notes on "life, the universe, and everything" by some groovy women

In the small upstate New York village where I grew up there were two small grocery stores. The majority of shopping was once or twice a month at the supermarkets in the larger towns, but for immediate needs there was: Wilber’s General Store and Coote’s Market.

Wilber’s was directly across the street from the school so the kids who lived in town and walked to school were allowed to cross the street at lunch hour but those of us who took the bus had to have parental permission to “go over town.”  In high school we quickly learned to finesse that!  Wilber’s was a large two-story clapboard building with wooden floors and screen doors front and back.  It was a large building with big windows and two stories of offices above  – my uncle had a law office upstairs for a few years.

The grocery section at Wilber’s was entered from the miniscule parking lot in the back. It carried produce and milk and meat and all the usual grocery items but I don’t remember ever buying groceries there.  The front of the store was larger and really was a general store: books and cards, school supplies and toys, and even some clothes.  The front was where we shopped at lunch time: a very large candy counter in the front and an ice cream cooler to the left of the main door were the primary attractions.  I bought my first make up at Wilber’s on an illicitpondst lunch hour trip – Pond’s Angel Face in a little blue compact.

My family almost always shopped at Coote’s on the way home from church on Sunday. Charlie and Evelyn, Mr. and Mrs. Coote to us, gave local families credit – not credit cards – but accounts where the items and costs would be recorded and then paid up later. I know Mom and Pop took advantage of it because frequently one of us was sent to pick up something and say, “Mom, Pop said it was okay to ask you to put this on our account.”  The store was basically the ell of a two-story house reached by 4-5 steps to the porch (The house is still there on Main Street, painted a different color and slightly run down.)

Coote’s had a meat refrigerator with a scale on top and produce in baskets on a shelf in front of it. The canned and packaged goods were on shelves that reached all the way to the ceiling and a small rack of cards near the front door, an in the far corner near the entrance to the house, behind the ice cream cooler, shelves for personal hygiene products, a rack of school supplies, comic books and paper dolls.  If the store was empty when we went in, soon enough Charlie came through a connecting glass door from his house. He stood behind the wooden counter that had just enough room to stack up purchases surrounded by the candy and gum racks and opposite him was the baked goods rack.

I did my first and, I think, my only shoplifting at Coote’s: a pack of gum that I lost an hour later playing on a friend’s lawn. Not only was I guilt-ridden but I couldn’t even enjoy my ill-gotten gains or claim it as mine! I’d have been asked where I got the money!

My parents probably bought their cigarettes at Coote’s and in the summer he would order us a 5-pound box of First Prize hot dogs for summer cookouts. We also picked up the Sunday paper – my parents were New York Times readers. There are still some small towns in which you can reserve the out-of-town papers and pick them up as we did, from special stack with each person’s name of the top.  (Fly Creek, NY near Cooperstown, Cornwall Bridge, CT near Kent, and Hanover, ME near Bethel.)

Who benefited from these little local stores?  Everyone in town and the surrounding farms benefited from a store within a few miles for milk and bread and toilet paper or some potatoes and hamburger or spaghetti for dinner.  I think my parents got a lot of their local “news” from talking with Charlie and Evelyn, they knew their customers. The money that the Wilber and Coote families made stayed primarily in town.

Current estimates are that over 60% of every dollar spent in a locally owned business stays in the community compared with approximately $40% from a national chain. That’s a compelling argument for supporting local business although most of the ‘Wilber’s and Coote’s –style” stores are gone, replaced by gas station convenience stores and big box stores.

Who benefits from the big box stores and online warehouses?  Except for Costco as my friend Paul reminded me,  most employees at the big box stores don’t make a living wage or have health insurance.


A Hierarchy for Shopping Locally

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I am just discovering all the possible definitions of shopping locally and the work it takes to shop responsibly.

My current hierarchy with a few notes and links follows:

1 – Locally owned and operated and produces/grows a product locally. These would be CSAs, farmers markets, dairies, alpaca and goat farms, yarn shops. My definition includes being geographically desirable, preferably either in my immediate community, in Pennsylvania, or since I work in  northern Baltimore County a few miles on the border.

2 – Locally owned and operated:  but clearly most of their merchandise is sourced elsewhere.  Mine include a 3rd generation family owned grocery store, a natural foods store that has a great bulk cold storage room and grinds flour to order, a family owned and operated shoe store that still fits shoes to your feet and makes repairs and independent bookstores

3 – Retailer owned cooperatives that have a “brand” name but are privately owned. True Value Hardware stores are an example. Cooperatives share purchasing and marketing.

