March 30, 2018

10 Things On My "Buy It For Life" List

I will probably never have to shop for leather hiking boots again.

When you have to buy something, choosing the quality and durable alternative means you may never have to buy that thing again. For those of us that don't like shopping much, that is a very attractive situation.

One of the best ways to make things last is to acquire quality things. It may cost more to begin with, but over the long run they outlast their cheaper counterparts. Also good would be buying items that you can repair if needed, which will also make things last a long time.

Good quality items, along with gentle use and proper maintenance, could conceivably last several lifetimes. A good set of hand tools, or a cast iron frying pan fall into this category.

Other items may not technically last a lifetime, but in a world of disposable this, and throw away that, having something that lasts a long time deserves an honorary inclusion. Sturdy clothing would fall under this category.

Here are 10 practical and durable items on my "Buy It For Life" list:
  1. Cast iron frying pan - we are using one handed down through 3 generations.
  2. Wood cutting board - cared for properly, it can last a lifetime
  3. Binoculars - essential bird watching tool that if cared for will bring birds into focus for many years.
  4. Sturdy furniture - cheap furniture is not worth buying. I prefer older, second hand sturdy stuff.
  5. Pots and pans - don't let them sit empty on a hot burner and everything will be fine.
  6. Stainless steel thermal mug - indestructible items that keep liquids hot or cold longer.
  7. Basic tools/garden tools - buy good stuff and enjoy a lifetime of gardening
  8. double-edged safety razor - bomb proof, and the blades are waaay cheaper than modern razors.
  9. Guitar - WIlly Nelson has had his guitar for over 45 years.
  10. Leather hiking boots - my first pair lasted decades, and the next will probably be my last.

These frugal choices are the opposite of the throw-away economy. They reduce waste, and save money in the long run. Plus, old things take on a personality, character, and beauty of their own, as in the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi.

I have found that it is usually better to look for things like longevity, energy efficiency, repairability, and low total cost of ownership when making a purchase, instead of just what is least expensive. 

The frugal choice may not be the cheapest choice, but instead the more expensive option that may never have to be bought again. 

What are some things on your "Buy It For Life" list? 

March 27, 2018

Back Yard Bliss

It won't be long before these trees are leafed out in their spring attire.

After several nor'easters blew through, we ended up with just enough snow to get out the snowshoes. It wasn't the deep powder of early winter, but the wet, heavy snow provided solid footing for a couple of extended hikes in the back yard woods. As usual, it was blissful.

I didn't see any ticks (one reason I like snowshoeing so much), but did see lots of other signs of life. The only creature I actually saw was an owl, which is always a thrill. Owls are very elusive, and no doubt they have seen me far more often than I have seen them.

 It is good to know owls, and all kinds of other creatures live in the forests surrounding our home. They are evidence that the ecosystem retains the ability to support them, despite human intervention such as farming, industrial logging, trapping and mining.

First stop - squirrel cafe. These small rodents like to perch while they eat their seeds. The evidence of their snacking is hard to miss.

Next is the porcupine dining area. Early this winter while out for a hike I came across a porcupine holed up in a tree. It was snuggled down in its woody bedroom, quills laid back, hardly moving.

Then this week, I saw its kitchen. Or its pantry. Bark is the food of choice for porcupines, most notably the growing layer underneath, which is called cambium. It is rich in nutrients, unlike the tough outer bark.

The spruce forest provides cover from nor'easters for all kinds of furry friends, such as rabbits, hares, squirrels, mink, fisher, fox, coyote, bobcat and more. They all prefer to hide from humans, which is an intelligent survival strategy.

A secure water source, such as Acacia Brook (which is at the bottom of the valley our home is on), means that wildlife of all kinds can live here. I am still waiting to see a river otter.

There are lots of things for owls to eat in this forest. Barred owls can hear the squeak of a mouse from 46 m (150 ft) away, and can detect them under the snow. All owls have the ability to fly silently, due to their special feathers.

