May 31, 2010

No Mischief Monday

O Hidden Life vibrant in every atom;
O Hidden Light! shining in every creature;
O Hidden Love! embracing all in Oneness;

May each who feels himself as one with Thee,
Know he is also one with every other.

- Annie Besant

May 28, 2010

Walking To A Better World

In the 5 years I have lived in Sooke I have never walked into town. That is probably pretty common as I am sure that most of my neighbours have never walked into town, either, regardless of how long they have lived here.

Well, my bike is still out of service, not only because of a flat tire, but also due to wear and tear. I may have ridden this pony as far as it will go. So when it came time to visit the library and grocery store, I thought that I might do the walk - all 8 or 9 km of it. Could I even make it? Would I collapse half way there? I was up for the challenge.

I took a glance at my vehicle as I passed it in the parking lot. Clutching the key that would get me into town in about 5 minutes, I thought of my backpacking days in the Rocky Mountains. Back then 9 km would have been a small hike. I have done long hikes in the Sooke Hills recently, but have never pounded the pavement into town.

The walk into town was exhilarating. I couldn't believe all the new things I was seeing as I ambled along. Cycling, although slower than driving, is still too fast to carefully observe your surroundings. A saunter is an ideal pace so you can stop whenever something strikes your fancy.

Before long I found myself in town and conducted my business. I felt free and unencumbered. I exchanged library books, stuffed my backpack full of groceries at the market, then started to hoof it home.

The trip home was less "pleasant stroll" and more "just get me and my stuff home". I did notice however, the road construction on the highway. I was moving faster than the traffic was, and this put a boost in my step. All those people captive in their idling steel cells not going anywhere, and I under my own steam navigating my way home unimpeded. But I could feel the steam running out.

The last 1 km of my walk was difficult as I thought about things like my fitness level, weight bearing exercises vs. non-weight bearing, and fixing my bike. Certain muscles started to hurt before I even got home. When I dragged myself through the front door I looked at the clock and saw that it took me about 2 hours to complete my voyage. Driving takes 10 minutes, and cycling about 35 minutes, but who is counting time anymore? My adventure was a blast from the past, a time when everyone was walking, and it was very satisfying to know that I could do it.

Now that I have recovered from my experiment in the most simple self-propelled travel ever devised, I am thinking that this is probably more in line with future conditions than we would like to think. I might as well get used to it. And you know, getting used to it will not be that hard.

I turned a 10 minute drive to town into a 2 hour epic personal challenge. Today I feel strong. This change will be good for us, and I look forward to it. I am committing to walking toward a better world, even if it does mean sore muscles for a while.

May 25, 2010

Please Remain Calm

I just heard that housing has never been as unaffordable in British Columbia as it is today. It now takes, the radio announced, 73% of the average household income to pay for the house. And if you're a renter that worrisome news is also for you. The trouble and doubt is enough to make a person panic.

The European Union is in as deep of trouble as North America, and the Canadian dollar is dropping like teeth at a hockey game. Unemployment continues to mount. The "jobless recovery" makes one wonder who is recovering, and what they are ripping off to achieve it. Who are the people that are buying all these expensive houses? Getting a job? As The Cars sang in the 1980's, "It's all messed up."

The mess that BP and Haliburton have made of the Gulf of Mexico continues unabated. The last thousand year old trees are helicopter-lifted out of our forests while the wildlife that used to live there sits at the side of the logging road with a guitar case open singing the Homeless Blues. I can feel the hysteria rising in me like the mercury rising in a thermometer in the arctic.

"When in trouble, when in doubt - run in circles, scream and shout," was a little ditty that my Mom liked to say when when we were kids. "What! Meatloaf and peas again!" we would cry and protest. But, of course, she was being sarcastic. She did not want us to panic, nor should we have.

Panic leads to worse problems and is not helpful in providing solutions. It is the mob's modus operandi. I do feel like screaming and shouting, and gathering a pitch-fork carrying mob complete with burning torches and catchy slogans - "Capitalism is wrecking the planet, when are we gonna ban it?" But I will remain calm, and so should you.

At the very least, we should not all panic and get hysterical at the same time. Now is the time to stick together, those of us in the bottom 90% of world wealth, and look after each other. It is the time for action, not hysteria. Time for cooperation, kindness, and creative thinking.

Together we are strong, and regardless of how much the top 10% has, there are more of us. Way more.

We have the power. Let's use it. Don't panic - problem solve.

May 24, 2010

No Mischief Monday

- Memphis Slim (1915-1988)

Mother Earth

You may play the rich hustler.
You may own a racetrack.
You may have enough money, baby,
to buy anything you like.

Don't care how great you are,
and I don't care what you're worth,
Because when it all ends up,
you got to go back to Mother Earth.

