March 30, 2010

No Mischief Monday

If I could only have 10 possessions, my guitar would surely be one of them. Any musical instrument is a delightful bargain when you consider the hours and hours of enjoyment and entertainment you get out of them over a lifetime. Add a starry night and a campfire in the woods or mountains, or on the beach, and you have magic.

Which one of your 10 possessions comes to mind first?

March 28, 2010

Affirmations Make Your Day

Affirmations can help us live the lives we see for ourselves. Some think that affirmations are simply "magical thinking", and indicate childish expectations. However, if we can not visualize something we cannot create it. Affirmations, creative visualization, and positive thinking help us mold our lives out of the primordial clay of the universe.

I found the following affirmations by Steve Goodier at allthingsfrugal. They look like effective ways to maximize our quest to live simply and sustainably. All our work will be for naught if it drives us crazy in the process. We need little reminders to help keep us balanced and on track.

Now, Steve's affirmations:

  • Today I will live through the next 24 hours and not try to tackle all life's problems at once.
  • Today I will improve myself - my body, my mind, my spirit.
  • Today I will refuse to spend time worrying about what might happen if...
  • Today I will not imagine what I would do if things were different. They are not different. I will do my best with what material I have.
  • Today I will find the grace to let go of resentment of others and self-condemnation over past mistakes.
  • Today I will not try to change, or improve, anybody but me.
  • Today I will act toward others as though this will be my last day on earth.
  • Today I will be unafraid. I will enjoy what is beautiful, and I will believe that as I give to the world, the world will give to me.

Whether these are the best of times or the worst of times, these are the only times we've got. Live each day fully and you will look back on a life that made a difference.

These affirmations definitely apply to those of us that are attempting to lead an alternative lifestyle, especially one that runs counter to prevailing cultural expectations. In today's fast-paced technological world where what you consume defines you, not participating is seen as the ultimate act of rebellion. Simple living is met with fierce resistance from the delusional and self-interested.

If we stay strong and balanced awareness trickles in and transforms us. Affirmations can help us along in this life long pursuit, and will ensure that we do not allow the tall nail to be hammered down.

Today we will trust that we can be unafraid, and create the lives we wish to live.

March 27, 2010

The Perilometer

I invented my Perilometer in the dark days of winter 2007 in response to a general sense of peril that I was experiencing. I had been the watching mainstream media for a few weeks and was surprised that no warnings were forthcoming, no headlines of impending doom, or suggestions for how to be prepared for what I felt was coming our way - a radical change in the way we see ourselves and our relation to stuff and the planet that supports it all.

Then 2008 limped into view, and complete with it a generous amount of good old-fashioned peril. Serious and immediate danger seemed everywhere for everyone. You know things are bad when for a short period of time the rich don't get richer. Things were crumbling, and lies were being exposed, and the biggest lie was that an economy and lifestyle based on MORE was sustainable.

Those who profit from stroking our desires have been telling us for almost 100 years that our consuming 35 times the resources of the average global citizen was NOT having a negative effect on other people or the environment. 2008 marked the beginning of the end of this excessive party, and at the time my Perilometer needle was registering somewhere between "Muscle Twitches" and "Strong Desire To Flee".

Naturally, our inclination is to keep the instrument needle as close to "No Peril" as possible. Having said that, peril has always been a fact of life on earth. Whether sabre tooth tigers, floods, or Og from the cave next door running after you wielding a large club, peril has always been around to some degree.

Modern life protects us, mostly, from one set of perilous situations (nature), and trades it for another even more perilous set (affluent, busy, technological lifestyles). It is highly unlikely you will be eaten by a bear or wolf, but you might get eaten by the potentially perilous demands of modern life. Now we deal with the perils of heart attacks, diabetes, trillions of dollars of cash vanishing into thin air, housing markets crashing, and people losing jobs at the highest rate since the Great Depression. Perilous times, indeed.