Snowshoe tracks, and what left that squiggly track? Mouse? Vole? Large worm?

And finally, the blissful track hunter himself saying, "Peace" to all. I wasn't sure if I should post this, but reasoned that, hey, I'm part of nature, too.

It's the wild life for me.

Goodbye winter, hello spring. There is rain in the forecast, so the snow will not last long. Soon it will be time to pull back the mulch and check to see how the garlic is making out.

March 22, 2018

World Water Day

We hear a lot about food security these days, but not so much about water security. That is sure to change in the years ahead. By 2025, the United Nations estimates that nearly half of the world's population will live in water-stressed regions.

That is why World Water Day is so important - we have to prepare for inevitable water shocks such as Cape Town, South Africa is currently experiencing. Their water system is expected to dry up some time this summer, leaving 7.3 million thirsty citizens severely water stressed. They are currently under severe water restrictions.

Could you live on 50 litres of water per day? The average Canadian uses three hundred twenty-nine.

Although the Canadian Maritimes are predicted to become wetter in a climate-changed future, my region in Nova Scotia recently experienced the worst drought since record keeping began in the 1800s. Many families saw their wells go dry for the first time, leaving them in a state of emergency for several months.

Many communities around the world will find themselves in a battle for water, if they aren't there already, like Cape Town.

Gwyne Dyer's 2008 book, Climate Wars: The Fight For Survival As The World Overheats, looks at the possibility that countries with water woes will go to war with each other to secure and protect supplies for their people.

Dyer says, "climate-change scenarios are already playing a large and increasing role in the military planning process.” If the military is planning for such scenarios, so should the rest of us. If we change our ways, and conserve precious resources, we can avert future water wars.

Water is life. Only oxygen is more important to our survival.

Canadian water usage:

Industry - 68%
Household - 20%
Agriculture - 12%

Canadian Household usage:

Drinking/meal preparation - 10%
Cleaning, including laundry - 25%
Toilet flushing - 30%
Bathing - 35%

March 21, 2018

Spring Joins Us Together

Replica of H. D. Thoreau’s 150 sq. ft. cabin at Walden Farm, where the author was born in 1817.

"The setting sun is reflected from the windows as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace." 

- Henry David Thoreau

Spring weather comes slowly to the Atlantic coast, but that today is officially the first full day of spring is undeniable. We have not had our first robin or hummingbird yet, but I have been watching the Sun slowly move from its winter resting place in the south toward where it is today - setting directly on the western point of the compass.

As the Sun continues its path north things will warm and our days will stretch out in a joyous northern celebration of not having to worry about your tongue sticking to cold metal objects any more.

Light, heat, and life return. We made it through another winter.

Spring/Fall equinox is always a special event, in that it creates a brief global photonic equality. Equinox means "equal night" which also means equal day. On the day of an equinox, daytime and nighttime are of approximately equal duration all over the planet.

It doesn't matter who you are, or where you are, you enjoy the same sunlight as everyone else today.

That joins us all together, and I like that.

Happy spring/fall, everyone.

March 20, 2018

Steve Cutts Explains The Sad Story Of Progress

The sad story of human history explained in three minutes and thirty-six seconds.

This is progress?

The Earth does not belong to us.

We belong to the Earth.

As soon as we relearn that factoid, the healing will begin.


Justifying Overconsumption

Overconsumption hurts everyone. It can not be justified.

Getting people to buy stuff they don't need is very profitable. Therefore, hundreds of billions of dollars is spent every year to get us to want things we don't need. Needs are altered by this well funded marketing machine, and over time we come to need some of the things we didn't used to need.

In order to keep the whole con going, wants must become needs. Consequently, consumer culture comes up with all kinds of ready made excuses for our high consumption buying habits.

We are enabled by insidious advertising slogans. Remember "Shop till you Drop"? Or "Whoever dies with the most toys wins"?

Wow, those are sounding pretty dumb in 2018.

