Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Straw Pollution

Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on April 15, 2015

Reduce your plastic footprint. Say no to plastic straws.

Some time ago I heard of towns in England where plastic drinking straws
are banned.  Curiosity led me to learn more about how straws harm and
kill fish and coastal birds.  Some coastal cities in the US now have
bans against restaurants serving straws.

I don’t suggest banning straws, but I do want to encourage
thoughtfulness.  If you’re not going to use it, decline the offering?

Many of our ecological choices, like driving, are not so easy.  In our city of
Winston-Salem, as in many US cities, you can’t get where you need to go
without a car, and this won’t change until our city pays more attention
to public transportation.  Until then, to give up cars is not within our

But other ways to reduce our harm to the environment, such as giving up
meat, taking our own re-usable bags when shopping, and taking our own
containers to restaurants for bringing home leftovers, are easy and cost
us nothing.  Many of us have already made those changes.

I’d like to add plastic straws to our consciousness.  I’m not proposing
that we ban plastic straws.  I am proposing that restaurants give straws
only to people who want them.  Instead of including a straw with every
glass of water or tea, why not just ask when bringing the drink – Would
you like a straw? Or provide a straw only when requested.  If customers
want a straw, they can ask and receive.  It’s one small way we can
reduce the damage we’re doing to our (and our children’s) oceans.

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We all do that? Really?

Posted in "North Carolina", Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on February 17, 2013


Oh Jeez we’ve done it again.

See previous post here.

Last night it was Vincenzo’s.  The spinach ravioli there is wonderful, and the music is not too loud for conversation.  A very pleasant and comfortable place for dinner. We’ve just returned from about two weeks in Florida (eating in restaurants for two weeks, so naturally we came home and had to eat out again).  This time it was a neighborhood (sort of) Italian locally-owned restaurant.

So when we made our unhappy discovery, I went to Richard, the impeccably dressed owner, and said,  I hope you remember us.  He smiled and said yes, of course.   And that we’ve been coming here for 20 years … He nodded, yes …  And we live close by …  He didn’t know that I’m sure but he smiled and nodded …  and my husband left his wallet at home, and I never carry a purse, or almost never …

He laughed, said no problem, we all do that.  Richard is always gracious.

We offered to come back before they close at midnight, and he said that would be fine, or we could just call in a credit card when we get home.   That’s what we did.

We were too embarrassed to ask for our senior discount, so we just said add a 20% tip for the waitress.

Someone, I forget who, said  Old age ain’t for sissies.  If I were younger, I would remember who said that.

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Diners who leave their wallets at home

Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on January 2, 2013

What do you do to people who leave their wallet at home?”

That’s what we had to ask the nice young waiter at Sixth & Vine tonight. He looked a little taken aback. I think he had not been asked that question before.

We were prepared to make suggestions.

One of us could go home and leave the other here as hostage. Or we could both leave, and come back  to pay the bill. Or …

Before calling the waiter over to ask our what-do-you-do question, we talked it over. Bob asked if I would mind staying here while he goes home. I said I’d rather not sit here alone and take up this table, keeping our waiter from getting another round, and besides, I think they’ll probably let us go. Let’s just ask.

Or I could sit in the lounge to wait. I’d rather not, but yes, I could. (Would they spot me another glass of pinot?)

We had both enjoyed their special of the evening. Tequila Mango Salmon: Pan-seared and oven-roasted Chilean Salmon accompanied by a tequila mango sauce with a hint of vanilla. Served with garlic potatoes and roasted asparagus.” Very good. We highly recommend it.

I enjoyed mine with a glass of Bel Vento pinot grigio, and Bob had a Stella. No desserts. Good conversation. But back to the waiter …

The waiter said he’d have to ask his manager, and he did so. The good-natured manager was friendly and unperturbed. He said it would help if we could get back before midnight – something about closing out the books being easier if the tabs are all paid. We told him ten minutes home, ten minutes back, so about 25 minutes. That would make it about 10:30.

Walking back to the car, I said “Pop the trunk. Maybe my purse is in the trunk.”

It was not. I knew it was not, but I might have been wrong. I hoped I was wrong. I was right. It was not.

