Sunday, 30 December 2007

A day in the life....

A number of the people associated with the Riot for Austerity have been writing posts outlining the course of their typical day. I haven't really thought of putting my two cents worth in, because my efforts seem so paltry compared to so many of the Riot bloggers who have thought of, and done, almost everything to reduce their impact every day. But as this year comes to a close, I realized that our household has made quite a few changes over the past several months, and maybe it would be useful, at least to me, to make note of the things we're doing at this point, and how a weekend day looks. So here goes:

Sunday, December 30th

~8:30 am: wake up later than usual (we were out visiting fairly late with family last night) and tip toe downstairs to make tea and feed the guinea pigs. The automatic thermostat still has the temperature set for 17C, so it's a bit chilly. Take tea back upstairs to bed, and read a couple chapters in Pema Chodron's "When Things Fall Apart" by the light of my FreePlay hand crank lantern, while Gord still sleeps. Fall back asleep myself - oops.

~9:00 am: auto thermostat clicks up to 18C for the day. (It goes up earlier on weekdays.)

~10:00 am: Gord lights the woodstove - still lots of embers left from yesterday so it's easy to light today, with a good updraft. (On very cold days there can be a downdraft instead, making lighting the fire VERY difficult, not to mention smoky.)

~11:00: I finally drag myself out of bed (I am not cut out for late nights anymore) and head to the shower. Use the toilet first, and flush using greywater from yesterday's shower, stored in the bucket in the tub. Replace bucket under faucet to catch the water as it warms up. Turn on the shower and hop in. Even though we have CFL bulbs in the light fixture, I leave the bathroom light off, with the door open to let in some light and let out the humidity. My 'navy shower' takes about 5-7 gallons of water, thanks to the toggle switch on the shower head, letting me turn off the flow while I lather up, shampoo, etc. The toggle switch also lets me adjust the flow of the water, so even when it's on, I usually have it set to about half or three quarters the maximum flow. Today I let the water run out of the tub. I justify this by saying that the tub needs to dry out every couple of days so I don't get too much soap scum/slime build-up in there.

~11:20 am: I don't have to do my hair or make-up today because I'm not going anywhere - hooray! Just put on some organic moisturizer on my face and a bit of mousse in my hair (so I don't look like a boy) and I'm good to go.

~11:45 am: start cooking some delicious and local Sunny Boy cereal for breakfast.

~11:50 am: add wood to the woodstove. Our wood is 'free' from aspen trees that the neighbours cut down to clear a spot to build their house. We also burn deadfall from our ~2 acre woodlot, but currently the 'free' wood is more easily accessible, and already cut.

~12:00 noon: eat "breakfast" - or is it brunch by now? My jaw has been sore from all the raw veggies I've been eating lately, so it's a soft porridge breakfast this morning. Note to self: veggies are delicious, but your jaw has to last a while yet so eat fewer raw veggies all at once (especially carrots). I leave the cereal in the pot I cooked it in - no point in dirtying another dish.

~12:30 pm: add more wood to the woodstove, and throw on a batch of used guinea pig bedding (a.k.a. wood pellets) as well. We get good use out of these pellets: the guinea pigs poop and pee in it and then we burn it in the winter, or use it as mulch for walking paths through the woodlot the rest of the year.

~12:45 pm: start a batch of soup stock, and load up the bread maker with ingredients for bread. Relatively local ingredients include potatoes from the Scotford Hutterite Colony, Windsor salt, Roger's sugar beet sugar and Sunny Boy organic flour. (I have cooked the soupstock on the woodstove in the past, but today I am a bit lazy and do it on the ordinary stove instead.)

~1:15 pm: go outside with Gord to shovel snow, refill the bird feeders, take out the compost, shake the snow off the littlest trees so their branches don't break. Take more wood inside - three boxes full, that should do for the rest of today. Gord leaves another wheelbarrow full just outside the basement window to take in tomorrow. We will have to split another pickup truck load of wood soon.

~2:15 pm: more wood and pellets; stir and taste the soup stock - add more herbs.

~2:20 pm: rescue the bread dough from the paddles which have come loose inside the breadmaker and are now well incorporated into the dough. Weird. Put the paddles and dough back in their proper spots and hope for the best.

~2:30 pm: cut up the remaining potatoes and some celery to make cream of potato soup when the stock's ready. I put all the onions in the soup stock itself, so celery and potatoes will have to do for the soup itself.

~3:05 pm: take the laundry out of the washing machine that Gord put in earlier. Hang it to dry on the drying rack downstairs near (but not too near) the toasty warm woodstove. Throw another log or two into the woodstove.

~3:15 pm: pee. Greywater flush. Just pour about 1 1/2 gallons of water from the collection bucket into the toilet bowl and down she goes. Works best if you pour the greywater right down the centre of the toilet bowl from about the same level that the water in the tank would be.

~3:30 pm: have a nice cup of tea with home made oatmeal cookie.

~4:00 pm: start the cream of potato soup using the homemade veggie soup stock. The potatoes were all growing wierd shoots from their eyes, so it was time to use them up. Scare Gord with the alien-looking potatoes before removing shoots. Gord humors me by making a face and laughing. Note to self: figure out a better place to store potatoes.

~4:15 pm: the bread is looking good and rising like it should. It should be edible after all.

~4:30 pm: surf the web. Check assorted blogs. Point out one of Sharon's posts to Gord which he reads.

~5:00 pm: add more wood to the woodstove. Sit in front of the woodstove for a while, enjoying the warmth and coziness.

~5:30 pm: Write and post previous blog entry while Gord has a nap.

~6:20 pm: Breadmaker beeps - bread is done. Mmm...mmm. Add last bit of cream and some milk to soup and blend. Warm soup bowls in the breadmaker since it's still hot in there.

~6:30 pm: Serve and eat dinner: home made soup and home made bread - yum!

~7:00 pm: Wash numerous pots and pans with my Dr. Bronners soap. Make lunch to take to work tomorrow : bread, potato soup, veggies (no carrots!), and some store-bought cookies because I am now out of home made ones.

~7:30 pm: start writing this blog entry.

~9:00 pm: clean out guinea pig cage -- spent pellets into a bucket to take downstairs to burn in the woodstove, stale water from the pigs' water bottles used to water house plants.

The day will end with a bit of time spent reading my Pema Chodron book by the light of my crank-powered lantern, having a cup of chai with Gord, banking the woodstove for the night so there are good embers left for tomorrow morning, and flushing the toilets with water from the tank for a change, last thing before bed. At 11 pm the thermostat clicks back down to 17C. It used to be lower at night, but not any more.

I really like Sundays like this. Ones that contain some satisfying indoor and outdoor tasks, and some enjoyable time for tea and watching the fire. We still have a long way to go in meeting the 90% reduction goals of the Riot for Austerity, but over the past year we've taken our consumption down in all areas, mostly in electricity, water and natural gas use. Our average is about 60% less that that of the typical North American household. We still have a long ways to go, especially in our gasoline/diesel consumption. That won't change much unless we move closer to work, but we do normally have one car-free day per week, sometimes two.

