Wednesday, 30 April 2008

April Challenge Summary

This month I signed up for two challenges: Crunchy's Buy Nothing in April, and Chile's Cut the Crap decluttering challenge. I did reasonably well with these challenges, but as usual, they were harder than I thought.

I did pretty well in not buying any unnecessary goods this month - we bought a window blind duster/cleaner that was on sale and which Gord really wanted (he likes a clean blind!) and a 205 litre rainwater collection barrel that was also on sale. The water barrel may not 'count,' by Crunchy's rules, since it will collect water for the garden and therefore is related to growing our own food, but it is nonetheless a fairly big household item. Other than these two things, we bought just groceries, vehicle fuel and paid the monthly bills. We resisted buying a new TV, and that turned out to be fairly easy, actually.

Where I didn't do so well was in resisting buying my lunch instead of making it. I make my lunch most days, but usually do have a day or two per week where I am too lazy or too tired or just don't feel like it. On those days I usually get something from the cafeteria at work or I go to my favorite cafe, Three Bananas. I had intended not to do this at all in April, but I gave in and did it anyway, once a week, sometimes twice. And I also went out for dinner twice - once planned and once unplanned.

As for the decluttering challenge, I was pretty low key with it. I gave away a spare hand blender and some items of clothing, cleaned out my filing cabinet up to to and including the letter "C", earmarked some items for a future garage sale, dealt with a backlog of receipts and bills, and had a bonfire to deal with some rotten deadfall and brush that isn't suitable for burning in the woodstove. I didn't add to my clutter at least, since I barely bought anything!

There have been some good outcomes from these challenges for me! It was quite free-ing not to have to decide to buy something or not. I just didn't buy it. And the two things we did buy, we really thought about if we needed them first - there was no impulse shopping at all. Not buying unnecessary things also spilled over into our grocery shopping habits - our monthly bill was 24% less than usual and we still ate as much as we normally do! It was just that the food was in the form of unprocessed, non-prepared items. And, I was able to double our normal monthly debt repayment amount because of all the money we didn't spend this month! All in all, it was a good month of learning that stuff doesn't equal happiness!

Thanks to Crunchy and Chile for organizing these challenges. I've gone ahead and signed up for three challenges in May but I will blog about that in another post soon....

And the winner is....


Congratulations! I'm certain you will enjoy this book as much as I did! Please email me at 'myriad dot things at yahoo dot ca' and I will package up your book and send it to you right quick-like.

I did manage to find a random number generator contraption, and this is how it all turned out:

17 entrants, in chronological order of entry:
  1. miss muffet said...
  2. Carla said...
  3. Hippie Girl said...
  4. GAB said...
  5. Donna said...
  6. lauren said...
  7. Simply Authentic said...
  8. The Purloined Letter said...
  9. stella said...
  10. artbystrongheart said...
  11. noradawn said...
  12. Hazel Nut said...
  13. kimberly said...
  14. ihchicky said...
  15. ::::wifemothermaniac:::: said...
  16. CindyW said...
  17. Going Green Mama said...

And one randomly generated winning recipient:

Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:


Timestamp: 2008-04-30 02:19:26 UTC

Thanks to everyone for entering. I'm looking forward to following all these links and seeing what new and inspiring blogs I find....

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Birds and Tar Sands Tailings Ponds Don't Mix

On the way home from work today I was listening to the local CBC news, when I heard about a flock of about 500 birds that had landed in one of Syncrude's tailings ponds. Many birds have died and hundreds of others are in the process of dying an oil-soaked death. And it wasn't Syncrude who reported the problem. No, it was an anonymous tipster. Gotta love all that responsibility and accountability, eh?

Apparently the oil companies are supposed to ensure, as a condition of their license, that they have effective means of keeping birds away from the toxic lakes, for obvious reasons. But, this time there was a flaw in the "waterfowl protection plan." (Wow, that fancy name makes it sound so organized and foolproof!) I guess Syncrude staff hadn't been able to deploy the noise-making propane air cannons on one of the huge tailings ponds yet, due to the recent unusually cold weather. (Climate change, anyone?) The cold weather didn't deter the ducks from migrating through their usual route though - they use environmental signals other than temperature to time their migration. (Gee, if they'd only realized how cold it's been, this woulda never happened!)

And the audacity of these left-leaning ducks, to create this terrible PR problem for the Alberta Conservatives, right after being "bullied" by the Greenpeace environmentalists last week too. I guess the ducks aren't on the Conservative's payroll. Silly, stupid ducks. Oops, did I blog that outloud?

