July 30, 2017

Things Are Falling Into Place

Everything seems to be falling apart. Nothing is working the way it should, and the future looks bleak. But what if current conditions are necessary pre-cursors to the changes that we wish to see?

More than likely it will take something of the magnitude of a political Fukushima, like the threat of fascism or neo-feudalism, to shock citizens into much-needed action.

Therefore, the current most powerful man in the world might be an unpleasant, but necessary, bit of fire starter under the complacent tinder that has built up over the decades of inaction on the part of the people.

Even with the MSM trying to scrub the news of any real meaning, some truths manage to sneak through occasionally, and more and more people are starting to take notice. For those that are paying attention, it is evident that things are crumbling.

At the same time, things are falling into place.

Personally, locally, nationally and globally an awareness of the need for change is exploding. Don't look for government or corporate leadership here - this change, like all lasting change for good, comes from the people. And it is happening.

The citizens of Earth bear a terrific responsibility. Now is the time to accept it and move forward with passion and collective action.

Are things falling apart, or are things falling into place?

Time will tell.

July 27, 2017

Cathedrals of Consumerism Losing Their Congregations

Is this the beginning of the end of consumerism?

I never did like shopping malls much. Therefore, now that they are an endangered species, I am not mourning, despite having a twinge of nostalgia when I think about them.

"Corridor of nothing."

When I was a young dungaree-wearing hooligan, my friends and I would congregate at the new mall in my hometown for "something to do". But then, as now, I was not buying anything. It was more about the social aspect, and staying one step ahead of mall security.

 “Two million square feet of echo.”

Because malls were for shopping, not loitering. Not buying anything? Get out. What a difference a few decades make - now hardly anyone is buying anything at the mall.

Besides nostalgia, I find malls fascinating from a ghost town perspective. There is something to be learned from our futile failed experiments, including this one, that started with the first mall in the 1950s. I consider it a good thing that our cathedrals of consumerism are finally losing their congregations.

"Almost one-fifth of the nation’s enclosed malls have vacancy rates considered troubling by real estate experts — 10 percent or greater. Over 3 percent of malls are considered to be dying — with 40 percent vacancies or higher. That is up from less than 1 percent in 2006." - NYT 

I wish the demise of the mall was because we have decided that overconsumption is so, like, 80s, and we are moving on to a more ecologically aware way of living. Maybe it is. We are going through monumental changes right now when it comes to shopping and our relationship with materialism. We know that the priests of commerce lied, and that salvation can not be bought at the mall. Or anywhere else.

“There’s no customers, but they have a customer-service desk”

Are shopping malls endangered because their parents, consumerism and institutionalized greed, are themselves endangered species? Is humanity, dare I say, evolving into an eco-consciousness the likes of which we have not experienced for a very long time? Dream big, I say.

Goodbye, malls. I won't miss you, or any of that stuff that I didn't buy. Don't worry, it's not you, it's us.

A report issued by Credit Suisse in June predicted that 20 to 25 percent of the more than 1,000 existing enclosed malls in America will close in the next five years.

July 23, 2017


Warning: consumerism will not lead to enlightenment.

I am having a bit of a Zen moment lately here on NBA. My last post on Zen Kitties elicited this response from Sophie:

"I wish I had read this wonderful post BEFORE I cleaned the cats' litter box! This gave me a much-needed laugh today."

Reading Sophie's comment led me to think more about Zen and laughter.

Often Linda gives me cause to spontaneously erupt in a belly laugh. She is a very witty person with a wicked sense of humour, one reason I love her so. She is my laughter guru.

In these moments it feels like a window on the Infinite has been thrown open. A brief moment of enlightenment, ala Sosan, the third Chinese patriarch of Zen. He would "awaken" his students with unexpected loud noises, but it seems to me that anything jarring that surprises you could put one in a receptive state.

For me, that is stealth humour where I am caught unaware, and am laughing joyously before I even know I am laughing. In that space I am grounded, centred and present.

In that moment I am one with Linda, with humour, with my environment, and with a very delightful (and often funny) Universe. Even if only for a brief moment, it feels wonderful with all barriers and separations dissolved.

I hope this blog can keep Sophie, and all NBA readers, laughing from time to time with zingers that come out of nowhere.

Clang! There it is - en-laughter-ment.

