Thursday, June 30, 2011

#33 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Pay cash for everything

Why would internet-savvy, credit and ATM card loving people want anything to do with cold hard cash? It's so inconvenient!

Well... if I give it a bit of thought, cash isn't so bad, really. True, I have to stop at a bank or ATM to get it, but once it's in my wallet, I am more aware of how much money is visibly passing through my hands. Handing over a card makes it really easy to lose track of what's being spent. My eldest daughter has been learning that the hard way.

Then there are those nasty little mostly hidden costs called service charges that come with bank and credit cards. Every time I pay for something with my ATM card, I get dinged; a small amount, yes, but over time, small amounts accumulate. Even worse is the interest rate on credit cards. Did you know that most retailers, in order to pay for the privilege of credit sales, have to mark up their prices around 3%? So perhaps those places that give me a deal when I pay cash aren't really giving me a deal -- maybe they're just charging me the true price "before credit," if there is such thing as a true price.

Then there's the whole credit addiction thing. We caught a glimpse of the high cost of credit in 2008 with the North American financial meltdown, and we're seeing more with the debts of Greece and the U. S. in the news these days. Canada has plenty of debt, too. But even before debt became newsworthy, I had coffee with a friend, and she told me, with some distress, that her credit spending had gotten away from her to the point that she had to take her Visa card and cut it to pieces. Worse yet, she had to admit to her husband, from whom she'd been hiding her bills, that she owed more money than she was making, and she needed help. Unfortunately, it's a rather common occurrence in our consumption-driven culture. For a lot of of us, it's much too easy to go overboard, and charges listed on a piece of paper just don't impact us as much as empty pockets do.

The thing about paying cash is that it forces me to live within my means. There have been times where I've walked into a store sans credit card, attracted by something I didn't really need, and when I looked into my wallet, I discovered that I didn't have the necessary cash. By the time I had the money in hand, that purchasing impulse was gone because I realized that the item wasn't necessary -- or in keeping with my desire to live simply and sustainably. Cash (or its lack) can help in the category of "checks and balances against living beyond the planet's means to sustain life."

If I don't have cash, I generally don't go shopping, as my credit card is reserved for "emergencies only." What works for you?

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Simple Suggestion #32 of 100... Fly a kite

I remember spending hours in the school yard across the street from our house with our butterfly kite when I was growing up. Gord, who lived next door, a good dozen years older than me, was refurbishing an old Citroen, and he would call encouragement as I struggled to get the kite aloft. I loved to watch it sail... too much perhaps. Once I let it out until it was a dot in the sky, to the absolute end of its string... and the Murphy's Law that applies to kites took hold, killing the breeze that pulled it up so high. The butterfly fluttered all the way to the ground, but not before it draped its twine over the Willans' two storey home and landed in their neighbour's prickliest rosebush. I had no choice but to cut the string, ask Mrs. Detreault if I could fetch the kite out of her roses, and spend a long time rewinding the thread, waiting for its end to slither over the Willans' roof. Even so, it was a good day.

Kite flying is relaxing, refreshing and rejuvenating. Really. Working with the wind, setting loose a thing with wings and watching it soar at the end of its tether does something good for the soul. It's a simple, single-minded thing to do -- a time to forget about multitasking. So if you have a kite and a bit of a breeze today, why not?

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

#31... Give extra possessions to people who need them

Not long after I first heard about Voluntary Simplicity, the art of living with less in order to live more abundantly, I decided it was time to take a serious look at what was in my crowded kitchen cupboards. I discovered that somehow, I owned eight sets of salt and pepper shakers. Somehow, I also had three more coffee makers than I could use, and quite a few too many coffee cups. Fortunately for me, I work as a Volunteer with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which provides necessities for new immigrants, the homeless, and people down on their luck. I put together three boxes of kitchen ware, took it to SSVP, and it found new homes with people who could really use it.

