Monday, 31 March 2008
I've joined in Crunchy Chicken's latest challenge: Buy Nothing in April. I've wondered before about how many Buy Nothing Day[s] I could string together, but now I've committed to a whole month of buying nothing other than necessities. Well, almost nothing. Crunchy has kindly allowed me one possible exception (and it's a big one), because it was pre-planned. Barely.
We have been putting off getting a new TV because there just wasn't anything wrong with it. It is just small-ish (27") and old-ish (~10 years). We also try not to watch that much TV - I just can't stand the commercials anymore, and a lot of the shows are just plain crappy. And last year we even disconnected the cable/satellite for the Summer, which was very nice, not to mention saving us over $200 in satellite bills.
But last month (or was it the month before?), the speakers on the TV would only work intermittently. And now they barely work at all. And the NHL playoffs are coming. And the Edmonton Oilers just might make it into the playoffs this year. So last night, Gord and I were talking and we decided that if the Oilers made it into the playoffs, we would go ahead and get a new TV. Then this morning I see this new challenge of Crunchy's! She had given virtually no warning so that people couldn't pre-buy stuff. She is so very crafty and wise, that Crunchy.
I whined a little about this. I asked Crunchy for a special Canadian Hockey Fan exemption. And, a few other people over on her site had also commented about things they had planned to buy in April, and wondered if they could still join the overall challenge. I left it up to Crunchy to decide, and she did. She's letting me (and the others) participate, even if the Oilers do make the playoffs and we do buy a TV, because we had pre-planned the purchase. But, she has now listed me on her participant list as "Theresa at Pondering a New TV. I guess that's only fair!
Now I'm not sure if I want the Oilers to make the playoffs or not!
On another Crunchy-related note, and with somewhat ironic timing, I received in the mail today the book I won in Crunchy's anniversary draw, Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle. I can't wait to delve into this book! And when I'm done, as promised, I will hold a random draw of my own to send this book out into the blogosphere once more. I figure it will take me about a week or two to read this book, so sometime in mid-April I will hold the draw. OK....time to make a cup of tea and start reading!
Saturday, 29 March 2008
Yesterday Gord and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Sparrow's Nest Organic Farm from whom we have purchased a share in this year's harvest. We met the owners and stewards of Sparrow's Nest Organics, Graham and Allison, whose enthusiasm and dedication to living a sustainable, earth-friendly lifestyle was evident right away!
We were welcomed warmly and invited to look around the 70 acre farm, eventually joining Allison and Graham back at the greenhouses. As you can see from the picture, it's still very early Spring here in northern-ish Alberta, but in about six more weeks the huge drip-irrigated fields you see behind the tractor will be seeded with all sorts of delicious vegetables!
We are one of about 40 shareholders in this year's harvest -- ours is a 'working share' where we are are welcome to work two 8-hour days on the farm in exchange for a partial refund of the share price. We plan on meeting, if not exceeding, this commitment and we will undoutedly learn so many things about gardening in a way that enriches the soil rather than depleting it. I'm confident we will be enriched by the experience as well!
Back at the greenhouses we were greeted by the happy sight of onion and leek seedlings poking out of an array of seed trays. One of the regular shareholders and friends of the farm was already there, carefully weeding the seed trays in the balmy environs of the first greenhouse. It was a treat to inhale the fecund aroma, and warm up a little on the chilly Spring day. My camera fogged up, but I managed to get one fuzzy picture of the little seedlings before my camera battery gave out. If you look closely, you can see the green haze of the seedlings poking out of the soil.
In the second greenhouse, Allison was transplanting heirloom tomato seedlings and Graham was installing an energy-efficient furnace. We spent an enjoyable and informative half hour asking questions and talking about things like the joys of eating locally, future plans for the farm, and the challenges of living sustainably, especially in a province where the top priorities are oil and cattle. As our conversation drew to a close, I noticed some flags fluttering outside the greenhouse, and Graham confirmed these were indeed Tibetan prayer flags, placed there last summer by another friend of the farm.
There is no more hopeful sight than a seedling poking up through the soil, toward the sun. We left Sparrow's Nest Farm feeling similarly hopeful and inspired, knowing that people, like seeds, also break out of their shell, look upwards and outwards, and face the world with awe, humility, optimism and determination to grow wherever they are planted.
