How did I miss this?

Perhaps this is old news to everyone else, but somehow I missed it.

Last October, the United States pulled $60 million from UNESCO funding after the organization voted in favor of Palestine’s membership in the United Nation’s humanitarian body. The decision to withhold financial support from the organization was based on a U.S. law, passed in 1990, which prohibits the United States from providing funding to an organization that includes Palestine before the Israelis and Palestinians have brokered a peace deal between their nations.

Sixty million dollars represents a significant portion of UNESCO’s budget. The organization sponsors, among other endeavors, literacy programs, clean water initiatives, the preservation of heritage sites, and early warning tsunami alert technology. A number of programs could experience, and by now likely have experienced, the repercussions of the U.S. decision.

To be sure, UNESCO’s operations can have mixed results, as Steven Erlanger argued in his January article on UNESCO’s World Heritage work. And recognition by UNESCO may or may not be helpful to Palestine. It does not move them any closer to a peace settlement with Israel, nor does it come close to promising statehood for Palestine.

Still, it’s hard not to be disconcerted by the existence of such a draconian law in the United States. What, really, could we possibly hope to gain by isolating ourselves from a major international body? Sure, the law let’s this country make a symbolic statement–one that I am not keen on, but that I’m sure others may defend. But is there anything tangible procured by the U.S. stance? In the end, is it worth it?

The story came to my attention via last Thursday’s episode of The Daily Show. John Oliver’s report can be seen here and here. As far as I can tell, the media in general has abandoned the UNESCO story since early November. Perhaps this satirical piece will reopen conversation and prompt reconsideration of the U.S. decision.


Two Down…

Only forty-eight high peaks to go.

Last summer’s feat was a grueling hike up the Saddle Trail on Mt. Katahdin with my one and only brother, S.B. Katahdin is the last peak on the Appalachian Trail and, honestly, it’s a wonder anyone ever finishes with a climb like that right at the end of two thousand miles of walking. We left Bangor, ME at 4:30 am, hiked for nine hours, ate what seemed like a box of Clif bars, nearly wore out two pairs of sturdy hiking boots, and endured what must have been the greatest concentration of rain on the face of the earth since God put a megaphone to his lips and said, “Noah. My friend. You’re gonna need to build a really big boat.” I won’t tell you how long my muscles ached after that little stroll. It’s embarrassing.

One hearty brother-sister duo at the top of Maine's highest peak.

This weekend, I climbed High Point, NJ with M.L. (who, to his credit, is a remarkably good sport about mountain climbing), thereby doubling the number of peaks bagged by yours truly.

This is M.L.'s best, "I climbed a mountain," face.

This is mine (sans thumb, of course).

Round two of Heather vs. high peaks was almost disappointingly easy. High Point is a literal mole hill next to a mountain like Katahdin, rising only 1800 feet above sea level to Katahdin’s 5200. (To be fair, Katahdin’s 5200 feet look awfully demure next to Mt. McKinley’s 20,000+.)

Still, how could I resist the seductive charm of pride? The chance to say, “Well now, I’ve climbed not one, but two high peaks on the east coast”? I never have a fighting chance against the potential for bragging rights.

The obelisk, more officially titled "High Point Monument." It's quite impressive, really, and visible from almost anywhere in the park.

So, on a very sunny day in mid-summer, up to the obelisk we went. The climb was incredibly short–only ten minutes to from the trailhead to the summit–but the view was spectacular. High Point boast views of the New York State line and the Delaware River, evergreen forests and New Jersey farmland.

The Delaware River winding away to the north.

The High Point Monument offers the chance for an even better view. For those willing to brave what begins to feel like an infinite number of steps plus a decided temperature spike, the reward is a bird’s-eye view of rolling hills and valleys in all their summer glory. Anyone who thinks New Jersey is void of all natural charms should take a peek from one of the obelisk’s lofty windows.

Hiking it to the top of the monument.

We finished off the day with a slightly longer hike along the ridge connected to High Point. For the most part it was a lovely hike with some steady, but moderate, inclines and some local fauna that differs from New York’s Adirondacks, which are more familiar to me. (Sweet fern in particular abounded on both sides of the trail along with a low shrub akin to the holly bush.)  There was challenging stretch at the end of the trail–a set of rough-hewn stairs to take us back up to the top of the ridge–that made for a satisfying end to the excursion.