Most North Americans have too much stuff. I'll admit that I do, too. But more and more, the extra things in my home are going to where they are needed, and it feels good to know that they are being used and appreciated by other people rather than rarely seeing the light of day in my cupboards. Why keep things that I don't use? In the next few weeks, I plan to get into some closets and corners that haven't been looked into for a while, to see if any gently used items are hiding in places I've forgotten. It's time to clear some clutter, free up some mental and emotional space, and share a little wealth with people who need it more than my closets do!

Who can you share with in your community?

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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Simple Suggestion #30... Avoid shopping malls

Warning: if you love shopping, this moodling was not written for you. Or maybe it was, to offer a little food for thought...

Suggestion #30 could be simplified to "avoid temptation." Honestly, if we NEED something, it's okay to go and buy it. But it's important to understand the difference between NEED and WANT. Going shopping is one of life's necessities in a society where we lack the capabilities to grow all our own food and supply all our own clothing. But going to a shopping mall to while away the time is silly because the retail world is designed to suck us in and fill our lives with stuff that we really don't NEED. Shopping malls seem to ensure that we come home with more than we need. Just walking through one to get to the grocery store when we need food is an exercise in self-control. Heck, walking through a grocery store is, too, because a lot of retailers' business is selling unnecessary items along with necessities.

We've reached that point in the year where my daughters could use some summer clothing, and this past weekend, we had a wedding to attend that required we spruce ourselves up a bit more than usual. So I did the unthinkable and went clothes shopping three times in two days at two different malls. It actually worked out quite well in the end because we got what we needed (two dresses and a pair of sandals). The problem is the things that we didn't need. I really didn't need a string of faux pearls... and my daughter really didn't need that pair of cream-coloured high heels. She has nothing to wear them with -- unless she goes shopping some more. Of course, they were a deal, on sale for just $15, and who can resist a deal?

Retailers know that a good deal is a hard thing to resist, so you see 10 to 90% OFF! signs everywhere shoppers collect. Or, buy one, get one free! Or any number of other sales options. Our Pavlovian response of buying stuff that's on sale fills our homes and lives with a lot of incidentals that take up our time and both physical and mental space. They also take up Earth's valuable resources -- unnecessarily, a lot of the time. Could I live without that string of faux pearls that I'll only wear maybe once or twice a year? Definitely!

I was lucky to escape the malls this weekend with nothing more than those beads and their reminder of my own recently neglected shopping rules:

1. When shopping, take a list and stick to it.
2. Go only to the stores that may have what you need.
3. When possible, try second-hand stores or garage sales first.
4. Avoid places where too many stores are in close proximity, as temptation to go overboard is greater there. Support small businesses instead.

There's more shopping ahead of me this week as someone still definitely needs some basic clothing items. But this time when we go, I'm sticking to my rules.

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mama Hope

Here's another beautiful, poignant, good news story that came to my attention thanks to Karmatube (see sidebar). I love the idea of Mama Hope and organizations like it, so if you have any stories like this to share, please let me know.

In the meantime, I'll put in another little plug for (also on the sidebar) as a good way to help people in the developing world improve their lives.

Storytellers for Good: Mama Hope from Storytellers For Good on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Simple Suggestion #29/100... Listen for songbirds

There's a finch in the neighbourhood these days. What a warbler he is! Such pretty songs that delight me, with so many variations Glenn Gould would be jealous. If life is too busy to appreciate the song of a bird, it's time to simplify!

Enough said. I'm going to take the time to go outside and listen.

(In the meantime, if you've never heard of Glenn Gould, have a look at this little video).

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#28 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Turn off the television (or computer)

As I've mentioned before, I'm not much of a TV watcher. I can't seem to find anything in the how-many-hundred-channel-universe that I like to watch, vs. reading a good book or doing some creative writing, or playing with my kids, or walking/chatting with a friend, or working in my garden, and... the list goes on. But I do enjoy the internet, and admittedly waste too much time with it.

