Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Living Seasonally

There was one more thing I noticed while I was in BC, but didn’t mention in my New Perspectives series (1, 2, 3) : that by the end of five weeks, both of us were very good at predicting the weather.

Now, I’m not saying we knew it’d be 6 degrees with less than a centimeter of snow and cloudy with 5km/hr wind tomorrow, but we did know it’d be warmer (and a warm night because of the cloud cover), might snow and of course it’d be windy… it’s Keremeos!

I guess living in a tent reconnects you to the world around you.

Wait a minute. I’m so disconnected that that reconnects me? Five weeks. Just over a month, and not even fully in the environment (after all, we still had a tent and a bathroom)… not to mention the fact that we’re in different places every (couple of) week(s). That’s like saying I’m such a bad writer that being able to spell half my words right makes me infinitely better.

We need to start living within the world, rather than trying to force it to our will. Seasonally. Think about it: 100 years ago, spring and fall were busy times. Summer was busy too, but slower because of the heat. Winter was a quiet time, often boring and hungry.

People starved in early spring. When  was the last time you felt hunger for longer than the time it took the pizza to get here? Scratch that. When’s the last time you felt hunger and there wasn’t anything edible in the house? And no, not having anything  that you “wanna eat” doesn’t count. But nothing that you can put in your mouth to satisfy your tummy without risking illness. I bet that if you’ve actually experienced this, it wasn’t in early spring!

When’s the last time I moved slower in the summer heat? Not counting this past summer, when I didn’t have a choice (man, 40 degrees is HOT), I can’t even remember!

So, how do I fix this? My first step is going to be a move towards eating seasonally (with some localness thrown in for good measure).  Which will be easier once summer hits and I can simply goto the farmer’s market (there’s a smaller one just a short bus ride away but it’s only a couple days a week, and during the summerish…)

Essentially, I’m trying to live seasonally and starting from scratch. I have a vague notion of what seasonal is, what might be local (or maybe not… “cows and wheat” isn’t quite what I mean here), what’s probably not local (Bananas! Chocolate!) and that there’s a farmer’s market close by.  At some point in time. One or two afternoons a week, when it’s hot out? I don’t know what a 100 mile radius would include, or where to find things from within that radius. I don’t know how to tell if produce was kept from when it was harvested or if it is fresh. I don’t have my chores listed out in seasons. I don’t know when the frost danger passes here, nor when it comes back. And probably a million other things I can’t even fathom right now.

In summary: I have a lot to learn. Wanna watch? Stay tuned for missteps and triumphs in my journey! (Wow, that was cheesey!)


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So, I was talking to the lady who owns the used bookstore “next door” on Wednesday.  Amazingly intelligent, well-read woman, she is. We talked about a lot of subjects.

The economy, and how the Alberta Premier is … well, trying to prevent a panic by … ignoring the fact that the economy is in shambles. And even if the Alberta economy was perfectly okay (it’s not, the oilsands are not economically sound as long as oil is less than $75/barrel, or something stupid like that) it couldn’t support all of Canada indefinitely. And how Canada has been rather  sheltered from the economic falling-apartness that is occurring everywhere else, but now we’re starting to feel it. (On a side note, I asked the lady at London Drugs if they were hiring and she said no, with the funniest look on her face, and then continued her thought with a “wow, it’s been years since I’ve said that… ” and a sad shake of her head.)

We touched on how the budget is going to infrastructure (okay), unemployment insurance and similar help (… why? If the Premier is so sure our economy is still booming, would unemployment help be so important?), and home renovations/purchasing a new home.

Now, if people were smart, wise, thoughtful or had an ounce of common sense, they’d use that home renovations money/bonus to refurbish the house to use less energy. Re-insulate, put in some beneficial landscaping (trees! block the hot sun or the cold wind depending on the season), that sort of thing. We came to a bitter, resigned conclusion that many of the people who qualify will spend the money on a hot tub, or something equally frivolous.

We wander off onto the cruise she’d just been on and how horrible the waste in the dinning room was. We talked about how people in Haiti are eating DIRT while people in the dinning room are ordering 4-5 dishes, a night, to eat a bite or two of each. Wow, that seems fair. Not only can these individuals afford to take a week or two off of work, but they”re throwing out enough food to feed 4 people (we’ll be generous and assume they ate enough to feed yourself, rather than simply sampling), each night. Oh well, go out with a bang, I suppose. Since cruises may become a thing of the past as first people can’t afford either the time off (in terms of lost wages, and risking losing the job) nor have the money to pay for the cruise itself. And then the cruises will have issues with fuel shortages too. Unless they start rowing around the Caribbean or to Alaska. That’d be something.