4 – Family owned and operated businesses available through the internet. I may discover these through some on line shopping or through a product in a local store.  I buy all my scrapbook albums and page protectors from Dalee Bookbinding in Yonkers, NY sells high quality scrapbooks and photo albums. The company has been in business for 40 years and all the products are made in the USA.

5 – Regionally owned and operated stores and services. My priorities in Pennsylvania are Redners and  Rutters (gas station and convenience stores. Redners is employee owned and also runs a warehouse store. Two Pennsylvania-created department stores are The Bon Ton and Boscov’s. There are more of these still in existence than one would think, enter the name of your favorite and see what you find

6. Franchises are locally “owned” but have a corporate owner  (if you watch Undercover Boss, you see a lot of franchises). For me to shop at a franchise the owning corporation has to have a business or political ethic that matches my own.

7. Direct sales – products sold by “consultants. “We’ve all bought candles, cooking ware, lingerie, scrapbook supplies, through our friends having parties.  See my post “Qui Bene?” for my comments about #6 and # 7 in my hierarchy.

That is my hierarchy: local, family members in the store at least some of the time, and those I consider ethical and responsible.

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Bucket Lists, Comfort Zones, Decade Goals

My neighbor and knitting friend Theresa is approaching a milestone birthday and plans to take a 3-day course driving a team of draught horses. Draught horses are the big ones: Percherons and Clydesdales, and Theresa’s favorites: American Cream.

She described her plans to our knitting group, said she’s very comfortable around horses and this is something she has always wanted to do. One person said, “Oh, it’s on your bucket list.” Someone else commented on her decade birthday. I thought how courageous she is to try something so different.

I certainly have had decade goals: one was a trip to Ireland in 2002, my second, that my brother David generously underwrote 2/3s of, the second, a trip to the Grand Tetons with my youngest brother Eric and his family was postponed, but not forgotten.

We all have personal hesitance and fears that aren’t about setting goals or making bucket lists but are about confronting our self-perceived limitations.

Breakout Strategies, an article in Prevention Magazine, April 2003, crystallized for me the rationale and methods for pushing the boundaries of comfort zones. I combined a milestone birthday goal with a personal “fear” challenge:  I took singing lessons in 2008!

I love to sing but from middle school on was told that I am tone deaf; tell a child something enough times and she believes it. I got really good at mouthing the words and whisper singing.  You know – that sort of under your breath singing. I really, really wanted to feel comfortable singing out loud: Happy Birthday, or a hymn at church, or any time other people are singing.  A music teacher at the church/academy where I work gave singing lessons just down the hall from my office. I asked her if she’d work with me and for a very small amount of money we spent a half-hour a week together. I can’t read music and it takes me a few tries to get the right note, but I discovered that I can sing in tune!

It is exhilarating to accomplish what I was embarrassed about (singing) or adamantly resisted (physical activities). I learned to down hill ski several years ago (kudos to my brother David, an A-level ski instructor, for his patience and for not swearing at me). At the end of the day I was exhausted but excited that I had gotten off the baby slope and onto a beginner slope.  I mastered the machines at my local gym (thank you Pete, my personal trainer). It was so cool to stroll into the gym and know how  to set the weights and many reps to do!  just certified for the second time as a tax volunteer (thank you Debra for cajoling and encouraging me to try). I froze when I had to do the first real return and took twice as long as anyone else. All were a challenge either to my sluggish, sedentary physicalness and self-consciousness or to my math-anxiety brain;  all l were way outside my comfort zone. And note, I’m back for the second year doing taxes!

Research is continuing to demonstrate the positive effects of challenging our brains, that developing new synapses sustains good physical as well as mental health as we age. Some suggest just switching from crosswords to Sudoku is enough to develop new brain patterns. I much prefer crossword puzzles but maybe jig saw puzzles since my spatial concepts are questionable.  I am putting a lot of thought into what is next. I have another milestone birthday on the horizon.  There are goals to set, comfort zones to challenge. I’ll keep you posted.

“Whatever scares you, do it. Now. “ Kenn Budd, AARP Magazine June/July 2012 and author of The Voluntourist. 

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IMG_0001I just signed up, with my friend Lisa, for a full share in our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Side by Side Farm  This is the third time I’ve been a member of CSA/food co-operative.

