Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Repurposing for Winter

Today it is cold here. Very, very cold. We are in the middle of a cold snap the likes of which I don't think we've had since I was a 10 year old kid. As you can see by the picture of our thermometer there, it was so cold this morning that the thermometer gave up trying to measure the outside temperature! On my way to work my car thermometer said it was -45 C! This is just crazy cold! It was so cold that my clutch pedal was really unhappy when I asked it to help me change gears -- it would work in slow motion only. When I got into the city, where it was a balmy -38 C, both the clutch and I were a bit happier.

It is chilly at home too. We're trying not to turn the furnace up over 18 C and we have been keeping the woodstove going all day long, but it is still chilly. We have a lot of north facing windows in our house, which is nice in the summer but not as nice in the winter. When I walk down the stairwell to go to the woodstove in the basement, I can really feel the chill coming down off of them. The windows all have blinds on them, which can be closed to provide a bit of defense against losing all that heat out of the windows. There is a north-facing 'back door' as well though, which doesn't have any blinds on it. I've had visions of making a nice window quilt for it, but that hasn't happened yet. But in the spirit of Chile's repurposing challenge, I thought, why not try a window sheet?

So I wedged a spare sheet around the door trim and tucked it in at the bottom, and it makes quite a difference! Not as much as an thicker window quilt would, but it is definitely less drafty there now. This is just a temporary re-purposing, since I will still use the sheet as a sheet again, but it gets this job done too!

When it is this cold, I am reminded how lucky I am to be able to afford a warm and comfortable house to live in.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Hurried Leisure

Yesterday, after a particularly stressful week at work, I had stopped to pick up a few groceries, and decided to treat myself to a fancy coffee beverage (well, a green tea latte actually) at the conveniently located ubiquitous coffee outlet in the grocery store. I was second in line, waiting for a mom and her ~10 year old son ahead of me. The little boy couldn't really decide what to get, a fairly common condition for 10 year old boys, I suspect. The mom was getting a bit anxious about this it seemed, and at one point I heard her say, "Hurry up, Evan, there are people waiting in line behind us."

I don't think I was making impatient noises behind them, at least I hope I wasn't. I'm not really sure I guess, but it was pretty much all I could do to just stand there, holding on to my shopping cart, staring blankly ahead. I was just glad it was Friday and that I wasn't at work anymore. Then I got to thinking about how sad it was that even when people are giving themselves a little break, even then there is a perception that we must hurry up, and not get in the way of others who we assume must be in just as much of a hurry as we are.

Nona at the Everyday Yogini has a practice where she writes a meditative Buddhist poem, called a gatha, when encouraging herself to engage in a more healthful practice. So here's my first gatha, to encourage myself to cultivate a patient demeanor:
When I am waiting in line
I vow with all beings,
To give myself and others the gift of openness
like a tea cup waiting to be filled.
Picture courtesy this flickr site.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

"Rethink It!" Challenge

Over at Chile Chews, a fourth "R" has been added to the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle slogan: Repurposing! It's like reusing, but instead of using something repeatedly for its original purpose, repurposing is using something creatively, for a purpose for which it was not necessarily designed. Chile is challenging us all to look at things a bit differently, and see what else they could be used for. I'm joining up a bit late with this challenge, but I've got a couple things I thought I'd share.

The first one is the wooden soap dish in the picture there. I made it out of willow branches in the Fall. I had trimmed one of the willow bushes and had visions of basket weaving in my head. Well, I'm not quite that talented, so I thought I'd try a soap dish/rack thing. It turned out fairly well and it's now my soap dish of choice in my bathroom. At first I wasn't sure if this was a repurposing or not, but if you think that the original purpose of a tree is to be a tree not a soap dish, then I think it counts. It also made a nice candle holder for the little votive candle there, but I decided I would get more use out of it as a soap dish, which is what I wanted it for in the first place.

Gord brought some used metal hangers home the other day, and I immediately thought of the stove burner trivet thing I wanted to make for the woodstove, to keep my Dutch oven from sitting directly on the woodstove top. My mom had these things when I was little - my dad made them from hangers (a least I think that's what he made them from), and my mom used them to keep the glass teapot up off the stover burner a bit so the tea wouldn't scald. Apparently, I am not as talented in metal working as my dad is, the evidence for which you can see in this next picture. These things are going to take a bit of work! I think I will have to consult my dad for some metal-bending lessons!

The third thing I've repurposed so far is in my cupboard right now, and will have to wait 'til Spring to be used. It's a plastic veggie platter container from some veggies and dip I brought last month to a potluck at work when I didn't have time to make anything more elaborate. When I took it home again to recycle, I looked at it and thought, "Hmmm....this could be a mini-greenhouse seed-starter thingy." I will fill the sections with my compost and sprout veggie seeds in there! It will fit nicely on the ledge by the window when I start seeds in March/April.