We can minimize the effects of a constant sense of peril, and we must because an ongoing sense of danger is highly stressful and can lead to disease and unhappiness. I figure somewhere between "No Peril" and "Mild Peril" is sufficient to keep us awake and relatively stress-free.

When I feel my Peril Rating climb to the point of "Adrenaline Rush" these are a few things I do:

  • Review my personal preparation plan to be able to take care of myself and my family in the event of an emergency (end of globalism, earthquake, power outage, global climate change, fall of capitalism...)
  • stay away from TV and online news
  • go for a walk or hike or bike ride (leave the earbuds at home and listen to nature and the pounding of your own heart)
  • stretch, deep breathe, meditate
  • play guitar, sing, dance, shake and be silly
  • take action to implement positive change in my life
  • talk to friends and family and work on building a strong community network

The coming decades promise to be quite different than the ones we passed in relative luxury while everything crumbled behind the scenes. Now many dangers can no longer be hidden or ignored, and our eyes have been opened. We should be aware of serious and immediate dangers, and have plans for dealing with them. Then we need to implement the best plans to the best of our ability. Having done that we can relax, knowing that we are doing what we can, where we are at, with what we have. What else can we do?

Hope you are having a Low Peril day, and if not, that my suggestions to mitigate it are useful.

March 23, 2010

No Mischief Monday

Living simply has allowed us the time to improve our cooking skills. We steer away from processed foods and try to prepare all food from scratch using whole ingredients.

Highlighted here is Baked Vegetable Salsa, freshly made and ready to grace chips, nachos, and/or burritos.

When we make it with up to four jalapeno peppers it can be a very firey concoction. We call the hottest of the hot our "Satan's Silly Salsa", and savour the burn... twice.

Simple living, simple food, simply delicious.

March 20, 2010

Free-Spirited Builders of the Pacific Coast

“If I have a right to life I have a right to living space… I wasn’t born with dollars in my pocket. I shouldn’t have to chase the big buck all my life just for a place to live.” Barbara Oke.

Lloyd Kahn, hand-built home and simple living guru, has published several books to inspire the frugal free spirit that lies within us all. All of his books not only explain and illustrate how to build your own shelter, but introduce you to people from around the world that have done it themselves. The inspiring message is that regular people with basic skills and tools can house themselves. Without a monster mortgage.

This is what said about Lloyd's book on free-thinking alternative builders and their structures on the Pacific Coast:
There's been a vortex of creative carpentry energy along the Pacific Coast over the last thirty years. Lloyd Kahn made four trips up the coast over a two-year period, shooting the photos that appear in this book.

Many of the builders shown here got started in the countercultural era of the '60s and '70s, and their work has never been shown in other books or magazine articles. As in the author's previous books Shelter and Home Work, there are three featured builders: Lloyd House, master craftsman and designer who has created a series of unique homes on a small island; Bruno Atkey, builder of a number of houses and lodges built of hand-split cedar on "The Wild Coast" (the Pacific Ocean side of Vancouver Island), and SunRay Kelley, barefoot builder tuned into
Nature, who has designed and built wildly imaginative structures in Washington, California, and other parts of the country. In addition, there are working homesteads, sculptural buildings of driftwood, homes that are beautiful as well as practical, live-aboard boats, gypsy-type caravans, and examples of stunning architectural design.

The two predominant features of the landscape along the Pacific Coast are water and wood. Most of these buildings are on or close to the sea. Trees grow fast and tall in rainy Northwest forests; many of these buildings were constructed entirely from logs off the beach or trees from adjacent land. You are invited to join Kahn's journey up and down the coast: driving the roads, riding the ferries, camping on the beaches, meeting these builders, and seeing their unique creations.

In Kahn's second book, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, he ruminates on simpler times when peace, permissiveness, trust and freedom still dominated in North American life. He says, "Looking back, it's hard to believe you could ever do something like this, just an hour away from San Francisco. A home that costs practically nothing. No taxes, building inspectors, electricity, cars, roads. Are there things like this going on in American today? Could this be the same planet?"