But it's all good, because the government will fine Syncrude a whole million dollars if they are found to be negligent. Maybe they can use the fine money to add to their 25 million dollar PR budget to convince the world that the Alberta tar sands are environmentally friendly. Really. They are. 25 million bucks can't be wrong!

Update May 1 2008: Only five ducks were saved from the toxic lake, and it is uncertain if any of these mallards will live for long. The premier of Alberta, Ed Stelmach, said he "mean[s] business" when he insists that the oil companies comply to the conditions of their operating license. But I don't know, maybe he just means "business as usual." After all, his "Environment" minister had this to say:

Alberta's environment Minister Rob Renner said Wednesday the incident has put a major dent in Alberta's efforts to counter the message being spread by environment groups that the massive northern oil sands projects are taking a major toll on the environment.

"It's a real blow to our messaging that we are working very, very hard [to] ensure that we do have sustainable development," Renner said.

So, this tragedy wasn't a blow to the drowning ducks themselves, or to the environment. No, it was a blow to the MESSAGING of the government. A blow to the spin they're trying create with the 25 million dollars of tax payers' money that is going to their PR campaign to greenwash the tarsands operation. How sad, that their messaging efforts have to contend with such a 'blow.' This guy shouldn't be called the environment minister, he should be called the greenwashing minister. Sickening.

Read the complete article from the Kansas City Star here

Picture of a duck covered in oil from a 2006 oil spill courtesy the BBC.

Book draw entry now closed....

Thanks to everyone who submitted their names for this draw! There were a few entries made shortly after the deadline, but I'm going to include them anyway, because time zones can be confusing! Plus, I'd rather be inclusive than exclusive any day. I also want to carry forward with the spirit of generosity of David Wann, who yesterday left a comment here kindly offering to replace for me the copy of his book that I'm giving away. Is that nice or what!

I will make the draw tonight, and then post the results tomorrow....

Monday, 28 April 2008

Last day for book giveaway entry....

Just a reminder that today is the last day to enter the draw for David Wann's book, Simple Prosperity! If you haven't already left me a comment indicating you'd like to be included, please do.

This has been a personally revolutionary year for me, and becoming part of the community of 'green' bloggers has been a big part of that. Sending this book out to one of you is one small way to say thanks for reading and commenting and, corny as it sounds, being part of my journey to here. So, thanks!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Be a Bookworm Challenge

Thanks to Green Bean Dreams for starting this challenge! I am an avid reader, and always have a couple of books on the go. Usually I have one in my knapsack to read on my lunch hour, one on my bedside table and a few down in the living room to pick up whenever I'm in the mood to read. Which is pretty often. Our living room chair is usually filled with books that Gord and I are reading, have read, or plan to read. So it is with great pleasure that I signed up for this challenge. I'm hoping the weather warms up in May so I can do some of my reading outside, with a nice cup of tea of course!

The two books I'll be reading are already waiting on the chair in the living room. The first one is Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water. And the second book is one I've been trying to get through for some time now, but have been distracted by other things: The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Gord has read the first book and says it is must-read material. The second book isn't as dire as the title might suggest - it's written by Buddhist monk Pema Chodron and is a guide to meditation and mindfulness and the development of unconditional compassion.

And if you'd like to join this challenge, but can't decide what to read, I invite you to sign up for my first (annual?) book giveaway!

Friday, 25 April 2008

Second Draft

Second draft of our letter to our provincial MLA here.

I've pared it down to two pages (or one double-sided page) and I think it's almost ready to go...

One year of Pondering....

Today is the first anniversary of this blog. I've been pondering longer than that I guess, but it's been a year since I put my first ponderings down in blog form. So, being a copycat, I thought I would commemorate the occasion in the same fashion as Crunchy Chicken, and have a celebratory book draw! And, I am such a copycat that I am going to hold the draw for the same exact book that I won from her: David Wann's Simple Prosperity.

I am almost finished reading this book and I will be done reading it by midnight MDT Monday, April 28th, 2008 which is when I'll close entry for the draw. I will make the draw on April 29th, and announce the winner on April 30th.

I recommend this book highly. It is a comprehensive and encouraging manifesto for how we as individuals and society can move towards a joyously moderate lifestyle that is based not on things, but on right relationship with ourselves, each other and the planet. I'd love to keep this book, but another copy will come my way somehow, one day. It's the kind of book that needs to be sent 'out there,' so that's what I'm doing! Plus, it's good to give something away that you really want to keep - it makes for a good lesson in healthy non-attachment to things.

So come one and all! Just leave me a comment and I will add your name into my super-duper random drawing contraption (sort of like my solar dryer roasting pan contraption, but with people's names in it instead of mango pieces!).

Thursday, 24 April 2008

"Guerrilla" Smiling ?

