Are We Watching the End of the Monarch Butterfly?

Heartbreaking. In Today’s New York Times:

Citizen scientists recently gathered in a coastal Northern California town to count the butterfly during its winter migration. The results were alarming.

Jan. 25, 2019
By Mary Ellen Hannibal

Ms. Hannibal writes about science and the environment from San Francisco.

Haleigh Mun

For almost 30 years, hundreds of volunteers have helped document monarch butterfly numbers at more than 200 sites across California, from Mendocino to San Diego. A small group of these citizen scientists recently descended on the sleepy coastal town of Bolinas, near Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, to conduct the latest tally in a place where thousands of these butterflies were once counted during their winter migration.

The group was met by Mia Monroe, a ranger for the National Park Service for 40 years. She was representing the Xerces Society, a nonprofit devoted to invertebrate conservation.

“We aren’t expecting many butterflies today,” Ms. Monroe warned. Monarch numbers have been plummeting for decades, and recent surveys of their breeding habitats had reported low numbers. Making matters worse, only weeks before, wildfires had swept through the region, engulfing the Bay Area with smoke for two weeks.

“Maybe the monarchs have taken a different route, around the fire and smoke?” someone asked. “That’s a dream,” Ms. Monroe said. “But we are here to honor the survivors, and to be together in a difficult moment.”

Directing us to move with stealth into a lot overgrown with poison oak vines and blackberry brambles, she pointed to a ring of eucalyptus trees. The morning had begun cold but the temperature had inched past 54 degrees, when monarchs begin to emerge from their slumber. The brown and green branches of one tree were stirring, as if a slight breeze was ruffling the dun-colored leaves. But then a distinctive orange color revealed itself. Butterflies peeled off from the branches, each one opening like a warm kiss before fluttering into the air.

Increasingly, people without formal backgrounds in science are collaborating with scientists to collect data on a scale that scientists alone would be unable to compile. The work of these people in recording the exact time, place and conditions of their butterfly observations is vital to monitoring the health of monarch populations. Tracking these butterflies is one of the longest-standing examples of this kind of teamwork.

Over the period of a year, monarchs produce four to five generations. The last and longest-lasting of them is born between August and October. Unlike their predecessors, which live as butterflies for a mere two to four weeks, these monarchs survive for six to eight months. After staying put over the winter in Mexico or California, they disperse in March or April, spreading far and wide in search of milkweed upon which to lay their eggs, which will morph into caterpillars that become the next generation of butterflies. The final generation in this yearlong cycle will return to the same California coast as their ancestors did. How these butterflies find their place of origin remains a mystery.

Last year’s count in Bolinas had been very low; still, the trees had been festooned with scores of butterfly clumps, in which hundreds of monarchs hung together for warmth and protection. This time, there was just one clump. Later we would learn that the total count of this site in Bolinas, which the previous year tallied 12,360 butterflies, plummeted this winter to just 1,256 monarchs. “This animal story that has been going on for centuries and perhaps thousands of years is disappearing and may be gone” soon, Ms. Monroe told us, her eyes tearing.

The total number of West Coast monarchs was estimated at approximately 4.5 million in the 1980s. In the latest count, that number fell to 28,429, dipping below the number scientists estimate is needed to keep the population going. This drastic decline indicates the migration is collapsing. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to announce in June whether its scientists think the monarch qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

We love butterflies but tally them in transactional and utilitarian terms. We say that losing so many is dangerous because in their life stages from pupa to imago they provide food for creatures higher up the food chain. Fewer butterflies means fewer birds, and we need birds, in part, to help control other insects, like mosquitoes, that carry dangerous diseases. We acknowledge that the biotic world only works by way of the networks that connect each species in a web of life. We must take account of our role in the demise of this species, a consequence of habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides and herbicides, if only to help us understand how to rebuild the population.

We can still muster hope for these butterflies. We can rally against the chemicals we use to kill insects not only in big agricultural operations but also in local backyards. We can create more habitats by gardening with native plants. We can stay keenly attuned to development plans in our communities and insist that they include sustaining habitat for other living things. In partnership with their Ph.D. brethren, citizen scientists can measure efforts against results and amend strategies accordingly. We would not know the extent of the monarch decline without citizen science, and we will continue to need these volunteers if we hope to make a difference for butterflies and other species in trouble.

