January 31, 2018

Nova Scotia: Canada's Stormiest Province

On my way home and the sun is still up!

I didn't know it when we decided to move to the east coast, or for a while after arriving here, but I discovered recently that Nova Scotia is the stormiest part of Canada. And Canada is huge. What a distinction - it makes for some very exciting weather moments.

Much to my annoyance, conditions for the past 2 or 3 weeks have not been conducive to snowshoeing. Or biking, or hiking. Or being outside generally, or even out of bed. Winter can be like that here.

Our weather has been going between snow, sleet, ice pellets, freezing rain, and straight out downpours. Gale force winds often accompany this plethora of precipitation, frequently getting close to 100 km/hr gusts or more.

The worst part for me is not having enough snow to turn the backyard woods into a snowshoeing playground. This is my favourite activity of any season. So pristine. So quiet. So not happening much so far this winter.

Instead of playing in the snow I have been taking out my seeds and admiring them. I have been whispering words of encouragement to them, for the time when the weather starts heating up is near. But we will have more winter storms before then, no doubt, and that makes me happy, too.

Yes, there is a porcupine up in that tree cavity. I followed its tracks right to this spot.

It snowed over the past two days, an event that I welcomed with my nose pressed to the inside of our windows in anticipation. Even though it was blowing hard, and some places have no snow while others are drifted in deep, I assessed that it would be good enough to get out.

Today I had an energetic 2 hour immersion into the forest. It was fun. I walked, I ran, I jumped, I floated across puffy clouds of powder. I was ageless and free. It is not all bliss, I also try to keep an eye out for wildlife as well.

My wildlife list for this new location is growing. The last time I was out, about 3 weeks ago, I saw a large owl. Today I was fortunate to see a porcupine occupying a cavity in a big old tree. I would love to add a bear photo to my portfolio. A bear at a distance, that is.

The best part of today's outing was that I went out and got back well before the sun set. That's different. In this part of the cosmos, it is all about the sun returning and lengthening days up until June. What a beautiful stretch we are entering now.

Owls are very elusive, but they are always around, barley visible.

Soon winter will be over, and the snowshoes stowed away for another year. Then, it will be time to witness summer in all it fevered fecundity.

And summer storms.

January 30, 2018

My Personal Simple Living Creed

Unless you are wandering, it can be useful to have a map. A personal creed is such a guide. 

Sometimes it is good to wander without direction or destination. I do it regularly when I go out into the woods. Where ever you wander, you never know what that muse known as serendipity will bring. However, at other times, it is helpful to have a map, even if it is something basic jotted down on the back of a napkin.

Regardless of whether your map is in words, scribbles, doodles or pictures, it will come in handy in the pursuit of specific destinations or goals. To make something happen, you have to first think it. The next step is writing it down, which has a way of making it real in the material plane. From that comes action.

In certain situations I like to know where I am going, and how I will manifest my intentions. That is why I have been working on things like the Not Buying Anything Vision Statement, as well as  Manifesto. What is left, you may wonder?

I thought I would take a crack at a Personal Creed this time. What is a personal creed? It is a guide for living your beliefs with your whole being. It helps one guide actions with beliefs. While there are many ways to set out a creed, the following are the questions I pondered before putting my chisel to stone.

  • Who am I?
  • What is my purpose?
  • How do I embrace relationships with my tribe and the larger world?
  • How am I at acknowledging an acceptance of reality?
  • What actions will I take to fulfill my purpose?

Actually, a creed is not written in stone, and can be changed any time, or disposed of completely if you prefer to indulge your wanderlust instead.  Whatever works for you.

I am testing to see how this one works for me:

My Personal Simple Living Creed

I am someone that lives in ways that allow all living things to enjoy the precious gift of life. I do not acquire things that won't make me happy, so my possessions and desires are few. When I use less, those without enough can have more. This is my guiding principle.

My purpose is to help resolve all personal and global challenges, even though they may be many and appear insurmountable. I engage in joyous life-long learning in order to become proficient in the many ways that make harmonious lifestyles possible for all.