When I typed this moodling heading last week, a little light went on for me. I got to thinking about a conversation I had with my daughter earlier in the day about how I didn't have time to do something for her... and I realized that I hadn't done that favour because I had been sitting at the computer doing something totally useless (a word bubble game). Uh-oh. This is not living as purposefully as practitioners of Voluntary Simplicity do. I've been getting caught up in the irrelevant.

In other words, the internet has been cutting into my time too much. So I've made a resolution to turn it off earlier in the evening, and do the things that I never seem to have time to do because of it.

Are you finding that there aren't enough hours in a day? Do television or computers steal your time for more important, more valuable things? Join the revolution, and turn them off!

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#27... Repair things

Last week, my youngest daughter dropped one of my large cooking pots, a Lagostina Dutch oven that's been with us for a long time, and the handle broke off. I was quite disappointed, as it's a good pot and I wasn't sure that it could be fixed. Looking more closely at it, however, I discovered that the same pot had the same accident befall it so many years ago that I had forgotten about it. My husband had glued the handle back together once before! Being a handy kind of a guy, he bought my pot many more years of faithful service... and on the weekend, he reglued the handle so that I can use it for a long time yet.

So often, when things break or begin to fall apart, it's easy to assume that the only place for them is the landfill. Our society has become such a throw-away entity -- but if we can repair things, we're saving resources that future generations will need. My biggest victory in this regard is our sofa. It was a hand-me-down to start with, and the fabric was frayed and shredded with the wear and tear from three little girls, so when I took a cushion to see if I could get it reupholstered, the fellow at the upholstery place insisted that the foam in the cushions wasn't worth saving because it was yellowing. He suggested that it would cost more to recover the chesterfield (how many words for sofa do you know?) than to get a new one, so I might as well take it to the dump.

I didn't think much of that idea... so I called a seamstress friend of mine. Cristina was delighted to help, and I was delighted with the results. We spent a grand total of $45 on recovering the couch, my husband and I took Cristina and her husband Santo out for a delicious fancy dinner at a classy restaurant (because she wouldn't let me pay her for her work!), and we were still a lot richer than if we had bought a new sofa. Plus we didn't waste a perfectly good one.

If more of us looked at repair and reuse as a challenge, as an art to be cultivated, we'd have the satisfaction of being more self-reliant and less wasteful. I still do a little victory dance about that chesterfield now and then. Self-reliance is worth a lot in my books.

P.S. Enjoy this longest day of the northern year! (Sunrise here 5:04 a.m., sunset 10:07 p.m.!)

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

Monday, June 20, 2011

#26 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Share your possessions

Robert Munsch, Canadian children's writer, has many stories that make me smile, but one of my favourites is We Share Everything (1999, Scholastic Canada, ISBN 0590514490). In it, Amanda and Jeremiah begin Kindergarten with a few fights over books and blocks... until they learn about sharing, and end up wearing each other's clothing, much to the teacher's chagrin!

Sharing is one of those concepts that seems to give human beings a lot of trouble. Childhood egocentrism is a hard thing to shake, and as a result, a lot of us have too many possessions that possess us. But what would happen if our world was a place where sharing was more common than hoarding?

While it's true that we can't share everything, there are plenty of things we can share. Unfortunately, when I did an internet search for "things that can be shared," all I turned up were computer related files, an unfortunate Doritos commercial, and several blogs about things people didn't want to share. So what I'd like to do now is start a list of possessions that can be shared in an effort to encourage the idea that we don't all need to own everything, and hence, have smaller environmental footprints if we share. Here's a list of things in my life that can be shared, and if you think of anything from your life to add to it, just post a comment. I'll post your name with your suggestion if you like.

Maria's list of things that can be shared:

A meal
Garden produce
Public playgrounds
Basketball hoops
Skipping rope rhymes
Bikes (check out the ECOS U of A bike library)
Rides (carpools can be found at
Garden tools
Snow shovels
Apple pickers
Board Games
Card Games
Newspapers and magazines

This is harder than I thought. It's not like I can share my refrigerator or my kitchen chair very easily, unless more people come and live with me. But it makes me happy when I don't have to go out and buy something because someone is willing to lend, or when I can do the same for someone else. I can't help but think that the Hutterites, Mennonites, and other groups like them that subscribe to the idea of holding common goods have much smaller ecological footprints than I do. Sharing just makes a lot of sense when you want to save the earth for future generations.