We ended our day in the yard of one Bolinas resident who relishes the yearly return of monarchs to his tall trees. He was happy to share the love. He explained how mowing his grass at specific times of the year supported the growth of native grasses and flowers, food sources for the overwintering butterflies. “This is a spiritual place,” he told us, “so I have to take care of it.” We sat down on his lawn to watch the sky around us fluttering with wings. The orange cloud shifted this way and that in the sunlight, the very soul of nature, still present.

Mary Ellen Hannibal is the author of “Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction.”

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Goodbye Sears: Staving the Inevitable

The slow, painful demise of Sears is a mystery to me. The very first word I knew how to read was “Sears.” I live in a home, built in 1901 by the Sears, Roebuck Corporation as a demonstration of what would be possible for “Middle Class America.” The third floor of the home was especially designed to house a live-in maid. How much the definition of “middle class” has changed over the past 120 years! However, here we are, 117 years after Sears and Roebuck claimed that the middle class consumer could affordably buy “anything” from their catalog, everything from horses to houses!

Sears, throughout my life was a venerable retail institution, and has been for the better part of the last century. Like many retailers, they made mis-steps entering the twenty first century, but by no means should that have been their death knell.

Sears built its empire (which at one time was vast, operating more than 4,000 stores, showrooms, and catalog pickup locations across the country) on catalog sales, an invention of the Montgomery Ward Corporation and of the Larkin Soap Company, both of which were more established, larger, and had a better chain of logistics than the burgeoning Sears and Roebuck. No matter, Sears and Roebuck would eventually absorb the majority of the Larkin Soap Company business when Larkin finally shuttered in the midst of World War II by catering to the price-conscious, quality-minded, middle-class consumer. At the time the middle class was the largest segment of the American economy and those who were too poor to be part of the middle class aspired to be part of the middle class. 

Over the post World War II industrial and economic boom, Sears grew and prospered. The re-invented post-war retail and adapted to the growth of Suburban America by capitalizing on catalog sales and in-store pick-up and home delivery.

The Sears catalog became an institution in American retail. According to the Sears Archives, In addition to recording the changing scene in America, the catalogs represent the work and efforts of thousands of Americans. Edgar Rice Burroughs, who later wrote the Tarzan series, worked for Sears. Lauren Bacall, Susan Hayward, Gloria Swanson, Susan Dey, Cheryl Tiegs, and Stephanie Powers all appeared on the pages of Sears catalogs as models.” The Sears catalog is an important document of contemporaneous American History, because “the catalogs accurately reflect the styles and furnishings popular through the years, producers of Broadway shows and Hollywood movies frequently refer to them.”

In a short-sighted and odd move, Sears decided to ax the catalog in 1993, citing “modern trends in retailing.” For the company, this move marked the beginning of the end. Imagine if Sears, rather than terminating the legendary catalog had instead moved it online? Sears would likely be what Amazon is today and I wouldn’t be writing this article.

Instead, today we begin to write the epitaph of Sears. Its days are done, and the pages of financial newspapers are filled with heartbreaking stories of loyal associates who have been members of the Sears family for decades. Undoubtedly, just like their Sears Canada cousins, they will be screwed and robbed by Eddie Lampert and his crooked cronies when they roll up the rug after pillaging Sears for—literally—all it was worth. I wish them all the best and pray that they receive the due they are rightfully owed. 

The tragic demise of the entire Sears empire is more than just a footnote on corporate mismanagement, but a case study in systemic and organized corporate theft. Eddie Lampert—a hedge fund manager from Connecticut—should be indicted for stealing millions in intellectual property and assets from what was once a powerhouse in American retailing and purposefully dismantling a legendary retailer. I don’t need to write much about what a crook Eddie Lampert is, because the press has covered his misdeeds, quirks, and tyrannical style in spades. He is truly a Jesse James of the American retail scene.

However, while the death of Sears marks just one more legendary American department store name to join the ash-heap of retail history along with Montgomery Ward, The Bon Ton, Lazarus, Marshall Field, Abraham and Strauss, Adam Meldrum and Anderson, Sibley’s, Hill’s, The Bon Marche, Gimbel’s, and legions of others… this time its different. Many of these retailers were regional and the few national names to bid an early departure left behind other national retailers to pick up the slack. Now, we have precious few national names (JCPenney and Macy’s, both of which are also struggling) remaining. And this time, it’s different, because we are different.