You may high hat me all the time.
You may never go my way.
But Mother Earth will lay in for you,
that is the debt you have to pay.


You may own a half the city,
even diamonds and pearls.
You may buy an airplane, baby,
and fly all over this world.


May 21, 2010

Red Pill Or Blue Pill?

Red pill, or blue? As Chris Hedges points out in Empire of Illusion, "we are vainly trying to return to a bubble economy, of the sort that once handed us the illusion of wealth, rather than confront the stark reality that lies ahead." We have been taking the blue pill for over 100 years now, and it seems that we would like to continue. We prefer comfortable illusions over messy, inconvenient reality.

In The Matrix Morpheus offered two pills - a red one, and a blue one. He tells IT drone, Thomas Anderson, that he is in a prison of the mind. He is a slave to a system that is largely incomprehensible in its opaque anonymity.

"You take the blue pill", Morpheus says, "and the story ends. You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember! All I am offering is the truth. Nothing more."

If we choose the blue pill everything is always progressing toward a better, easier future. House prices always rise, and endless entertainments keep us merrily occupied. Newspapers gloss over bad news while touting thousand dollar handbags in half-page, stylish adds. "All is well in blue pill world", we are assured - "relax, enjoy, work, spend. Have another blue pill".

Blue pill addiction leads us to feed the hallucination with trillions of dollars of borrowed money that we will never be able to pay back, in order to prop up a dying system. The blue pill leads us to believe that fossil fuels and off shore drilling are the only way forward, regardless of the dismal track record of the oil and gas industry. There is happiness in denial, and the blue pill will not allow images of the poor, the weak, the suffering, and environmental destruction to mar our perfect world. We can't see them.

However, what we also lose sight of is the fact that we have adopted these delusions by choice. We could have, like Thomas Anderson, picked the red pill.

The red pill will set you free. But first it will kick you in the head. The red pill reveals the truth as it is, blemished, harsh, and uncomfortable. The red pill awakens us to environmental and social injustice. The red pill allows us to see 14 000 children dying every day, ravaged by the poverty that we allow when on blue pills.

The red pill may even reveal your own drone-like existence if you have not already broken free of the apparatus that seeks to perpetuate the exploitative, parasitic approach of the purveyors of profit. However, also revealed will be an exit door, a way out.

Neo got out. He knew that life is better with stale bread and water in freedom than with cakes and ale in bondage. Neo took the hard way, refusing the comforts offered by the delusional blue pill. His was a struggle that entailed much hardship, but in the end he broke free of those who would keep him in chains.

It will be the same for us - we can take the blue pill and continue the illusion of limitless luxury and comfort, but we will be keeping ourselves in bondage until our hand is ultimately forced by the sheer weight of delusion crushing the fantasy utterly. Blue pills lead to ultimate failure.

If, like Mr. Anderson, we don't want to fail, we pick the red pill. Then the puppet masters are revealed behind the curtain. Also illuminated is the pain and suffering these shadow masters have created in the name of the free market and liberty, the very things they have corrupted beyond recognition. Red pills will lead us to monumental changes, but they will be for the greater good, and we will all be free.

We can choose knowledge over ignorance, and freedom over captivity. Like Plato's cave dweller, those who make this choice will emerge into the sunlight and see reality for the first time, rather than remain chained up in the cave facing the wall.

Which will you choose? Red pill, or blue?

Morpheus: "It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

Neo: "What truth?"

Morpheus: "That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you can not smell or taste or touch. A prison - for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back."

May 17, 2010

No Mischief Monday

Pizza dough is incredibly easy to make, but it took us a few steps to get here. We went from take-out to frozen, then made pizza from a pre-packed kit, then from pre-made pizza shells. The final step was to making our own dough from scratch.

We use Laurel's Kitchen pizza dough recipe which can be found here (click on the top recipe). You can use the dough to make one deep dish pizza, or two thin crust pizzas. We do both, but when I do two crusts I make two whole pizzas at a time - one for eating immediately, and one to throw in the freezer for a quick, yummy meal later.

Godetevi il vostro homemade pizza?

May 16, 2010

Breaking My Addiction To Oil With My Bicycle

Nothing deflates a cycle adventure quite like a flat tire. Especially at the beginning, before the adventure has really started. This morning I went to the bike shed and noticed that the rear tire of my bike had pancaked sometime over the last couple of days. I was on my way to go in to town to do some things, then explore some trails on the way home. Now what?

I glanced at my truck and realized that lately I have been considering driving the less attractive alternative. It has its advantages for longer voyages, but for short trips I find driving is much less efficient and fun than cycling. I felt like moving and breathing and feeling the wind and sun. I took the tire pump out of my pack.

The tire was holding a good amount of air, but didn't know how long it would last. I stashed the pump and launched myself across the pavement, on to my bike, and left my fate to the laws of pneumatics. It felt great to be traveling lightly and under my own steam.

