Monday, 22 December 2008

Tags and Memes and Such....

Last week SoapBoxTech tagged me with a Bookworm Award, and yesterday Alexah at Learning to Step Lightly tagged me for a Green Meme. So in this my last post before I go on Christmas/New Years hiatus, I wanted to respond to each of these in turn. Remember, I have granted myself immunity from the rules of memes and tags and such, and so I will bend the rules to my liking.

First, SoapBox passed on a Bookworm Award to me. Thank you kindly SoapBox! The award comes with two rules:

RULE ONE, I have to grab one of the books closest to me, go to page 56, type the fifth line and the next two to five lines that follow.

Ok, of the three books sitting within arm's reach here in my 'office', I chose one called "The Simpler Life" by Deborah Deford. It was the first book on voluntary simplicity I read, and it was one of the first books to nudge me down the path of mindful living. Starting on the fifth line of page 56, the book reads as follows:

"Attempting to skimp on holiday, rest and exercise," says Fiore, "leads to suppression of the spirit and motivation as life begins to look like all spinach and no dessert."

How's that for a timely reminder of the importance of balance and stillness in life? It's neat when things coincide like that.

RULE TWO, I have to pick five people who love books and who could receive the Bookworm award with honor.

I am going to bend this rule and copy Chile's approach to memes: I encourage everyone to take a look at all the blogs in my sidebar, and stop by any you haven't already checked out. Maybe leave an encouraging comment, in the spirit of the season. In particular, check out the Blogging Bookworm, for tons of great references and reviews for 'green reads' of all kinds.

The second meme I received came from Alexah at Learning to Step Lightly. This meme comes with several rules:
  1. Link to Green Meme Bloggers
  2. Link to whoever tagged you - thanks Alexah!
  3. Include meme number - MEME #1
  4. Include these guidelines in your post - check!
  5. Answer the questions - see below - check!
  6. Tag 3 other green bloggers - I'm going to skip this, again instead asking people to check out the sidebar and stop by and comment at some of the blogs you may not have visited before.
Ok, on to the questions:

1) Name two motivations for being green:

a) My belief in the fundamental interconnection of all things

b) The "Theory of Anyway"

2) Name 2 eco-UNfriendly items you refuse to give up?

a) Right now, my car. There's no public transit to where I work and living this far away from the city meant that we could afford some land along with the house.

b) My clothes dryer. I do air/line dry some clothes, but I hate crunchy jeans and towels!

3) Are you at peace with or do you feel guilty about number 2?

a) Not too guilty, because the car is a diesel Jetta and gets 55+ mpg.

b) A bit guilty, because it is for laziness and comfort that I haven't yet given it up.

4) What are you willing to change but feel unable to/stuck with/unsure how to go about it?

A lot of the changes I'd like to try next will cost a fair amount of money (e.g., solar water heater, digging a well and plumbing it into the house, etc.) Right now it seems more important to pay down debt than to get these things done, everything except digging the well. That I would be willing to go into some short term debt for, if necessary.

5) Do you know your carbon footprint for your home? If so, is it larger/smaller than your national average? (http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx)

I used this calculator and our usage is slightly under the average. Being vegetarian (and nearly so in Gord's case) really helps, but all the miles I drive to work really hinders the average.

6) What's eco-frustrating and/or eco-fantastic about where you live?

a) eco-frustrating: in Alberta oil is king and talk of slowing down tarsands development is tantamount to heresy.

b) eco-fantastic: A CSA farm just 20 minutes up the road! (by car). I could bike there, but that would take some doing. Oh, and a bike.

7) Do you eat local/organic/vegetarian/forage/grow your own?

I'm a vegetarian and my husband Gord is what Steve Solomon would call a vegetabletarian - he eats mostly vegetables, most of the time. We grow some of our own food and are expanding our garden, and we joined a local organic CSA for the first time last year. We are able to forage for some of our own food on our own land too - like saskatoons, strawberries and wild herbs for tea.

8) What do you personally find the most challenging in being green?

Working full time 5 days a week and trying to find the time to fit in the planning, preparation and organization it takes to do things in a sustainable way. It's like having a foot in two worlds, and it gets tiring sometimes.

9) Do you have a green confession?

I am addicted to carrots to the degree that my skin is sort of orangy. I have stopped eating carrots 'cold turkey' for the past 2 1/2 weeks and my hands and feet are still kind of yellow. I'm hoping I'll be mostly back to normal in time for Christmas pictures, but it's seeming unlinkely at this point. Strange, hey? Oh, and I don't have a bike. Yet.

10) Do you have the support of family and/or friends?

Yes. Gord is totally supportive and even if he thinks something is far fetched he keeps an open mind. He is on board with most everything I want to do that is 'green.' He doesn't even bug me about my excess carrot-eating! My family is also supportive, and while they may not agree with everything I do or the reasons I do them, they are never judgmental.

Well, that was fun!

I hope everyone has a peaceful and restful holiday period and that we all begin 2009 with fresh hope, enthusiasm and determination. There is a lot that needs to be done to ensure that the planet and all its inhabitants are well, now and into the future, and we are just the people to do it!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Standing Still

Today is the day the sun stands still, at the southernmost point in its journey across the horizon. In my area of Alberta, the sun will rise today at 8:48 a.m., with the precise time of the solstice being 5: 04 a.m. Today we will have just 7 hours and 27 minutes of daylight. I like the winter solstice. It means we've made it through the longest darkness and things will start to get lighter again.

But this year I think I will appreciate the stillness most of all. For a few days before and after the solstice, the sun appears to rise from the same spot on the horizon every day. Things slow down, and seemingly come to a halt for a little while, at least from the point of view of we humans standing on the earth and looking at the sun.

I think we could all use some of this stillness this year - I know I can. I need a respite from the onslaught of news, a hiatus from worry. A time to just appreciate that rest is good, that there is value in sitting still and in refraining from busy-ness. In a few days, the Sun will start rising northwards again, and there will be celebrations for the birth of a Son (coincidence? I don't think so.) But for now, for today, let's just be still and be thankful for a planet to live on and a distant star to keep us warm.

As for the challenges to come to move from darkness to light in this society, I'll think about that tomorrow.

Picture courtesy this website

Monday, 15 December 2008

To Harp or Not to Harp

Earlier today I ready Sharon Astyk's predictions for 2009. If you've read her site at all you may recall that she was pretty bang on with her 2007 predictions, and today's post outlines that she was correct in most of her predictions for 2008 as well. She is the first to point out that she is not a soothsayer or psychic, and rightly so, but even when she's been off on a few details, the general gist of her predictions have been in the correct direction. All of this means that I pay reasonably close attention to what she's saying, evaluate it against what my experience is, and then decide if what she says seems reasonable and choose my actions accordingly. So far, I've been glad I've listened, because it's meant that I've curbed my spending in favor of debt reduction and the purchases I've made have been practical and with a view to their future utililty. Gord and I also weren't suprised by the speed or the degree of the downturn in the economy, since Sharon has been talking about this for a couple years now.

All this brings me to my current dilemma: how much do I harp to friends and family about this stuff? After all, part of why I started this blog was to have a place to put ideas "out there" without subjecting family and friends to these ideas ad infinitum. That being said, I do try to bring up the topic when it seems appropriate, but try not to go overboard and have every single conversation revolve around my apocalyptic angst and/or preparations for TEOTWAWKI. But more and more I feel I need to say: Plant a garden! Don't buy that! Store some food! Fix it or do without!