Friday, 28 March 2008
Not everyone agrees* that gestures like these make any real difference, or cause any long term habit changes, but I'm going to be radically optimistic and say that it sure can't hurt, and that you never know what small action will be the catalyst for bigger action!
Thursday, 27 March 2008
I also found a lovely ginger jar for only 4 dollars and some spice storage jars for a dollar each. We also got a set of three cordless phones for 20 dollars, which are a nice upgrade to the cordless phone we have now. And Gord got a soap dish, toothbrush holder and tumbler that he really liked - 6 bucks for the set. (I have the same set in red, which I know cost 30 dollars when I bought it new about 8-10 years ago!).
Gord got a book on world music, and also some vintage records (Bruce Cockburn, Maria Muldaur) which we are listening to right now, and I picked up a couple canning jars too. There were dozens of canning jars, in all sorts of sizes and some with lids, so I now know where to pick these up for the bargain price of 50 cents each! All in all, it was a very successful and satisfying foray into the world of thrift and frugality.
Tomorrow is our trip to Sparrow Organics CSA Farm, so I will bring my camera along and report back about that in the next couple of days! And I may have a thing or two to say after going to a Chuck Brodsky concert this weekend too! Did I mention how much I am enjoying my week off work?
Tuesday, 25 March 2008
As you can see in the picture, the fact that there is still a couple feet of snow on the ground didn't stop me from taking my book and a cup of tea out to the front porch today. The sun was warm, and in my flannel PJs and fuzzy slippers I spent a nice half hour outside, reading, sipping tea, listening to the birds and breathing in the crisp air of early Spring.
After coming back in, I did a little paperwork, made a phone call to the CSA Farm to set up a time to visit them later this week, de-cluttered and dusted my office, watched our two guinea pigs' antics for a while, listened to some music, made supper and finally whipped up some of Chile's famous hot cocoa just before sitting down to blog.
All of these leisurely activities really bring home the many things I have to be grateful for, such as: a job with good benefits, a cozy home, farmers to grow food, the simple aesthetic of having just a few things on a shelf, the unconditional affection of companion animals, the warmth of the sun, the good taste of simple food, and the time to appreciate all of these.
In taking the time to be grateful, I realize how much of a luxury these spaces in between really are. My mind leaps ahead to imagining what could happen if more of us in the Western world saw affluence in these terms - saw it in the spaces in between things, instead of in the things themselves. If we valued the time, the space, more than the stuff, maybe this would balance out better for those in other parts of the world who need a little more stuff, like food, clean water, clothes, medicine and mosquito nets. The balancing out would occur because people who feel gratitude for what they have would be more likely to feel compassion for others. Then, in my imagination at least, they would act accordingly through, for example, charitable giving, volunteering, activism, community-building, or just being neighborly.
A fast pace of life seems to leave room only for consumption and convenience, with little space or time for gratitude or compassion. A slower pace lets us be thankful, appreciative, and giving.
Either that or I'm just rationalizing my half-hour tea time on the porch.
Monday, 24 March 2008
And, to be totally honest, I was a bit judgmental of the people who shopped in such places. But Gord had no such hang-ups or judgments and I would tag along with him, somewhat unenthusiastically, when he would go into Value Village or other no-name thrift stores or book stores, all the while thinking, "ew" and, "when can we leave?"
Well, all that has changed. It was the bookstores that first got me to come around. Given the amount of books I read, half-price books were very attractive. And once I got over the idea that second-hand was somehow second-class, I started going to more second hand book stores, and I found that they didn't all have that smell, and even if they did, well, so what? Maybe what I considered smelly was just the lack of off-gassing plastic wrappers and the absence of chemical air fresheners.
And once I got over that, it was just a small change in perspective to see all the other thrift store goodness. I had been wanting to stop using my non-stick frying pans for a while, but cast-iron pans are expensive -- except at the thrift store. Gord snagged me this lovely 10 inch cast iron pan at Value Village for 10 bucks! While he was calling me on the phone to see if I wanted it, he said that two other people eyed it and put it back down, luckily for me! After a quick scrub with baking soda, and a little re-seasoning with canola oil, this pan is a non-stick wonder! And no carcinogenic chemicals to worry about.
I had asked Gord to keep an eye out for a baking rack, and lo and behold the next time he was at Value Village he found the one in the picture, for just $1.99! It is a sturdy, well-made rack without a scratch or stain in sight. A little vinegar to clean it off, and it will outlast me, I'm sure. (Oh, and the bread? That's just for decoration, of course.)
