February 28, 2011

No Oppression Monday

We have an unquenchable yearning to be free. We will always strive to free ourselves from whomever or whatever is oppressing us. This is true whether we are being oppressed by dictators, faulty economic systems that direct half of the wealth to one tenth of the people, or our own unchecked desires. Support the people, support yourself, and help overcome oppression wherever it exists. We will be free.

February 26, 2011

Are We Living Malignantly Or Benignly?

"Always try to be joyful and proactively benign to the people."
- Toba Beta
Words are powerful. They can change our lives. One word that can strike fear in the strongest among us is 'malignant'. Malignant in the context of our personal health is one word that we never want to hear. But what about in the context of how we live our lives?

If we are living malignantly we are disposed to causing harm or suffering. Our actions are threatening to life, as in rampant species extinctions. We may not be doing this knowingly, and our economic system definitely encourages such behaviour, but the results are the same. Such lifestyles threaten our well being, as well as the well being of our brothers and sisters around the world.

Regular lifestyles and ways of doing business are characterized by uncontrolled growth that have dangerous, harmful effects. What I am striving for is to reduce my negative effects by living benignly.

Benign is a powerfully positive word, as well as a powerfully beneficial way to live. Rather than be compared to an unchecked, sinister cancerous growth, I would rather be thought of as a mild type of character that does not threaten the health or life of others and the planet.

I wish to cultivate a lifestyle that could be described as good, kindly, benevolent, tender, humane, gentle, and compassionate. 

Words are powerful, and these are the ones I wish others to think of when they see how I conduct my affairs.

February 23, 2011

Get In The Kitchen And Improve Your Health

"The relationship between a man and his food, is his relationship to the cosmos." - Wikipedia
 My tiny kitchen is the center of my home, and my favourite place to express creativity. It is where water, metal, heat, and simple ingredients come together to create food magic.

I love cooking, and I like having the time to do so at a leisurely and enjoyable pace. To do away with all conveniences, and enjoy the necessary steps in making real food from scratch.

I think of my kitchen as a laboratory, a place to experiment and make my medicine. Tasty, tasty, soul-satisfying medicine. When we eat real food, it prevents disease as well as helps us recover from illness. Vegetables and fruit are full of things that are certified good for you as shown by repeated studies.

Faux foods, on the other hand, are made in real laboratories by 'food' scientists. I don't eat these industrial food-like substances as they can make you ill, or kill you outright. This includes most fast foods, rich restaurant foods, and all highly processed foods. As Michael Pollan says, "If it is a plant, eat it. If was made in a plant, don't".

When home cooking was the norm we were thinner and healthier. Unfortunately, when life gets busy our diet is one of the first victims. From personal experience, it can be difficult to meet the demands of a full time job AND cook from scratch. We begin to compensate for our lack of time and energy by making do with convenient prepared foods and snacks. We rely on others to make food for us. We lose control.

The result of losing control? Sickness, disease, and dependence. The chronic obesity problem we are experiencing in North America right now. Break free of unhealthy foods, give yourself some time, and get back in the kitchen. After a while you will begin to develop rules and routines to streamline the process.

Some of  the rules and routines that have helped me are:
  1. Always keep a clean kitchen so that you are never deterred from cooking by a mountain of dishes in the sink, or a counter top too cluttered for food preparation. A clean kitchen is a kitchen that is always ready to go. Cooking should feel like fun.
  2. Make more than you need, then put your freezer to work. For me frozen foods that I have made myself are my "fast foods" that are easy and convenient for those times when I don't feel like cooking.
  3. When you go out bring food with you. I always travel with food from home so that I am not tempted by fast and processed foods if I get hungry. Nuts and raisins, a piece of fruit, a sandwich, cut vegetables, and other quick snacks will save you money and pounds.
Good food is good health. We should give it more thought, and more time. And when all is done, share your meal with a friend. Conviviality and healthfulness at its best.

