January 8, 2011: At the chimney and fireplace store

So although there’s a ton of alternative ways to heat stuff out there (check out  yesterday’s comment/link re compost-pile water heating, for example), I’ve already confessed that I’m a hopeless aesthete, right? So when browsing Cambridge’s Black Magic Chimney and Fireplace store today, do I investigate pellet stoves?

Hell, no. I fall in love with a Vermont Castings stove. Which can be turned on with a remote. So is operational should we lose power.

And it’s so old-fashioned and pretty!

(I’m hopeless.)

Now: anyone want a baby grand piano? (Which is currently occupying the space this coveted stove could go.)

January 7, 2011: Anybody? Anybody?


Here’s the setup: An old house (probably built around 1860) in a densely populated city (Somerville, MA) and an owner (that’s me) who wonders how a future owner will be able to heat this house post-fossil-fuel dependency (currently, we use natural gas to heat water that noisily flows into our radiators.)

Got it?

So: I’m just going to toss out a bunch of words and wait to hear from people:


Wood or corn or pellet stoves?

Anybody? Anybody?

(BTW: Did not mention solar power because a three-story apartment building is right next door/to our South and effectively blocks out the sun most of the winter. BUT if you know something I should know, don’t be shy: Tell me.)

January 2, 2011: Lesson # 1

So a big part of this month-long Light and heat project should be bumping up against those irrational, stuck places in myself, right? And  acknowledging those uncomfortable, oh-that-again moments? Seems necessary. And honest.

So I’ve already discovered that although I thought I wanted to be open to whatever methods are currently available to save energy, my (ridiculous) house-pride/entitlement just might keep me from big-time changes. Like covering my drafty windows with plastic weatherizing. Way too tacky, m’dear! And, besides, just using Saran Wrap’s a huge challenge for non-dextrous me; I seriously doubt I am capable of effectively covering an entire window.

So I walked to Tags, a local, independently-owned hardware store about a mile from my house, to see what the latest, recommended-by-a-salesperson method to plug up leaky windows might be. Which turned out to to be a clear liquid you apply with a caulk gun (My VT daughter had recommended this stuff. You gotta listen to someone from VT, right?). Problem: The package warns that this stuff produces fumes. And, yeah, my windows are not airtight but it is the middle of winter. Everything’s shut tight. So shut tight that I can still detect the slightest whiff of the fish curry we had at Christmas. So, reluctantly, must pass on “the latest.”

So, promising myself to get the liquid sealer in, say, October, and to seal up everything one window at a time—with the back door wide open—I bought rope caulk and, relishing the playing-with-clay/hands-on work, plugged up the most egregious gaps. I’ll wait for a windy day to finish the job.

Oh! Something I don’t know: is this caulk toxic? Would Ruby, my precious, toddler granddaughter, get sick if she grabbed a handful? Since she won’t visit here until the summer, not an issue. But I’m investigating, anyway.

January 1, 2011: The Premise

Gotta admit: When I saw “Julie and Julia,” my immediate reaction was, “Damn! Wish I could blog about some interesting project like that.”

Well, now I can.

For the next month, every day, I will blog re my (probably meandering/non-linear) exploration of how best to heat my old, drafty house.


Lots of reasons:

# 1. Every time I try to visualize a post-fossil-fuel future, I always get stuck at: How the hell would I heat this house after we run out of natural gas and oil? Related things to figure out:  how do I reduce my carbon footprint? And how do I prepare myself for the inevitable blackouts and brownouts which will accompany the climate change we are already experiencing?

2.  Just as, ten years ago, I felt like Spirit was asking me to do Something about race and white privilege—and, eventually, about our broken criminal justice system—I sense that same sort of nudging re climate change. (And, yes, I pray that way will open so these seemingly disparate leadings will somehow converge.)

Hence: Light and heat.

August 20, 2010: Blowin’ in the Wind

Last night I went to the Somerville Public Library to hear Boston College professor Charlie Derber, author of From Greed to Green: Solving Climate Change and Remaking the Economy, talk. The place was packed.

Among the many thoughtful, thought-provoking the slight, soft-spoken prof had to say was about time (maybe that should be capitalized?) and how we’re running out of Time and need to “trick it” by addressing the most immediate, compelling problems NOW.

Walking home under a two-thirds moon, waiting to cross the street and pondering his talk, an SUV gunned through a red light. Just as I was about to step off the curb.

“So what?” you say? Massachusetts drivers do that. True. I didn’t get hit obviously. So what’s the big deal?

Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety. But I think this kind of blatant disregard for civility is getting worse. (Steven Slater’s recent lionization reinforces my point.)

Here’s what I’m wondering just might be blowin’ in the wind: As this recession continues (Derber believes it’s really more like 25% unemployment), this hottest summer in history continues, and drought and Russian fires and Pakistani floods impact millions of people and scare the bejesus out of the rest of us, I think the day-to-day interactions between us are getting worse. People are highly stressed, pissed, confused. So why NOT drive through red lights, push and shove, be rude and greedy?