I'm now on the lookout for more things from the thrift store, like cutlery (especially butter knives), book shelves, glass storage and canning jars, and a dark enamel roasting pan (to be used in the solar oven I plan to build/make, hopefully to make some of that delicious bread, with free energy!). Why buy these things new when they are perfectly good second hand? I save money, create less waste, and the Earth's resources are not depleted further on my behalf. That is a win-win-win situation if I've ever seen one.
What have been your best thrift-store finds?
Saturday, 22 March 2008
This was a happy turn of events, because earlier in the day I had had an eco-freak out when I saw all the cigarette butts and other garbage outside the restaurant where I had brunch with my parents. It's an unfortunate sign of Spring around here: all the Winter garbage is revealed from underneath the melting snow. I will never understand why people think the Earth is their garbage can. It infuriates me to no end. Gah!
Friday, 21 March 2008
This year I am going to be gardening in earnest. I have already ordered and received my Zero Mile Diet kit, and I ordered the last of my seeds today, from an Alberta seed company called Bowseed. They do trials to ensure that the seeds they sell are hardy to this region. I wanted to try their seeds instead of the ones that you can pick up at the hardware or grocery store, because I've been told those seeds are not necessarily the best quality to start with. And, I have a feeling the stores just wheel out the same displays year after year, so you never know how well the seed has been stored, or how fresh or well suited it was to the area in the first place.
This year I've decided that I'm going to plant pretty much only things that are edible or otherwise useful for medicinal purposes or for tea. Whether it's in the garden, or in my 'decorative' baskets and barrels, I'm going to plant veggies or herbs, or pansies, which are edible too! I have even ordered some cantaloupe seeds which will apparently bear fruit in our short growing season (late May to early September). Here is a list of some of the seeds I ordered today:
Pansy - North American Giants
Prairie Fire Brilliant (Scarlet Sage)
Beans - Tendergreen
Beets - Burpee and Atildas
Carrots - Danvers Half Long
Cucumbers - Morden Early
Corn - Amazing Early Alberta
Sage - Broad Leaf
Melon - Cantaloupe Earligold F1 Hybrid
Garlic - Sets
Onion Set - Yellow Dutch Sets
Tomato Arctic Pot n' Patio
Turnips - Canadian Gem
Wildflower Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea)
I did order some seeds for some perennial flowers too, some delphiniums (these were in my wedding bouquet) and perennial sweet peas (they smell soooo good!). I'm hoping to plant these here and there, among the trees and bushes that are around the 'yard' area, for a little color and interest. I've been scattering wildflower seeds around the area for the past couple years as well, and just seeing what happens. I'm going for a very low maintenance approach.
I'm hoping to learn more about permaculture and related things when Gord and I attend a workshop in May called, "Creating an Edible Landscape," put on by the local permaculture and urban gardening expert, Ron Berezen. Salisbury Greenhouses is hosting several of these workshops, which are a great deal at only 5 bucks each!
I'm really looking forward to this Spring! I am excited about all the new things to do and learn and grow!
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Since I've been using my canvas bags to go grocery shopping it has seemed strange to still put my fruit and veggies in plastic bags to take home. So now I have 15 of these neat net bags to use instead. This will reduce our plastic bag consumption by quite a bit, and significantly reduce the clutter in my pantry as well.
The cashiers at the grocery stores had mostly stopped looking at me funny when I dumped my batch of canvas bags on the checkout counter. Now they will have a new reason to look at me funny, but I don't mind too much. I'm getting used to it, and I guess I'm less afraid to look weird than I used to be.
Monday, 17 March 2008
I filled the peanut feeder first, and after I hung it back up in its spot, a bunch of chickadees started gathering around in the trees, looking down at me. It was like they were saying, "What'cha doing lady? Whatever it is, just hurry up and leave so we can eat!" But, they were so cute I had to just stand there for a while and watch them. I stayed still and just listened and watched. Pretty soon some of the braver and less patient chickadees just flew down and landed on the peanut feeder, which was only about two feet away from my head. One bird would peck and grab a peanut, and then fly up to a nearby branch and eat it, leaving room for the next next bird to land on the feeder and get a snack.
