April 29, 2019

Home Cooking Reduces Packaging Waste

Cast iron Corn bread. Can you even buy cornbread in a store? I have never seen it.

It seems like everything in the grocery store comes in plastic. Even the stuff that doesn't, often gets put in plastic before it leaves the store. Non-plastic packaging may be less harmful, but it still uses precious resources. What is an aspiring zero-waster to do?
How about home cooking?

Making as much of our own food as we can helps us meet several objectives:

a) To avoid highly processed/low nutrition foods that may contain GMOs, nasty chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, high levels of sugar/salt/fat, and who knows what else? E-coli? Salmonella? Listeria?

b) To be able to control the ingredients in the food we eat, and

c) To create affordable dishes that are fresh, yummy, and that provide health promoting effects (food as medicine).

However, given the tidal wave of packaging (especially plastic) washing over the planet, there is a consideration that might be the most important of all. 

A big benefit of cooking at home is cutting down on packaging that contributes to both the garbage stream as well as recycling materials. Processed foods usually mean over-packaged foods. About 1/3 of the plastic produced in the world is used in the packaging industry. 

I used to think that humanity was going to pave over the entire world, but it looks like the globe will be shrink wrapped before that happens.

Granola bars before being cut.

Every time we make something at home rather than buy it pre-made from the store or take-out, we are avoiding packaging waste. Not to mention that cooking can be an immensely fun and rewarding activity.

Some packaging can be recycled, but in the major scheme of things, "Refuse" is better than "Recycle". Recycling still requires large energy inputs, from the trucks that pick up the stuff, shipping to a plant, recovery, then returning the materials into the system. 

A lot of times more basic foods come in friendlier packaging. Flour, for instance, comes in paper, and the same with whole oats. 

Two different kinds of veggie pizza.

One serving of baked beans in a reusable canning jar means one less tin can that needs to be recycled. And don't forget about the paper label (that used to be a living tree). 

Making a salad at home is easy when you use a pre-packaged salad kit. These are the ones that say "triple washed" and yet can still make you sick. A lot of the produce inside these kits comes from areas experiencing water stress, and all that washing wastes a lot of water.

The salad kits also contain several plastic bags within the bag. Much convenience usually means much waste. And they can make you sick. 

Make a salad at home with your own ingredients (washed the way you like) is also easy. The Big Food Industry has made us very lazy in the kitchen, and the unintended consequences always end up biting us in the behind (and other parts of the digestive system).

Tomato-based pasta sauce with tofu about to go in the freezer.

Cooking at home has multiple benefits for the individual, society and the environment. One of my favourites is that I am actively refusing the excessive packaging and waste involved with pre-packaged and processed foods. 

Food, and everything associated with it, should promote personal and planetary health, not illness and depletion of the gifts of Mother Nature. 

Cooking should be a sacred ritual unsullied by the sins of the corporate industrial food industry and its rallying cry of "profits before the people's and planetary health!"

April 24, 2019

Anti-Shopping Mantras - Part II

When I want to adjust my shopping chakra, I use a few tried and true mantras that provide me with the resistance against consumerism that I may occasionally need. 

The traditional purpose in using mantras is to create transformation, and many agree that they are powerful tools in this regard. Indeed, mantra is a Sanskrit word that means "sound tool". 

It is beneficial, then, to have a few of these in your anti-shopping toolbox. (You can see Anti-Shopping Mantras - Part I here.)

Anti-Shopping Mantras

- "I don't need that. Nobody needs that."

- "That harms the environment."

- "That will not improve my life."

- "My purchases don't define me."

- "I can focus on life more effectively without unnecessary material possessions holding me back."

- "That is not worth the hours of work required to purchase it."

- "This won't make me happy."

- "I would rather have the cash, or work less." 

- "I already have enough."

- "This was made by a large corporation that pays no taxes, and I don't want to support that."

- "I live without things other people have because I want to, not because I have to."

Mantras can help us become free of harmful thoughts, words, and actions. Try using these, or make up your own, to reduce the temptations that constantly bombard us and manipulate us to buy things we don't need.

