Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Simple Suggestion #15... Avoid using pesticides and herbicides

Hey, Farmer Farmer, put away that DDT now. Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees, please!
Joni Mitchell, The Big Yellow Taxi
There aren't many bees around yet this spring. It makes me feel anxious when I see all those empty poppies in my back yard. The first summer we lived here, I remember being totally enthralled with the steady hum in the pear tree and the poppy patch. There were all sorts of different bees, different shapes and sizes. My favourite were tiny black and yellow striped characters with little brown spots on their back ends. It's early yet, but every year there seem to be a smaller bee population, a few fewer varieties, and that's not good news. Bees are critically important!

So today's suggestion is one I urge everyone to turn into action. Chemical pesticides and herbicides might save us from a few weeds and pesky insects, but we have to remember that those plants and critters are part of the food chain. Using chemicals doesn't just bite the dandelions and the bugs... it comes back to bite us all in the end, because living things are interconnected in ways human beings -- with our limited ideas of The Big Picture -- often don't realize until it's too late.

Don't like weeds? Dig them up instead of using chemicals that make bees, birds, and most living things sick. Don't like bugs? Squish the odd one that bothers you rather than spraying poison around. Or try to live by the Hippocratic oath and do no harm. The birds, bees and the rest of the planet will all thank you.


P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

#14 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Support small businesses

Each week, I receive an email from a local businessman who has an amazing earth-friendly products store. He's sunk everything he has into his little business -- including his heart and soul -- and he laments regularly in his emails about how few people buy from him as opposed to the big box grocery chains. He supports local producers by offering their products at the best prices he can, and he carries a lot of wonderful things you can't find anywhere else.

I felt a little guilty when I read that email. I'll admit that I'm not one of his regular customers. It feels good when I get to his store, or to the local bakery and the farmer's market, because I think it's wonderful when I can meet the people I'm supporting. I do avoid that big impersonal store with the happy face stickers; you know the one I mean. I can't support a business that causes unfair labour practices by demanding that its suppliers give rock bottom prices that don't allow decent wages for factory workers. I can't condone a business that moves into smaller communities, puts all competitors out of business by underselling them, then leaves for greener pastures.

Of course, that big store isn't the only one that uses unjust business practices to get us to shop there. We can't know all the details of all the places that supply us what we need to live. But when I think about it, it makes a lot more sense to support small, local businesses than big ones whose headquarters are so far away that they could care less whether they contribute to my community in a negative or positive manner. Small local businesses might have to charge a little more than that big store, but its bargains often come through injustices that a lot of little guys don't buy into if they can help it. Buying local means I'm supporting someone in my community, I'm getting things from closer to home, my food is fresher and often better quality, my clothes might have at least been manufactured this side of the ocean, and my money will get re-circulated among other small business owners here. When I go to the big box stores that sell everything in one place, it might be more convenient, but I'm too far removed from the folks who made the stuff I'm buying.

And at the little earth-friendly store I mentioned earlier, I know that the store manager has personal relationships with a lot of the people from whom he gets his merchandise. His weekly emails are full of information about the products he carries. There are only one or two degrees of separation between me and the people who make the things I purchase there, and in my books, that's worth a lot. So my aim in the next little while is to become a at least a once-a-month customer... and see if I can't up it from there. If you're curious about the store, here's a link: http://www.earthsgeneralstore.ca/

How many local businesses do you support? I'd love to hear about them sometime...

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Simple Suggestion #13 of 100... Install a water-saving showerhead or a soap-up valve

North Americans, Canadians in particular, use more than our fair share of water. We have such plentiful rivers and lakes that it's hard to imagine such thing as water shortages. But the fact is that there are many places in the world where water is hard to come by, and if we are to live in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in those places, we shouldn't be taking our water supplies for granted. Since it takes a fair bit of effort and energy to keep our water clean and safe, we need to do all we can to preserve a precious natural resource.

I grew up in a water wealthy family as one of those teenagers who started every day with a shower, and often not a short one. In fact, it's only since I've had a family of my own that it has dawned on me that we don't NEED to bathe every day. Most adults can get by a lot longer than that without having offensive body odor. I'm not saying we should go back to the yearly bath (that took place in early June in the middle ages -- hence the traditional June wedding happening when bride and groom were both "fresh") but I'd like to suggest that perhaps North Americans could think about bathing a little less frequently, and about saving more water when we do bathe. I think a lot of us have already converted to lo-flow showerheads, but have you ever heard of the handy-dandy soap-up valve?



See the little round button sticking out of the side of the showerhead? That's a soap-up valve. So what I do is get into the shower, get warm and wet, then push the little button. It stops the water (mostly) and I soap up.


It has the added benefit of keeping the water set at the same temperature, though if it takes a long time to soap up, when I release the valve, the water can be a bit chilly for a few seconds. It is nice to be able to do a good, soapy full-body wash without water rinsing everything away before I'm ready. And it's really great to save water. Doing things like this has made me appreciate it more.

Beyond this, the next thing to do to conserve water is to figure out a way to have a grey-water filtration/pond system in my yard. Somehow, I'm sure that won't happen before we build our solar-powered greenhouse, so the soap-up valve will have to do for now.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another interesting day at the Clothing Room

When I get to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Clothing Room on Thursday mornings, I always wonder what's in store. When I opened the door yesterday, not a soul was in sight. But by morning's end, I had met more than the usual share of interesting people.

First, Patrick and Gene came in. They wanted the usual, socks and underwear. They also asked for candles, so I went and found five of the "emergency" type that we keep in our cars in Canadian winters (in case we get stranded on a highway somewhere -- candles throw a lot of heat). When I handed them over to Gene, I asked what he was going to do with them. "See," he said, "I'm gonna see in the dark. The power at our apartment got cut off." He also took a small Canada flag, so he could show his pride when the Vancouver Canucks win the Stanley Cup in hockey. "Go, Canucks!" he and Patrick cheered as they left.

While I was looking for Patrick's candles, Jamaal wandered in the wrong door of the building. One of my co-workers in the sorting area pointed at him and mouthed, "he shouldn't be in here," so I steered Jamaal to the clothing room. Turned out Jamaal couldn't speak English. He pulled some identification out of his wallet and handed it to me, then pulled out his cell phone and shouted into it for a few moments. I wrote his information on a card, gave back his I.D., and went back to sorting clothes until Jamaal handed me his cell. A deep voice on the other end laughed and said, "You've met my friend Jamaal. He doesn't speak English, but he needs clothes. Is it okay for him to shop today?" When I said yes, the man thanked me and hung up. Jamaal was already shopping somewhere, unconcerned about his phone, which I returned to him.

Jamaal shopped the entire morning, and when I signalled to him that it was time to go by pointing at my watch, he came and kissed my hand, then gestured to me, and to heaven, which I think meant he was thanking Allah. Then he started speaking to me in Arabic, I suspect, but I couldn't understand what he was asking me. So finally he whipped out his cell phone again, yelled into it for a few moments, then handed it to me. The same deep voice as before laughed and said, "Jamaal wants to know if you've ever been to Syria or Iran." I laughed too, because Jamaal had gone back to shopping and didn't seem the least bit interested in the answer to his question. As he left, I learned that he knows two English words: Thank you.

