May 30, 2018

Nature Pictures Improve Cognitive Function

I was going through some of my west coast nature photographs today, instead of working on my last post of the month. 

The pictures had such a relaxing effect on me, I decide not to write (or rant), at all. Sometimes writing on a schedule is too complex for me, and is possibly inconsistent with the ultimate simple life. I think about that sometimes.

This is consistent with my motto: "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify". There is always less to be done.

I share my photographs in the hopes that they will have a similar relaxing effect on you, and encourage you to do less for a while. It has been shown to be time well spent.

Looking a pictures of nature has the effect of giving the viewer a cognitive boost. In one study, researchers had participants view pictures of nature scenes, or city streetscapes, for 10 minutes in a quiet room. 

They concluded that cognitive performance improved after participants viewed the nature photographs, but not the street scenes. You will not find any street scenes in my photo collection.

I estimate that my brain was functioning at least 20% better after looking at my pics today. I should add here, that doing nothing is good for your brain, too. 

Most of the time, my brain feels about 50% more on the ball after doing nothing for a while.

Individual results may vary.

May 29, 2018

People Have The Power Challenge

No electricity? No problem for this muscle powered laundry center.

It hasn't even been 100 years since electric powered consumer goods were beginning to be common. Before electricity, homes were dominated by human-powered devices. Life was harder, slower, and often, more enjoyable. The people had the power.

Take my grandparents, for example. They lived in a era when North America saw the implementation of the power grid and the electrical devices that came with it. 

However, when my family visited them in the 1960s, their home and yard were still largely hand powered. I loved to go into their basement where grandpa had a workshop packed full with an extensive collection of hand tools. He made wood art and furniture.

When I went out into their yard, a reel mower waited for me to blow off my restless energy and cut the lawn at the same time. It was not a chore - I liked it. Trimming was done with a big set of shears that grandpa sharpened carefully himself. 

To me, a product of the age of electricity, the old tools and devices were beautiful and functional. They hold a romantic appeal, hearkening back to a time when our heroic ancestors got by with only their muscles and simple tools and devices.

In the kitchen, grandma did not have electric gadgets on the counter, even though at the time they were hooked to the grid. Her arms and hands lovingly interacted with all ingredients, and kneaded dough and chopped and made magic right on the counter top. 

What got me thinking about my grandparents human powered life was a reader comment that said, "In my home we are gradually phasing out electrical items as they break to see how little can we live with and still have a satisfying life." (Thanks Madeleine.)

I think that is a laudable goal that makes sense for our less energy intensive future, when we will have to shave kilowatt hours off our energy footprints. 

It also reminds me of James Howard Kunstler's 2008 novel "World Made By Hand". This novel explores a future post-everything USA scenario, and is set in a small rural community. There is no government, no maintenance of infrastructure, no fossil fuelled transportation, no tractors, and no electricity.

Hence, it explores a human powered future, much like the one we recently left behind us only a few generations ago. Some describe it as a dystopian novel, but it could also be seen as a utopia, depending on how attached to modern creature comforts you are. 

There are also cleaner rivers that teem with fish, a brighter night sky, stronger community bonds, fresher organically grown food, and a quiet such as few had ever heard in their previous modern lifestyles.

There are characters in the book that enjoy the post-apocalyptic hand powered world better than the one that briefly preceded it. As I read through this set of novels, I found that Kunstler was describing a world that I wouldn't mind joining.

Therefore, I propose a "People Have The Power Challenge". 

The goal? To gradually phase out as many electrical tools, gadgets and devices as possible. 

Intended results? Reduced dependence on Big Utility Corps., cutting your energy footprint, eliminating the need for new power generation (whether it is green or not), adopting more appropriate technology for a new lower energy world, and re-engaging with a slower, more connected, and enjoyable way of life.

Providing electrical power to the grid is a massive endeavour any way you look at it. Whether it is hydro, coal, gas, or nuclear, or even solar, wind or geothermal, all have their own negative impacts and unintended consequences. 

Therefore, instead of looking at increasing our electrical capacity (even if it is touted as green/sustainable), we should be reducing our reliance on that power.

Are we headed toward a resurgence of people powered lifestyles? What powered devices could you live without? 

Join us in the "People Have The Power Challenge", and see what powered tools, gadgets and devices you can do without. You will be practiced and ready for any potential future scenario, dystopian, or utopian.

I vote for a utopian future, where the people use their power to get all sorts of things done. In the home, the workshops, and on the streets.

