Rotten Rules and Hot Pizza

Jul 29th, 2011 by Diane Seymour | 0

Image by Newbirth35

I like my pizza hot. So, when I sat down today in the middle of the afternoon at one of my favorite pizza chains with my slice of pepperoni, I eyed it suspiciously. Where was the glorious pepperoni grease that should be lying in the little indentations in the cheese? Why didn’t the entire surface shimmer and shine from the reflection of fluorescent lights overhead? What caused the first-bite tip of the pizza slice to curve up, not down as it should, across the paper-plate edge?

“I’ve never gotten cold pizza here before,” I said to the manager.

“One of our two heat lamp bulbs is burned out,” she replied, “but I’m not allowed to buy one locally. I have to put in a request with the company. The approval could take a week depending on who’s in the office and then it takes two weeks to get one delivered here once it’s ordered. The funny thing is, the lamps are available now and are cheaper at the hardware store right here in town.”

I took my pizza back to be table and savored the first few hot bites, intrigued by the heat-lamp bulb dilemma. I went back to the counter.

“Can you order more than one lamp at a time?” I asked.

“Yup, I order six at a time,” she answered as she slid the chicken-bacon ranch under the one remaining heat lamp bulb, which necessitated the sacrifice of the meat-lovers’ to the dim outer reaches of the lamp’s heat arc. I imagined myself sitting too far from the campfire to stay warm and made a mental note to make my slice choices by lamp position for the next three weeks until the new bulb arrives.

Back at my table, I finished my now semi-warm slice, but before heading home, I went back to the counter, hoping that the manager didn’t think me a stalker.

“If you can order six lamps at a time, why don’t you always have at least one spare on hand?” I asked, sure that I already knew the answer.

“I’m not allowed to order new ones until we’ve put the last one in service. Sometimes the second one burns out right after we put the last new one in.” She smiled, shook her head, and went back to work.

I cursed the anonymous, rule-making office-sitter out there somewhere far from pizza ovens, heat lamps, and hot-pizza loving customers.

“Perhaps there’s a reason for the rules,” I thought. “Perhaps there are only two heat-lamp bulb making individuals left in the world and they aren’t teaching anyone their trade and they’re both ninety-seven years old. Or, perhaps heat lamp bulbs each contain 17 grams of gold at $1,632 per gram making the price of one lamp $27,744 plus other materials plus production labor plus depreciation plus profit plus salary for another anonymous rule-making office sitter at the heat-lamp bulb-making plant.”

A quick Google search dashed my desire to bring reason to the rotten rules. Multiple suppliers are available for industrial grade infrared bulbs to keep my pizza slices cozy for 5,000 hours, or approximately 1.39 years based on my estimate of hours of actual bulb operation. Prices range from a modest $6.99 per bulb up to a luxury model at $17.99. Tomorrow, I’m heading down to that local hardware store to buy a heat lamp bulb to donate for the benefit of all hot-pizza loving people in my community. Maybe I’ll donate two. Three weeks is an awfully long time to wait.

Mutton Comes Home Again

Aug 24th, 2010 by Diane Seymour | 1

Mutton, the best cat that has ever lived and will ever live died last night.  (See A Cat Story).  The vet handed his still-warm body back to me so that Gary and I could take him home for the last time.  We cried and held hands during the six-mile ride.  Once home, we pulled the soft towel away just far enough to take one last look at his smoke-gray fur and curled up paws.  Today, we’ll bury him in the corner of the field outside my kitchen window and shed more tears.

For fifteen years, he’s made us smile with his calm and trusting ways.  His life is woven tightly into our family memories of all those years, so he’s sure to come home to us often and especially during family gatherings.  Mutton on mole watch at the edge of the field, Mutton battling with my mom for a spot on the couch, Mutton on the pump room concrete begging for a brushing, Mutton …

Mutton (AKA Mutton-Man, Tubby, Tubman, T, T-Man)
Loved by all who knew him
1995 – 2010

On Growing Old

Jul 20th, 2010 by Diane Seymour | 0

Image by MemaNH (busy)

“They’re all dead,” he finally concluded with as much irritation as sadness in his voice.