It reminds me of the local example of Sombrio beach that for over 30 years provided a sanctuary for a group of simple living folks braving a radically alternative lifestyle.

"For decades, it and a chain of other beaches on the Canadian side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca have been home to free spirits who refuse to march to middle age and conformity with the rest of the baby boomers. Here amid abundant plant and animal life across from Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, the old ways -- early homesteader meets flower power -- prevail."

The Sombrio "squatters" living in their "hippie shacks" eventually saw the dream die in 1997 when the BC government evicted them to make way for the newly formed Juan de Fuca Trail.

Paul Manly produced and directed a 2006 documentary on the Sombrio Beach community. Paul says, "Sombrio is an important story because it was an example of self-sufficient living in the modern age. Most of the people living there had ideological reasons for doing so. They wanted to create a smaller footprint and disengage from the world of excessive consumption. Although it looked like easy street in the summer, living at Sombrio was not always easy and required perseverance and a lot of daily work."

Is anything like this still going on anywhere in North America? Is this even the same planet?

March 18, 2010

10 Ways To Tell If Working Meaningless Jobs From Childhood to Old Age Might Not Be For You

Some people like to be busy. Work gives us a regular, knowable schedule and routine that appeases the Rain Man residing in all of us. Work can help us feel safe and secure, but it is often dull, meaningless, and repetitive.

My father, after he retired, continued to teach voluntarily in positions overseas. He loved his work so much he did it for free. If you have a job you enjoy, rather than just tolerate, great. In my experience, this does not describe the majority of people.

Do you do work that you would continue to do even if you weren't getting paid? I would like to hear about it.

For the rest, I give you:

10 Ways To Tell If Working Meaningless Jobs From
Childhood to Old Age Might Not Be For You

1. You describe yourself as an independent and creative soul.

2. You were born a lifeaholic, not a workaholic.

3. You don't want the cheese; you just want to get out of the trap.

4. You know you can increase your cash on hand by spending less, or working more... and working more is not an option.

5. You like to challenge traditional ways of living and thinking.

6. You agree with the words of Bertrand Russell: "To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the best product of civilization."

7. You are receptive to the concept that we can achieve more if we relax, enjoy life more, forget about what the majority in society thinks is important, and focus on the things that really matter.

8. You enjoy doing what you can, where you are at, with what you've got.

9. You like to live simply and frugally.

10. You know that just living well and free can be a full time job.

Inspired by:

March 11, 2010

More And More People Got Them Ol' Blues

Do we have the blues? Well, so many people are peeing Prozac that it is in water supplies now in trace quantities. Yes, more and more so-called regular people are learning what Old Man Blues is all about. Once the music of the cotton fields on the Mississippi Delta, the blues haunting tunes, and that old gitchy feeling that goes with them, seem to be on the move.

Alan Lomax, folk historian extraordinaire, in his book The Land Where The Blues Began describes this feeling as a "melancholy dissatisfaction" resulting from "the sense of being a commodity rather than a person". If you doubt this applies to all of us today, remember - you ceased being a citizen a long time ago.

You are a consumer now, and your function is obvious. "Resistance is Futile", Borg-like capitalists and the governments that support them tell us. No wonder we are increasingly bummed out. We are promised everything, but end up with nothing.

In the age of MicroSerfs and falling wages, unemployment and unregulated greed, things are feeling more and more like a small southern county with a Big Daddy sheriff making sure all his marshmallowy "boys" are getting what they think they deserve. The other 90% of us don't say anything... until the good ol' boys drive away, that is. Not only are we getting bummed out, we are getting pissed off, too.

Lomax goes on in his preface:

Our times today are similarly out of joint, similarly terrorized. Technology has made the species rich and resourceful as never before, but the wealth and the resources rest with a few individuals, corporations, and favored nations. Most earthlings, most nations, are distanced from technological luxury, and that imbalance is presided over by armed forces capable of destroying the planet itself. Rage and anxiety pervade the emotions and the actions of both the haves and the have nots. And the sound of the worried blues of the old Delta is heard in back alleys and palaces, alike.