This is what it has come to, especially after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I would rather take my chances on my bike with a leaky tire, than sit passively in 1.5 tons of truck that is dependent on all that oil that is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

The leak in my tire turned out to be fairly fast. I had to re-pump every couple of kilometers, amounting to four maintenance stops for air.

But I got my business done, enjoyed the freedom of cycling, and got a good workout, both riding and pumping. I enjoyed cruising past the gas stations and refusing to satisfy my addiction to oil and convenience.

Now, time to fix that tire.

Ride on!

May 15, 2010

Musical Influences In My Simple Life

Can you identify a song that has influenced your life? Most people would say, "Yes, it is...". Music influences our lives, linking us to an ancient, primal tradition. The rhythm and lyrics of a tune are a powerful experience. Songs feel like they are made for you, for your time and circumstances.

I was reminded of one such song today. I picked up my guitar and was playing random songs. I landed on "Simple Man" by Lynryd Skynryd. I always liked this song musically, but it is the lyrics that influenced my life - they have always made sense.

Simple Man was released in 1973, an impressionable time for me. Here are the lyrics that affected me in my youth, and lent support in my quest to free myself from pernicious complexity and consumer madness.

What songs have influenced your life?

Simple Man (Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant)

Mama told me when I was young
Come sit beside me, my only son
And listen closely to what I say.
And if you do this
It'll help you some sunny day.

Oh, take your time... Don't live too fast,
Troubles will come and they will pass.
Go find a woman, oh baby, you'll find love,
And don't forget son,
There is someone up above.

And be a simple kind of man.
Be something you love and understand.
Baby be a simple, kind of man.
Oh, won't you do this for me son,
If you can?

Forget your lust for the rich man's gold
All that you need, is in your soul,
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try.
All that I want for you my son,
Is to be satisfied.


Boy, don't you worry... you'll find yourself.
Follow your heart, lord, and nothing else.
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try.
All that I want for you my son,
Is to be satisfied.


May 12, 2010

NBA Post Included In 100 Best Blog Posts For Extreme Budgeting

This blog is about not buying anything. It is also about not selling anything. All content is free and untainted by advertising and commerce. My aim is to learn, share, and build community, not make a profit. Therefore, I must look for non-monetary rewards.

Considering this, I am happy to report that a Not Buying Anything post, Extreme Frugal Living: The Ultimate Household Budget was recently included in an on line education web site's 100 Best Blog Posts For Extreme Budgeting. The list is geared toward students, but is applicable to everyone. Link to the 100 Best Blog Posts here. It is quite a comprehensive and useful list.

Also, The Tyee: "BC's home for news, culture and solutions", picked up NBA for inclusion in its BC Blogs List. They have also listed my other blog Vancouver Island Big Trees.

These links help validate my little corner of the Internet, and although I enjoy intrinsic benefits from the writing and creativity involved in blogging, external feedback is a powerful motivator. Whether it is comments, or emails, followers, or people linking to my sites, these are all small guideposts that keep me joyfully engaged in sharing my adventures in learning.

Since last summer this blog has attracted over 4400 visits. Perhaps the time is slowly coming for the adoption of living with less in developed nations. Living better with less.

Thank you to all the visitors that have made this endeavor a growing enterprise. And all without cash trading hands. Not Buying Anything - not selling anything. Feedback gratefully accepted.

May 11, 2010

No Mischief Monday

Cardboard - not just for boxes anymore. The small stylish table shown is made out of this abundant, but underutilized resource. Plain old cardboard can be used to make tables, chairs, sofas, bookshelves and much more for next to nothing.

Are you handy? Can you handle an X-Acto knife without getting hurt? Interested in the ultimate upcycling project? Try building your own cardboard furniture. A do it yourself web site shows the steps to build the table in the picture.

French builders of cardboard furniture are at the leading edge of design, and are creating unique and whimsical pieces. Find some of their amazing cardboard furniture/art here.

May 8, 2010

Simple Pleasures: Walking

"Everywhere is within walking distance if you have enough time."
- Stephen Wright

Is there anything more simple, or joyous, than the act of walking? You don't need expensive or exotic gear for this activity. If you lived on a tropical beach you wouldn't even have to bother with clothes or shoes. Just stand up and off you go.

There is something magical about walking. In this most basic of activities, simply striding forth, we can discover brave new worlds. Whether in our very own neighborhood, or farther afield, walking leads us into experience - serendipitous things are bound to happen.

Until recently, people had to walk everywhere (uphill both ways). But even as we lay down our black ribbons of highway, and build more complicated and expensive cars, walking retains its mystical qualities. We instinctively know that walking rules. When that uber-car breaks down, and you raise the hood and fail to find the on/off switch, you can always walk home.