I didn't have as much difficulty communicating with a couple from Slave Lake. Their neighbourhood was levelled by the fire that burned about a third of the town on May15th. They escaped with the clothes on their back. The fellow was telling me that he'd stayed behind to help fight the fire, and when he finished his shift, he was allowed to see what had happened in his neighbourhood. He missed his own driveway because all his usual landmarks were gone. And so is his wedding band, he told me ruefully. He and his wife volunteered with SSVP in the past, and looked us up so that they'd have a bit more than just the clothes on their backs.

People at the Clothing Room always remind me how important it is to care about each other, for caring's sake, and because you never know when it might be your turn to be down on your luck.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Find hope in the rhythms of nature... Simple Suggestion #12 of 100

One of the things I love about living this far north is the light in the skies at day's end this time of year. I'm still a ways from the land of the midnight sun, but this morning the sun rose at 5:18 a.m., and it will set at 9:44 p.m. It only seems right because our winters have so little daylight.

One of the things I love about nature is that a lot of the time, it balances out. Light and darkness, sun and rain, cold and warmth, growth and decay. It's just when people tamper with the way nature does things that life gets really messy. I always find it interesting how, when something goes wrong (for example, this week's Joplin tornado) that it's entirely nature's fault and has nothing to do with Global Climate Change caused by human beings. I heard an interview with a meteorologist this week, and she claimed that the severity of this year's tornados is in keeping with every other year, but meteorological records only go back sixty years so we can't talk about these storms in terms of Climate Change. Doesn't she realize that our glaciers have been melting ever since the late 1800s, and that such things might be connected to an increase in the severity of storms? It drives me crazy when scientists miss the fact that everything is interconnected because they're so intent on studying only their particular field.

But I'm not going to get snarled up in depression today. Nature is having struggles everywhere, to be sure, but her rhythms continue, especially where people cooperate with her natural processes. And more and more of us are waking up to and participating in what cultural historian Thomas Berry called the Ecozoic Era. We are returning to intimacy with our earth, trying our best to live in harmony with nature. Rather than thwarting those things that happen naturally, we are beginning to embrace them and work with them, seeing ways to live in mutually beneficial relationships.

All it takes is a change in mindset. It would be easy to complain about this fourth rainy day in a row, but I know that rain is part of nature's rhythm. True, I can't get out and work in the garden... but I have a day to clean my house, organize my life, and catch up with myself after having neglected indoor living for a time. Nature is good, and it all balances out if I can go with the flow.


P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Update: Packing with Darren, and the new L'Arche van

These days, as I'm moodling my 100 Simple Suggestions, my life behind the scenes is anything but simple. For the next two weeks, L'Arche Edmonton is moving offices and Day Program to a new location, and life will get more chaotic before it gets less so. For example, today I went to work to pack my boss' office. She's away at national meetings in Montreal, and my plan was to get everything she won't be needing until after the move packed into crates. But first I went to my office to do a little typing for her. When I finished that, I headed to her office, only to find it locked -- and the two people with keys gone to see about preparations at the new location!

Of course, there's no shortage of work elsewhere, so I followed a co-worker's suggestion and started wrapping and packing pictures in the community room. It was quiet, and I was alone for quite a while, or thought I was until I heard an odd huffing sound behind me. When I turned to investigate, I found Darren on the other side of a stack of crates, adjusting things.

I'm not sure what it is about Darren that warms my heart. Maybe it's that he gave me my first L'Arche "hug." He certainly isn't beautiful. He doesn't speak, except with gestures and unusual sounds. He often stands and rocks, his hands making spastic movements that rival anything those "popping" dancers do. I suspect my appreciation of Darren is all these things combined with the fact that he likes things the way he likes them. He's the guy who makes sure the pictures on the wall are hanging perfectly straight. It's his gift. Today when he came to see what I was doing, I watched as he went to where some crates were standing haphazardly on a table. He lined them up perfectly parallel to the table's edge. Then he picked up a few tiny pieces of paper that were scattered on the floor. I gave him a few bits that had torn off the newsprint I was using to wrap pictures, and he put them in the garbage can for me. When he ran out of little things to tidy, away he went.

This move is a difficult thing for many of our people with disabilities at L'Arche. Change and all the uncertainties it brings has everyone on edge to a certain degree. But Darren is still Darren, simply straightening and tidying, and making me smile.

***

Way back in November, I shared a video link about the L'Arche community receiving a very generous donation from Shaw Cable. It allowed for the purchase of a new disabled-accessible van for transporting the Day Program participants to their community involvements. The new van arrived last week, and I've had several people tell me about the party that erupted in the parking lot when the dealer delivered it. The entire Day Program went outside to celebrate with drums and cheers, and the people who brought the vehicle commented that they had never received such a welcome in their lives. When I saw Thomas on Tuesday, the first thing he told me was that he rode in the new van!

Even in the midst of the chaos, we always have things to celebrate at L'Arche. That's part of the reason I love my job.

Simple Suggestion #11 of 100...Use a library card

My family relies on our library a lot. Rarely does a week go by that someone isn't making a trip to pick up a book on hold or return a video, cd or novel. For a while, my eldest daughter was an employee there. Most of my reading material is picked off the "Staff Recommendation" shelf when I'm waiting for Julia to gather her weekly fix of Archie comics.

I also find the library very helpful when it comes to putting together book displays for my Voluntary Simplicity presentations. At the most recent one two weeks ago, I set up two small tables full of library books and referred to a few of them as I spoke. When the workshop ended, one of the participants came to me afterwards, saying, "I'm a librarian, and I'm just so happy that you're plugging libraries in your talks. You made my day!"

What's not to plug? A library is one of humanity's great inventions. Having a library card is like having a next-to-free pass to seeing the seven trillion wonders of the world. Books, magazines, newspapers, videos, audio files, cds, and now ebooks are available through large borrowing systems that will only get larger as we get deeper into this digital age. I wonder, how many lifetimes would I need just to get through the material in the nearest library branch?

Best of all, I have access to it, but I don't have to store it, keep track of it, or worry about it once I'm done with it. I know a lot of people who feel that it's important to have libraries of their very own on the shelves in their dwellings, but I'm afraid I can't see that as being very wise or practical. Yes, there are a few books that are handy to keep as reference, but why hold onto books you'll only ever read once? For a while, I thought about keeping books for my kids to read, but what are the chances they'll want to read the same things? They live a life much different from mine, but if they ever do decide that they want to read Mom's favourites, I've got a list to share. Even if it's such a great book that you don't want to part with it, you can always revisit it at the library if necessary.

Another wonderful thing about libraries is running into friends and neighbours there. It doesn't happen as often as I like, but when it does, I usually come away with a few books I've never heard of that other people recommend. Libraries are win-win situations all around. When's the last time you visited yours?

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#10 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Join a community garden

What can be simpler than growing your own food? I know, it takes some work, but think of how it reduces the complexities of life! No fossil fuels, chemicals or slave labour required. There are plenty of reasons for growing a garden.