I drove a couple more miles on the narrow blacktop in silence, passing another old farmhouse; sorry to let it go by without introduction.  He spoke first.

“Guess they’re all dead now except Old Joe.”

My dad exaggerated a bit, but at 85, he’s one of the last voices of his generation still alive to recall the names and faces of those who once lived behind the walls of the old farmhouses we passed.  One day he too will be gone, forgotten by all but those who loved him best.  And so it will be for all of us.  Growing old beats the alternative, but it sure must get lonely when you’re one of the last ones to leave.

Lanny Potter at the East Portal

Feb 21st, 2010 by Diane Seymour | 0

Even after thirteen years without him, my brother can still sometimes bring me to tears. (See Saying Good-bye). I just found this photo taken of him in San Francisco in the mid seventies. He looks so healthy and happy on this day. Was he? I wonder who captured this moment on film.


Marcellus Shale: Suffering from Solastalgia

Feb 5th, 2010 by Diane Seymour | 0

Image by nicholas_t

“You told me about the winners of the Marcellus drilling.  What about the losers?”  My friend asked this after scanning an article in the Daily Review about a public hearing on fracing fluid.

I finished the last bite of my Krispy Kreme before answering. “Well, you know, I’m writing a story about the losers, but I can’t seem to concentrate.  Every time I start writing, I get stressed and depressed.  I think I’m suffering from …”

In 2002, Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher visited the Upper Hunter Valley of southeastern Australia, observing the impacts of two decades of open-pit coal mining on the residents. The area, once peaceful, lush farmland, was now enduring blasts from chemical explosives several times a day. Gray dust from the blasts covered homes, crops, and animals for miles around. With high-output lights glaring non-stop, dark night skies were only a distant memory. Trucks, draglines, and idling coal trains provided an unending low-frequency rumble. Rivers and streams were polluted, and the residents of the Upper Hunter were distraught.

In a recent interview with Daniel B. Smith in the New York Times Magazine, Albrecht discussed his observations of the Upper Hunter. (Is There an Ecological Unconscious?).  Excerpts from the article:

“People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.” Australian aborigines, Navajos and any number of indigenous peoples have reported this sense of mournful disorientation after being displaced from their land. What Albrecht realized during his trip to the Upper Valley was that this “place pathology,” wasn’t limited to natives. Albrecht’s petitioners were anxious, unsettled, despairing, depressed — just as if they had been forcibly removed from the valley. Only they hadn’t; the valley changed around them.

In Albrecht’s view, the residents of the Upper Hunter were suffering not just from the strain of living in difficult conditions but also from something more fundamental: a hitherto unrecognized psychological condition. In a 2004 essay, he coined a term to describe it: “solastalgia,” which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’”

So, perhaps I’m suffering from a kind of pre-solastalgia; prematurely anxious about the growing and apparently unstoppable Marcellus assault on rural northeastern Pennsylvania. Heavy trucks already rumble day and night, drilling pads multiply weekly, and pipelines slowly snake their way across more and more miles of farm land. Worrisome news of DEP and DOT violations by gas-related companies foreshadow future assaults on our air, water, and land.

Loss of heart’s ease …   Homesickness one gets when one is still at home …   Will Home always Beckon?

Car Smarts in the Dressing Room

Feb 2nd, 2010 by Diane Seymour | 1

Image by catd_mitchell

With less than an hour left before the sale-ending noon deadline, I rush toward the dressing room, trying to beat the grey-haired lady who is heading there from the opposite direction; trying to beat her there, that is, without actually breaking into a run.  With a sharp turn left, a tight squeeze right, and a short speed-walk finish, I beat her by a body length, only to find myself behind several other beat-the-clock triers-on.  Eight doors stand in front of us, closed and locked.  It’s sales day at Bealls, where the shoppers are mostly savvy seniors serious about saving a buck.

I watch the doors, willing them to open.  From my vantage point, I see bodyless ankles and feet beneath the doors of the middle four stalls and shadows moving about beneath the outer two on each end.  But, wait!  There’s no movement in that stall on the far right!  I catch the eyes of the ladies behind me, silently staking claim to my place in line and step toward the stall in question.  Bending down, I peek under the door, immediately calculating that 12.5% of the dressing room capacity is unused behind this locked door.  I eye the distance from door-bottom to floor – twelve inches at best, so I step back into line.