May 26, 2018

Hello Bliends, I Have Been In The Garden

Screen time? No. Garden time? You betcha.

American writer Jonathan Franzen has a respectful attitude towards those that enjoy his words. "The reader", he says, "is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator. That might explain the popularity blogs - they are places where friends meet.

I have not been posting on our blog as much as usual lately, and Linda and I are finding that we are missing our blog friends (bliends? blonds?). We hope you are all well, and are thriving in joyous simplicity.

Soon pole beans, sunflowers, and marigolds will be growing right in front of my kitchen window.
Hummingbirds like to perch at the top of the tripod. They help me do dishes.

But not to worry, it has been for a good cause - we have been in our garden. After a week of blood, sweat and tears (or more accurately, black flies, mosquitoes and ticks), it is all planted. 

I have itchy welts all over my body to remind me of all the hard work, just in case I forget about my achy muscles. Is that oversharing? 

However, it was all worth it, and it sure feels good to have fully planted garden. 

Now is a time of eager anticipation as all the work shifts to the seeds tucked into the moist, warm, rich soil that they will call home for the next few months. Or longer. Our kale will provide us with crazy amounts of vitamin K for the next two seasons.

I know it looks like a grave, but the only things buried here are potatoes.

This year we expanded our planting space a bit by incorporating things that we already have. So a pile of well-rotted compost mixed with garden soil, with the addition of some rocks picked from our property, became a bed for table potatoes that grew eyes. 

In true frugal fashion, we ate the rest of the potatoes after we cut and planted the eyes. It felt like abundance and true wealth to have potatoes in the ground, and on our plates.  

We also planted herbs in two containers that were left here by the previous renters. I placed them next to the potatoes.

Happy as chives in a bucket.

And then there are the tin buckets that I found in an old residential waste pile in the margin of the forest behind our house. The chives are doing well in their new/old home, and are close to busting out in flowery fashion.

So there it is, friends. Stay tuned for garden updates, because the real magic is about to happen. How is your gardening going?

I planted this garlic on December 1st last year. It is the only green in the garden, but that will soon change.

Our 2018 garden:

- lettuce
- radish
- green onions
- beets
- carrots 
- garlic
- corn
- acorn and butternut squash
- peas
- bush beans
- kale
- potatoes
- pole beans
- herbs: summer savoury, cilantro, sweet basil
- flowers: sunflower, marigold

May 22, 2018

No Leisure, No Life

I still can't tell if this is a joke, or not. I hope it is.

Making a living is not the same as having a life. To build a life worth living, one needs time for leisure.

I don't know about you, but I always thought that working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week 50 weeks a year was too much. Much too much. 

Now, with "labour saving" technology, one can be in permanent work mode. But why?

Soon labour saving will mean more than the appearance of cutting down on work, all the while increasing that work. It will mean cutting labour out entirely with AI and robots. Now there is a threat even worse than low paid workers in foreign countries.

"You don't like being in permanent work mode? You should feel lucky that you still have a job at all."

No thank you. I have lived simply for most of my life so I could avoid such an outcome. My reasoning was that the less I needed to buy, the less I needed to work. And the less I needed to work, the less dependent I was on the masters and their perpetual work demands. 

Unlike AI, to be human is to need leisure time. Messy, inconvenient, but true. Not working for a taskmaster means that I can indulge the amount of leisure time necessary to build a life. 

“The original meaning of the concept of “leisure” has practically been forgotten in today’s leisure-less culture of “total work”: in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on that world of work. 

The very fact of this difference, of our inability to recover the original meaning of “leisure,” will strike us all the more when we realize how extensively the opposing idea of “work” has invaded and taken over the whole realm of human action and of human existence as a whole.”
- Joseph Pieper

I got out of debt. I saved as much as I could. Then, at the earliest possible date, I quit the endless work world.

Now I do what I want to do, which is most certainly not virtually attending a meeting while I am on "holiday" or in the bathroom, or while out with friends, or in bed.

If you have to work while on vacation, it isn't a vacation. If you have to work all the time, you are not getting the leisure time you need. 

No leisure, no life. Living more simply is one way to get the time you need, and deserve.

May 20, 2018

Awaken To Life

Purlple coneflower on one of my favourite walks.

Each day, we have the opportunity to awaken to the beauty of the larger world, nature, those around us, and our own goals. 

We don't need much in the way of possessions, or wealth, to experience such moments of awakening and awareness. 

Travel to exotic locations is not necessary. 

But we do need time. This is not something that can be rushed.

