Sunday, July 19, 2009

Freecycle Watertown: Transforming the World, One Gift at a Time

Jo Hunter Adams

Towns in Massachusetts are getting into a system of gifting called Freecycle. And, it seems I'm late to the party-- there are freecycle groups all over the world!

For example, there is a group in Cape Town with 2012 active members. The group in Durban is smaller with 451 active members.

The idea is simple: You join a Yahoo group, and post when you're giving something away or need something. It's different from Gumtree or Craiglist because you become part of a community of people who give and receive from one another (Craigslist Boston, at least, is a much looser and larger group of people) Great things are up for grabs on Watertown Freecycle; I finally felt comfortable enough to part with items that "I might need someday", because I figure, if we need them someday someone else will be generous with me.

I wonder how this would work in countries with less plentiful resources, or with even greater disparities? What do you think? Would a YahooGroup work, or is it a replacement for a more intimate type of community? Could this system free up more resources for the poor?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Glimpse of Massawa, Eritrea

As you descend from the Hamasien highlands, you're confronted with a dramatic drop within a few kilometers. Above is the drop in the early morning, below the sun is coming up.

Ghinda, about halfway between Massawa and Asmara is extremely fertile and has created ways to make use of the slopes by creating steps.

Massawa bore the brunt of much of the thirty year war with Ethiopia, as well as the 1998-2000 war over Badme. Despite the marks of war on many buildings, one can still appreciate that the architecture of Massawa uniquely reflects Italian influence and Eritrean building styles.

Below is the famous Dahlak hotel, where my parents, brother and I stayed fairly cheaply (thank you mom and dad).

We got stranded in a small motor boat between Massawa and a tiny island where we were going for the day.

Massawa by night-- after the worst of the mosquitoes have left.

I won't write much here about Massawa; I mean no disrespect to all the stories that need to be told and am sorry for such a touristy perspective. That said, perhaps we could do with a little tourism in Massawa!

The most recent easy-to-read book on Eritrea is "I didn't do it for you" by Michela Wrong. I recommend it to those interested in Eritrea's most recent history. The other classic is "Eritrea: Even the Stones Are Burning" by Roy Pateman, if you're interested in learning about the war with Ethiopia.

Coming soon:

Asmara photos
Summer recipes

Our washer-dryer system has paid for itself! Yeah! We spent about $150 on the system, and have been using it since January. Before buying the washer and spinner, we spent about $5.50 a week at the laundromat. In terms of time, it's about equal and although we use much more human energy with the Wonder Washer, it's worth it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Food Inc, the Movie

Jo Hunter Adams

Food, inc. was recently playing at Kendall theatre.

My starting point: I've been a meat eating Market Basket shopper for quite a while (Market Basket is the super-cheap grocery shop here in Massachusetts), but our family also has a Community Supported Agriculture Share. It's tough to balance frugality and eating responsibly.

What Food Inc. showed me was that eating responsibly should take a higher priority than some of these other priorities (saving money, living simply). Why?
1) I am what I eat. Literally. Perhaps by empowering myself to know what I'm eating, I can make it less of a luxury in US society.
2) You vote every time you buy a product. You can change the system by choosing organic and/or respectfully produced food, by not eating processed foods, and by supporting local agriculture.

How do I eat responsibly?

For Eug and I, we're investing in small changes. We took the plunge and pay the extra dollar for free range eggs. We survived, and they're awesome. We're gradually rediscovering vegetables through our CSA. They taste great-- I was shocked by how different fresh garlic is. We finally ordered the Grass Fed beef at Wild Willy's And since the movie, we haven't been to our favourite butchery to stock up on meat.

I realize that there are real financial burden associated with certain choices. That said, the burden is at least partially caused by artificially low processed food prices-- prices that are incredibly low because of the scale and nature of much of the U.S. food industry. These artificially low prices are good for our budgets in the short term, but in the long term, they encourage entire communities to subsist on foods that are making them fat and tired.

Below are two links that may be helpful for some of you, brave readers.

Eat Well Guide

Eat Wild Massachusetts
, has details on various farms in the area growing and raising great food.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Story Walk

Jo Hunter Adams

First, a confession: I have never really walked along the street where I go to church. We drive in, we drive out—we don’t “hang out”. Eug was running errands before picking me up from church last Saturday, so I decided to go and visit the nearby pet shop (I have a thing for hamsters… but a digression: did you know that goldfish only cost 13c?!).

Anyway, for the first time, I discovered that the walk has a series of posters on fences and poles. These posters are actually in sequence and made up a children’s story (about dinosaurs, if you must ask). As a child walks they’re exposed to a story that they can read as they head home or to the T station. No pictures here yet, but I’ll try and take a couple at the end of this month.

I have no idea how kids experience the story, or if it’s fun for them, but I thought it was a potentially interesting way to introducing non-commercial reading into common space.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Thoughts from “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” by Barry Schwartz

Jo Hunter Adams

The Paradox of Choice brings together data from all kinds of studies to show why, at our core, massive amounts of choice can actually decrease our happiness as human beings. For a brief version of Schwartz's thesis, go here

The unparalleled freedom of our century sometimes comes with too many responsibilities and expectations—if an individual believes that something is possible, it is his or her fault if she doesn’t have the perfect ____ (insert aspiration here). This means either guilt or a striving after things that are, if not impossible, pretty difficult. The reality is that we are forced to make very complex choices that generally have at least a few negative consequences. Obsessing over these consequences can be deadly to happiness, because inevitably in a fictitious alternative life everything was perfect.

Although this is not primarily a self-help book, I think the implications are powerful: Firstly, there are some decisions that shouldn’t matter, but the number of options out there (for example, when choosing a pair of trousers) is so overwhelming that it begins to seem important. Secondly, there are decisions that do matter, and you can create rules that you apply for all time so that those decisions are made easier. Even though you are choosing to limit your freedom, Schwartz argues that you could avoid some of the effort and regret associated with decisions. Thirdly, whether we like it or not, we are influenced by how we compare things, achievements and people. For example, being aware that you will likely think a product is more affordable if there are far more expensive versions of the product you’re looking for could help you step back and evaluate your decision.

I'm reminded of when my parents and I were in Eritrea (Red Sea, borders Ethiopia and Sudan), and the choices were super simple and cheese and chocolate (not together) were about the most awesome things I could imagine. I remember my parents really struggling when they returned to South Africa and there were forty different kinds of every food. It's interesting that it's impossible to recreate the sense of joy I felt when I got chocolate in Eritrea. That said, it's clear that certain limitations, and certain habits, could help fuel a sense of abundance and gratitude.