a saloon with card players.  The artwork has a certain fascination to it, because Beerits obviously can see through the current condition of an object to its ultimate, artistic realization — where a rusted top of an outdoor grill becomes the shell of a tortoise, or an old washtub serves as the legs of a goat.  It’s all quite in line with Michelangelo’s purported statement that his sculptures were always there, lurking inside the block of marble — he just was able to see them, and then could chop and smooth away the unnecessary stuff.

It’s cool to see what most of us would consider to be junk reused, and reimagined, into interesting pieces of art.

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Rubber Tire Recycling

As I’ve mentioned before, I am all in favor of increased recycling and minimized use of landfill space.  I zealously recycle cans, bottles, plastic, and paper items.

So, I was happy to see that our neighborhood playground has done its part by using shredded rubber tires to spread under the swings, teeter-totter, and slide.  I discovered the recent addition when I walked past with the dogs, and noticed a distinctly springy feel underfoot.

The black shards of shredded tire look good on the playground — like high-end mulch, but without the odor — and I have to believe that the rubbery surface is much safer than cement or asphalt (the preferred surface in the death trap playgrounds of my childhood) or wood chips, which was the immediately preceding surface.  The rubber shards are an inch or two deep, and when you walk across them you feel like any kid toppling off the teeter-totter and falling onto the springy surface would be likely to bound three feet in the air.

Well done, New Albany!

Garbage, Our Leading Economic Indicator

Amidst the durable goods orders, and factory output analyses and aging inventory evaluations that typically are the focus of the dismal science, there lurks an economic indicator that is highly accurate and smelly, too — garbage.

A study has concluded that, of the 21 categories of items shipped by rail, the one that has the highest correlation to Gross Domestic Product is garbage.  Trash has an 82 percent correlation to economic growth.  The correlation is logical, and obvious, because the more people produce and purchase, the more they throw out.  So, if you want to assess how the economy is doing, keep an eye on the volume of refuse collected by your friendly neighborhood garbagemen.

Unfortunately, the garbage indicator isn’t predicting good economic news — carloads of waste are way down.  We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that the decline no longer accurately predicts economic activity and instead reflects that our neighbors have finally gotten serious about recycling and composting and other trash-minimizing activities.

Reducing Our Garbage Footprint

Every Thursday, the houses in our neighborhood put their trash out by the curb for pick-up. When I walk the dogs on a Thursday morning, I’m always amazed by the cumulative output, from just one neighborhood in just one suburb of just one American city.

My goal therefore is to make sure that our house sets out the smallest amount possible.  I toss every bottle, aluminum can, milk jug, and other plastic item in their recycling bin.  I break down even the most sturdily constructed cardboard box and throw every stray scrap of paper — newspapers, brochures, mail-order catalogs, and junk mail included — into the paper recycling container.  I put food scraps into the garbage disposal and rake yard waste into the beds behind our shrubs.  I know these efforts are small, but the multiplication effect means that little efforts can have large consequences.

In any case, I feel better knowing that our garbage footprint is as small as possible.  Some years ago I had a case involving landfills that addressed how they are constructed and operated.  I learned how they are lined, and capped, and how leachate — great name for the fluid that inevitably seeps out of  crushed garbage, isn’t it? — is collected.  Landfills are carefully regulated and engineered, but the fact remains that they are permanent pockets of garbage buried across the landscape that will forever limit how those locations can be used.  I don’t want our little household to contribute unnecessarily to their proliferation.

The Horrors Of Recycled Paper Napkins

Our office has long tried to be “green.”  We recycle paper products and aluminum cans.  We don’t use styrofoam coffee cups.  And, recently, we started using recycled paper napkins at our coffee stations.  The napkins are brown and are proudly stamped with the green recycle stamp and the messages “Made with 100% recycled material” and “Save the environment, one napkin at a time.”