So... what can I share today?

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

Sunday, June 19, 2011


My dad was the tallest man in my world. At 6' 2" (188 cm) he towered over all my uncles, aunts and cousins, earning him the nickname Long-legged Banker from one of them. When he switched from being a banker to selling religious books and articles, he was renamed the Long-legged Booker. The amazing thing was that even though he was so tall, his hand always reached low enough to hold mine. To me, he's still the tallest man in the world. He has always stood out from the crowd.

My dad was the world's greatest singer. He sang in local Gilbert and Sullivan productions when I was a child -- The Mikado and HMS Pinafore. I remember attending dress rehearsals where words had to be said over and over again, mustaches got caught in actors' mouths, and my dad, as Ralph Rackstraw, put a gun to his head, causing me to scream in fear, "Nooo, Daddy!" until the babysitter told me that the gun was "just pretend." Since those days, I've heard lots of great singers, but I still prefer to hear my dad sing over any of them.

My dad was the world's best guitarist, too. When Dad sang, "The Fox went out on a chase one night..." I could have listened for hours. What was really amazing was that he showed me how to play his guitar, and let me use it until I was sure that it was something I loved, then he bought me one too. One of my regrets is that I haven't spent more time playing guitar with Dad. But maybe, if his hands get better, we can still do that.

My dad was the world's best coach. Not that I ever played sports seriously. Just that I loved those Sunday afternoons where we went to the school yard for a game of scrub or soccer or 500 or... frisbee? Dad had a special way of encouraging his kids, and still does.

My dad was the world's best driving instructor (though a bit tense). It's funny, but often when I'm coming up to a red light, his words about slowing well in advance to reduce wear on the brakes come to mind.

My dad was the only boy in our family. Somehow, I always felt a little sorry for him because girls tend to gravitate to their moms for advice and help, and dads end up on the periphery of "girl stuff." Not that they really want to get into "girl stuff," given a choice, but Dad, for any times that you might have felt left out or "second banana," please know that it wasn't intentional.

My dad is the world's best grandpa. I'll never forget how he held my babies and talked to them. Or how he threw my kids into his leaf piles for an entire hour, even though he had to be more than tired after raking everything together. Or how he grilled my eldest daughter about her first boyfriend until she blushed deeper than I knew possible. Or how, when I called with parenting frustrations, he listened and offered practical advice, just what I needed to hear at that moment.

These words don't begin to do my dad justice. I could come up with another thousand things, given more time. But I have to say something about my wonderful dad on Father's Day. Even so, knowing my dad, "I love you" would be enough.

I love you, Dad.

Friday, June 17, 2011

L'Arche update: Two birthday parties in one week

Our L'Arche community is settling into our new digs quite nicely. On Wednesday, while I was at work, an impromptu birthday party underlined how wonderful our new space is. I was in a meeting with Pat, our Community Leader, and there was some noise in the hallway that made us look up to see a birthday cake being carried in procession. Everyone in our part of the building ended up in the office singing Happy Birthday to Pat, and many people were laughing with delight. Pat's old office was about eight by ten feet, so this was the first time ever that the entire community could celebrate in her office! Better yet, even those in wheelchairs could attend!

Monday, the day after Pentecost, the L'Arche Edmonton community held a most unique Pentecost celebration for our first prayer night in our new community centre. We ended up wearing party hats and blowing little roll-out party whistles, and singing "Happy Birthday, dear church..." I don't think I'll experience another Pentecost as long as I live where I don't remember that particular celebration.