Alan Lomax spent years touring the south recording music and meeting the people. He knew of their hardships. Any yet, while touring around a bustling, vibrant black business district one day, he came to an important realization:

We had grabbed off everything, I thought, we owned it all - money, land, factories, shiny cars, nice houses - yet these people, confined to their shacks and their slums, really possessed America; they alone, of the pioneers who cleared the land, had learned how to enjoy themselves in this big, lonesome continent - they were the only full-blown Americans.

Blues music was born among the people, simple folks that dug the earth and worked under the sun. People that often lived with less than enough under difficult conditions. But what beauty came from the Delta experience. An enduring beauty that caught on and was widely imitated by white performers.

But they only imitated the music, and not so much the lifestyle. But it was the lifestyle, the simple, basic things like community and being grateful for what you've got that inspired a totally unique way of dealing with the constant difficulties of oppression. The people played and sang and tranced out on porches up and down the dusty roads of cotton country. This music could never have been born in the suburbs of mainstream America.

Alan Lomax was right, it is the simple folks that can truly learn what the unencumbered life is all about. More and more of us are beginning to understand this, some by choice. The blues moans and wails and sweats and shakes, but it is also an antidote to our ills.

We will learn the benefits of our new reality while changing things in the process, and who knows what will come of it. Rest assured that Son House, Robert Johnson, Willy Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and others will be there to help console and inspire us along the way.

March 8, 2010

Mischief Comes From Much Opening Of The Mouth Monday II

The beginnings of a vegetarian noodle stir fry. We are not buying anything from restaurants any more, and have learned to cook a variety of dishes that we used to buy when we short on time and long on cash. Now that we are short on cash and long on time, we can focus on our whole food, vegetarian diet where we cook everything from scratch. Photo: by author

March 7, 2010

We Are Here To Help Each Other

However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone he or she will not survive. It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore, we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.

- The Dalai Lama

Yesterday I watched out the window as another what we call "nautical disasters" took place. The Sooke River empties into the harbour creating a delta that is often submerged above a certain tide level. This can be dangerous for boaters unfamiliar with the local terrain, causing trouble for them. Today there was trouble.

A sailboat had grounded itself on a submerged sandbar in the middle of the harbour. It was just before low tide so I knew that all the lone sailor on board had to do was wait an hour or so and the rising tide would free his craft. The man seemed resigned to his strandedness, but occasionally put an oar overboard to see if he could dislodge the boat. But to no avail.

Before long I noticed a tiny rowboat with a white-haired person at the oars. It was a windy day and the little rowboat struggled against the small whitecaps. At first the rower did not seem to be getting anywhere with the occasional wave temporarily stopping the boat. But the person hunched at the oars persevered.

It looked like rowboat was heading for the stranded sailboat, and sure enough judging by the line it was taking, that is were the rower was headed. To lend some good, old fashioned help, lend a hand, give assistance, rescue. All of a sudden I found myself rooting for this anonymous wool-caped nautical superhero.

It felt like a long time since the rowboat set out. The sailboat had, in the meantime, successfully dislodged itself and was now motoring toward the rowboat. All of a sudden the sailboat became grounded again. The rowboat kept on plodding along making slow, but steady progress.

With amazing skill the rowboat maneuvered alongside the sailboat. The sailor dropped his anchor into the rowboat. The rower rowed back out into the whitecaps and wind, and took the anchor out away from the sailboat, dropped it, then rowed back to join the sailor. I could not believe the stamina and courage of the white-haired rower that obviously knew exactly what needed to be done.

Now on the sailboat, the rower took over the controls while the sailor sat on the bow and pulled on the anchor rope. Working together they muscled the sailboat back into deeper water. The rower got back into the row boat and began to row away. The sailboat motored across the harbour... and got stuck again.