Do you have a favourite anti-shopping mantra of your own?

April 22, 2019

Earth Day and Earth Girl

Linda aka Earth Girl in her preferred habitat - surrounded by Nature.

On April 22, 1967 Earth Girl was born. I was 6 years old, and living 6,000 kilometres away. Little did I know that our paths were destined to cross 20 years later.

Three years after Earth Girl's birth, on April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets on the very first Earth Day. What got people into the streets was a desire to highlight the negative effects of 150 years of industrialization. 

Fast forward to 1987, and we see that fate finally had its way with us. The day our paths crossed represents one of the best moments of my life. I had found a partner that loved Nature as much as I did, and was willing to go to any lengths to enjoy and protect it.

Now, it is difficult for me to separate Earth Day and Earth Girl. It seems that they are one and the same. She would rather live poor in a cave close to nature than reside in a high society penthouse with unlimited wealth. She will not be separated from her source, our source, THE source - Mother Nature. 

Today, both are imperilled. 

Mother Earth and Earth Girl have both endured terrible attacks, perhaps from similar sources. Has 200 years of industrial development caused the disease of multiple sclerosis? No one knows, but I am certain that it hasn't helped. 

Unfortunately, the conventional industrial "treatments" haven't helped either, and they often make things worse. How can you treat something when the cause remains a total mystery? We should be very wary of a system that is causing all the problems offering so-called solutions to those problems.

But Linda has found her own treatment, and that is living close to Nature.

This morning I got up to initiate our morning routine, and wanted to do something special for her as she lay in bed waiting for me to assist her. I opened our bedroom window wide. She listened, and smiled. 

Our room was instantly filled with the sounds of songbirds singing their praises to the Earth, and perhaps to Earth Girl as well. We could hear a woodpecker hammering on a hollow tree trunk in the distance, and some peepers, too. 

I didn't buy anything for Linda's birthday, for what could be better than the ample gifts of Nature? Plus, she doesn't want anything. Just me. 

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Is the Earth better off than it was in 1970? 

MS aside, I can confidently say that 52 years after Linda's birth, she is better than ever. 

Today I celebrate Earth Day. But I am celebrating Earth Girl even more.

April 20, 2019

Of Calypsos and Quests

Today I am sharing an excerpt from a book written and illustrated by the author, naturalist and artist, Briony Penn. When I lived in Victoria, BC I got to know her work through a regular column in the local newspaper. I looked forward to each new installation because I enjoyed her words and loved the artwork that accompanied each article.

When she moved on to other projects, I desperately missed her regular nuggets of wisdom and beauty. I vowed to use what she had taught me about nature, art and writing to guide my own creative aspirations. 

The following is from Penn's book, "A Year On The Wild Side: A West Coast Naturalist's Almanac". The artwork above is also from the book.

This is a story for my two boys. They are hearty men now full of earthy wit and valour, well on in their manhood quests. Every spring before puberty, they would join me on a smaller quest to find Calypso orchids hidden in the forest. This is the lecture in comparative mythology that I delivered before they ran kicking and laughing into adolescence. Poor kids, but they turned out all right. 

There once was a shy nymph from the island of Ogygia. She was the goddess daughter of Atlas and went by the name of Calypso. One day, Odysseus, the son of the King of Ithaca, was shipwrecked on her island. Odysseus was a handsome, hearty hero and full of earthy wit and valour. He discovered Calypso concealed in the forest and she fell desperately in love with him. He was stranded and couldn’t leave the island, and she begged him to stay forever, promising him eternal youth. Odysseus was young and longed to get back to his quest, and eternal youth had no appeal. After seven years of holding Odysseus captive, Calypso finally relented and built him a raft, releasing him back to his quests and the prospect of old age. He left behind a lover, gazing out to the Adriatic after him.