The line moves so excruciatingly slowly, I’ve got time to count the number of rooms (eight minus one), divide by people ahead of me (eight), and multiply by an average dressing room stay (four and one half minutes).  I won’t make it to the front counter in time for my 50% discount, my additional 35% off, my bonus dollars, my senior day bargains, my free gift, my LAST BIG SALE OF THE CENTURY, my MEGA-MADNESS BARGAIN OF A LIFETIME!!!  Time for drastic measures …

Stepping past the ladies behind me, I face the far-right door, throw my new clothes to the floor, take a deep breath, and drop to the floor.  My well-dressed, perfectly coiffed, fellow shoppers turn toward me with questioning eyes.  Imitating my husband’s best Corvette-frame-fixing move, I shimmy head first, back-to-the-floor, under the door, only wishing for his four-wheeled creeper to smooth my journey.  Unlocking the door, I open it to smiles, cheers, and applause!

I’m still savoring my hero status a few minutes later when the clerk says with a cheery voice, “Thank you for shopping with us.  You just saved sixty-seven gazillion dollars today!”

Ah, the simple pleasures …

Marcellus Shale: Winners and Losers

Oct 23rd, 2009 by Diane Seymour | 2

Image by MyEyeSees

“Have you been reading anything besides Marcellus Shale gas stuff lately?” my friend asked as we gathered up papers scattered across the conference table.

“Well, gas drilling occupies a lot of my reading time,” I replied, “but last month I plowed through all nine hundred thirty-seven pages of Michener’s “Hawaii” and now I’m in the middle of “Blood Oath” by Jimmy Cherokee Waters. Both books make me think of the Marcellus.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

I crammed the last file into my briefcase before answering. “Well, the native Hawaiians lost their land and lives to whalers and missionaries and the Cherokee fought and fell to white men greedy for gold and more land. Now, water trucks rule our roads, landsmen lean on landowners, and pipelines cut crossways through corn fields. I wonder who’ll be the winners and losers in this new land rush…

Three years after the first white pickups rolled into Bradford County from Oklahoma, it’s clear that we can’t send them home. And many wouldn’t even if they could. Marcellus promises unimaginable riches with odds of winning much better than a Lotto ticket or the slot machines at the Tioga Downs Casino. The main ticket needed to play this new game of chance is a deed to a few acres of land, but landowners aren’t the only early winners. The drive to drill is helping small businesses in towns like Towanda and Troy where signing-bonus cash is funneling into local economies, fast-forwarding the call for lumber, siding, roofing, paint, paving, cabinets, carpeting, and furniture for home projects to make Martha Stewart and Tim-the-Tool-Man proud.

Marcellus is also breathing life into hometown hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, equipment companies, gas stations, and appliance stores. Local dealers are selling shiny new trucks and tractors in reds, greens, and blues to landowners happy to shed newfound bonus cash. Royalty payments promise to speed this spending spree, fueling an economic boom in northeastern Pennsylvania, an area dependent for the past hundred years on farming, forestry, and a few local industries.

For now, most workers actually on the drill, frac, and pipe sites are non-locals; industry-hardened types from west of the Mississippi, but locals will surely edge into some of the better-paying jobs as this gas play unfolds. Local entrepreneurs with keen eyes see Marcellus paydays in new businesses like hauling water, digging gravel, storing equipment, and seeding drill sites. Tax accountants and financial planners, for years finding limited clientele in this rural community, now hustle to work with new clients unfamiliar with inheritance taxes, trust funds, and income spreading.

All that gas cash is also helping people to pay off old mortgages, reduce school loans, and keep up with nagging hospital bills. Local schools are sure to benefit from higher property taxes levied on farm land now valued at ten times the amount assessed three years ago, and may collect added dollars as drilled land drops out of Clean and Green. Gas companies are adding to this local boom by plowing feel-good money into local charities.