Thanks Chile, for the inspiration to keep an open mind and consider what else something could be used for, before recycling it or just tossing it in the garbage!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

CNSC President Fired

So I woke up to the news today that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, via his minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn, had fired the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Linda Keen. A couple of days ago I ranted about the government's threats to do just this. In a nutshell, the government didn't like that she stood up to them when they wanted to re-open a nuclear facility that hadn't complied with the necessary safety upgrades, specifically they had "failed to install a back up power system that would keep the reactor under control following a natural disaster or a major fire." Because the nuclear facility was in the business of making radioactive isotopes for medical tests and treatment, Ms. Keen was vilified as being instrumental in witholding medical services to waiting patients. Even though alternative sources for these isotopes were available from other countries, albeit more expensively.

So this is the kind of government we have as Canadians: one which can't stand any kind of criticism, even when it comes to keeping the Canadian people (not to mention the entire world) safe from a potential nuclear disaster. A government that has to fire the people who criticize them, even when they are doing the job they were appointed to do as an independent agency, by the government. They even fired her before she could testify, at the request of the government, on the topic of nuclear safety issues. Perhaps the government has also redefined the word "independent" to mean something other than what I think it means?

This action would be similar to that of lodging a complaint against a community doctor because he was reporting on the unusually high instances of cancer in a population of First Nations people who lived downstream from from oil sands extraction plants. Oh wait, that already happened.

All of this sure gives me the pleasant glow of trust and security when I re-read in the letter the Premier of Alberta sent me that any nuclear development in Alberta would first be thoroughly reviewed by: "The CNSC... an independent federal agency that regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials in Canada in order to protect our health, safety, security and the environment." An independent agency.... right. By the time it comes to review the application to build that nuclear facility, a nice Conservative appointee will have filled Linda Keen's place as president of the CNSC. A nice, obedient, yes-man (you can bet it will be a man) who will happily do his master Steven's bidding.

Not sure if I should apologize for the bitter, angry tone or not, I'm just so SO angry about this right now.

You can seen the exchange of correspondence between Linda Keen and the Minister of Natural Resources here - it makes for some really interesting reading, including a reference to the Supreme Court's idea of "independent" which is different from the government's, apparently.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Eating Mindfully

As part of my participation in Crunchy Chicken's Project NOWASTE, I've been looking into the concept of mindful eating, which I came across while reading Thich Nhat Hanh's beautiful book, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Here is a quote from him that sums up the attitude towards eating that I am trying to cultivate:
"To care for the well-being of your body is an expression of gratitude towards the whole universe, the trees, the clouds, towards all."
Until lately, my attitude toward eating has largely been one of mindlessness, not mindfulness. I will eat while I watch TV or while I read. I confess that one of my most favourite things to do is to read a good book while I have a cup of tea and a tasty snack. This habit has resulted in a few different consequences. The first one is that whenever I read, I want something to eat and/or drink. The second one is that I barely taste or appreciate whatever it is I'm eating at the moment, because I am so focused on what I'm reading. A third consequence is that I'm pretty sure I'm underestimating what, how much, and how often I'm actually eating.

Consequence 1: Pavlovian drooling.

Ok, maybe I don't actually drool like Pavlov's dogs, but I have certainly paired eating and reading together enough times over my life that when I read I have a strong desire to eat something. Maybe I do kind of salivate at the thought, actually. When I sit down to read something just seems to be missing if there is no snack. It actually interferes with my concentration if I don't know I have something to eat/drink on the coffee table there, just waiting for me to indulge.

Consequence 2: What was that I just ate?

Was it sweet, tart, salty? Crunchy or smooth? I have no idea. I just took time to prepare food for myself, and others took the time to grow it and harvest it for me, and I have no idea what it was. Not a lot of gratitude in that kind of attitude, to myself or to others, or to the planet. Do I really need to multi-task while I eat?

Consequence 3: But surely these jeans have just shrunk from too much washing?

I spend a lot of time wondering why I don't lose weight, especially since I've become a vegetarian. I have this concept in my head that I don't eat that much, really. But if I'm not aware of what I'm eating half the time, it's no wonder that I have this (mis)perception. And therefore no wonder that the number on the scale doesn't go down, and my jeans don't get any looser.

So, as usual, the solution to this is simple and difficult at the same time: to eat mindfully. To take the time to be thankful that I have food to eat. To appreciate all that went into the food, including sun, rain, minerals, plants, animals and the effort and care of many people to have it sitting here in front of me. To be grateful that I have enough to eat, to remain aware that many don't, and to eat only my fair share.

This weekend was my first experiment in eating this way. I did not read and eat at the same time, although I did allow myself to drink tea while reading, if it had no sugar or honey in it. While I was eating I tried to pay special attention to what it was I was consuming, and to think about where the ingredients in the food came from. I tried to really taste the food, and enjoy the flavours.