But looking back through my first ten Simple Suggestions, I realize that suggestion #3, plant a seed, isn't easy for a lot of urban dwellers. Condo balconies don't always face the sun, and basement suites don't get much light, either. Fortunately, there are options for people who long for the little bit of self-reliance that comes from growing a vegetable or two for your own table. Many cities, including my own, have community gardens, places where you can rent a little plot and plant seeds to your heart's content.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, today I'm borrowing information from Edmonton's Community Garden Network:

A community garden is a group of people who garden in individual plots and/or common areas. In Edmonton, most gardens are operated in partnership with a not-for-profit entity such as a municipal department, social service agency, church or co-operative housing complex. Community gardens are created for a variety of reasons. Primarily, community gardeners grow for food self-reliance, for physical activity, and for social interaction.
Community gardens serve a community of diversity: the elderly, teens, low income, newly arrived immigrants, young children, and people with a variety of physical and mental capacities. Quality of life is enhanced for all; influencing the individual, the family and the community in many ways. On a personal level, individuals are healthier with access to organic fruits and vegetables, are physically more active, and enjoy the benefits of social interactions with their neighbours. Depressed, isolated individuals become healthy community leaders. Troubled youth become involved and productive. Families learn to work together to increase their food security. Recent immigrants to Canada feel more at home and more engaged with their neighbours. Food is grown for the food bank.

As well, physical change takes place within the community landscape. Unsafe, unsightly abandoned lots are turned into safe and vibrant community gathering places. Neighbourhoods are greener, and have better weed and litter control.
In spite of the fact that I have a large-ish garden already, one of my dreams is to see a community garden started here in my neighbourhood. Today I discovered that our Community Garden Network website has a whole section on how to do just that. I'll be hosting a back yard wine and cheese party with composting information on the side in a couple of weeks, and maybe I'll see if anyone there is interested in starting a community garden. There's a Senior's Association nearby that would be the perfect place for a garden that brings community together.

If you have any community garden experience, I'd love to hear about it... and if you don't, here's a link to the Edmonton Community Garden Network, where there's more information:

http://www.edmcommunitygardens.org/

I'm sure there are Networks like this one all over the world. If you can't find a garden near you, see if you can find a few more would-be gardeners near you, and see what you can do about starting one. Our internet age should make it easy to share information and get growing. Happy Gardening!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

#9 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Learn about and participate in recycling programs

Have you given any thought to what happens to your garbage? How does your community Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover? Or do you just Refuse to buy anything that is over-packaged and unlikely to be Recyclable? What do you know about Recycling programs in your area?

There are a lot of ways we can Reduce the garbage that goes to the landfill or other places we don't want to think about, but the primary one is to Reduce our consumption in the first place. It's also good to figure out ways we can Reuse things in our own lives. A friend of mine talks about how her mother never threw away a plastic bag in her life without Reusing it at least once. There's a lot of wisdom there. Composting is another method that returns a lot of good plant nutrients to a form that our gardens and flower beds can Reuse. Grasscycling (leaving grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them) gives our lawns extra nutrients and helps them Retain moisture, and saves our garbage trucks a lot of gas! Bottle depots and other Recycling facilities actually pay for the return of Recyclable items, and the list goes on...

Here in Edmonton, we have world-class Recycling facilities, built because our city realized twenty years ago that we were running out of landfill space. The Waste Management Centre is an amazing place, with lots of different building to handle different kinds of waste. My favourite is the MRF, or Materials Recycling Facility, where conveyor belts move items from our blue bag program past workers who sort them for sale to markets that need different kinds of plastic, box board, paper, etc. Edmonton has gained a reputation as a world leader in Recycling expertise, so dealing with waste is easier here than in most places.

I often wonder what I would be doing with some of the things I put in my blue bag if we had no blue bag program, and end up thinking about Mary Lou. She's a wonderful woman who taught my girls in playschool, and she was the Queen of Recycling crafts. She was always collecting all sorts of items that most people would think of as trash to make useful Christmas, Mother's and Father's day gifts. We still use the soap bottle napkin holder Christina proudly brought home when she was five.

Even if you don't have a Mary Lou or a blue bag program where you are, there are always places that need some of the things we tend to toss out. Charities like SSVP will take furniture and housewares. Sometimes it's just a matter of asking around about who needs those plastic yogurt containers or bags. Other creative answers might just be staring us in the face. One's thing's sure -- every item we manage to Recycle and Reuse is one less thing on the top of the junk heap.

Here's a fun tour of Edmonton's Waste Management Programs with Rick Mercer, a Canadian TV show host who makes us laugh. He's the slowest MRF worker I've seen yet.



P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday interlude: Ducks in the park

This afternoon, my girls came into the house all excited, asking for the camera. I went out with them to see what was going on. It seems that Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were flying to or from the river near our house when it started to rain, and they decided to make an emergency landing in the little area park across the street. We've had jackrabbits, falcons, coyotes and the odd deer in our park, but the Mallards usually give it a pass for the river three blocks from here. We enjoyed their visit, and the way they waddled around. For their part, they seemed a little annoyed at being tailed by the papparazzi!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Simple Suggestion #8 of 100... Dry your clothes on a clothesline

Friday is laundry day at our house because it's usually a day off for me, and if I don't have too many errands, I can get most of our clothes washed and dried so that the weekend is free. At our house, drying laundry involves a clothesline, a choice that has deep roots in my life.



My grandmas had clotheslines stretched out across their yards. I remember being sent out to hang damp tea towels in hot summer sunshine, and getting distracted by a grasshopper. In Plenty, Saskatchewan, I thought we had the world's highest clothesline, stretching from the fire escape stair landing of the two story bank building to a utility pole beside a shed in our yard. When we moved to the city, we had one of those funny umbrella-type clotheslines that whirled around in our yard for a time, and when that went, I forgot about clotheslines for a long time.

It wasn't until my husband and I bought our first home that I realized what was missing. Our next-door neighbours had a clothesline, and how I envied them! Everything from fur coats to quilts got a good airing every spring, and clothes hung out on the line every week. I knew when it was Tuesday by the fact that the laundry was out, and I knew my neighbours were away or it was raining if it wasn't.

When we found our present home, one of the first things I noticed was the dual clotheslines in the back yard. They felt like good karma, and I was almost ready to buy our dreamhome on the strength of the clotheslines alone, except the house had more wonderful features that won us over completely. Now my warm sunny Fridays or Saturdays involve the pleasures of pinning clothes to those lines, watching garments flap in the breeze, knowing that windfarms in Southern Alberta aren't working to power my dryer because I am.

If you've ever smelled sheets fresh from the line, felt the crisp fabric of a cotton shirt dried in the sun, enjoyed the way the wind dances through different garments, and thought about how your grandma probably did the same thing when she was your age, you'll know why I'm hooked on my solar/wind dryer. You won't think me crazy for writing an ode to a clothesline, or for having four of them in my basement laundry room when the temperature drops below freezing for five or six months of the year.

Electric dryers can account for up to 15% of household electricity usage. Saving money, conserving energy, preserving clothes from the wear and tear of tumbling around in hot air, and being reminded of my grandmas are more than enough reasons for me to love my clotheslines. If you haven't tried one yet, I dare you. It doesn't take much to string up a line...