Taking a broader view, Marcellus offers a pipeline to partial independence from the Middle East’s grip. Our unending thirst for oil continues to place our sons and daughters in harm’s way, providing the underlying driver for our presence in conflicts in that region. Latest estimates suggest that Marcelllus could provide enough gas to support current U.S. consumption rates for 20-25 years, easing demand on foreign oil imports. Substituting one non-renewable fossil fuel with another won’t solve our long-term energy problems, but it might help to keep our troops home in the future.

The Marcellus promises one more positive outcome. Natural gas is the cleanest-burning of all fossil fuels, spewing 30% less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than oil and almost 45% less than coal. The principal component of natural gas, methane, is itself a greenhouse gas, but according to the EPA, the reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from increased natural gas use strongly outweighs the negative impact of increased methane emissions. Emitting much lower concentrations of toxic nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides, and 90 and 99% less soot and ash than oil or coal, Marcellus gas offers fewer smog-covered days and acid-rain nights.

As we headed for our cars, my friend shook his head. “You sound like an advertisement for the gas industry, so I don’t understand your connection between the Marcellus and the Hawaiians or the Cherokees. You must have changed your mind about the drilling. Have you signed a lease yet?””

“Well, the Marcellus is making a lot of people happy, and I understand why, but I really haven’t changed my mind much,” I replied. “Remember, I’ve only given you half of the story – the winners’ side – the missionaries, whalers, and white mans’ side. Give me another day, and I’ll tell you what may be in store for the Marcellus losers. And no, we haven’t signed a lease, but, I’m running out of let’s-not-sign-a-lease-yet stall tactics. We’ve passed on $100, $500, and $1,500 an acre, plus twelve and a half percent royalty, but recently the offer skyrocketed to $5,750 and 20%. Now, the pressure ‘s really on and…

Saving Money – It’s All in How You Slice the Spam

Aug 14th, 2009 by Diane Seymour | 2

Image by roboppy

I thought of my great-Aunt Belle the other day while frying Spam. She spent all of her long life in the northeastern hills of Pennsylvania busily cooking, gardening, teaching, living. Starting when I was about six and continuing for the next seven years, I made an almost daily trek the half-mile to her house, sometimes on foot through the woods, now and then on horseback through the fields, or most often pedaling my Western Flyer out the rough dirt road.

Together, Aunt Belle and I baked cookies, picked corn, weeded carrots, made Christmas presents, fed calves, and cleaned cupboards. Most of our conversations slid lightly from cats to cows, from school plays to picnics, from ice skating to the weather. At times, we grew more serious, welcoming Alaska and Hawaii into the family, wishing John Glenn bon voyage, worrying about what Fidel might do to us, wondering about Martin’s dream speech, and joining Walter to say good-bye to JFK.

Like most farm wives, my aunt knew how to save a penny in all that she did. The work was ever present – darning socks, patching jeans, hanging out wash, growing a large garden, canning fruits and vegetables, picking berries, plucking chickens, hacking up home-grown beef, skinning rabbits and squirrels, cleaning fish, making do. In some ways, she stretched a penny beyond recognition. I especially remember eyeing our chocolate chip cookies set out to cool on the counter. My recurring challenge? Find the one with more than three chocolate chips! She economized at dinnertime too. Her meals were often a conglomeration of the previous several nights’ meals, kind of mystery casseroles. Like the Spam, they were tasty, but better not to ask what was in them or how old the ingredients were!

As I opened the Spam can recently and picked up a knife, I smiled to myself, thinking of Aunt Belle and her subtle influences on my life so many years later. With three sons and a hungry husband, our Spam slices grew in number over the years from seven to eight to nine to ten, until that little block of meat yielded eleven very thin slices to feed my family of five. I rationed the slices; three for Gary, two each for the boys and me. The funny thing is that it just never occurred to me to buy two cans! Aunt Belle would understand.

She’d understand about the refrigerator too. We bought a new one earlier this year, so when I called Tyler in California, I mentioned the new purchase. “Does it have a light in it?” he immediately asked. His question puzzled me for a minute until I realized he was teasing. Our old refrigerator light burned out about fifteen years ago, and I never replaced it. Did you know that if you put your eyes level with each shelf and squint you can see pretty well all the way to the back without a light?

