Sunday, 31 August 2008

Canada's first Green Party MP!

It finally happened! The Green Party of Canada has its first Member of Parliament. I heard something about it on the news yesterday on the way to meet my parents for lunch, and then my dad filled me in on the details when I got there. Previous Liberal MP Blair Wilson who had been sitting as an independent, has joined the Green Party and so now is a Green MP. Parliament isn't in session at the moment, and probably won't be for some time, if the Prime Minister goes ahead and calls an election. (The PM had said he wouldn't, that he wanted fixed election dates and wouldn't call an election until October of 2009, but I guess all the Obama-o-rama down south has him a bit worried!)

So now that the Greens have an MP, this should mean that the leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, gets a spot in the nationally televised elections! I'm hoping this signals a change in Canadian politics at last, but I being the cynic I have become, I won't believe it until I see it. I do hope for it though, and I imagine that once Canadians hear more about Green policies, they'll vote Green in the largest numbers ever! It sure would be nice to have an elected Green MP or three in the House.

Just like for our neighbors to the south, it's time for a change. After all, if we want things to be different, we have to do them differently.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Wetland Drainage - Another Letter to the County

I've finally managed to gather my thoughts together and compose another letter to my County mayor and councilors about the wetland drainage issue. You can take a look at my first draft here.

I seem to have regained some of my vim and vigor, and I'm ready to keep pressing my elected representatives on this issue. Thanks so much to those of you who have offered to write letters to my county mayor expressing concern about this practice of wetland drainage! It's wrong to drain a wetland ecosystem in any event, but to drain it just to get 'free' water for a construction project is reprehensible!

Thanks also to Ryan from the St. Albert Gazette, who contacted me about the possibility of doing a story on this issue. Even if it never goes any farther than that, the fact that this kind of thing is considered potentially newsworthy in this province gives me hope that all is not lost.

Please do feel free to comment with feedback and/or suggestions to help me improve this first draft of my letter. I'm trying to strike a tone that conveys passionate concern, but not hostility. I don't want to alienate people I hope to be in regular communication with, now that I am getting down to the business of being an engaged citizen in my community.

Big Garden Update: Frost in August!

Well, it happened. An early frost.

I was completely oblivious to there being any frost danger - it's still August after all! Even in this part of Alberta, August is not typically a time to worry about frost. But this morning I ran out to see the pumpkins that Gord said were growing in the garden (I had thought all hope of pumpkins was lost), and then noticed that the pumpkin leaves were all soggy and limp. Then I cast my eyes to the squash patch, and yup, those leaves were soggy and limp too. Those are the soggy squash leaves in the picture there, with one brave butternut squash among them.

I have no idea if the squash or pumpkins will now get any bigger, without leafy solar collectors to make sugar. The one bright spot is that the part of the squash plant that had curled its way in between the corn rows didn't get killed by frost. So maybe those few leaves might sustain the a few squash and let them grow a bit more. I don't think the apple-sized green pumpkins will be so lucky though.

The kale, beets, chard and spinach I planted came through alright, this time. I will have to be more aware of night time temperatures from now on, and get going on my plan to cobble up some row coverings or cold frames or something so these newer plantings can keep growing for a while yet. It's a good thing we're coming up to a long weekend, because I've obviously got some work to do!

Saturday, 23 August 2008


I am sad. I should be working on a follow up post to my water story about the wetland drainage, but I am just too sad. I've taken pictures of the nearly drained wetland area, but they're still in my camera. Every time I drive by the wetland I get sad all over again.

I'm trying to compose an outline for the letter I'm going to writer to Sturgeon County in my head, but I can't bring myself to type anything. The wetland draining seems to represent all that is wrong with this stupid, stupid redneck province, with its arrogant two-faced premier and its bewildered, hapless opposition, and its apathetic citizenry.

I can see where some of the apathy comes from because I'm feeling it right now: why bother to write letters or call people or take pictures or write blogs? Why even bother to feel sad as ducks try to swim in sludge when nothing ever changes anyway? How does the earth even put up with the cancerous blight that is humanity?
Well, there. I managed to get one picture out of my camera and posted. Nice sign, eh? And the date for the 'permit' tacked to the orange board several days AFTER I saw the water truck operator draining the wetland. Gotta love those strict water conservation regulations.

Maybe I'll feel better tomorrow, after doing some baking or gardening or something.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Two more water stories....

I have two more water stories. The first one is mostly good, but with some frustrating elements. The second one I am fuming about. Chances are there will be some sarcasm and a lot of angry ranting ahead.