She likes the quote about living simply so others may simply live. How the developed countries have taken so much and, essentially put it on credit (and no, I’m not talking about money), that generation upon generation will be paying for it. How the USA has taken so many resources and lived so sustainably that the next hundred generations will be trying to make amends. That’s like passing on your credit card debt to all of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandkids, and each generation having to pass it on the entire next generation after having lived their whole life in poverty paying. For what? Some new clothes, nights out, furniture that matches, bought new, every time the style changes? Can you imagine making your grandkids pay for your latest wardrobe? Well, guess what, they will be. Chew on that for a while the next time you can’t possibly wear those jeans another 6 months.

I’m sure there was more, but this was all food for thought and what stood out to me. Made me think, anyway.

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Okay, so by this time everyone and their dog knows about the economic crisis. There’s still some debate as to whether or not it’s just a short slump or a long term depression to rival the Great one in the thirties (can I call it the great one?).

And yes, I am writing about this because, yesterday, my SO got laid off AND I was informed that, after February, the best I can hope for is 13 hours a week (plus a shift or two around the various chocolate laden holidays). I may be just a little bit on the bitter and cynical side.

I can sum this post up in one sentence. With your dwindling dollars, who are you voting for?

Apparently Wal*Mart’s sales are through the roof. So, I guess everyone’s voting for Wal*Mart.

Now, I really do believe that this whole mess is tied in with peak oil. And the choices are really clear to me.

Choice 1: Do not, unless under absolute diress, make any sacrifices whatsoever. Keep consuming and keeping up with the Joneses and whatever else you’re doing right now. Fund it through a credit card, mortgage, the rights to your first born child, or whatever else necessary, but heaven forbid you have to make your coffee at home. I think the people who choose this category are dwindling because the credit card is maxed, the house got foreclosed and the first born child has already been sold. They’re out of options and have to deal with the harsh, sudden reality that their needs need to take precedence over their wants.

Choice 2: Same as above, but fund it through cheaper alternatives rather than credit cards. Wal*Mart, and what have you. Big name bargain places. Let’s give Wal*Mart our souls. The only problem with this option is that it leaves nothing for that first born of yours to use to … well… live at all. Wants shipped in from wherever they can be made cheapest, unfortunately, does not bode well for the future. Watch the story of stuff. Cheaper options that don’t rape the planet, like second hand stores and libraries, do not fall into this category. I know there are some people who feel they have no choice, but look around. Dig deeper. There are choices. Don’t buy anything you can borrow, don’t buy anything new that you can get second hand and don’t buy anything you don’t need.  Start with that and see how hopeless it seems afterwards. If it still seems hopeless, reach out for help. There’s a myriad of support systems out there. Remember, most of Wal*Mart’s (and Zeller’s) employees are already on that support.

Choice 3: Make sacrifices. Give up everything that can be given up. Do it slowly if you still have some time. Make a change, let it sit until it becomes just what you do. Make another. Give up the dryer, give up the second car, give up chocolate, whatever it takes. At whichever step you’re at. Simplify your life. Also, remember not to give up everything fun. Just find cheaper alternatives that give you just as much joy.

And with the dollars left over, vote for the future you want to see. And yes, I was promised flying cars and shopping trips on Mars too. Deal with it. Put the sci fi away (temporarily) and live with the reality that our future is going back to a simpler time. Think of someone younger than yourself, who you care about. Yes, they might need to give up the personal computer, but wouldn’t it be nice if they could still have access to health care and a public school system? Clean water? Food?

So, how, exactly, is buying a Big Mac contributing to the futures ability to eat? It’s not. However, giving up the dryer and using the money you save to first pay for the drying rack/clothes line/extra hangers in your closet (or, hey, get the hangers for free by selling all those clothes you haven’t worn in a year!) and then to buy one meal a week from a local source. Borrow a book from the library and put the money saved into a vegetable garden. Give up the car and put the insurance money into a heavy duty water filter. Use the money you save on gas for transit fare.

It’s time for anyone who can make some wiggle room to remember that every dollar you put into the conventional economy harms someone, somewhere.

My favourite definition of sustainable is “actions which do not inhibit future generation’s ability to meet their basic needs.” Isn’t it time we all did something towards enabling today’s children’s ability to live?