I'll also remember it for the prayer time, when one of our core members prayed for her assistant friend who is recently left our community for Vancouver. Stephanie just had to pray for Kara, who wasn't present, though I wish Kara could have seen how Stephanie fanned her face in an effort to chase away the tears that sprang into her eyes. It was a bitter sweet moment, to be sure. Even as we said goodbye to two assistants, we welcomed another, and the circle of L'Arche Edmonton expanded even a little further. The Holy Spirit, Spirit of Pentecost, is always present in loving community, helping it to grow, helping us to celebrate.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Simple Suggestion #25/100... Rediscover your public park

Today isn't the best day for heading to the park since I'm off to work in the SSVP Clothing Room. Besides that, it's still cool, wet, and rainy. But even in the rain, a park can be appreciated, especially when I think about how many crowded cities there are in the world where a patch of green grass is hard to come by. A friend of mine and her family lived in Accra, Ghana for six months. When they came back, they did a presentation about their time away, and the kids, aged 12, 10, and 7 year-old twins, were asked what they would change for their friends in Accra. All four said they would make parks in which their friends could play. In Accra, play was in the dusty streets, and the school yards had no grass either, just dirt.

We're so fortunate in our public park. It has many trees, lots of grass, a few hills (that entertain tobogganners in the winter and kids who like to roll in the summer), play equipment and designated spaces for softball, basketball and soccer. This summer, a little spray park will be added, near benches and picnic tables that are already there for seniors and families to enjoy. It's a community meeting place, as it also has hockey and skating rinks in the winter, our community league hall, and a before- and after-school care centre. As I said, we're so fortunate!

But even if a park is just a green space, it's a thing to be marveled at. It houses more life than meets the eye, its plants produce oxygen, and it helps human beings to destress even just by looking at it or walking through it. People smile at each other in parks, exchange pleasantries, or get into longer conversations. Parks bring out the best in us, because they give our souls a bit of breathing space.

A public park is a treasure that too many of us take for granted. Why not get out and appreciate yours on the next sunny day? Maybe I'll go later with my umbrella...

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Simple Suggestion #24... Use a rain barrel (or six)

This just happens to be a rainy week in my little corner of the world, which makes me happy, because my near empty rain barrels have refilled, and my garden is perking up with all the good stuff that comes in fresh rain water.

We have five rain barrels in our back yard, and honestly, we could do with a couple more out front. It doesn't take neophyte gardeners very long to discover that watering with treated city water just doesn't make the garden as happy as the rain that runs down the roof, into the eavestroughs, through the pipes and into those barrels. And there's something that just feels right about watering with a rain-filled watering can rather than a hose. For one thing, it's using a resource that ends up running through our sewers if we don't catch it. For another, it's a gentler, more energy efficient way of providing what our plants really need. Rain water doesn't have to be gathered from our river, run through our water treatment plants, and forced through watermains and pipes to our hoses before our plants get it.

In Australia, which has been going through a long drought period, there are plenty of folks who are relying on rain water capture systems to provide for their water intake needs, not just for their gardens, but for their existence. Our neighbours own a piece of land where it was impossible to drill a well, so they have an amazing rain water system that fills a large juice tank from the roof of their cottage. As the world's fresh water supplies have more and more demands placed upon them by over seven billion people, we need to start doing more serious thinking about our collection and use of water, which is a resource that is turning out to have definite limits in many places in the world.

I've always loved Isaiah 55 where it says,
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
God's providence is amazing. He and she does things totally organically -- so when it comes to water in this part of the world, we're fortunate that all we need to do is have a little consideration, and set up some rain barrels!

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#23 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Observe silence


(Sotto voce: There are all sorts of reasons to leave silent space in our noisy, hectic lives. If you want to know more, check out Anne D. LeClair's book, Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence (2009, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-135335-2). If it doesn't convince you about the value of silence, nothing will, except maybe trying on one day of silence a month like Anne did.)

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

Monday, June 13, 2011

Simple Suggestion #22... Shop at garage sales and thrift stores

Here are a couple of pictures from a trip to the old Salvation Army Thrift store that used to be in my neighbourhood a few years back:

A lovely, like-new wedding dress...

More stuffed toys than a child could love...