If Sharon from Casaubon's Book is right, 2008 will be a year of challenges and some surprises. But every day brings our household a little closer to being ready for these, and being content with the simple pleasures of things like home made soup and bread.

Our soup and bread were eaten before a picture could be taken so I've borrowed this guy's picture instead.

A couple edits added on January 1st -- things I hadn't remembered at the time.

Winter Beauty

Winter is beautiful. In these parts, winter weather can last for 7 or 8 months, and there are days where it can seem oppressive. But then there are these frosty and clear kind of days, when it is beautiful.

We've had a lot of fog lately, which turns to hoarfrost on the trees, and then we've had a couple days of very fine snow, which adds to the frost and gives us these lace-covered trees. The wind is still for a change, and the lace has stayed on the trees for several days now. Occasionally a chickadee or a redpoll will land on a branch and send the frost crystals shimmering downwards, sparking in the sun as they descend. On days like this, when all is bright and still, I can feel the peace of the earth resting. And I can rest, too.
From Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching:

Attain the ultimate emptiness
Hold on to the truest tranquility
The myriad things are all active
I therefore watch their return

Everything flourishes; each returns to its root
Returning to the root is called tranquility
Tranquility is called returning to one's nature
Returning to one's nature is called constancy
Knowing constancy is called clarity

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

A little controversy for Boxing Day...

The folks at Adbusters are nothing if not controversial. I check out their site now and then, and I came across this ad there, as part of their Buy Nothing Christmas campaign, which goes along with their Buy Nothing Day campaign held each November. When I saw this ad for the first time my jaw dropped and I inhaled sharply from its impact.

I've been debating with myself whether or not to post it because while I don't mind being controversial, I don't want to be offensive. I decided I would post it today, knowing that some will think it goes too far, but in the hopes that it might get people thinking about what they plan to go out and buy tomorrow at all the Boxing Day sales.

I had someone say to me once many years ago that they thought the day was called Boxing Day because of all the new boxes of stuff they came home with after shopping that day. How far from the original meaning of Boxing Day that idea is. Maybe we could use the day instead to reflect on how fortunate we really are, and take some time to rest, reflect and appreciate the things and people in our lives already.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Sunrise

More by luck than design, I was awake for the sunrise yesterday morning. Given that it was a Saturday, this was fairly unusual, even though at this time of year the sunrises aren't that early. I had gotten up to light the woodstove and when I looked outside, there was a beautiful pink-y light to the sky. I rushed outside with my camera to see if I could capture the scene, and I managed to get a couple good pictures while shivering in my pajamas out on the front landing.

After I had taken the pictures I realized that it was the first sunrise after the winter solstice. I always feel some relief when the winter solstice has passed and the days start to get longer again. We don't live exceedingly far north, but far enough that in the depth of winter I arrive at work and leave work in the dark. If I don't go out at lunchtime it can seem like the sun never rose at all. So this sunrise was a nice reminder that light is coming back, eventually.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Mindfulness Bell

After writing yesterday's post on peace and mindfulness, I came across this nifty free website which provides a computer-generated mindfulness bell. You can set the bell to occur at preset or random times, and you can choose between two different sounding bells.

I've been trying this at work today, as we rush to get everything done in time before leaving for our Christmas break. I've set the bell to ring about every half hour or so, with a random one thrown in for good measure. When the bell rings I stop what I am doing, breathe, and just listen to the bell. It has made for a relatively peaceful morning, despite the raucous ruckus around here....

Picture courtesy this flickr site

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Peaceful Focus

I've been feeling kind of scattered and unfocused these last few weeks. There are lots of things going on leading up to Christmas, and while Gord and I have largely opted out of the consumerism part of western tradition for this holiday, there has still been a lot to do and seemingly not enough time to do it. Work has also been very busy and more stressful than usual.

A respite for me over these last few weeks has come in the form of a beautiful little book I bought not long ago by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The book is called "Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life." (You can read an excerpt of this lovely book here.)

The basic premise of the book is that there can be no such thing as world peace until there is personal, individual peace. And that personal peace is accessible to everyone all the time, through the practice of mindful awareness:
Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and everything we do and see. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We don't have to travel far to enjoy the blue sky. We don't have to leave our city or even our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child. Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy.
The rest of the book goes on to describe how a person can achieve mindfulness in daily life, whether we are breathing, driving, working, or dealing with unpleasantness. The interconnectedness of all things is described, and a discussion undertaken about how, if we are going to dislodge the roots of war, we need to live in harmony with all things, to "inter-be."
We need harmony, we need peace. Peace is based on respect for life, the spirit of reverence for life. Not only do we have to respect the lives of human beings, we have to respect the lives of animals, vegetables and minerals. Rocks can be alive. A rock can be destroyed. The Earth also. The destruction of our health by pollution of air and water is linked to the destruction of the minerals. The way we farm, the way we deal with our garbage, all these things are related to each other.
Throughout the book Thich Nhat Hanh describes the simple things we can each do, everyday, to work towards a more peaceful state. Things like sitting still and paying attention to our breathing, or totally concentrating on whatever we are eating at the moment, or stopping when we hear the sound of a church bell or even the honking of a car horn and really listening to it.

So when things get hectic, and stressful, and I'm worried if this world can ever get its act together, this little book has reminded me that I can experience peace right now, and contribute to world peace a little bit each day. That gives me a measure of comfort in this season that is that is supposed to be all about peace and good will.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Letters to Ed and Steve

In a recent comment, Kiashu from Green With A Gun asked me to post the letters I've written and sent to the Premier of Alberta (Ed Stelmach) and the Prime Minister of Canada (Stephen Harper) in the interest of "helping us engage more productively with our elected representatives."

So here goes. When I wrote the Premier, I posted about it here. And here is a link to my letter to the Prime Minister, that I have just mailed today. I added a P.S. on the bottom of this letter, saying: "You and your environment minister's conduct at Bali lacked both courage and leadership." Both my husband and I signed the letters.

I guess you could say these letters are quite blunt. While I have respect for the offices these men hold, their conduct has not inspired any respect for them, personally.

I will post a link to the letter we received back from the Premier in a future post - my scanner isn't working and so I have to type it into a document myself. It's a fairly long letter, so that may take me a little while to finish.

If anyone would like to use part or all of these letters in your own letter to the Premier or Prime Minister, please do! We need to let our elected representatives know what we are thinking! Otherwise they proceed on the assumption that 'no news is good news.'

Friday, 14 December 2007

Emergency Petition - Please sign!

Please add your name to the petition to demand that these three countries get on board with the rest of the world at the Bali Climate Change Conference!

Scientists agree that a 25-40% reduction in carbon emissions are needed by 2020 to avert the worst of global warming scenarios. If you feel strongly about this, please consider adding your signature to those of the 165 000+ people who have already done so in the past 45 hours!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

"A Roar for Powerful Words" Award

It's an honor to be presented with this award from my fellow blogger at Simply Authentic. The people at the Shameless Writing Circle describe the award this way:
A Roar For Powerful Words is the chance to scream from the mountains the good news about the powerful posts that are produced every day in the blogosphere, despite what some mainstream columnists and journalists claim. This is also a good chance to examine exactly what it is that makes writing good and powerful.
Recipients are to pass the award on to five other bloggers they feel have powerful things to say, and describe three things they believe are necessary to make writing good and powerful.