Sears was responsible for the iconic launch and growth of so many brands—Allstate Insurance, the Discover Card, Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, and so many others that were in demand by a burgeoning, and value-minded middle class. And the demise of sears marks not only the death of a retail giant—but also the death of entire portions of the retail and economic sectors and, perhaps most sadly, the middle class consumer. True, the multi-billion dollar hedge fund manager from Connecticut badgered, outmaneuvered, and cashed in on an institution beloved by the middle class, but he also nailed the final nail in the coffin of the American middle class. And maybe that’s the point: Sears is dead because the middle class is dead too. There is no more Sears because there is no more middle class. Those who identify as poor or lower middle class don’t aspire for a new Kenmore vacuum cleaner, or a set of fine Craftsman screw drivers, they long for a Kardashian-esque life filled with garbage made in sweatshops by Prada, Coach, Michael Kors, and Jimmie Choo. 

Perhaps the “modern trends in retailing” Sears noted in 1993 were not the slow change in retail sales cycles or the upcoming march to online shopping, but truly the fact that their core customer—the American middle class—was dying. And maybe Eddie Lampert knew that the once largest-sector of the American population was brain dead too, enamored instead with ersatz wealth, and that no one would notice as he pillaged an American institution. The last act hasn’t played out yet, and I certainly hope the financial regulators and watchdogs notice this disgrace. If Sears should fall without a sound from the middle class, the future of the American economy is firmly in the hedge fund managers as we march toward an untenable and worrisome future. 

 

New York Times: Forget the Suburbs, It’s Country or Bust For some New Yorkers, being priced out of the city means it’s time to move to the woods.

An original story that was published in the New York Times captures the fuel that is firing up an interest in Hipster Homesteading. Here it is:

For some New Yorkers, being priced out of the city means it’s time to move to the woods.

Former Park Slope residents Steven Weinberg and Casey Scieszka bought and renovated an aging motel and farmhouse in the Catskills, where they now live with baby Amina. In the kitchen, they repurposed an antique barn door as an island countertop.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Former Park Slope residents Steven Weinberg and Casey Scieszka bought and renovated an aging motel and farmhouse in the Catskills, where they now live with baby Amina. In the kitchen, they repurposed an antique barn door as an island countertop.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

When Casey Scieszka, a freelance writer, and her husband, Steven Weinberg, a children’s book writer and illustrator, decided to leave Park Slope, Brooklyn, they didn’t consider the New York suburbs, where the yards were too small and the property too pricey. Instead, they moved to a house five miles down a dirt road — in the Catskills.

If you’re surprised to hear that two city-based creatives gave up their urban roots for life in the country, so were their families. Perhaps no one was more shocked than Mr. Weinberg’s grandmother and a friend of hers who once vacationed near the young couple’s new home in West Kill, N.Y. “The Catskills are over,” the friend said with concern.

Mr. Weinberg, 34, politely responded: “But you haven’t been there in 40 years. It’s different now.”

One could say the same for many of the rural hamlets, lush valleys and charming Main Streets of upstate New York: They’re changing, thanks to a wave of city folks moving in. Sure, the hemlock trees are still towering, the mountain ranges still majestic and the streams still rushing, but telecommuting has inspired a new crop of people to move to these sometimes wild, sometimes walkable and sometimes wide-open spaces. Priced out of the city, but armed with the possibility of working at home, some New Yorkers are willing to trade their walk to work for a walk in the woods.

“If you want to live on five acres, that’s never going to happen in the suburbs, so some people are looking farther,” said Jessica Fields, a real estate agent for Compass in Park Slope. In 2014, she founded Beyond Brooklyn, which helps people who want to leave the city figure out where to go.

She and her husband considered moving their family to Ulster County seven years ago — and while that is not entirely off the table, they are staying in Brooklyn for now. “We know so many people who have moved upstate or are curious about moving there. It attracts the people that want to be outside and make their own kombucha, but still want to stay connected to arts and culture.”

A 2018 StreetEasy report showed that when New Yorkers move within the tristate area, 6 percent go to Westchester and Rockland counties, while 12 percent wind up in New York counties north of there. (For comparison’s sake, 9 percent move to Long Island and 13 percent to New Jersey, whether to urban Hudson County or beyond.) Residents of the Bronx and Staten Island are most likely to move upstate (17 percent), followed by Brooklynites (12 percent).

“Ninety percent of my clients up here are from Brooklyn,” said Megan Brenn-White, a real estate agent in Kingston, N.Y., who left a 750-square-foot apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, that she shared with her husband for an A-frame style house surrounded by woods in Ulster County that they bought for $255,000 in 2016. Ms. Brenn-White markets listings and interesting local businesses on an Instagram account with 6,500 followers, many of them potential or recent transplants from the city.