With my last two states of residence Maine and New Jersey conquered, I’m setting my sights on the home state next. Mt. Marcy, NY, here I come.

dear new jersey. you are beautiful.

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods this week, which chronicles the author’s hike through portions of the Appalachian Trail. Despite Bryson’s horrific tales of black bears, drifting murderers, and life-threatening mountain passes (all of which have troubled people other than him, of course), the book contains charming passages about deep forests, gorgeous ridges, and stunning summits.

And it’s had me itching to hike since I turned the first page.

I climbed Mt. Katahdin in Maine with my brother last summer, and if all goes well I’m hoping to bag two other modest state high points this summer: Mt. Marcy, NY and the oh-so-creatively dubbed High Point, NJ. But as neither of those peaks (or mounds, in the latter’s case) were in reach this past Sunday, I headed for Hacklebarney State Park, an out-of-the-way little plot of forest outside of Chester, NJ.

My favorite is the advertisement for a "Rock Grove." Which happens to be, yes, a pile of rocks much like every other in the park.

The park had everything I wanted for the day – trails, no parking fee, and the opportunity to stop at Alstede Farms (where I’m a CSA member) for homemade ice cream on the way home. And not a single bear to be found. Besides, why would a bear go for my plain ol’ Larabar when he could have all the  hotdogs, side dishes, and s’mores from the numerous picnickers instead?

The "Windy Ridge Trail" via which I avoided numerous small, inevitably whining children, cantankerous fishermen, and one prolific Pakistani family reunion.

One of Hacklebarney's six simple, picturesque bridges.

Why do people always want to leave their mark in the woods?

The walk was lovely, moderate, and just long enough to get the hiking impulse out of my system for a moment. Hacklebarney’s 3 or so miles of trail can’t boast beautiful views or challenging hikes or even rugged charm, but it has a river, a brook or two, six bridges, and plenty of benches for taking in the scenery. All in all very pleasant and a lovely way to kick off the summer.

A flowering tree, smooth rocks and a babbling brook. The best of the forest at Hacklebarney.

One happy hiker on the trail.

Ode to a Blackened Pot

No, not quite how I feel in the kitchen most days. But I had a moment...

A few days ago, I scoured a blackened pot and felt rather accomplished about it.  Nevermind that I’m the one who blackened the pot in the first place.  Nevermind that I’m the one who forgot about the chickpeas boiling on the stove.  Nevermind that I just so happened to be reading The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates when this memory lapse occurred.  The point is that I employed my most cunning kitchen skills to accomplish a tricky, backbreaking, dirty job.

The best part about persevering through this arduous task is not that I can brag about my amazing scrubbing skills.  No, the best part is that now I can pass along a wide variety of methods for scouring, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation on a Thursday morning.

The first step is always the same: Bless your roommate for noting that your beans are burning, curse your memory for being so poor, and reluctantly dump your poor chickpeas in the trash.  Charcoal-flecked hummus wasn’t what you had in mind anyhow.  That being done you have a few choices.  Pick any or all and add some vigorous elbow grease.

Method 1: Good old soap and hot water, combined with one of those nifty little nylon scrapers (I believe mine is from Pampered Chef).  Should take off that first layer of black and leave you with lovely gray water, a rewarding tribute to your progress.

Method 2: Baking soda and vinegar.  These seemingly mundane products aren’t just great in the chemistry classroom.  They’re pretty handy in the kitchen too.  My thanks to whoever discovered the chemical reaction between these ingredients in the first place.  You could also add some coffee grounds, so long as the blackened pan isn’t Teflon, and then use a scrubbing pad.  I’m pretty sure you could remove just about any amount of gunk from any surface with this semi-magical concoction.  In my case, it took all but the most stubborn bits off of the bottom of the pan.

Method 3: Boiling vinegar and salt in said pan.  I think I should, in fairness, attribute this one to my dear old mum; some memory buried at the back of the file cabinet tells me she mentioned it first.   I’m not entirely certain whether it’s the salt or the vinegar or just the higher temperature that worked off the last of the spots, but this did it.  I boiled the mixture for about five minutes, added a bit of cold water to the pan so I could stick my hand into it (a blistered hand would, of course, have been the perfect finish to this escapade), and finished off the grime with a scrubbing pad.