This morning I heard on the news that the city of London, Ontario, Canada had enacted a ban on bottled water! Hooray! I checked in with fellow blogger Gord Harrison from that fair city, and he confirmed that there had indeed been a partial ban passed. He then directed me to look at this article from the London Free Press. Effective September 1st, the city will restrict the availability of bottled water at many municipal and city sites, provided there are sufficient public water fountains. The city wants to take a leadership role, emphasizing that its water is safe and economical compared to bottled water, and that using tap water reduces the number of plastic bottles ending up in the land fill. These are admirable goals, and I'm glad the city of London has taken this step to reassert public control over water supplies.

The frustrating part came in the latter half of the article. The few city staff and councilors that were opposed to the move said that it was a move towards more of a "nanny state." Excuse me, but isn't the role of government to take care of its citizens? Sort of like how a nanny takes care of those in his/her charge? How and when did the government doing what it's supposed to do become a bad thing?

One of the councilors said that no Londoner parent would let their kids drink from something as disgusting as a public water fountain. And why, pray tell, are public water fountains disgusting? I drank from them as a kid, and I'm still alive. Heck, I still drink from them today and I haven't gotten any communicable diseases. Most people know to drink from the stream of water coming from the fountain, not by slobbering all over the fountain head itself, no?

Still another objection was that not having bottled water to drink would mean people would chose less healthy beverages, like pop or beer or something. This is also stupid. People drank those beverages before the onslaught of disposable water bottles and they will still drink them, along with coffee, tea and juice. Do these people actually listen to themselves when they talk outloud?

But mostly this is a good news story: the majority of the London city councilors stood up to industry, primarily Nestle Waters Canada, and said we like our clean tap water just fine thanks.
My second water story is a follow up to my previous post on the topic a few weeks ago. I had come across a county worker extracting water from a local wetland area and, much to both of our surprise, I stopped to ask him why he was doing that. After that encounter I called the county office and expressed my concern that water was being extracted out of a wetland area for a construction project up the road.

It gets better: in a letter the County sent me in response to my letter earlier this summer, they told me that no development permits had been issued for the farmland surrounding my rural subdivision. But those earthmovers weren't in my imagination. So in my phone call to the County, I also expressed dismay that not only was there indeed construction going in on the surrounding farmland, but that water from a local wetland was apparently being used in the project. The person I spoke with said he would look into the matter and get back to me. Well, he never got back to me. But this morning on the way to work there was a sign posted right beside the wetland area. A nice ugly spray-painted-orange piece of plywood with two laminated sheets of paper on it, outlining the bylaw that allowed for 750 cubic meters of water to be extracted for purposes of construction from an unnamed body of water.

Now, this had my blood boiling. Why is water in an unnamed body of water open to theft from the environment and named water is not? And why would the bylaw allow for 750 cubic meters (over 198 000 US gallons or about 60 water tanker trucks) of water be removed from such a body of water, regardless of its size? What if taking that much water out of the wetland or lake completely drained it? What about the plants, trees, ducks, frogs, birds, fish, and beavers that live there? What about the flood control that a wetland provides when a bad summer storm comes along? The sheer human arrogance of this practice has me absolutely shaking with rage! How much longer will we rape and pillage the earth? How much longer!!

Tomorrow morning I will stop and take pictures of the sign, and the half-drained wetland and then call the County again, and write to them and send them pictures. I'm a citizen, and I'm going to hold my government accountable. Accountable to me, to the animals and plants in that wetland and for the water they are stealing.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Chard Roadtrip

My chard and I went for a car ride today. To work. Well, I went to work, and the chard stayed in my car, in the parking lot. It was a nearly record-breaking hot day today, with temperatures reaching 34.4C/94F in mid-afternoon. Yesterday, when I saw that these kinds of temperatures were forecast for today, I figured it would be the perfect day to try out my car's dehydrating ability.

While I love the taste of greens cooked in butter and nutmeg, I must admit I was looking for some other way to use the latest batch of chard from my weekly CSA share. So I de-stemmed this lovely batch of chard yesterday, and placed the leaves on some nonstick bakeware. Then I backed my car out of the garage into the hot sun (it was about 30C/86F) and put the trays of chard on my back seat. By the end of the day the chard was limp but not dry. I said to Gord, almost jokingly, "I should take my chard to work with me tomorrow and let it sit in the sun all day!" He kind of raised his eyebrows and gave me a look like, "why not?" So I put the trays on the floor of the car and left them there for the trip to work the next day.

