Sunday, April 28, 2013

City Living and the Environment: Part 1

Los Angeles may not conjure up images of the pristine environment what with her pollution and litter, but the majority of people living in the city are having less of an effect on the environment than people living in the fresh air and green space outside the city.

I lived in the suburbs for many years so I certainly understand why people live there. The schools are often better, the houses much cheaper, the neighbors more engaged with each other, and the crime rates typically lower. However, suburbs are causing numerous problems that are partly detrimental to those who live there and partly detrimental to all of us. Big houses full of largely unused space cost a lot of money and resources to heat and cool. Large lawns require lots of water, time, and gas to keep looking acceptable. Pretty much every errand involves a car trip costing time, money, and resources. Commutes often eat up a quarter of the personal outside of work waking hours (also costing resources and money).

The mantra of real estate - Location, Location, Location - could also be the mantra of environmentalists.

Living in Los Angeles (or centrally in any large city) drastically reduces the time, money, and resources expended on running errands. Where we live we can walk to:
  • grocery stores
  • convenience stores
  • car repair and body shops
  • if we had kids they could walk to the elementary, middle, high school, and the community center
  • library
  • shopping mall
  • every conceivable type of restaurant (burgers, bbq, Mexican - multiple regional styles, Italian, pizza, Indonesian, Thai, Indian - multiple regional styles, Chinese, vegan, the list could go on and on ...)
  • gyms
  • boutiques
  • barber shops
  • post office
  • vet
  • pharmacies
  • dentists
  • doctors
In other words darn near everything you'd need except a hardware store (which is within biking distance). If we want to venture outside the walking radius, we can take the bus or light rail to pretty much anywhere in the city. There are weeks when I only drive twice (once on the weekend and on Monday so I can join my walking group at the marina). Of course the big benefit is being close enough to not have to drive to work (so if you work in the burbs, you may be better off living in the burbs).

I'm not tooting our own horn, but rather encouraging people to think twice about why they live where they live. I'm not sure why we lived in the suburbs as long as we did! Yes, the rent on our studio apartment is more than the mortgage on our 3 bedroom/2 bathroom house was, but the savings in household bills, upkeep, gas, and most especially time, more than offset the difference.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Rise of the Ranges of Light"

I really enjoyed this book. It is a very pleasant read blending nature, geology, evolution, and philosophy. If you live in California, it is especially exciting because we live on the stage of some fascinating geologic processes that are happening right now.

It is also a good read for those who worry about change. I find comfort in living in a universe in constant flux. Species come and species go. Climates get hotter and then get colder. Mountains rise and then they fall. We are just a tiny part of all this, but what an amazing privilege to live in the midst of it all!

It reminds me of the Voyager 1 photo of Earth. I'm sure most people have seen the famous "pale blue dot" photo: It really puts it all in perspective.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Blue Laws

One awesome thing about living in California is the absence of inane and archaic blue laws. I have no idea why Texas clings to restrictions on the sale of alcohol that make it seem like prohibition just ended last week. For those of you not from Texas, in Texas: liquor stores can not open on Sunday, liquor stores can't be open later than 9pm, you can't buy hard liquor at the grocery store or drug store, and you can't buy wine/beer before noon on Sunday.

Most states aren't as silly as Texas, but I haven't lived in most states so I am reveling in the awesomeness of California's lack of restrictions. Many liquor stores are open late. You can pick up a bottle of wine with your groceries on Sunday morning. You can get a bottle of vodka at the drug store. You can buy quality brands of scotch at the grocery store. You can put off buying hard liquor until Sunday.

Perhaps the most awesome thing is that they have store brand liquor and wine. All the competition means prices on liquor and wine are a couple of dollars cheaper per bottle than for the exact same bottle back in Texas. Also, there are a number of quite enjoyable wines for less than $5 a bottle. The wines less than $5 back in Texas were seldom fit to marinate meat with much less drink. The $2.99 Trader Joe's wine is perfectly fine to drink with a weeknight dinner.

In general, I oppose most governmental restrictions on business. Relaxing the laws around a perfectly legal product makes it much more an everyday part of life. Selling hard liquor at the grocery store implies that it is a drink to be enjoyed with or after a nice meal at home. I can't seem to find where the quote originated from, but "Every great drink consists of two essential ingredients: moderation and responsibility". Which is true of anything we eat or drink.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


For the past several weeks I have been riding my bike to work. I really enjoy it. However, I have been disappointed about not going to the beach at lunch any more. It is a quick 6 minute drive down to the beach. A safe bike route to the beach is slightly more circuitous and is a little over 2 miles to reach the same location. In my head I told myself I was already riding 39 miles a week and walking about 12 miles so it really wasn't feasible to add a 5 mile ride during lunch because I would just be too tired. Yeah, that seems silly now.

One night last week I listened to an audio interview with Ron Zeller. Among many things, he mentioned running a 100 mile race at the age of 64. I think I may have heard of ultramarathons at some point, but never really processed what they were. This particular race was 100 miles all in one go through the mountains of Utah. After hearing that I realized how silly it was for me to tell myself I couldn't ride a few extra miles to go do something I enjoy. The very next day I rode to the beach at lunch and even biked along the beachfront bike path for a few miles.

Another good motivating story is that of Cliff Young. At age 61 he won the 875 kilometer Australian Westfield ultramarathon. He was a potato farmer who had herded sheep by foot on his parent's 2000 acre ranch. He won the race by sheer persistence. When the young runners stopped to sleep, he kept going. In one interview he said he just imagined he was herding sheep ahead of a big storm.

Now I don't like to run, but these stories are great motivators. Whatever it is you want to do, you can go do it. No matter how old you are, your body can do amazing things if you just patiently persist. Our mind is the only thing that holds us back whether it be from riding an extra 5 miles a day or running 100 miles or pursuing our dreams. Now I know I can enjoy the beach whenever I want to.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Balcony Garden Week 6

Harvest so far:

  • about 6 strawberries (ranged from tart to sweet)
  • two handfuls of spinach (it was good)
  • a small handful of kale (young and mild)
  • numerous sprigs of rosemary

Despite being 4 stories up in middle of a large, concrete city, garden pests have found me. I believe this is a Pieris rapae (aka imported cabbage worm and small white). They are non-native, but seeing as they have been here since the 1800s, I say they have staked their claim and get to live. I have great respect for any creature that can sniff out its preferred host plant in the middle of LA. So I am sharing my kale with the caterpillars.

Now if I get tomato hornworms it will be a different story. I will practice ruthless removal of any tomato pest because I refuse to share the tomatoes. There are tons of blooms and the first 2 tomatoes have appeared!