I have a loving tribe that supports me in everything that I seek to attain. In turn, I am there for them in good times, and in bad. My love is unconditional, and encompasses all living things. Together, we work things out to mutual advantage.

How do I treat other living things? There are no other living things - all life is One. I treat the One as I treat that small part of it that is me - gently, truthfully, and with compassion, love and respect. The success of one is the success of all. The failings of one, are the failings of all. True happiness occurs when we are all well-adjusted and content.

I find peace in accepting how things are, regardless of how flawed and defiled they appear in the moment. This gives me the strength to persevere, however difficult, in facilitating changes personally and globally that promote the ways and means necessary for all living things to survive and thrive.

I live each day with joy while giving thanks for the tribe around me, and the ample gifts the Universe has bestowed upon my life. When a day goes by that I don’t laugh, I know to take heed and engage in deep thinking and corrective action. Moment to moment, I keep an awareness of the magic of the Universe, of which I am an important and integral piece.

There is the map. Will it lead me to manifesting simple living treasures for myself and all life forms? I think so.

January 24, 2018

75 Good Years

After age 75, no more tests or treatments.

Most modern "health care" systems go to extreme lengths to extend life. Since a lot of that is private, for profit health care, I hypothesize that the reason for that is because in business one of the golden rules is "Don't kill your customers", or in this case, "Don't let your customers die, ever, if you can make a buck by extending their lives.

Rarely mentioned in the high tech life extension at any cost debate is the issue of quality of life. We might be getting quantity, but what about the quality? Should we really be led kicking and screaming all the way to the grave? Wouldn't it be better to go out on your own terms?

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel agrees, and says that 75 is a good age for him to die. In fact, he believes we would be doing society and loved ones a favour by doing the same.

“A good life is not just about stacking up the years and living as long as possible. People need to focus on quality of life. Setting an actual date for a good time to die helps you focus on what is important in your life. 
What I am trying to do is delineate my views for a good life and make my friends and others think about how they want to live as they grow older. 
We avoid constantly thinking about the purpose of our lives and the mark we will leave. Is making money, chasing the dream, all worth it? 
Indeed, most of us have found a way to live our lives comfortably without acknowledging, much less answering, these big questions on a regular basis. We have gotten into a productive routine that helps us ignore them. 
The deadline also forces each of us to ask whether our consumption is worth our contribution."

The doctor opposes physician-assisted suicide, and instead is a proponent of simply allowing the body to age naturally. He says when he reaches 75 he will refuse all tests and treatments, including the blood pressure medication he takes now.

“I’m not suggesting people kill themselves at 75 but, rather, let nature take its course.”

While some propose extreme life extension, what the world doesn't need right now is a bunch of 300 year olds. We do need to leave something for our children and future generations that will inhabit this crowed planet. Perhaps 75 years of consumption is enough.

It would also simplify things to know when you intend to tell the medical establishment to leave you alone so you can age and die peacefully as nature intended.

I think I would like 75 good years. We will see how I feel if I make it to 74 years of age.

January 22, 2018

Keep It Simple, Low Tech

A solar powered, hand cranked radio should be in every home in case of emergencies,
or for every day low tech enjoyment.

Our current age of technological advances and gadgetry makes it seem like everyone is on board with purchasing and upgrading all the latest gadgets ad naseum. But as popular as cell phones and DVD players may be, there has never been a technological uptake like there was with the lowly radio.

At first no one had a radio. And then shortly after they became common consumer items in the 1920s, nearly everyone had one in their homes. Radios were simple enough that many people built their own. Try that with an iPhone or laptop.

Traditional, low-cost, proven technologies like radios are still the most effective tool for reaching end users in the developing world. Or the developed world.

In Kenya, for example, more than 85 percent of the population has access to radio broadcasts at home, while only 60 percent own a mobile phone. In Uganda, 96 percent of the population listens to the radio on a weekly basis, but only 39 percent has access to mobile phones.