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Gentlemen, you are excused from today’s post. Instead I want a three page essay on why you love the women in your life. I expect it on my desk by 3pm on Thursday.

Now, I’m not going to bother beating a dead horse. Everyone knows that cloth pads are economically and environmentally sound. Not to mention they can be really, really pretty.

Did you know they can also reduce PMS, cramps and the general “I feel like crap, someone please put me out of my misery by removing my uterus with a dull, rusty knife. Right NOW!!” feeling?

A little background about me, first off. I have Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). There is also a possibility I suffer from endometriosis.

In layman’s terms? It means I have irregular periods. With terrible PMS. And terrible, terrible cramps. How terrible? Throw-up-then-pass-out-from-the-pain terrible. For three days starting the day before I start bleeding.

At least, I did.

Then I started using cloth pads. Actually, to start I was too embarrassed and poor to get cloth pads… So I got a couple of 100% organic cotton washcloths and folded them up in tight underwear to wear at home.

What a HUGE difference. Like, astounding. First my cramps tapered off; The more I wore a cloth pad, the less I hurt.  I still have cramps, and sometimes they still double me over.  And if I wear disposables for a period, they come back full force. It’s just not a constant for 72-odd hours as long as I wear cloth.

Then I started to look at my period differently. I didn’t have to change pads every 15-20 minutes the first day, the cramps didn’t hurt as much, the chaffing went away and wearing the pads was actually comfortable. And, because of all of this, I started to accept that I’m a woman. Oh, and there is no guilt, whatsoever, when I think I might be getting my period, but I’m not really sure, and I put a pad on anyway (those of you with irregular periods know what I mean. Those of you who, like my grandmother, could set a clock to your cycle, don’t worry about it).

And, sure, I still fantasize about getting the whole thing out… only now I daydream about a hyserectomy in a doctors office.

So, ladies, add a third reason to use cloth pads: It may help with menstrating discomfort! (Especially if you’re allergic/sensitive to any of the chemicals used to make your products a nice, “clean” white.)

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Food Storage

So Sharon Astyk over at Casaubon’s Book has been posting a lot about food storage lately.

I wanted to have a summary of what I have stored at this time (and maybe, another at the end of the month to see how much I ate out of storage this month…)

Couple of things to remember:

~I’m a “starving” student, and while I have more money than most students, I’m still kinda broke. (I suppose I could say I’m a “hungry” student instead.)

~This month shall be rather tight. My SO isn’t making too much, and my hours at work got cut (oh the joys of post Consumermas retail). Fortunately he’s got a new job lined up, and we have Valentine’s day to boost sales come February – belt tightening is temporary.

~I experience anaphylaxia when I eat rice (any kind)

~Everything (‘cept the soup) is estimated to the best of my abilities

In our pantry:

~6kg of flour (13.2lbs)

~4kg of quick oats (8.8lbs)

~1.9kg of pasta (4.2lbs)

~2L of canola oil (0.5 gallons)

~1.5kg Margarine (3.3lbs)

~1lb dried Kidney beans

~1lb dried Mung beans

~1lb green Lentils

~0.5lbs Red Quinoa

~1kg Honey (2.2lbs)

~5kg White Sugar (11lbs)

~1.5kg Brown Sugar (3.3lbs)

~0.2L Vanilla Extract (0.05 gallons)

~0.5kg Baking Soda (1.1lbs)

~0.2kg Baking Powder (0.4lbs)

~11x284ml cans of creamy soup

~Some Pancake mix

~100 bags of tea (mostly white, some green, some black, few decaf/herbal)

~Various spices

I have a long way to go for a years worth according to about.com’s calculator. But as long as I go the right way (more added than eaten) I guess that counts for something.

Have you made an inventory of your storage?

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2. Water usage

Showers: I had two real showers while I was out in B.C. I did also have two bag-showers (where you fill up a bag and then warm it in the sun) and bathed in the creek twice. That works out to just more than one cleaning per week (counting everything) or one every two weeks (counting just “real showers”). Both are rather traveler-esque and I wouldn’t expect people in my society to do so on a regular basis.

