travel

The 2010 Blizzard of Small-Shop Sales

Well, there was a blizzard in New England last night.   Here’s a picture from Kittery, Maine.   The sign, if you can’t read it, says Warren’s Lobster House.

Warren's Lobster House in Blizzard of 2010
Warren's Lobster House, Kittery, ME in Blizzard 2010

We watched this blizzard form and approach for about a week prior.  We tracked every twist and turn of green blobs, white, blue and pink clumps surging on a collision course across the national weather radar map.  On Christmas Day, my brother and I bent over NECN’s weather pages watching and giggling like — well — siblings on Christmas Day.   Blizzard on the way.

Later, a day or so later, NECN weather would air the photo I took (above) on TV, as the storm actually blew in.  Neat!

NECN is a smaller news outlet in New England.  But it’s the one everyone I know watches.  Smaller, sometimes, is better.

Smart shops

My brother owns and operates a Sunapee area ski & sport shop.   It’s called Outspokin, located in Newbury Harbor.  Over the Christmas holiday he was saying how sales are really good this year.

Surprising, don’t you think?  Why were sales good?

My brother’s experience this fall and winter has been that consumers are finally sick of saving $100 by buying online or in a warehouse style sporting goods outlet — but getting the wrong equipment and therefore not saving anything.   Kind of a duh moment but:  consumers are realizing that a purchase is a waste of money if we don’t use it or if it’s not right for us.

I understood this trend toward smaller, wiser, more attentive shops. Places where the staff actually uses and cares about the products.  Because I’ve started frequenting these shops too.  I’m spending a little more to buy from people who understand how I’m going to use the thing and what features will suit my form and my uses.  Also, I want the staff to be useful after the sale, to answer questions or otherwise follow up.

As consumers, we once again want the expertise, the counsel of folks who live with what they sell.  It’s more expensive, but better value.  Finally, New Englanders are remembering the difference.

In the long run, value funds itself.

I used to think that was malarky.  I thought that with the internet and my broad access to all media, I could research any subject all by myself and decide on the matter.

But it turns out few of us have time/bandwidth to know all about skis, hair products, digital cameras, laptops, and the new line of Toyotas.  Not beyond a superficial survey.

And let’s face it: we don’t respect the neutrality of media like we used to.

For my day job, I’m obligated to know tons about blogs, marketing, social media, industry, manufacturing, green regulations… that’s just a start. In my free time I seem determined to absorb everything ever produced about ancient Egypt and the vicinity.  Then there are the many details of daily life that takes space: friends, family, gas prices, organic food quality, new clothes, on and on.

Few of us have time to keep up with our professional and personal expertise — and then really get our heads around the latest in — huh? — ski equipment.  And yet the $1000 I will drop on snow-sport gear is a big investment.

If done correctly, the $1000 can provide a few years of fun.  But if I get the wrong equipment, it won’t be fun.  It’ll hurt, be cold, and make me ski like a platypus and feel crabby.  And it’ll cost more in the long run — to make it sort-of right.

I have the benefit of my brother’s shop.  But now I want a digital camera.  And am going to use the same principal.

We — New Englanders in particular — are changing our buying habits back to the small, expert-driven shops, says my brother.  I think he’s right.

Am curious to see if ski equipment sales drop off after Christmas or if the trend continues.  And speaking of smaller shops doing an awesome job: kudos to Matt Noyes and the NECN Weather Team for excellent weather coverage during the blizzard of 2010.

And I’m not just saying that because they posted my picture.  (Although I’m very pleased they posted my picture!)  But this smaller-shop weather center is to weather what my brother’s sport shop is to skiing & cycling. Good things in small packages.   Pointing to a trend to a return to an expertise-based model.

The Generalist is dead; long live the Expert instead.

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Environmental Regulations, Nature, New Green Economy, Saving the World, Science

New England: The New Green Economy Epicenter

Is New England poised to become to the New Green Economy that Silicon Valley became to Information Technology?

Thirty years ago the average person might have guessed it would be the other way around.  May have guessed that California would produce the Sustainable, Green, Eco-friendly economic revolution, while New England – with it’s rational, over-educated, practical let’s-get-it-done mindedness – would likely be fertile ground for a high-tech explosion.

