May 29, 2019

Hours Are Like Diamonds

Hours are like diamonds, but even more precious.

What do you say to Death? 

"Not today."

But eventually the time will come when Death will say, "Yes, today." 

4 days ago that time came for a friend I have known since elementary school. He had been fighting cancer over the past few months. 

On the day he passed, Linda and I planted the seeds of this year's garden. We were feeling elated and full of life when we got the news. 

Emotionally we went from one extreme to another. 

Life to Death in an instant. 

And so it goes.

Jeff Olson, was 57. He was one of the most solid human beings I have ever had the pleasure to know. We shared a love of the outdoors and being in the wilderness, and probably spent more time together under the sky than we did under a roof.

Jeff was not one to waste his time. He followed his dreams, and took care of business. He was a helper in his community, and provided service to anyone that depends on oil and gas and the many products made from them. Which is most of us.  

Thank you, and farewell my friend. 

May 23, 2019

Live Simply, So The Birds Can Simply Live

- photo credit Brian Sullivan

I wait for the return of the swallows every spring. For me, they rival the robin for the position of Official Harbinger of the season. 

On the west coast we lived close to a vehicle bridge under which many swallows nested in their little mud homes built on the girders. Now on the east coast, we live on an old farm that has old, open outbuildings, including a small barn, that provide perfect nesting sites for swallows. 

Over the years the wait for the swallows in spring has become troubling.

In Nova Scotia (like most of North America), swallow numbers are down dramatically since the 1980s. It is hardly an isolated case in the bird universe. These ancient descendants of dinosaurs are finally being done in by the new kid on the block, Homo consumericus. 

There are so many threats to the ecosystem that it is difficult to finger any one cause for the decline of birds. More than likely, these threats operate synergistically and therefore become a greater threat together than any one individually.

"The main causes of the recent decline in Barn Swallow populations are thought to be:
1) loss of nesting and foraging habitats due to conversion from conventional to modern farming techniques;
2) large-scale declines (or other perturbations) in insect populations; and
3) direct and indirect mortality due to an increase in climate perturbations on the breeding grounds."
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada 

And I would add: 

4) high consumption lifestyles.

Because of the above, each spring when I spot the first barn swallow of the year, my heart skips a beat. Each returning individual is cause for celebration.  

Before long, small groups of swallows are squeaking and hunting acrobatically around our house, in the yard, and over the fields. When successful breeding takes place, the numbers increase in a most joyous way.

Each barn swallow can eat up to 1000 insects every day. They are perfectly designed to inhabit a specialized niche, which happens to encompass the human world (they like us!), and they do so with balance and efficiency. 

Something else I appreciate is how they demonstrate fearlessness and confidence in their flying skills as they zoom through the air, seemingly recklessly, but in full control.

If only I could live as simply and efficiently as these wonderful birds, without doing any harm, being supremely good at what I do, while adding beauty and a useful service to the circle of life. 

I live simply, so the barn swallows, and other birds, can simply live. When it comes down to choosing between a high consumption lifestyle and the birds, I choose birds.

It would truly be a "silent spring" if the swallows and other birds continued their current vanishing act right into extinction. I would miss them dearly.

May 16, 2019

Change Is In The Air This Spring

I smell flowers. And change.
(Thank you, Nancy, for the flowers.)

Spring brings us into an energetic, creative, get-things-done cycle. And this spring, more than previous ones since we moved to Nova Scotia 4 years ago, I am feeling restless. 

Is that change I smell on the wind?

Since Linda and I left Edmonton, Alberta (a city of one million) in 2005, we have been progressively simplifying our lives in preparation for a low carbon world that will be more simple and sensible than the one we are now unsuccessfully trying to prop up in denial and desperation.

How does one best prepare one's self for this dawning less energy intensive world? 

We feel that renting does not give us the control over our own destiny to the degree we would like to enjoy. But how do people who don't like to buy things turn around and buy the biggest single purchase of their lives? 

Linda and I have always rented, and we have enjoyed the freedom of movement that it has given us. Now we see purchasing an inexpensive rural property as the way to fulfill our the goals we would like to meet over the coming years. 

Thankfully, it looks like that may be a possibility for us because someone that aspires to a more self-sufficient lifestyle that is closer to nature, can buy a liveable rural property here for prices unheard of anywhere else that I know of in Canada (at least in the areas where most people want to live).

For what we would pay in rent in our current location over 5 years, we could acquire an acreage surrounded with forest with a small older home. That would give us the room, and the freedom, to cut our own firewood, grow fruit trees, install solar power and hot water heat, and have a huge garden. 

Linda's wish list includes a walnut tree. Mine, a Rails to Trails system within riding distance of home. Maybe, eventually, the trails will be converted back to rails (The Great Trails To Rails Movement of the 2020s) and we can take the train to our destination. 

In the meantime, I would be able to ride my bike through the woods unimpeded by fast moving, noisy and smelly vehicles blistering by just off my shoulder.

One big goal is living without a car. There it is. I said it. 

I bought my first car before I was legally able to drive it, that is how excited I was to add tons of gasses into the atmosphere while enhancing my lifestyle by endlessly looking for greener grass. More freedom. Better views. 