When I got home today, the chard was nearly dry! I have no idea how hot it got in my car out there in the baking sun today, but it was most certainly hot enough. I'm taking my chard to work with me for one more day, which should be enough to dry it all to a crisp through and through. Then I can store it in one of the many canning jars I picked up for next to nothing at a garage sale a couple weeks ago, and use it over the winter in soups and stews and such.

I wonder what would have happened if I had been pulled over for a police check stop or something on the way home from work? I can just imagine the conversation with the police officer:

"Ma'am, what is that on the floor of your vehicle?"

"Um...chard, drying leaves of chard. Would you like some? It's good in soups and stews and such."

"No ma'am, but I must caution you against leaving unsecured items in the cab of your vehicle, including vegetables."

"Thanks officer, I'll put them in the trunk next time."

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Yes I Can!

Today was the day! I took the plunge and made canned pickled beans.

The green string bush beans from my garden have been producing like crazy, and I was inspired to try pickling them when I was talking with my hairdresser last week. She is about 15 years younger than me, and was talking about how easy it was to make pickled beans. I figured if she could do it, so could I! When I told her I didn't have a canner yet, she said that the local hardware store had them on sale this week. It seemed like it was just meant to be: I would be making pickled beans this weekend!

It didn't take me long to pick this huge bowl of beans - enough for seven 500 ml (pint) jars. I found a recipe on the internet that was similar to the one my hairdresser was telling me about, and started to get things ready. It took a while, because I was a bit nervous and wanted to do everything quite slowly and carefully. Finally I had the beans washed and cut, and the jars and lids sterilized. Then I added the garlic and dill (from our CSA) to each jar. (There are six jars in the picture, but I had to add a seventh later because I had a lot of beans - fortunately I had sterilized seven anyway, because that's what fits in my canner).

I stuffed the jars full of beans, leaving a half inch of headspace from the top, like the instructions said. I had a few bean tails higher than that which I snipped off. Maybe it would have been ok, but I figured I should go by the book my first time out.
I seriously underestimated the amount of hot pickling liquid to make, halving the original recipe. This filled just 2 1/2 jars, so I made a whole other full batch of the packing liquid for the other 4 1/2 jars. I may not have packed the beans in as tightly as I should have, but I was worried about touching the inside of the jars with my (clean but not sterile) fingers. The pickling liquid smelled wonderful, with all that vinegar and chile flakes! It was super salty though, when I tasted it.

Finally the jars were ready to go into the canner. Because of the altitude here (657 metres or 2,155 feet), the instructions said I had to add an extra 5 minutes to the canning process. I wasn't sure if this meant from the time I put the jars in the canner, or from when the water was boiling in the canner again, so I picked the latter just in case.

Ten minutes later, I carefully extracted the hot jars from the water bath and placed them on a tea towel-covered cutting board to cool. I'm happy to report that all seven jars' lids popped within the hour, and my smile got bigger after each pop!

Now I have to wait two weeks to open a jar and taste them. The canning process sure went well, other than a couple of jars falling over in the water bath (I think I need a better rack than the one that came with the canner), so I have high hopes for how these things will taste.

I'm feeling better and better about my ability to preserve and store food. Next on my list is drying some chard from last weeks CSA share, and some of the multitude of sasakatoon berries that are still ripening in the yard. It's shaping up to be a tasty winter!

Ode to my Deep Freeze

Well, maybe not an ode, exactly. Poetry is not my strong suit, especially if it is supposed to rhyme. But I must say I do very much like the deep freeze we purchased a few weeks ago. It is a medium sized one (12.8 sq ft) with an energy star rating. I wanted to get one that would be big enough to store a decent amount of summer produce but small enough that I could keep it pretty full for energy efficiency's sake.

So far it is still kind of empty, but I plan on making some headway with that over the coming weekend. Already I was able to make a huge batch of onion, potato, leek, and garlic scape cream soup which used up a bunch of my CSA produce. Normally I can only make a small batch of anything at a time, but now I have two family size and four single size servings of this tasty soup in my freezer ready to go! I have plans to make some of my favorite biscuits to have on hand, as well as using up a bunch more of my CSA potatoes to make frozen hashbrown patties. I'll also be picking saskatoons and wild raspberries like crazy before they shrivel up on their respective bushes in the hot hot heat expected here this weekend.

I see the freezer as part of a transition towards a lower energy future. The freezer itself takes electricity to run, but I think it will translate into fewer trips to the grocery store, a bit less stove/oven use and less food waste. It will also free up some time, both daily and in the big picture, to give me a chance to practice cooking and storing things on a different scale while I learn lower energy food storage methods like canning, dehydrating and fermentation. And if/when one day electricity is just too costly or precious to use to run my little deep freeze, I can always dig a hole in the yard, plop the freezer in there and use it as a makeshift root cellar.