In the forests of our islands in the Pacific, you might remember discovering Calypso. The name of the coast’s most beautiful and secretive wild orchid commemorates that Greek goddess. Although I usually put up quite an opposition to names that are derived from stories made up almost 20,000 kilometres away, I have to admit a certain fondness for Calypso (the Haida called them Black Cod Grease). She embodies an eternal human condition — unrequited love, and she behaved well in the end. She made him a raft, she put together some sandwiches and a Thermos flask, and she kissed him and waved him a fond farewell. And Odysseus embodied another eternal human condition — the need for quests — and he behaved well, too. He was true to his own nature and never lied. He also knew better than to trade his soul for eternal youth.

One day, you might want to go and visit those Calypso orchids. It is the kind of beauty you would expect to flourish on a magical island with nothing but the sun, wind, forest, and waves to cultivate. There are five dancing sepals and petals, the colour of which can only be described as sweet Calypso madder. They catch the droplets of dew and direct the mead and pollinators into the fecund lips of mottled sienna, white and raw ochre where all creation begins.

Remember this image of creation. In one sense, Calypso is a subtle and fragile beauty — not to be spoken about, as if in the mentioning of it, it will be lost, just like her tenuous hold to the Earth through a few spiderweb-like root filaments attached to her bulb (or corm) or her rare scent, which only hits you in the aftermath of an April shower soaking into the dark forest duff.

Like the goddess, the orchid’s real essence flourishes in association with an earthy character — like Odysseus. Calypso only germinates and grows when there is a particular species of mycorrhizal fungus whose own filaments penetrate the seed to convert unusable starches into usable sugars. That association is most intense in the first seven years, as the embryo plant develops to maturity. Pollen is the lover, but fungus is the friend — a nurturing but vital type of friend. If truth be known, it is better to pine for a good friend than grow immortal with an unwilling lover.

When you were little it was easy to spot Calypso, as you were so near to the ground and had an eye for small things concealed under the windfall of the winter storms. Odysseus showed his true heroic qualities by finding her as an adult and then leaving her. There are many who don’t. There will probably be a while that you don’t, too.

You’ll join the throng of audacious mortals who charge through the forests of our islands, tripping on the delicate filaments attached to the earth while wired to pounding tunes, throbbing wheels or pulsing chainsaws. You’ll try out manufactured scents that drown out the ephemeral perfume riding on the air. And the unmentionable subtle colours of Calypso-madder lips spotted with dew will be outshone by the fluorescent glow of your Nike Icons.

But halfway through the quest, I hope your memories of something richer will kick in, and you will notice this rare plant once again. And I hope that you will do the heroic thing and leave her, since once picked, the orchid dies forever.

You can enjoy more of Briony Penn's work at her website by clicking here.

April 17, 2019

We Are Power

I laugh when I hear people accusing others of being "snowflakes". The term is meant to be disparaging, and labels the other as fragile, easily offended, and prone to melting at the slightest contact with an issue. 

Those that sling this term, though, forget that when lots of snowflakes get together, say on a mountain slope, they can become a powerful and destructive force known as an avalanche. 

A large collection of snowflakes moving together can clear their path of any and all obstructions, or in our case, oppressors.

While researching one of my favourite human beings, activist, poet, author, and musician John Trudell, I saw that he expressed similar thoughts when he said,

As individuals we have power and, collectively, we have the same power as the earthquake, the tornado, and the hurricanes. We have that potential. 

Trudell knew about the power of the people, and that our power comes from being a part of Nature. He knew about the power of collective action in fighting back against those that would oppress us, and as a Native American living in the US, he knew a lot about oppression.

He also knew that the forces aligned against his people, would come for the rest of us next.

"See, we are power. They deal in violence and repression, we are power. We are a part of the natural world. All of the things in the natural world are a natural part of the creation and feed off the energy of our sacred mother, Earth.

We are power. 

But they have separated us from our spiritual connection to the Earth, so people feel powerless. We look at the oppressor and we look at the enemy because they have the most guns and the most lies and the most money. People start to feel powerless. 