February 21, 2011

No Mischief Monday

The Unknown Rebel: 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests

Wake up. 
Wake others up.
Know you are free.
Think for yourself.
Protect your rights.
Resist tyranny.
Live simply.

February 20, 2011

Spending Time Being

Where is the section for "Do Nothing"?

One of the best things about living simply is the increase in leisure time over the regular work schedule with 2 weeks off a year. Having a more relaxed schedule gives me time
to do things that are important to me, such as just being. This is a scary thing to do for most of us, and it was for me at first, too.

North Americans are not very good at doing nothing. In 2005 it was found that for all persons over age 15 there were 5.1 hours of leisure time on an average day. Fully half of that time is taken up watching TV. Check out the other categories above, but notice that there is no slice of the pie for "Do Nothing". We don't do nothing very well.

In our perpetual busy lives we are addicted to doing. We are programmed to be producing something at all times. Otherwise, we feel we are wasting our time. I am just as guilty as anyone - my default is doing, not being. But with more time, I am getting better at taking time for me to be.  

I am able to give myself being time, but can become impatient when I feel that nothing worthwhile is happening. But over the months something is happening, and I feel subtle and positive changes. 

Being time is very important. It nourishes and replenishes our energies so we can continue to give and do. I can feel how spending time not doing improves the time I spend doing. I am more able and energetic. More relaxed and unflappable in the face of life.

Being time is also a time to tap into our inner guidance and inspiration. It is a time to allow our intuition to help steer us through decision making in novel and creative ways. A time to regain our balance. 

Time spent in calm, quiet, and centeredness is never time wasted. Try it and do nothing. Be patient. Give yourself the gift of ceasing doing, even for a short while. Sometimes the best action to take is no action at all.

"To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual."
-- Oscar Wilde  

February 17, 2011

Time For A Consumer Counter-Revolution

"I want to talk to the fucking person that did this to me."

In an interview The Sex Pistols Sid Vicious said, "In the end I was the only one that had any anarchy left in him". More than likely, everyone else wandered off to go shopping, leaving Mr. Vicious a lone banner waver in the middle of an empty square. And now he ends up as an 'ultra-detailed', plastic imprisoned action figure mass marketed by unscrupulous opportunists for which nothing is sacred.

How could anyone do this to the rebellious soul that famously said, "Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don`t let them take you ALIVE"? He must be spitting in his grave.

Rampant commercialization aside, Vicious would be happy with other developments in the world today. Citizens are rising up to throw off the shackles of repressive conditions, and are expressing their yearning to be free. They have got the mean and greedy on the run, and are exerting the will of the people in a way that will not be ignored.

Sid would support us in taking our lives back from those that would exploit us for their own gain. He would be into doing away with debt slavery, and the concomitant wage slavery that the majority now see as "normal life".

For a long time we didn't know better - we were ignorant of the big picture. Or at least that used to be the case before the information age began. Now we do know better.

Now we know our flawed system funnels 24% of the wealth to the top 1%. We know that 20% of the population consumes 80% of the resources. We know that thousands of poor die every day from the lack of basic necessities. We know we are killing our planet.

Now that we know, how can this awareness not lead to change in how we live our lives? How can we continue to support this economic regime knowing that those above us are oppressing us as we oppress those below? Why aren't we "undermining their pompous authority and rejecting their moral standards" now that we know better? Whose side, exactly, are we on?

As the Sid-approved developments in the Middle East are showing us, it is time to shake up any system that preys on the many for the benefit of the few. This can be done peacefully by exerting our power, and living the lives and dreams we want to live. Not some scripted life as presented by the media, and as brought to you by faceless corporate entities.

Imagine the chaos and disruption that would happen if we all decided to live simple, satisfying lives that were cooperative in nature and did not entirely depend on the capitalist agenda of selfishness, greed, and infinite growth and desire. Collectively, our individual actions will change the world.

"Simplicity, clarity, singleness: these are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy."
- Richard Halloway 

February 14, 2011

Make Today Commercial-Free: Just Give Love

If you have it,
you don't need anything else.
If you don't have it,
it doesn't matter much
what else you have.