It was hard to do. At times I felt kind of bored, and sometimes I tried to eat quickly so I could get back to reading my book. I could tell that I have really taken food for granted. But it's a step in the right direction, and one that I will get better at with practice.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Peace and Frustration: Life has some of each....

I've been waffling lately what to write about next. On the one hand, I had a great time at our Taoist Tai Chi workshop this past weekend, and came away from that feeling very energized yet peaceful. On the other hand, I am really ticked off at Prime Minister Stephen Harper again, due to his threats to fire the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) after she spoke out against starting up the Chalk River nuclear reactor before it had upgraded its safety features. But then I remembered what I've been reading in my latest Pema Chodron book, which is that life is a dynamic mixture of everything all the time, and I could write about both in the same post.

So, let's start with the Tai Chi workshop. Apart from doing a lot of practice on our tai chi forms, this workshop also included information from our instructor on the roots of Taoist Tai Chi and its founder, Moy Lin Shin. Our instructor was a student of Mr. Moy and gave us some background on him and the health issues he struggled with his entire life. As a child, Mr. Moy's mother brought him to the temple of the the "three traditions" - a temple that was rooted in a combination of the three traditions of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The instructor went on to say that this would be akin to a church in western society today that combined the teachings of, for example, Judaism, Protestantism and Catholicism. We all chuckled a bit at the prospect of such a church, and how unlikely such a place would be.

This idea has stuck with me ever since: can you imagine a world where a place of worship like that would be the norm? Imagine if all the religions decided to look at what they had in common instead of what makes them different. Imagine if the leaders of all faiths and churches decided that since they all only worship one God/Tao/Creator/Allah, it must be the same one, with different names. Imagine the peace!

And during the workshop we got to taste a little bit of what that kind of peace is like, as fifty people of all ages, races and backgrounds did our tai chi together, prepared and ate meals together, and learned from one another.

So now: how do I hold on to this peace even a little bit while hearing on the news yesterday about the Harper government's threat to fire Linda Keen, president of the CNSC. It is difficult. I don't seem to be able to do it. How can I have any confidence in the government of this country when Harper's minister of natural resources, Gary Lunn, is poised to fire the person who did the job she was supposed to do: make sure that the nuclear facility at Chalk River didn't get reopened until the proper safety standards were met. The government overturned her decision however, letting the facility start up again generating medical isotopes. I've got nothing against medical isotopes, but surely there had to be some kind of back up plan to generate the isotopes elsewhere when this particular nuclear facility needed maintenance and upgrading!

I'm no expert but surely it's important for nuclear reactors to be upgraded now and then? You know, to make sure they aren't leaking or anything? And maybe a regular schedule of upgrading and maintenance should be put in place, say like you would do for your car, bicycle, furnace or computer? It's a nuclear reactor after all. Maybe something other than a cavalier attitude would be appropriate, given the potential for environmental catastrophe? And the one person who speaks out about this, whose job it is to speak out about this and take safety concerns seriously, is the person they threaten to fire? By what definition can such action be considered responsible government? By what definition is this any kind of government? If a person's job is threatened because they question the government, what kind of democracy are we living in?

There is a good chance that a federal election will be called this year in Canada. When that time comes, I urge all Canadians to question candidates about their position on nuclear power and other environmental issues. Use your right to free speech while you still have it. Speak out for peace.

Picture of Guan Yin, bodhisattva of compassion, courtesy the International Taoist Tai Chi Association.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

New Challenge: Project NOWASTE

Crunchy Chicken has announced another challenge, and with some trepidation I have signed up for it. It's called Project NOWASTE, which stands for No Overeating While Attempting to Save The Environment - is that catchy or what? Essentially, it's a project designed to help those who want to include reducing their own food intake as part of their overall reduction in consumption. Lightening one's footprint on the earth, literally.

This is a topic I blogged about in the early days of this blog. I was frustrated with myself for being able to reduce our household use of all sorts of things, but not being able to reduce my own food consumption. And I was, and still am, frustrated with my own hypocrisy. I just can't keep on thoughtlessly feasting while most of the world's population is involuntarily fasting. One of the main reasons I became a vegetarian was because I didn't like the idea that food was getting fed to animals, the meat from which only rich people could afford to buy. It would be better that the grain fed to feedlot animals fed people instead. So Project NOWASTE will help me bump this commitment up another notch.

I've been doing some reading lately in some Buddhist texts about mindfulness and its role in slowing down and appreciating what we eat, so I will be posting a bit about that in the near future, and how it can help to reduce personal food consumption.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Reply from Ed Stelmach

Well, I've finally typed in the letter of response I received from the Premier of Alberta, Ed Stelmach. You can read it here. My comments, snarky, sarcastic and otherwise are embedded in the text of the letter in italics. You can read my original letter to the premier here.

I'm still waiting to hear back from Prime Minister Harper.