We are power, we are a natural part of the creation, we were put here on the sacred mother Earth to serve a purpose. And somewhere in the history of people we’ve forgotten what the purpose is. 
The purpose is to honor the earth, the purpose is to protect the earth, the purpose is to live in balance with the earth, the earth is our mother.

And we will never free ourselves as human people, we will never free ourselves as sexual people, we will never free ourselves until we address the issue of how we live in balance with the Earth. 

Because all our resistance and all of our struggle is hollow, it’s false, it’s another one of the oppressor’s hypocrisies. 

If we do not look out for the welfare of the Earth first, because I don’t care who it is, any child who turns on their mother is living in a terrible, terrible confusion. 
The Earth is our mother, we must take care of the Earth."

If we can come together to take care of a burned medieval cathedral, can't we also come together to take care of Mother Earth? What good is a 900 year old architectural wonder if there is no one around to enjoy it?

We have the power to turn things around. If we the people, working collectively, don't do it, no one will. 

Finally, they say that Notre-Dame Cathedral was built to last till the end of the world. Maybe it did.

April 15, 2019

Our Earliest Garden Start Ever

This year's garden got off to an unexpected early start. It began with an enthusiastic and unrelenting knock at our door that didn't stop until we opened it.

As we approached the door we could see the top of a little head popping up at the bottom of the window. It was our next door neighbour's 4 year old, Andre, that I like to call Andre The Giant. 

On this day it was his heart that was giant, not just his enthusiasm. When we opened the door he was standing there with a container loaded with three tiny planters identified with what seeds had been carefully placed in each one. 

"These are for you", he said. "Me and my mom planted them." There was cauliflower, sweet pepper, cherry tomato, supplemented by a large amount of cuteness.

Linda and I don't usually start our garden early. We have never had the indoor space, not to mention a cold frame or greenhouse. All our gardens have been direct sown, and sometimes we buy seedlings from local greenhouses. 

Therefore, our gardening season doesn't usually get started until mid-May. But not this year. 

Thanks to the generosity of little Andre The Giant, and his mom, our garden is off to its earliest start ever. Our excitement is growing over the coming garden season.

April 11, 2019

There Will Come Soft Rains

Sara Teasdale won the earliest Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1918, the year she wrote "There Will Come Soft Rains", a piece of writing that imagines the world without us. 

In the poem, Teasdale describes nature reclaiming a battlefield after war. She also writes about the extinction of humanity, far before the threats of nuclear winter, or weapons grade consumerism became a reality. 

Her poetry is known for its "simplicity and quiet intensity", and this poem is certainly all of that.

There Will Come Soft Rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,

And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire

Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one

Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree

If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,

Would scarcely know that we were gone.

— Sara Teasdale [1884 - 1933]

Our war on nature is one that we will most certainly lose. We have treated the planet, and all life on it, so harshly, that it would surprise me if any wild creatures would miss us if we manage to do ourselves in. 

Would they celebrate our demise? I wouldn't blame them if they did.

Mary Oliver is another Pulitzer Prize winning poet, and she says, "Maybe the world, without us, is the real poem."

It doesn't have to be that way. We used to be a harmonious part of nature, and if we ever learn to adopt a global philosophy of simplicity, we will be again.

There will come soft rains, with us, or without us. The choice is ours.

April 9, 2019

Therapies More Effective Than Retail Therapy - The Reader-Generated Definitive List

Spending time in nature is my preferred therapeutic activity.

In consumer societies, shopping is a popular way to combat the blues, or celebrate an event. This behaviour has been co-opted by those who have something to sell, and optimistically labelled "retail therapy".

A 2014 study found that 62% of respondents reported that they had bought something to cheer themselves up, while 28% went shopping as a form of celebration. Retailers love those numbers.

While shopping is not my thing, the fact remains that there can be psychological benefits to engaging in that activity. 

In moderation, acquiring things may serve to increase your self-confidence, help you reach mastery of something you enjoy doing, or put you into contact with other people in your community. 

For many, however, shopping can become problematic, and any potential therapeutic effects are nullified.