Other than that, the requirements are simple.

All you need to awaken to life is to sit alone with yourself, calm, quiet, and free of distraction. Repeat. 

I am grateful that I do not have too many things taking up space, making it hard to simply exist and appreciate my natural surroundings. I do not take my health, or the time I have remaining, for granted.

Today I am open to whatever comes my way.

May 15, 2018

2 + 2 = 5

Political parties gangs want us to believe that 2+2 = 5. They want us to believe that they are different from each other. But when they win an election succeed in taking over the turf, their policies all look eerily similar. Why?

"It isn’t nations and governments pulling the strings of real power in the world, it’s a class of plutocrats who aren’t ultimately answerable to any government. 
This class of plutocrats uses governments like Israel, the US, the UK, and the KSA to advance its agendas to exploit, loot and plunder the rest of humanity."
- Caitlin Johnstone

So any gang I can vote for supports infinite growth, consumerism, fossil fuel subsidies, perpetual war, Israel's slaughter of peaceful Palestinian protesters, and worst of all, the plutocrats. Why don't I have better choices?

“When a plutocracy is disguised as a democracy, the system is beyond corrupt.” 
- Suzy Kassem

It seems like the takeover is near complete. But not all is lost. We can fight back, and show we care, by living more self-sufficient, simple, and local lifestyles. 

The more we immerse ourselves in our own lives and communities, the less we are financially supporting (and condoning the actions of) the exploiters, looters and plunderers. 

Anything else is pretending what isn't true - that our governments work for the people, and that you can have everything you want without all the grief it causes.

2 + 2 = 4, and a local simplicity is the way on our finite planet. 

May 11, 2018

First Hummingbird


Last week, in a bout of wishful thinking, we got our hummingbird feeder out of storage, filled it, and hung it on our front porch. It was early, but better too early than too late. By the time the hummers get this far north, they are tired and hungry, and we wanted to be ready.

I can see our feeder from the kitchen window, and I kept an eye out for the first arrival. It took a few days, but on a rainy, cool day a bedraggled bird landed for a sip of food. 

It was our first hummingbird of the year, and it was a joyful moment. I am sharing two of Linda's watercolour paintings of hummingbirds, which are celebrations themselves of these tiny, tenacious birds.

Two types of hummingbirds visit our area - the rufous, and the ruby-throated. 

"Rufous populations declined across their range by almost 2% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 62%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. " - All About Birds

Ruby-throated hummingbird populations are strong. For now.

Both appreciate a little help along their journey with food sources - flowers in your yard, or feeders. Or both.

Happy bird watching.

May 8, 2018

How To Not Drive As Much

Driver: "Did you feel something?"
Passenger: "Uh, don't worry, it's nothing. Hit the gas."
Driver: "Full speed ahead! To nowhere and beyond."

We're not driving anywhere. Well almost nowhere - Linda and I drove our motor vehicle a scant 800 kilometres last year. That represents a record low distance driven in a year since I passed my drivers licence test four decades ago. 

Linda and I used to drive more. More like the average 20,000 - 25,000 km/year. We would spend entire summers driving gravel roads through the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains while camping rough and exploring the backcountry. 

It was beautiful, but we always experienced nagging doubts about what we were doing. How could it be a benign activity?

We knew that slogging a toxic fume spewing ton of metal, glass, rubber and plastic through the forest was not good for anything. It did create a sense of freedom and adventure for us, but did that mindset offset the damage we did in the process? Was it worth it?

Before long we had to admit that we could no longer justify our fossil fuelled escapades. So, as global climate change began to ramp up, we began to ramp down our driving. 

As a result, we began living far more locally than we had previously, and found that we liked it. We have not felt like are missing out on anything. If anything, our lives have been enhanced in many ways by living more locally.

Let's face it, any way you go you will be missing out on something. When you travel a lot, you miss out on everything that is happening back at home. There are trade offs any way you go, so might as well save money, and the planet, and enjoy what is happening in your own little part of the world.

Private gas-powered cars have been an unmitigated disaster for the planet, being responsible for at least 9.3 billion butterflies and 24 billion bees and wasps deaths each year, not to mention their contribution to climate change, or the tens of thousands of deaths due to car crashes each year.

Perhaps it is time to reassess how we get around, and if we actually need to get around as much as we do.