Even in high tech America, over 90% of people listen to the radio every week. It may be ancient technology in comparison to today's whiz-bang gadgets, but the basic radio still has its place the world over.

Often, the simplest solution is the best option, and such solutions should always be the first to be considered. You can always make things more complicated if you have to, but you probably won't need to in most cases.

As much as possible, the solutions we come up with for our personal and global challenges should keep it simple and low tech. It is vain and wasteful to do with more, what can be done with less. That goes for any project, including how one conducts one's life.

You can't beat the elegance and efficiency of simplicity.

January 19, 2018

Why Do We Do Harmful Things?

Never mind GDP - we need a measure for GNC, or Gross National Consciousness

As we approach all kinds of planetary limits, a few questions come to mind. Questions are a big favourite in my home. We have lots and lots of questions. Not so many answers, but we are working on those as well.

Why do good people do things that are harmful to themselves, others and the environment? And why do these behaviours persist even when up against ample evidence as to their harmful effects?

There is a common conception that something is right if everyone is doing it. It is easier to "bind together in the wrong direction, than to be alone in the right one". But right is right, even when no one is doing it, and wrong is wrong even when everyone is doing it.

Which leads to another question (they have a way of piling up).

How do we tell right from wrong? I could talk about educational and religious notions of these concepts. Or about the information gathering technique we know as science. But when it comes right down to it, one can feel in their gut the difference between what is effective and harmonious, and what is ineffective and unbalanced. All modes have something to offer.

However, our brains are involved as well, and our third largest organ must be taken into account as well. Just to show that I do have some answers, I will note that the second largest organ is the liver, and the largest is our skin. Unlike matters of the human brain, those are easy answers.

When it comes to the brain, there are no easy answers. But we do have some answers, and are finding out more all the time. Using what we already know can and should be used to train ourselves to recognize harmful habits, and work toward eliminating them for the good of all.

It is up to each of us personally to strive to eliminate our harmful ways. Taking control of our minds is essential in this pursuit, and there are many methods for doing just that. Spending time observing the mind is just as important as physical exercise.

Such a situation is preferred to having someone else tell us what to do, because insistence is always (initially) met with resistance. That is something I try to keep in mind.

It helps to focus on the things that I do that my body and my mind lead me to feel/think are harmful for me, others, and the planet. Hopefully my pursuit to live the best possible life for me, with the least possible harm, will be adopted by others if it makes sense and feels right.

What else can we do?

One other thing - practice forgiveness. We can practice being gentle with ourselves and others.

We must forgive all shortcomings, so that we can move forward together. Eckhart Tolle explains how this can be done. You forgive yourself and others, he says, "by realizing that nobody can act beyond their level of consciousness.”

So we continue to ask questions, seek answers, forgive, and along the way raise consciousness in ourselves and those around us. Together we nudge the way of things toward peace, harmony and balance.

This is a life-long project, but that is the thing about living the simple life - there is time. I can't think of anything more important or deserving of our attention. Eventually, if we keep on this path, we will all do less harmful things.

January 16, 2018

Eat Plant-Based Food, And Less Of It

It looks like eating as entertainment, and competitive calorie consumption, may be off the menu some day soon. Gluttony is not only unhealthy, but also increasingly socially unacceptable. This will usher in healthier alternatives, like caloric restricted ways of eating, or "eating for need, not for greed".

Shortly after restaurant average portion-size increases were reported, along came news that mindful eating may help one avoid an early death.

As reported in Science in July 2009:
"In a population of rhesus macaques maintained at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, moderate calorie restriction (CR) lowered the incidence of aging-related deaths. At the time point reported, 50% of control fed animals survived as compared with 80% of the CR animals. 
Furthermore, CR delayed the onset of age-associated pathologies. Specifically, CR reduced the incidence of diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and brain atrophy. These data demonstrate that CR slows aging in a primate species." source

Such research results have been consistent since the 1930's, and with a variety of species. The Calorie Restriction Society International thinks that people who follow a careful diet of fewer calories, while maintaining adequate nutrition will experience similar benefits.