A few days ago Gord and I were talking about how much just smiling at someone can really make a big difference to the smiler and the smile-ee. It's amazing how the simple act of smiling can change everything in an instant. Smiling and mouthing "sorry!" when you accidentally cut someone off in traffic can diffuse an potentially ugly road-rage situation. Smiling and waving at your neighbor increases 'community' sentiment, even if you don't say a word. When we were talking about this, I thought about the phrase "guerrilla gardening" - the practice where people go ahead and plant flowers and edible plants on vacant lots, boulevards, or wherever a bit of dirt is available. (Cluttercut has blogged about this recently.) It occurred to me that we could all be practicing "guerrilla smiling" as well!

Lately I've been waving and smiling at oncoming drivers on the country roads I take on my way into work every morning. When we first moved here, almost everyone waved at everyone else this way, but it has sort of dropped off over the past couple of years, as more people moved into the new acreages that were being built. I've decided to start doing it again, because it's nice and I like it.

So, this morning I just raised my two fingers in a peace-sign looking greeting and the lady in the car coming towards me broke into a big grin! I have no idea who she is, but I know that both she and I felt better in that moment than we did the moment before! I did the same thing to the guy who drove by me in a pickup truck, and he didn't smile or wave back, but he did a bit of a double take as he was maybe thinking, "hey, did you just wave at me?" I'm not sure if he was happier after I waved or not, but he was surely more curious!

Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh really sums this up nicely when he says,

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work. "

Smiling for peace - that's something we all can do!

Picture courtesy this flickr site. Nose-touching not required in guerrilla smiling!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Alberta town moves to ban styrofoam

I didn't do anything particularly special for Earth Day today, but the Alberta town of Turner Valley sure did -- their council members voted unanimously to ban the use of styrofoam in their town:

Garry Pollock, the councillor championing the ban, said Monday night's decision was historic.

"We're excited because oil and gas [in Alberta] is first recognized to be discovered here in Turner Valley," he said. "It's nice to be on board on Earth Day to be the first in Alberta and in Canada to look at the prohibition of Styrofoam."

It's great to see individuals, small groups and municipal governments leading the way with measures like these. Maybe one day the provincial and federal governments will also wake up and realize that things need to change. My cynical self says that they will somehow manage to take credit for all the work done so far, but I suppose I shouldn't let that bother me. It just matters that it gets done, not who gets the credit:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 77:

As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn't enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don't have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn't think that she is better
than anyone else.

Translation courtesy S. Mitchell

Monday, 21 April 2008

A letter to my elected representative: feedback requested

In response to Thich Nhat Hanh's encouragement to write 'love letters' to our politicians, to GWAG's advice to write to our elected representatives regularly as part of our civic duties, and in response to Greenpa's clarion call to take action with regard to the horrible practice of food profiteering, I've written a letter.

This is the first draft of the letter, and I would really like some feedback on it, if people have time. It is quite long, but I wanted to provide suggestions instead of just criticisms, and I also wanted to make sure that my passion and convictions were evident on a number of topics. The letter is addressed to my recently elected member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly, Jeff Johnson. It turns out that this guy has experience as a 'pit boss' in the futures trading industry. So he could either be the best person to send this letter to, or the worst one. But I'm sending him something one way or the other. And then I'll send copies to the Alberta Premier too, and to the Minister of the Environment again. And then I'll modify it to send to the Prime Minister and the Federal Environment minister, even though they blew me off last time.

So if you have time, please do check out the letter and leave a comment with any recommendations or suggestions.


Sunday, 20 April 2008

We're going to the Earth Day Festival!

UPDATE: We're not going to the festival today, due to the amount of snow that fell overnight and the very poor road conditions. It's -10C right now, with windchill it's -19C. About six inches of snow has fallen. We're disappointed, but relieved not to have to go out into the snowstorm. Our tai chi instructor said that they won't be doing any demonstrations anyway, since they expect no one to be there except the vendors.

April 22nd is designated as Earth Day around the world. In Edmonton this year, the Earth Day festival is being held today, and both Gord and I are going. Our tai chi club puts on a demonstration there, and we are going to participate in the mid-afternoon. It will be interesting, because it is supposed to snow some more again today. That will make for some chilly tai chi!

I went to this festival by myself last year because Gord was away, and I'm looking forward to going together this year so we can both look at all the neat displays and and listen to some live music. Last year I was still a bit of a chicken and didn't look at too many of the displays or ask many questions, but this year I plan on changing that. There was a solar hot water heater vendor there that I especially want to ask some questions of this year. Plus there is some really tasty food available from some local producers and restaurants that I would like to try. It's still Buy Nothing month though, so I won't be buying anything other than food while I'm there. We'll be bringing our own stainless steel water bottle, thermal mugs and cutlery too (specifically, our bamboo sporks), so we don't need to use any disposable cups or cutlery. I don't have any non-breakable plates to bring...hmmm, I do have some reusable plastic bowls though....