The first necessary thing for writing to be powerful, in my opinion, is that it comes from the core of the person. I don't think powerful writing needs always to be eloquent, but it does have to be heartfelt and genuine.

A second thing I think is important is that the writing is dynamic and not dogmatic. By this I mean that there has to be room for the reader to actively ponder the point of view of the writer and weigh its merits for oneself. If writing is dogmatic it leaves no such room.

A third important thing is that the writing be accessible. I think writing is accessible if it is clear, with a minimum of jargon. I think grammar and spelling are also important, so that a reader can immerse themselves in the content of what they are reading without the barrier of jarring glitches in its structure.

In short, I think good writing is like good clothing: it reflects the character of the person, it gives you some breathing room, and it has a durable and classic form.

There are a number of blogs I read every day, and probably two dozen or so that I read over the course of a week. Here are some that I find very powerful:

1) Casaubon's Book: This blog has literally changed my life. It is the reason why my husband and I are slowly whittling our consumption and carbon emissions down to a sustainable level. Because of Sharon's blog I just don't do things or think about things the same way anymore. She writes with the power to change, no doubt about it.

2) Green With a Gun: Kiashu tells it like it is. He has a way of summarizing complex topics in a clear and logical fashion that is unsurpassed. With his permission, I included some of his concise phrasing into a letter I wrote to the Alberta premier some weeks ago. It must have done the trick, because I got a non-form letter in response!

3) Green as a Thistle: Vanessa's daily posts are witty and uplifting. She posts about the steps she is taking each day to make her lifestyle more sustainable. Her writing is engaging, and shows the reader how big changes are possible when you make them one day at a time.

4) The Rambling Taoist: Trey writes from the heart. I was captivated in the spring when he was blogging about how he and others were protesting the shipment of military supplies to Iraq. They knew their protesting wouldn't necessarily change anything, but they did it anyway because of their conviction it was wrong. His actions and his words were one: the epitome of Taoism and integrity.

I'm going to stop at these four, because I don't know which of the other blogs I read regularly I could put next on the list without including at least another five after that. There is a lot of powerful writing out there, and it is a joy to discover more of it every day!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Canada and the Bali Conference on Climate Change

I am appalled at the position being put forth by Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper and his so-called Environment Minister, John Baird, at the United Nations climate change conference currently underway in Bali. The Harper government is proposing that Canada is a "leader" in climate change action because Harper's government has made the "commitment" to cut Canada's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% from 2006 levels. Since the rest of the world measures their GHG cuts based on 1990 levels, as per the Kyoto protocol (which the previous government ratified but then Harper reneged on), this means that Canada will actually be allowed to increase its GHG emissions by 10% overall, because our emissions have increased by about 30% since 1990. Harper must think Canadians are too stupid to do the math. He and Baird are also saying that they won't sign any agreement on reduction targets for Canada if the US or China won't commit to binding targets too. I'm in the midst of writing a letter to the PM and the Environment Minister about this, which I'll post here when I've got it done.

But the main thing I wanted to post about today was the fact that Harper seems to be oblivious to the fact that many if not most Canadians think that we should be committing to absolute GHG reduction targets and specific time lines. Today in the Edmonton Journal there were numerous letters to the Editor about this very thing. The letter writers made it clear that Canada needs to show leadership by committing to binding, significant, absolute (not intensity-based) GHG reduction targets regardless of what other nations do. We in the west have been the main cause of the GHG problem in the first place, so we need to suck it up and do something about it, rather than whine that China isn't doing it's part or worry that the US will be ticked off if we commit to something to which they aren't committing.

The last letter to the Editor I read today was signed by "Bill Bourne." Now, I'm not sure if this is Bill Bourne the Edmonton folk singer and songwriter, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it were, given his songs about peace and fairness, like Pie and Ice Cream.

If these or other things that your government is doing or not doing bother you, please write to them, or to the Editorial page in your local newspaper. The government needs to know what ordinary Canadians who are concerned for their and their children's future are thinking. I didn't vote for Stephen Harper, or his party member in my riding, and I'm sure not going to let them think he or his party or his Environment Minister speak for me on this topic.

Also, here is an interesting article from the Globe and Mail on the topic.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Consumption: The Big Picture

Thanks to Vanessa at Green as a Thistle for pointing out this very informative website, called The Story of Stuff. The 20 minute video there gives a really good overview of our our consumption patterns and how they are not sustainable. Did you know that only 1% of items purchased are still in use after 6 months? I didn't. That means that 99% of what we buy is wasted. It is past time to get off the consumption treadmill, and reclaim our identity as people, not consumers.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Cooking on the Woodstove

It's been quite chilly here lately, and we've had the woodstove going most days trying to keep warm while still keeping the natural gas bill down. Last weekend I was making another batch of vegetable soup stock, and I thought I would emulate Ma Ingalls for a while and cook it on the woodstove. It worked out really well! I just had to keep the damper turned down a little bit so I wouldn't boil the heck out of everything. As you can see in the picture, I also kept the dutch oven a bit off to the side as well, where there wasn't quite as much heat. We recently came into a batch of wire coat hangers and so I'm going to bend these into a little grill type thing, like my mom used to have to keep the tea pot a little ways off the stove burner. That way I should be able to keep the soupstock down to a nice simmer.

It is unbelievably easy to make soupstock. I found some information on the main ingredients in a recent issue of Mother Earth News magazine, and I adjusted a few things to my taste and also depending on what I happened to have in the house at the time. Basically, I just fill my dutch oven with about 2 litres of water and then add some unpeeled potatoes, carrots, onions and their peels, some peppercorns, some sea salt, some parsley if I have it, some celery and the leaves, a garlic clove with its peel, and whatever dried or fresh herbs I have around, usually oregano, thyme, rosemary and a bay leaf or two. I let this simmer for 3 hours or so, and then drain the liquid off into canning jars. I usually get about 1 litre of stock which is enough for the two of us for a couple of weeks. I usually eat some of the 'potage' that's left, and the rest goes into the compost bin. I just love knowing what is, and isn't, in my soupstock. And I do like to pretend to be Ma Ingalls now and then too!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Bees are not 'products.'

I was listening to the radio this morning, to CBC's "The Sunday Edition" with Michael Enright. Apart from playing a bit too much jazz music for my taste, I quite like this program and the host. Mr. Enright seems to be a bright and open-minded sort of guy, who asks more than just the standard, basic questions of his various guests, really getting to the heart of the matter on a number of complex topics.

I started listening to the program halfway through one of his interviews this morning, while he was speaking with guest Dr. Mark Winston, a professor of biology at BC's Simon Fraser University. Dr. Winston also used to be a beekeeper, with an apiary consisting of 200 bee colonies. The professor and the host got to talking about colony collapse disorder, and how beekeepers sometimes go to check their colonies and find 90% of the bees are just gone. Dr. Winston says he has seen this coming for decades, due to changes in the way beekeeping has been conducted. In short, using insecticides and other chemicals to kill the mites and other things harming the bees, rather than recognizing and addressing the bigger reasons the bees were becoming susceptible to such pests (i.e., the mono-culture of Agribusiness, genetically modified mega-crops, etc.) Essentially, bees have had virtually nothing other than genetically modified canola pollen on which to conduct their bee activities.