So how do we live with ourselves when that voice deep inside gives us the reminder that to use more when less would suffice is a crime against the Earth and everything on it? We make excuses in order to perpetuate our ongoing denial.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

- “I deserve it.” No, you really don't. You deserve food, clothing, shelter, love, freedom, and opportunities to realize your true potential as a compassionate human being, and nothing else. No one deserves to take more than their fair share of the planet's resources.

- “I work hard.” As Marla commented here on Inter. Women's Day, "If working hard was the only factor, African women would be billionaires." Yup. So you work hard. Way to go.

- “I would die without it.”, or "I would rather die without it." No, you won't die without bacon. Or a car that goes 300km/hr. Or an exotic vacation. You might wish you were dead for a while, but you'll get over it. Really.

- "If I don't buy it, someone else will." Not necessarily. What if more and more people stop buying things they don't need? Manufacturers will stop making them. The Earth will smile.

- "I will look poor if I don't have lots of stuff." No. But you might look like a minimalist. Still, I would rather look poor than look selfish and out of touch with ecological reality.

- Who wouldn't want nice things?" The best nice things are not things that can be bought. If the nice things you have all come from stores, you might want to reassess your actual quality of life.

- "I can afford it." But our planet can not. Neither can the millions of people living in poverty. Or wildlife. Or our forests. Or oceans. You might be able to afford it, but We can't.

We should not be justifying our poor consumption habits this late in the game. Today, there are no innocents. Information is too easy to access, and we can all easily learn the facts surrounding how our excessive consumer habits are fuelling ecological crises around the planet.

There are no longer excuses, only lame excuses. Wealth does not change the fact, or amount, of your fair share of resources. To expect more, with this many people on the planet, is an unhealthy obsession fuelled by a dying culture of "more at any cost or consequence".

In 2018 one can no longer justify engaging in a lifestyle that needlessly wastes valuable resources in an orgy of overconsumption. We know it doesn't make us happier, so the logical solution would be to stop doing it.

As soon as possible.

For everyone's benefit, including your own.

March 14, 2018

Good-bye Snowshoes, Hello Maple Syrup

A Nova Scotia maple syrup operation.

What a winter. Unlike the previous several winters, this winter had a marked lack of snow. While it was nice to have milder temperatures, I prefer being able to play in deep snow all winter long. That was not to be this year.

After only 5 snowshoeing adventures earlier this winter, it looks like the season is drawing to an unnaturally early close. You know it is not long for winter when the maple syrup season begins, and producers here in Nova Scotia are saying this is the earliest start in decades.

Even in an ordinary year, maple syrup is the earliest agricultural activity around here. For maple sap gathering to begin, the weather must be below freezing at night, and above freezing during the day. These conditions are usually experienced some time around the beginning in March.

This year some maple tappers were done by mid February, and this is the third year in a row that saw earlier starts than the average.

Canada has a long history of maple syrup production. Indigenous peoples showed early settlers how to harvest and boil the sap. The fourth moon of the year in late March early April, was known as Izhkigamisegi Geezis, "the boiling moon", to the Obijway people.

I am thinking that might have to be changed to the third moon of the year.

Climate changes will require us to adapt to all manner of new conditions. This is what some in the area think is likely to occur:

"Scientists expect Nova Scotia to see more powerful storms, rising sea levels, storm surges, extreme precipitation, flash flooding, loss of sea ice, and hotter, drier summers and wetter, warmer winters."

And a earlier, shorter maple syrup season. And summer droughts. Researchers didn't give their outlook for snowshoeing, but I can see that I will probably have to find a different winter exercise activity.

Oh, my snowy woods. I miss you already. The woods will have less snow, and more ticks, and that will not be the worst of it. We are headed into uncharted climate and ecological territory, providing even more reasons to live a more simple, low carbon, low on the food chain, local lifestyle.

But the good news is that I can visit my neighbour down the road for fresh maple syrup a couple of weeks earlier than usual. That seems like a small consolation, but I do try to celebrate the little things.

How long, I wonder, before I will be able to grow my own rice?