We will be taking public transit as much as we can as well. We still have to drive for about half an hour before getting to the light rail transit station, but from there we will take the LRT train to where it connects with the free diesel hybrid shuttle bus that will take us to the festival site itself, Hawrelak Park.

It should be a fun day!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Food Profiteering: This must STOP!!

"In the sprawling slum of Haiti’s Cité Soleil, Placide Simone, 29, offered one of her five offspring to a stranger. “Take one,” she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. “You pick. Just feed them.” "

Yesterday Greenpa posted a compilation of media articles about food shortages around the world. The above excerpt is from one of them. When I read this I was absolutely horrified and I couldn't read any further. Can you imagine this? Can you imagine having to do this? To offer your child to a stranger because you can't feed them, and to give them away is better than keeping them? Imagine the hopelessness, the impotence, the desolation of being in that situation!!

Why is this happening?!?! For the SAME REASON IT ALWAYS DOES: GREED!

With barely contained fury, Greenpa has been posting over the last week or so about the obscene practice of speculation on basic food commodities:

"What a great idea. Let's add to the cost of food- by adding food speculators to the scenario. Those are people who buy "futures", which are a bet, basically, that it'll be worth more than the experts are guessing. If they're big enough, they actually "hold commodities". Waiting for the price to go- up.

Guess what? Add a couple thousand "investors"- all buying- and.. hey, the price goes up!"

So essentially, if I've got this right, there are people and corporations out there who buy these commodity futures, and then use their influence so the commodities are not available for sale or distribution. This results in a shortage of these foods, causing the price to go up because of it. When it does, the speculators and investors sell and make a profit, and then brag about the money they've "earned." This is pure EVIL. This profit is made by intentionally causing food shortages and people STARVE! And mothers give away their children, once they can't afford to feed them even dirt anymore.

This has to STOP!!

Greenpa has asked everyone to spread the word about this horrible practice. Tell everyone you know and write to your local, provincial and federal governments that the practice of food profiteering must be outlawed immediately!!

Please, be thankful for every bite of food you have.

A snowy day...

In contrast to last weekend's summer-like temperatures, this weekend we are getting a Spring snowstorm. It's not that bad where I live, but some areas of the province are getting 10-20 cms of snow. I'm grateful for it actually, because it has been a pretty dry Spring so far.

So I'm doing inside things today, which I don't mind a bit either. Some bread-baking, some soupstock-making, and some regular Saturday things like dusting, laundry and book-keeping. And some blogging of course!

This morning, while doing another one of my favorite things, reading, I came across two really interesting articles in the latest Westworld Magazine, which we receive as part of our AMA membership. The first was a short piece describing the work and life of The Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan - how neat for this local permaculture guru to exposure in this magazine! It seems as though words like 'permaculture,' 'locavore' and 'foodshed' are becoming more and more mainstream these days. What a great day it will be when these concepts reflect just the way things are, and when people just can't imagine treating the earth any other way than with respect.

The second article was a reminder that we still have a long way to go in this regard. The author of the article states,

"For me, as for many Albertans, the cumulative impact of this latest oil boom is only now lurching into focus, the rousing parade of economic numbers, buoyant immigration figures and housing starts slowly turning sour as familiar places become unrecognizable. Soon, one can’t help thinking, the archetypal Alberta land-scapes of bald prairie and foothills and rolling fields with patches of parkland bush will exist only in carefully cropped, soft-focus postcards. Meanwhile, one immediate consequence of the boom is the steady loss of Alberta’s agricultural land to residential and industrial development..."

The author goes on to report that despite the perception of Canada being a 'breadbasket' nation that exports a lot of food, it is actually a net importer of food if you take wheat out of the equation. Alberta actually imports 85% of its vegetables. All around the Edmonton area where I live, top grade top soil is being stripped off the land, and large subdivisions are being grown instead. Where farms used to stretch to the horizon, now I see closely clustered rooftops, surrounded by asphalt, with some tiny saplings planted in the depleted soil.

"Only five per cent of Canada is capable of producing food, and only 0.5 per cent of such land is Class 1 (characterized by ideal climate and soil quality), yet the loss of superior farmland is a countrywide phenomenon – from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia to the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario to B.C.’s Okanagan and Fraser valleys. And it’s particularly significant in Alberta. In 1971, 1.5 per cent of Alberta’s Class 1 land was occupied by urban development; by 2001, the figure had jumped to 6.5 per cent, and has continued to increase since."