Michael Enright then asked, (and I'm paraphrasing here because I can't remember it verbatim), "Why do humans take these shortsighted approaches when we have a problem with a product?"

To me the answer is in the question itself. Bees are not "products." Just as fish and trees are not mere "stocks" to be "harvested." Oil and water are not just "reserves" in storage for human extraction whenever we want. Humans take shortsighted action because, by and large, we don't see that we are NOT separate from the bees, the fish, the trees, the water, the oil. We are all part of the wholeness, the oneness of things.

I believe that when a person comes to know this in their heart and bones and mind, it becomes impossible to see some things/beings as "products" and other beings as the rightful consumers/exploiters of that "product." Because it would mean that you are exploiting and hurting yourself, literally and directly, not just metaphorically or philosophically.

Think about it for a minute: we're all made of the same "stuff." Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, salts and minerals. All things are made of these basic elements and their compounds. Why is a carbon atom worth more in me than in a dog or a fish or a tree or some oil?

It's not.

Humanity's short-sightedness transforms into global, long-term vision when we see ourselves as part of this interconnected oneness. Humans used to know this in their hearts, minds and bones. We need to know it that way again.

Back on the radio, Professor Watson replied to Mr. Enright's question by saying that humans need to become more aware of the cumulative effects of their short-sighted actions. The host concurred, saying that the Buddhist concept of mindfulness would be another way of looking at it. I submit that an understanding of the Taoist concept of the interconnectedness of all things would preclude having to even ask that question.
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

Chapter 1, Tao Te Ching as translated by Derek Lin
Picture courtesy this website

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Mmmm...apples....

When I am not overcome with apocalyptic angst, I'm often trying out new things to cook or bake, using ingredients that will grow in my Alberta climate. Today I tried a recipe for 'apple chips.' I had a whole bunch of apples that we were given by family living on Vancouver Island when we visited there last month, and a lot of the apples were going soft. I didn't want to waste them, and I wanted to try something other than applesauce to use them up. So I looked into drying them, and found a recipe to make apple chips. This recipe used the heat of the oven to crisp the apple slices into chips, but it could also be done in a solar oven or just by leaving the apples out in the open air.

I sliced the apples horizontally, and then placed the slices on cookie sheets that had been covered in parchment paper and dusted with icing sugar. Half of the slices I dusted further with a cinnamon/sugar mix and half I left plain. After about 2 1/2 hours at 225 degrees F, the apple slices looked delicious! They weren't quite crisp yet, probably because I cut some of the slices a bit too thickly. A 1/8th inch slice seems to work just right. So I'm letting the thicker ones air dry, and they'll be just fine.

Apple chips: I bet I can't eat just one!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Near-constant companions: Irony and Anxiety

Since I've been on this journey of seeing myself as part of the oneness of all things, I've had the experience more often of being either struck by the ridiculous irony of something, or of being overcome with anxiety, or both. I had two recent examples of this that I thought I'd share.

1) Back in the summer I had posted about the central square in my city and how the powers that be had redesigned it so it now had more concrete and fewer trees. One day I noticed people writing on the concrete in chalk, commenting on the lack of trees and remembering when the City Square was full of grass and trees. I added my two cents worth on the concrete that day and felt a bit hopeful.

Now it's winter, with Christmas time approaching. While walking through the City Square earlier this week, what do I see but a tree there. A huge evergreen tree. You guessed it: a Christmas tree. A 50+ foot tree that had been cut down and brought into the otherwise concrete-laden Square, and decorated with lights, and sponsored by EPCOR even. (After all, what's a tree without an official sponsor?)

So, not only have the numerous CO2-absorbing, O2-producing trees that were in the Square originally cut down, but this tree was cut down too, and brought back to the denuded location as a supposed symbol of the Seasonal sentiments of Love, Hope, Renewal and Goodwill. Ironic, yes?

2) Also earlier this week, I was at the hairdresser's having my increasingly numerous grey hairs dealt with once again. On my way out I bought some 'product' (a habit which I will have to ditch one of these days, but don't have the guts to do it just yet). The hairdresser remembered that I didn't want a plastic bag with my purchase, and I didn't want a paper appointment reminder card either. I thanked her and said it was nice that she remembered those things. She replied that it wasn't that hard since, "You're the only person I know who's going green." I made some feeble attempt to smile and say that I would just have to keep talking about it to more people. Meanwhile, my heart sank and my anxiety level escalated.

I worry. I worry that people look at the cut-down Christmas tree and don't see the irony, and I worry that people just think that 'going green' is a fad or an affectation or an eccentricity.

Remember that "doomsday clock" from the mid-1980's that represented how close humanity was to global thermonuclear war and utter annihilation? That 'clock' has recently been expanded to include the effects of climate change on humanity. That's right: climate change is now seen as having just as catastrophic an effect on the planet as would global thermonuclear war.

It's time to see the irony. It's time to wake up and feel the anxiety and do something about it. Because we're at 5 minutes to midnight again.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Pushing on Political Icebergs

Greenpa at the Little Blog in the Big Woods talks about the concept of pushing on icebergs. It can seem futile for an individual person to keep pushing on such a big object and expect it to actually move in a different direction. But with enough individual people pushing for a long enough time, even a behemoth can be moved. When I saw the CTV news late last week showing the results of the latest Canadian political poll, it felt like a shift could really be happening!

For the first time ever, the Green Party polled as the third most popular political party in all of Canada. In the Western provinces, 18% of people said they would vote Green if an election were held on the day of the poll! That's almost one in five people -- I guess me and my little denim Green Party bag don't have to feel so lonely anymore! You can seen the complete poll results here.

Also, I have already pestered friends and family members about this, but I'll say it again here. If you live in Canada and feel that the leader of the national Green Party, Elizabeth May, should be included in the televised debates the next time there is a federal election, please sign this petition. The leaders of the other four parties are always invited to participate, and one of these parties (the Bloc Quebecois) doesn't even run a national slate of candidates. Oh, and if you are the least bit curious, why not check out some of the Green Party's positions on important issues like climate change, building a green economy, health care, a fair tax structure, the democratic process and even beauty and integrity.

The Green Party is the only party I know of that bases its policies on the six principles of ecological wisdom, non-violence, social justice, sustainability, participatory democracy and respect for diversity. Those are the kinds of things that motivate me to keep on pushing on my little part of that metaphorical iceberg. I would surely like to see that iceberg move before the real icebergs all melt.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

No Purchase Necessary: Buy Nothing Day(s) 2007

Since 1992, Adbusters magazine has been promoting an annual "Buy Nothing Day." It is traditionally held on the day after American Thanksgiving, which is apparently the most shopping-intensive day of the year. This year, the fast from consumerism is marked on Friday, November 23rd in the USA and Canada, and on Saturday, November 24th internationally. There are activities in various cities worldwide where activists do things like walk zombie-like through malls, publicly offer to cut up your credit cards, or line up together to form convoys of people pushing shopping carts with nothing in them. But the main activity is the not-buying of things.