It turns out that internet technology appeals to the free-spirited, individualistic cowboy mentality.  And sustainable anything appeals to the “get real,” conservative, sensible (and frugal) New Englander.

Sure, there are a lot of academia’s ivory towers in New England – lofty ones, but a New Green Economy must be more than ideas.  So what besides education do New Englanders have that may be not so emphasized in other parts of the U.S.?

New Englanders know how to live together.   They know how to live in a village with other people in close proximity and everything relying on the weather.   That is to say, New Englanders know how to live in a system larger than their own spouse and immediate family — with limited resources and a tempermental eco-system.

New Englanders know how to live, work, and commune with respect.

Living with respect means:  let stuff go, live and let live, don’t pry, your religion and your politics are your business, bring a casserole when your neighbor is sad, use all of the animal if you kill it, and of course: each day show up and do your work.

Those are sensibilities for a sustainable culture — business culture or otherwise. From that mentality or culture more easily comes sustainable solutions.

Those solutions will be the cornerstone of the New Green Economy.

Sustainability and Renewable Solutions?

I grew up in New Hampshire.

The reason there are so many junk cars in a redneck yard is because they’re re-using car parts.  Reuse and recycle.

The reason we had a compost pile back o’ the house is because we needed to make the most of our plot of land – our garden was small and there wasn’t another thousand acres standing by to take our planting.

We used every little bit of everything.

A poet named Donald Hall lived in a nearby town.  Hall wrote what many think of as an Ode to New England living called, “String Too Short To Be Saved.”  It’s a prose book about New England.  It begins this way:

A man was cleaning the attic of an old house in New England and he found a box which was fully of tiny pieces of string.  On the lid of the box was an inscription in an old hand: “String too short to be saved.”

As I say, we saved everything.  Growing up, we had a drawer full of string, twine, old corks, unidentifed pieces of wire, hooks, elastic bands…. nothing was just tossed away.  In fact, we had a couple of outbuildings full of this sort of thing.  We were not unusual in this regard.

Everyone had a compost system, sometimes also called “feeding the pigs.”  Even if you didn’t have pigs, someone did, and deals would be cut in trade for good compost.  This was a matter of course.

A southern facing house was a smart house.  Windows were sealed and insulation was critical.  We grew vegetables, made dandelion wine, and canned for the winter; and we knew that vegetables from that garden, even canned, tasted better and somehow were in fact better than the waxy ones from the grocery store.

“Why those damn beans need wax on ’em is what I’ll never know,” my grandfather said every August.  “And God knows what chemicals are in the soil.”

We didn’t know about “Organic” this or that.  But we did.

Talk to a New Englander

If you want  to talk about Renewable Energy and Sustainability, you want to talk to a New Englander. By that I mean, talk to a rural person in the interior of New Hampshire or Maine.

Overheard recently was a New Hampshire-ite commenting on Vermont’s reputation for being down to earth and green, saying, “Vermont is just a state full of New Yorkers who moved up there with the vain idea of trying to live the Simple Life.” Yikes.

Okay, so it’s still a little provincial in New England with these loyalties to your home state… but the guy was completely right.  There are too many Bing Crosby songs about Vermont and now the whole state has been bought up by dissatisfied New Yorkers.  Not a bad thing, but they are not New Englanders.

Another group besides New Englanders you’d want to talk to about Renewable Energy and Sustainability is of course Native American tribes.  Which is why the Environmental Protection Agency is partnering with tribes to work towards clean water solutions and so on. There are still some folks in New Hampshire to speak with; you’ll notice our good green state has not fallen to the casino nonsense, either.

Show me the green / money!

There is lots of money coming into New England if you are interested in Renewable projects.  As Mass High Tech journal reported on December 17, 2010:

Companies doing research and development, buying equipment or developing renewable energy projects in New England will get a boost from the country’s massive tax cuts package, industry associations said Friday.

The package, worth $858 billion, extends an R&D tax credit for two years and extends a cash grant for renewable energy projects for one year. The package also includes an incentive for businesses to invest in new equipment in 2011.

That’s real money.  This is real.