How’s that for persistence?

Ten Things I Like About Running on a Sunny Winter Day

Snowflakes by Wilson Bentley

1.) It beats the treadmill any day, any time.  Hands down.  (Really, who doesn’t feel like a gerbil on those machines?)

2.) The feeling of triumph over nature.  As in, “Take that, snow!  Go ahead.  Try to keep me indoors until July.”

3.) The knowledge that everyone driving past me is thinking, “That woman is crazy running in the snow.  That’s nuts.”  (Or at least that’s what I usually think of people running in thirty degree weather.)  But they’re also secretly thinking, “I wish I was that sort of person.”

4.) There’s almost no one on the paths and sidewalks to see how pathetically slow I’m moving or how laboriously I’m breathing.

5.) Even if there are people on the paths and sidewalks to notice how slow I’m moving, I can just tell them I’m making sure I don’t slip on a patch of ice and dislocate my knee.  Which would prevent me from ever running faster, of course.

6.) Because there are so few people on my path I can throw up my hands and have a little victory celebration when I make it over the wimpy little hill that’s been kicking my butt for the last six months.

7.) Running outdoors is a great chance to wear my awesome long sleeve wicking shirts.  The ones I bought back in September…and haven’t worn yet.

8.) Because it’s sunny and relatively warm and I’m already pleased as punch that I’m even making the effort to run, I run farther.  If I’m going to exercise, I’m going to make the most of it.

9.) It’s a great excuse to brag a little to my housemate who only ran on the treadmill this morning.  (Never mind that she runs everyday and I only run…well, nevermind.)

10.) Running outdoors on a sunny winter day inspires blog posts.  Good enough, yes?

A Winter Pilgrimage

A dear friend of mine came from the slightly more balmy south and west to visit the snowy northeast country for a bit before the New Year.  Aside from hours of quality conversation, a few games of rummy, and some lovely warmed wine in the evenings, we headed out to Seneca Falls for some winter gallivanting.  We poked around the historical society (which was unfortunately closed), the exhibits in the Women’s Rights Museum, and then Cayuga Lake State Park.  (Six inches of ice meant it was thick enough to wander around to our hearts’ content!)  All photo credit to my snaphappy friend over at Litany for the Journey.

Return of the Lorax

Graduate school is fantastic, but it’s admittedly taking a toll on certain parts of my life.  Like this blog.  And my eating habits. (When was the last time I spent more than ten minutes cooking?)  And, unfortunately, it’s impacting the endearingly hippie-environmental-Lorax-esque lifestyle I’ve tried to adhere to over the last couple of years.  I’m finding it harder and harder to be conscious about the amount of water I’m using, whether or not I’ve remembered my reusable bags, and just how much packaging goes into a cereal box.  And no, reading hundreds of pages and writing thousands of words a week does not excuse me.  

Thankfully, I have friends who remind me what is important.  Over an amazing brunch this past Sunday (at the fabulous Betty’s in Buffalo, NY), a couple of college friends, K. and L., pointed me to some of their own efforts to work for social and environmental justice in small, but meaningful ways.  K. enthusiastically told me about her latest purchase–a toothbrush from Preserve, a company that reuses #5 plastics to make household items.  Best part is that when you’re done with the toothbrush or whatever you’ve ordered from them, you can recycle it again.  Brilliant, right?   And L. pointed me to Better World Shopper, an easy to use and surprisingly thorough website that ranks companies based on their advocacy, or lack thereof, for human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice.  There are rankings in just about every category you could wish for–everything from cleaning products and clothing to mobile phones and automobiles.

So in an effort to put some of that information to good use, I looked up a couple of the products I needed in the bathroom–a razor and a toothbrush.  Turns out that K. was way ahead of me here.  Preserve was right at the top of the list for these toiletries and, by a stroke of good fortune, the local Whole Foods carries their products.  (Whole Foods got an “A” from Better World Shopper as well.)  It was most satisfying to have the cashier slip those necessities into my reusable bag (which I did remember this time) as I checked out of the store.

To be fair, I still have a ways to go in being more intentional about caring for the environment and for the community I live in.  Let’s face it, cultivating a greater degree of selflessness is difficult.  But this was a small step in the right direction.