I'm going to take the plunge and not buy anything on either day. Care to join me?

Imagine a day (or two) where you've decided beforehand that you're just not going to buy anything. No coffee beverage, no newspaper, no dinner and/or a movie, no gas at the gas station, no pop or chips. No impulse purchases of new shoes, mascara, CDs/DVDs, or that other cool doo-dad on sale 'today only.' Just a day (or two) of using what you already have. No need to even pay attention to advertisements on TV or the radio or the internet, because you've already decided that you have enough of this, that or the other thing. A time where we reclaim our identity as people, instead of just consumers. Where we remember that we are human beings who love and care for each other, not just handy marketing targets. Where we re-assert that the economy serves the people, the people don't serve the economy.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Challenge Withdrawal

Well, you may have noticed that the Freeze Yer Buns challenge banner has been removed from the right side bar. I've decided to withdraw from the challenge for the time being. The reason for this is because one of our guinea pigs, Corky, died last week just a couple of days after starting the challenge. I am not certain if it was the lower temperature that brought on the upper respiratory infection that she died from, but I didn't want to take the chance that it was and possibly jeopardize our other guinea pig's health. So it's time for some serious reassessment on that front. We may turn our attention to other ways of conserving energy. And we definitely need to really think about how our actions and decisions influence the lives of those in our care.

Rest in peace little Corky pig.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

LIghting the Woodstove...

I love fire. My most favorite thing to do when camping (which doesn't happen often) is to make, light and tend the fire. My second favorite thing is to boil water over the campfire to make camping tea, which is for some reason distinctly better than every day tea.

So today was a good day for me: I got to light the woodstove for the first time this year. I've been popping downstairs every half hour or so to make sure it's still burning and/or to throw on another piece of wood. Adjust the damper, put more water in the cast iron kettle, adjust the eco-fan to the most productive angle, and on and on it goes. Tending a fire makes me feel productive and relaxed at the same time, and it just doesn't get any better than that.

Last year I missed out on woodstove season because Winter came so fast we had no wood cut at all. This year we are fortunate to have a virtually unlimited supply of firewood, thanks to our neighbors who have cut down many trees on their property in preparation for building their house. They've been preparing for about three or four years now, so there's quite a supply of seasoned wood available. They have been giving the wood away and offered some to us as well this year. I wish they wouldn't have cut down so many trees, but we can't stop them so at least they are helping keep down our heating and electricity bills with the wood. And of course this helps us greatly as we participate in the "Freeze Yer Buns" Challenge.

Gotta go! I'm sure it's time to throw another log on the fire...

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Mighty Pansy

I'd like to propose a change to the connotative meaning of the word "pansy." If the little pansies I seeded this Spring are any indication, they are pretty tough little plants! This is a picture I took of a small pot of pansies today, October 20th. They are sitting outside on the staircase going down from the front porch, about 10 feet from the house in any direction. As you can see, they are going strong, with buds still forming! Let me say again, it's October 20th, in the northern half of Alberta, Canada. These little guys have already been through several frosts of -5 C (23 F), and at least one of -10 C (14F). I'll be saving the seed from the most hardy of the bunch, if they ever stop flowering to form seeds, and I'm definitely planting these again next year.

So the next time I get called a pansy, I'm taking it as a compliment!

Friday, 19 October 2007

The "Freeze Yer Buns" Challenge

Crunchy Chicken, despite all of the difficulties her family is facing right now, has launched another eco-challenge. Her last butt-related challenge was a little too challenging for me, but this one I can really get on board with. She is challenging us to turn our thermostats down (or the A/C up for those in southern climes) for the duration of the Winter season.

I've made the commitment to turn down our thermostat to 17C/62.6F in the day and 15C/59F at night. We are pretty good about keeping the temperature low-ish anyway, 18C in the day and 17 C at night, but we have cheated a bit at times and turned the heat up a degree or two if we felt really chilled. Even so, so far this calender year we've reduced our natural gas usage to just 8% of that of the average North American (last year it was 8.4% for the entire 12 months) - so this challenge will help us reduce our consumption even more!

(P.S. - I will be posting an update about our other 90% Reduction Challenge numbers soon - I'm still crunching a few fuel related numbers...)

Monday, 15 October 2007

Blog Action Day!

Today is Blog Action Day, where bloggers world wide write about topics relevant to the environment in some way. I've been thinking about this for a while, and thought I would write about why I have that sentence up there at the top of this page: "One day I woke up and considered myself part of the planet instead of just living on the planet. Now what?"

This shift in my thinking probably took place over about a year or so, but there was a moment where I had this "aha!" experience where it dawned on me that I am not separate from my environment, I am part of it. Everyone is part of it and it is part of everyone and everything. The molecules of which I am composed, compose everything else as well. All things and beings are made of the same cosmic 'stuff' in varying proportions. From this it follows that what I do to the environment, I do to me. I'm not separate from it, I am it. This was, and still is, a realization the likes of which I have never had before, and it changed me, in that instant into someone who wanted to live within the means of the planet, not beyond them, utilizing only my fair share of its resources.

Feeling separate from something or someone is what makes it easier to be not so nice to, or just plain oblivious to that thing or person. But when I feel connected, then I want to be kind, compassionate and take care of the thing or person I feel connected to. So when I feel connected to and part of the environment, I don't want to litter or to disrupt natural ecosystems. I don't want to be wasteful because it took a lot of resources to make that plastic bottle, roll of toilet paper, rubber tire, or to transport that banana for my cereal here all the way from Ecuador.

Feeling like part of the planet also puts me in my proper place in the big scheme of things. I'm no more entitled to a piece of the planetary resource pie than any other person or thing is. My lifestyle shouldn't mean that other beings should have to suffer. This is a truly humbling thought, because I know that my lifestyle does result in others' suffering, every minute of every day. Because I have more, others have less. This is a hard thing to wake up to. I have lived as though I am entitled to more than my fair share for my entire life and not even known I was doing it.

So now I'm into the "Now What?" stage of my life. Now that I've had this "aha!" experience, I'm trying to figure out what I need to do differently, and how best to do it. And this blog is how I'm tracking those changes. Because, like I've written at the bottom of this page, "If you want things to be different, you have to do them differently." And I surely do want them to be different.

Chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching talks about how all things, formed and formless, actual and potential, are interconnected and cyclical. When I think about it, I get that feeling like I do when I look up at a star or the Northern Lights and feel big and small at the same time:

There is something formlessly created
Born before Heaven and Earth
So silent! So ethereal!
Independent and changeless
Circulating and ceaseless
It can be regarded as the mother of the world

I do not know its name
Identifying it, I call it "Tao"
Forced to describe it, I call it great
Great means passing
Passing means receding
Receding means returning
Therefore the Tao is great
Heaven is great
Earth is great
The sovereign is also great
There are four greats in the universe
And the sovereign occupies one of them
Humans follow the laws of Earth
Earth follows the laws of Heaven
Heaven follows the laws of Tao
Tao follows the laws of nature

TTC Chapter 25 as translated by Derek Lin

Thursday, 11 October 2007

A Letter the Premier of Alberta

Today Gord and I sent the following letter to Ed Stelmach, the Premier of Alberta. We are both in favor of increasing the royalties that the oil companies have to pay to Alberta for the extraction of fossil fuels. Not surprisingly, the oil companies have really been putting the pressure on the government to keep the royalty structure the same, so we thought we'd do the Canadian thing and write a letter. If there are any other Albertans out there reading this, please consider writing a letter yourself.