Concluding thoughts

In the end, all things considered, New England makes surprising sense as the mecca for New Green Economy.  Recent and planned events are driving this forward, such as a surprising turnout recently at a Green Chemistry Forum in Boston at MIT on December 16, 2010.

Here’s what Officials there were saying about Green in New England that you need to know:

EPA Region 1 convened New England leaders in green chemistry during the summer and fall of 2010.  From these meetings a strategic plan was agreed upon as well as a structure for moving forward.  A coordinating committee chaired by Regional Administrator Curt Spalding, US EPA and John Warner, Warner Babcock Institute of Green Chemistry was formed.  From this committee co-leads were selected for six strategic sector based groups;

  • Policy (Government)
  • Production & Work (Business),
  • Investment & Development (Venture Capital/Economic Development),
  • Education (K-12, Colleges & Universities),
  • Advocacy & Demand (Non-Government Organizations), and
  • Healthcare (Environmental Health Organizations)

Members of the Coordinating Committee are charged to be true green chemistry advocates and practitioners, by reaching out to individuals, agencies, associations and the public as advocates of green chemistry. The six strategic groups will develop their own action plans for building understanding, fostering relationships and establishing commitment to a safer, greener, sustainable society.

For more, go to: http://www.epa.gov/region1/gcforum2010/

If you care about Green, New Hampshire, and/or New England, this is something to think about.  It’s real.

travel

The Day My Father Died

Last night I dreamt a strange dream about having to push a thin older bald man head first down the center of a spiral staircase – one with no known bottom.  I barely escaped without falling myself… but I did and climbed to solid ground.  Didn’t feel bad about it in the dream but I did when I woke up.

Today in flashes & waves I was reminded, by sight or smell or both, of almost everywhere I’ve ever been.  I felt how it felt to be there, and there, and ah yeah, there too.  I wondered what a strange thing, to have a day like that.  I felt odd, like something was going to happen.  I, hopeful as always, imagined it was that feeling you’re rumored to get when a new lover is near.  I felt sentimental about my friends and excited about ones to come.

At about 1:23PM the phone rang at my desk at work – my personal line – ringing for the first time.  No one calls me at work.  I didn’t know how to answer it – what line or button.  It was my older sister.  She – I love her – but had to smile later on the bus ride home realizing that she wins the Worst Person To Deliver Bad News Award.

“Kim I have some bad news.”

“Go ahead.”

“Are you ready?”

“Uh, I don’t know…”

“Are you ready?”

“I don’t know.”

“Dad’s dead.”

All we know is that he had a heart attack and died a couple of hours ago.  He was working.  South Lake Sunapee, in Newbury Harbor.  As it happened, someone ran to get my brother, who has a shop nearby.  My brother got to my father in time “to see his last convulsions.”  No one  knows if he was conscious.  I hope he was – a little bit.  I hope he knew my brother was there.

It’s so silent.  As anytime there’s grief….  You get the initial shock then you wait.  Wait for more details.  Wait to speak with everyone.  Wait to find out if & when there’s a funeral.  And behind the silence churn all the emotions you’ve ever had for the person.  Like a day when

you’re reminded of

everywhere you’ve ever been.

 

by kmjellen, exclusively for the DeepForestGreen blog

Green Tips, Saving the World

Easy Energy Saving Tips for Winter

U.S. Environmental Protective Association or EPA just released a few helpful tips for saving energy this winter.  Material is from an EPA press release yesterday.  I get all of them – usually about 5 per day.  Ah, the glamorous green life, I bet you’re thinking.  To wit, highlights in my inbox yesterday included, no joke:

  1. EPA and Other Federal Agencies to Hold Bed Bug Summit in February
  2. EPA Seeks New Timetable for Reducing Pollution from Boilers and Incinerators
  3. EPA Seeks Public Comment on Integrated Cleanup Initiative Implementation Plan for brownfields and underground storage tanks

Ah, the glamorous life of …. deep forest green?

5 energy saving tips for winter

WASHINGTON – With cold weather setting in across the United States, homeowners are looking for ways to heat their homes while reducing their energy bills to save money. The average family spends $2,200 a year on energy bills, nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program offers five easy energy saving tips.  Stay warm while keeping money in your wallets while helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.