I have a walking loop in my neighbourhood that is about 3km in length. It takes me past homes and businesses, under towering trees, through a cemetery, and along a beach. I walk my circuit a few times a week, and the joy of just walking out the door and propelling myself along is exhilarating. Nature fills my senses and I retreat into the moment. It is a massage for my legs, my body, and my mind.

Walking is my most cherished simple pleasure. What is yours?

"All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

May 6, 2010

Save Money On Groceries

"The price of food relative to average income is heading for levels that have not been seen since the early 19th century, and it will not come down again in our lifetimes." - Gwynne Dyer
Food prices are rising faster than they have in decades, marking the end of fifty years of Cheap Food. The Associated Press reported in April that, "Wholesale prices rose more than expected last month as food prices  surged by the most in 26 years." Produce prices went up a whopping 49% in March. With prices increasing at such an alarming rate more and more people are wondering how to save money on groceries.

Here are a few of the ways we use to save money on our grocery budget.

  1. Take advantage of discounted food. Food is constantly marked down in all areas of grocery stores. Some items, like cereal boxes cut open during stocking, or goods approaching their best before date, are barely different than the items surrounding them. Discounts can be as high as 50% off regular price or more. I have bargained with staff to get a discount on the discount. Often they are happy to get these products out the door. Choose carefully, though, and have a rough plan for what you might do with certain products. For example, discounted peanut butter could be used to make cookies to throw in the freezer and share with friends. A big bag of tomatoes can be used to make a tomato soup much more savory than any salt-heavy canned variety. Be prepared to eat, or process, discounted items as soon as possible.
  2. Make a list and go shopping on a full stomach. Do not go foraging for food with a growling stomach, or wander the aisles - you will be prone to expensive impulse purchases. Know what you are there for and don't be distracted. We start our Master List with the ongoing one that we keep on the fridge. Using our local store flyer online we identifying sales and coupons. Shopping is a large purchase and we plan ahead: what do we want, what do we need, are expensive things on sale? We will wait until the price is right, then stock up. Planning ahead reduces your grocery bill, and minimizes having to run out for things at unexpected times.
  3. Know the price/100gms of your purchases. When you know the cost per hundred grams of your food you can start to compare items. Comparing brand names vs. generics, varieties of protein sources, and costs of processed foods vs. whole foods makes you think about things like the nutritional value of products, where your food comes from, and why items cost what they do.
  4. Use the bulk foods section selectively. Armed with your understanding of cost per hundred grams you can use the bulk foods section when it makes sense to do so. Often we believe bulk foods are always cheaper. This is not the case. Using cost/100g, the last time I went shopping I discovered that walnuts and sultana raisins in the baking section were cheaper than the bulk food section.
  5. Use your food efficiently to maximize freshness and minimize waste. Minimize the waste that occurs once you have the food at home. Decide what to make depending on what needs to be eaten so that all foods move through your kitchen at peak freshness. Use your freezer to preserve foods for quick meals later. Many fresh foods can be frozen whole such as tomatoes, mushrooms, bananas and berries. Even the freezer in your fridge, when organized well, can hold a great amount of food.
  6. Avoid the middle aisles of the grocery store. The perimeter of the store is where you will find fresh whole foods. Middle aisles feature processed, expensive, and nutritionally questionable foods.
  7. Process your own food. With wholesome ingredients you can make many of the flaccid foods manufacturers try to sell you at jacked up prices. Things like ketchup, jams, salsa, baked and refried beans, bakery products, and yogurt are all examples of foods that you can process yourself. The foods you process will have fewer artificial ingredients, and will be fresher and tastier. You may enjoy creating your own special brands just the way you like them. Never mind the savings - it is fun.
  8. Check your receipt. I give my receipt the once-over before I leave the store, or after I put my groceries away at home. If I find any mistakes I take the receipt to Customer Service for a refund. Mistakes happen (sometimes often) and are always fixed by courteous staff. The grocery trade is highly competitive - you are a valued customer that they want to keep.
  9. Grow your own food. The ultimate way to save on your food bill - plant a garden.
  10. Consider going on a CR diet, or at least cutting your calories to suit your requirements. How would you like to save 10-25% on your food bill? It seems almost too simple, but just eat less. CR diets (not just for weight loss) restrict calorie intake rather than eating without consumption limits. Do not eat for entertainment, and only eat what you need to maintain health.
Once food is in our home I minimize wastage as much as possible. It is estimated that 50% of food is never eaten. Edible food is wasted every day in the food industry, including grocery stores. There are ways to save money and do your part to keep good food from going to the dumpster. I am not going to the back of the store for grub yet, but many do. You will find edible food there, and at a discount that is hard to beat. Photo: Edible food 'rescued' from a grocery store dumpster by People Helping People, a group that takes the food to local food banks.