A beautiful blue bathing suit ensemble

And some in-line skates that actually fit my oversized feet. Not that I bought any of these things -- I just took pictures for "Do I need it."

As for garage sales... our best story is that my daughter, who always wanted an accordion, played one at a garage sale and walked away with a look of longing on her face when I told her I didn't have seventy-five dollars. The fellow ended up giving it to her for nothing! When we looked for one like it online, we discovered that they sell for over a thousand dollars... If you want to send me stories of great garage sale/thrift shop successes, I'd love to hear them.

The point is that not everything needs to be bought brand new. Let's face it -- fueling consumerism isn't the best pastime for people if we want to live simply and save some of the earth's resources for our children and grandchildren and everyone else. That's why I prefer to opt for retail sales resistance by buying good quality used items (if necessary) whenever possible.

It just feels right.

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

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Budgie update #5

After a busy day in the garden, I thought I'd take a break from Simple Suggestions and moodle about Pebbles, our resident clown and comedian. Just recently he tried something new -- rock climbing on our brick feature wall -- and he had us all laughing as he zipped up and down, headfirst both directions. Of course, he wouldn't do it once we had camera in hand, but he jabbered like the camera was a long lost friend. When Suzanna was editing footage from today, Pebbles flew against the computer screen in an effort to make friends with himself. What a wacky little bird! See for yourself.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Interlude: Robins!

My mom sent me this wonderful vimeo video by Fred Margulies of Margaretville, NY. Thanks, Mom! This exact thing is happening all over the place right now. Often when I see robins, I end up singing the song that Satchmo sings -- it's just a great, happy little tune. Enjoy!

Robins: 4 Eggs, 4 Weeks from Fred Margulies on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

#21 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Ride a bike

That's what I'm doing today,
riding my bike to work.

I love the feel
of the wind pushing past me,
the strength in my legs,
the thrill of downhill
and the workout up inclines.

I love travelling
under my own power,
leaving no emissions but
my breath.

I take quiet streets
(where leaves whisper)
amazed at bountiful beautiful blossoms
and wafting fragrances
enveloping me
here and there.

Oh, you poor, poor people,

Unless it's pouring!

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Simple Suggestion #20 of 100... Compost

On Monday night, my back yard was a slightly more happening place than usual. A few friends and neighbours stopped by for wine and cheese with a little composting information on the side. We had a pleasant evening (though it got a bit drizzly toward the end) talking about the how to's of composting. Most of those present were already actively involved in composting, just checking up on their technique.

Unfortunately, a lot of myths prevail when it comes to turning our kitchen waste into a valuable additive for our soil, the main ones being that people think composting is smelly and will attract insects and other pests. But if you know what you're doing, it's an amazing, wholistic process that means your yard no longer needs store-bought fertilizers because you have the ability to amend soil and top dress lawn with something better.

Composting really is very simple. All a person has to do is save kitchen waste from fruits, vegetables, or anything that grows from the soil (greens) and combine it with dry plant waste (browns like autumn leaves, straw, sawdust, woodchips, etc.), add a bit of soil (to provide composting microorganisms), keep everyting moist... and let it all rot. Stirring the compost pile now and again allows enough oxygen for the bacteria and other life that help to decompose the pile, and covering it with leaves helps prevent odors, and keeps magpies from carrying food scraps away.

I won't go into any more detail as there are plenty of places online where you can find information about the best ways to compost. I will, however, shamelessly flog a book written by my friend, Suzanne Lewis. She's also a Master Composter/Recycler, and she gets into the nitty gritty of composting in her book, Composting for Canada (2010, Lone Pine, ISBN 9781551058436).