Other things that I have found that lead me to moments of clarity include the practices of: love, compassion, humility, forgiveness, making music, helping others, and living simply. I wish to share those here as well.

And all the while laughter, as we progress together. Ha, ha, ha. Ho, ho, ho. Hee, hee, hee. You can not possibly have too much laughter.

July 19, 2017

Kitty Mandalas

“You suffer because things are impermanent and you think they are permanent.” 
- Thich Nhat Hanh

I will meditate on this, the next time I wipe my garden clean of kitty "art". Every experience can be seen as an opportunity for learning and growing, if only we are patient, compassionate, and open-minded.

I will call it, "Zen and The Art Of Garden Maintenance".

July 18, 2017

My Empire Of Rocky Soil Under Attack

Our first ever garlic is looking good.

This is it - my summer domain, my playpen, my 8X16 Empire of Rocky Soil. And, as it turns out, my giant litter box.

In the spring, while seeds of peas and beans and acorn squash and such were germinating, what I mostly harvested from my vast track of land, was kale from a second year plant (they are biannual), and cat poop.

Acorn squash flowers are big and bold.

Every morning I went out to collect some kale for a green smoothie (not a brown smoothie), I would also find a smelly gift from a neighbourhood feline. Maybe it was a bobcat, which are common in Nova Scotia, but rarely seen. Either way, poop is poop, and it does not belong where I am growing things to ingest.

While cat droppings contain nitrogen, phosphate and potash, which are all primary ingredients of organic fertilizers, they also contain organisms such as the toxoplasmosis protozoa, and that can make you sick. They are little toxic bombs, and they have to go.

Pole beans are climbing the tripod I made out of sticks from the forest.

I had to defend my borders. I crisscrossed sticks between the seedlings. I kept the soil wet. After reading that cats don't like strong smells where they do their business, I spread bits of orange peel. I didn't want to go to the nuclear option of sitting out all night with a spray bottle of ice cold water. Or giant cymbals.

It won't be long before fresh peas are on the menu.

The deposits dropped in number, but still continued, as did my ritual of cutting kale, then searching for land mines. What did work, in the end, was having the garden fill in. The cat (or cats) have been crowded out, and moved on to a better box somewhere else.

Beans are just flowering now.

Now I wait for the next interlopers, perhaps some hungry caterpillars, or cucumber beetles, or powdery mildew. While the cats have given me a chance to pause for a while, and let my defences down, I must stay alert in order to (organically) guard the food growing in my little rocky domain.

July 14, 2017

Frugal Living vs Extreme Frugal Living

Frugal living - making beans on the stove top. Extreme frugal living - making beans in a heatless cooker.

One search phrase that leads many readers to this blog is "extreme frugal living". I am not sure that is what I am doing here, but it is alright with me to be associated with such a concept. I am happy to have visitors that are looking to become more efficient in their use of Earth's gifts.

It is not surprising to me - everything has to be "extreme" these days in order to capture people's attention. The unwritten motto is, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing to the extreme". So you get extreme pretty much anything.

I am not sure what the exact difference is between frugal living and extreme frugal living, except the later must somehow be more frugal than the former. Maybe it is an ego/competition thing.

"I am frugaler than you are."

"No way, dude. I am the frugalist."

Frugality kind of seems like being pregnant. Either you are, or you aren't. However, it is hard to fault someone for wanting to continually improve their practice of living more lightly on this planet.

In trying to understand what separates the merely frugal from the more extreme variety, I share a few ideas that came to mind.

Frugal living is cutting your own hair.

Extreme frugal living is cutting your wife's hair.

Frugal living is buying discounted food.

Extreme frugal living is dumpster diving.

Frugal living is biking everywhere.

Extreme frugal living is walking everywhere (or deciding that there is nowhere to go because you are already where you need to be).

Frugal living is sleeping in a van.

Extreme frugal living is sleeping in a box car.

Frugal living is wearing the same clothes for a year.

Extreme frugal living is wearing the same cloths till they are threadbare, then making paper out of them.

Is it frugal living, or extreme frugal living? Or just being sensible? It depends on who you ask. Plus, what used to be the way we did things has become the new frugal as we adopt increasingly luxurious ways of living.

Darning socks? Once common, now frugal. Or even extremely frugal.

Either way, the more careful we are about spending money or using resources when not needed, the better it is for everyone.