Only 6.3 % of Alberta's landmass is Class 1 farmland. So why do we keep scraping off and paving over the land that we need to grow food? One of the people the author interviewed for the article seems to have an answer:

“The land is a reflection of our whole attitude, and what it’s showing us these days is a complete lack of accountability. We have such powerful means to intervene in the world, to reshape it, yet we have no real sense of the long-term effects of any of our interventions. All the same, I remain eternally hopeful.”

Despite the snow outside today, I can still hear a robin singing merrily, as if the sky were blue, the leaves green and the worms abundant. I guess the robin is eternally hopeful too. I hope that it won't be long before the robin shares her vision with the rest of us.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

A solar food dryer?

Update below....

Take one thrift store cake rack and one thrift store enamel roasting pan, add the plastic cover from the microwave and what do you have? A crazy experimental solar food dryer thingy!

It was so warm this past weekend that I wanted to try drying some fruit -- specifically, the mango we had had for lunch and couldn't finish. So I cut it into little french fry sized slices, and stuck them on the cake rack, which was on top of the dark enamel pan. It would have been better to leave the fruit out in the open air, but there were a lot of flies buzzing around in the Spring heat, and I didn't want any fly goo on my dried mango fries.

Well, to make a short story shorter, the mango fries are still soggy. I forgot to move the contraption when the sun moved off the porch, and so very little drying activity occurred. I will definitely give this thing a try again though, because I think it could work. Then again, leaving the mango out on the kitchen counter on a baking sheet would work too. But that's not nearly as much fun.

April 16 2008 Update: Dried mango fries are delicious! After two days on the rack on the kitchen counter, the mango slices have all dried nicely in the open air. I packed a bunch of them as part of my lunch today, and they are so, so tasty. The flavor is concentrated, and the chewy texture is really satisfying. This mango was a bit under-ripe, so it tastes like one of those hard, sweet/sour candies (the brand name of which I won't mention because, I am not a billboard). I highly recommend this fruit drying thing. I'm going to give the solar dryer contraption another try outside on the next warm and sunny day, but it's good to know that just open air and time also work well enough.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Who knew kale was so cute?

Well, people who've planted kale before, I suppose!

Most of the plants I start from seed come up with two little leaves, and I suppose the kale does too, but its two leaves each have two lobes, which make them particularly cute, in my opinion.

This kale is part of my Zero Mile Diet kit, from Saltspring Seeds. It actually sprouted a lot more quickly than I had anticipated. Good thing I bought some more little coconut fibre pots this weekend (which is allowed under Crunchy's challenge because it is food-growing-related), since I'm going to have to transplant these into their own pots before I plant them in the garden, I'm sure. I don't know how gardeners keep it all straight, what to seed and when.

Thank you kale, for making me smile!

A bit more planting....

It was a gorgeous weekend here in the aspen parkland biome of Alberta. What a joy it was to go outside and dig in the dirt! Brown is still the predominant color in the landscape, but bits of green are poking through here and there. Under the straw I had put over the strawberries, a few green leaves were visible. I cleared away the wet straw and, after calling out to Gord that the strawberries had lived through the winter, covered them back up with some dry straw - we won't be frost-free at night for another month or so yet.

After that, I chose which seeds I would be planting in my half-whiskey barrel planters this year. I decided a while ago to plant edible or otherwise useful plants wherever I could this year, even in the planters usually used for annual decorative flowers. I will still plant some pansies here and there (they are edible after all, and inspirational too!) but this year I planted Rainbow Chard, Kale and Leaf Beets in the planters at the top of the driveway.

In two similar planters along the sides of the driveway, where there is more shade, I've planted a variety of lettuces. Well, in one of the planters anyway. When I was loosening the soil in the other planter I was getting run over by ants, who also loved the very warm Spring weather. I am a bit less freaked out by all the ants we have around here these days, but I still don't like them crawling on me in large numbers, say, 2 or more! I'll have to move that planter away from the ant hill.

I also tidied up the area where we had our little garden last year, taking the pallets off the 4X4 raised bed and just raking and sorting and such. I stirred up the compost, which has now thawed out enough to be stir-able, and found that I don't have a lot of ready compost in there this year. I will have buy some I guess.

A day outside, coupled with a nice family campfire the night before, made for a perfect weekend!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Edmonton's 100 Mile Diet and The Urban Farmer

Yesterday, CBC Edmonton hosted another one of their popular lunch time forums. The topics were right up my alley, and so I headed over to the radio station's downtown location on my lunch hour. I was eager to hear about how Ivor and Lana McKay are managing, 10 months into their commitment to eat an Edmonton-based 100 Mile Diet. Winter weather spans about 5-8 months of the year here, so eating locally under these circumstances poses certain challenges. And I was also excited to hear The Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan, speak about growing much of his family's food right in his own back and front yards, also right here in Edmonton.