In EPA’s own words, here are five climate n’ cash conservation tips:

1. Assess your home by visiting the http://www.energystar.gov web site. Start with the Home Energy Yardstick to compare your home’s energy use to similar homes across the country and see how your home measures up. Then, use the Home Energy Advisor to get recommendations for energy-saving home improvements for typical homes in your area.

2. Seal air leaks in your home. Sealing air leaks with caulk, spray foam, or weather stripping will have a significant impact on improving your comfort and reducing energy bills. If you are adding insulation to your home, be sure to seal air leaks first, to ensure you get the best performance from your insulation.

3. Maintain heating equipment. Dirt and neglect are the number one causes of heating system failure. To maintain your equipment, check your system’s air filter every month and change it if it is dirty. At a minimum, change it every three months. Schedule pre-season checkups for your equipment with a licensed contractor to make sure your system is operating at peak performance.

4. Use a programmable thermostat. Control your home’s temperature while you’re away or asleep by using one of the convenient pre-programmed settings on a programmable thermostat. When used properly, programmable thermostats can save you up to $180 every year in energy costs.

5. Look for “Energy Star” qualified products. Whether you are replacing light bulbs or appliances in your home, Energy Star qualified products can help you save energy and reduce energy bills. The Energy Star label can be found on more than 60 types of products ranging from heating and cooling equipment to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Also, look to EPA’s Energy Star program for advice on other ways you can save at home such as using power strips as a central turn-off point for electronics and office equipment, making sure computers and monitors are powered down when not in use, and reversing the blade rotation on ceiling fans to help spread warm air around a room. If every American household followed these heating and cooling tips, they could save $14 billion in annual energy costs and prevent more than 160 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, equivalent to the annual emissions from 14 million cars.

More information: http://www.energystar.gov/heatingtips

art

MJ Blanchette: Current Favorite Artist

Last week I discovered this painting.

It was in a gallery downtown, in the Seacoast town I call home.  The gallery, to its credit, had many interesting and beautiful works, it had paintings and books and other wonderful things.  But tucked behind the gallery owner’s desk, there on the wall, was this:

mj-blanchette-art-painting
MJ Blanchette Painting

It was one of those times when a piece of art strikes you so deeply you are still thinking of it a week later.  Doesn’t happen often.  When it does, it’s exciting enough to be shared.

Definitely check out Blanchette’s site at http://www.mjblanchette.com/ — the work is even better in real life, if you get a chance.

Blanchette exhibits around New England.

Let me know if you love it.

Nature, Science

Aliens Eating Arsenic – mmm mmm good

Just a note to acknowledge the aliens announced by NASA last week per this blog’s previous post.  If you follow this stuff, you probably already know that little green men were not the subject of the call.

Turns out, though, that life might well be in our solar system, just in places we would not have thought to look for it.  The short version is that life forms, historically, have been thought to require phosphorus to live.  Turns out that’s not the case.  A steady diet of arsenic will do for some life forms.  Mmm mmm de-lish.

Here’s how Nature magazine puts it:

Scientists have long thought that all living things need phosphorus to function, along with other elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and sulphur. The phosphate ion, PO43-, plays several essential roles in cells: it maintains the structure of DNA and RNA, combines with lipids to make cell membranes and transports energy within the cell….

The interesting thing is that the only place in the solar system we’ve looked for life is where there is phosphorus.  If it turns out to be true after still more rigorous testing that arsenic can feed a microbe (and then who knows what else?) then we have to call a do-over in our scans for life.

One scientist on the NASA announcement last week said, “We’ll have to rewrite every Biology textbook ever written.”  So this really is a big deal.  It’s akin to finding out that humans don’t have to eat food.   It’s a finding that changes all the rules and upends all our assumptions about biology.

Cool.

Keeps us on our toes.   Turns out we don’t know everything after all.

Who knew?

Nature, Science

NASA To Announce Alien Findings Today

Later today, NASA will hold a press conference to announce whether they have discovered alien life.  NASA Administrators so far will only say it’s an “astro-biology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

This blogger be on the 2:00 p.m. EST call, so if in fact it turns out there are aliens it will be duly noted.  So far, the only alien life known to the world are these creatures:

Alien species These beings might in fact be the subject of today’s call.