Thanks to Kyle at Green With A Gun in Australia for permitting me to use his summary of the slow absorption/fast emission problem for inclusion in the letter.

Dear Premier Stelmach;

We are writing to you today as two very concerned Alberta citizens. We have a number of concerns, including the prospect of a nuclear power plant being forced on the citizens of Alberta, as well as the rampant progress of industry, and the destruction of rich farmland, wetlands and natural green spaces in the service of urban sprawl. Every day our water becomes more scarce and polluted, our air more foul, and our climate more erratic, all in the name of providing increased profits to industry.

We are writing to you today to remind you that the purpose of a government is to safeguard the interests of the public by protecting public commons: our air, water, land, and all of our natural resources. These things belong to all Albertans, not just to industry. A government is commissioned to be the steward of these resources, on behalf of the people.

We take our own personal stewardship of the planet very seriously, and as such have undertaken the challenge to reduce our household’s energy and commodity consumption, and our resultant greenhouse gas emissions by 90% of that of the average North American household. This is the level of reduction that George Monbiot, in his book “Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning” recommends as a measure everyone will have to undertake if we are going to minimize the now inevitable effects of global warming. We have not yet achieved this goal, but we are working towards it daily.

As persons committed to doing our part, we ask you to do yours: Ensure that industry pays its fair share of royalties to the people of Alberta for the privilege of making a profit from the “trust fund” that is in the ground and belongs to all of us. Fossil fuels were created over hundreds of millions of years. Humanity has been using them up in just a few hundred years. That is, we are burning them one million times faster than they were created. Concomitantly, we are putting carbon into the atmosphere a million times faster than it went into the ground.

If the oil industry has to slow down its extraction of this resource because it is only permitted to make a decent profit instead of an obscene one, this can only be a positive result for Albertans and for the well-being of this one planet we all share.

Thank you for weighing our concerns, ones shared by many Albertans young and old, in your decision-making process.


Picture courtesy this Flickr site

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Thanksgiving and the One Hundred Things

Back in the Summer, Pea at the Mustard Seed Journal wrote a post about what many of the people at the Riot for Austerity 90% Reduction group were doing as part of their efforts to reduce life's excesses. To really examine which possessions are necessary ones. The idea was to come up with a list of 100 versatile belongings, considered essential by that person to live one's life. One of the Rioters proposed some guidelines, and online discussion ensued.

I didn't partake in the discussion (I'm still more of a lurker in the 90% Reduction group, even though I'm also working on the 90% reduction goals), but after reading Pea's article the idea has been in the back of my mind. As Canadian Thanksgiving approaches, it's been much more in the front of my mind. I find myself looking at things here at home and asking myself, "Would that [insert doodad here] be on my list?" Most of the time I can quickly answer, "No."

I have so much stuff. We have so much stuff. Most of this stuff I/we do not need. I have over 100 books, let alone all the other stuff. I have a cozy home, food to eat, clothes to wear, a good job, and a family to love and love me back. For these things I am truly thankful. What do I need with all this other stuff?

As I looked around and saw all the things that wouldn't be on my list, my perspective shifted and suddenly I felt lighter, even relieved somehow. I like these things I have around me, but I don't need them. I became more detached from them, right then, in that moment. I need to find at least some of these things a better home.

I'll ask the same question Pea asked: What would be on your list? And my own question: what wouldn't be?
Chapter 48

Pursue knowledge, daily gain
Pursue Tao, daily loss

Loss and more loss
Until one reaches unattached action
With unattached action, there is nothing one cannot do

Take the world by constantly applying non-interference
The one who interferes is not qualified to take the world

Tao Te Ching, translated by Derek Lin
Image courtesy this flickr site

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

A Tai Chi moment

I was at Tai Chi earlier this week and for a very brief time, maybe the span of about 10 moves, I had the amazing sensation of not thinking. I only realized this in retrospect, when I was thinking again, and it made me smile. I hadn't been trying to concentrate or looking for any sort of profound experience or sensation beforehand, I was just doing the 108-move tai chi set with everyone else in our class. I had no expectations because nothing like this had ever happened before.

For a little while there it was just me and my body, moving in time with everyone else, with no cognitive intrusions of any kind, just a peaceful, contented feeling of movement and being. That's never happened to me before, ever, in anything I've ever done.

I find myself hoping to experience it again, but I know if I chase it, it will never come. It is tricky going back to having no expectations though.
Chapter 47

Without going out the door, know the world
Without peering out the window, see the Heavenly Tao
The further one goes
The less one knows

Therefore the sage
Knows without going
Names without seeing
Achieves without striving

TTC, as translated by Derek Lin

Monday, 1 October 2007

Local Cooling

I came across a neat and simple piece of software some time ago, called Local Cooling. It maximizes your computer's power saving options, and puts a little indicator on your screen to tell you how much energy you've saved since installing the program, in terms of gallons of oil, kiloWatt hours of electricity and trees. It is free software, and I have it installed on both my home and work computers. It's amazing how the energy savings add up over time, and it is neat to see the savings converted to trees - it makes it more meaningful to me in those terms.

By installing this software I've also noticed that my old CRT-monitor at home sure uses more power than my flat screen at work. But I can't really justify buying a new monitor for home when there's nothing wrong with it.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Garden Update

Today was the day I took all of the last useful bits out of the garden. The things you see still in there won't likely grow anymore (e.g., feverfew, oat grass, some peppers that never grew much in the first place), but I didn't pull them out and probably won't. I'll just leave them in there to compost themselves over the winter. As far as I know there aren't any seeds left on anything, so I'm thinking that should be ok, but I'm just sort of winging it here.

I've mulched the strawberries with timothy straw - the hard and stemmy bits Corky and Scooter, our two guinea pigs, leave behind. I'll probably keep adding to this mulch for a few weeks yet so there's a good layer of insulation over the winter. From what I've read it's good to do this to the garden too, so with Corky and Scooter's help, I'll have a fair amount of straw bits to add to the garden until the snow comes.

When I picked out all of the remaining salad greens and carrots, I had a little surprise: A 'white' carrot. This is the only one of these I came across all year. I don't know if it's just an anemic carrot, or actually a different type of carrot altogether that was mixed in with my other carrot seeds. I haven't tasted it yet - I'm waiting to show it to Gord when he gets home from work.