Obviously some changes need to be made. Showers need to be shorter, less frequent, with the low-flow heads and everything else that’s been discussed to death. And what about bag-showers? Seriously, the water pressure in the one I had was amazing and when you’re already taking short showers there’s more than enough water in the bag (my two biggest concerns). The water, if left long enough, also gets quite warm on a sunny day. Too hot, even. Obviously one won’t want to be outside in a Canadian winter, trying to shower off (or even warm the water in the sun!)… fortunately the summer is a different matter entirely! There has to be some way to make it work! Get creative and determine a way to move it indoors, if not the warming part, at least the showering itself. My best idea is to install a hook for it on the roof of your regular shower. Totally wouldn’t work for mine (the roofs really low + I’m renting) but it’d work for some people.

Toilets: The commune had composting toilets. And they’re really, really are not just a nice way of saying “outhouses.” Composting toilets aren’t stinky (I was amazed too)! I did my business and then covered it with a little bit of saw dust. No stink, no mess, no water waste. Now, I’ve heard books-to-read recommendations on the subject, but I can assure you that I did not get food poisoning, or even sick while I was there and most of the food I ate was out of their garden which I’m assuming uses the compost from the potties. More research may be needed for me to really talk about them. I still found them better than the port-a-potties at Shambhala and on the orchards, in terms of smell and comfort using. And the ones I was using were just tarps strung around trees, toilet paper, a bucket of sawdust, and a bucket with a toilet seat balanced on top of it. There are much fancier/civilized versions.

Hand Washing: I still view this as supper important, though I’m pretty sure I use less water when doing so now. And I’m not so obsessive about it anymore either (which is good for me, not something I’m telling readers to do).

3. Waste

There’s really something that needs to be done about how much waste goes into the food cycle. I mean, not everyone eats the greens of their veggies;  there is stuff that goes bad on the shelves, is dropped, squished, or otherwise damaged; and then there’s the waste after it goes home in the form of unsightly parts being cut off, spoilage, forgetting it in the back of the fridge, etc.

Never did I realize how prevalent food wastage was until I worked on an orchard. There were, literally, pear trees which I had to throw out half the fruit. Some of it was reasonable (the pear was goopy, or had been infected by earwigs) and some of it was ridiculous. For example we had to pick every pear and throw out all that were too small. Now, I could be wrong but I don’t think the SIZE of a pear affects its flavour/value. Or, y’know, you could just wait until the pear grew a little bit. Pears don’t ripen on the tree anyway.

I also had to chuck all of the pears that had marks (usually just from resting on a branch) larger than a dime. I can only imagine how many of the pears I kept got thrown out in the processing plant. And then we lose more in transit and at the supermarket. And then a pear is thrown out because it went bad on the kitchen counter. That’s a whole lot of waste in a world that is precariously close to (and in some places over the edge) wide spread famines.

I’m not saying eat the rotting fruit; I’m saying eat it before it starts to rot.

I’m not saying sell the squished fruit; I’m saying transport the fruit shorter distances so less are damaged.

I’m not saying eat the fruit that had pests inside of it; I’m saying create a market for second grade fruits where it’s not unhealthy, just cosmetic.

I’m saying grow your own, so it can grow until it’s the proper size.

4. Just a short rant: Calgary’s green practices…

are non-existent. Seriously, I know that Alberta is a conservative province and B.C. is quite a bit more hippie-ish, but we need to get with the program! (I also realize that Calgary is big and Keremeos/Grand Forks are small.)

I’m tired of giving out free plastic bags, I’m sick of living in a city with a terrible transit system (maybe that one wasn’t really comparative, just a general rant), I want to be able to walk to everything I need on a regular basis, I think the hours businesses are open in big cities are ridiculous, I loved not seeing any big names/how everything was local, I hate waiting forever for medical attention, and we need more windmills!

Calgary is far enough behind in the “be sustainable” (btw, my marketing textbook defines, paraphrased, sustainable as something that does not compromise future generations’ ability to meet their basic needs — which merits its own post) race that I don’t know if we’ll ever catch up and I’m embarrassed to live here.


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Hello, I’m back!

I promised you that I would have many new paradigms to explore once I got back from traveling.

Hoo boy do I ever. And please believe me when I say these only scratch the surface.

Anyway, enough of my bragging. Onto my writing! Mwahah!

1. Realizing just how little is a “need” and that the rest is, really, all “wants”

Now I’ve always considered myself a frugal person; My dad borders on cheap and I take after him more than I’d like to admit. I do the whole “ask yourself if you really want it” when I buy something, I purge clutter, I make meals from scratch, I don’t buy new clothes, etc.