The napkins are in a dispenser right next to the sink and the coffee brewer.  Their intended use is plain:  they are supposed to help you as you rinse out your coffee cup in the morning and scrub out the remaining coffee film.  At this simple chore, however, the recycled paper napkins are a complete, abject failure.  A single napkin is so flimsy that it dissolves and falls to pieces at the slightest touch of liquid.  So, you use three napkins together — thereby saving the environment, three napkins at a time — but as you clean out the cup you realize that you are leaving behind moist, rice-sized paper pellets adhered to the bottom and sides of the cup.  The brown paper residue then needs to be swept from the cup, by hand.

We used to have sturdy, presumably non-recycled, napkins for this purpose.  One napkin filled the bill admirably and left you with a spotless, shining cup, ready to accept the morning’s first touch of black magic.  Now, what used to be a simple, mindless part of the morning routine has become a source of grim frustration, all because the environment-saving recycled napkins suck at their job.  The first rule of napkin technology should be, “no residue left behind.”  Our gossamer recycled paper napkins not only are incapable of removing existing residue, they compound the problem by leaving their own trail of brown crud.

I’m all in favor of recycling — really I am — but we shouldn’t be guilt-tripped into buying inferior recycled products that fail to perform their intended function.  No amount of “green office” awards can make up for the horrors of trying to use recycled paper napkins.

Pain In The Butt

This story about efforts by environmentalists to convince Americans to buy toilet paper made from recycled fibers is pretty hilarious. Americans want the toilet paper that they buy for use at their homes to be super-soft. Toilet paper makers oblige by producing products made largely from the pulp of old trees, which have the longer fibers that produce softer tissue. Environmentalists object to felling “old-growth” trees for this unseemly purpose, because such trees help to convert carbon dioxide and old-growth forests provide the habitat for bears and migratory birds.

The subject matter of the story, of course, lends itself to humor. But note that the chief executive of a leading manufacturer of recycled toilet paper seems to contend that Americans like softness only because they have been mesmerized by marketing campaigns! I can assure him that, to the contrary, for most Americans the keen desire for bathroom tissue softness is the product of harsh experience.

And consider this the next time you are in a position to personally assess the softness of toilet paper — those in the industry apply three softness criteria: surface smoothness, bulky feel, and “drapability.”

Blue Fluff, and Now Grass So Green . . . .

About four weeks ago Richard and I roughed up the bare patches in the lawn, wet down the soil, and put down the blue fluff. Our timing was impeccable. Since then, we’ve gotten lots of rain, and the blue fluff has worked like a charm. The bare spots have filled in with tender shoots, and the whole lawn looks like it belongs on the Emerald Isle. The grass is a lush, bright green that is almost painful to look at. It has a wet, translucent quality, as if you were looking at sea grass on the ocean bed at just the moment it is hit by a shaft of sunlight. It’s beautiful, but you have to enjoy it while it lasts. Soon the spring weather will give way to hot, dry summer days, and our painfully green lawn will turn brown and dessicated. Such are the seasons in Ohio.

Recycling Gone To Seed

Today is one of those bright, sunny, but cool spring days that seem to fill you with energy and a desire to do things around the house. With Richard home for the weekend and graciously willing to lend a hand — Thanks, Richard! I know that this is probably not how you envisioned spending your free time! — we’ve been doing some basic, spring cleaning chores. Today we set out to fix up those annoying spots of mud and dead grass in the front yard.

The tools for this chore are simple: topsoil, a rake, water, and “patch mix.” Patch mix is that fluff-like blue stuff that you put down, and then wet down, after you have roughed up the topsoil. I’m not sure exactly of its ingredients, but obviously grass seed and fertilizer are components. It’s also clear that another component is ground up, recycled paper. In fact, as you are laying down the patch mix, you can see letters, and occasionally entire words, on the paper fragments.

As I’ve noted before, I enjoy doing simple chores and the sense of accomplishment when they are completed. When I add the good feeling that comes from doing something environmentally sensitive, like using a product made in part from recycled items, it makes the positive vibes that much sweeter.