The rower, noticing that the work was not done, turned around and rowed against the wind and waves back to the newly stranded sailboat. Again the rower helped to get it in deep water and on its way.

Still, the work was not complete. The rower had to repeat this process two more arm-straining times before the sailboat could head home free and clear.

Last time I looked the white-haired hero was bending to the oars on the way home, task now complete.

I thought, "I must be more like this person. They know what it means to help another in need. They are a stellar example of selfless compassion with a strong altruistic streak that I wish to emulate in my own life."

Image what good we could do if we would take the time to help each other more often, rather than sit back in judgement and blame.

To the white-haired rowing superhero - thank you. Your desire to lend a hand to someone in need, despite the hardship and danger to yourself, was a powerful lesson for me.

We are all in this together, and our job is to help each other.

March 5, 2010

The Simple Life As An Extreme Sport: Cut Wife's Hair

I just put my head in the mouth of a lion, figuratively speaking. It was one of the most dangerous things I have ever done. What did I do? I cut my wife's hair. Oh, the lengths we will go to in order to maintain our simple, frugal lifestyle of fun and freedom.

I am afraid I can't really recommend this one to anyone, considering the danger involved. Cutting your partner's hair (especially me cutting hers) is a delicate process that should be approached with extreme caution.

Linda has been cutting my hair for about ten years. I am very satisfied with the results, and she has made it look easy. It isn't. But at $30-$50 bucks a crack, that translates to thousands of dollars in savings. What would you do with an extra $3000 to $6000 dollars every 10 years?

Of course, we always had a fallback plan with my hair because if we ever did have a cutting malfunction we could always get out the razor and buzz my coif right down to bristles. This was not really an option with her hair, although she is headed in that direction if only to try it once. But not yet. If I made a mistake this time (and I was definitely bound to make many) it could be divorce.

A bead of sweat trickled down my temple as I prepared my crude implements - a pair of dull scissors, a hair band, and an old sheet. As I got everything ready I tried to remember the information from the books we borrowed from the library a few months ago. Did I have to hold the hair up or down when I cut? Where do the parts go? Gulp.

At her instruction, I put her long hair into one pony tail at the crown of her head. She assured me that the "Pony Tail Method" would yield the results she wanted. I thought of all the clips, and parts in the hair, and comb action from the books. Just hacking at her pony tail promised to be much easier.

With slightly trembling hands I grabbed the thick tail and, well, started hacking away. Swish, swish, swish my implement went with not quite Edward Scissorhands-like dexterity. Long chunks of hair began to fall away. Soon it was all over, or so I thought. I slid the hair band off the short stump.

We did not have a mirror immediately available so I was on my own. "How does it look?" my victim questioned with a hopeful look on her face. Help! It was one of those "Does my ass look big in this?" moments. I carefully surveyed what was left of her hair. It didn't look that good.

I swallowed hard and forged ahead bravely. "It looks... um, shorter, and that's what you wanted, right?" Wrong thing to say. She was anticipating more along the lines of, "It looks great - what a cute cut." What I was thinking was, "How am I going to fix this?"

Things quickly went from bad to worse, but before we were both in tears we got it together and went in for a second wave of hair removal. I remembered some tips from the book. She trusted me. We had some fun.

I am not sure if she will let me cut her hair again, ever, but my brave partner is pleased with the general outcome of our near-disastrous adventure in grooming frugality. I think she looks cute, but I would think that if she was bald so I'm perhaps not the best person to assess my work. I would like to learn more and be prepared to do a better job next time. I think. If there is one.

Are you frugal? Brave? Give it a go. Check your local public library. We found some very good resources in our system. There are some web sites on home hair cutting, but I prefer to have a good book handy. Having said that, this site has a lot of information.

Thousands of dollars in savings is substantial. You might have fun during this potentially very intimate activity. Of course, it could lead to tears (or worse), too, so I recommend proceeding with caution. You might want to make money in other less dangerous ways. Like fireworks manufacturing or toxic waste disposal.