But also more and more I feel that I'm starting to sound crazed and desparate. The world situation seems to be worsening at an increasingly rapid pace, and so the things I mention can seem more extreme. I don't want to be written off by my family and friends as a nutcase who is taking things far too seriously, but yet I don't want to avoid saying something that might have been just the thing to kick-start their own preparations for a world that will be different. Not necessarily worse, but different. And these differences require some mental and physical preparations. A lot of preparations, actually.

So do I send family an email with a link to Sharon's predictions for 2009, or to Ilargi and Stonleigh's analysis of the financial situation? Or do I just keep planting, saving, storing, fixing and making do, and hoping it gets noticed and is enough? And from a Buddhist/Taoist point of view, how much of my ego is mixed in here? How much of my wanting to talk about these things is because I want to be seen as "right" or at least have people come over to my way of thinking? And why would something I say be "just the thing" anyway? I have no special communicative or pursuasive powers over and above anyone else.

So, to harp or not to harp: that is my question.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

'Ode' to an Orange Peel

After this post I'm sure some of you may think I've completely lost it. But what the heck, I will put this idea out there anyway.

Yesterday after my lunch hour at work I was putting away all my reusable bags and containers to take home. I had eaten a terribly non-local mandarin orange and its peel was also sitting on my desk. I was deciding whether to be lazy and throw the peel in the garbage or be responsible and bring it with me to be put in the composter when I had this really clear thought: "you are coming home with me." It was an particularly distinct thought, that brooked no equivocation or disagreement. (I will often bring peels and stems and such home with me but sometimes I do get lazy and just throw them away.)

I looked at the orange peel for a moment. The orange had come from at least as far away as Florida, maybe even Mexico. (Last year I avoided eating any mandarins at Christmas time because they came from so far away, but this year I've given in and bought a few). Darn it, after traveling all that way so I could eat it, I wasn't going to just toss its remnants in the garbage can. In fact, I was going to make sure that it was nicely returned to the earth, with my other compostables. It may have been a transient and unnoticed orange up until now, but its peel was going to have a home, right in my garden. Sentimental? Yes. Wacky? Perhaps. But all things are connected. That orange came to me courtesy the seeds, sun, rain, picker, trucker and grocery store seller, and it deserves some respect. Why are the molecules in this orange peel any less valueable now than when they were covering the orange segments? Really, why do we treat so-called 'waste' items with such indifference, or even disdain?

As if to emphasize yesterday's realization, today an inmate at the jail I work at gave me a Christmas tree ornament made out of a quartered orange peel. He had drawn a snowman on the inside of the peel, and it had been dried and pierced with a hole so it could be hung on a tree. That's some respectful repurposing, hey?

Monday, 8 December 2008

Politics and Attachment

Over the past couple of years I have been working on getting better at remaining unattached to things, ideas and outcomes. Both Taoism and Buddhism make reference to striving for non-attachment. As I understand it, Buddhism sees attachment to the idea of a separate self as the root of all suffering.

"Everything changes. Everything is impermanent. It is our attempt to attach ourselves to impermanent things, and gain happiness thereby, that guarantees and perpetuates suffering. "

Taoism has a similar, but different take: in recognizing that all things are One, we don't need to distinguish between or make value judgments among things, and so we can remain unattached from the 'pull' of valuing one thing over another.

When you lose your attachment from “this and that”, you can then see that in reality all things are the same. By doing so you lose the attachment to “things” and awaken the attachment that has always existed between you and the source (Tao).

I've been getting a bit better at lessening my cravings for/attachments to certain things, like a new TV, or food to taste a certain way after I cook it, or having my plans go as planned. But where I have not made any progress at all is in the realm of my political expectations. This has been made quite clear to me in my reaction to the most recent political events in Canada, particularly last week's decision by the Governor General to prorogue Canada's parliament. I became mad, irrationally mad about it. I was in turns tearful, angry and nauseated. I wanted things to go a certain way (i.e., for the GG to tell Stephen Harper that he would have to face the non-confidence vote scheduled for today, December 8th, and deal with the consequences.) I was depending on this outcome for my happiness, and when it didn't happen, I suffered. I brought this suffering on myself, by expecting and hoping and wishing for a certain outcome. I had even built this up in my head to the point that I felt that everyone who wished for a different outcome than me was wrong. This lead to yet more suffering.

How to balance these things? How to be engaged and interested in political matters without becoming dependent on or attached to certain outcomes? How to be vocal and enthusiastic while not putting all one's emotional eggs in one basket?

I have no answer to this one. I have not yet found the balance point between engagement and entanglement, certainly not when it comes to the political leadership of this country I live in. Venerable Wuling wrote a few days ago about ancient Bodhisattvas and how they used 'window shopping' to hone their meditative abilities: while they looked at all the items on display in the bazaar, they were able to not be tempted by them. Perhaps the answer lies in there somewhere - in seeing political outcomes as similar to items put up for sale. I can pick them up and look them over, checking out their component parts and their price tags. And I can put them back down again, informed but not hooked.

If this is the case, then I will have to give up the one defense mechanism I had so far developed to cope with political disappointment - turning away from the fray. Instead, I will have to return to the 'bazaar' world of politics and practice looking things over until I am no longer tempted to latch on to one outome or another. That's not going to be easy.

Cartoon courtesy Dharma Cat

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Big Pantry, Small Oven

I'm in the midst of writing a post on my tendency to become over-invested in certain political outcomes. As an antidote to such things, I have once again tried to focus on the small and the basic: food and the storage and cooking thereof.

A few weeks ago I picked up what I thought would be a nifty way to use our woodstove to bake on - this little campstove oven. The salesperson at the camping store thought it might not get hot enough on top of a woodstove, but when I explained that it was our household woodstove, not a camping woodstove, he and I figured it would be worth a try.

Well, it works about as well as my home-made solar oven, getting up to a maximum of 250 F. I am still roasting some veggies in there right now -- they've been in for about 5 1/2 hours so far and the potatoes still aren't soft. So unfortunately, this neat little stove will have less utility than I though it would. The good part is that we did pick up a used Coleman campstove at a garage sale this summer, and that's what the oven is designed for. So it is not a total loss.

Also, this weekend we have finally gotten our basement pantry shelves assembled and securely fastened to the wall. We looked around a few places for some used shelving, and also tried to cobble something together out of some wood we already had, but in the end decided to go with two very reasonably priced wooden shelving units from Rona. Both Gord and I are very happy with them - they turned out well and are quite sturdy.

I've been ramping up my food storage over the past six months or so, and I put what I had stored so far on our wobbly ping-pong table onto these sturdy shelves. It's a good start, but I can see that I have a ways to go towards my goal of having 3 months worth of food stored.

These shelves, combined with our small freezer and the pantry upstairs should give us enough storage room for that goal though, and now I can easily see how much of each type of foodstuff we have. I think we're good for peanut butter for a while! And pasta and rice. But I could do with some more canned fruit and soup, and my two little cans of pickled beans look pretty lonely. But it feels good to see food on the shelves, and know that I can cook and bake without electricity, even if it is a little slow!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Who said Canadian politics are boring? Updated.

As far back as I can remember, nothing quite so exciting has been on the brink of happening in Canadian federal politics.