“Everyone wants the same things: to be within two and a half hours from the city, to have a cute town with a coffee shop less than 10 minutes away,” she said. “Sometimes they’re looking for a weekend house and sometimes — about 20 percent of the time — they’re looking for the reverse: a ‘full-time’ move where they’ll still go a few times a month to the city for work.”

City dwellers are being drawn north, in part, because of affordability. You may live in an apartment in Hudson, N.Y., within walking distance of Basilica Hudson, a former glue factory that now has a busy lineup of concerts, readings and food-related events. Or you may buy a rural farmhouse a quick drive from Beacon, N.Y., with its galleries, restaurants and shops. Either way, you could buy or rent a house for a fraction of what a one-bedroom apartment in the city would cost. Freeing up a chunk of income enables some people to chase their dreams, allowing them to open a business or live the kind of life they might not have been able to in the city.

Moving to Kingston allowed Anthony and Amanda Stromoski to open their dream business, Rough Draft Bar & Books, where you can order coffee or a glass of wine while perusing titles.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Moving to Kingston allowed Anthony and Amanda Stromoski to open their dream business, Rough Draft Bar & Books, where you can order coffee or a glass of wine while perusing titles.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

In 2011, Amanda and Anthony Stromoski, who were living in Park Slope, discovered Kingston while weekending in the Catskills, where they liked to go camping. After wandering Kingston’s sidewalks for a night, and stopping in at the local craft brewery, they fell for the walkable streets and proximity to nature.

They visited several more times over the years and kept Kingston in mind when they were ready to leave Brooklyn. They briefly considered a move to one of the Rivertowns in Westchester, but decided they were ready for a bigger change and wanted to be closer to nature, said Mr. Stromoski, 36.

In 2016, he left his job as an assistant principal at a public high school in Brooklyn, and they bought an 1890 Victorian in Kingston for $311,000. Now they can see mountains from their windows. They made the decision, in part, because they harbored fantasies of opening a bookstore on Main Street.

For a year, Mr. Stromoski worked as a bartender while he and Mrs. Stromoski formulated a business plan. And in 2017, they opened the 2,000-square-foot Rough Draft Bar & Books, just a few blocks from their house. Here, “bibliotenders,” which is what they call their bartenders, will serve you a glass of wine along with a book recommendation; they also offer coffee and pastries from a local artisanal baker. Mr. Stromoski runs the bookstore, while Mrs. Stromoski, a health writer with Meredith, works behind the scenes.

“Opening this kind of business would have been close to impossible in Brooklyn,” Mrs. Stromoski, 36, said. “But here, it was more attainable for us.”

On their first day, one local after another popped in to welcome them, she said: “We feel really lucky to be part of such an amazing community.”

The Spruceton Inn, run by Mr. Weinberg and Ms. Scieszka, has an artist-in-residence program that accepts applications from those who want to spend a free week upstate pursuing creative endeavors. One of the first to stay was Stephanie Danler, who worked on revisions to her book “Sweetbitter.”Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The Spruceton Inn, run by Mr. Weinberg and Ms. Scieszka, has an artist-in-residence program that accepts applications from those who want to spend a free week upstate pursuing creative endeavors. One of the first to stay was Stephanie Danler, who worked on revisions to her book “Sweetbitter.”Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Mr. Weinberg, who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Ms. Scieszka, 34, who is from Park Slope, were drawn to the Catskills by another kind of dream: They wanted to open an inn, a place where “people like us would go,” Ms. Scieszka said.

That meant buying (and painstakingly renovating) an eight-acre property with an aging seven-room motel strip, an 1850s barn and farmhouse with original pine flooring, and open land with a trout stream running behind it. They paid $370,000 for the property.

For the motel, they built a Pinterest-worthy bar, freshened up the rooms with rustic-chic furnishings, designed a glossy website and gave the place a lovely, albeit sufficiently hipster name: the Spruceton Inn. So far, the inn has been sold out nearly every weekend, and there is often a waiting list.

Still, while opening it was a lifelong dream, Ms. Scieszka worried at first about running a place that was so isolated, feeling the anxiety that New Yorkers often experience when leaving the city. New York is the best, and only, place to live in the world, isn’t it? That was five years ago.

“It took me three months of being out of the city to realize how good living in nature was for me, and that’s when I started to think, ‘What would I be rushing back for?’” she said.

Since then, they have started an artist-in-residence program: They take applications from writers and artists who want to spend a free week at the inn, which helps maintain a steady stream of interesting guests during winter. One of their first artists in residence, a writer named Stephanie Danler, worked on revisions to her book “Sweetbitter” there.