Today, I’m making chocolate chip cookies. The recipe calls for a twelve ounce bag of chips, but as always, I’ll ignore old Toll House and side more closely with my aunt’s count. Tonight, when it’s cookie time, I’ll just try to find the ones with more than five chips before Gary gets to them. Now, about that missing light in the oven…

Missing my Aunt Belle.

Perfume: One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Poison

Feb 12th, 2009 by Diane Seymour | 2

Image by annieo76

Already five minutes late for meeting my husband in the food court, I weave my way quickly through the racks of skinny clothes in Macy’s junior section, beating a fast path toward the mall center. With just a few feet to go before the doorway, I swerve left, eyes drawn to the familiar purple Poison bottle, calling out to me under the bright fluorescent lights. I glance left and right, hoping to sneak a free spray before the helpful young woman with the one-counter-over-perfect make-up can snag me with her sales pitch. Successful, I wave my wrist a couple of times, take a big whiff, and head out the door. Ah, perfume…

Perfume proves there’s a difference in body chemistries. My husband came home one day raving about the perfume a young woman at work wore called Fire & Ice. An internet description said it all. “For the woman who plays with fire and skates on thin ice. Fire & Ice is a provocative fragrance that’s both sensual and passionate, yet cool and mysterious.” How could I lose? So, off to K-Mart I drove, anxious to light the match and test the ice. Back in the car, I tore open the package, spritzing this direct route to passion onto my wrists and neck. By the third spray, I was opening the windows, hoping to dilute the stench (hint of singed feathers doused by cold water) with the frigid January air! With great diplomacy, Gary told me that it smelled pretty good on me, but we agreed to donate it to his coworker so that he could continue to enjoy it at work!

Fortunately, Jean Carles created a masterpiece for Dana in 1932. Tabu ranks right up there with my other favorite smells – cotton towels fresh off the clothesline, homemade apple pie in the oven, and corn silage pitched out of the silo. Recently, I read a review of Tabu, feeling slightly offended by the description. “Tabu smells … like a viscous brew of maple syrup, patchouli, and incense. It is an odor that is almost tangible, like walking through a thick-napped velvet curtain.” Another site describes it as leathery tobacco! OK, so it’s cheap, but Gary sure loves me with Tabu – fortunately even better than that young woman with her Fire & Ice!

I’ve actually been pretty much perfume-free over the past few years, feeling empathy for my boss who has a super-sensitive, beagle-like nose. I figured it was a fair trade off, considering our work in the chemical industry; a perfume-free office in exchange for an on-site, coal-mine canary, able to alert me to any strange smells long before I could catch wind of any dangerous concoctions. Now semi-retired, I’m swooping into those perfume counters more often, trying to find that perfect mix of Tabu with notes of sunshine-dried Tide, hot pastry, and fermented corn. Perfumers: this is your challenge!

My mother’s long-time favorite is Chantilly. Brought to life in 1941, Chantilly’s recipe calls for a chaotic mix of lemon, jasmine, rose, orange blossom, carnation, sandalwood, moss, vanilla, musk, and more exotic-sounding ingredients – bergamot, nerolic, tonka bean, and ylang-ylang. My mom can’t put into words why she picked this fragrance, other than to say that it just smelled good to her. At least one other soul is more expressive. One evening, about forty years ago, my mother attended a local dance, wearing her beloved Chantilly. As the last words of Eddy Arnold’s “Bouquet of Roses” faded away, the guy she was dancing with stepped back and made her day, saying without cracking a smile, “You smell really good. You smell almost as good as mashed potatoes and gravy!” Must be the ylang-ylang…

Spray away, but don’t kill the canary!

Marcellus Shale: DEP Help Needed

Jan 26th, 2009 by Diane Seymour | 0

Image by mdmarkus66

“You haven’t mentioned the Marcellus Shale to me since we talked about China,” my friend says as we settle at a table in the Weigh Station Café. I hesitate, not sure that I want to spend our lunchtime talking about natural gas, but can’t resist. “Well, I got sidetracked by the election, and then the holidays, but I’ve been reading a lot about it again lately. And no, I haven’t gotten any cozier with Marcellus over the past few months.