I really enjoyed our little garden this year! I plan to add another 4X4 bed next year and change my plantings a bit based on what did well and what else I want to try, like potatoes and maybe some cucumbers or squash. I also want to expand the herb garden, but I'll probably do that in a permaculture-style, with herb plants strewn about among the annuals and decorative perennials. Eventually I'd like to have virtually all the plants I grow be edible or otherwise useful. I've got a lot to learn, and a lot of winter reading to do!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Mmmm.....Bacon

Nope, I haven't reverted back to my meat-eating ways, but I did try out a really great restaurant by the name of "Bacon" this week.

With a name like that, you wouldn't think a vegetarian would have much luck with the menu, but there was lots to choose from! And the best part was that their ingredients are as local as possible, many well within the '100 mile' foodshed guidelines. I was pleasantly surprised to see produce from the Sparrow's Nest organic farm on the menu, as well as organic, local herbal tea from Vitaly Teas. For meat-inclined folks, all of their meat comes from local producers who don't use any hormones and who raise their animals ethically and humanely. They even have biodegradable take-out containers!

I had the India Bazaar Rice Bowl for dinner, and a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. I had some Alberta-grown chamomile tea as an accompaniment, and it was served in a lovely cast iron Chinese tea pot along with a proper handle-free pottery tea cup. The whole experience was quite wonderful! I highly recommend it to anyone in the Edmonton area looking for a place to eat that is slightly off the beaten path. Although by the looks of it, the path to their door is getting a lot more beaten these days. Mmmmm......Bacon.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

The Tao of Soup?

Ok, ok, I know that's a bit of a weird title. But I had a neat Taoist reminder today while making soup.

It is getting a bit chilly out, and it is officially Fall now, so I wanted to make some soup, potato soup in particular. I didn't have any vegetable stock, so I had to make some, which I've never done before. Fortunately, there was a recipe for vegetable stock in the latest edition of Mother Earth News magazine, which just came in the mail yesterday. Also fortunately, I was able to collect a lot of the ingredients for the stock from our little vegetable and herb garden: carrots, celery leaves, parsley, oregano, chives and some fresh basil...mmm! The potatoes I bought at the Farmer's market and they came from Erdmann's Gardens, which is only about 10 kms from our house. I did end up putting some non-local things in there, like some onion and some dried herbs, sea salt and pepper corns and a bit of soy sauce. Oh, and two cloves from the head of garlic I got with my seed order from Saltspring Seeds, but it was still probably one of the most locally-sourced things I've cooked so far.

Anyway, back to the Tao part. I had simmered the stock for about 20 minutes when I thought I would taste a bit of it. It was watery, and I was disappointed. I immediately thought about what I should do to fix it, what else I could add, etc., etc. Then it hit me: I am supposed to let this simmer for hours. So I managed, with some difficulty, to just leave it alone and let it simmer, with the occasional stir and taste now and then. After about 2 1/2 hours it was quite delicious. This was a lesson to me that sometimes I just need to let things be, and they will work out as they should. It is a lesson I need frequent reminders about, being the well-intentioned meddler that I am.

From the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 63:
Act without acting
Manage without meddling
Taste without tasting
From Chapter 64:
The one who meddles will fail
The one who grasps will lose
Therefore, sages do not meddle and thus do not fail
They do not grasp and thus do not lose

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Trees or Concrete?

Late last week I was having a really bad day and decided to get outside during my lunch hour for a change. (I should probably do this more often, but I usually play hermit in my office instead.) It was a beautiful sunny day and I decided to trek the few blocks to a neat restaurant in downtown Edmonton, the Three Bananas Cafe, that I know makes a good vegetarian panini, served with organic corn chips and also has fair trade coffee.

This cafe is situated off to the side of Sir Winston Churchill Square, a newly redeveloped city block that is used for many different purposes, such as The Works visual arts festival and the Taste of Edmonton food festival. The Square used to have grass and trees in it, with some cement sidewalks going through on the diagonal; now it is pretty much covered in concrete, with some trees around the edges.

On my way through the Square to the cafe, I noticed a bunch of people kneeling on the cement drawing and writing with big chalk. Even an RCMP officer was drawing with chalk on the cement. People had written things like "A tree used to grow here" and "Green is Beautiful" as well as some other more poetic things I can't remember anymore.

All of this brought a smile to my face and turned my crappy day into a much nicer day. A lady offered me a piece of chalk to draw with, and so I did. I claimed a concrete sqare, got down on my hands and knees and wrote, "Don't trade away tomorrow for today" and drew a picture of a tree and a flower. I then went in to the cafe for lunch, had my delicious veggie panini, and watched people come and go, drawing and writing. By the time I got back outside, a huge area had been covered in chalk, all in the praise of trees and the loss of our urban green space.

I was sad for the loss of the trees and grass that had grown there before but glad that people cared enough to make their statements on the concrete.

I think I will plant a tree.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Swiffer Revisited

My sister Lori gave me this great Swiffer-related idea the other day! She had correctly assumed that I hadn't been using my Swiffer device for some time, being as it requires disposable wiper pad thingies. So my Swiffer skeleton had been in my closet, languishing for years.

But Lori's idea has changed all that! I can now bring that thing back into useful service by attaching a microfiber cloth to the base of the Swiffer and sweep with abandon once again! The extra parts hanging over the edge even help get into corners better than the original disposable pads. The microfiber cloth (or any other type of absorbent cloth, I presume) can be folded over and by doing so I get four uses out of one cloth before tossing it in the wash.

As a bonus, by dampening the cloth and sprinkling on some baking soda, those dried spill marks on the linoleum wipe up in snap. Even the dirt in those weird little linoleum grooves comes right up, thanks to the wonders of baking soda, the Swiffer Revisited, and a little (very little) elbow grease.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Six of one....

About two months ago Gord and I decided to discontinue our satellite service, which out here means we have no TV signal at all. I guess we could have tried hooking up the rabbit ears to see if we received a local signal, but we haven't ever bothered with that. It has been an interesting experience, living without TV. Neither Gord or I could remember a time where we had gone longer than the duration of a power outage without being able to turn the TV on whenever we wanted to do so.

Several of our habits changed. We stopped having meals in front of the the TV, and moved to having it over at the breakfast nook-type area of the kitchen. (The table is off-limits: it is largely used as a desk/office area.) At the breakfast nook we would read the paper or a book and occasionally even talk about what we were reading! Sometimes, we'd relax and listen to some music. We enjoyed not being bombarded by food, beer and automotive commercials every ten or twelve minutes. When I would go to someone's house who had TV, I really couldn't find anything worth watching, and the commercials seemed even more annoying than usual.

But, coinciding with cancelling the satellite was the upgrade from dial-up to high-speed internet. And I'm pretty sure that any energy savings we may have gained by turning off the TV have been lost by the fact that now both Gord and I have our computers on at night, often for several combined hours. And there doesn't seem to be much difference between staring at a TV screen or staring at a computer monitor. As they say, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Vanessa at Green as a Thistle has committed to doing less superfluous surfing. I'm trying to get up the gumption to join her, and turn my computer off at, say, 9 pm on weekdays, 10 pm on weekends, but I'm hedging. It is scary to think of how attached (addicted?) I've become to this high speed internet thingy. I'll let you know how it goes.

Picture courtesy these guys.

Friday, 7 September 2007

How nice!