I am no political expert, but basically what is happening is that the prime minister, who holds less than 50% of the seats in parliament, could be ousted by the formation of a coalition of the other three parties, who do hold more than 50% of those seats all together. I'm no fan of the current prime minister - in my opinion he is an arrogant, glib and superficial politician who is good at nothing but game-playing and manipulation. He hasn't demonstrated strong leadership qualities, such as integrity and consensus-building, and he seems to have a deep contempt for the very things that make us Canadian, such as respect, fairness and open-mindedness.

There are good things and bad things about the formation of a coalition government. Some of the good things are that the majority of Canadians who voted would actually be represented by the combined governing body, and that Canada's core values would again have a chance to be manifest in the way the country is governed.

One of the bad things is that no matter who is governing, the "economic collapse" is going to happen anyway, in my opinion, and the party/parties in power while that's happening are going to take the blame. That will pretty much do in any chance the Liberals or their ilk would have at forming a government after the next election, whenever that might be. But whichever way this goes, I am heartened by the fact that things can and do change, and that people do still have the will and the wherewithal to act boldly and courageously when their careers are at stake.

So I'm counting down the days until the non-confidence motion is voted on, and wondering what might still happen in the meantime....


Update: December 4, 2008: The Governor General has agreed to let Harper prorogue parliament. I'm devastated. Democracy is dead when a bully can lie with impunity and shut things down to retain power. As of today I live in a dictatorship.

Picture courtesy The Canadian

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Belated Beets, etc.

Just like with the cabbage earlier in the year, I had been neglecting the red and golden beets in my crisper. The beets were from our last CSA pick up day, which was many weeks ago now. Only two were past saving - the rest were still very firm, and a couple had a few green leaves growing out of them even.

I don't have a lot of experience cooking beets, but I do recall really liking the taste of beets in Harvard sauce, like my mom used to serve when I was small. So I decided to try and make them. I must say, they turned out deliciously! The red and golden beets are a nice contrast to each other, and the sauce was sweetly tart, just the way I like it. Mmmmm.... I had my fill of beets today, and I still have six more servings ready to pop in the deep freeze for future enjoyment.

Three of the smallest beets that had new leaves growing I decided to plant in some moist sandy dirt. I figured if some beet greens were growing out of them just sitting there in the fridge, maybe some really nice beet greens would emerge if I actually helped them along a bit. I have no idea if it will work, but I thought it was worth a try. I doubt I will get enough beet greens for me to eat, but our guinea pigs will love the fresh treat in the depths of winter.

I was glad that my beets were relativley successful, because my cinnamon buns were not. I had tried out a new dough recipe from the latest edition of Mother Earth magazine. The dough was supposed to be as good for sweet dough recipes as it was for regular bread. And it probably is, as long as you don't keep the dough until it gets to its more sourdough stage, a week later. The buns look nice, and they are edible, but a sourdough cinnamon bun is not really the flavor I was after. Oh well - bake and learn!

We got a couple other things done this weekend as well, namely having the chimney cleaned (after several failed attempts to do it ourselves - but now we know how!), and putting up two wooden shelving units in the basement so my food storage efforts will be a bit more organized (pictures to follow). So, it was a nice practical weekend, which felt good after an otherwise surreal kind of week.

Wishing everyone peace and contentment in these strange days :)

Friday, 28 November 2008

In which a person dies on Buy Nothing Day

Today is North American Buy Nothing Day. In a sickening irony, a worker at a store that shall not be named, was trampled to death by those wanting to buy their 'fair share' of discounted consumer goods (a.k.a. cheap plastic crap). Does this not just say it all about what has gone so horribly wrong in our society?

I don't know if a cup of tea is going to cut it for this one.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Holding My Breath

I've had the itch to blog lately, but no appropriate topics have come to mind. I've had some thoughts running through my head, but nothing really cohesive worth writing about. I'm on edge, waiting. Wound up, taut.

Just now it hit me: I've been holding my breath, metaphorically speaking. I feel like the world is teetering, tense. In some respects it's been this way for a long time, but this Fall I have felt it more and more acutely, and most acutely of all today. There are so many things in limbo, so many awaited things. Here are a few that spring to mind:
  • Obama taking office - will it happen? Will some kind of traumatic or other event prevent it from going ahead? Does George W. have one last trick up his sleeve to hold on to power?
  • Will the whole world's money be used to save banks and car companies? Will they go under anyway?
  • Will the stock market stop plunging, or just keep heading south? Will our diligently saved RRSPs be whittled away to virtually nothing?
  • Will it snow before Christmas? It's November 27th and we have no snow, and above-zero temperatures - that just seems wrong.
  • Will the attacks in Mubai escalate and lead to a nuclear war between India and Pakistan?
And the one that finally made me realize I was holding my breath:
  • Will the Canadian government fall, again, within months of the last election? Or will a minority coalition form instead?
Things seem to get more surreal by the day. Time to stop for something real, like a cup of tea. And time to exhale, both figuratively and literally.

Any other breath-holders out there?

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Book Review: The World We Have

What with the increasingly dire (but not surprising) economic news, I was glad to read Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh's latest work, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology. It was a definite respite in the midst of so much uncertainty.

In the interest of simplicity and out of respect, I'm going to adopt the practice of referring to Thich Nhat Hanh as 'Thay', which means 'teacher.' While I'm not an official or formal follower of his, he has certainly taught me much in the short time since I discovered his writing.

I sped through this 141 page volume, eagerly taking in Thay's wise words. He has composed the book in three sections and I'll write a bit about each of them in turn:

1) "A Collective Awakening"

Thay begins by reminding us that "the bells of mindfulness are sounding." These 'bells' are things like floods, droughts, and massive wildfires. He says plainly that while some people are hearkening to the sound of these 'bells,' most people have yet to become awakened to them. But yet, he says we don't have to despair; we can take action in our own lives, and we can help others to "awaken to the true situation": the fact that "the American dream is no longer even possible for Americans. We can't continue to live like this."

Thay goes on to talk about the five mindfulness trainings of Buddhism, the fifth of which is the practice of mindful consumption. Thay says that mindful consumption helps us to "recognize what to consume and what not to consume in order to keep the body, mind and the Earth healthy." He goes on to say that the energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight are what is referred to when we speak of the Buddha, or the Holy Spirit, being within us. It is through this energy that transformation can take place.

In the remainder of this section, Thay focuses quite a lot on the Buddhist ideas of interbeing and impermanence. He illustrates these points with examples from Nature. The concept of inter-being can be illustrated by the case of kernel of corn growing into a corn stalk: the seed has not died, it has become the plant. The plant could not exist without the seed's existence; and the seed can not exist without the plant. Similarly, nature and humans inter-are. Every single thing coexists with every other single thing. In Thay's words:
We human beings have always singled our selves out from the rest of the natural world. We classify other animals and living beings as 'nature,' a thing apart from us, and we act as if we're somehow separate from it....Human beings and nature are inseparable. Just as we should not harm ourselves, we should not harm nature. To harm nature is to harm ourselves, and vice versa." (pp 34-35)
I've talked about this concept of interconnection before - it really is the foundation of things I think, pretty much literally. From the concept of inter-being, stems the idea of impermanence. They are two sides of the same coin, really. A yin-yang relationship. Since everything is connected to everything else, any particular thing has no discrete beginning or end. Thay uses another natural idea to illustrate this concept: that of the rising and falling wave in the ocean. If one focuses on the wave itself, one might rejoice at the building up of the wave, and lament its cresting and tumbling into the shore. But if one focuses on the ocean into which the wave is being re-drawn, then there is no need to grieve the loss of the wave, because the water itself is all-encompassing. I can't say this as eloquently as Thay can - here are his words on the subject:
A rising wave has a lot of joy. When the wave is falling, there may be some anxiety about the ending of the wave. Rising always brings about falling. Birth gives rise to death. But if the wave practices meditation and realizes she is water, she can collapse and tumble with joy. She may die as a wave, but she will always be alive as water. The teaching of the Buddha helps us to touch our true nature and receive the insight that will dissipate all kinds of fear (pp 49-50).
It is from this idea that I gained the most comfort from the book. Like Thay says, my fear has dissipated somewhat. Like everything else, civilizations rise and fall, turn and return. Recognizing this, I can let go of the idea that things need to stay the same to be good. Thay goes on to describe The Five Remembrances which practitioners of Buddhism meditate on to help them accept the idea of impermanence. When we no longer fear impermanence, we have a measure of peace, and so we can get on with the task of doing what needs to be done.