The first co-op in a storefront in Hoboken mostly had dry bulk foods – beans, rice, etc. and occasionally some sad produce. We each had to work a few hours a month in addition to buying our food. The second was much better: an organic produce co-op run, out of all places, a high-rise apartment in Jersey City. My friend Rebecca and I had a weekly share and eventually Rebecca ran the co-op from her row house basement just two blocks from my apartment. Each shareholder had to work one morning every other month to sort and bag the produce that came from organic farms in the Hudson Valley. The plus of the day I worked was getting extras like potatoes or carrots, whatever didn’t even out in the bags. I also had to be prepared, as with any co-op, to use whatever produce appeared in our bags. The excessive chard and kale in the summer sometimes ended up in my compost heap but I also got wonderful surprises like star fruit or strawberries. It’s always good to find out as much as one can before joining a co-op or CSA. In each of the co-ops in New Jersey, I talked with someone I knew who was already a member

This time, my CSA is a bigger commitment of money, but no commitment of time, other than going to the farm once a week to pick up my bags. Lisa and I will figure out a schedule and the most fun will be deciding who gets what; she likes kale, I like carrots, the salad greens and blue potatoes could be an issue.

Before surfing the web and signing up for the closest farm, do some research. has great information not just about where farms are, but what to expect from a membership – good and bad.

I have a lot of confidence in “my” farm since I bought fresh produce from them during the entire last season of the local farmers market. I have also had the advantage of weekly visits to the farm to buy winter produce so I know the quality and the reliability of the produce. My farm will have a summer bonus for shareholders: a pick your own plot that we can use to supplement our weekly shares. Last night I got baby carrots, rutabagas, lettuce, mesclun and two kinds of sweet potatoes. I still have garlic and celery and celeriac and fennel from last week – looks like another soup weekend!

What I like best is that I eat healthier, I eat better quality foods, and I am supporting local farmers.

MLK, Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a day to “take-on not take-off”

I have two volunteer activities on the schedule for that day  because, thankfully, the library will be open. I’ll spend several hours doing tax preparation for VITA – the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Preparation. This will be the second year that I’ve been a volunteer tax preparer, but every year each of us has to re-certify. I haven’t completed my certification yet and am hoping to go up a level in order to do more returns at the local site.   Note: anyone who makes less than $50,000 a year is eligible to use VITA. It’s free and is in every county in USA.

My other activity will be “Woolgathering by the Fire”  the knitting, crocheting group I facilitate at the library. I’d thought about making it a half day event, but really want to get my VITA work completed. I will suggest to the participants that we each bring an item we’re making for charity instead of our personal projects. I knit hats and scarves for Seamen’s Church Institute’s “Christmas at Sea”program that provides services to the crews on the container ships that dock in our major ports.  I also knit pet blankets for the local Animal Rescue shelter.

Mom was a Cub Scout leader for my brother David’s pack – that I often invaded – but I don’t remember either her or Pop doing volunteer work when we were young. Twice daily milking, barn chores, haying, raising 7 kids took most of their time and energy. Their hobbies were confined to Pop’s stamp collecting, and Mom’s woodworking and laying of stone walls. It was after selling the milk cows that Pop got involved in Rotary and the school board and Mom with the parent teachers organization and drove us to the after school bowling league.


At Jean’s apt circa 1971

My own interests and passions propelled me into my first major volunteer commitment: John V. Lindsay’s second campaign as mayor of New York City. I became enamored of JVL – the Yale-educated ‘60’s new image liberal politician during the summer between my junior and senior years of college.

My sister and brother-in-law very tolerantly let me live with them so I could volunteer full-time with the campaign. Rich drove me to the donut shop where I worked second shift and I paid him in gooey filled donuts. My tip money paid for cab rides home and daily train fare to Grand Central Station.I was smart, committed, and eager to work and quickly made friends with the paid assistant to the Director of Volunteers and became her unpaid assistant. The closer Election Day came the more I knew I had to work through to the end. I quit my paying job – I was working 12 hour days and finessed an independent study semester with the college. I was, after all, a political science major, and not shy about manipulating my professors. My sister’s continued generosity and an occasional lunch from the campaign kept me fed. Those were heady days – working a dinner at the Brooklyn Museum for Golda Meir, a telethon at Madison Square Garden, getting a Peter Max-designed campaign scarf.Lindsay won his second term in “the second toughest job in America.” I went back to college. Six weeks after graduation I was back at my sister’s apartment and in a paid job with the man I’d worked for on the campaign. A pleasant but unexpected bonus from my volunteer commitment.