Clothesline and pear tree, May 20, 2011

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Simple Suggestion #7 of 100... Learn to play an instrument

How can learning to play an instrument be an act of simplicity? Well, if you're not a music lover, maybe you want to wait for Simple Suggestion #8... No, wait -- please read this anyway. I make suggestion #7 because I believe that part of living simply is choosing to be creative participants in life, not just passive observers. This month, my Ministry of the Arts calendar quotes Osho, who says:
To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.
I play an instrument, but my ability to enhance life's beauty with my guitar is pretty questionable. I've never had a lesson, and I rarely take time to practice. Even so, being able to play has brought me hours of joy and pleasure, though real musicians would say that I'm a hack.

The thing is, being able to play even one song on an instrument gives a person a sense of accomplishment. My youngest daughter plays her ukelele repertoire of four pieces over and over. She's a chip off the old humanity. If you ever learned to play a song as a child, I'll bet you remember what it was, how you played it, and who listened and congratulated you.

A couple of years ago, my dearest friend, who is a good pianist, memorized Anne's Theme for her cousin, and my friend commented that she wished someone would learn a song for her. So I foolishly decided, in spite of my poor note reading/grade two piano skills from 30 years before, that I would surprise her. It took me almost two years to learn Anne's Theme. Two of her birthdays came and went, and I still hadn't mastered the thing. Finally, when a significant number of years was being marked, and I had yet to play the entire thing without a mistake, I called my friend and played it for her over the phone. Earlier this year, I relearned it, and put it together with a poem I wrote, and sent it to her a second time (still with a mistake -- oh well). That's when I realized that, though Anne's Theme was originally intended as a gift for my friend, it was also a gift for me. Practicing, or just goofing around with notes is relaxing, and something I don't do nearly often enough, whether it's guitar or piano or something else.

When I took music training for my teaching degree, my music prof insisted that everyone has music in them, but with too many people, it gets squelched rather than encouraged. As a result, a lot of us won't even use the instrument we all possess -- a singing voice. To anyone reading this who fits that category, I wish I could introduce you to Lucy. Lucy is pretty much non-verbal because she was born with Cerebral Palsy. On Monday when I was at L'Arche, Lucy and I had the job of folding forks and knives into napkins. Not a terribly exciting job, so I decided to liven it up a bit by singing. And Lucy joined in, singing with me, high and tunelessly. It was quite possibly the worst rendition of the song ever sung, but it was sung with joy on Lucy's part, and delight on mine. Everyone who heard us couldn't help but smile.

Playing an instrument or using the voice is something we were born to do (I was reminded of that fact again this morning at the Clothing Room, as a little girl sang to her baby sister, oblivious as to who might be listening). Making music is a creative act, one that gives expression to emotion, one that lifts our hearts and souls to another level. We can sit and listen to music, but it's just not the same as when we make music ourselves.

When I say, "learn to play an instrument," I don't expect anyone to complicate their lives by running out to buy a saxophone and signing up for lessons. Really, I'm suggesting any activity that uses creativity rather than electricity, anything that contributes to life's tangible and intangible beauties rather than to global climate change. Personally, I've always wanted to start a kazoo orchestra. Maybe I will -- it would be worth a lot of laughs. Anybody have a few combs and some tissue paper I can use?

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Simple Suggestion #6 of 100... Drink fair trade coffee or tea

At the Social Justice Institute that I attended on the weekend, there was a session on Fair Trade running at the same time as the workshop I gave. I wish I could have bi-located, as there's a lot about Fair Trade that I don't know. What I have learned about Fair Trade is that for a product to be Fair Trade certified, its production is carefully scrutinized in regards to fair labour practices and safe working conditions, whether wages are appropriate, and whether the product is produced using environmentally sustainable practices. What I just recently learned (through chatting with the reps at the Fair Trade booth on Saturday) is that not only can we drink Fair Trade coffee and tea and enjoy fair trade chocolate and other cocoa products, but there are more and more products being certified as Fair Trade: spices, vanilla extract, molasses, sugar, and quinoa to name a few.

The whole point of Fair Trade is that farmers in developing countries aren't being exploited by large corporations, but are being treated fairly and using their land well. It means we might pay a bit more for the pleasure of indulging in their products, but isn't that better than decimating their lands and families? Unfortunately, a lot of big name tea, coffee and chocolate companies are more concerned with getting their commodities at the lowest price than they are with ensuring their producers are being treated fairly. I don't know about you, but I can't support injustice like that. I'm willing to pay a bit more (and perhaps cut my consumption in half to afford it) so that there's no "slavery flavour" in what I eat.

If you want to know more about Fair Trade and the good things happening in Canada in that regard, check out www.fairtrade.ca, and buy Fair Trade whenever possible. If it's not possible where you live, ask for it. We consumers have the power to effect change, but sometimes we have to speak up and act for that change.



P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

#5 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Walk instead of driving

I think I've more than covered this idea in a few past moodlings... but I'll repeat myself a little for the sake of #5:

When I walk, my cheeks go pink, my hair gets wind-mussed, and I feel damp until light perspiration evaporates. I also take unbusy streets, avoiding the local five-legged spider of a traffic circle where cars crawl and blood pressure rises. At the moment, that circle is even slower than usual because of our fifth, most-detested and longest season... that of Construction.

When I walk, I enjoy the gifts of the seasons: light in the sky, birdsong, the smell of tree blossoms, the sight of flowering yards, the sound of fall leaves, or the feel of snowflakes against my cheeks. I appreciate the colours of growing things, or imagine the secret sleeping mounds of plants hidden under the snow.

When I walk, my lungs fill with fresh air and my heart thumps rhythmically and my doctor has no reason to insist upon cholesterol medication before my time. I feel strong, vital and less stressed than when I'm cooped in a car, breathing fumes. When I walk, I think deeply, or I sing to myself, or I pray, which are all much better uses of time than keeping my eyes on the road or waiting at red lights.

When I walk, the world stays cleaner, the climate cooler, and my heart happier because I know I am doing as little harm as possible to Earth, our beautiful home.

In the above paragraphs, I count almost 30 good reasons to leave my car at home. How about you?

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Life's little surprises

Just for the record, I love my husband. I don't moodle much about him because he's a private kind of guy. Last week he surprised me by taking me to see the newest pretty little pedestrian/bike bridge in town near Fort Edmonton. We had a lovely Sunday afternoon walk and coffee shop stop, just the two of us. That hasn't happened in ages!


Yesterday, he surprised me again. I arrived home from my presentation at the Social Justice Institute rather tired, and as I turned into our driveway, the garage door came up to show me... my birthday present, which my darling man spent all day building while I was gone!


In case you don't know what it is, it's a three bin composter!
Yesss!

Now before that blows all previous romanticism out of the water, let me explain what this means to me, even though you'll probably think I'm rather strange. I am very excited about my present because:
1) I love composting, turning organic food scraps into organic matter/fertilizer for my garden. Nature gives me so much; it's only right to give something back.
2) My old composter wasn't terribly efficient, took a lot of back-breaking effort because it wasn't built for the kind of composting I do, and it was also a health hazard. It was falling apart, with rusty nails sticking out of it in all sorts of dangerous places.
3) I had blueprints for this new three-bin system for four years, and looked forward to making them reality, but it just wasn't happening somehow.
4) My hubby gave me something wonderfully useful that I will enjoy for years to come, and
5) he gave up an entire Saturday, his day off, to build it for me! If that's not love, I don't know what is (though he did admit he enjoyed the process of building something real for a change).