 Beware of the chocolate.

February 13, 2011

Adaptability - Change Is Good

The human species is wonderfully adaptable. We have learned to live in a variety of climates, and under a huge range of cultures and conditions. We are able to survive the harshest, most brutal conditions, and come out on the other side stronger. When we have a higher purpose in mind, we find the strength to deal with anything.

Since we have been going harder on the low-impact life, Linda and I have instigated many changes, and others have been imposed on us (as tends to happen in life). In our pursuit to lower our ecological footprint, and live our dream we have had to remain flexible and open-minded. Change has been our constant companion, and we have been developing our adaptability tool kit.

Some of the larger changes in recent years that come to mind are:

  • moved from a large city to a small town
  • quit full-time work for part-time, contract, and casual work
  • reduced driving and other travel by 90%
  • became alcohol-free
  • switched from caffeinated coffee, to de-caf coffee, and recently to green tea
  • moved from a 1500 sq.ft. home to a 500 sq.ft. home
  • reduced our possessions by 70%
  • cut our budget by 50%
  • and in the biggest change of all, Linda has gone from being able to walk to using a wheelchair as her multiple sclerosis progresses
All of these changes have involved a certain degree of stress and discomfort. But what has amazed me is how we have happily managed to absorb everything into our lives like a big blob of protoplasm.

Not only have we managed these shifts in lifestyle, but after overcoming the initial fear and resistance, we have also come to enjoy them. They are exciting challenges - learning experiences - tests, if you will, of our natural human ability to adapt.

My dad always said, "Just living is a full-time job", and he was right. We have found that when you make your life your work, and continual improvement your goal, you can adapt to anything. And it can be done with curiosity and joy.

If the human species has proven anything over hundreds of thousands of years it is that we are  survivors. When pushed to the brink we adapt.

But we can also choose to take on the challenge before we get to the edge and are pushed. Change and adapt now while it is a choice rather than wait until it is a necessary requirement forced upon you by rapidly morphing conditions. That way you can enjoy it more, and feel good about being proactive rather than reactive.

February 11, 2011

The Power Of The People

Happy, free, victorious Egyptians feeling the power of the people
As I write this I am watching Al Jazeera and listening to the celebratory roar of the victorious crowd massed in Liberation Square in Cairo, Egypt. The power of the people, as it always eventually does, has freed the citizens. Decades of Mubarak's dictatorial rule have ended. Peaceful protest has overcome the greedy and the mean.

This gives me great hope that billions of people enduring their own hardships after centuries of predation by the greedy will also one day soon be victorious. On a planet where 80% of the resources are consumed by 20% of the population, freedom for all is difficult to attain. But, as we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt in recent days, it does not take long for the power to shift.

The people were protesting rising food prices, rampant unemployment, oppression of human rights, and corruption. Yikes, this sounds like complaints made by literally billions of people worldwide. They will be buoyed by the success in the Middle East.

The greedy and the mean all over the globe are trembling in their snake skin boots - will they be next to go? There are more of us than there are of them. We have the power.

February 10, 2011

Child-like Simplicity

When I was a kid, it struck me as odd that adults would frequently ask what I "wanted to be when I grew up".

"Uh," I would think, "do I really need to declare that now? At age 8?" I wish I knew about J. Krishnamurti when I was in grade one. He said, "We all want to be famous people, and the moment we want to be something we are no longer free." If I could have quoted that when the teacher asked me 'what I wanted to be when I grew up' I could have expressed what I was feeling inside.

I could have used a good quote back then when I found out that there were 'right' and 'wrong' answers to the Big Question. Anyone answering in the wrong way would elicit peals of laughter from fellow students, and often the teacher as well. Laughable answers would be anything out of the mainstream. If I had yelled out, "I just want to be free," that probably would have done it.

What I wondered though, was what was wrong with what I already was - happy, contented, and free. That was what I wanted to be when I grew up.

We shouldn't ask kids to limit their boundless creativity, to needlessly complicate the simple the beautiful, and the innocent. We can choose to let them be free. To let them enjoy being what they already are.

If we allow our children to keep it simple, all the other stuff will resolve itself without worry. And if we are open to it, along the way the children will help us to understand life once again. They are models of simplicity.
"If my heart can become pure and simple like that of a child, I think there probably can be no greater happiness than this."   - Kitaro Nishida 

February 8, 2011

Simple Living Saves Lives

Simple living is an ancient method of living within the limits of natural systems. Across the eons, people have responded to social, economic, and environmental challenges through lifestyles of sufficiency rather than surfeit.

The modern globalized system of capitalism (only one of many ways of allocating resources) is built on over-consumption and infinite growth. It funnels wealth to a small group of individuals and families at the top, while ignoring the deaths of thousands of unfortunates every day. Many would say that the system not only ignores the deaths of the less fortunate, but actually causes them.

Voluntarily cutting our consumption means that commodities such as water, forest, oceans, topsoil, and the atmosphere will be there for the less fortunate, as well as our children and grandchildren.

Making changes that reduce our ecological footprint is one of the most important things we can do to save lives today, and create a sustainable structure for the future. Simple living (or voluntary simplicity) is a lifestyle that many are increasingly turning to as a way of creating a better, more balanced and equitable life, and world.

Duane Elgin, simple living guru, wrote the classic book Voluntary Simplicity in 1981. He continues to teach others of the benefits of living simply, and offers the following categories as he sees them. Mr. Elgin points out that there may be overlap between all of the choices described.

1. Choiceful Simplicity: Simplicity means choosing our unique path through life consciously, deliberately, and of our own accord.  This path emphasizes the challenges of freedom over the comfort of consumerism.

2. Compassionate Simplicity: Simplicity means to feel such a strong sense of kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” Compassionate simplicity is a path of cooperation and fairness that seeks a future of mutually assured development for all.

3. Ecological Simplicity: Simplicity means to choose ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and that reduce our ecological impact. A natural simplicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the non-human realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well the human.

4. Economic Simplicity: Simplicity means there are many forms of “right livelihood” in the rapidly growing market for healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds—from home-building materials and energy systems to foods and transportation. 

5. Elegant Simplicity: Simplicity means that the way we live our lives represents a work of unfolding artistry. Gandhi said, “My life is my message.”  In this spirit, an elegant simplicity is an understated, organic aesthetic that contrasts with the excess of consumerist lifestyles.  Drawing from influences ranging from Zen to the Quakers, simplicity is a path of beauty that celebrates natural materials and clean, functional expressions.

6. Family Simplicity: Simplicity means that the balanced lives of children and families are of highest priority and that it is important not to get sidetracked by our consumer society.

7. Frugal Simplicity: Frugality and careful financial management bring increased financial freedom and the opportunity to more consciously choose our path through life.  Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the Earth and frees resources for others.

8. Political Simplicity: Simplicity means organizing our collective lives in ways that enable us to live more lightly and sustainably on the Earth which, in turn, involves changes in nearly every area of public life—from transportation and education to the design of our homes, cities, and workplaces. Political simplicity is a politics of conversation and community that builds from local, face-to-face connections to networks of relationships spanning the globe.

9. Soulful Simplicity: Simplicity means to approach life as a meditation and to cultivate our experience of intimate connection with all that exists. By living simply, we can more directly awaken to the living universe that surrounds and sustains us, moment by moment.

10. Uncluttered Simplicity: Simplicity means taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented.  An uncluttered simplicity means cutting back on trivial distractions, both material and non-material, and focusing on the essentials—whatever those may be for each of our unique lives.  As Plato wrote, “In order to seek one’s own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life.”

- adapted from: Duane Elgin

Voluntary simplicity, in all its richness, offers us a framework to effectively instigate change that can save lives.

February 5, 2011

NBA Research Center: Perfecting The Water Wipe

Toilet paper was invented in China in the 14th century. It was invented for royalty.

Deep in the bowels of the NBA Research Center we are always looking for new ways of reducing our ecological footprint. The goal is to reduce our consumption and live a leaner, freer, more fulfilling life while on a modest budget. Nothing is sacred in our quest - all habits, tendencies, ruts, routines, conveniences, and cultural programs are fair game for assessment, and possible change.

This includes one of the most sacred and cherished of North American routines - wiping with super soft, ultra pampered, royal plush, silky smooth toilet paper. Since December I have thrown on the white lab coat, and have been conducting tests on the paper-less wipe.

But before I share some of my initial findings, a little background.

In the US - largest user of toilet paper in the world - less than 2% of sales are for 100% post consumer recycled. There is a very good reason for this. According to James Malone, a tissue-pusher for Georgia Pacific, customers “demand soft and comfortable. Recycled fiber cannot do it." Well, there you go.

Apparently anything less than 4-adjective toilet paper gives the user an aggressive form of Recycled Fiberitis Syndrome. It first gives the sufferer a nasty rash, then the butt hole falls right off. It looks like all those trees being killed are amply justified.

Kidding aside, I don't think that any kind of forest should ever be made into toilet paper. Our obsession with fluffy bum wipe has serious environmental consequences. Millions of trees are harvested annually to make toilet tissue, including old growth forests in Canada. The tissue pusher is right though - the softest paper comes from standing trees, and that is increasingly what consumers are demanding.

Other countries are far less picky about toilet tissue. In many European nations, a rough sheet of paper is deemed sufficient. Other countries are also more willing to use toilet tissue made from recycled paper. In Europe and Latin America, products with recycled content make up over 20 percent of the market according to environmentalists.

And then you have the billions of humans that don't use toilet paper at all. And that is where my research comes in. This is what I have found so far:

  1. This method is better adapted to warm environments where you can dry off more quickly.
  2. It seems more convenient to use tp, and I often stop myself from reaching for it.
  3. It may take time to overcome cultural programming that teaches us to never, ever, ever touch any part of our body directly 'down there'.
  4. You have to touch poo. At least it's your own poo.
  5. It seems that washing hands after toileting is optional for some. When you use the water wipe, washing hands after with soap and hot water is critical. (It is if you wipe with paper, too.)
  6. Playing guitar does not help. My fingers may be stronger, but my left wiping fingers are heavily calloused, reducing sensitivity.
  7. Your less informed friends may not want to shake your hand for a while.
  8. Water and fingers may go astray when you are first getting used to this method. Accuracy improves with practice.
  1. You get to know your body better.
  2. Using water is cleaner than just smearing stuff around. Water eliminates pesky Klingons around Uranus.
  3. Not buying toilet paper reduces the amount of shit the world has to deal with overall (corporate abuse of the environment and workers, for example). We can choose not to support this abuse by opting out.
  4. If you love trees you can quit insulting them by dragging their dead, bleached carcasses across your bum. Plus, paper is way scratchier than water - even the ultra-super-wickedly soft variety.
  5. You can feel the solidarity of billions of fellow humans that also wipe with water.
  6. It will give you the satisfaction of taking action toward a lower footprint, more sustainable lifestyle.
  7. You can always use it as a conversation starter (or stopper) at the water cooler.
  8. It is unconventional, and doing it puts you in an exclusive category of about 0.000001% of the North American population.

February 4, 2011

Beanalicious Bean Broth Gravy Recipe

I don't care what it's been, what is it now?

When my dining partner and I started moving away from a meat-based diet, gravy dropped off the menu. But we like gravy. Yummy, yummy gravy. It is near the top of the list of comfort foods, and is an essential part of the northern winter diet required for putting on an insulating layer of fat. Besides, how else can you eat all those potatoes down in the root cellar?

For minimal meatists and those aspiring to reduce their foodprint, this gravy is not based on a dead bird or hunk of cow, but on the cooking liquid from preparing dry beans. Because of this it is also a very frugal menu item as it uses a resource that more often than not gets wasted.

Bean cooking liquid, bean broth, or bean 'juice' as we appetizingly call it, is rich in nutrients. When made into a sauce it is beanalicious. The following recipe is based on one I found in Laurel's Kitchen for Soy Gravy.

Although that recipe uses soy beans, I have made bean gravy using the broth from cooking several different kinds of beans. Soy broth makes excellent gravy, but so does the juice from pinto beans, kidney beans, white beans, and black beans. Garbanzo bean (chick pea) broth is not recommended for gravy.

Bean Gravy Recipe


1/4  cup        oil
1      small     onion diced small
1      clove     garlic crushed
1/4  cup        whole wheat flour
2      cups      bean cooking liquid
2      tsp        soy sauce or Bragg
pinch            one or more seasonings: chili powder, thyme,     black pepper, salt

  1. Preheat a saucepan or cast iron fry pan over medium-high heat. If you wish, toast flour in the dry pan for a couple of minutes, remove then set aside. Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil for about 5 minutes. Stir the flour into the onions and cook for two minutes. 
  2. Add the bean broth and whisk to mix everything to a smooth consistency. 
  3. Add soy sauce/Bragg and other seasonings to taste.
  4. Cook on low heat for about 20 minutes to deepen flavours.
  5. Cook to desired consistency (add a bit of water if too thick).
Serving Suggestions

As mentioned previously, bean gravy is made for mashed potatoes. We also use it for other dishes. Add corn to the gravy and have it over a bowl of brown rice. Thicken gravy and serve it over whole wheat toast. It is excellent served over split home made cheese scones.

February 2, 2011

If You Aren't Ready For Revolution, You Aren't Paying Attention

Mr. Mubarek - meet Mr. Shoe

 As I watch hundreds of thousands of Egyptians take to the streets of Cairo in celebration of their glorious revolution, I hope for a positive outcome. At the same time, I wonder when our own revolution will begin.

If you don't think we have anything to revolt against, you haven't been paying attention. Either that or you could be part of that tiny, exclusive club for which the status quo is working just fine. Maybe you are "pulling a Mubarek" and you know what the right thing to do is, but refuse to face reality and do it. It is time for the denial to end.

Hosni Mubarek, ex-dictator of Egypt, represents an abusive, exploitive, old order that flourished under the opacity and privacy of our pre-hyperconnected world. Nowadays it is much harder to hide your sins with things like cell phone cameras, the Internet, Twitter, and Julian Assange bringing bright lights to the previously dim corners of ruthless dictatorships and board rooms alike.

We are beginning to see what was previously hidden, and we are having difficulty making sense out of it due to the enormity of the problems unveiled. With this information, the Middle East, including the Egyptian people, have taken action against the abuse and neglect of repressive regimes. And, so far, they are experiencing the surge of energy one gets while being engaged in positive historical change that ushers in a better world. We can learn something from these brave and determined protesters demanding a more just society.

Citizens of consumer nations have also been arming themselves with the floodlights of knowledge, and although they are more like flashlights currently, momentum is building. It is plain who is really responsible for recent flirtations with total economic collapse and the resulting hardship. It is not the unemployed, or those on welfare, or immigrants. It is not education or health care budgets.

The people are waking up to the decades of lies and self-serving shenanigans of the corporate elites and the governments that enable them. What will we do with what we have learned?

Will we demand positive change, like the good and persistent people of the Middle East? Or are we not uncomfortable enough yet? Do we not feel exploited enough? An empty tummy can be quite the motivational factor. Or an empty bank account. Or an empty gas tank. Or empty promises.

If we were marching on the central square, what would your protest sign say?

February 1, 2011

Fighting Oppression - Gaining Liberation

Nawal El Saadawi

Nawal El Saadawi is an 80 Year Old Egyptian Freedom Fighter. She is an author and activist in a country where it is difficult to be both.
"They said, 'You are a savage and dangerous woman.' I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous."

See more here.