Ms. Scieszka and Mr. Weinberg now have a baby girl, Amina, whom Mr. Weinberg often straps into a Baby Bjorn when he goes fly fishing. She gurgles at the trout, he said: “I love that she’s growing up with a true connection to nature.”

Ms. Scieszka said she and Mr. Weinberg, who has been a guest writer at the small public elementary school nearby, don’t worry about getting Amina into school, as they would have in Brooklyn. “Out here, there’s only one choice, which in many ways is a relief,” she said of the closest school, 20 minutes away.

That it has fewer than 40 children in each grade is even better, she added: “The opportunity for the students to get individual attention from teachers seems wonderful to me.”

While transplants may worry about detaching from the frenetic pace of city life, some new upstate residents report that moving to the country connected them to the natural world in unexpected ways, filling a void left by the city with something they were not expecting: serenity. Living in the shadow of stunning mountain ranges and dense forests helps put things in perspective and shifts the focus away from stressors, they say.

Mr. Weinberg is a fly fisherman who heads out with his rod whenever he needs a break from his work writing and illustrating children’s books.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Mr. Weinberg is a fly fisherman who heads out with his rod whenever he needs a break from his work writing and illustrating children’s books.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Former city people might find themselves chopping wood (even owning multiple axes), growing some of their own food, heating their homes with wood stoves or learning to spot signs of wildlife, like the marks a buck makes when it rubs its antlers against a tree. At parties, they say, people talk about swimming holes and nature hikes rather than what they do for a living, and gathering around a firepit is as commonplace as a Manhattan power lunch.

“I had no idea that there were signs of spring besides not wearing a jacket,” Ms. Scieszka said. “Here, you’re tied to the seasons. You come to learn what plants come up first, where things grow.”

And while the winters can be, well, long, Megan Caponetto, a set stylist who moved to her weekend home in Ghent, N.Y., full-time in 2009, said that living up north has made her enjoy winter. “I love waking up and hearing the snowfall,” Ms. Caponetto, 49, said. “It’s so quiet. Winter used to be so horrible for me, so depressing. But up here, the land is so pretty in the snow.”

There is a sense among some that in living upstate, they are almost cheating: It’s not really the country. They can live deep in the woods or in a densely populated country town and meet like-minded creatives, foodies or artisans — and still be in New York City in less than two hours. In fact, easy access to the city has broadened the region’s appeal, as commuting once or twice a week feels doable.

Ms. Caponetto, who travels to Manhattan frequently for work, said she uses nature to center her before getting on the highway. “Even if I’m leaving at 5 a.m. to get into the city, I have a quiet moment every single day sitting on my porch and staring out into nature,” she said.

Russell Jones, a jewelry designer who left Park Slope for Hudson in 2013 after he got divorced, mostly works in a rented art studio near his 1920s bungalow. But once a week he takes the train down to New York City to teach at Pratt Institute. “It was less daunting to make the move up here at first because I still had that lifeline into the city,” he said.

He enjoys maintaining his connection to Manhattan, taking advantage of his weekly jaunts to see the latest show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or buy gemstones and materials for his designs. Plus, the train trip along the Hudson River is “magnificent,” Mr. Jones, 58, said. “I routinely see bald eagles flying alongside the train.”

Matt Dilling and Erika deVries (with their youngest child, Sequoia) are artists who consider their A-frame house upstate a sanctuary.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Matt Dilling and Erika deVries (with their youngest child, Sequoia) are artists who consider their A-frame house upstate a sanctuary.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

That you can escape into nature with ease brought Matt Dilling, 39, and his wife, Erika deVries, 48, both artists, and their three children north in 2013, when they moved into their A-frame weekend house in the woods of West Saugerties.

Ms. deVries left her job teaching art full-time at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, while Mr. Dilling opted to move the production portion of his business, Lite Brite Neon Studio, which makes neon signs and has been featured in Architectural Digest, out of Brooklyn. His mortgage on a 15,000-square-feet warehouse in Kingston (for which he paid $505,000) was nearly the same as the rent on his former 1,500-square-feet studio in Gowanus. Taking the stress of finances out of daily life, he said, has enabled him and his family to live a more meaningful life.

Their children, who attended a Waldorf school in Brooklyn, love their new private schools upstate; one is at a Waldorf program in Saugerties and another is at a Woodstock school that bills itself as a “socially and environmentally mindful education journey.” (Their oldest child, Ms. deVries’s son from a previous marriage, returned to Brooklyn for high school and is living with his biological father.)