2) "Our Message is Our Action"

Thay says that our individual thoughts, words and actions are our continuation. In death, "all we take with us and all we leave behind are the fruits of our thoughts, speech and action during our lifetime. That is our karma, our continuation." Because of this, a path of "service, love and protection" directly influences the world in a positive way, the same way we have been influenced positively by others' compassionate actions before us. Thay goes on to say that "we know that our parents, our ancestors and our teachers all expect us to live our lives in a way that will protect the planet. We have to allow our ancestors, our teachers and the Buddha in us to act."

But what to do? We can't do everything that needs doing - there is just too much. One of Thay's students asked him a similar question, to which he responded, "take one thing and do it deeply and carefully, and you will be doing everything at the same time." This came as quite a relief to me. In order to do our One Thing well, and for as long as it needs doing, we need the strength of peace. Peace is found through the well of mindfulness. Thay says,
It's important that while volunteering or taking part in environmental activism, we find ways to continue with our practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking and mindful speaking. Let us not give in to anger or despair when reflecting on the current state of the world or when confronted with those who engage in the wasteful use of resources. Instead we can make our own lives an example of simple living (p. 76).
Thay goes on to describe the type of actions taken at his monasteries and practice centers in Europe and North America, actions such as powering one monastery entirely with solar power, and having 'no car days' at several others. As the founder of the Engaged Buddhism movement, Thay and his followers certainly 'walk the walk.'

3) "Practices for Mindful Living"

The third section of Thay's book is full of several different ways that we can learn to be more mindful and connected with 'the world we have.' The first of these are some gathas, reminding us during every day activities, such as eating meals, washing our hands or walking outside, that "the Earth provides us with precious gifts every day." There are several gathas in the book, but I will quote just one (p. 108) -- this one is to be brought to mind when washing one's hands:
Water flows over these hands
May I use them skillfully
To preserve our precious planet
Thay also describes a breathing exercise to do when reciting the Five Mindfulness Practices, as well as outlining a deep relaxation method, and some meditations called the Five Earth Touchings. He concludes this section with a checklist of changes in behavior the reader can complete and commit to, and carry along in one's purse or wallet, to be reminded of the commitments made. The reader is also invited to mail the list to the Deer Park Monastery, and the practitioners there will then send email reminders to the reader to encourage follow through with the commitments.

In conclusion, I can only say that this book seemed to simplify a lot of things for me, and provide some relief from the self-imposed burden of feeling that I had to do everything but yet couldn't do enough. I'm a little bit better now at stopping to appreciate the beauty of the moment, just doing one thing at a time, and taking care to do that one thing deeply and well.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

A few nice things....

I've had a few neat experiences over the last week that made me smile:
  • The lady I buy my honey-based face moisturizer from at the farmer's market said she would refill my plastic containers for me.
  • I ran out of the dried sage leaves I picked over the summer for my tea, and I found a really good deal on a sage plant at a local nursery that should get me through the winter.
  • One of the guards at work told me how he makes his own dry oatmeal raisin mixture to take to work for breakfast, and just adds boiling water to cook it when he gets to work. I'm going to copy him. Now I don't have to buy the pre-packaged (and sugar-filled) stuff anymore.
  • My dad showed me how he's hooked up his furnace to deep cycle batteries and an inverter in case the power goes out. The same set up will be good to hook up to a solar panel.
  • Gord and the 'bag girl' at the grocery store chatted about being vegetarian while packing our groceries into our cloth bags.
Just a few nice things to be grateful for....

Picture courtesy this website

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Is it just me?

Is it just me, or are other people finding themselves transfixed by the falling price of oil and the stock markets? I check on the current price/level of these things many times a day. And kind of.....smile. Is that strange?

I feel bad about smiling...sort of. But I've been hoping for something to shake and wake people up to the fact that the world is changing, and a stock market crash seems like a perfect way to get this done, in the Western world. It hits us right where we feel it most - in the bank account. Ice storms, fires, tornadoes and other natural disasters are other types of 'wake up' events, but they generally involve terrible physical harm and suffering for people and animals. And in the long run they are just seen as anomalies anyway, not as wake up calls to the reality of global climate change and to the damage we are inflicting on the earth. Sadly, the rich and powerful nations only consider something a true emergency if it damages the uber-precious 'economy.'

I realize however that you have to be careful what you wish for. Sure, I'm glad now that the price of oil is tanking, and that the bitumen upgrader scheduled to be build on prime farmland just a few miles from me is now on hold indefinitely. And I'm glad also that people may be waking up to the fact that true wealth is not found in a stock portfolio or a savings account. But I haven't lost my job, and no one I know has lost their job, at least not yet. This can, and probably will change. So in the meantime, I will keep learning how to grow and store my own food, pay down my debt, build up the wood pile, and get better at making do with less. And try and encourage others to do these things too, even if they think I'm kind of weird for harping on and on about it. Although, with each drop in the stock market those things are looking less and less weird.

As I type this, crude oil is down to $49.94 USD. The TSX is at 8087 and the Dow is at 7904.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

May I Direct Your Attention To....

I'm still in the middle of writing my review of Thich Nhat Hanh's book, and I hope to have it up within the next day or two if I can get my act together. In the meantime, please take a look at Sharon's terrific post today. I know it sure reminded me that I have to not just think about doing helpful and compassionate things, but actually get out there and do them! Venerable Wuling also had a good post about something similar, come to think of it.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

A small step for Fair Trade

Back in the Spring I had written a little about a resolution that I had proposed for consideration by my trade union at the annual convention. The resolution I had submitted was basically a request that organic, fair trade beverages be used at union functions. Well, this weekend I was at another union meeting and I found out that my resolution passed at the convention last month! The wording was weakened somewhat, in that the version that passed said that use of such products would be encouraged at all union functions. But it seems to have worked at least a little bit, because fair trade coffee was served at our meeting yesterday.

I had hoped the resolution would pass, but hadn't really expected it to. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear that it had. I guess it goes to show how small things can have a positive effect, even if it takes a while.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Sources of Optimism

I haven't had much to post about lately. I've got a bunch of things going on in my head, but nothing cohesive to write about, it seems.

I'm still in a bit of a pleasant daze after watching Barack Obama win the US election last week, and I've sort of just been mulling that whole thing over. I'm looking forward to January when President Obama will be in a position to start doing some things differently than they've been done before. I'm trying to strike a balance in my expectations and be hopeful, but realistic.