How To Not Drive As Much

- walk

- ride a bicycle, roller skate, skateboard, pogo stick, unicycle or other self-propelled method of getting around

- public transportation

- enjoy staying at home sweet home

live a more local lifestyle in close proximity to where you work, play, and secure the necessities of life

- combine trips

- telecommute 

- carpool

- retire from the mainstream consumer/commuter life, if possible

- use car share/ride hail services

- develop an awareness of how damaging fossil fuelled travel is to our planet

- live in a place you really like, and therefore don't feel compelled to leave all the time

May 4, 2018

The Autonomous Solar Vehicle

Eclectic, an autonomous urban vehicle powered by solar energy.

"Every 24 hours, enough sunlight touches the Earth to provide the energy for the entire planet for 24 years."
- Martha Maeda 

The solar car is here, almost. While still in the prototype phase, the solar car is a vehicle that recharges its batteries partially or totally through solar energy.

These vehicles are known as "autonomous" since ultimately they will not rely on any external power source. So far though, the photovoltaic modules installed on the vehicle do not make it possible to ensure total autonomy, but they contribute to it.

While electric vehicles are rapidly changing the transportation sector, the pure solar car could one day appear on our roads. But not quite yet. In the meantime, current electric cars have a lot to offer, although purchase price is often not one of their main selling points.

A recent study found that electric cars still cost significantly more to buy than gasoline-powered vehicles of the same size and capabilities.

However, it also found that plug in cars are almost always cheaper to run per kilometre/mile, and often by a significant multiple. And eventually, as more people adopt non-gasoline cars, prices will come down.

Electric cars also require less maintenance than gas powered cars, which would lower operating costs over the life of the vehicle.

That all sounds great, but imagine not having to worry about charging stations, or coal/gas/nuclear powered electricity generation, or high electricity prices.

It may not be long before our vehicles run on completely pure, clean, free and renewable solar power. 

Advantages of Solar Electric Vehicles:

  • No emission of gases and harmful particulates 
  • No fossil fuels required
  • Very low operating costs
  • Good for short distance trips

Disadvantages of Solar Electric Vehicles:

  • Currently have low autonomy (prototypes need supplemental plug in power)
  • Car must be very light
  • High initial purchase price
  • Not appropriate for long distance trips, or hauling heavy loads
  • They look more like a golf cart than a sexy sports car, or macho truck (hold on, is that really a disadvantage?)

May 2, 2018

More Signs Of Spring

There are many deer in our area. In the Spring they emerge from the cover of the forest to eat fresh,
green grass in the fields.

Spring comes slowly to the east coast in the Maritimes. But Summer and Fall fade equally as slowly on the other side, so it is a trade-off. None-the-less, the increasing signs of spring are an indication that seasonal changes are indeed taking place.

One of my favourite signs of Spring in our rural location is when the white-tail deer venture out of the protection of the forest to eat the new green grass of the field behind our home. 

At dawn on most days through April and May, there can be as many as 10 deer grazing peacefully. They stay there munching away in the morning mist until the sun cracks above the horizon, when they fade back into the forest once again. 

This gentle sight is something I love to wake up to this time of year. Add in Robins singing, and other migratory birds showing up, and it starts to look pretty promising. Soon we will not have to heat our home, and we can start to shed our winter wardrobe.

Garlic sprouting - a sure sign of spring. Let the gardening begin.

Another sure sign of the warming trend taking place is occurring in our garden. About a week ago I pulled the mulch back from two 4 ft. rows of garlic, and to my delight, there were several spiky shoots poking up. 

Now after a few double digit warm days, more are popping up, and greening up, every day.

We officially started our garden of 2018 waaay back on December 1, 2017, when I planted out about 25 pudgy purple cloves in our raised bed. The garlic I planted was from our crop last year. 

We haven't bought garlic grown on the other side of the planet for a long time, and that feels great. It really is one of the easiest things to grow, and it stores beautifully in our pantry.

We won't plant the rest of the garden for another week or two. Before then I will enhance our soil with compost, and get it ready for everything else we will grow this year. 

Last year was our earliest garden ever, having planted a week BEFORE May Long Weekend, the traditional Canadian planting time. It is possible that this year's garden may be even earlier, if things continue to progress as they have been. 

I am glad that the deer don't raid our garden. Neither do the ground hogs, which are out of their burrows now, sunning themselves and looking for mates. However, anything that hangs out of the raised bed, like our squash last year, will be enjoyed by the neighbourhood mice and voles.

Or they haven't raided us yet. We will see during another season of being grounded in this place, while growing our own food. 

I hope Spring (or Fall) in your area is progressing nicely for you. 

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” 
- Margaret Atwood