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


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