I had a lovely surprise today - I was nominated for a bloggy-type award! Lori at A Day in the Life of Connor nominated me for the "Nice Matters" award.

This is such an honor, especially coming from Lori, who is my sister and whose joy and enthusiasm for life and motherhood come through in every word she writes and everything she does! Thank you Lori!

The official description of the award is as follows:

"This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who invoke good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded please pass it on to 4 others who you feel are deserving of this award."
I will happily pass this award on to four other bloggers whom I enjoy reading regularly, and who inspire me in different ways:
  1. I'm going to re-award my sister Lori at A Day in the Life of Connor. I'm not sure if that's 'allowed' but I'm going to do it anyway because when I read Lori's blog it always lifts my spirits! Lori has a way of writing that is so heartfelt and genuine that you feel you are right there with her and her family as they do parenthood for the first time. There is such joy and gratitude in what she writes and how she writes it that the 'nice quotient' of the internet goes up with each of her posts. I raise my cup of tea to you Lori!
  2. Becca at Drops of Water writes a Taoist blog that is calm, serene and thought-provoking. I have had the privilege of conversing with her from time to time over at The Tea House Taoist discussion forum, and she has been kind, patient and non-judgmental even when I have been less so. In her blog she applies the Tao Te Ching to her daily life and thoughts in a way that is both humble and inspirational.
  3. Nobody doesn't like some Crunchy Chicken! Crunchy's site is an engaging and endearing place to learn about ways to be kinder to the earth. Crunchy is always up for an eco-challenge and never asks anyone to do something she isn't doing herself. She has polls and raffles and and kindly cajoles her readers into doing good things for the environment and ultimately, for themselves too! And she isn't afraid to talk boldly about things like the Diva Cup!
  4. Simple Living: Simplify and Reduce. Emme is one of the founders of the 90% Carbon Emissions Reduction project, otherwise known as the Riot for Austerity. Recently Emme had an article published about her in her local paper and on the internet version of the paper she received some unkind, dismissive comments about her and her family's efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. She responded to these criticisms with grace and aplomb despite feeling alienated, and continued to encourage others in their reduction efforts whether they were just starting down that road or had been living lightly for decades. If this isn't the definition of "nice," I don't know what is.
Nice does matter! One at a time and all together, we can make the world a nicer place!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

What to do?

There are days when I get so confused and disheartened about the state of the planet. Then there are other days where I have hope and think, even believe, that humanity will get its act together and actually do something to stop us all from hurtling down this apocalyptic slope. On those kinds of days I think Al Gore is right, if we all just get together and change our light bulbs, turn down the furnace and stop using plastic bags, maybe we'll be ok. But then there are the other days, like today, where I can't help but think along the lines that this guy does, and that it's too late to do anything but brace ourselves for frying in the dark.

And no matter what kind of day it is for me on this front, I wonder what should I do about it? Should I talk to people about my concerns or shut up because they're getting tired of hearing it already? Should I worry about the privately-owned nuclear power plant they're probably going to build a couple hundred miles north of here, or be thankful it's not another coal mine? Should I keep trying to grow my own food or quit because there's not enough time for me to learn how to grow enough and preserve it properly anyway? Should I just keep politely telling people I've become vegetarian for health reasons or scream out loud that factory farming is one of the most horrific and cruel things we humans do to the species with whom we share this one planet?

Some days, like today, I just don't know what to do.

Image courtesy: www.masternewmedia.org

Saturday, 1 September 2007

The Scourge that is Junk Mail

Last month when my niece and I took a trip to the Earth's General Store I picked up a label for my mailbox that would identify it as a "junk mail free zone." The sticker will apparently prevent, or at least discourage, Canada Post staff from putting assorted junk mail into my mailbox.

So far, the little 2 inch square sticker has been languishing on the kitchen counter. Today, being up far too early for a Saturday morning and feeling strangely productive, I picked up the sticker along with its equally diminutive recycled newsprint backer, and turned it over. Lo and behold, there was a web address to the Canadian Marketing Association website, where I can register to have my name and address removed from their database, from where apparently "most direct mail marketers rent names." That's right, rent names. So when you read somewhere that they don't sell your address to others for marketing purposes, they are telling the truth, technically: they rent them instead.

So anyway, I signed right up and as soon as I leave the house today I'm slapping that little sticker on our mailbox!

Friday, 31 August 2007

Generosity

A couple weeks ago Gord and I volunteered, along with about 50 other people from our Tai Chi club, to serve dinner at Edmonton's Mustard Seed street church. We had been looking forward to it for quite a while, and we really enjoyed helping out there. Hundreds of people who had waited outside in the rain for at least an hour were fed a tasty Chinese meal. Most of the people had likely been out in the rain much longer than that, since many of the people served by the Mustard Seed are homeless, a lot of them living in the "tent city" about a block away.

Everything went well at the dinner and all of us volunteers had a rewarding experience helping out our fellow citizens, but that's not really what I wanted to talk about.

Before we went into the church to get set up for serving the dinner, there were two people waiting around back to get into the kitchen with us - an older man and a younger woman. They were wanting to see how things get done in the kitchen because they were going to be serving a meal there in the near future. That was all Gord and I heard about the two of them at the time, but when we were at Tai Chi two days ago we spoke with another Tai Chi-er who had talked with the man and lady a bit more. It turns out that the two were father and daughter, and that the father was turning 60 soon and wanted to serve a meal to the Mustard Seed folk as his 60th Birthday celebration. Now that's generosity!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

August Garden Update

You may say this picture of the garden looks a lot like ones from earlier in the summer and you'd be right. Apart from the rapid growth in July when it was stinking hot, my plants have grown rather slowly. August was a cold and cloudy month, except for today, which was stinking hot again. Weird.

I pulled out the radishes (A2) which had gone to seed, and cut down the oat grass (D4) until it was just stubble. I also cut off several of the first lettuces (D2 and D3) , which had also gone to seed and which were producing only tiny and very bitter leaves. In their places I planted more oat grass, which has already re-sprouted about an inch, and also re-seeded some more lettuce with much hope and wishful thinking. If we have a nice September I may just get a second crop of those things.

The carrots, over on the left in spaces A3 and A4 are still very small. The carrots under there are about two inches long now, and while they are very tasty, they will not amount to much. Let's just say I don't have to build that root house just yet. On the other hand, I have learned much about how not to crowd the carrots all together, and that they must be thinned. The beets and chard keep producing tasty leaves which the guinea pigs just love, and they chomp down the carrot tops as well.

My tomato plant, which you can barely see off to the right in a bucket, is doing remarkably well. The tomatoes on there are absolutely delicious, and just nicely cherry size. Even when they are not fully ripened, they taste so much better than store bought. There are many more green tomatoes left on the vine, and I'm hoping the warmer weather continues for a bit so they can also ripen up some more.

The strawberries are also doing well I think. They had lots of blossoms, which I am pinching off at the advice of the greenhouse lady, who said this would help the plants to produce better next year. We planted them kind of late this year, so we weren't looking for a big crop of strawberries in any event.

There's nothing like coming home after work and heading over to the garden for a snack of baby carrots and cherry tomatoes!