Aug 28, 2008

North Georgia Critters: Sassy Paws

Since arriving in Georgia my focus has revolved around the health of my family's animals. My folks have 4 cats, 1 dog, and two horses. Generally when I come home, I find them plagued with parasites, eating junk food, and under-exercised. Their care is actually pretty on par with the area (rural Georgia), but that really isn't good enough for me.

San Francisco, with a bounty of resources like Hazel and Gertie's or Pooches' Playtime, has an overall higher standard of care for companion animals than does most of Georgia. No doubt, Atlanta has a daycare or two itself these days. But if you try to pick up decent dog or cat food outside of Atlanta, you're mostly stuck with chain stores, which usually sell animals. I don't like to shop at chains, and I will not shop at places that sell animals, so it's actually taken me five days to find a local source for critter food. (But no worries, I picked up some small bags of decent food when I got my own groceries in Atlanta).

Today I stumbled upon Sassy Paws in Cartersville, Georgia. It was an accident. I was in Cartersville, the nearest midsize town from my folks place, looking for dog and cat food, but was destined for a place that likely sold animals. But a bunch of bicycles caught my eye so I started walking toward them, which led me to a corner of happiness: A bike shop next to a critter boutique!

Robin, the owner of Sassy Paws, only stocks quality food and natural grooming supplies. (Well she stocks a lot of other items that a Compactor wouldn't be interested in but the selection of food and grooming supplies are only natural). She's right in historic Cartersville, which is actually on route to my parents place if they enter the town at all (110 W. Main St). I grabbed a couple of cards, one for my folks and one for my vet, who I'll see again next week. Perhaps he can refer some clients to Robin for quality nutrition.

Frankly, Cartersville has been a delight today. Right now I'm at the Bartow County Library, utilizing some free wifi, maybe the only none corporate or home based wifi around. I can't check out books, which the place distinctly offers in short supply - maybe this is a new library. Whatever, it trumps the Atlanta library's wifi-less drudgery of Windows based computers. It even trumps Kennesaw State's library in that this place is super comfy. It's like a cafe with no coffee. And there are charming, whispered announcements overhead: "Attention Patrons. If you left your wedding band in the restroom, please come to the information desk to pick it up". And there's a bleach blond, spray tanned, loudmouth on her cellphone. I've inadvertently gotten the scoop on her sister's baby daddy possibly being capable of violence. Oi, I'm easily distracted when without my headphones. Just like a cafe.

This weekend I'm heading out the Powers' Crossroads Country Fair and Art Festival. When I was a kid (11-14) I used to work pony rides with my riding instructor. We went to all of the festivals in Georgia to give rides on ponies. I remember working this festival at least once. It's set out in some woods and it's huge. I'm excited. I'm pretty sure that I worked this one with my mom back in the day (she did this as a 6th workday of the week kind of gig), but I doubt I'll be able to get her to go with me. But my dad might come. I'll try to post some pictures of the syrup production or something.

Aug 25, 2008

Desparate Dispatch from Atlanta

The road trip from San Francisco to Atlanta was pretty fabulous. Blake, my dad, and I drove a rental the whole way, mostly across I-40, if you know it. Who knew northwest Arizona's forests were sooooo beautiful? Wow.

We plunged south as soon as we hit the traditional South, dashing toward New Orleans. If you doubt that sea level rise, increased storm intensity/frequency, or habitat loss will affect people, I urge you to see New Orleans. I'm not blaming Katrina on climate change, but the effects will be similar. As desolate as the city is, I was pretty intrigued. I'm excited now about studying wetland restoration and would definitely consider doing a stint down there in the bayou if there's opportunity.

A few months ago I started looking at Atlanta as a place to go to after grad school. There's an amazing restoration opportunity in the Beltline project, which would convert railroad right of ways and some undeveloped areas into public transit corridors and parks. Too bad the project is barely moving. Two days in Atlanta and I'm looking for earlier flights so I can get out of here. The public library system doesn't even have wifi! Or any of the books on my reading list for school. I can't look for london housing or keep up to date with my program. I'm staying with my folks and they have dial up, which is nearly useless given the level of computing that I require at the moment.

