Monday, 22 December 2008

Tags and Memes and Such....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Name two motivations for being green:

a) My belief in the fundamental interconnection of all things

b) The "Theory of Anyway"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Do you know your carbon footprint for your home? If so, is it larger/smaller than your national average? (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) Do you have a green confession?

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

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

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

Well, that was fun!

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

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Standing Still

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

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

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

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

Picture courtesy this website

Monday, 15 December 2008

To Harp or Not to Harp

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 December 2008

'Ode' to an Orange Peel

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

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

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

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

Monday, 8 December 2008

Politics and Attachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cartoon courtesy Dharma Cat

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Big Pantry, Small Oven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 1 December 2008

Who said Canadian politics are boring? Updated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture courtesy The Canadian