The move freed up head space, Mr. Dilling said. Now he has more time to spend with his family, and without the external stimulus provided by the city, he has done more soul-searching and become more spiritual. There is time, he said, for things other than work, like meditation.

Upstairs from Lite Brite Neon, he and his wife opened Cygnets Way, a studio that offers community yoga and classes in mindfulness practices, like sound healing. Ms. deVries also teaches bead-making and love-letter writing there.

“Before, it was hard to have time for an inner life,” Mr. Dilling said. “But nature has helped my mind quiet down and get in touch with what’s going on inside of me. There’s a strong connection up here to what’s larger than you, and it’s great when you don’t live inside a mental to-do list.”

Mr. Dilling said that living in West Saugerties, N.Y., where he and his wife opened a studio that teaches yoga and mindfulness practices, among other things, has allowed him to quiet his mind. “Before, it was hard to have time for an inner life,” he said.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Mr. Dilling said that living in West Saugerties, N.Y., where he and his wife opened a studio that teaches yoga and mindfulness practices, among other things, has allowed him to quiet his mind. “Before, it was hard to have time for an inner life,” he said.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Those who have made the move, like Mr. Dilling and Ms. deVries, say they have a constant rotation of friends from the city coming to visit. And it’s easy to meet people with similar values.

“There’s truly an expat community up here,” said Ms. Brenn-White, the real estate agent.

The idea that you might move upstate to recreate a version of your city life, however, didn’t sit well with Grace Bonney, the editor of the lifestyle blog Design Sponge, and her wife, Julia Turshen, a cookbook writer. They bought a weekend house on four acres in Ulster County in 2014 because they wanted a larger kitchen and craved a closer connection to nature. After four months, they let go of their Greenpoint, Brooklyn, apartment and moved up to the 1850s farmhouse full-time.

The transition wasn’t entirely rosy. The more time Ms. Bonney, now 37, spent in her new home, the more perspective she gained about the Brooklyn migration. While volunteering for a nonprofit group, she worked with longtime business owners whose companies were being overshadowed by some of the trendier ones started by out-of-towners.

“Everybody loves the land here, but there’s a financial tension between new residents and longtime locals that’s palpable,” she said, adding that she was surprised and humbled by the concerns of locals who felt as if their towns were being taken over.

She and Ms. Turshen, 33, have since made a commitment to shop mostly at local stores. And they hire only local tradesmen, rather than bringing in contractors and designers from the city, something they often see others do.

By now, she said, they have come to feel at home upstate. They walk their dogs regularly at the Minnewaska State Park Preserve, 10 minutes away. And as a self-professed homebody whose work on Design Sponge has taken her to designer homes around the country, Ms. Bonney said she can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“There’s something special about this house,” she said.

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Rug Weaving 101

In my quest to buy less stuff, recycle the stuff I have, and rekindle the abilities that seem to have been lost to the generations, I decided (following a small flood) that I was going to try to weave a rug. Sure, I could definitely run out to some store and buy a replacement, or (the old me) would have bought one on Amazon. Instead, I decided to put to use a giant piece of wool that I bought (for no particular reason other than that I liked the colour) in Sweden. I’ve been vaguely using it as a decorative blanket for years, so it was time to give it a new life.

I can say, honestly, that the rug looks a lot better in real life than it does in the images, it’s a little wonky and definitely has a hand-made feel, which I love. It’s super thick and warm and is like having a sweater for the floor.

I started by building a loom out of a 1×3″, which I drilled 2 5/8″ holes into and pounded nails every inch. I inserted two 5′ dowels and pulled old acrylic yarn (yellow) between the nails. Boom, I had a loom. I did a test weave using 1″ strips of wool and the result was more like flower petals than the chunky knit-like weave that I wanted. So after some experimentation, I decided to start again and this time used 1/2″ strips which rolled and worked much better. Much more cushion-ey, and more of what I wanted.

After weaving until I ran out of wool, I removed the entire thing from the loom, tied off the ends, and then used a lighter colour wool to weave the end loops together along the long end and bind off the short end. I used some amazing red yarn that I bought at Labour and Wait in London (and has been taking up space for ages), to blanket stitch the binding at the end (and hide a multitude of yellow yarn.) Overall, not bad for an experiment and one I will definitely re-visit again.

The finished rug, installed.

The finished rug with bound edges.

Weaving underway.

Weaving, just getting started.

I decided to start over, because this one was too flat… don’t worry, I’ll re-use it to make another rug.