I wasn't disappointed. Ivor spoke for about half an hour, talking about the joys of eating locally, capturing his own yeast to make bread, and about all the farmers and other people he and his wife and family had connected with over the course of the past 10 months. He has also been working with Edmonton-based economist David Anielski, author of 'The Economics of Happiness', to work out a business case for the frugality of eating locally, showing how food trucked in from California might boast lower price tags, but costs much more overall in terms of health and wellness when you consider the time and effects of long-distance transportation and the lower nutrient value of mass produced food.

Ivor spoke brielfly about food security as well, noting that there is only 3 days' worth of food in the city for everyone, if the delivery system were to be shut down, for example, due to a pandemic breakout in the US. He briefly mentioned 'peak oil' as well, which was the first time I think I've heard this term actually mentioned on a mainstream radio station. Ivor and his wife plan to continue their 100 mile diet, with the addition of a few non-local things, such as canola and olive oil, as well as vinegar and ginger. And they are working with co-presenter Ron Berezan to start a permaculture garden, recuding the miles their food travels even more.

In the second half of the forum, Ron Berezan spoke about permaculture, and how even apartment dwellers can grow some of their own food, on their balconies and in containers. He showed pictures of his own back yard, which resembles a small, dense forest in some areas, and lush sunny areas in others. Much to my surprise, he says that Edmonton has the most community gardens in Canada - I think he said we had 65! He talked about roof top gardening and was on hand afterwards to answer the audience's gardening questions.

In the question period after the presentations, I suprised myself by volunteering a comment about how community supported agriculture farms are also a good way to eat locally and support local farmers. At least that's what I think I said. I was pretty nervous!

All in all, it was a great Friday!

Picture of echinacea flowers from The Urban Farmer's urban farm!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Kindness abounds

Just when I thought compassion would never be the new cool, I went to tai chi class.

As I was waiting for class to start, a classmate whose tea cup I had admired last week gave me a matching tea cup to use! We always have green tea and cookies at tai chi, but there were only styrofoam cups to use. Everyone would write their name on their cup to re-use during breaks and after class, but eventually the foam cup would be thrown in the garbage. I hadn't brought a tea-cup from home, because (I told myself) Chinese tea cups are small and I only have big tea cups. But this lady had brought a perfectly sized tea cup with a handle and I had said so to her just last week. So now I have been gifted with my own tai chi tea cup, and no longer have to use a styrofoam cup.

Then, in the middle of the class one of the instructors came up to me and asked if I had lost some winter boots, which I had. She said she knew where they were, and she went and got them for me! Someone in the school where we have tai chi sometimes had found them after our last class there about a month ago, and set them aside for the next time we had a class there. So now I don't have to worry about getting another set of boots!

I had had a discouraging day up until then, but these kindnesses really turned things around.

When I am discouraged
I vow with all Beings
to be grateful for kindness that abounds
just when it is needed

Picture courtesy this flickr website

Monday, 7 April 2008

'Compassionate' is the new 'Cool' - is it only a dream?

Warning: long, rambling and somewhat atypical post ahead.....

Lately I've been doing more and more thinking about why it has become 'cool' to be angry, greedy and mean.

Cars and trucks are bigger and meaner-looking with their big grills and downward slanting headlights. Motorcycle manufacturers make their products look angry on purpose, so other drivers will pay attention to them. Vehicle headlights are aggressively bright and who needs a muffler anyway? Something that makes an ordinary diesel truck sound like an '18 wheeler' is way more cool. Especially when you throw your cigarrette butt or McWhatever garbage out the window - garbage cans are for wimps, after all.

Pictures of celebrities seem more likely to show them frowning and with 'attitude' than smiling openly. Even the phrase, "with attitude" implies that the attitude itself is a negative one. You never hear anyone refer to someone with a friendly disposition as having 'attitude.' Swearing and crude language are more and more commonplace everywhere you go (and I work in a jail so I have a fairly high tolerance for these things). Letting someone else into traffic or into a parking spot is seen as wimpy and weak. Cell phones are depicted in TV commercials as being more 'cool' if they are so razer sharp, they can be used as a weapon and cut someone's clothes. Sports commentators and business writers speak of 'dominating' the other team, and 'aggressive positioning' in the investment market.

I don't think I'm imagining all of this, am I? How did we get to this point?