The following list from their website gives a small serving of the type of food consumption they are advocating:
  • Avoid simple sugars and flours.
  • Eat both green leafy (salad) and other vegetables.
  • Carefully select your protein and fat sources.
  • Make sure your protein intake is sufficient, but not overly abundant.
  • Make sure your proteins are complete and balanced.
  • Non-animal proteins can be balanced by combining different food families
  • Select monounsaturated fats, avoid saturated fats, and consume some Omega-3 fats
Do caloric restricted diets improve longevity in humans? Maybe, maybe not. But would it matter if such a diet saved you money, cut your ecological footprint, and made you feel better? Longevity, when seen this way, would be an added bonus to what looks like a good thing anyway.

As in any diet, it is important to make sure one gets enough nutrients to promote good health. Such diets need to be planned carefully, and assessed on an ongoing basis.

While we don't strictly follow any particular kind of diet, Linda and I are intrigued by the idea of eating differently than the standard western diet, which has been shown to be detrimental to health via metabolic syndrome. For us it boils down to, "eat yummy, nutritious, plant-based food, and less of it".

Goodbye gluttony, hello eating just enough for good health and a long life.

January 14, 2018

Mother Earth - #MeToo

“Changing sexist, misogynist attitudes is not a simple endeavor. Replacing a violent, extractivist mindset with one of respect and stewardship is a non-trivial undertaking, particularly in view of fact that the forces that profit from continued strife, exploitation, greed and conflict are very wealthy, very powerful and highly motivated to preserve the enormous riches they have accumulated.  
As long as this paradigm of violence, destruction, and exploitation continue on the global scale, it will continue to reverberate into vulnerable individuals, creating pain, suffering, exploitation, and degradation on the human scale.”

- Christopher Majka

January 11, 2018

Increasing Food Security

Winter squash keeps for many weeks in a cool, dry place, like my pantry. We harvested these in October.

A study done in 2010 showed that only about 13% of food dollars Nova Scotians spend end up in the pockets of local producers. The average distance traveled for an item of food here is almost 4000km. Communities suffer social, economic and environmental damage from the externalities of this global food distribution system.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect is how fragile this system is in the event of natural disasters, spikes in energy prices, or climate change. What exactly is the plan if the industrial food distribution system were ever to shut down?

How many of us would be prepared for such an event, even if only temporary?

One can be better prepared with a good set of food production and preservation skills. And since it is more effective to work together in mutual support, it is important for local communities to be more food secure for the benefit of all.

That means supporting local farmers and producers over those thousands of kilometres away. I have nothing against distant farmers, but resilience is greatest in areas with strong local food production and consumption patterns.

Linda and I are a long way from being food self-sufficient, and like most of our neighbours, we rely  on imported foods for part of our diet. If we ever had to fend for ourselves, we might not be the first to die, but longer term survival would be a challenge.

Because of that possible precarious predicament (that makes my stomach growl), we are always changing our eating habits to try to align with a less damaging, more resilient diet. That means fewer bananas (4500 food kilometres), and more squash from our garden (4 meters). Fewer oranges (6300 km), and more garden kale (4 meters).

We bake our squash, then enjoy the stored summer sun in smoothies, soup, and on its own.
The larger seeds are excellent baked. We like ours natural, without oil or salt.

There is always more that can be done. The following are a few suggestions as to what you can do to increase food security in your house and community.

- Grow a garden.

- Support your local farmers’ market.

- Choose local produce when it’s in season at your usual shopping places. Try maintaining a seasonal diet year round, like we used to before fossil fuels and advertising created a desire to have every food available all the time (and damn the consequences).

- Learn and share food preservation techniques, like canning, drying, freezing, pickling, and fermenting. Many community kitchens offer low cost classes.

- Avoid buying produce that has been flown in. Hothouse tomatoes, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, and asparagus are most frequently shipped by air.