March 12, 2018

5 Potential Drawbacks Of Simple Living

Drawback #2: The freedom, at first, could be overwhelming.

When I think about the potential drawbacks of simple living I am tempted to think that there aren't any. But of course there are. There are pros and cons to just about everything, so I wracked my brain to see if I could come up with a few cons. Note: the pros are easier to come up with.

Drawbacks of Simple Living

  1. You might save too much money.
  2. The freedom, at first, could be overwhelming.
  3. Someone might tell you that their mom would think you are "lazy". (This really happened to me.)
  4. Friends and family could conclude that you are "cheap", and tell you that you should buy some new shit to replace your worn out, dated, old shit. (This really happened to an NBA reader who commented on such a scenario this week.)
  5. If everyone did it the economy could collapse... causing wholesale changes in the way we do things economically, politically, socially and culturally.

I guess it is kind of like when in a job interview the H.R. person asks you what your weaknesses are. After thinking, "I don't really have any", you end up saying something like, "Sometimes I am too loyal to my employer and I work too hard". 

But we all have weaknesses, and simple living is no different. Although, from my point of view, #5 isn't really a drawback at all. Actually, it is one major reason why I live the way I do. It would be great to see some wholesale structural changes in how we do things. The disruption would be worth it many times over.

I find that most other people don't see it this way. 

And #3 and 4 are really only drawbacks if you give a shit what other people think about the way that you choose to live your life. I think that drawing such a strong reaction from other people probably indicates that you are doing something right.

Or I guess you could just avoid the hassle, relent, kiss your integrity goodbye, and start working longer hours, borrowing more money, and buying more stuff. That would make other people feel better, because if they have to play this losing game, you should have to as well. Otherwise it isn't fair.

On the other hand, if you stick to your guns and maintain your simplicity, you might find it lonely. This can be a serious and genuine drawback to a simple lifestyle. Since so few in consumer economies choose to live in this way, many will not share your zeal for a minimal, peaceful life away from the madness and rush of the consumer competition. Estrangement may be a reality.

That is one reason that I keep this blog - we simple folk need to support each other. I do feel supported by all of you. Thank you. I hope you feel the same.

In conclusion, I must report that on my Simple Living Pros vs Cons list, the Pros column is still much, much longer than the cons side. Results in your particular circumstance may vary.

March 8, 2018

International Women's Day

How To Use Lipstick - by Anne Derenne

Art can be used to say things that may be uncomfortable to say with words. Sometimes, art is more powerful than words, as in, I think, these examples marking International Women's Day.

Silence Breaker, by Mary Zins

March 8 International Women's Day, by Oguz Gurel

Sad Celebrations, by Victor Ndula

Go Ahead, by Fadi Abou Hassan Faditoon

International Women's Day, by Galym Boranbayev

Like Earth Day, I think that every day should be Women's Day. The world will be a better place when we truly value the contributions of nature AND women. 

Thank you to all women for everything you do. I hate to think of what this world would be like without your strength, love, and ability to persevere through conditions that most non-women would find unbearable. 

I love you Mom. Thank you for showing me the way.

March 7, 2018

Plant Seeds

I am looking at seeds we have saved from our garden. Left to right - marigold, radish, summer savoury, and cilantro.

Whether you are planting seeds in the garden, or planting seeds of change in your life and community, prepare yourself for a bountiful harvest. Be a loving caretaker, and success is assured. It is the way in a creative universe that delights in both life, and change.

“Plant your tiny seeds and keep watering them every day. Soon, they’ll grow.” 

- Israelmore Ayivor

“Seeds have the power to preserve species, to enhance cultural as well as genetic diversity, to counter economic monopoly and to check the advance of conformity on all its many fronts.” 

- Michael Pollan

“Every morning has a unique story. There are always some seeds of possibilities waiting to sprout.” 

- Amit Ray

"Plant seeds of kindness, love and peace 
And your harvest will be abundant living.” 

- Sanjo Jendayi

And remember, today's ashes are tomorrow's fertilizer.