We usually keep a couple of twenties in the car, just for emergencies, but we had been taking and not replenishing, so it was not there. And it would not have been sufficient anyway.

So we proceeded with the only reasonable option: we drove back home, and then back downtown.   Bob murmured,  I’m glad we’re not in New York.  We didn’t go through the parking hassle again. I just double parked while Bob went in to make amends.

So no trouble for them, and only minor inconvenience for us.

And a good time was had by all.

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Up the Greenway Without a Bike

Posted in "North Carolina", Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on August 8, 2012

The older I get, the more I depend upon the kindness of strangers.

We started the day with our decision to go out to Salem Lake. The gravel and crushed-stone trail around Salem Lake is seven miles, a bit longer than my bicycle likes to go when I’m the one pedaling, but I do enjoy the last two miles almost as much as the first five. I can make most of the hills without getting off to push – not all, but most.

So that was the plan – to leave about 9:30 and bike seven miles before high noon. As per our usual M.O. we actually got my bike into the truck about 10:45. We headed up University Parkway, took a left on Eighth Street, and drove on out to Salem Lake, listening to classical WVTF 89.1 Roanoke along the way.

When we got to the lake, the truck bed was empty.

Bob! My bike is gone!

Hard to believe, but undeniable. Nothing in that truck bed but a bungee cord hanging loosely over a few brown poplar leaves.

We retraced our treads, back through the city, knowing it was useless but hoping to find my bike lying on the side of an inner city street untrammeled. I groaned that if the bike had not been run over and was not hurt too bad, then someone picked it up and rode off on it a half hour ago.

What a pessimist.

It turns out the bike stayed with us through a dozen stoplights, and fell off the truck on MLK Blvd.  Heading back, all eyes peeled along the highway, we spotted a bicycle propped up against a chain-link fence at the intersection of MLK and Linden. Bob stopped the truck at the stop light, and while he waited for a left-turn signal, I jumped out and ran across the street.

It’s mine!  It is!  It’s my bike!

I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo of my bicycle leaning against that fence, but it would have made a good shot.  Here is where we found it.  A google map photo.  Right there.  See that chain link fence? Propped up right there! I got on it and rode it – or tried to ride it – to where Bob had pulled the truck over.

Click the photo to enlarge.

The chain was off, but I wasn’t sure whether it was damaged or just off.

We took the bike to Ken’s Bike Shop on Reynolda Road, and Ken had it fixed up in ten minutes.

No charge.

As I rode my bike slowly across Ken’s  parking lot on Reynolda Road, toward our unlocked Toyota pick-up, I saw through the open windows that I had left my camera on the seat.

At my age, I guess I can look forward to more reliance on the kindness of strangers.


A UU Forum on Occupy

Posted in "North Carolina", corporatocracy, Economy, Government, NC, Politics, Unitarian, UU, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on February 7, 2012

At our Sunday morning forum yesterday (2/5/12), our guest speaker was Ethan Smith, representing the local Occupy Winston-Salem group. Most UUs (Unitarian Universalists) are familiar with Occupy and some have been participants.  I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter and occasional participant.

Here's a screenshot of me (on right) at a protest against Wells Fargo, when the top Wells Fargo management was speaking our the convention center. Since we don’t have a TV, my son Chris sent me this screenshot. I was surprised he recognized me, since it was such a fleeting report, and he didn’t know I was participating (probably didn’t even know about the event).


Occupy’s mission includes public education and civic participation to reveal the 1%’s crimes centering in war and money, end the crimes through arrests of the criminals, and enact policies for 100% of Earth’s inhabitants.

A hand-out gave a little bit of the history and philosophy of Occupy, and talked about local issues:

“Occupy Winston-Salem stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the globe as a non-violent, leaderless movement of Americans united to fight the corporate abuse of our democracy, and to take the reins of power away from profit-driven interests and assert our rightful place in the political process.” The handout goes on to mention “the shackles of corporate greed.”

