Give Yourself a Gift that Gives

Its ok I tell you…its ok to give yourself a Christmas gift. Many people do. At some point in the year, you have to stop and remind yourself you care about that face in the mirror–that you want him to be happy, to grow, to be appreciated. Oh sure, you hear the TV prattle on about giving yourself the gift of time, gym memberships and crap like that, but I find the best gifts to myself are the ones that tend to pay dividends to others. A couple years ago I joined the Sierra Club. That was a gift a long time coming that lives up to a commitment I made twenty years ago…to care about my impact on the Earth and leave it better off for future generations. Last year I gave myself a month off between an old job and the new one. Not sure if my wife appreciated that one–both of us being home at the time, but I like to think she did.

When I was a kid growing up in Cleveland, my parents used to take my brothers and sisters and I to the Cleveland Arcade every Christmas.

A magnificent arcade of glass, steel and bronze (one of three great arcades on Euclid Avenue), we shopped at the toystore where ceremoniously,  I would pick out my own tin soldiers each year. I know, I know you could have Transformer or G.I. Joe action figure…but there amid the glow of christmas lights reflecting off the bronze banisers, amidst the smell of fresh popped popcorn and roasted nuts, I wanted to buy my own sharpshooter or mounted knight.

Cleveland knew how to hold onto its Christmas spirit during the “rust-belt” years better than anyone else. That’s why they could film A Christmas Story there in the mid-80s without a bit of prop or scenery. The Higbee’s that Ralph visits to sit on Santa’s lap? It was exactly the same thirty years ago, even though the film was supposed to be set in the 50s. Sadly, the old Higbee’s is to become a casino soon I hear.

Ok, enough waxing poetic, this year’s gift to myself was strictly fun and it definitely promises to provide dividends to my friends if they’re willing to wait.  Tonight I took a homebrewing class at The Brooklyn Kitchen.

Adding the malt extract to the wort
Sanitized bottles waiting patiently
Two-week old brown ale ready for bottling

I took home a couple of bottles of the last classes brew, Dirty Water Brown Ale, I think they called it. It needs two more weeks conditioning in the bottle, but I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’m thinking of making a Porter or a Winter Ale for my first attempt at homebrewing this weekend. Brooklyn Kitchen has no shortage of malts and hops which I look forward to sorting through this weekend.

Now, I also like playing “secret santa” and generally enjoy the surprise that comes with getting a gift. But how does one be one’s own “secret santa?”

I like what Partners & Spade have cooking up this weekend. Apparently pre-wrapped gifts will be available at their space Saturday from 12 – 6pm. Also on tap, goods from a great purveyor (and blogger Matthew Hranek), WM. Brown. Best Made Co. will have something there too. I’ve been dying to try WM. Brown’s charcuterie so I’m definitely stopping in. I wonder if Hranek has given thought to doing some brewing up at WM. Brown? Either way, I’ll be picking up at least one more gift for myself.

Big Fracking’ Problem Awaiting New Yorkers?

Received an early Christmas gift from the Governor today–a simultaneous veto on the May 5th moratorium on “hydrofracking”, with a new moratorium that pushes it to at least July 1 in a more limited fashion. Hydrofracking or “fracking” is hydraulic fracturing done to stimulate more production from natural gas wells. Fracking injects a cocktail of chemicals deep into the ground in shale deposits, literally fracturing the rock formations, generally below 5,000 feet. Today, Gov. Paterson preserves some upstate jobs, but enables the next governor, Cuomo to do his own due diligence..

I could explain the positive effects of this natural gas drilling “innovation”, but allow me to share a demonstration of one of the side-effects instead.

This reminded me of a sad drama that took place in Cleveland more than forty years ago. When I was living in Cleveland, often when we drove past the Cuyahoga river, my father or mother would inevitably tell the story of how the river once caught fire because it was so polluted. Well, I never quite believed them, even though I knew it was truth. Fact is, the river burned not once, but on more than a dozen occasions.

The restoration of the Cuyahoga River has been a truly remarkable 40-year effort , but protecting our natural resources, before we have the opportunity to pollute is the best strategy. The “burning river” lead to the Clean Water Act and dozens of other policies, including the development of the EPA. During the 80s, my father and I fished Lake Erie but we steered well clear of Cleveland and the river. Today, the Cuyahoga has steelhead trout along with smallies and pike, I mean, steelhead? That’s nothing short of a miracle and shows you what can happen when we do right by nature. It does right by us.

Back in July, I told my fishing buddies over at Westchester Fishing and encouraged them to spread the word about the intentions of the gas and oil companies trying to hydrofrack the Marcellus Shale deposit which stretches for some 14K miles from New York to West Virginia. Should there be even a small incident, what makes us think we have the technology to protect the entire Catskills watershed AND our NY water supply? As usual, the oil and gas companies can think of a million ways to get the gas, but have none in mind to clean it up. And if the BP oilspill is any indication of what could happen, we owe it to ourselves, our enviroment, across countless counties and multiple states, to demand more time, diligence, and investigation into the effects of hydrofracking before we drill right below our very feet, possibly endangering the most populous parts of the Eastern Seaboard and its waterways.

Hydrofracking of course is just one more technology in a long list that have the potential to go awry. Not only did the Cuyahoga river fire burn in the 60s, the entire town of Centralia, PA was lost to a mine fire. Forty years on, Vice and Palladium captured just how Centralia is doing.

If you want to learn more about the Marcellus Shale and hyrdrofracking, check out the Atlantic Sierra Club’s explanation (I’m a member) and their position here. For a more official view from the oil and gas industry-sponsored lobbying organization, American Clean Skies Foundation, check out their 30-min film here. And if you’re really committed to learning more, check out the documentary by Josh Fox, Gasland. America’s Natural Gas Alliance has an interesting response to Gasland here. Gasland won the Special Jury Selection – Documentary at Sundance 2010. [Update – Gasland was nominated for an Oscar Best Documentary Feature!]

*Disclosure* I work for a PR agency, Porter Novelli, who lists American’s Natural Gas Alliance as a client. The contents of this blog DO NOT reflect the views of my employer. I was not asked to write this post on behalf of ANGA or Porter Novelli.