Making progress and experimenting with sneaking in some extra fabrics.

Getting started with attempt #1, which (as you can see above) I abandoned and started over.

Cutting strips. I started by cutting 1” strips, which were too unruly.

The Death of Architecture, Part 1.

Sad artificiality and fabricated environs (which, frankly, wasn’t even accurate for the season.)

I consider myself reasonably well-read when it comes to architectural thought leaders, from starchitects to historic luminaries to future-forward theorists. However, after reading Vanishing New York, something has happened to me, a sudden and dramatic shift in perspective that feels as if I am enlightened in a completely different way and feels like waking up after having been part of a self-perpetuating, self-worshiping cult of architects for the past 20 years. I’ve written several recent posts that have skirted this issue, but never one that tackles it directly, because the feeling has never been as clear as it is at present.

The final shoe dropped for me this past week when I stopped by the reconstructed Bjarke Ingels Serpentine Pavilion in Toronto. The unfortunately titled— “unzipped” —exhibition occupies what appears to be a disused courtyard on King Street West just outside the theatre-ish district of Toronto. The much touted reconstruction is sponsored by Westbank, the Canadian real estate development firm known for employing signature architects to design signature buildings across Canada.

Bjarke Ingels Unzipped Serpentine Pavillion Toronto Westbank
Unzipped Brochure

Every year since 2000 the Serpentine Gallery in London has commissioned a temporary summer pavilion by a leading architect. The series presents the work of an international architect or design team who has not completed a building in England at the time of the Gallery’s invitation. Past luminaries have included Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Peter Zumthor, Herzog & de Meuron, Socar Niemeyer, Álvaro Siza, Ai Weiwei, and—of course—Bjarke Ingels. Each Pavilion is completed within six months and is situated on the Gallery’s lawn for three months for the public to explore and is then deconstructed and only in rare instances makes an encore appearance somewhere else in the world.

Like a good architectural soldier and without hesitation, I somewhat robotically and unquestioningly planned a visit the reconstructed pavilion, armed with my “ticket” and iPhone in hand, ready to take photos of the structure at jaunty angles to post on my Instagram feed.

The pavilion was about 2 storeys tall.
Inside the pavilion.

Immediately upon my arrival, I was struck by the artificiality of the pavilion and its contextual environment, in terms of materiality, in terms of manufactured context, and in terms of faux authenticity. As I sat on the plastic turf lawn staring at the giant pile of epoxy “blocks”, I couldn’t help but take notice John Andrews’ CN tower peeking out above it. The CN tower remains one of the largest human-made structures in the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s an impressive engineering and construction feat despite the fact that the tower turned 45 this year. As I gazed at the tower in the distance, I wondered… why was I sitting on plastic turf, surrounded by plastic shrubs looking at a plastic structure that was really just there an advertisement for a company that is trying to convince the general populace that (yet) another new condo tower would be a great addition to King Street West? Is this plastic fabrication the avant garde (or perhaps worse, the future) of architecture? Has (capital A) Architecture simply devolved into a red-light district for celebrity designers working in the service of commerce and commercialism? Is this the best we can do?

Even the “tickets” (necessary for entry past the security guard [who was so unbelievably haughty and othering {and her outfit so impeccably tailored} that there is no way in hell that she can be an actual security worker, she (and her impeccable makeup) simply must have been from central casting]) were artificial. The entire ticketing process is simply a mechanism for Westbank to subscribe visitors to an endless stream of e-mails and direct marketing. No exaggeration, I’ve received about 30 e-mails from them since Wednesday. (I’m writing this on the following Sunday.) And also no exaggeration, though I had a “ticket” there seemed to be very little demand for entry and there wasn’t a soul ahead of me in line.

I left the pavilion feeling disappointed and sad and wondering… Is this it? Is this what I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life studying, researching, and teaching, and if so… What’s next?

Blocks.
The pavilion with the CN Tower in the background.
Foundation.

Life without Amazon. The quiescence of a shopper, and early adopter.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a shopper. I like to shop, to find things that are curious and interesting, and that will improve the quality of my every day life.

However, over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that I have more than I could ever possibly need. I have two bicycles, an entire home office full of all kinds of machinery, every iPhone ever made and nearly every iPad, an extra kitchen full of dishes, pots, and pans and a closet that could clothe a small army. As I do more reading about Döstädning (Swedish Death Cleaning), I recognize that recreational shopping whittles away a nest egg and re-feathers the nest with stuff. The funny thing: anyone walking into my house would say that I’m both a minimalist and well organized, both of which are true. I can’t imagine how other people must feel if I feel like I’m drowning in stuff and most people that I know have way more stuff than I do!