It's a beautiful thing, my composter. The front wall has wooden slats that can be removed to make shoveling from one bin to the next easier, and our old compost sifter (that we made three years ago when I was working with the too-large single bin) fits inside the last bin of the three just perfectly.

I start my compost in the far bin. Plant-based kitchen scraps, leaves, dirt and other compostable stuff gets mixed in there. After the pile has had some watering, stirring and time to heat up and shrink down, I'll flip it into the second bin and let it do some more composting in there (with more watering and stirring). Then I can sift it (or not) into the finishing bin, and leave it until it's cooked a little more, and voila, black gold for the garden!

And those three bins wouldn't be if my husband didn't love me. I've told other peoples' love stories on my moodlings, and it dawns on me now that maybe I could tell a few more of my own. But as I said before, my man's a private kind of guy. I love him, and his little (and not-so-little) surprises. I'll leave it at that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Garden like God does... or #3 of 100 Simple Suggestions

Yesterday I spent four hours working in my front yard. It's not your typical front yard, as we've gotten rid of a good portion of the lawn. Last spring, we got a couple of yards of soil and compost, begged newspapers from all our neighbours, and embarked upon a lasagna gardening adventure.

In case you're not familiar with lasagna gardening, it means that we spread a fairly thick layer of newspaper all over the grass monoculture that we no longer wanted to mow, fertilize and water, then put on a thick layer of compost mixed with soil, and planted a few seeds in it. The grass under the newspaper, soil and compost layers decomposed, and above it we had lovely cosmos, bachelor buttons, poppies, marigolds, zinnias and lavatera, as well as two zucchini plants. The stuff that the jackrabbits didn't eat looked quite lovely by the end of the summer.


Our boring-lawn-monoculture-turned-to-garden has become something of a conversation piece in the neighbourhood. People stop to ask me about what's growing or tell stories about their own gardening. Not one person ever stopped to comment on our lawn! We also see a lot more birds, bees and rabbits -- one jack has a favourite cool hollow under a spirea shrub, and he'll sit there in the shade with an eye open just a crack -- as long as I putter at a distance. The closest I've come is about four feet. He scared the wits our of me that day because I hadn't noticed him before he sprang out of his hiding place.

We have a large-ish oak tree that drops at least a million leaves every fall, so last October I decided to garden like God does. Instead of bagging all those leaves, I raked them over our lasagna garden, watered them down, and waited for winter, refusing to behave like the suburbanite tribes in the conversation between God and St. Francis. Those leaves stayed put under two feet of snow, and protected my perennials. In the past few days, I've loosened them up a little, and yesterday I decided it was time to plant a few annual seeds in the soil underneath. I could just imagine those happy little seeds under the leaf mulch, taking root, absorbing all those marvelous leaf nutrients, and poking up through the mulch in a few weeks' time.

Just one problem. For the past 24 hours, it has been extremely windy... so my newly loosened leaves have been blowing away. I cringe when I look to some of my neighbours' yards, yards that are usually perfect but now have leaves strewn across them, but then I tell myself that I'm just generously sharing organic material. Even worse is my lasagna garden, now missing at least half of its top leaf-mulch layer (which also prevents our neighbourhood Dutch Elm trees' seeds from taking root by the millions). I'm guessing God is chuckling away as She and He listens to my muttering about how there's no point in raking it all back onto the garden when the wind is still gusting between 40 and 60 km/h. Oh well, it's a setback, is all, and I'm going to keep on trying to garden like God. I just have to remember that God's way is not manicured or unmessy. God seems to be a very laid-back gardener who loves a little dandelion chaos rather than those strict, green rectangle monocultures that don't allow for any weeds to feed His and Her early bees.

So what does all of this have to do with Simple Suggestion #3? The suggestion is simply to plant a seed. God is doing it all the time, abundantly.


The view from our front step, July 31, 2010.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Simple Suggestion #4 of 100... Learn to bake bread

I know, I know. It's a lot easier to go to the store and buy a loaf. But there's just something soul-satisfying about the process of baking my own bread. Start by making a "sponge" with that rich yeasty smelling flour mixture, and then knead in more flour until there's a wonderful elastic dough. Put it in a slightly warm oven, let it rise and punch it down, then, depending on what kind of bread I'm making, let it rise again, or form it into buns or loaves. I'm something of a sensate, and love to work with the dough, feeling its weight and goodness in my hands as I create the conditions for deliciousness. The people who invented those automatic bread makers that used to be all the rage (but are now collecting dust for a lot of folks) have nothing on the sheer enjoyment of starting from scratch and working with your hands. And the smell when it bakes! I think heaven will smell like that.

I would like to share my favourite bread recipe, from Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook (mine is from the thirty-sixth printing, dated August 1988 -- I bought a used copy through Abebooks.com). Of course, I don't want to break any copyright laws... so all I can do is suggest that you check your library for it, and check the index for the oatmeal bread recipe. It starts with something like porridge as a sponge, (oatmeal, brown sugar, butter, mmmmm) but it tastes better than porridge once it's baked. It's my favourite toast of all time.

I'll admit that I was slow to come to bread baking fandom, but now I'm hooked. I love the process, start to finish, and using wholesome ingredients is a plus. Admittedly, it's more time consuming than going to the grocery store, but I've never tasted a store bought loaf that comes close to the flavour of bread I make myself. Admittedly, that might have something to do with the effort required. Of course, I'm biased toward self-reliance and honouring the time it takes to do something well or make something worthwhile. Bread fits those categories to a T. Or should I say, B?



P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

#2 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Appreciate beauty where you find it

I have a friend who cannot resist beauty. The problem is that she has to buy it, wherever she finds it, and take it home with her. She has a small home, and it is crammed with stuff. Gorgeous stuff, yes, but there is so much of it that there is no way to take it all in. Beautiful things line every shelf and corner and nook and cranny, but it overwhelms the eye. If there was one pretty thing on each shelf, it could be admired, but there are so many that everything is a jumbled mess.

Today's moodling is a simple encouragement to appreciate beauty where we find it in order to leave space in our lives to appreciate beauty. If we're having to dust, sort, organize and redecorate to keep our beautiful things and our lives in order, we're missing a lot of less tangible beautiful things, those experiences that we could be having if we weren't dusting, sorting, organizing or redecorating.

So whether it's a gorgeous vase in a shop on Whyte Avenue, or a pot of beautiful but fussy flowers (I've never managed to keep cyclamen looking like they did when I brought them home from the store), if we're living simply, it's usually better to appreciate beauty where we find it rather than bringing it home to clutter up our living space.