Ethan recounted some of the recent activities of the local group, talked about the commitment to non-violence, and  about the reliance on rotating facilitators at meetings.   Although there have been extreme police reactions to protesters in some cities, the local Winston-Salem police have done their profession proud.  Our local police, our protesters, and our city officials have worked in co-operation.  Some Winston-Salem churches have given strong support.

A UU member (one who is not involved in Occupy, and I don’t know whether or not he sympathizes) objected to the word greed, saying our narrative is wrong. I (though I didn’t speak out) think some of the language often used to describe the Occupy movement reveals a lack of understanding.  I often hear that the Occupiers are pushing for  “redistribution of wealth” (or of income). There are many people who will mis-interpret that, sometimes deliberately.  I think  “redistribution of opportunity” or “expansion of opportunities” is a more accurate description of what we in Occupy want.  Or how about distributive justice.

Ethan talked about our government’s encroachment on liberties, such as the Patriot Act, NDAA, laws and ordinances limiting free speech, arrests of journalists, mass arrests of protesters, such as, in NYC, 700 protesters arrested at once, with journalists being swept up along with protesters.

Freedom of the press in the US has fallen to 47th in the world

Other UUs wondered why Americans are complacent. The data has been out there for years – the data on the wealthy getting richer while the middle class fades into history amidst government policies that favor the powerful.  Why are people so complacent? Is it because we are constantly told we must keep up with sports, fashion, acquisitions and amusements, and so we don’t pay attention to our democracy?  Another UU  suggested the nature of coverage in the news media invites confusion and shallow understanding – everyone tries to look as though they are  “fair and balanced” – and gave as an example the Komen controversy in which news reports did not link this with  faith-based initiatives and the connection of a Komen leader with the congressional investigation of an organization that didn’t need investigating.

I believe there is much than can be done to make America work for all of us.  How about  a tiny tax on stock trades, especially on high frequency ‘flash’ trading.  How about huge fines for corporate criminals, the CEOs of the “corporate people”, aka banks,  responsible for evictions based on robo-signing?

Economic mobility in America has stalled. “Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful.” (From The Economist) And as Jason DeParle writes in the New York Times, social mobility is a lot lower in America than in most other developed countries.   The   “work hard and save” formula doesn’t work any more.   Now the best advice for Americans is to choose your parents wisely.

Regardless of where Occupy goes from here, the movement has forced our nation to discuss the increasing inequality that has been hurting middle-income workers for thirty years.

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It’s Move Your Money Week! And so I did.

Posted in "North Carolina", Economy, Government, Government Politics, Local Government, NC, Politics, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on November 11, 2011

This is Move Your Money Week. And so I did.

 I’ve been happy with Wachovia for more than 30 years. But Wachovia is no more, and Wells Fargo, nee Wachovia, is now charging fees that Wachovia never charged while, according to Reuters, Wells Fargo paid Chief Executive John Stumpf compensation worth $21.3 million for 2009. A year ago, Wachovia/Wells Fargo began charging me a $25 fee for my unsecured line of credit. I’ve had that unsecured $15k for thirty years, never paid for it, and never used it except occasionally due to carelessness – it’s my overdraft protection.

Maybe Mr. Stumpt is worth $21million a year, every year. It doesn’t really look like much when compared to the $43.7 billion in taxpayer bailout funds that went to Wells Fargo. And the $25 annual fee for an unsecured line of credit that I almost never use isn’t going to make a difference in my vacation plans.

But our country’s rising income inequality troubles me. Increasingly wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, and not because they have worked harder, but because they have influenced the laws that rig the rules. We like to think of America as the land of opportunity, and that once was true. But for the last three decades, economic mobility has become harder in the US than in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany or Spain.

Much is amiss in the rigged and under-regulated economy that has seen corporate taxes as a share of the nation’s tax revenues plunge from 28 percent in 1956 to only 11.8 percent in 1996 and to below 10 percent in the early 2000s.

The share of all property taxes paid by corporations dropped from 45 percent in 1957 to 16 percent in 1995 (more recent figures are hard to find, as most states have changed their accounting rules to not break out corporate from personal tax payments, in response to lobbying pressures from corporations).