If you avoid credit card or bank statements, lie about or hide purchases, miss work, school, or other obligations to go shopping, experience shame, guilt, or irritability with shopping, then it becomes an activity that is no longer therapeutic. 

What it is in that case is consumerism in its worst form - the ever increasing acquisition of goods and services fuelled by planned obsolescence and the multi-billion dollar marketing industry.

If shopping therapy is not your thing, the following reader-generated list of activities that you may find more effective, is something to consider. 

I am a big fan of all of them.

- Nature Therapy 
- Conversation Therapy 
- Exercise Therapy
- Meditation Therapy

- Garden Therapy
- Helping Others Therapy
- Cooking Therapy
- Reading Therapy

- Game/Puzzle Therapy
- Music Therapy
- Art Therapy
- Cleaning/Laundry Therapy

Do you have a favourite therapeutic activity you find more soothing than shopping? It is always good to hear about how others are using healthier/less expensive/environmentally damaging activities to improve their mood. 

I added a couple more that came to mind since I wrote my initial post (that you can find here). And now that I think of it, laughter therapy is another one of my all time favourites.

Help make our definitive list even more definitive.

Share your suggestions in the comment section. Lets create the most authoritative "Alternatives to Shopping" list on the internet.

April 3, 2019

The Simple Life Is Therapeutic

Consumerism can be traumatizing, not only for the planet, but also for the consumer. Unlike other more explosive events, consumer trauma is a slowly simmering experience that often goes unnoticed due to its perceived normality. 

But it is not normal, and treating it is a good idea.

Those perpetuating the conditions that cause the trauma, recommend more of the same as a course of therapy. If you are feeling traumatized, "Retail Therapy" is their answer. 

In a recent post HERE I proposed that there are many "therapies" more effective than Retail Therapy. I gave 5 examples that came to mind. Then, the astute readers of this blog expanded on that thread in the comment section. 

In reading those comments I thought about how this blog is therapeutic for me, and Linda. We sincerely hope that our readers find it that way, too. 

Technically speaking, a therapy is a treatment administered by professionals after making a diagnosis. A therapy is a "process rooted in science and proven effective in both research and clinical trials".

However, many things can be therapeutic (possess healing powers) without being outright therapies. Like the Simple Life Therapy that so many of us engage in for fast acting relief. While the evidence supporting it may be largely anecdotal and case study, it is still robust.

Having said that, some of the ideas proposed by readers are not only therapeutic, but are also bonafide recognized therapies unto themselves. Art Therapy and Music Therapy both fit into the this category. 

As I looked at that first post, I realized that the things my suggestions and those in the comments had in common was the simple life, as well as creative thinking, as Nancy pointed out. The two go naturally together.

When one lives simply, there is more time for intentionality and creativity. Freed from the rigours of materialistic pursuit, and the amount of work it takes to support such a lifestyle, one can focus on more enjoyable and balanced choices.

"For fast acting relief, try slowing down" is a prescription that, like a magical tincture, immediately reduces stress with no adverse side effects. That is one reason why the Slow Movement exists.

Indeed, one of the most attractive things about simple living is that as a practice, it has demonstrable healing properties, just like all the things on our revised list of naturally therapeutic activities (I will post the definitive list in my next post).

In living simply, one engages in all manner of health-promoting therapeutic activities that provide the relief required to recover from a variety of maladies. 

If I could, I would be Dr. Simplicity, get my prescription pad out for those diagnosed with

  • Consumeritis, 
  • Stuffication,
  • Rat Race Burnout, 
  • Excessive Speedism, 
  • Industrial Disease,
  • Nature Deficit Disorder
  • Affluenza, and 
  • Keeping Up With The Jones' Syndrome, 

and write upon it: 

"Elixir of Living Simply" - take large dose daily, repeat frequently.

Side effects may include: being yourself, contentment, humility, attainment of deep insight into the true nature of life, joy, self-confidence, and unrestrained creativity.

Warning: May be addictive. 
Repeated use can cause you to live in harmony with nature and its cycles, and take from the Earth only that which is necessary for your sustenance.