July 12, 2017

Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau

"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."   
- Henry David Thoreau

If you are interested in voluntary simplicity, chances are you have been influenced by, or at least know of, Henry David Thoreau. While he was born on this day 200 years ago, his anti-materialist/pro-nature philosophy is more important today than ever before.

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment."  - H.D.T.

Thoreau's writings inspired me at an important time of my life. As a young man just starting out, his liberating outlook encouraged me to explore alternative ways of living and being. In him I found a friend in the struggle to come to terms with a set of basic questions that no one else seemed that concerned about.

"Wealth is the ability to fully experience life." - H.D.T. 

While those around me thought they knew "what to do" in life, I thought the most important questions should be asked before deciding what direction one should take.

How best to earn a living? 

How much time should I spend at it? 

How much do I need to live well and to be free? 

Eventually, Thoreau's words moved me to actively search for my own version of the cabin, and lifestyle, of Walden Pond. He assured me that marching to my own drummer was the thing to do, and I have been dancing to that unique beat ever since. What a path it has lead me down.

"Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around." 
- H.D.T.

Today, Linda and I have christened our new Nova Scotia home our "Cabin on Acacia Brook", even though it is neither a cabin, nor is it directly on the brook (which is across the field and down a forested slope).

"This world is but a canvas to our imagination." - H.D.T.

But it is as close as we have come yet to our ideal simple living arrangement where we can live out our most precious hopes and dreams.

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." 
- H.D.T.

So, today I commemorate the powerful influence that Thoreau's words, ideas, and philosophy have had, and will continue to have, on the world, and in my own life. Thanks, Hank. I hear your drum beat.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." - H.D.T.

July 10, 2017

10 Ways To Have A Shortened Lifespan

Can you tell me which one tried to kill you?

How long do you want to live? If things continue the way they are, we can expect the average life span to stop increasing as it has for the past few decades, and begin to contract.

For those that have no ambitions in the area of longevity I offer the following guidelines. I call it the "Here For a Good Time, Not a Long Time" plan, also known as the "Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away" school of thought. It seems that many people are following it.

  1. Don't be concerned with heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, or accidents. Most things in a modern lifestyle are potentially harmful, and you have to die from something.
  2. Work as much as possible, preferably more than 40 - 50 hours per week. Live to work instead of work to live.
  3. Eat a meat-based diet heavy on processed and fast foods, and eat extra calories every day. The guidelines of about 2,200 to 3,000 calories per day for men, and 1,600 to 2,400 calories for women, should be considered a starting point. Don't worry - animals don't feel any pain.
  4. Be busy all the time. Allow chronic psychological stress to dominate your life. Success doesn't come easy.
  5. Don't exercise. Who has time? Plus, no one likes to sweat.
  6. Drink alcohol  Life's a party!
  7. Cultivate a negative attitude. It's not pessimism, it's reality.
  8. Don't laugh. These are serious times.
  9. Don't spend time in nature - go shopping instead. Nature is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and often far from amenities. How can you buy anything there? It's all free.
  10. Be a rugged individual! Don't cultivate relationships. Do it all on your own.

I do hope that you ignore these guidelines, and are working toward having a long, happy and healthy life.

“Of the 3,142 counties in the US, McDowell County, West Virginia comes in at No 3,142 in terms of life expectancy. For men, that’s 64 years, a statistic that, as Bernie Sanders likes to point out, is the same for men in Namibia.” - Source

    July 5, 2017

    Plant A Garden

    Grow food, not lawn. We could use about 8 more raised beds in our yard.
    Thankfully, lawn care is included in our rent.

    If you are asking yourself if you should plant a garden, the answer is always, YES. There is much enjoyment, wisdom and food to gain, and nothing to lose. Anywhere, any time, the answer is always - go ahead and plant.

    Most years since Linda and I met, we have had a garden. We are by no means experts, and you will not read much in the way of gardening advice on our blog. But we will say, "Grow one!" without hesitation.

    Nature is an amazingly abundant and magical force, and when nurtured in an organized (or even semi-organized or totally chaotic) manner, wonderful things happen. And since plants are survivors, even temporary neglect can work out, just in case you are worried it will be too much work.

    This year we are growing plants new to us: garlic, cucumber, acorn squash, and onions from seed.