I was also happy to receive three new books in the mail last week. I went ahead and ordered these particular ones new, because I had a feeling they would be very hard to come by in the used book store. In nearly a year of looking, I hadn't found any of them yet.

The first one is Steve Solomon's Gardening When it Counts. I've only just read the first few pages of this book, but it strikes me as being a very practical book for those who need to make sure they grow enough food. This will be all of us pretty soon I think. It is written in a straightforward style, much like Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance, and I think I will like it very much.

The second book I bought is the Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery. This huge tome seems to contain everything anyone would want to know about virtually all aspects of homesteading, be that rural or urban, mundane or emergent. Some topics include how to lay out the dead, how to make a chicken coop, how to avoid poisonous herbs, and everything in between. There are also some personal anecdotes included by the writer, some of which seem to be a bit overly religious for my taste, but obviously very important to the author and relevant to why she undertook writing such a huge book, now in it's 10th edition.

Last but not least, I couldn't resist picking up Thich Nhat Hanh's latest offering, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology. I'm only a few chapters into this one, and already I'm thinking about things differently. Somehow his writing in this book has already managed to quell some of my apocalyptic angst, and helped me to look forward to the coming changes with less fear and anxiety. As one example, he talks about meditating on the impermanence of all things, using waves in the water to illustrate the point: Focussing only on the waves, one sees that the wave exists one minute and is gone the next. But by focussing on the water, one no longer laments the passing of the wave, since it is still inherent in the water. In this way, we don't have to fear the passing away of one type of civilization, we can take comfort in the knowlege that the elements for a renewed one still remain. I'll definitely be writing a review of this book when I'm done!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Breathing in the World

I'm not quite sure how to write about this - my ideas are not yet fully formed. But maybe that's ok. We'll just see how it goes.

Over the last few days I've been reading the short stories and articles in a book I picked up at my favorite used book store a while ago, called Best Buddhist Writing 2006. One of the first articles I read this weekend talked about how our the idea that we are separate individuals, distinct from other people and other things is an illusion. A delusion, really.

David Loy, author of the article "Ego Goes Global," puts it this way:

"The most fundamental delusion, individually and collectively, is our sense of a self/other duality -- that "I" am inside and the rest of the world is outside. "

In another article in the same volume, Judith Toy speaks about learning how to stop and enjoy her breathing, and how doing so was one step on the way to unexpectedly forgiving the boy who murdered three of her family members years prior. About breathing, she says,

"I was welcomed into paradise through noticing my breath. The breath became the gateway to my heart....the rising sun, the sound of sirens, a crying child, the squealing of brakes, a Mozart sonata, even a war -- reminds me to breathe, to breathe in a universe that, while full of anguish, will always, always breathe with me."

And there it was, the way to dissolve the delusion of duality: breathe. I breathed. Fully and mindfully for the first time, I think. As I breathed, I felt the air being shared by the universe and my lungs, back and forth. A cooperative ebb and flow with no distinction between inside and out, just a giving and receiving. No difference between "me" and "it," just unified flow of all things. I slept easily and well that night, for the first time in many years.

It reminded me the next day of an activity called "push hands" in Tai Chi. This is a practice where two people keep their hands and/or forearms touching at all times, moving forward and backwards as a means to develop responsiveness and sensitivity. To see people doing this, you would think it was a pre-rehearsed set of movements, but it is not. It is instead a balanced and dynamic flow of responsiveness to the movements of one another. It's hard to describe, but you can see a short video of what it looks like here. It's a transcendent thing - there's no you and me, just conjoined unity, sort of what the yin-yang symbol represents.

All I can say is, try it. Try breathing while being mindful of the flow of the universal atmosphere moving in and out and see if you can notice the dissolution of self into the myriad things. Imagine, now, the consequences if people could shed themselves of the delusion of duality and feel the very intimate connection with the universe, as we literally take in and release a part of it with each and every breath.

Push hands picture courtesy this tai chi website.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Ecological "Credit Crunch" gets a mention at last

This afternoon I came across this article on the CBC website. I was a bit startled to see it at first - I've become so used to environmental things being ignored that it surprises me when anything related to environmental sustainability actually gets published in the mainstream media.

The article talks about things that readers of this blog are likely quite familiar with: that we are increasingly outstripping the carrying capacity of our planet, and that we in the the 'western' world are the worst debtors of all in this regard.

A quick internet search revealed that September 23rd was this year's Ecological Debt Day - the day that the people of the earth had already used up the planet's capacity to generate resources and absorb waste for that year. In 2008 we will consume and excrete 140% of what the earth can give and take. According to the Global Footprint Network, humans first exceeded the earth's biocapacity in 1986, and each year we exceed it earlier and earlier.

This 'financial crisis' we're going through in the world now really pales in comparison. When we're cannibalizing our planet and poisoning it at the same time, it seems pointless to get too worried about some numbers on a scale that go up and down each each day, representing some kind of abstract derivative financial 'product'. How is it that the surreal and abstract became so important and the real and concrete faded into invisibility? Paradoxes like these always stretch my brain.

The Tao Te Ching is full of paradoxes too - maybe that's why I like is so much. I came across a modern interpretation of this text a short while ago. Here are a couple quotes to ponder from that version - I've bolded some of the lines that seem to get to the crux of the matter for me:

Chapter 19:
Get rid of sanctity.
People will understand the truth
and be happier.

Get rid of morality.
People will respect each other
and do what's right.

Get rid of value and profit.
People will not steal
if they do not desire.

If that's not possible, go to Plan B:
Be simple. Be real.
Do your work as best you can. Don't think about what you get for it. Stay focused. Get rid of all your crap.
And from Chapter 24:
Keep your feet firmly planted
unless you want to fall on your face.
Learn how to pace yourself
if you want to get anywhere.
Don't call attention to yourself
if you want people to notice your work.

Nobody respects people
who always have excuses.
Nobody gives credit to people who always take it.
People who hype themselves
have nothing else to offer.

Think of being in touch with Tao
like eating at a buffet:
Take only what you need.
Save some for everybody else
.
It's way past time we stopped gorging ourselves at a buffet that was meant for everyone, for all generations, and rediscovered joyful moderation. And, of course, it's time I took my own advice and stepped up what I can do to only use my fair share.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Thanks! I heart you too!

Last month Jennifer at Veg*n Cooking kindly included me in her list of blogs that she 'hearts.' I've been wanting to pass on her award to blogs that I 'heart' too, and today's the day!

The 'rules' of this award are simple: pass it on to seven other blogs. I decided I would focus on blogs I have discovered more recently, and ones I haven't passed on an award to already. As I mention in my blog policies, I've decided I can break the rules of memes if I want to, so I've chosen just four blogs this time. Here we go, in no particular order:

First, I have to send some love back to Jennifer. She has all sorts of delicious recipes on her blog that really inspire a new vegetarian like me! This weekend I tried her baked sweet potato wedges and they were a delicious combo of sweet and salty tastes - a really nice change from the way I normally prepare sweet potatoes, and so so easy too!

My second pick is the Unstuffed blog. This fellow Canadian's blog is an accounting of her year of not buying anything new, as well as an exploration of our relationship with our 'stuff' and our consumptiveness - very thought provoking and lots of good links to follow too.

Next is Gord over at It Strikes Me Funny. Gord has a way of distilling things down right to the point, and he also has a talent for drawing witty cartoons! He is embracing a lower energy, less consumptive lifestyle and brings these ideas up in his London, Ontario newspaper column as well.