My cellphone has a poltergeist within it that keeps turning it off. I'm so not getting a new one. My stuff was wittled down to 10 oddly shaped boxes and a dresser. I'm taking two large duffles and a backpack to London. I packed mostly cool weather clothes so I'm poorly stocked for the Atlanta heat.

I knew my last few weeks would be chaotic, but I kinda thought coming "home" would be a comfort. It's not. I dropped Blake off at the airport this afternoon among sniffles and tears. 8 years as roommates and 10 as best friends ... nothing about the move is this overwhelming. We both romanticized Atlanta in the past few months, wondering if we could move back here for a bit to be nearer our families. But it seems really doubtful. Perhaps I can get him to go to NOLA, he loved it too.

Oh, and I'm taking one more thing to London- my bike. I ended up having to ship it to Georgia because it wouldn't fit in the car. It arrived today. I really hope to leave here by Thursday, but I just might have to unpack it for a joy ride. I doubt there's anything else here that would so raise my spirits.

Aug 14, 2008

How Do I Have So Much Stuff?!

Oh, I hate moving! I've been very lenient about the Compact this week. Given all the other stress, I can't freak out about buying mothballs at the moment. Everyone's got a different opinion on what I should take, what I should leave or give away. I really want to go lightly to London.

I'm still packing the London bag ... it's stuffed w/ clothes at the moment, but I think some are coming back out. I still have to stuff a bike helmet, lock, and miscellaneous computer stuff into the bag. I guess I'll pull out some of my less-than-functional, but favorite, threadbare sweaters. ARGH, I hate this!

I also bought a new Timbuk2 bag on Sunday. I was looking on Craigslist for about month for a used one. I saw several and even bought one of them. But I was distracted (don't buy Craiglist stuff while at a bar..., poor decision making) and didn't notice that it was a lefty bag. That's kinda crucial with a messenger bag if you wear it as a cyclist. Oops. So now I have a gorgeous lefty bag that I can't use. I guess I'm putting it on the street when I leave since no one I know can use it. But as the waterproofing on my old bag is completely degraded, I broke down and bought a brand new bag.

I went down to the Timbuk2 retail shop on Hayes. It was soooo much easier than Craigslist! I told the workers that I was only interested in SF made bags, preferably in the hemp or reused polyester fabrics. I left with a really nice bag, made right here in SF with repurposed polyester and a custom fabric. I love it. It was convenient. It was sooooo much more expensive than Craigslist. Whew.

I also got new tires on my bike, which I'm calling a safety item since the others were stinkin' bald. Let's call the fenders a health item: Road spray is disgusting. It must have loads of nasty toxins in it. I love my bike. I wish I could ride it to London. I need the majesty of a long tour. I hope to get away for a few days on my bike, while in Georgia.

This will likely be my last post for a bit. If you've sent any requests in the past week or so, forgive me. It's a crush, getting outta here.

Aug 2, 2008

My Top 5 Small SF Businesses

While the Compact is an attempt to reduce personal consumption, I happily support several small businesses within that commitment. We've always said that if you do have to shop, buy local and I stick to that when it comes to the exceptions to the Compact (food, health, safety items, non-consumables). So as I'm leaving, I want to give a shout out to my five favorite small businesses, in no particular order. I've mentioned them before, most likely, but here's the skinny:

Heavy Metal Bike Shop rocks!!! It's incredibly convenient for me, but I've been loyal since the place open because I get such great service. Kim and Dan have worked on 3 of my bikes, often just tweaking something right in front of me and handing my bike back. I'm not a great mechanic. I usually make things like derailleurs worse when I try to adjust them, but I never get any snobbiness at Heavy Metal. They don't try to sell me a bunch of components that I don't need, which makes my Compact commitment easier. And once, I took my favorite kids, Ben and Louisa (6 and 18mo's at the time), down to the bike shop to get a hand break put on Ben's bike. The shop's small but everyone was super cool about letting Ben and Louisa watch the work. It's the kind of place where folks will learn your name if you come around. Stopping in to borrow a tool is fine. Bringing your yard fruit as a thank you is normal, not weird. And there's no formula dictating the exchange, pricing, or work. It's all very real, very now, and genuine.