I stood there with my camera, snapping pictures now and then, for about 10 minutes or so, maybe longer. I marveled at how close to me the birds would fly and land. I could easily see their little black eyes and their cute beaks. I could hear their different songs and sounds, and was even close enough to see which bird was singing when. I just stood there and smiled, taking in the light and warmth of the sun, and the birdsong.
When I came back into the house later (after pitching in with the shoveling!) I realized that moments like these are what my Meditation Made Easy book calls the basis of the meditative experience. It is that direct sensory awareness, that immediate connection to one's surroundings in the present moment which is the fundamental ingredient to meditation and why it can occur anywhere, anytime, in many forms. You don't need a special room or cushion or pose or posture, just a period of open and mindful awareness.
Since moving to "the country" a few years ago I've been more appreciative of being able to go outside and watch the birds and the trees and the bugs and the flowers. It was in those times that I felt the connection to the planet and the Oneness of all things most deeply. I guess I've been meditating all this time and didn't even know it!
When I see the birds and the sky
I vow with all Beings
To be grateful and treat the Earth kindly,
Along with its myriad inhabitants.
Thursday, 13 March 2008
This hour-length documentary, commissioned by the CBC, tracks the growth of the world's largest reserve of 'unconventional' oil. This Florida-sized "environmental sacrifice zone" has become Canada's contribution to U.S. energy security in the post-9/11 world. Yet, for many, the tar sands are a global warming disaster.Gord and I are sitting down to watch this tonight, probably with a bowl of popcorn and some of Chile's cocoa. The tar sands are a strange topic for me. Growing up in Alberta, I've heard about the the "oil patch" all my life. Until relatively recently, it was always a far away, distant thing for me. Just some grubby guys squeezing oil out of some tarry sand way up in the north somewhere.
But the tar sands now encroach on every aspect of life, from the pervasive environmental degradation, to the ridiculous amounts of traffic everywhere, to the ongoing glorification of the relentless pursuit of oil/money/power at all costs. I hate it and all it stands for now, yet I'm sure the economic benefits from it during the '70's were part of why my parents could make a good life in Alberta and give me and my siblings a carefree childhood. I guess it's an example of why moderation is good and excess is not.
I hope we Albertans can wake up and smell the excess, and soon.
Picture courtesy the Boreal Songbird Initiative, who know that a boreal forest should look boreal, not surreal.
Tuesday, 11 March 2008
I'm sure you've seen these little hotplate-like devices, that keep your hot beverage relatively hot for hours on end. I got mine for Christmas from a co-worker several years ago when we still did an office present exchange. I used it every day, sometimes even burning my tongue because of how hot it kept my tea! There were even times when I would accidentally leave it on overnight, coming to work the next day to a well-cooked cup of tea-goo.
I've been feeling more and more guilty using this thing lately, thinking that I really don't need my tea to be kept at a certain temperature. Surely I could do better at remembering to drink it while it is hot, and just dealing with drinking some of it cold, if I left it too long. So last week I unplugged the thing, and it sits on my desk now as a slightly elevated cup holder. I may just put it away and bring out my little cup pillow instead, that has herbs in it that smell nice when warmed by the teacup resting upon it.
The more I think about it, the more it seems like one of the lessons of tea is that there is a time for everything. That just as it takes time to make a good cup of tea, there comes a point when the tea cools down and tea-time is over. And that the in between time is made for enjoying and savoring the tea while it lasts. In the bustle of the day, it is good to take time for tea, and good to get back to work afterwards.
Sunday, 9 March 2008
But all was not lost. I managed to Stress Less and not to fume and grumble as much as usual. While driving towards home I realized that I would be going right by one of my favorite little areas of the city, which has a really nice used bookstore that sells coffee and treats, a new clothing store featuring locally designed and produced clothes, a second hand/antique store, and a gift shop and gallery I've never had the time to go into before.
My first stop was the second-hand book shop. I bought three of the four books in the picture there: Meditation Made Easy, The Weather Makers, and Stupid White Men. I spent a nice relaxing hour, reading and browsing while sipping on my cafe mocha and nibbling my home-made pecan tart. Mmmm.
Then it was off to the clothing store, which was lovely but they had sold out of the shirt I wanted in my size. I was glad about this actually, because it meant that the clothes in this nice local store are selling! The little gallery was a combination flower shop, frame shop and gift store, each run by a different generation of the same family! I met them all, and it turns out they carry some neat items from a local artisan blacksmith whose work I just loved when I saw it at the Folk Festival last summer.
