Archive for category New Urban Habitat
“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” ― Thomas Jefferson
I am happily in a season of gardening right now. We’re enjoying a beautiful, sunny late April here. All of our doors and windows are open, and our garden feels like another room of our house. We weave in and out of it all day, planting, watering, and watching. There’s so much magic happening out there right now.
I’ve also been helping a neighbor in her garden, and I’m learning a lot from her. If you have a little time and the interest, I can’t say enough about pitching in at a garden work party or offering to help a more seasoned gardener. You’ll take home all sorts of practical wisdom, and perhaps some seeds and starts too.
Thomas Jefferson, one of history’s legendary organic gardeners, understood the value of sharing horticultural know-how and plants with his neighbors. Jefferson collected seeds and cuttings from all over the world and reportedly always shared a little with his master-gardener neighbor George Divers. That way, if a plant died in Jefferson’s garden, he could visit Divers for some more seeds or clippings and try again. It was “a great lesson about sharing stuff,” Peter Hatch, the director of the Monticello garden, told The New York Times.
Jefferson’s Monticello garden is a thousand- foot long terrace built into the south side of a hillside. It houses a pavilion “reading room,” a recreation of the one where Jefferson spent many evenings.
Jefferson ate little meat and said vegetables were his “principle diet.” With the help of slave labor, he grew 330 varieties of 89 vegetable species and 170 fruit varieties. He planted lettuce every Monday from spring through fall, including heirloom varieties like Tennis Ball and Brown Dutch, which he apparently ate boiled. (Has anyone tried that?)
Jefferson kept detailed gardening journals, which you can read in his immaculate handwriting here. According to Hatch, Jefferson once wrote that even if he failed in the garden 99 out of 100 times, the one success was worth 99 failures.
When Jefferson retired, he rose with the sun every day and spent his mornings writing letters and working in the garden. “Although an old man, I am a young gardener,” he wrote in 1811 when he was 68 years old.
I have a feeling I, too, will always be a young gardener.
Learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s garden:
- At Monticello, Jefferson’s Methods Endure by Anne Raver – New York Times
- Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy in Gardening and Food by Peter Hatch – Monticello
Are you a gardener? What are you growing this spring? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Happy New Year! Thank you to everyone who read New Urban Habitat this year. Here are the 10 most popular posts of 2012:
I hope you have a safe, happy holiday. I look forward to seeing you back here in 2013!
Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment. ~Henry David Thoreau
“Want to know how many times I’ve seen new parenthood go smoothly?” my midwife asked before Ezra, my oldest son, was born four years ago.
My husband and I exchanged nervous glances and shook our heads.
“Not even once.”
A few weeks later, as we took turns trudging up and down the hallway with a howling infant, meandering around heaps of laundry and leaning towers of bills, we understood what she meant.
Fast-forward three years.
We are seasoned parents. Experts, if you will. Parenthood will surely go more smoothly the second time around, right?
Ahem. Perhaps not.
“The only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering . . .” Ted Hughes wrote in a letter to his son. “That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember.”
He could have been talking about birth, about those first few weeks and months with a new baby. I remember them so fondly, but when I wipe my eyes and really look, there’s a lot of suffering there.
The second birth was more difficult than the first, and while Ezra delighted in nursing, Ira was rather unenthusiastic about the whole ordeal. So, for several long months, breastfeeding consumed our lives. Meanwhile, three-year-old Ezra struggled to adjust to a new sibling, a maelstrom of confusing emotions, and a new daily rhythm with distracted and exhausted parents.
And that’s where I left you all last September to dig in for my long pause.
I didn’t intend to be quiet for quite so long. But it was a year that demanded a certain amount of silence.
It was a year full of joy and sorrow, a year full of living. We welcomed our sweet, watchful, curious, cheerful Ira into our lives. And I lost my father, Edward Kenneth Quillen III, who had a heart attack and passed away suddenly on June 3.
My dad was a loyal reader of this blog, dare I say, my most loyal reader. He often told me that he felt closer to me after I started my blog, that it helped him stay connected to me. And for quite a while after he died, I couldn’t imagine writing a post without him here to read it. But, of course, I know my dad would want me to continue sharing my thoughts and connecting with other people.
The beauty of taking a long, silent pause, even one filled with other writing projects, is that I find myself bursting with ideas again, restored, full of words.