Four Star Video
has been my bastion of cinematic escapism for a few years now. Blake and I watch movies on our laptops, as we have no tv, but I find iTunes' selection horribly generic. I can't really get behind Netflix because the paper is tossed (and they're totally screwing the U.S. postal system thus we're all subsidizing their profit because of an early contract). So I go to Four Star for choice selection and friendly recommendations. They'll order a film if they don't have it or if it's only on VHS, like they did with Nil by Mouth for me. The staff is great and the owner, Ken, supports neighborhood events and issues with true interest. While I've never attended movie night out behind the store, it seems like a great chance for neighbors to meet in a fun, social way (rather than just bonding together over some political fight, as is so common in SF). I'm always impressed by business owners who engage their communities. Four Star does this in a radical way that's about joy and frivolity, absent the creepy elitism that seeps out of many businesses that attempt to "better" a neighborhood.

The last three are animal related and I've definitely mentioned them in previous posts. I've made my living as a dog handler since moving to San Francisco 8 years ago. Each of these businesses offers a strong product or service, but the attention to sustainability makes them exceptional in the saturated market known as the "Pet Industry". Rather than common greenwashing, the choices and methods of these businesses are genuine efforts to run sensible, healthy, and low impact businesses.

I worked at Pooches' Playtime for seven years because the owners, Molly and Jen, are the best employers you'll ever find. They take their responsibilities as employers seriously in that they want their staff to be happy, well paid, and even respected by the clientele. Support for workers is huge in how I relate to a business and no one tops Molly and Jen in this. Pooches' also contributes to the community by providing foster care for homeless dogs and for four years we supported PAWS with a team at the annual Doggone Fun Run. They were also steadfast supporters of Green DogWalks. Pooches' provides walks, daycare, and boarding to screened clients who suit the environment. If the dog doesn't fit, they give excellent referrals to a more appropriate service, showing that their ambition lies in caring for dogs, not in profit. Pooches' transitioned to earth friendly cleaners before it was cool, and they drive hybrid vehicles for the dog walking service. They let me play eco-dictator for seven years, meaning that I bossed the tar out of everyone regarding grey water, recyclables, repurposed trash bags, running lights, washing machines, and returning those wasteful ziplock bags to clients for reuse. Somehow, Molly and Jen allow for a lot of worker autonomy in a paradigm that is fairly sustainable, great for dogs, and satisfying to human clients. It's a feat not many businesses attempt.

I spent two hundred dollars at Hazel and Gertie's yesterday: mostly Compact friendly items (litter, food, herbs), though I did take some liberties. I suppose it was guilt shopping as I'm leaving my cats here with Blake, their co-guardian, while I'm in London. Jeannine ordered enough earth friendly litter and kibble to last my cats the next 5 months. Blake is set for about half the time that I'll be gone. I also got a new collar for Zalaazil (safety item, modeled in the pic), who came home naked a few days ago. I wish he would fit into the repurposed vintage ties made into dog collars that I saw there. I also got a West Paw catnip toy, which is made out of recycled materials. I've never seen a critter supply shop more committed to earth friendly products and store design. They also deliver food to their dog walking clients, which is rad because it saves car trips. I got a lot of support for Green DogWalks here. Yesterday Jeannine generously threw in a TON of treats, catnip, two spiders (favorite toy), catnip mouse, and a cork ball for my kits. They're completely hung over right now after getting kitty high, gorging on treats, and spazzing out over the toys.

Finally, Smallbatch is a new favorite of mine. On Tuesday I swapped one of my finer bikes for 36 lbs of raw, organic, local, humanely raised cat food. I picked up the first installment Friday at Hazel and Gertie's. Clearly the business is custom if there's a possibility of making a trade at all. The food containers are compostable, which is better than a lot of the food packaging offered to humans. When producing these 6 batches, Diana and David prudently left off the labels, which was the height of consciousness to me. Some things in business become routine, often routine waste. They knew these batches were sold, knew I'd be coming back and didn't need constant in house advertising. It's a very small thing, but I was truly impressed. That detail gives me confidence that the food was attended with like care and attention.

So those are my top five SF small businesses. I've talked about most before but they're worth repetitive mention as they provide excellent examples of how to make a business unique. I never feel like a "customer" at these spots, more like a client. It's a long standing relationship, not entirely centered on currency exchange. If you can recommend useful small businesses in London, I'm all ears (or eyes in this case?).