Seems to me that one of those immediate crises Derber suggested we need to address is exactly this. (And I’ve harped on this before.) On some level, people know what’s happening. That we’re not acknowledging that This Climate Change Thing is another Great Depression, another Pearl Harbor and, c’mon everybody, let’s roll up our sleeves and deal just makes them MORE pissed.

Who can blame them.

July 28, 2010: What Have We Done?

I live in a densely populated, 79% paved-over city that, in the past, had been sneeringly referred to as “Scummerville” or “Slummerville.” (These days, that Somerville is so hip has pretty much quashed those taunts—but not entirely.) Whenever my husband and I venture outside our fair city and see some lovely countryside or acres of trees destroyed by McMansions or a strip mall or another highway, we sigh. But then we tell ourselves,” You know, sometimes it’s less painful to live in Somerville where the rape and destruction of the land and its rivers happened three-hundred years ago!”

As I’ve noted in many of these blogs, I have been drawn to the Transition Town movement and its fundamental, resilient message that, given climate change and the eventual end of the Cheap Oil Era, the ONLY way we’ll survive these huge and scary changes is collectively. So from time to time I hang out with Somervillians who are into weatherization or the Buy Local movement or community gardens or extending the bike path. Wonderful initiatives. Wonderful people.

Marla Marcum of “Climate Summer”* said something recently that really shook me. A climate change activist and deeply spiritual person, Marla noted that there’s something deeply shameful about what our species has done to this planet.

More and more I am feeling that, perhaps, my role in Somerville’s ongoing initiatives re the huge upheavals we’re facing ** is to somehow engage in community-wide conversations about that shame. And, oh yeah, about our overwhelming feelings of helplessness and terror.


* “Climate Summer”  has been about a group of college students biking throughout New England to talk about climate change. Marla was one of the chief organizers.

** I use the present tense because Somerville, like so many communities around the world, has already suffered 3 times this year from dramatic, destructive weather—in Somerville’s case, 3 devastating rain storms.

May 20, 2010: Coded

[The opposite of fear is love: this month’s theme.]

Noticed a new feature in this morning’s Boston Globe: “Coping with less.” A pretty lame article re the closing of rest stops in Massachusetts, this new feature nevertheless sorta/kinda acknowledges what’s really going on: Yes, things are bad. No, it’s not going to get better.

Over the past couple of  years, every Wednesday night, I have had the great privilege of hanging out with people of color whose interpretation of what’s said by the media is ALWAYS startling. What’s said, what’s left out, who’s telling the story, who’s got a stake in the story, who, because of their rarified, white viewpoint, doesn’t have a clue what’s really going on; I get to listen to such conversations.

So, guided by these conversations and knowing what I know about climate change, about a global economy based on cheap oil—and its inevitable collapse—and the HUGE impact these will have, I read my morning paper searching for the Truth.

Surprise! it’s NOT there in black and white. It’s in code. Like this new feature: “Coping with less.”

Coping. As if. As if we all just, you know, shrug our shoulders, take a Valium, whine to our friends, grit our teeth but cope. Deal. Man up.

Is The Globe shouting: “Listen up, everybody. We all have to use less. It’s our dying planet’s only hope.” ? Naw.

Another theme I hear from people of color: ” ‘They’ don’t. . .  ” ” ‘They’ always. . .” [fill in the blank], “they” meaning the white-dominated power structure. And sometimes I agree. Sometimes I hear paranoia/conspiracy theory  and disenfranchised people giving “us” way too much credit.

But on this coded, not telling it like it is thing? I definitely see a conspiracy of silence. Take the two devastating rain storms we had in Massachusetts in March. Was there a front page article in The Globe saying: Yikes! Climate change is happening, it’s here, let’s get ready! Naw.

So where’s the love in all this mess? In us. Who, in countless ways, are showing that we’re sensing some fundamental truths. Yeah, even those crazy Tea Party people. All that anger? If someone, ANYONE in power would just admit the truth, acknowledge that a major sea change is happening, the climate (get it) in this country would radically change.

May 10, 2010: “We can do no great things, . . .

. . . only small things with great love.” —Mother Teresa—

Last week while watching my energetic grandson play in a Brooklyn playground, I happily sat on a park bench in dappled sunshine. A mother with two children joined me, a daughter about 4 and an infant asleep in his stroller. After greeting the trio, my attention returned to never-stopping Dmitri. Watching him dart from here to there, I nevertheless was aware of the 4-year-old’s persistent and nasty cough.

Her raggedy sounds put me in a terrible funk: I was immediately reminded of a dire article re an alarming rise in childhood asthma in the NE. The sounds of heavy traffic just a few feet away from the playground didn’t help my “Oh, God, we’re doomed—these precious children are doomed!” terror.

And given the weird weather we’ve had this spring, thinking her cough might just be allergies wasn’t all that comforting.

Confronting my pervading fears re global warming, climate disaster, etc, etc., and what life will be like for Dmitri’s generation, it actually helps to remember that as a young(er) mother, I’d had exactly the same heart-racing fears around nuclear proliferation. And to remember that amazing anti-nuke march in NYC when my daughter Hope was just a baby. (1981? 1982?)

And, thinking about Mother Teresa’s wise words, to contemplate what small, loving, life-affirming acts I can be doing in my small, precious part of this ailing planet.