I’m not nearly as frugal as I thought I was. That is, I indulged in a lot of “wants” without realizing they were wants.

Some examples:

Shelter. While I totally wouldn’t want to spend a winter in a tent, houses are at least slightly overrated during the summer. Okay, so a house is still nice when it rains, and living in a tent can be hard and stressful and challenging… It is still amazing how easy it was compared to what I was mentally preparing myself for. The tent became a sanctuary for me. Somewhere safe to hide from the world, be me, be safe. And it actually did keep the rain off alright. The amount of space within the tent didn’t really bother me either. Spending the month in the tent gave me confidence that I’ll be alright living in a small house.

I think the only reason society really needs so much room, is because of all the crap we are convinced we need. Commercials, social pressure, cliques, fashion, even depression-era thinking (“I might need it someday”); It all presses us to save stuff, horde it. And the more stuff we “need” the more space we need to keep it in. Really, when all your stuff needs to fit in a backpack anyway, a tent has plenty of space.

Stuff. Ah, yes. It all fit in my backpack (just a regular old school backpack) and a duffle bag (since I was lacking in the hiking type backpack). Scratch that. It all had to fit into that space. I was worried, taking so little. Turns out I took way too much. I didn’t use the oven mitt. I didn’t need the dish towel. Or both washcloths. And (kinda ick, but whatever) I don’t think I ever did dig out all of the underwear/socks I brought. The flashlight was a flop. Etc. etc. etc. I am glad I brought the one outfit that I only wore twice: when I was doing laundry and on the greyhound home (I’d feel sorry for the people on the greyhound with me if I’d had to wear some of my dirty clothes on the trip home).

I came home and promptly got rid of tons of stuff. I used a “if you needed to carry it on your back, would you?” prompt. It worked wonders. There are some things I’m just not going to get rid of, even if the answer to the question was “no” (my keyboard, computer, school supplies, kitchen supplies; stuff like that). Asking that did put much of my junk into perspective. I feel very light and free now. And, honestly, I usually go through and purge my stuff a couple times a year (I’d already done it twice this year). I can only imagine what something like that would do to a person who doesn’t purge. Really. Clutter takes up a TON of your energy. Even if it’s out of sight and you think it’s out of mind.

Transportation. Do you realize I went to BC, spent a month in 3 different locations and didn’t “waste” any gas? That I took a ride that would have gone out to Shambhala anyway, got a ride from there to Grand Forks (that was following that path). Then from the Sanctuary to Keremeos, again I got a ride that was going the same way. Then came home on the Greyhound. I do need to work on being able to take the city bus (I get panic attacks on them). There were still several points in the trip where I stopped, looked around and went, “Wow, I got here without using any gas, spending much money or owning a car.” I meant it. It was an amazing feeling. I didn’t have a car to start with, and this has reaffirmed that I don’t need one.

Food. Trail mix, day in and day out, sucks. I can eat “my casserole” (veggies + white sauce) almost nonstop, but trail mix just doesn’t cut it for me. I really, really, really enjoy hot food (I’m not cut out to be a mother, remember?). There was several points in the trip where I stopped and thought (yes, there was lots of epiphanies and sudden moments of introspection), “We have food and water, and the tent. Nothing else matters.” I’m horrendous at dealing with the unexpected and that was a HUGE step for me.

Clothes. Okay, so this one probably only applies to 99% of the first world’s population when they are traveling; I have gained respect for those who do not wash their clothes until the water in the washing machine will have enough dirt to plant potatoes (totally stolen from Terry Goodkind). Seriously, why do we need to wash our jeans everytime we wear them? Yes, I really, really enjoyed washing my jeans after I dropped a rotten tomato on my knee (My jeans smell like rotten tomatoes/ ’cause I dropped on on my knee/ My pants smell like rotten tomatoes/ while working with Timothy). I didn’t really feel the need for pristine clothes the rest of the journey though. Yes, there are certain limits imposed by society. Yes, most of those limits are a tad on the over zealous side. Guess what: Society is made up of individuals. You’re an individual. I’m an individual. Let’s change society. Chose one thing that you think is kept “too clean” (and this doesn’t need to be clothing) and slowly let it drop. Want to use your towel more than once? Do it! Want to wear a pair of underwear for a week? I’ll be here making a face behind your back — while admitting to myself I did the same thing while I was out of the city. Be brave. We can do it! Or something.

More to come really soon. And I promise “really soon” doesn’t equal six months this time!

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