After decades of campaign contributions from lenders, legislators have re-written the banking rules to favor the banks over the people. Much of this corporate-friendly legislation was even written by the Corporations, instead of by the legislators whose job it is.  (See  http://alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed  — ALEC Exposed.) So today I moved my checking, savings, money market and credit card to the State Employees Credit Union. And as soon as I’m sure all my charges have cleared, I’ll cut my Bank of American credit card and mail it – or maybe take it – to the bank that notoriously took bail-out funds, gave CEOs huge salaries, and paid no taxes.

It isn’t that hard to Move Your Money, and it will help the economy of your own community.

How Do They Fool So Many Voters?

Posted in "North Carolina", Economy, Government, Government Politics, Local Government, NC, Politics, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on October 10, 2011

I’ve never known anyone over the age of 13 to be as obsessed with sex as the current NC Republican legislators. They were hired to create jobs and improve the economy, but they’ve done nothing so far except insert themselves into the private lives of citizens. They’ve cut the budget so severely that the UNC system has had to cut more than 3,000 positions. This, they think, creates jobs? They’ve cut and closed government offices, putting many thousands of public employees out of work. Do they think that moving people out of jobs and into the un-employment lines is good for the economy? Our NC – DOT has just cut 400 positions. Will putting those 400 people onto the un-employment rolls help the economy? Our NC Republican legislators have passed laws curtailing women’s reproductive rights to a degree not seen (correct me if I’m wrong, anyone) in any other state, and approximately equal to the reproductive rights of the most restrictive theocracies. Not because they care about babies — I see no evidence that they care a whit about babies — but because they want to abolish the individual right to privacy. They are now spending their (our?) time and energy and tax money working on passing a Marriage Amendment to the NC constitution. Yep, not just a law, but a Constitutional Amendment! To strengthen it, I believe, against a possible newly elected and saner legislature changing that in future.

And this is the party that claims it wants to get big government out of our private lives. It’s clear their main goals are 1) causing as much damage to the economy as possible, so as to ensure our president will not be re-elected, and 2)  control the private lives of individual citizens.  How is it that they can fool so many voters?

Don’t read this – it’s bah, humbug

Posted in Holiday, Religion by helenofmarlowe on December 4, 2010

Marta said to me, I love this season!

I must have looked rather incredulous, because she then said, You don’t?

The winter season, the Christmas season.  How can I not love it?

How can I not love it? Let me count the ways.

Christmas is a celebration of things I do not love.

Consumption, for example.

I’ve never done my fair share to keep the American Corporatocracy jingling. There are few things I want that can be purchased and brought home in a bag. I avoid shopping malls like a cat avoids the jays. Why would I want to go somewhere in December that I avoid without fail for the other eleven months?

When asked what I’d like for Christmas by the good spirit who draws my name from the hat, I usually respond that I want a goat, and I want it sent to Heifer International. I do this in spite of Miss Manners’s lament that donating to charity “should be recognized for what it is: the demise of the ancient custom of good will expressed through symbolism.” Miss Manners is right, and I would love to celebrate Christmas the way Jane Austen did, with small handmade gifts. I don’t see this worthy tradition making a comeback.  More likely, I think,  Christmas will be reduced to an occasion for everyone to exchange a $30 gift card.

Snow in our back yard

My problem may be  that I am a creature of habit.   I don’t want to break my routine, a routine that works for me, and start stringing lights around the house and decorating a tree which, to my mind, is perfectly beautiful without any ornaments.

My radio stations, that I listen to all day while working/playing on my computer.  The symphonies, the piano concertos, are all, with the exception of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful Nutcracker, all replaced with a month of Christmas music.  We will go to a performance of Handel’s Messiah.

And did I mention the weather? And what the freeze does to the summer pleasures of sitting on the front porch, reading in the rocking chairs, with birds enjoying the safflower seeds that I sprinkle along the rails? Did I mention the weather, and what it does to the pleasures of summer gardening, bringing in eggplants, crookneck squash, zucchini, vine-ripe tomatoes? And walking barefoot in the grass? Did I mention what the winter weather does to the potted palms and cacti and petunias and impatiens that I cannot bring indoors, because our house is too small for all the plants that bask on the porch all summer? I choose, and some I have to leave out, knowing they will die. This year it is various hanging baskets.