    One year we were gardening with a partner. In theory, what was supposed to happen was that we prepared and planted in the spring, and she would tend things through the summer while we were away.

    As it turned out, it was a case of "If you want the gods to laugh, make a plan". The fully planted garden was untended for several weeks, without additional watering, thinning, weeding and general tending.

    Garlic scapes are starting to grow.

    As it turned out, it didn't seem to matter that much - we still got wheelbarrow-fulls of food for us and our neighbours. Our garden partner was forgiven once we witnessed the out-of-control abundance that was created in that neglected patch of soil. Not the ideal situation, but not planting would have been a bigger mistake than our choice of garden buddy.

    The good things that occur when you grow your own food happen both in the garden, and in your life. You do not need to be an expert, or a work-a-holic. Your garden will evolve to suit you, your skills, and your needs. You aren't just growing plants, you are growing a whole way of living.

    Do as much, or as little as you wish, but by all means - plant a garden. Plant anything. Enjoy.

    July 3, 2017

    Turtles All The Way Down

    Turtle Crossing: Proceed With Caution

    Another bike ride into the wilderness, another amazing turtle encounter.

    My dad used to tell a story similar to the one Stephen Hawking shares below, so I often think of it when I visit with turtles. It is funny that a symbol of Mother Earth makes me think about my father.

    And my mother. And the mother we all share. Enjoy the turtle tale.

    A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.  
    At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."  
    The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"  
    "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady.  
    "But it's turtles all the way down!"

    - A Brief History of Time, Ch. 1. Our Picture of the Universe

    July 1, 2017

    Moth, Rust, and Mold

    Moth, rust, sub-prime mortgage crisis... and mold.

    The bible has a quote about material things that starts,“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy...". Hmm, nothing about mold (or the Great Recession). Probably because the authors were desert dwellers living in simple hand-built homes.

    Basically, no moisture, no mold. And no mortgage, no meltdown.

    For 9 years before moving to the Atlantic side of Canada, we lived 5 meters from the Pacific Ocean. It was more humid than any other place I lived previously, which includes being born in the semi-arid climate of the Palliser's Triangle of the northern Great Plains.

    On the prairies things dry up and blow away, so for many years I knew nothing of the power of molds. Now we live a few foggy kilometres away from the ocean, which surrounds our area.

    I am convinced mold is nature's way of making sure there aren't too many things sitting around unused.

    Mold spores are a common component of normal household dust. They are found everywhere, and can grow on almost any substance when moisture is present. These amazing life forms can grow in temperatures from 0 to 35 degrees Celsius (32 and 95 °F). Yes, they are persistent.

    In a high humidity climate, like on the coasts, things that aren't in use, and circulating in and out of storage, are in danger of molding. It is relentless. A rolling stone in coastal humidity of 96% may gather no moss, but it still molds.

    The worst thing is when something you don't need or want succumbs to one or more of the thousands of known mold types. I guess if it isn't being used, you deserve to have it broken down into its component parts and returned to nature.

    But really, how is it that even after downsizing to the point we fit everything we owned into a travel van, upon arriving here 6000 km away, we realize we still have things we don't want or need? How does that happen?

    I think it is the round leaf sundew stickiness of material things.

    Stuff is easy to acquire, and difficult from which to get unstuck. Almost three years later we are still finding things that are not doing any work for us. And if something starts to mold, it is creating work. Mold in a house is a bit of an emergency that must be dealt with immediately.

    Which makes me think, "How much time do we spend maintaining, storing, moving and shuffling our possessions? Or worrying about them? Or keeping them safe from theft, and dust, and breakage?"

    The answer to that is probably, "Too much time". They aren't possessions, they are possessing. Possessing us and our precious time. Things are so needy, always vying for our attention. When they are taking more than they give, it is time to get unstuck, and let them go.

    We are nearing the end of dealing with our current moldy mini-crisis, which turned out to be yet another wonderful opportunity to get rid of even more excess baggage. The Universe is telling us something, still.

    1. You can live more freely, joyfully, and less moldily, with fewer things, and

    2. Run a dehumidifier (we borrowed one from our landlord) to make sure the things you do need and want don't succumb to the whole moth, rust and mold routine.

    I am getting closer all the time to my ultimate goal of being able to fit all my possessions into a shoebox. Thanks, mold, for helping nudge me in that direction.