If her back cover blurb doesn't sell you on the value of compost, nothing will:
Compost has often been described as black gold: dig it into your garden soil and it is an organic fertilizer par excellence, elevating the organic matter in any soil. Use it as an organic mulch and it will help reduce watering needs and keep weeds at bay as it gradually breaks down and acts as a slow fertilizer. What could be more useful? Compost can be very simply made by even the most time-stressed gardener and its needs are few. It recycles kitchen and garden waste products into something that has infinite value in the garden. In fact, many municipalities are incorporating aspects of home composting on an industrial scale to help reduce quantities of waste going into landfills. Suzanne Lewis, master composter, brings together everything you need to know about composting: reasons why, what kind of containers, what to put in and what not to put in, care and treatment, uses, plus she provides tons of fascinating information to enhance what is in essence a very simple procedure.
One thing's sure: Suzanne knows what she's talking about. If you don't believe her, my garden is a testament to the value of composting, and you're welcome to come check it out. It just feels right to give good things back to the soil, which gives us good things, and for me, that's enough of a reason in itself to compost.

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

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Simple Suggestion #19... Swap clothes with friends

This morning, my eldest daughter arrived at the breakfast table in a shirt I'd never seen before. "It's Julie's," she told me. Julie is a girlfriend who lives down the back alley. Julie and Christina are forever swapping clothing, the beauty of which is that each girl passes along familiar items she's grown tired of and receives "new-to-her" clothes that satisfy her need for novelty.

It's a rather brilliant idea, if you ask me. Who among us doesn't get tired of the same old same old? The odd "new" thing in our lives brings a welcome change, but does it have to be brand new? Changing our wardrobes with every season is quite a bit too much, though the fashion industry loves and demands constant shoppers. Our closets, even if they're walk-in (which they shouldn't be, if we're living in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the developing world) can only hold so much, and it's not terribly responsible to own more than we can use. So sharing or exchanging clothing items rather than indulging in materialism is a wise choice, not only for our wallets, but for a world that has to work harder and harder to provide our life's needs. If the fashion industry slows down because we are satisfied with sharing, that's a good thing for the planet.

So if you have any friends of a similar size, why not organize a clothing swap? And if that's not an option, why not check out second hand stores? Reusing and recycling clothing reduces waste -- and can be a lot of fun. Just ask Christina and Julie.

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

Monday, June 6, 2011

#18/100 Simple Suggestions... Join a car pool

Here's one suggestion with which I have no personal experience. Having been a stay-home mom for the last seventeen years, and being mostly a walker, transit taker or bike rider when it comes to going to my part-time job, car pooling is not something I have done. But I have friends who have done it, and speak very highly of it, and if you think about it, it only makes sense.

As I walk to work, I often find myself counting the number of SOVs (single occupant vehicles) that pass me. True, it's more convenient to come and go as we will, but it's hardly efficient, and convenience hasn't done our atmosphere any favours in recorded history that I can think of (but if you can think of one, please let me know -- you'll make my day!) Empty Seat Syndrome, or ESS, MUST become a thing of the past if we want to slow global climate change and save our planet. Fortunately, there are a lot of smart people out there who are finding ways to bring people together and end ESS. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out If you're not from Canada, I'll still bet there's something similar in the works where you live. And even if you don't live in or near a city where these kinds of options exist, why not catch rides with or offer rides to others who might be heading the same directions as you are?

Hey, wait a minute! I do carpool! My mom and I travel together to the Clothing Room one day a week. That means we save the gas and fossil fuel emission of one vehicle, two trips a week. See, if I can do it, anyone can...

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

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A little story for a Sunday... Short story #19

This story is three years old already. It's one I like, because I believe that the sacred isn't as present in temples and cathedrals as it is in those we love...

The Most Sacred Place

In the remotest of villages, in the remotest of lands, there lived a young boy named Soong. Soong’s life was simple. He looked after his family’s goats, worked in his family’s fields, and worshipped at his family’s shrine. He grew into a fine, strong, responsible young man, and was much admired by the young women of his village. But there was only one girl who caught Soong’s eye. Her name was Lai-tah, and while she was not the most beautiful girl in the locale, she was the most kind-hearted. According to custom, Soong asked Lai-tah’s mother for her hand in marriage, and all was arranged.