I think it may have something to do with society's glorification of psychopathic tendencies*. Think about who is seen as valuable and important in today's mainstream western society: it is the detached, strongly independent person who can separate emotions from the task at hand and get things done. Someone who isn't afraid to win at all costs. The 'thick-skinned' person who can exert power and control over others without worrying about how it affects anything but the financial bottom line. It is the charming, charismatic person who can make everything seem alright and who can sweep others up with their visionary goals and ideas. The person who can make the complicated things seem black-and-white again and who is quick to make decisions and act on them. The person who can carry on, or even thrive, in the face of adversity. Those who can turn any situation to their advantage. (Think about some bosses, politicians, or media moguls whom you may know.)

The problem with this is that people with these qualities usually have a few others to go along with them, and these are quite a bit less positive. For example: being self-centered and shallow, being able to lie well and often, lacking the capacity for empathy, being impulsive and impractical, and seeing themselves as above the law, or as a law unto themselves. In short, such people often have no appreciation or understanding of the reciprocal connection between themselves and the rest of the world. They see other people and things merely as means to their ends. Fortunately, there are not that many true psychopaths around, but there sure are a lot of unintentional wanna-bees, it seems.

When will it stop being cool to be mean, to each other and to the planet? When will the word 'power' come to be associated with consideration, discretion, moderation and wisdom instead of with domination, exploitation and control? When, and how, will compassion and kindness be the new cool?

With psychopathy, the essential problem as I see it is disconnection on all sorts of levels. A psychopath doesn't care if what he or she does affects anyone else, positively or negatively. It just doesn't matter one way or the other to them. In contrast, the compassionate person can see connections between everything and everyone all over the place.

So if disconnection is part of the problem, then connection is at least part of a solution. After that it comes down to how to foster such connectivity in a world where the media, corporations and government want us all to remain disconnected, and therefore afraid of, each other, the world and ourselves. Divide and conquer, don't ya know.

Ok, so maybe I'm getting a little paranoid there. Or maybe not.

I know that for myself it was that "eureka" moment where I felt a direct connection between myself and the natural world that my entire world view and priorities changed. I wasn't especially psychopathic before then, I don't think, but I was certainly unaware of a lot of things and disconnected from the very breath that keeps me alive from moment to moment. (And I had my episodes of being mean and uncaring too. Still do. I'm working on it, but I still do.) But this "eureka" moment I had was completely unexpected, and I'm not sure the planet has time to wait for everyone to have one of these experiences.

I still have so many questions: Is a feeling of inter-connection really essential to compassionate action? If so, how could these connective experiences be fostered? If they can be fostered, can large-scale changes in society's values and actions be made in a relatively short period of time, so that we don't kill ourselves off and ruin the only planet we have?

I'll end by saying that this is one of my most-pondered things, and my ponderings remain a work-in-perpetual-progress. I welcome all thoughts and ideas on this topic!

*For those of you who don't know, I'm a forensic psychologist and so I have occasion to work with psychopaths on a fairly regular basis. It was a colleague who works in the same field who pointed this out to me some years ago, and it has really stuck with me.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

First Seeds

It is still quite chilly around here - we even had a dusting of snow again over the weekend. Most of it has melted, but there is still the rest of the Winter's snow to melt yet.

I've really had a hankering to plant some seeds though, so I mixed up some potting soil today and started a few seeds that, according to the package, need a fair amount of lead time, before they can be planted outside. The kale packaged didn't have any information on it though, so I thought I'd start a few of those anyway, just to see what happens. So the seeds I've planted today are Russian Kale, Northern Exposure Tomato, and Lednicky Lettuce. And I've started some Giant Pansies too, because they are so hardy and brave.

The seeds I ordered from Bowseed were all early growing varieties, but still needed to be planted indoors to start. I will plant a few more things next weekend, once I get together some more containers. The kale is the only thing from the Zero Mile Diet kit - a lot of the other seeds have to be direct seeded by the looks of it.

I pine for a mini portable greenhouse these days, after seeing the permanent, larger ones at the CSA farm. But it's Buy Nothing month, so I will have to dream and pine for a bit longer (probably 'til next year at least!). All the stuff I used today for seeding was ordered last month, or bought last Spring or I've saved it for this purpose over the past year or two. These little seed pots sit in front of a north-facing window - they get lots of light but not too much heat. I've had luck growing other seedlings there before, so hopefully these will take root as well. I am pretty much just guessing how and when to plant all of these things, and hoping for the best. It's a learning experience, that's for sure!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

A Decluttering Find

Last month I took a week off of work and did some enjoyable and relaxing things. One of the things I did was clean up my office a bit. I de-cluttered my shelving unit, and lo and behold, what do I find but my fountain pen!