I am a lot less intimidated by the coming harvest now that I have my freezer!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Folk Fest Philosophy II - Time and Money

The Claire Lynch Band was another group of performers that had me digging through my backpack last weekend at the Folk Festival to find my paper and pen so I could quickly scribble down some more inspiring lyrics. In her sweet Alabama voice, Claire sang,

"Find the time to make your pay: Give a dollar's worth away to make a quarter."

The song was called "Moonlighter," about a mother working two jobs to pay the bills while trying to take care of her kids. The mom in the song makes coffee in her sleep and hopes the kids get ready for school on time so she's not late for work, all the while lamenting that she doesn't have the time to spend with them that she'd like to.

It's a cliche to say that time is money. I think Claire's words speak to the idea that time is worth more than money, but that our 'rat race' type of society devalues time in favor of money. That's hardly a new concept, but what about this concept: Sometimes time is just time. Time with family, time for ourselves, time in the garden. Time for tea and a book.

What if people took back their time? Imagine if people on a large scale decided that it was more important to go camping or play board games with their kids/spouses/siblings/friends, than it was to rack up one more overtime shift. What if instead of working those overtime shifts to pay for that motorhome or cruise we get to enjoy for two weeks out of the year, we spent time on a regular basis with the people we'd be going on vacation with anyway? Would employers value their employees more? Would people value their loved ones more? Would we be less attached to material things?

Each moment in life comes by only once. I'm trying to get better at remembering that, and acting accordingly.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Folk Fest Philosophy I: Garden-measured time was another fantastic Edmonton Folk Music Festival! The weather was nearly perfect, the food delicious, and the people as kind and considerate as usual. We were treated to the generosity of both friends and strangers.

And the music, oh the music. Four days of inspiring, heart-wrenching, forward-thinking, joyous folk music from around the world. We saw artists from Denmark, Scotland, Mali, Australia and Wales to name a few. Not to mention a bunch of terrific performers from many parts of the USA and a whole bunch of local talent from my province of Alberta, and other Canadians from coast to coast.

The lady you see in the picture here, calls herself Little Miss Higgins, and she's a blues player from Alberta, currently making her home in Nokomis, Saskatchewan. Little Miss talked about her love of her little 400-person town, and how she liked to dig and weed in her garden while listening to the trains going by. She even marked time in terms of her gardening, saying by way of introduction to her town,

"We moved there five gardens ago."

Imagine if we all counted time this way. If we saw time in terms of natural cycles instead of the artificial ones we create, like "9 to 5" or "Spring Break" or whatever time we set that dang alarm clock for.

It's hard in our culture to try and live our lives based on natural time cycles. We even try and change natural time cycles for our own purposes, like when we switch back and forth between 'standard' time and 'daylight' time. Aptly enough, in Little Miss Higgins' province of Saskatchewan, they have eschewed this practice and stick to 'standard' time all year round.

Even better than 'standard time', is 'garden time', I think.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

CSA Bounty Week 8, and another short hiatus

This week was the most bountiful CSA delivery yet, with all you see in the picture, plus a bag of potatoes! There were tomatoes, leeks, onions, beets, chard, another type of green I have yet to identify, carrots, dill, celery and the aforementioned potatoes. And now we have the deep freeze set up, so I can make some things in larger batches and freeze them for winter. That is, after my next hiatus:

We're going to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival again this year - it starts tomorrow. It will be our fourth year of attendance and each year this festival renews my faith in humanity a little. Tens of thousands of people attend the festival over its 4 day duration, and there is virtually no garbage and no swearing. People are patient and cheerful. The music is fantastic. There are enough washrooms, the tills are solar powered, and there are public water fountains and sinks so people don't have to buy bottled water. The food is terrific - lots of organic and vegetarian things to pick from, from all different cultural backgrounds. Each year this Festival gives me hope that people can get along and work together, if they have a respect for themselves, each other and the environment we're part of.

I am doing fairly well with Chile's discretionary eating challenge -it hasn't been as difficult as I thought to just eat when I'm hungry and only eat 'til I'm not hungry anymore. We'll see how this newly developing habit holds out in the face of a multitude of green onion cakes and fresh squeezed lemonade at the Folk Fest!