I left the area feeling content, and a bit more appreciative of the unexpected and unplanned. And as a bonus, when I got home, Gord had brought home the other book in the picture: a 'Dummies' guide to home solar power.
But it gets even better! When I turned on the computer this morning and surfed on over to Crunchy Chicken's site, it turned out I had won the draw for another book: Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifesyle. This book is written by David Wann, one of the authors of Affluenza. Once I have had a chance to read this book, I will be setting it free back into the blogosphere with a random draw of my own, so stay tuned for that!
So it's been a bounty of books around here! So now I just have to get a few more chores done, and then I can settle down for a guilt-free read and nice cup of tea. That has the makings of a lovely Sunday.
Thursday, 6 March 2008
So I moped around for a few days, muttering discontentedly to who ever would listen, or to myself if there was no one around. My Green Party lawn sign has been taken back inside, to wait for a Federal election, whenever that may be. Yesterday, while I was moping and muttering some more (to myself --it's gone back to business as usual around here everywhere but in my head, I think), I remembered reading something by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh a month or two ago, about writing "love letters" to our politicians instead of negative protest-type letters. And I figured, we've got (at least) another 4-5 years of this guy and this party--I can't just sit around and mope for 5 years.
So, in the spirit of using what we've got, and making like water that encounters a rock, I've decided to do what I can to try and engage with this Premier and my local MLA, and talk to them in language that they can understand, about the things that matter to me. I'm going to write them yet another letter, and maybe even screw up my courage and make a telephone call or two. I've got to do some serious thinking about how best to phrase things in a way that can get through to these guys, who seem to value The Economy over all other things. I'm open to any and all suggestions on this front, because this isn't a type of writing or talking I'm used to doing.
I encourage everyone to write to their elected representatives too, because when a politician gets one letter each from ten people on a certain topic, it has a much stronger impact than getting ten letters from one person.
In the meantime, I'm glad that Chile's Stress Less in March challenge has given me the kick in the pants I needed to get up earlier in the morning every day this week for some stress-busting meditation and Tai Chi.
Picture of 1970's election coverage courtesy the Glenbow museum, when the government in power was still the same one we have now.
Monday, 3 March 2008
Mmm...I can't wait!
As the garden grows and produce matures, you pick up your equal "Share" every week.... The produce is washed, boxed and labeled. Sharers select from a menu board vegetables available that week: each week is different.
A typical weekly Share could include: bunched carrots and beets; potatoes; broccoli or cauliflower; kale or Swiss chard; onion or leek; lettuces; herbs (parsley, oregano, marjoram, basil, thyme); peas or beans; radish; summer squash; tomato; pepper.
In the spirit of community, Sparrow's Nest also encourages shareholders to come and help at the farm, and in doing so they can receive a rebate of up to about 20% of the original share price. Given how little I know about gardening, being able to help at a local organic farm will be an invaluable learning experience for me! I will gain knowlege about what grows in our climate and learn some gardening skills from masters of the art/science/craft. Plus I get to dig in the dirt, which is one of my favorite things.
It just doesn't get any better than that!
Sunday, 2 March 2008
When see the wood burning in the woodstove,I went downstairs earlier today to sit in front of the woodstove for a while. I went for two reasons, well -- three actually:
I vow with all beings
To thank the sun and its Creator,
For warmth and light.
- I wanted to take some specific relaxation time for myself, encouraged by Chile's Stress Less in March Challenge,
- I was fighting a headache and wanted to stop fighting it, and,
- I like fire.
Commit to 30 minutes per day of some kind of mindfulness. It can be yoga, meditation, relaxation, prayer, focused exercise, or whatever works for you. Choose a time block that you will keep from thinking about all the problems in the world and in your life, but don't just fill your mind with distractions (like TV or playing a video game).This challenge will help me develop a habit I've been half-heartedly trying over the past six months or so. I've been wanting to get up a half-hour earlier in the mornings so I have time to do some sitting meditation and some Tai Chi warm up exercises before work. So far I've managed to get up about 15 minutes earlier most days, but usually I just end up expanding my get-ready-for-work routine into the time alloted rather than meditating or doing any Tai Chi.
I'm looking forward to developing this new habit, and helping my mind and body to be able to relax more fully.