That freedom of movement and experience came at a cost that is now exerting itself in atmospheric changes we have never seen before. Each year breaks more records than the one previous.

Still, the thought of being without a vehicle makes me anxious. Is a rural lifestyle consistent with being car-free? 

But I also hate that most of the vehicles I have owned have been depressing money pit, smog-spewing, insect slaughtering monsters. 

It should be said that a lot of what we want to do has been modelled for us by readers of this blog. We are inspired by you because you see where this thing is going, and are instigating much-needed changes in response. 

We thank you for sharing your experiences here as we create a synergy that helps to gently nudge the world back to more Earth-friendly ways of living that are low  on stuff and high on satisfaction. 

It is exciting to ponder the possibilities for creating a beautiful, low carbon, low stuff simple life that builds on what we have already achieved, whatever that looks like over the next little while.

Is it the time of year, or is there a stronger whiff of change in the air this spring?  

I'm feeling' it.

May 7, 2019

Vegetarian Chipotle Baked Bean Recipe

Chipotle peppers are the secret ingredient in our baked bean recipe. We put the leftover peppers in a jar and refrigerate (we also use them in our Pea Soup recipe).

I never did like the meat in conventional baked beans, even when I ate meat. However, the flavour pork adds needs to be replaced. In our house, we do that with canned chipotle peppers and smoked paprika.

Chipotles are smoked jalapeƱos, so you get a smoky flavour from a plant based source. Be warned though - along with the smoky you also get the fiery heat. Cut back on the peppers if you prefer a milder dish. 

This vegetarian baked bean recipe uses Navy (Pea) Beans, the variety with the most fibre, which your colon will love (the colon requires about 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day to be healthy). It's hearty and healthy food. And they taste great.

Canned beans are convenient but often high in added sugars, fat, salt, additives, and BPA contaminants from the plastic-lined cans. Your healthiest option is to make them from scratch so you can control the ingredients, make a baked bean to your personal taste, and save money.

Vegetarian Chipotle Baked Beans

  • 2 cups (454 g) Navy (Pea) Beans
  • 5 cups (1.18 L) cold water
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ tsp. (7 ml) salt
  • 2 tsp. (10 ml) cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) Bragg Seasoning (or use soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. (15ml) prepared mustard
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) molasses
  • 1 can (398 ml) tomato sauce
  • 3 medium to large chipotle peppers, cut into small pieces (you can also add a bit of the sauce)
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika  
  • Pinch black pepper

Sort and rinse beans. SOAK BEANS OVERNIGHT in cold water. Drain. 

Add 5 cups cold water, cover, heat to boiling, then simmer until nearly tender. Drain and save the liquid (we use it to make a delicious vegetarian gravy).

Brown onion and garlic in oil, then place on bottom of casserole dish. 

Add remaining ingredients in with the beans, stirring gently to combine, then pour entire mixture into casserole dish. I prepare the chipotles by putting them into a small bowl and cutting them with a pair of kitchen scissors.

Add enough water to cover mixture. Cover with lid and bake in oven at 350°F for an hour, or until beans are tender.

When beans are tender, remove 1 cup of beans, mash, then stir back into pot carefully. Cover and bake another 30 minutes. Add water as needed to keep beans covered. 

Ten minutes before serving, remove cover to darken up the beans. Season to taste. 

What we don't eat immediately, we put in 500 ml canning jars and put in the freezer for a quick, easy addition to meals later. We often have them on a bed of rice with steamed carrots on the side.

May 2, 2019

Dandelions Are Food, Not Weeds

It's food, not a weed.

Can a perfectly good food plant be labelled as a weed? Ask the common and much hated dandelion. 

Right now my garden is waiting for warmer weather before it can be planted out. My lawn, however, is bursting with greens that are ready to harvest. But they are weeds.

I made up my mind to try dandelion greens the day I saw them being sold in the grocery store. It was something I had never seen anywhere else, and it caused me to do a double take.

Is it a noxious weed to be poisoned and picked relentlessly in the quest for the perfectly useless lawn, or is it an agricultural crop sold in grocery stores? How can a weed be of value? The very definition of weed means "something of no value".

Either the grocery store is ripping people off charging them for a valueless product that can be picked in almost any yard in the country, or the system has been lying to us about so-called "weeds".

Turns out the system has been lying to us about weeds, and many, many other things. In this case, the weed known as dandelion is about as nutritious as non-weeds, like kale. It is also delicious, having a lighter taste, and more delicate texture. 

The entire dandelion plant is edible - greens, flowers, and roots. They contain anti-oxidants, are beautiful, and are one of the first flowers in spring making them very important for bees. They have been used as a healing plant for thousands of years, just not in lawn-loving North America.

Linda and I have been using dandelion greens in smoothies and salads this spring, and I can see no reason not to use them all year. I might even plant a few in my - gasp - garden. 

If I was a plant the system might mislabel me as a weed. I have often felt like a single dandelion in a flat field of green grassy monocultural conformity. Not to worry, what the system labels a weed can actually be very valuable and ultimately useful.