- Encourage businesses and governments to adopt policies favouring locally grown, organic, and sustainably harvested foods that are minimally processed.

That all sounds like a good excuse for a larger garden in 2018, as well as a healthy dose of activism. Not to mention a whole lot of invigorating, life-affirming work in the soil and the kitchen.

As much as possible, food security should start at home, then be supplemented by foods that are as local as possible. Foods eaten will be fresher and more nutritious, and will help reduce the harmful effects of inefficient systems of food trade and distribution.

January 9, 2018

Purchase Anxiety Or Clear Thinking?

"To buy, or not to buy" is a good question. When one really thinks about it, the answer is usually "not".

There is lots of help available to help one overcome shopping-related anxiety. I say, "Why bother?" We should be anxious about buying into the materialist lifestyle, given its negative impact on our mental health and the state of the world.

I have some questions about this diagnosis - is it anxiety, or is it a normal, heightened emotional reaction to something we know at our core is unhealthy? Buying things we don't need with money we don't have should make us feel uneasy.

I have long had what market researchers would call "large purchase anxiety". I called it armour against consumer excess. It has been effective in helping me prevent unnecessary large purchases. I don't need to be cured.

Actually, I've been nurturing it. Now I have graduated to small purchase anxiety, or more plainly, purchase anxiety. It is a great help in living simply and plainly without getting bogged down by stuff.

Marketing specialists have their ways of alleviating this "anxiety", or what I think is simply sensible thinking. They look at it as creating inertia, hesitation or reluctance, and it is the enemy of making a sale. They want to create a different kind of anxiety in consumers. The anxiety of not buying.

"To create an anxiety relievable only by a purchase… that is the job of advertising." 
- Des Traynor, in “Overcoming Customer Inertia”

That's kind of evil, isn't it? Sounds like propaganda mind control to me.

Anything that helps us avoid the pitfalls of consumerism should be nurtured, not cured. We can use it to protect us from the ravages of advertising, culture programming, and inflated expectations. And let's not call it anxiety anymore when it can be more appropriately labeled as "critical thinking".

Pre-purchase thinking - being cautious about buying something. Listen to this voice in your head. Use it to avoid unnecessary purchases altogether.

Purchasing thinking - thinking twice while buying something. Still good - it's not too late to put the item down, put your money away, and run for the door. Avoid all sales people trying to mesmerize you before you leave.

Post-purchase thinking - questioning or regretting your decision after buying something. Is there still time to return the item? Either way, it is an excellent learning moment to remember for next time.

I think it is healthy to feel anxious (or thoughtful) about doing something potentially harmful. It helps us to limit our purchases to only those necessary for survival, and a bit more.

But not much more.

January 5, 2018

Happy Messy New Year

Life is messy, and that is a good thing.

I have always thought that the luxurious, easy, prosaic predictable life was the kiss of death. Humans were designed to be challenged. We are actually good at it, and grow stronger through overcoming adversity.

To be easy is to be on auto-pilot. Challenges build character, creativity, and resilience.

That is why I am looking forward to a messy new year in 2018. This year I will enjoy slogging through the mud pit of life, interacting with real things and real people. I will get messy, and I will know that I am alive.

Nassim Nicholas Taleby said, “Provided we have the right type of rigor, we need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near-traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living..."

The quote continues, "...compared to the structured, fake, and ineffective life of an empty-suit CEO with a preset schedule and an alarm clock." But not many of us are CEOs, while all of us are expected to be worker drone/ultra-consumers.

I would amend that to read, "...compared to the structured, fake, and ineffective life of empty consumers with a preset list of aspirations that keep them diligently working at unloved jobs and careers."

Life is increasingly random, messy, and uncertain with weekly or daily near-traumatic episodes. And I don't think it's just me. We might as well make all that work for us, and embrace it as part of the human experience.

Will I have an easy, uneventful and predictable new year? I hope not.

An adventurous and rigorous simple life provides everything that makes life worth living.

Happy simple messy new year to everyone. Linda and I look forward to sharing it all with you in the coming year.