I had been pining for a fountain pen for months, and had been looking around online for somewhere to buy a nice used pen. There were a couple of times where I almost ordered a pen, but I held back. I wanted to hold the pen in my hand and write with it before I bought it.

The funny thing is, when I saw this pen, which was sitting there in my pen holder pretty much out in the open, I remembered having this pen for years and years. But I stopped writing with it some time ago, sadly in favor of a disposable felt tip pen. I'm glad to have found my good old pen. I had to soak the top part in water overnight to dissolve an ink clog in there, but now it writes perfectly once again. So that's another bonus to de-cluttering: finding things you forgot you had, thereby preventing a 're-buying' episode.

Unfortunately, one of the first things I did with the pen was to record my two infractions to the buy-nothing challenge yesterday: buying a green tea latte and a lemon danish at the grocery store coffee shop before grocery shopping yesterday. I had the money out and the danish in my mouth before I realized what I was doing! So it's off to Crunchy's Sunday Confessional tomorrow...

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Cut the Crap Challenge

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. Chile has started another challenge this month, and it dovetails so well with Crunchy Chicken's challenge that it just didn't make sense not to do it. Crunchy is challenging people to not to buy anything new in April, and Chile is challenging us to responsibly downsize the amount of stuff we already have. This combined approach tackles the problem of 'too much stuff' from both sides, and should result in a more simple, streamlined, parsimonious house and home.

Chile has made some good suggestions already as to how to avoid having unwanted items in your home and life, and I'm pleased to say that I've already implemented a couple of these. I've mostly stopped the scourge of junk mail coming into the house, and just this weekend I canceled home delivery of the Sears catalog. We've also completely stopped filling out those seemingly innocuous forms for "free draws" which seem to be everywhere these days. We had filled out a bunch of these at a couple bridal fairs some years ago just before we got married, and that was a big mistake. It's taken all of the four years since then to get off of assorted mailing lists and calling lists. Plus, I'm always worried about the identity fraud potential of these things, so I just don't fill out anything like that any more. I also consistently ask to be placed on the "do not call list" when telemarketers call the house, so the amount of this verbal junk mail is also decreasing over time.

But I have a lot of decluttering left to do. I have clothes that are in good condition but I just don't wear anymore. These could be donated to any number of worthy organizations. We have boxes of stuff in the basement, that we haven't even unpacked in 5 years. I'm pretty sure I don't need what's in them. A lot of this could be donated too. My filing cabinet drawer barely closes anymore, so I really need to go through it as well and shred/recycle what I don't really need to keep.

This should be a very interesting month!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Stress Less in March Wrap-Up

It's hard to believe that March is over already. Hats off to Chile for holding her "Stress Less in March" challenge, which was a really good motivator for me. I took time to look into this whole meditation thing, with the help of a book I got from the second hand store called, Meditation Made Easy. This is a great little book that downplays the idea that meditation is something that only hermits in Tibet or India know how to do. It makes the point that humans have a natural tendency to meditate, which is just the ability to focus whole-heart-and-mindedly on something. It doesn't' require any special poses, clothes or equipment, just a willingness to pay attention to something, big or small, and focus on what that paying-attention feels like for as long or as short as you like.

I found out that I'm just not a morning meditator at all. I would just sit there and wish I was still in bed. I couldn't pay attention to anything for very long, because I kept dozing off. The meditation book pointed out that this isn't a bad thing, and that if you are sleepy you should just catch up on your sleep first. So I changed to meditating for a little while before bed instead, when I was actually more awake. I wouldn't do it every night, but more than half of the time anyway.

And I've also developed the habit of stopping every now and then, wherever I am, to see/hear/smell whatever was going on at the time and appreciate it for what it was. Sometimes with the help of my online mindfulness bell, and sometimes not. The meditation book talks about all the different ways we can do this in a day, from pausing to enjoy our cup of tea and the taste of our food, to feeling the warmth of the sun, to looking at a picture in a photo album and remembering (fondly or otherwise) the event it depicts.

Another good idea in this book is the idea of arriving everywhere early. The author points out that setting aside 20 minutes to meditate and then speeding through traffic to avoid being late for work or an appointment is decidedly counterproductive. He recommends adjusting your life schedule so that you can get places on time, and still have time to be compassionate on the way. Then you have time to go the speed limit when you're driving, and time to be kind and let someone merge in front of you. Time to wave to a neighbor as you walk/drive/pedal by. Time to enjoy the sunrise or sunset. All of these things become natural meditative moments in your day. And if there is still time available in your day to meditate for a set period, all the better. But even if there isn't, the day is likely to have had some restorative moments in it anyway.

So thanks for this challenge Chile! It has been one of my favorites!