My fourth pick is Heather's Simple-Green-Frugal blog. Sometimes I think she could be my long lost Texan sister! Heather writes about her everyday challenges and accomplishments in a way that encourages people to try right along with her. She is enthusiastic and realistic at the same time - just the right combo to keep me motivated without approaching burn-out.

Thanks to all of you, for being part of my life on a pretty-much-daily basis!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Yogurt --> Tzatsiki

A couple of people who commented on my previous post about my unexpectedly successful yogurt-making also mentioned their fondness for the Green cucumber dip made with yogurt called tzatsiki. I've been making this stuff for years - usually on a Friday night when it doesn't matter if I smell a bit garlicky for a day or two. I got the recipe from a Frugal Gourmet cookbook, but I have modified it somewhat since then, so I don't think I'm breaking copyright if I post my version:
  • 1 cup thick plain yogurt - (called "Baltic Style" here)
  • 1/2 cucumber, grated (I use the largest grating surface on my cheese grater), with the liquid squeezed out. ( I just drink the squeezed out cucumber juice - it's refreshing!)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (approximately - sometimes I add a bit more)
  • 1 clove garlic - finely grated or squeezed through a garlic press
  • 1/2 lemon's worth of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (bottled is also fine, but fresh is more tasty)
  • 1/4 tsp salt, or you can leave it out entirely.
Mix all these things together and taste. You may wish to adjust a few things to your liking, but I'd hold off on adding any more garlic right away, because the flavor intensifies with time. I find that this recipe gives me enough flavor to be tasty immediately, but doesn't become too much when I eat the second half the next day. Serve with pita bread wedges that have been brushed lightly with olive oil and grilled to your liking. Mmm!

Be sure anyone you plan to kiss in the next couple of days doesn't have a garlic aversion!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Against all odds, I made yogurt!

Ever since I tried my hand at lactofermentation by making some kimchi, I've been wanting to try making yogurt. The yogurt I buy in the store just doesn't taste the same as I remember when I was younger: it has a shallow taste, it's not very creamy, and it seems frothed or whipped or something.

I know other people have made yogurt, but the instructions I've read all make it seem like such an ordeal. I mentioned this to one of my colleages at work, and she said that her mother used to just let the mixture of the milk and starter yogurt sit on the counter overnight - this sounded more like my kind of method!

So, last night I added my little plastic container of plain starter yogurt to about two cups of milk. I put the mixture in my little stainless steel kettle (that I bought for 50 cents at a garage sale!), set it on the counter, and went to bed.

This morning, the mixture was, well...a mixture of milk and yogurt. Time to go to Plan B. First I had to find a Plan B though. Eventually, after doing some internet searching I found what seemed like a relatively easy method. And then I modified it - a little on purpose and a little by accident.

I heated the mixture up on the stove top until it was 43C/109F. Later, I read in the instructions a little further down that it should have been heated to 200F first. But I didn't read that until I had already put the container into the pre-heated oven to let it incubate, as per "Method A" in the instructions. Apparently one is supposed to keep track of the oven temperature and keep it at 100F by turning the oven on and off as necessary. But, when I went looking for my oven thermometre I couldn't find it. So I just turned the oven on and off as I saw fit.

After about an hour of this I wanted to see what was happening. I tried taking the lid off of the container and the glass and metal lid insert promptly came apart and fell into the pre-yogurt! I fished it out of there with a fork, put some tin foil on lid instead, and put the whole thing back in the oven. The mixture was thickening nicely, so dropping the lid parts in there was kind of disappointing.

After another hour, I decided that the yogurt was not likely to be fit for human consumption, and also I wanted to bake some bran muffins, and I needed the oven for that. So in a moment of creativity, or desperation or something I heated up my two wheat-filled heating pads in the microwave and nestled the little kettle full of pre-yogurt in between them, right in the microwave itself. And I let it sit like that for another two hours.

Then the moment arrived: I took the tin foil-covered lid off without further incident, and lo and behold, there was yogurt! There was also some liquid whey or something, but I just poured that off since I wanted thicker yogurt anyway. I tasted the yogurt and it was good! A little tart but not too much. And then I made my favorite thing with the yogurt -- tzatziki! And in a little while, I will enjoy a delicious dinner of tzatsiki and pita bread. Mmm...that all turned out ok.

(And for anyone wondering about the kimchi - after two weeks it smells and tastes quite spicy and pungent, but it is still very, very salty. I'm not quite sure how it is supposed to taste, so for now I'm just leaving it ferment for a while longer....)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Radio Quotes

I was listening to the CBC this morning, while getting ready for work. During one of the stories they were covering, people in Edmonton were being interviewed and two of the quotes from the people went like this:

"We need it, desperately" and, "It will be a godsend."

What might these people have been talking about? What is the "it" that is so longed for, to the extent that receiving it will seem like a gift from God? Is it affordable housing? Is it public water fountains so people can get a healthy drink when they need it? Extra funding for the food bank? Cancellation of extra school fees so that public education is actually free like it's supposed to be? Nope, it was none of these things.

Well then, how about an extension to the public transit system? A tuition freeze maybe? A halt to the urban development that is eating up prime agricultural land in Edmonton's northeast? Nope, none of these things either.

Instead, it was this: a plan to 'fast track' the building of seven (!) overpasses on a segment of Anthony Henday drive, so that people don't have to wait at traffic lights any more. Yes, by 2015, the Henday will be a 'freeway' at last - a veritable gift from God to the automobile commuter, via the responsible stewardship of the Alberta government. Who could ask for anything more?

And how much might these 'freeway' improvements cost? Well, according to the CBC story, the government won't even estimate the price until they receive some bids for the job. But considering that one overpass in south Edmonton was estimated to cost at least a quarter billion dollars when construction started last year (and has since gone over budget), I guess seven bridges could run in the neighborhood of 1.75 billion.

Millions, billions -- who cares, right? It's not like the money is needed for other things.

Sorry, my cynicism is showing.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Why I like Tai Chi

This weekend Gord and I went to a Taoist Tai Chi "Dual Cultivation" Seminar. We have been going to tai chi classes together for just over two years now, and I have learned a lot. There are so many things to learn from tai chi, and this weekend's workshop was a good example of the range of this good stuff.

First of all, there's the satisfaction I get from being able to do something physical that I enjoy. It's strenuous enough to work up a sweat, but slow enough that I don't feel like I'm going to drop dead. It's complicated enough to keep my mind busy, but simple enough that I can just 'go with the flow' and not think at all. And, it's a graceful thing. I'm not particularly gifted in terms of physical activity, so feeling graceful while I'm doing something is a real pleasure for me.

Next, there's the tea and cookies. There are always two pots of green tea on the go during class, and a tin of donated cookies as well. People donate money to the tea fund, or just bring the cookies and tea themselves. Either way, there are always enough tea and cookies for everyone, including any guests or observers that may come by.

Then, there's all the nice people. People bring tea and cookies, but are also just polite and kind to each other. Tai chi seems to bring out the best in everyone. There is never any pressure to do more than you can or want to - everyone is just welcomed.

And, there's the whole idea of "dual cultivation" which we learned more about in this weekend's seminar. This means that tai chi is designed to cultivate health in both the body and the mind. Some martial arts or other sports activities focus on physical activity/prowess as the top priority, but in tai chi both mind and body are recognized as interrelated. Our instructor this weekend emphasized this duality a great deal. He spoke specifically about the fourth aim of the Taoist Tai Chi society, which is to selflessly help others. This is elaborated on in the Taoist Tai Chi website, which says,

The foundation of Taoist Tai Chi Society® internal arts and methods is compassion. Our underlying charitable orientation is in keeping with the Taoist values of selflessness and service to others.