I’ve volunteered on other campaigns: a mayoral candidate in Hoboken; the ’08 Obama campaign for which I was a local organizer, and the ’12 campaign. I have also volunteered for a Hoboken theatre company, an Upper West Side (NYC) block association, an equal rights campaigns, an inter-faith community organization that cleaned up chromium, a homeless shelter, two seafarers associations and a public library. I like knowing that the organization I “work” for makes a difference for individuals and communities and may have an impact beyond my local community. I like learning new information about the issues and people and places connected to my volunteer efforts. I love the friends I make through my volunteer efforts.  There are pitfalls: I get over-committed and over whelmed; I have to work with people who get on my nerves; I lose interest or a project loses its funding. Not everyone can afford to volunteer, my parents couldn’t when they were raising a big family, and I couldn’t when I was working 4 jobs to pay rent and health insurance.  But, for most of my adult life, I have been a volunteer, and expect to continue to be one.


EATTING LOCALLY inspired this post. See what Cara is writing about her resolution to shop locally.  I am totally on board with this concept since I’ve been trying to practice it for the past year, and proselytizing my friends. She had a great article in the York Daily Record about shopping in PA too (or whatever state you live in).

My idea of shopping locally covers parts of two states since I live in South Central PA and work in northern Baltimore County. Eating locally is my focus right now.

Thursday has become food day at my house. On my way home from work I go to, a CSA, in Freeland, MD. I discovered their certified naturally-grown vegetables at the farmers’ market this past summer. Its much easier to eat locally in the summer when the markets are in full swing.  When the markets closed at the end of September I thought I’d be subsisting on frozen organic vegies and a lot of squash through the winter. Then, hooray! In November  Side by Side announced hours for direct -at- the- farm purchasing.  I eat what is available at the farm – each week it is a bit different – baby butter lettuce in January that is so yummy it doesn’t need salad dressing, and some very odd-looking things like celeriac to try in new recipes.  What a luxury! The farm is less than 10 minutes from my house and every cent I spend goes to supporting the farmers, no money for marketing, no trucking costs, no waste.  There are some incredible local farms in Freeland: Charlottestown Farm makes yummy goat cheese; there’s a farm with Highland (Scotland) cattle. Take a compass or a GPS for navigating the winding roads.

When I get home on Thursday with my vegetables, my delivery from is at my door.  At least hMilkinBlueCooleralf of what I eat comes through them: milk, yogurt, eggs, peanut butter, noodles, and flour.  Apple Valley is in East Berlin so there is a trucking cost – paid via my delivery fee.  Now that I’ve used them for several months, I rarely go to the supermarket so I’ve saved at least what the delivery fee is, plus more. They have a printed brochure that I request from time to time to pass along to friends but I usually just suggest their website which is how I place my orders.

Sonnewalds in New Salem is my other local food haven.  I recommend a visit just for the bulk cold room: flours and grains, dried fruits, pastas by the pound that you pack yourself. Their fresh ground flours are the best. I also buy local honey in returnable jars and usually some ecologically sound cleaning products. Like many natural food stores they have two aisles of vitamins and herb supplements, as well as canned and bottled grocery items. It’s a family owned and operated store.

Two items had me stumped: where to buy bananas and toilet paper. Sonnewald’s carries 7th Generation toilet paper but it is pricey. So how to stay out of the supermarkets?

I get peaches and strawberries from Brown’s and apples from Shaw’s. I don’t know of any local banana growers. Budget wise one of my big trade-offs is to buy conventional bananas, organic ones are hideously expensive. The best I can do is to buy fair trade bananas at Sonnewald.

What about the toilet paper? Cara may have found the solution: Greenline Products in York carries unbleached recycled paper, 2 ply toilet paper in an 80 roll case. I don’t have storage space for that much tp. Anyone want to share a case?

It’s more than buying food locally, eating out at locally owned restaurants also makes sense. I’m really tired of mass-menu, mediocre food from the take out and restaurant chains where cleanliness and food storage can be a problem. I stopped eating at several places after reading the health inspection reports in the local paper.

Many of the take-out restaurants and chains are franchises, owned locally, that employ local people – maybe you or your children. But that is not the same as family owned and operated places like Bonkey’s in New Freedom (summer only) or Paesano’s and Seven and Red Cheetah and Julianna’s in the Village. Those are five  New Freedom/Shrewsbury eating places that are my favorites. If there is any problem with the food, a family owned place will be very responsive to making it right. Every customer’s dollar matters.  I love going into a local restaurant where the staff recognize me. If they know my order before I even sit down that’s when I know I’ve been eating out too often!