Today I'm appreciating the tulips on the south side of my house!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

#1 of 100 Simple suggestions... Get to know your neighbours

This weekend I'll be speaking at a Social Justice Institute about Voluntary Simplicity. As part of my presentation preparation, I came up with 100 Suggestions for Living More Simply, and made a little poster as a handout. As I look at the choices I've listed, it dawns on me that some of them really don't seem that simple, or that they might need an explanation at the very least. So for the next while, I think I'll moodle a little from this list, and see what happens.

#1. Get to know your neighbours. I know, a lot of us know our neighbours, but how well? Well enough to run next door to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar? Since moving to our present neighbourhood eight years ago, I've really come to appreciate the people in my immediate vicinity. Olga next door dotes on my children. Bob, God rest him, shared garden produce and wisdom, and was a true gardening buddy, and his son Ken plans to move in, so the tradition will continue. Mary across the alley, God rest her, brought me seeds and made us pies and loved us as much as any grandma could. Angie down the street cuts my hair, Shelley across the park invites me for coffee and set-the-world-straight discussions, and MaryAnne two doors down makes sure I get my exercise by taking me for long walks.

The thing about knowing our neighbours is that, if we build relationships in our neighbourhood, we connect ourselves to a wider network of people who can help us out, and whom we can help out, in a pinch. We can also find solutions to problems within our neighbourhoods rather than having to import answers that, developed elsewhere, may not work in our back yards. And we can share things! Bob's lilies bloom all over my yard every summer, and Mary lent me a wonderful apple picker that worked really well for my pear tree. When she passed away two summers ago, I asked her daughters if I could have it. They were happy to pass it along to me. Now Dave and Jennifer live in Mary's house, and when apple time comes, I lend the apple picker to them, too. Neighbourly sharing means we're using fewer of the earth's resources, as everyone doesn't need their very own apple picker! Or snowblower, or basketball net, or...

Connection with our communities also brings a lot of other benefits besides the obvious ones of friendships and sharing. If we develop strong relationships within our neighbourhoods, we don't have to look so far afield for our happiness or security. If we have neighbours that we know, love and trust, why go elsewhere for entertainment or fun? We've become a society that is used to looking beyond what we have nearby for answers. The sooner we start looking around our own block, the better off the world, and we, will be.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? See here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers' Day... Short Story #6

May 4, 2016... I know you've come to this page to read a story about Mother's Day (below), but I'd like to ask a favour first, if I may. The city of Fort McMurray here in Alberta, Canada, has been evacuated because of raging wildfires. Many homes have already burned to the ground, and my cousin and many other moms (and their families -- 88,000 people) have been displaced. If you could offer up prayers for rain to help the fire fighters and for all those who have been evacuated, I would appreciate it...

If you'd like to use this story, please contact mjbpkrus @gmail.com for permission. (I've never said no, and it's just fun if you can let me know where my story goes.)


***

For Mom, whom I love more than words can say or stories can tell.

Mothers' Day

The little girl sits at her desk, swinging her legs and chewing the eraser tip on her pencil, looking at the blank piece of paper before her. The assignment is to write a letter for Mother’s Day, telling why the little girl loves her mother. She looks around the classroom for inspiration, then at what the classmate beside her has written. Finally, she leans over her paper, pokes her tongue out of the corner of her mouth in concentration and writes,

          Dear Mom,   
I love you because you are funney, and nice. I love you because you give good pushes on the swings. I love you because you help me to lern to cook macarony somtimes. I love you because you tryed to help me lern to ride my bike, even wen you let go and I fall down. You are good at putting on bandaids and making me feel beter, to. Happy Mothers Day.  
Satisfied, she takes out her pencil crayons and decorates the margins of the letter with colourful flowers. For the final touch, she draws a prize ribbon that says “BEST MOM.” 
Three days later, the little girl gets up very early, sneaks into her mom and dad’s room, and leaves the letter and a small peat pot with a marigold sprig on Mom’s night table so that she will be surprised when she gets up.
At breakfast time, the little girl gets a wet-eyed kiss from her mom, and hears, “thank you, honey.”

Almost exactly ten years later, a girl sits at her desk in her bedroom, a blank piece of stationery before her. “Dear Mom,” it says, and that’s all it says. The teenager wants so much to write something special for her mother, but the words are all tangled. Tears start up and recede again and again. Tears of gratitude for the times when Mom came through with understanding or a hug at just the right moment; tears of anger when Mom said or did something unfair, or refused a special privilege that everyone else’s mom was allowing. The gratitude wins out, and the girl starts by writing,

Dear Mom,
I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I just want to tell you that you are the best mom a girl could ask for.  Thank you for bringing me into this world, and for listening and for… 
Tears spill out of the girl’s eyes onto the paper, and she crumples the splotched missive and tosses it in her trash can. After two more similar attempts, the girl rips the paper to shreds, dries her eyes, goes to the mall, and picks out a generic card. The best she can do.

Almost exactly fifteen years later, a woman is awakened by whispering at her bedside. She turns away from the little noises and cracks an eye open to look at the clock radio. 6:45 a.m. Her husband is grinning at her, so she rolls her eyes, and turns over to face her three children, who are armed to the teeth with homemade bead necklaces and cards, and hug coupon books. She makes a suitable fuss over everything thrust at her, and then gets up to make toast for her hungry two-year-old, who is demanding breakfast in a language that only a parent can understand.
That evening, the mother creeps into her children’s rooms to kiss them as they sleep. As she looks upon them, she is hit with a wave of what can only be described as mother love, and she thinks,  now I understand those wet-eyed kisses when I was seven. And I probably should have given my mom the letter I tried to write when I was seventeen.

Mother’s Day ©2009, Maria K. All rights reserved. 
For permission to use, please contact mjbpkrus @ gmail.com.

***

Plenty, Saskatchewan

The story goes that when the train came through town the first time, the engineer commented that the station master had plenty of children, and the place was known as Plenty ever after. After my comments yesterday about the water tower, I thought you might like to see it. Keep in mind that I was five years old, and that water tower was HUGE. Thanks to my sister for sending me the link! And kudos to SkyleoFiets for his running commentary videos on many small prairie towns. It's great to see footage of these places!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Change

My family moved to Edmonton almost 36 years ago. According to the spring census of that year, the population was 451,635, and we were just 5 of the almost 10,000 folks who increased the city's numbers by the next spring census. Moving to the city was a big deal. We came from flat prairie Saskatchewan, a town of maybe 300 people, where, as kids, we walked wide swaths around the water tower because it was so tall that it seemed it might fall on us. But the water tower had nothing on the 32 story AGT building that was Edmonton's prime landmark at the time we moved. It was so big, we could see it from our picture window across the river, and I seem to recall almost falling over the first time I stood in the building's shadow and looked up.

My brilliant sisters recently discovered an interesting picture on the Provincial Archives website. It was taken in the month before we moved to Edmonton, and that the skyline has changed a lot is no surprise, given that the last census info I can find from 2009 has our population at 782,439. We've also been through several booms and busts in construction cycles, but our city council seems to have gotten on the downtown densification bandwagon that has become popular in larger North American cities. Better to build condos downtown than spread any further than we have on the arable land that borders our community. We might need it to grow food for our citizens once fossil fuels are a thing of the past, which, according to many predictions, is a time that will arrive sooner than we can imagine.