Our inspiration is the example set by our founder, Master Moy Lin-shin, who dedicated his life to helping others without seeking personal gain. For this reason, all our instructors are volunteers, and all our branches operate on a non-profit basis. We also perform other services within the community, and assist other charities whenever possible.

After a good day of vigorous tai chi practice, our instructor ended the seminar by saying that helping others is just as much a part of tai chi as the physical exercises are, and that by getting better at the physical part and the mental part, we are in a better position to do the helping part. And, the helping part puts us in a better frame of mind to learn and practice the physical and mental parts.

And that's the main reason that I really like tai chi: because it not only talks about the interconnection of all things, it actually is a way to live out that interconnection.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

40th General Election in Canada - Update II

Just a quick reminder that today is the Federal Election in Canada. If you've already voted - that's terrific!

If you haven't voted yet and aren't sure who to vote for, check out voteforenvironment.ca for information on where the close ridings are, if you want to vote strategically.

If you have decided not to vote, please reconsider! Remember: we are more than just consumers, we are citizens! And as citizens we have both the democratic right and responsibility to vote. Today is the day that each of our individual actions add up to a collective decision, so get out there and vote!

~~~~~~
10 p.m. MDT - Conservative minority government elected. Thanks Stephen Harper, for spending 300 million dollars so we end up with the same kind of government as we had 5 weeks ago, before you broke your own law and called an early election. Do enjoy your next leadership review.

~~~~~~
8 a.m. Oct 15, 2008: A small consolation: NDP candidate Linda Duncan took the riding of Edmonton Strathcona in a very close race, preventing the Cons from yet another complete sweep of Alberta.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Nothing or Something?

This weekend Gord and went 'out' and did three different things in one night: we went to a movie at the cheap theatre (and saw Wall-E), we went for snacks afterward at a nearby restaurant and then went to see a live comedy show (Gord had been given free tickets). This kind of "going out" is a rarity for us - we talk about going out for dinner and a movie but we never seem to actually go. I'd say we do get out for a movie about once a year, maybe.

We had a great time doing all these things this weekend - the movie was adorable and the comedy hilarious! The snacks were just passable, making me appreciate home-cooked things even more than I already do. The evening's events got me thinking, though:

How often when someone asks what you've been doing do you say, "oh, nothing much." It occurred to me that if someone asked me what I did this weekend I would have three whole things to talk about for a change, instead of saying, "oh, nothing."

But I always feel vaguely uneasy saying I did "nothing much," because my weekends are usually full of all sorts of stuff, like cooking or baking, gardening, reading books, having tea, sitting on the porch, blogging, doing laundry, doing yardwork, cleaning the guinea pigs' cage, playing with the guinea pigs, making supper, doing dishes, visiting family, reading blogs, thinking about stuff and talking to Gord about it, etc. Is this nothing? Or is it something? And if it is indeed 'something,' then why don't I talk about it like I would talk about having gone to dinner and a movie?

I've just finished reading Sharon Astyk's book, Depletion and Abundance. In it, she talks about the "home front" and how really important things happen at home. For example, the growing and preparing of food, the working together as a couple or a family, the learning of self-sufficient tasks and teaching these to others, the taking care of each other in everyday, simple ways. This stuff might not make headlines, but it sure doesn't sound like 'nothing.'

Chapter 4 of the Tao Te Ching also has something to say about the paradoxical fullness of nothing:
The Tao is empty
When utilized, it is not filled up
So deep! It seems to be the source of all things

It blunts the sharpness
Unravels the knots
Dims the glare
Mixes the dusts

So indistinct! It seems to exist
I do not know whose offspring it is
Its image is the predecessor of the Emperor

I don't pretend to know exactly what this chapter all means, but I do know that the kind of things that could be considered doing nothing, are the exact things I need to keep me going and to feel contentment and gratitude. Indeed, my weekends of 'nothing' can certainly become "the source of all things" that keeps me going throughout the week.

So the next time someone asks me what I've been up to, maybe I'll say with an enigmatic smile, "nothing, and everything."

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Kimchi - Day 2

The adventures in lactofermentation continue!

After letting the salted cabbage sit overnight, this morning I drained the brine solution and reserved it. Then, I added what I thought were reasonable amounts of crushed chiles, fresh ginger and fresh garlic (also from the CSA farm) and some sugar. Then I poured the brine back over the cabbage, just to cover it in the jars. From one cabbage I got two 500 ml jars of what I hope will be kimchi in a week or so from now.

I've followed Sharon's instructions and put the lids on the canning jars loosely, so as to let the gas from the fermentation process escape. The two jars now sit in the basement, next to my pickled beans. It's fairly cool down there - about 14 degrees C/58F. I tasted the cabbage mixture before putting it in the jars and who-ee! It's salty! I'm assuming this will mellow over time as the lactofermentation works its magic.

If this works, I will definitely be doing it again. It's a really low-engery-input process, just letting salt and time do all the work!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

My first try at lactofermentation...

So I've had two heads of cabbage in the bottom of my fridge for some time - a big one and a small one. The small one had been in there for many months, and when I took it out with the hopes of making some kimchi with it today, it was too far gone. So it was chopped up to be added to the compost. But, the big cabbage that I got from the organic CSA farm this summer was still good except for a few outer leaves, and so I decided to tackle my kimchi project after all.

I first read about lacto-fermentation and making kimchi at Sharon Astyk's site - no surprise there! I also did some more searching around the internet and found what seemed like another easy kimchi method. I decided to combine the two methods, taking heart from Sharon's reassurances that lactofermentation was a fairly forgiving process.

I chopped up the cabbage into thin strips and salted it down with pickling salt (purchased to make pickled beans a few months ago). I added a little bit of water so the whole mixture was dampish. It didn't take long for the cabbage to start becoming soft and compressing even as I was still just mixing it with my hands.

I put a clean plate on top of the mixture, put a clean bag around the bowl and the plate, and weighted the whole thing down with my sugar cannister. Now it has to sit overnight. Then I'll put it in canning jars and add some more brine, along with chile peppers, garlic and some ginger and sugar. And then I'll see what happens next! If this works out, I may even get up the courage to try making yogurt.

Has anyone else tried any new recipes or food preservation techniques lately?

Thursday, 9 October 2008

I am not alone!

Today I found out that there is more of my kind in the neighborhood!

While driving home from work this afternoon, I saw someone else with a Green Party sign in their driveway. At last, I am not the only one! Being in rural Alberta, this is quite the sight: two Green Party lawn signs within a half-kilometre of each other. I was so excited I forgot to stop at the mailbox and pick up the mail.

His sign was one of the new ones - mine is still the older one that I've re-used from our provincial election that was held in the Spring. The party volunteer that brought me the sign at that time said I could keep it, since even then there was the potential for a federal election any time.

It's nice knowing I'm not alone, even here in the bastion of Conservative support that is rural Alberta.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Stand up and Vote for the Environment!

There is just one week to go before Canadians head to the polls in what could be the most important Federal election ever. Yes, ever.

In this election Canadians must decide whether they want to go forward and make the changes necessary to keep our planet hospitable to life, or whether they want to stay the course and let corporate greed and consumerism continue suck the lifeblood from our humanity and our planet.