Regardless, the issue is multifaceted: foremost, whittling down the amount of possessions that I have and secondly, shopping responsibly.

For decades, my mantra was that if it didn’t fit in one carload, then I didn’t need it. Those were the days when I moved frequently (college, Boston, grad school, multiple apartments, new jobs, etc.) and the thought of packing, schlepping, and unpacking became less and less tenable and remaining lean and facile was far more desirable. Somewhere along the way, I lost that sensibility, and it seemed to slide into my life around the same time Amazon Prime became a thing.

You can read all about the reasons Amazon Prime is a dreadful idea all across the internet.

For some odd reason, despite my being a militant, David Horowitz-trained and Sy Syms-proud educated consumer, and decades-long Wal*Mart basher, it never occurred to me to think about Amazon. Amazon was convenient, cheap, and magically, things showed up at my door. I bought in hook, line, and sinker for years—to the point where I actually had the Amazon magic buttons all over my house—just push to replenish, and magically a few days later a new supply of whatever I needed magically showed up at my door. UPS deliveries were, for nearly a decade, a daily (and sometimes twice daily) occurrence at my house.

And then abruptly, I stopped.

I was walking down the commercial high-street in my neighborhood that has for the last fifty years been a vibrant strip of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, and realized that it had escaped my notice that about 60% of the shops were closed. About half of those that remained catered to things I would never have occasion to use: tattoos, vaping shops, cheap cell phones, eyebrow waxing. Where were all the amazing bookshops that I remember so fondly, and the t-shirt shop, and the poster shop, and the kitchen shop, and the little gift shop, and the stationery store, and the little plant shop/florist, and so many others? 

Vibrant neighborhoods like this one where my Dad grew up were once the norm all across this country.

The realization hit me like a ton of bricks (and mortar stores). While I had been lazily shopping online and having things delivered—daily—to my door, my neighborhood and my neighbors who owned businesses in it, had unraveled. And I hadn’t left the house long enough to notice. How could this be? For the past 20 years, I have never set foot in a Wal*Mart, and I go out of my way to educate friends and family about the damage Wal*Mart has done to our economy, our urban fabric, our suburban fabric. How could I have so blindly missed the damage that Amazon is doing… and how much worse the damage is.

I was ashamed, and sorry, because I realize that the economic damage will take years to remedy. While my own city angled for Amazon HQ2, it seemingly escaped us all that Amazon is not only resetting the entire economy, but also eviscerating the neighborhoods in which we live. We likely won’t take full notice (like so many things) until it is too late. All of these observations were reinforced by the evidence presented in the amazing book, Vanishing New York by Jeremiah Moss. The moral of his book: wake up and pay attention, because once it’s gone, it’s too late to lament its passing.

So, I made a solemn and immediate pledge: No more Amazon, I will make a concerted effort to shop at locally-owned shops. My first move was to ditch my Kindle and replace it with a Kobo Reader which allows me to borrow books from a number of local libraries. So far, the results of my life without Amazon are promising, I haven’t purchased a single item on Amazon in over six months, and I’ve met some amazingly interesting people in my neighborhood. The fellow that works at the hardware store knows a lot about replacing screens, and offered me some outstanding advice on how (and when) to replace screens to keep bugs from getting in. My friend John who owns Elmwood Pet Supplies makes deliveries, which makes buying food from him even more convenient than using Amazon. The lady who works at the gift shop, Neo, on the corner made some wonderful suggestions for a wedding gift that I needed to buy, and she wrapped it beautifully. Sunshine + Bluebirds has these amazing wraps that I’ve bought for everyone I know, and they also giftwrap beautifully. I learned that I can buy an organic, locally-raised chicken for my mom for only $4 at Stearns, which means that the only reason I need to stop by Whole Foods (also owned by Amazon) is to steal the packets of Sir Kensigntons Mustard to use in my lunch. (No, I’m not joking.)

So, all in all, I find myself buying less, making more informed buying choices, and doing more for my local economy. So far, a win-win, (except for Amazon). And when Amazon loses, we all gain. Be aware, your choices have consequences, shop wisely.

Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong

For decades, the medical community has ignored mountains of evidence to wage a cruel and futile war on fat people, poisoning public perception and ruining millions of lives. It’s time for a new paradigm.

An outstanding article about being fat. Worth a read for everyone, regardless of what you think of your body type.

Source: Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong