February 29, 2016

Need Not Greed

Unchecked greed is destroying our planet.

Greed is a problem that must be addressed. We have recognized this for a long time, but so far sating our greed has been too enticing.

The Great Dictator, a 1940 American political satire comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, scored by and starring Charlie Chaplin, cast its gaze on the problems created by the poison of greed.

"We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. 
In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. 
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.  
We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. 
More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost...."

Gandhi said something similar when he said, "Earth provides enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed."

Kindness and gentleness are the antidotes to greed. They can be used to cultivate contentment and quell the call of covetousness.

Everything changes when we are kind and gentle with ourselves, others, and the Earth. Then we see that there is enough for everyone. Life can be free and beautiful.

February 26, 2016

Release The Struggle

Our culture is obsessed with The Struggle. We struggle to keep up, to "be successful", to have the right job, the right things, the right vacations. It doesn't have to be that way.

It is commonly accepted belief that life is a struggle and that we must expend a great deal of effort to provide for our needs and our goals. Starter homes and the promise of ascending the social ladder keep us always wanting more, working for more.

Being content with a less materialistic life sets us free. When our needs are simple, the struggle is over.

Through the pursuit of simplicity my life has become less difficult. In the beginning this felt strange and unfamiliar. I was led to believe that life was hard when you were doing it right, and that is what I believed for a while.

While Linda and I were headed for a life of simplicity anyway, her health issues pushed us to accelerate our schedule. It was a blessing in disguise.

By 40 years old I was semi-retired and preparing for a time when I would need to take on a roll as Linda's full time caregiver (or "man-servant" as she likes to call me). Living simply was not only the best way to achieve our goals, it was the only way that we could see to make it work.

We quit our jobs and shifted our lives from ones of running the race with everyone else to ones focused on our well-being, as well as that of those around us and the planet. Wonderful things began to happen.

We slowed down. Our stress levels dropped. We slept better at night. Our days were filled with activities we chose. There were diet changes and deja vu. Silliness and synchronicity. Humour and health. Life was feeling less plastic and more perfect.

It was very satisfying to redefine what success meant to us. Things were feeling easier, even as Linda's health was demanding more of us.

When we limit our desires we can begin to release the struggle. We can give ourselves permission and allow life to become easier. Today there is no lack of challenging times and difficulty, but overall our life now follows a simple, natural and effortless flow.

February 24, 2016

The Seven Deadly Sins of Stuff

Several of the 7 Deadly Sins of Stuff are represented here.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Stuff

Greed: I want lots and lots of stuff. More stuff.

Envy: I like your stuff. I want your stuff.

Wrath: I’m going to wreck stuff. Maybe your stuff.

Lust: I want sexy stuff.

Gluttony: This is some tasty stuff. I want more.

Sloth: I don’t want to work for my stuff.

Pride: I am The Stuff, and have the best stuff. Your stuff sucks.

The seven deadly sins list was supposed to be a warning of common human failings. Many today treat it like a shopping list. Or a bucket list.

Here at the end of consumer capitalism we are waking from the stuff-induced stupor that has turned us into sinalicious zombie shoppers. Humanity is going through a painfully slow learning process, and we are relearning something we have known since we started comparing the square footage of our caves.

We know that the significance of a life can not be measured by the things you own or the size of your bank account. When it comes to summing up a life, those are the things that are by far the least important.

We will be judged by future generations not by what we said, but by how we lived and what was most important to us. Future folks will want to know how we treated each other and the environment. They will be looking for some evidence of integrity, honesty, compassion and a capacity for love.

I hope we don't disappoint them. If not, we have some serious work to do. Steering clear of the sins of stuff will go a long way toward redeeming ourselves.

February 22, 2016

Calorie Confusion

Most Westerners would benefit from eating fewer calories, and eating better food.

What if health experts are as wrong about how many calories we need as they are about our food pyramid and the types of foods that are best for us? I suspect that we have been scammed so that we eat not only the wrong foods, but also eat more food than we need.

How many calories does a person need to be healthy? It depends on the individual, and it depends on who you ask.

"Health authorities around the world find it hard to agree on how many calories their citizens should ideally consume. The US government says the average man requires 2,700 calories per day and the average woman 2,200, while the NHS (National Health Service), UK, says it should be 2,500 and 2,000 respectively. 
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nations says the average adult should consume no less than 1,800 calories per day."

Below are the caloric values of the three main components of the food we eat:

1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories
1 gram of protein contains 4 calories
1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.

A restricted caloric diet may slow aging and extend lifespan. It improves the health of a variety of species including yeast, earthworms, fish, rodents, dogs and rhesus monkeys. Why not humans too?

Scientists do not yet know if such results are applicable to us, but it is likely that eating fewer, better calories will yield health benefits.

February 19, 2016

Indoctrination or Freedom

Just another brick in the wall.

When reporters in 2007 told Doris Lessing that she had won the Nobel Prize for literature, she said, “I couldn’t care less.”

She did care deeply about being free.

"Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly," Lessing said, "throughout his or her school life is something like this:

"You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do.  
What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be.  
You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. 
Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements.  
Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society."

February 17, 2016

More Corn Tortillas

Next time we make corn tortillas we are having enchiladas.

After my last post I had a request for the corn tortillas recipe that I use. I have posted this previously, but it is a wonderful recipe to repost. We use these tortillas for rice and bean burritos, and veggie enchiladas, fajitas, and quesadillas. We also eat them plain hot off the cast iron fry pan.

My recipe is based on one from the only cook book we own - Laurel's Kitchen.

Corn Tortillas

11/2 cups       water
1      cup        cornmeal
3      tbsp       butter
1      tsp         salt
11/4 cups      flour

Heat water to boiling and add 1/2 the butter. Add cornmeal slowly stirring to keep from clumping up. Cook on very low heat for 3 minutes, take off heat, then add the remaining butter and mix. Set aside to cool.

When cornmeal has cooled, add a bit of flour at a time and stir into the cornmeal. At this time I add the salt. Keep adding flour until you have a soft dough. Knead in the bowl with your hands until it forms a ball.

Knead ball of dough on floured counter top for 5 minutes. Roll into a tube and cut 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and set aside. Cover with a tea towel.

Turn fry pan to medium high. With a rolling pin, roll dough flat to a diameter a bit smaller than your fry pan. Cook each tortilla for anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, then flip over and repeat. Do not overcook or tortillas will be brittle (good for tortilla chips if this happens). When tortilla starts getting brown spots it is time to take it out.

Place cooked tortillas between tea towels to keep them warm for serving. Left over tortillas can be frozen, but they are the best when fresh.

See our  refried bean recipe here.

February 15, 2016

The Warmth And Simplicity Of Home

Corn tortillas under construction.
"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."
- Thomas Moore

A great strategy for saving money (and one of the easiest) is to just stay home more. Big business hates that. They want you out and about, wallet in hand, looking for somewhere to spend your hard earned cash.

If you can't get people out of their houses, you can't get them to spend as much of their money. That must be why the term 'homebody' has such negative connotations.

The view is good from home.

A popular online dictionary defines homebody as "a person who likes to stay at home, especially one who is perceived as unadventurous." What?

Lots of good books to read.

Try living with an intelligent, witty, irritatingly logically consistent, humorous and always feisty woman with multiple sclerosis. Most adventurous I assure you. Or how about living without toilet paper? Or doing more with less?

Baking bread - an age old, soul-enhancing routine that transcends bodily nutrition.

Obviously one's sense of adventure is a matter of perspective, and whether you are drinking from the consumer/travel industry punch bowl or not. I think one can have a perfectly adventurous existence in the comfort of your own home. Without buying anything or going anywhere.

Learning to cook all your food from scratch is a majorly enjoyable adventure.

The definition of homebody I prefer is "a person that enjoys the warmth and simplicity of home". It's not that it is so bad "out there", but that it is so good right here at home. If someone wants to sell me something it is going to have to be better than this.

And not much stuff for sale is better than this, I have found.

February 12, 2016

Careers For A Post-Industrial World

When cars are no longer running we will need more horses and farriers.

I am currently what we call retired, although it doesn't always feel like that leisure time picture painted by investment advertisements. I prefer to think that I am still working hard and productively contributing as a caregiver here at home.

If I were just starting out, or had young children planning for the future, I would be considering preparing for a post-industrial, post-oil world. Regardless, I am still preparing for simpler times.

Never mind high tech - the future is going to be all about low tech ways that worked in the past, and still work now. Good bye computer engineer, hello dip pen/ink maker.

I tried to think of a few other jobs that forward thinkers might consider:

  • ice seller
  • stable hand
  • carpenter
  • baker
  • blacksmith
  • cook
  • farmer
  • crafter
  • artist 
  • musician (unplugged)
  • teacher
  • soap maker
  • chimney sweep
  • child care worker
  • couturier
  • farrier
  • herbalist/healer

It has only been about 300 years that our society has been structured in the way it is now. Not only is consumerism a very recent invention, so is capitalism and seemingly unlimited, cheap energy. Not so long ago we got along just fine without plastic crap, instant travel and communication, and just about everything else we think we would die without.

And we will again.

Some may think that such a change will be awful, but it will have its benefits and charms. Just ask the chimney sweep.

"Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey
Chim chim cher-ee!
A sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be."

You might not live long enough to find out what the post-industrial world looks like, but your kids or grand kids might. On the other hand, it might come sooner than anyone expects.

What would you do for a career in a post-industrial world? 

February 10, 2016

Breakfast Surreal

Cold breakfast cereals were one of the first "convenience foods" on the market. They also represent one of the most highly profitable sectors in the processed food industry. But is eating such cereals any better for you than eating the cardboard box in which they come?

One study in the 1960s fed cereal to one group of mice, and the shredded box to another group. The cereal-fed mice did not do as well as those dining on the boxboard.

The only way that the wave of cold cereals of questionable nutritional value could take over the first meal of the day was through an intense advertising campaign that has been bombarding us since the 1930s.

And sugar. Lots of sugar. And salt. And fat. All the not-so-secret ingredients of the processed food industry.

Over the past few years, thankfully, breakfast has been the meal that has morphed the most. Health-minded diners are looking at the first meal of the day differently. Cold breakfast cereal sales are down.

Processed food pushers are panicking, and scrambling to make their sugar-laden ingredients more palatable to shoppers that can no longer stand to wandering down surreal cereal aisles in grocery stores that consist of a whole wall of awful choices.

GMO ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup, high amounts of salt, saturated fat, and artificial additives are often lurking in cereal bowls. The extruding process that makes cold cereals uses heat and pressure that destroy most of the nutrients of the ingredients.

Nutrients need to be artificially introduced later in these industrial products in order to give them any value at all, besides increasing corporate profits. A few pennies worth of corn or wheat gets turned into a product that costs several dollars. Our health is certainly not profiting.

What we can profit from is making breakfast less bizarre and get back to real food. A first meal of the day that makes sense consists of whole foods that are nutrient dense. Choices include eggs, smoothies, juice, whole wheat bread, oatmeal or "porridge" and dairy foods, depending on what kind of diet you are on.

Cold cereals are crap. Even if they are organic. But if that is all you have in the cupboard right now, you could always throw the cereal in the compost and eat the box.

February 8, 2016

Not All R's Are Created Equal

A creative example of repurposing a common item that might otherwise go to the landfill.

In the R's scheme we have been emphasizing the wrong approaches. Recycle is not always the best way to go, and can end up being a well-meaning and wasteful activity. Often it is used as an excuse to continue high consumption ways, but recycling will never make up for over-consumption.

When school children are taught the "3 R's" they are taught an consumption-friendly list - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But there are other R's that are more effective, but not usually taught.

I have tried to put a few of the other R's in order starting with the most effective.

  1. Rethink - one of the most important R's which asks us to consider all aspects of our lives and identify where we can be more earth friendly. 
  2. Refuse - my favourite of all of them. Everything gets better if we refuse the myths of consumerism and "the good life", and quit buying things we don't need.
  3. Reduce - use less of the things that you buy.
  4. Reuse - using things over and over and over. 
  5. Repair - fix the things you buy so they can be used longer. Don't buy things that can't be repaired, or are designed to break down prematurely.
  6. Repurpose - finding new ways to use old things, like a toilet seat door on the chicken coop.
  7. Recycle - aluminum, steel, plastic and glass, are the most efficient to recycle. 

When it comes to the R's, not all are created equal. For example, it is more effective to refuse to buy bottled water than it is to buy it and recycle the plastic containers. We use a reusable stainless steel water bottle filled with tap water.

It is too bad that recycle is the most commonly known environmental R word. It is time to move on to the other, more effective R's, and perhaps think up a few more. I propose Reality, as in "is expecting infinite consumption on a finite planet consistent with Reality?" 

February 5, 2016

How Voluntary Simplicity Has Changed - Duane Elgin

Duane Elgin authored one of the pioneering books on voluntary simplicity. First published in 1981, Voluntary Simplicity: Toward A Way Of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich has gone on to become a classic.

In his book Elgin said that by embracing, either partially or totally, the tenets of voluntary simplicity -- frugal consumption, ecological awareness, and personal growth -- people can change their lives. And in the process, he says, they have the power to change the world.

More recently the author said, "There has been a seismic shift in public interest in simpler, more sustainable ways of living since the first edition of this book." He went on to list 6 things he thought different about the simple living world 35 years after his book came out.

1. The public conversation about simplicity is shifting from complacency to urgency. 
2. As people’s sense of urgency has grown, interest in sustainable ways of living has soared, and simplicity has moved from the margins of society to the mainstream. 
3. Public understanding of simplicity has evolved from fantasy stereotypes to realistic examples and archetypes. 
4. Simplicity has moved from being regarded as a path of regress to being seen as a path to a new kind of progress and social vitality. 
5. There has been a dramatic expansion in the scope of simplicity as it has moved from a personal issue to a consideration vital to our collective future.  
6. Over the decades, simplicity is increasingly being defined by what it is for (connecting with and caring for life) instead of what it is against (destructive consumerism).

I agree that things have changed over the decades, but they sure aren't changing fast enough. There are still many, if offered the choice between voluntarily simplicity or extinction, would choose extinction if it meant they could keep their high-consumption lifestyles right to the end.

However, that doesn't mean that things can't change quickly at some point in the future. When a tipping point is reached, things can speed up quickly. 

Avoid the rush - simplify now, and be ready to change the world.

February 3, 2016

Shoe Repair Is Green

If there is one job I would think obsolete it would be shoe repair, or cobbler. Not that they don't perform valuable work, but that most people don't see their services as necessary any more.

Does anyone, besides myself, actually repair shoes these days? Or are shoes like everything else and shoesumers find it cheaper and easier just to throw out worn or damaged shoes and buy brand new replacements?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2010 and 2020 the number of cobblers will decrease by a whopping 53 percent. It appears that cheap, disposable shoes are the downfall of the trade.

However, as soon as a recession hits, they say, workers in the shoe repair industry may actually encounter a spike in business caused by wallet-tightening consumers wishing to have their shoes repaired instead of buying brand new.

So these "make it last" repair personal persist in our wasteful world, although in a somewhat diminished state compared to the pre-disposable days. No doubt they will, if are any left by then, regain their former glory in a post-consumer, post-disposable, post industrial world.

If TV and movies reflected the real world there would definitely be cobblers in every zombie apocalypse story. It would be very hard for the still living to run away from the undead with damaged footwear. Cobblers would be kings!

High heels would finally go extinct, because you can't run away with them, damaged or not. Sensible, comfortable and fast shoes would rule, and fashion would drool.

"Your anti-zombie trainers will be fixed next Thursday. Don't forget your ticket... and something to barter."
Cobblers tools

In the pre-zombie world you can still find cobblers in most large cities, but may not have such a service in smaller population centres. Luckily, many shoe repairs can be done right at home. And you don't have to wait until something is chasing you to do it.

A tube of shoe goo will go a long way to reattaching soles or any loose bits. You can use this amazing substance to build up worn heels, plug a hole, and waterproof seams.

With a few simple tools and gear, as well as a good dose of patience, one can do more extensive repairs.

Websites, like the Odd Shoes Blog can help with most repairs. This same website also has information about what you can do with your old shoes after you are done with them. Your old footwear might be donated to someone without shoes, or they could be recycled into playground surfaces or padding to go under basketball courts.

If you are planning to go green and save money, the services of a lonely cobbler or a bit of home shoe repair might be for you. If you are planning on a post-industrial career path, there still might be time to apprentice with a master cobbler while there are still a few around.

February 1, 2016

Nature Is Into You

I have loved being in nature for as long as I can remember. I measure my success by how much time I  spend in wild places untouched by the heavy hand of civilization. My relationship with nature has been a passionate, life long affair.

I have had people tell me, "I'm just not that into nature." For a while I didn't know what to say, but I think I have figured it out.

From now on my reply is going to be, "You are lucky that Nature is into you."

So-called 'ecosystem services', otherwise known as 'the gifts of Mother Nature', have been carefully calculated in monetary terms for those who fail to see the beauty and inherent rights of nature to exist over and above what's in it for us.

Seen from the perspective of the bottom line, it is obvious that there would be no economy without nature and the ecosystem services it provides. Anyone saying it is either the environment or the economy should be told that we are voting for the environment.

The numbers don't lie.

"The services of ecological systems and the natural capital stocks that produce them are critical to the functioning of the Earth's life-support system. They contribute to human welfare, both directly and indirectly, and therefore represent part of the total economic value of the planet. 
We have estimated the current economic value of 17 ecosystem services for 16 biomes, based on published studies and a few original calculations. For the entire biosphere, the value (most of which is outside the market) is estimated to be in the range of US$16-54 trillion (1012) per year, with an average of US$33 trillion per year. 
Because of the nature of the uncertainties, this must be considered a minimum estimate. Global gross national product total is around US$18 trillion per year."    - source

I am so into Nature, and I am glad that she is into me. We have been very happy together. She has taught me everything I know, and to acknowledge this fact, I try to do everything I can to help her out.

We are lucky that Nature is into us all, whether we know it or acknowledge it or not. We should try and keep it that way.