Thanks to those of you who’ve checked in during my sabbatical, left comments, and sent emails. I so appreciate it, and I look forward to connecting with you again in this space. I’m working on a posting schedule that will lend itself to the perfect balance of silence and words.
We are feeling so very fortunate to have a new family member to share this holiday season with. Thank you to all of you who stopped in to read and share at New Urban Habitat in 2011, and thank you for your patience during my longer than expected new baby sabbatical. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to dedicate my energies to home and family for the last several months. However, I’ve missed connecting with you in this space. I hope to be back to more regular blogging in 2012.
Wishing you a merry holiday season and health and happiness in the new year.
I’m in the middle of two big editing projects at the moment … and we’re just weeks from welcoming a new family member, which adds a few minor things to our to-do list (like coming up with a name, eek!)… so you will notice the posts slowing down quite a bit around here. I’ll be stopping in, though, to share photos and announcements and hopefully some blog posts too. I hope you’re enjoying the long summer days.
Finally summer has made its way to the Northwest. We’ve gone several days without rain. The days are long. The sun is hot. We’re eating outside every night and munching on strawberries and snap peas from the garden.
To celebrate the long-awaited warm weather, we’re heading out for a much-needed summer vacation. We’ll be exploring and camping and enjoying lots of computer-free time. So I’ll be leaving this space mostly quiet for a couple of weeks. However, I will stop in to make an announcement or two, and I just might have some pictures to share with you as well.
Happy Fourth of July! I hope you’re enjoying the holiday, if you celebrate it.
Last week I asked you for your favorite blogs, and you gave me so many to explore. Thanks for your feedback! I’m already familiar with some of them, but it’s exciting to find a few new ones.
For anyone looking for new reading material, here’s a small sampling of the recommendations, described in the bloggers’ own words.
“I created the Art of Doing Stuff because let’s face it, I’m going to do all this stuff anyway so I might as use my self diagnosed OCD to make the world a better, cleaner and more organized place. Because currently, my know-how only benefits my ungrateful friends and family members who make fun of my somewhat fanatical approach to figuring stuff out, and yet, call ME when they want to know how to rip the membrane off a rack of ribs. They can suck it.” – Karen Bertelson
“The idea of foregoing the convenience of modern America and embracing a do-it-yourself attitude is a daunting one for many people. But mostly? It’s about a change in attitude. In a world where soup comes in a can, pudding from a box, and bread from a bag it’s easy to forget that just a few decades ago those items were made at home from scratch – maybe even from foods grown right outside the door.” – Kris Bordessa
“After a conversation with my neighbor on Memorial Day 2008, we decided to become minimalist. This blog is about our journey. … This blog is about the joys and the struggles. It is written to inspire you to live with less. And find more life because of it.” – Joshua Becker
“My hope for this blog has always been to share kind honesty, beauty, and simple guidance through a hectic world.” – Heather Bruggeman
“This is a journal of my small organic gardens in north eastern Ohio, zone 5(a).” – Susy Morris
“I write about old-fashioned cooking, which means: from scratch, with real food, and great taste is more important than fancy presentation.” – Drew Kime
“As humans, our priorities have been skewed. We have lost sight of what true happiness is and can bring, succumbing to a lifestyle that is unsustainable, unhealthy, and so disconnected from the natural world that we have resorted to “saving” it. We have found false solace in the material while being dominated by its pursuit. This blog is about changing that.” – Bill Gerlach
Still don’t have enough to read?
There are many, many other great suggestions in the comments section here, and be sure to check out all the suggesters’ fabulous blogs as well. In addition, here are a few blogs that I’ve discovered recently in other ways, which I think you may enjoy:
“6512 and growing is the story of growing a family (plus 7 chickens, thousands of honeybee, a large garden and a small orchard, while butchering an elk or two) at 6512 feet, our Colorado hometown elevation.” – Rachel Turiel
“FOTL is the intersection of food, foraging, and the outdoors.” – Langston Cook
“I created this blog because I saw a need to formalize the advice I was sharing with friends and family about ‘green living’ including habits and routines that are better for your health, the health of those around you and the planet.” – Lane’ Richards
“The Urban Country‘s mission is simple. We publish 2-3 quality articles per week to advocate for using bicycles as transportation in North America to improve our cities, our people, and the world. – James D. Schwartz
Last summer, I published a post Is Sunscreen Dangerous? summarizing the Environmental Working Group’s concerns about the majority of sunscreens on the market.