For interest's sake, here's the picture from 1975 and one my sisters took last month from the same viewpoint:


1975


2011

Quite a change, isn't it? Of course, it can't show the change that is going on in the people of Edmonton themselves. I'd like to think that, after a period of rapid urbanization, we are waking up to ways to be urban dwellers who find ways to live more in sync with nature. I was at a well attended workshop this morning that seems to attest to it.

My moodling today, after spending the morning hearing about edible landscaping from Ron Berezan, also known as the Urban Farmer, has been about how our city has changed. Over the past hundred years, my neighbourhood, which once housed a market garden and several farms, has become mainly residential with mostly useless green lawn monocultures... but after hearing what Ron had to say, I suspect a few more of us will implement some of his recommendations for turning our yards into food-providing naturescapes that are more-species-friendly. Since I first heard Ron in 2007, our family has been slowly converting our lawn into garden space, and it's been fun to have conversations with people who stop to ask questions. Somehow, no one ever commented on our lawn.

Change is inevitable (except from vending machines, says Robert C. Gallagher). But positive change is the best kind, and that's what our world needs.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The value of tedium

Scoop, scrape. Scoop, scrape. I baked cookies yesterday. My least favourite part of baking cookies is getting them onto the cookie sheet. It's a boring, repetitive job. Tedium, in other words. But yesterday I was feeling stressed, and actually appreciated the tedium as a time to think about things.

These days, we do everything we can to avoid anything tedious. We involve ourselves in as much activity as we are able in order to avoid having boring and repetitive lives. In the process, we run from one thing to another without a moment in between to think. And of course, when an activity we've signed up for becomes tedious, we find excuses to avoid it, we turn on music or TV to distract ourselves from it, or we drop it and sign up for something else rather than welcoming the opportunity to just relax into a moment that doesn't require intense concentration, nervous energy, hurry or worry.

I'm starting to believe that tedium is underrated. We've invented so many ways to banish tedium from our lives that we've lost touch with our abilities to daydream as we do the dishes, sing as we scrub the floor, wool gather as we weed the garden. All tedious jobs, but also opportunities to let our minds go so that we can sort out our lives and find a few moments of peace. I've noticed that when I avoid tedious jobs, my creativity tends to decrease and my stress levels rise. Just an observation.

Today, find and welcome a little tedium space where thought, imagination and creativity can run free. Me? I'm going to dig grass out of the garden, and think many meandering thoughts.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

S...L...O...W... Short Story #4

I've been feeling stressed lately, an unusual thing for me. As someone who deliberately keeps a slower pace of life, making sure there are enough quiet spaces, I'm finding myself in a busier than usual time that hasn't allowed for a lot of thought or attention to detail. I don't like it when life moves too fast because it's hard to appreciate the little things. Today I'm going to slow down and enjoy them.

Julia is home with a fever, so I have a serendipitous quiet morning with her. Rather than engaging in moodling as I often do in quiet times, I'm going to share another short story here, from eight years ago. When I wrote it, I was wishing to be more like my grandma, and in the years since, I think my wish has come true in a lot of the little homemaking ways mentioned. I'm off to bake some cookies and spend some time with my little girl who has grown so much, and who is not going to be little for very much longer.


S…L…O…W…
We walk down the street, at a snail’s pace, almost, my three-year-old and I.  It is a sunny March afternoon with a cool breeze coming from the north, and snow banks gradually disappearing around us.  There are periodic puddles submerging the sidewalks and we stop at each one as Julia determines whether she wants to push her dolly stroller through it, or whether she wants me to carry it.  With the north wind behind us, and hours ahead of us before the older girls get home from school, I am determined to take this ramble around the neighbourhood at a leisurely saunter.

But how difficult it is to move at Julia’s speed.  The temptation is to lift her into my arms, grab the half-pint-sized stroller, and hustle along more quickly.  Why is that?  Why rush through life when the sky is this blue and the puddles this perfect?  So often I am aware of little boots clomping along beside me at a gallop, as I hold Julia’s hand and stride through the mall to mail a letter or return library books.  I swing her up on my shoulder and lug a heavy bag of books or groceries with my other arm, feeling the tendons in my shoulders strain with the weight of the child on one side balanced by the heaviness of the load dangling from my other forearm.  And lately, I think I may have overdone it, as I can’t sleep on one sore shoulder.

We amble along, turning east, and then north as we circumnavigate the block.  Julia stops and hands me the stroller.  “Here,” she says.  I take it, and watch her wade rather gingerly into a deep pool on the sidewalk.  She stands there a moment, moving her foot and watching the ripples, testing how deep the water is. Then she becomes still as she sees her own reflection looking up at her from its surface.  But the wind is cold, ruffling the water and blowing in her face, and tears are running down her cheeks.  “I’m crying,” she says, matter-of-factly, and in spite of my determination to take this walk in low gear, I lift her out of the puddle and carry her and the doll stroller to the corner so that we can walk and play without the wind in our faces. 

It seems warmer now that we are walking west.  The sun is shining and there are houses across the street to break the wind a bit.  I let Julia take the lead, and watch her cracking the ice on the edges of the puddles the sun hasn’t touched, ready to catch her should she slip.  I’m thinking, isn’t this a glorious waste of time.  The vehicles whiz past on the busy street behind me, racing to their destinations, and my concern is only the journey of the moment.  What a luxury, to meander around the block at the pace of a three-year-old.  How many of the people in those cars would trade places with me in an instant?

And yet, I suspect many of them wouldn’t.  I have to admit that even I find the pace of a three-year-old too slow a lot of the time.  I am a product of our space age culture as much as anyone else.  I love to get things done quickly, to go places in a hurry.  I love the instantaneous world of the internet, and email, and long distance.  I would fly to Europe on the Corcorde if I could.  I drink instant coffee and I eat fast food now and then.  My kitchen has a microwave, and a dishwasher.  The news comes immediately via radio and television (though I don’t have CNN).

But I am also a child of my ancestors.  Their world wasn’t so rushed, and I find myself longing for that world, even though it was much more labour-intensive than mine.  Were letters more valuable when they took several months to reach their destination?  Were journeys to visit distant friends more of an occasion when they lasted several days in horse-drawn wagon?  Was music more appreciated when new songs appeared on the radio less frequently?  Was food tastier when it wasn’t fast?  Was clothing more special when it was made by hand?  Of course, of course, of course, of course, of course.

My pioneer grand mother wasn’t able to drive to the store for frozen peas.  She grew her own, and knew a satisfaction that I don’t know when I pull a bag from my freezer.  When she made supper, she was working with earthy things that she had helped to bring into existence.  She shelled peas, cultivated potatoes and pickled cucumbers and carrots, and preserved myriad other things.  Her husband grew grain that was eventually transformed, by hand, mind you, into noodles and strudel and bread and pastries.  He raised feed for the chickens, pigs and cattle that became the meat on the table.  And I, I am so far from it all, except for the few weeks of the year when my puny garden patch yields its carrots and tomatoes and beans.