March 5, 2018

Debt Slavery Hits New Highs

Do an internet search for "sad debt stories", and you will open a door to misery and woe. There are no shortage of horror stories, ranging from celebrities to the folks next door. Debt, and the resulting sad stories, should come with a strongly worded warning label.

Such labels could have pictures of things like someone burning their furniture to stay warm, or a debt collector appearing at a grave. And leaving with the headstone. And flowers.

The only thing worse than buying a bunch of stuff you don't need, is borrowing money to buy a bunch of stuff you don't need. Globally this is what seems to be happening as people gorge on consumer credit like never before. New records are being broken every year - for debt and for sad stories.

Consumer debt includes credit cards, car loans, and student loans, but not mortgages, and it has reached nose bleed levels in both the US and Canada. In my own country of high expectations, people have borrowed to maintain their lifestyles, and owe, on average, $1.73 for every $1.00 of disposable income.

Hey, if you can't support a bloated lifestyle with earned money in the bank, don't downsize - borrow, borrow, borrow, and get all the things that are going to make you happy. For a while. Maybe. Good luck paying it off.

The faster we shop, the deeper in we go. We can't seem to stop. It is an addiction, and if it weren't so darn profitable, we would consider it a national mental health crisis. Debt is the crack of consumerism, and we are smoking it as fast as we can.

In another trend, more Canadians than ever before are retiring with debt. Cue more sad stories. Some of them will die with debt. If there is no hope of ever paying it off, you fit the very definition of "debt slave".

Meanwhile, in the lending industry, the banksters lick their chops at consumers' desires, and laugh about the slogan hung on the board room wall that says, "Lend With a Smile -  Collect With a Fist".

That is why, if one is considering living a freer, simpler lifestyle, getting out of debt is of utmost importance. The chains must be broken, the debt paid off, and no new debt accrued ever again.

You can't go wrong with this in mind.

When you begin to not buy anything (or at least as little as you can get away with), you will at least not accumulate new debt. In the best case scenario, you use the money you save on not buying anything to bring your debt down, hopefully, one day, to zero.

That is freedom day. That is when you can laugh at the banks as you throw your broken chains through their front window. I would call that performance art. Get it on video if you do it, then share it far and wide so other debt slaves can see that breaking free is possible. Potentially difficult, but possible.

No unnecessary spending = no debt = freedom.

It should be noted that many people are using debt for necessary spending in an attempt to compensate for the dismal state of the wage labour situation today. Or should we say wage slavery situation? I see a disturbing trend here.

However, hope can be found in voluntary simplicity because it allows us to be less dependent on the sick systems that are trying, successfully I might add, to exploit us. They will get their pound of flesh - unless you don't buy what they have to offer.

March 2, 2018

Anti-Consumer Protest Art/Ancient Wisdom Mashup

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 
- Socrates

Our last protest art/quote mashup post was well received. Combining thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom (not my own) along with eyeball poking visuals is an irresistible combination.

Our last mashup used zen quotes. This time I am tapping into the ancient wisdom of Socrates. The art is the result of an "anti-consumerism protest art" image search, which always yields interesting results.

“If you don't get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don't want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can't hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.”

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” 

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

“To find yourself, think for yourself.” 

"He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature."

Socrates is know for laying the foundation for western philosophy. When he was around (born 470 BC), there was no mass consumerism. And if we heeded his teachings, there would be no conspicuous consumption today, because we would be too smart for that.

Socrates believed that money had a corrupting influence, and that we should seek lives of material moderation. When asked about his frugal lifestyle, he replied that he loved visiting the market "to see all the things I am happy without."

Socrates lived his entire 71 year lifespan within the ancient city of Athens. He would have enjoyed the city for a longer period of time if he weren't sentenced to death for his rebellious and unrelenting search for the truth.

It seems that the elite of the day couldn't handle the truth.

I wonder what the philosopher would think of the state of the world today? We have improved our gadgets, but have we improved ourselves as human beings? Has mass consumerism brought us closer to the truth?