The days are cold, and the days are short. And I am all a-grumble.

I do not like Christmas. There, I’ve said it.

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Thanksgiving it is

Posted in Holiday, Religion by helenofmarlowe on November 24, 2010

Tomorrow is the fourth Thursday of November, which means it is the day that we gather for Thanksgiving holiday. Sometimes people ask vegetarians what they eat on Thanksgiving. That’s easy. We’ll eat macaroni and cheese from my favorite recipe  and sweet potato casserole, and slaw and green beans and whatever the kids bring. My oldest son and his wife will bring a vegetable side dish and cranberry sauce. Our middle son with his family will bring deviled eggs and whatever strikes their fancy when the time comes. Our youngest and his wife will bring pies — Cynde makes the best pecan pies in the world, and although I have her recipe, I can’t make the pie (mine always runs, and so is more like pudding than pie).

Thanksgiving I believe had religious origins, but (much like Christmas?) is now a secular holiday, celebrated in North  America by people of all religious faiths and people of no religious faith.

There is much I am thankful for.

I have three good strong healthy sons who are good and responsible and successful people who have all kept their jobs during this time of 9% unemployment, and who are happy at least most of the time.

My husband plays the piano, and sings, and I stop what I’m doing and lie down on the sofa to listen. He writes beautiful poetry, and will be, on November 30th, the featured poet at the downtown central library in Winston-Salem. He was the guest speaker last night at AU (Americans United for Separation of Church and State), and it was a good group of good and interesting people. He takes my artwork around to the galleries and gift shops, because, although I love to make digital drawings with GIMP, and although I’ve won a number of honors and prizes in both local and national exhibits, I will never have enough self-confidence to approach a gallery and ask if they’d like to hang my work.

Much to be thankful for. We have almost three acres of wooded land right here in the city, with a creek, and nesting red-tailed hawks, and three hammocks and four bird feeders and rocking chairs on the front porch. And good neighbors.

And we have good healthy happy grandchildren, ranging in age from young adult (the oldest is already in University!) to very young child. Our youngest is three, and to our abiding delight, was named after my husband.

I have friends whom I love, and who forgive me most of my trespasses.

And now it is time to go shopping for macaroni, and cheese, and cabbage and fruit, and to start cooking for the people I love who will gather here tomorrow.

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American Theocracy

Posted in "North Carolina", Local Government, Religion, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on February 23, 2010

It was a circus, the county commissioners meeting tonight.   I have photos and video, but I don’t have the heart to post them.

The people in our large overflow room singing Christian hymns.

The shouted and hollered Amens and Yesses! when speakers spoke about Jesus.

The buses — I have photos of the church buses lined up along Chestnut Street — this is what our democracy (theocracy?) has become.   It will not be on your tv.

I am so disheartened, I am going to bed, simply to get this day over with.

Bob, and one retired Baptist minister who said he was also a member of the ACLU (and was booed for it) were the only speakers who asked them to let this drop. All the other speakers invoked the name of Jesus as they successfully urged our commissioners to go forward in our march to theocracy.

A man sitting behind me hollered,  If they don’t want to pray, they can stay at home!

I turned around and said to him, What if they have county business?

Bob leaned over to me and said,

You have to look on these people without  hating them.  Don’t hate them.

Well I don’t, of course, but was sorely annoyed.

Church buses herd the troops

When the group broke out in song, in a Christian hymn (clearly practiced and on cue) I felt disheartened.  Bob, with his philosophical and moral strength, just smiled at me and said,

That was an interesting moment to observe.

We have a major university in our city.

Not one Wake Forest University  professor– not one professor of history, not one professor of religion, not one professor came out to identify the misrepresentations made tonight about our history and our constitution.

We also have a state university here.   If there were any representatives from Winston-Salem State University, they did not get media coverage and I am not aware of their presence.  It was needed.

Seven hundred sheep getting off church buses, and with very few exceptions,those reliable few, our citizens declared this a Christian nation.

Commissioners Beaufort Bailey, Ted Kaplan, and Walter Marshall cast minority votes against the appeal.

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