I’m not alone. Recently, representatives from thirteen organizations (see below) signed a letter addressed to John Hanger, Acting Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. The first paragraph of the letter follows here:

“We understand that natural gas drilling could potentially be a major new source of revenue and business development in Pennsylvania. At the same time, however, the undersigned organizations are concerned that this drilling must be done in a manner that does not damage our state’s natural resources, particularly our water resources and the plants and animals that they support. If the rush to drill is allowed to go forward without adequate permit conditions and oversight, it could irreparably and unnecessarily harm habitat and water sources, de-watering streams, damaging water and air quality, fragmenting forests and impacting threatened and endangered species in some of the most pristine parts of our state.”

In order to avoid or minimize serious negative consequences to our land, water, air, and wildlife, the letter asks that the DEP be proactive in handling Marcellus Shale drilling issues. As the drilling rigs begin to multiply across the state, what should DEP tackle? These organizations specifically outline areas of concern: water withdrawals and treatment, discharge of back flows, habitat destruction, erosion and sediment runoff from drill sites, road and pipeline construction, air emissions from drill sites, truck traffic, chemical additives, and adequate DEP staffing. To illustrate one specific area of concern, the letter writers remind Mr. Hanger of recent trouble in southwestern Pennsylvania:

“The recent incident of TDS (total dissolved solids) overloading in the Monongahela River, which resulted in the Department advising 325,000 people to use bottled water, is clear and undeniable testimony that the state’s sewage facilities cannot handle the wastewater currently being produced by gas drilling and development. While not the only cause of the recent TDS overload, gas and oil drilling wastewater has been identified by the Department as a significant contributor, leading the state to order a mandatory reduction in the amount of gas well wastewater the sewage treatment facilities can take. This situation begs the question, “How will the wastewater from the current and planned expansion of natural gas well development be safely treated and disposed and who will bear this cost?” Certainly, the cost to the public, to water suppliers, and municipal wastewater facilities has been great in the Monongahela River region. This question must be adequately and fully answered before the industry moves forward with well development, or the story of the Mon (Monongahela) is doomed to be repeated throughout the Commonwealth.”

A more recent incident provides another real example of the organizations’ concerns. Earlier this month, an explosion at a private well in Dimock Township drew DEP officials to northeastern PA. After finding elevated natural gas levels in four water wells, DEP sent letters to twenty homeowners in the area outlining the dangers of gas trapped in water wells, suggesting that they vent them. The official source of the gas is undetermined at this time – possibly a natural phenomenon or perhaps a result of nearby drilling by Cabot Oil & Gas, which operates several Marcellus Shale drilling sites near the explosion site. While DEP conducts its tests to determine the source, Cabot is providing water to the four affected homes.

We must wait for DEP’s test results to discover whether natural gas drilling caused this particular case of contamination. Regardless of the results though, questions arise about the impact of gas leaks into water supplies. While several news reports about the Dimock situation stated that the gas in the water wells did not pose a threat for drinking, the official DEP news release seems less reassuring. According to DEP, “drinking water standard limitations have not been established for natural gas and associated health risks have not been identified.” Like so many other questions posed by The Marcellus, we must wait for a clear answer.

Finished with lunch, my friend and I step out onto the deck of the Weigh Station, looking across the street to the Susquehanna River flowing by, already offering up its waters to the great Marcellus thirst. We part ways, only after he promises to send a letter to the DEP. As I climb into my car, I start imagining my own letter…Dear Mr. Hanger…

With enormous economic potential at stake, voices clamor loudly across Pennsylvania for full-speed-ahead drilling in the Marcellus. Equally vocal voices are needed to protect our drinking water, our streams and rivers, our land, and our air quality from the impacts of natural gas drilling. Please add your voice for caution and vigilance by sending a letter to Mr. Hanger.

Mr. John Hanger
Acting Secretary
Department of Environmental Protection
Rachel Carson State Office Building
Harrisburg, PA 17105

Signatures on the letter to DEP mentioned earlier in this post represent these organizations:

Pennsylvania Campaign for Clean Water
Center for Coalfield Justice
Center for Healthy Environments and Communities
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future
Clean Water Action Justice
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Mountain Watershed Association
PA Chapter of the Sierra Club
Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited
Youghiogheny Riverkeeper