Slowness is not a virtue in the culture within which I exist.  All the time-saving devices that speed up processes that the pioneers in my past would spend an entire day, or week, or summer doing, mean that I should have enough time on my hands to do twice as much as they ever did.  Yet somehow, I don’t see that happening in my life.  How often have I said, “I’ll write that letter tomorrow,”  “I’ll call my friend this week,” “I’ll scrub the tops of my cupboards soon,” and these small things are undone until this moment in time.  I spend less time washing the dishes, yes, but do I spend more time on other, important, time-consuming things?

How often have I wished that I could stop everything so that I could savour a moment?  At the same time, I suspect that, if I could suspend the laws of the universe and prevent time from moving so quickly, it would last but a few minutes before I became impatient and said, “That’s enough; let’s get on with it.”  And how often am I impatient with things that move slower than molasses running uphill in January?  The driver ahead of me.  My nine-year-old as she peels a carrot.  The institutions that seem to carry on forever without changing for the better.  And yet, these forms of slowness are, sometimes, a good thing.  The driver ahead of me saves me from a photo-radar ticket.  My nine-year-old has yet to peel her finger.  The church I belong to has continued to work for justice and peace at its own pace for 2000 years. 

Some of these things roll around in my mind as Julia and I stroll along.  We come to a piece of sidewalk where, when the cement was wet, another little girl pushed her doll carriage and left footprints and wheel marks behind.  Julia is fascinated, trying to fit her stroller’s wheels into the tracks of 35 years ago when the sidewalk was poured in 1968, as the concrete stamp announces.  That other little girl could have been me, I realize, had I lived in this neighbourhood in 1968.  Time moves more rapidly than I think, but moments like this, caught in concrete, give me pause.  If it has taken so little time for me to grow 35 years, it won’t be long and Julia will find herself at a moment like this.

We stop near a drain on the curb, and watch bits of street flotsam move through the water and slide through the bars and down into the sewer.  I find a stem with several mountain ash leaves on it, and pull them off one by one to put them into the racing current so that Julia can watch the boats float away.  Soon she has found her own mountain ash leaves, and is dropping them, one by one, into the water along the curb.  Some of them get stuck, and I reach in a finger to set them free.  I take Julia’s hand and walk a little further down the sidewalk, where the water flows more gently, and I tell her to float her boats here.  She drops two leaves in, watches a moment as they gradually start to move toward the drain, but loses interest and goes back to where the water rushes the leaves away.  She drops in the rest of her little boats, several at a time now.  Even Julia is a child for velocity.

When we arrive at our front stoop, we sit a moment on the steps and watch a car splash through a puddle.  We have been out for over an hour, and I find I am not anxious to end the magic of the slow-motion walk.  I go into the house and get two glasses of water and some crackers, and we sit on the steps, munching and getting up to go look at the tulips peeking through the soil, examining a spider that has awakened from its hibernation early.  For the ten minutes that we spend there, I watch my daughter eating her crackers and poking around, and I am grateful that I have a three-year-old to remind me that life shouldn’t be lived in such a hurry all the time.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A green party

She did it! After 31 years of running on a mainly environmental platform, Elizabeth May was elected to the Canadian House of Commons last night. The Green Party partied in Saanich-Gulf Islands, and I would have loved to celebrate with other environmentally-aware people at her post-election celebration. I'd really like to predict that this is the start of a movement toward sensible environmental legislation, but unfortunately, the least environmentally-concerned of our political parties won a majority last night, and they're so busy trying to perpetuate our broken economic system that they just don't understand the importance of protecting our environment, or bother to try to see ways that Canada could be a world leader in alternate energy technologies and green employment possibilites that could build our economy and help save our planet.

I've been cheering for Elizabeth for a while now because she understands that the bottom line in politics should be developing policies that protect our environment. If strategic voting hadn't been so important in our riding (to keep our environmental lawyer opposition party member in parliament) I would have voted Green, as encouragement to them to keep on trying to get their message through. The Greens are a national party, moreso than the Bloc Quebecois, who run only in Quebec, and yet Elizabeth was barred from the televised national leaders' debate. In the end, although she was elected, support for the Greens slipped from 7% to 3%, likely because of strategic voters like me. Sorry, Liz!

It's not easy being green these days. On the one hand, the idea of green has been co-opted by a lot of businesses and organizations whose interest is not "saving the planet," but making more money through green-washing their products and services. If they pretend to be green enough, they win over people who aren't exactly green themselves, but would like to be "seen" as green. So everywhere we look, there are green products and green possibilities for almost anything, most of which only add to the waste and overuse of our environment's resources. On the other hand, those who want to bring the environment to the forefront of politics include a wide range of people, from sensible, practical deep thinkers and doers like Elizabeth May, to tree-hugging hippy types, to over-the-top activists who give the entire green movement a bad rap, and, unfortunately, fewer votes.

Today, although I'm glad that my environmental lawyer candidate was re-elected, I'm feeling saddened, disappointed, and somewhat disillusioned at the thought of another four years with our least environmentally concerned party running our country. But it's too late to do anything about the election now. Or is it?

Perhaps there are things that can be done to support Elizabeth in her work. Perhaps there are ways to make friends and neighbours aware of environmental issues going through parliament so that they can support environmentally conscious decisions. I could always renew my Sierra Club membership, as it seems to be a pretty level-headed environmental organization most of the time. And even though election signs are coming down, I could get a Green sign for my lawn to remind neighbours of the importance of thinking green all the time.

Mahatma Ghandi said we need to "be the change" we want to see. Since my new government isn't the right change yet, I guess it's up to me.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A day in the garden

One of my favourite books, period, is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I remember hearing the story read by my Grade Two teacher, and being enthralled along with Mary Lennox as she discovered the growing things in the garden:
She did not skip, but walked. She went slowly and kept her eyes on the ground. She looked in old border beds and among the grass, and after she had gone around, trying to miss nothing, she had found ever so many more sharp, pale green points, and she had become quite excited again.
The book is a classic that I've read to all of my elementary school students and each of my children, hoping to stir in them the joy and excitement that can be found as things come out of the soil as if by magic and begin to grow. Today I am Mary Lennox in my own garden, though it's not a secret one hidden behind the ivy, with a newly rediscovered key. It's out in front of my house on a gorgeous sunny Monday and I don't have to go to work, so I will be looking for those pale green points and making some space for them to breathe and grow. Maybe I'll post pictures a little later on for other happy gardeners to enjoy.

Most of my moodling over the next while will probably be out in my yard, but I'll try not to forget to share a bit here, too...

8 p.m. Well, my plans to clean up the front yard didn't get very far, as I ended up digging up the strawberry patch instead. I transplanted 40 little plants to a new place and gave 16 to my neighbour across the back lane. I also moved 20 bags of leaves (to be used for composting) off the garden to a space behind our garage, and I think I'll get out and work on the front yard tomorrow. I did manage to take a few pictures of tiny growing things that make me happy this evening.


The scilla are starting to bloom...


Stella d'ora daylilies are poking through...


Those seventy tulips I planted in October are in various stages of emergence...


And narcissi are on their way!
I can't wait to see the yard in a month or so. Tomorrow's another happy yard day. Maybe I'll take a before and after picture and post them. I'm good tired this evening; after all that fresh air (and a mild sunburn) I'll sleep well for sure. Sweet garden dreams to you!