While going to and from the Festival I'll also be trying to keep up with the Adapting In Place course I'm taking this month, taught/facilitated by Sharon at Casaubon's Book - I've learned a ton already and it's only Day 2! So posts will be sparse again for the next little while - August is turning out to be just as busy as July!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

August Abundance

I was out taking pictures around the yard, as I like to do on a Saturday morning, when I came across this bush that was just dripping in ripe saskatoon berries. I had noticed a few of the other smaller bushes around our acreage had quite a few plump berries on them, more so than in previous years.

This bush was just covered in berries though, and I'd never noticed it before. I think that's because I never used to go over to this part of our property much, since all that was there was a brush pile. But now the Big Garden's over there, and I go there pretty much every day. The berries from the other bushes were enough to sprinkle on a dish of vanilla ice cream, but this abundant amount of berries is enough to make muffins or cobbler!

It is quite a nice feeling to go out to the yard and pick an assortment of edible things. Yesterday I scrabbled a few nice potatoes from under the potato plants, along with a few nice sized carrots, a large handful of beans, and a few cherry tomatoes. That, and a few more sage, yarrow and bergamot leaves gave me the makings of a really good, mostly local dinner, beverage included!

It's amazing what the land will provide, when you give it a chance. I wonder what else is out there, that I haven't discovered yet.

Friday, 1 August 2008

August Challenge: Discretionary Eating

Today I say goodbye to the No Graze Days challenge and to the Quit Now challenge. I had combined these two challenges in an effort decrease the amount of time I eat without taking the time to sit down and be mindful of the food I am privileged to have to eat.

July was a really busy month for me, but even if it hadn't been I don't think I would have made much headway in these challenges. It has become so ingrained in me over the last 30+ years to eat while watching TV or reading a book, that it's going to take some kind of mental dynamite to break the connection these two things have in my head. Especially since the way I often reward myself is to sit down with cup of tea and some kind of snack and read a good book. This is the ultimate in relaxation for me. On Sunday mornings I do it in bed, even. Starting the day off this way sets such an easy tone for the rest of the day, and helps me feel recuperated for the work week ahead. So I've decided to give this whole idea a rest for the time being, and try and focus on some other ways to be more mindful and to get better at eating my fair share. Chile seems to have read my mind somehow, and has come up with the Discretionary Eating Challenge. Chile has defined discretionary eating along the same lines as you would define discretionary spending, but referring to food instead of money:

"Discretionary eating is the amount of an individual's food consumption that is eaten after basic caloric and nutritional needs have been met."

I have noticed over the past few months that the only way I seem to be able to avoid eating more than I need to satisfy my hunger is to think about the food I have in relation to the food other people have, and in relation to the amount of resources, time and energy it has taken to grow the food and get it to my plate. Trying to eat more mindfully has certainly helped me to take more note of the latter.

My thoughts on the former are related to my increasing consciousness about the interconnection of all things and how what I eat, buy and do has consequences for other beings in the world. I have always been a person who is bothered by the unfairness of things, and my eating gobs of food when others have none is just not fair. It's sort of like when kids get told to "eat, the people in China are starving." The smart remark afterwards was always that we could just send the leftover broccoli or other disliked food item to China.

That's not practical of course, but what I didn't get (and developmentally couldn't get) as a child was that if people have so much food over here that we're throwing it away for reasons of food preference or being 'too full', maybe we have too much food and waste too much food. And maybe having 'too much' of something means there's some unfairness somewhere, that needs to be addressed either personally or systemically, or both. And maybe too, that society reinforces greed and excess, and makes us into good little money-spending consumers. That is too much stuff for a little kid to think about, but stuff that I regularly think about now as I try to remake myself into more of a conserver and less of a consumer.

So, I'm going to give Chile's new challenge a good try. She's made it very flexible, with varying levels of commitment to choose from. The one I'm going to go for at the 100% level is to have "seconds only when hungry" (SOW for short!). I've signed up to reduce my current consumption in the other categories by 50% - these include things like eating out, eating refined foods, using sweeteners (sugar, honey) or stimulants (caffeine - even in chocolate form!- and alcohol). Mainly I just want to make sure I stop eating when I stop feeling hungry. To be content with enough, and to remember to be grateful that I have more than enough.

Not surprisingly, the Tao Te Ching has some lovely things to say about contentment and moderation. Here are a few excerpts:

From Chapter 9

Holding a cup and overfilling it
Cannot be as good as stopping short

From Chapter 15

One who holds this Tao does not wish to be overfilled
Because one is not overfilled
Therefore one can preserve and not create anew

From Chapter 46

There is no crime greater than greed
No disaster greater than discontentment
No fault greater than avarice
Thus the satisfaction of contentment
is the lasting satisfaction