The EWG advises that consumers avoid sunscreens with the ingredients retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone and be suspicious of SPF claims exceeding 50. They also warn that many sunscreens only protect against the UVB rays that cause sunburn, not the UVA rays that cause skin cancer, raising the possibility that sunscreen may actually be dangerous, since people are inclined to spend longer in the sun when they’re not burning, thus exposing themselves to more cancer-causing radiation. The EWG has been especially critical of the Food and Drug Administration for failing to finalize sunscreen regulations for three decades.
Well, last week the FDA finally finalized those regulations, announcing that by the summer of 2012, consumers will be able to look for the words “broad spectrum” to determine which sunscreens protect equally against both UVA and UVB rays. In addition, manufacturers will no longer be able to use the misleading terms “waterproof” or “sweat proof”.
However, the EWG is unimpressed by the new rules. “It is clear that FDA caved to industry,” David Andrews, Ph.D, a senior scientist with EWG, announced in a press release on June 14. “FDA’s rule will allow most products on the U.S. market to use the label ‘broad spectrum sunscreen,’ even though some will not offer enough protection to assure Americans they can stay in the sun without suffering skin damage from invisible UVA radiation.”
I have fair skin and I grew up at 7,000 feet elevation in a state that boasts 300 days of sunshine a year. In other words, sunscreen has been my ally over the years. So finding out that all the expensive white goop I slathered on my skin for three decades contained questionable ingredients and may have made me more vulnerable to skin cancer feels a little like discovering a close friend is a pathological liar. It’s a powerful lesson in the importance of skepticism when it comes to health claims, advertising, and medical advice.
“Wear sunscreen,” is perhaps the health mantra my generation has heard the most often (and we’ve heard a lot of them). “The best piece of advice I can give you is to put on sunscreen and wear a hat.” Ted Turner, facing a skin cancer operation, famously told the class of 1994 Georgia State University students.
Three years later, Mary Schmich’s offered similar wisdom to graduates in her Chicago Tribune column: “If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.” The column went viral and was later released as a spoken-word single.
Dermatologists have been universally recommending large quantities of sunscreen applied 20 minutes before any sun exposure, citing a dramatic increase in skin cancer rates in recent years. The majority of them recommend zero unprotected sun exposure. “Ideally if you had no sun exposure, sure that would be the best way to live your life.” dermatologist Jennifer Lucas opined last week on NPR’s On Point With Tom Ashbrook.
If you’re wondering why a dramatic increase of skin cancer would coincide with the explosion of sunscreen use, you’re not alone. Dermatologists speculate about possible reasons, like tanning beds or the hole in the ozone layer.
However, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal, something else may be to blame for the increase in skin cancer rates: dermatologists. The authors of the study point out that while the incidence rate of melanoma is increasing, the death rate has stayed the same. This phenomenon is almost always a sign of over-diagnosis. In other words, screening programs, which test healthy people for cancer, mean that doctors detect and treat more cancer, but it’s often not the kind of cancer that would be dangerous or deadly.
So how can we sort through all the marketing claims, propaganda, gaps in regulation, and conflicting studies (many of them funded by the industries that stand to benefit from them) when it comes to our health?
I’m increasingly convinced that we must be skeptical of all claims (especially those intended to invoke fear), relentlessly seek out independent information and conflicting views, and never discount simple common sense.
Jennifer Lucas’s assertion that in a perfect world we’d never let our skin see the sun seems just as extreme to me as sunbathing or lying in a tanning booth, especially when we keep hearing about widespread vitamin D deficiency, a resurgence of rickets amongst kids in Great Britain, and evidence suggesting that sun exposure may be preventative against breast and colon cancers, childhood asthma, and multiple sclerosis.
As for me, I certainly don’t slather on sunscreen in the cloudy winter months like I used to. I’m a big fan of hats, protective clothing, and shade in the summer. And for those times that I need sunblock, I’m thankful for the EWG’s advocacy and for their rating guide for sunscreens, which lists ingredients and possible hazards associated with them.
Want to read more about this topic?
- Melanoma is Epidemic, Or Is It? – New York Times
- Melanoma Madness – Science News
- Finding a Safe Natural Sunscreen (and Is the Sun Really Dangerous?) – Simple Organic
- Is Sunscreen Ineffective in Preventing Cancer? - Straight Dope
- Beach Bummer - Mother Jones
What do you think? Has the EWG or the FDA’s new rules changed the way you think about sunscreen? How do you sort through conflicting health claims and medical advice?