Think I'm overstating things a bit? I don't. Simply put, without a human-friendly planet to live on, all manner of economic activity will utterly cease. There is no separating the environment from the economy. We can no longer labor under the delusion that the two are separate entities. We either stop killing the planet now, or eventually (and eventually is sooner all the time) the conditions on the planet will kill us, period. Gaia will have her revenge; Nature will bat last. Of these things I am absolutely certain.

So, when it comes time to vote, we must ensure that Conservative leader Stephen Harper does NOT win a majority government. If he wins, the environment loses. If the environment loses, we lose and will have firmly set ourselves, our children, and our children's children on a path to destruction. Do I sound paranoid and apocalyptic? Sure I do. I'm afraid, very afraid. I try and conceal these fears and moderate my statements when I talk to people, but fundamentally, this is what I believe: We are killing ourselves with our greed and it has to stop.

Today, Canada's top climate scientists have banded togther and sent an open letter to Canadians urging them to vote for the environment. The scientists agree that people just don't seem to understand how urgent the issue of climate change is. These are scientists who depend on federal funding for their work but are taking a stand and speaking out anyway. We must all speak out in kind. We must all find our voice, go to our local polling station and vote for the candidate with the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate. The folks at voteforenvironment.ca have made it easy to find out which candidate to vote for - people in Edmonton-Strathcona and Edmonton-Centre please take note! Your ridings are the only two in Alberta with a chance to defeat the Conservative incumbents. These ridings are hotly contested and in the past as few as three votes has made a difference!

Don't let this opportunity of a lifetime (yours and your children's lifetime) slip away. Vote for the Environment on October 14th.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Canadian 2008 Election Debate (English)

Tonight's English language election debate was the best I've ever seen! The round-table format worked well and the the firm but fair moderator really moved the process along, giving each candidate lots of opportunities to speak without many interruptions.

But the best part of the night was seeing Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May really shine! She was articulate and backed up her comments with facts and not just empty rhetoric. She took Stephen Harper to task on many topics, leaving him virtually speechless at times. She really showed what the Green Party is all about, and demonstrated that the party's platform is wide-ranging and practical. May really deserves to win a seat in Parliament, and I'm sure tonight's debate will help her well along the way to acheiving that goal.

I was kind of crushed after our most recent provincial election, and I've been trying not to get my hopes up about this one, but this debate has rekindled my hope that maybe, just maybe change is possible.... Get out and vote Canada!

Picture courtesy the CBC

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Candles

People who read this blog now and then may have noticed that I have a tendency to be all enthusiastic and hopeful sometimes, and all upset and ranty at other times. I would like to be more consistently hopeful and uplifting in the things that I post, but sometimes life just "grinds my crackers" as our lovable blogger Crunchy Chicken would say.

I've enjoyed Crunchy's Blog for quite a while - I think hers was the second 'green' blog I started reading, right after No Impact Man. These and many other bloggers (see sidebar!) have given me hope and lifted my spirits many times over the past two years or so. Even their rants make me hopeful, because when we get mad in the name of a good cause and then do something about it, we reclaim just a little bit more of our voice, our citizenship, and even our humanity.

Just recently I came across another blog, called A Buddhist Perspective. And I found it just at the time when I needed to collect myself, quiet my spirit and just slow down. Funny how things happen like that - a Taoist wu wei moment while finding a Buddhist blog - is that neat or what? And lo and behold, right around the same time I found another Alberta blogger, SoapBoxTech who is concerned about the environment too, and who is looking to reject greed and 'nudge people awake'.

While smiling about my two new finds, a line from a childhood song popped into my mind: "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." And then I thought: All these blogs, they are like candles. They are little lights, shining in the darkness. Each of these blogs represents a person or a group of people who are passionate about the whole of the Earth, and who want to live simply and gratefully within its means. And they aren't afraid to talk about it - About the ups and downs, the hopes and the frustrations.

Thanks to all of you for shining, especially when times seem dark.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Real and Surreal

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go on a tour of many of the homeless and emergency shelters, and detox-centers in Edmonton's inner city. As I've mentioned before, I work in a jail and the mentally ill people I work with there utilize the services of these places quite frequently when they are out in the community. It was good to see these places for myself, to know where they are and get to know a bit how they operate so I'm in a better position to understand my inmate clients' reality. The person leading the tour made a telling comment at one point in the afternoon: "being homeless is a full time job."

I found out that while there are quite a few places to get food in our city, there are hardly any places to sleep if you don't have a home of your own. (In the winter, this can be a big problem here, since it gets down to -30C regularly at night.) You have to get in line early to be sure to get a mat on the floor for the night, in a room of 65-70 or more other people on their mats for the night. Then get in line again for breakfast a few blocks away before it's all gone, and put your name on the list to use the washer or dryer or telephone, which may sometimes actually work. Cart around your few belongings and try to stay out of the way of the aggressive drug dealers or gang members who might 'roll' you for fun, or for your meds or workboots, or just because they can. Pick some bottles to get some cash, maybe apply at a temporary labor agency but be turned down because you don't have any work boots, and no place for them to call you to tell you had the job, even if you did have work boots. Go back to the public health clinic to pick up your psych meds. All of this before lining up early for dinner again, and wolfing it down so you can get in line for a sleeping mat. All day long, the realities of where you are going to sleep and eat are staring you in the face, along with the realities of how to ensure personal safety and how to make some kind of legit money.

I contrast this with the surreal nature of what I've been hearing and seeing in the media, more so lately. Large investment banks whose avaricious practices have caught up with them, now want taxpayers to fund their greed (and apparently their wish has been granted, thanks to another round of fear mongering). Citizens' money worked for and saved over decades is sucked into the abyss of failing banks. Rather than talking about things that matter, our politicians try to out-insult each other so they can become our new 'leaders.' The effects of melamine-tainted food products on Chinese babies are kept under wraps so the Olympics can go off without a hitch. Amateur and professional sporting events are 'fixed' so you can't even be sure that when your team wins, they actually won. Everything is artificial or contrived, if not a boldfaced lie. Do we live in a democratic society anymore, or is it mostly fascist now?

Maybe this is what an existential crisis feels like? When I sit and listen to the news I mostly just gape and shake my head, wondering what really exists, and what is just 'impression management' and 'spin.' Maybe the movie, The Matrix, wasn't so fictional after all? Who can even tell? What does a person hang on to while the house of cards falls?

I imagine that the homeless people I saw yesterday would tell me bluntly that my 'existential crisis' is a luxury they can't afford. They would deride me for ever having thought the house of cards was real in the first place, and shake me out of my foggy delusions. Then, they would get back down to the business of dealing in the everyday realities of finding shelter, food and a measure of safety in their community. In some ways, the mentally ill people I work with are less deluded and more practical than society at large. I'm thankful for the opportunity to learn from them, and thankful for the reality check. It's time to buckle down and get to work.

Reading through the Tao Te Ching today, I notice this chapter, which seems fitting given the news of the 'bailout' in the US announced this morning:

Chapter 53

If I have a little knowledge
Walking on the great Tao
I fear only to deviate from it
The great Tao is broad and plain
But people like the side paths

The courts are corrupt
The fields are barren
The warehouses are empty

Officials wear fineries
Carry sharp swords
Fill up on drinks and food
Acquire excessive wealth
This is called robbery
It is not the Tao!