Shout out to a some other local stores: yarnJust before Christmas I “discovered”, a yarn store in Queensgate Mall.  It’s been there for a while and my knitting friends have talked about it. I was searching everywhere for yarn to match a skein for a December birthday gift.  Uncommon Threads didn’t have it but I was delighted with the selection of yarns and the prices. Madelinetosh, one of my new favorites, is cheaper there than from on online store I’d been using and I don’t have to spend $70 in order to get free shipping.  The brown alpaca blend in photo is from Uncommon Threads.  So, I’ll continue to  shop locally – which might include Lancaster Co.,  for my yarn, and to wait eagerly for Heather Sweitzer to re-open the shop in Seven Valleys.

We all need a good hardware store and True Value Hardware in Shrewsbury has long had my loyalty as compared to the big box store across the hill.  I have to compromise sometimes with what I want but I like the staff and its family owned.   I NEVER shop in Wal-mart.  I confess to a weakness for Target and even worked there when I first moved to the area. I’ll use my Target gift cards that I got for Christmas but then I’ll try to stay out of there too. Since I also shop my political convictions, learning that the Minnesota based store supported someone I can’t believe got  will help me stay out of that chain.

P.S. Be nice to cashiers – it’s a horrid job. When I worked an 8-hour shift at Target I stood the entire time, we were not allowed to lean on the counters. One 15 minute break in the first 4 hours and one in the second, and one 30 minute meal break. That was it! No leaving the counter area even to go to the bathroom without a supervisor knowing where I was. I got in big trouble one time for escorting a blind man to the men’s department and helping him with a purchase! No joke, even though I told the cashier next to me what I was doing. Have your money ready because all the transactions are timed.  Be polite, get off your cell phone, tell the kids to stop whining, and say thank you.

One more reason to shop in small, local stores. If you don’t like the service, you can find the owner!


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I’m a linear thinker. I make lists. I remember where I filed paper.  When I’m making a list of resolutions my neat list gets messed up if I make a change and I spend more time neatly re-writing the same thoughts instead of writing new ones.mindmaps002

A solution is mind maps!  My scrapbooking hobby taught me to be more visual than is instinctual for me, but the mind mapping freed me even more from list making. Mind maps are a visual, non-linear technique to “chart” ideas and formulate new ones, used originally as a project management tool. There are several copyrighted software programs and smart phones apps available to show you the technique. There are also new web-based goal setting programs and apps the majority of which are linear, some are group support-oriented or meant to shared on-line. I prefer working by myself, on paper, with lots of colored markers.

If you want to “map” your life, schedule a big chunk of time without interruptions. I took a personal day from work and went to a friend’s house where I could work on a huge table, not be distracted by “to-do’s” at home, make lots of cups of tea, and sit on the back deck to contemplate life. I had Internet access and took several sets of files on financial and other related topics.

My stash of good colored markers and very large pieces of paper taped together were all I needed to get started.  In different colors I wrote major categories – Family, Housing, Travel, Work and then just started making notes. You can draw pictures, write in different colors all over the page, make it fun. Breaks on the deck helped me contemplate random thoughts floating in my head. I looked up states that are tax-friendly to seniors – Pennsylvania is, Vermont is not. I checked my Social Security earnings and projected my income at different retirement ages.

The dog needed a walk so I took a break which helped clear my head. The next steps: lots of circles, lines and arrows, crossing out, writing in different colors, adding categories, trying to make connections between all the individual tasks and loosely organize them within the over-arching categories. Whew. It’s work.  By 4:00pm I called it a day. I needed a solid mental break, the dog needed another walk, and there was a good episode of Leverage on TV.

I took the pages home and taped them on the wall of my guest room. Over the next several weeks I drew more lines, added and deleted items until I had a condensed version similar to what you see here.

My linear side kicked back in – I needed a list! What from the concepts of the  mind map did I want to do in 2012, 2013…? This list is also very broad – only two or three main items each year, and is subject to adjusting. Ex., when my car repairs got too expensive I opted for a “new” car in 2012 instead of waiting until 2014. That means that a trip I’d planned for 2013  to 2014.  That leads directly to a 2013 resolution to save money every paycheck for my 2014 trip!  The mind map and by-date list now are a tool to help me create my resolutions.