Village tradition dictated that the bride and groom were to spend their honeymoon in the nearest large city. It was a huge metropolis, filled with noise and chaos very unlike the serenity of village life that Soong and Lai-tah were used to. Lai-tah wanted nothing more than to escape the city and have a honeymoon in their new hut on the land Soong had inherited as wedding gift from his parents, but Soong was fascinated by the glamour and allure of the urban landscape. He was most enthralled by the city’s huge temple and the monks who lived there.

“It is such a sacred place,” Soong said to Lai-tah. “My soul is pulled to it as to a magnet. I wish to spend more time there, to know the secrets that make the monks’ faces so serene.”

When the honeymoon ended, Soong and Lai-tah returned to their hut, their garden plot, and the male and female goat that were their wedding gifts from the villagers.

Soong was a changed man, however. He had returned from the city with a picture book of the sacred places of the world. He continued to look after the goats, work in the fields, and worship at the shrine, but his mind was elsewhere. Every evening, he would spend hours looking at the pictures of the world’s sacred places, dreaming of making pilgrimage to each one. Even Lai-tah’s feminine charms paled against his desire to travel to the holy shrines.

Fortunately, Lai-tah possessed a wisdom beyond her years. “Go see the Holy Man,” she urged her young husband. “He will tell you of the Holy places, for he has seen many.”

So Soong visited the Holy Man, who lived in a small hut in the high hills a few miles from the village. “Holy One,” Soong said, “I long to know what you know, to see what you have seen, to visit the most sacred place in the world.”

The Holy Man looked long and deep at Soong. He saw himself, years before. “Young man,” he said, “There is a Doctor Jones who came to visit me yesterday. He is traveling the world to visit some Holy shrines. He gave me his address in the city. If you hurry, perhaps you can catch him, and he will take you along as one of his porters.”

Soong took the address, ran all the way home, packed his few belongings, said farewell to Lai-tah, and went to the city in time to join Doctor Jones and his convoy. The doctor agreed that Soong’s passage would be paid by his labour.

For eight long months, Soong worked and traveled with Doctor Jones from one sacred place to another. They visited Buddhist sites in Bhutan, India, and China, Shinto shrines in Japan, Healing Circles in North America, Incan and Mayan sites to the south, Christian Cathedrals in Europe, Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe, the Pyramids, Mecca, and many places that seemed to have little if any religious significance. At first, Soong was awed by the magnificence of the shrines, temples and churches, and the beauty of their locations, but after a few months, novelty wore thin, and even if they visited a Holy place that appeared in his picture book, it held little fascination for Soong. He was homesick, and yearning for Lai-tah.

At the end of the eighth month, Doctor Jones returned to the city where Soong found him, and Soong took his leave of the good doctor. As Soong walked back to his village, to his home, the sights, sounds, and smells that greeted him along his journey seemed to him the most blessed things of all that he had seen.

When Soong arrived at his hut, he found many women, and much excitement. The women scarcely noticed his presence at first, but when they realized he was among them, a hush fell, and the eldest woman of the village came out of the hut. Seeing Soong, she bowed, and motioned for him to enter.

When Soong’s eyes adjusted to the dimness of his home, he fell to his knees. Lai-tah lay serenely on her mat, with their newborn daughter at her breast. With deep joy, she reached her free arm out to her husband. Soong came to her, tears running down his cheeks, saying, “I have traveled the world, seeing its most sacred places, only to learn that the most sacred place is here, with you.”

Lai-tah’s tears mingled with her husband’s, as she gave the baby into Soong’s hands. “We shall call her Nau,” she said.

Friday, June 3, 2011

International Year of the Forest

Trees are extremely important to the health of our planet and our health as human beings. Here's a stunningly beautiful video to celebrate the International Year of the Forest. Enjoy, and do what you can to support organizations that preserve the world's woodlands...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

#17 of 100 Simple Suggestions...Take a "stay-cation"

I could use a stay-cation right now, how about you? Packing and moving my place of work this week is wearing me out. I think I must have walked a good 15, if not 20 km yesterday. The thought of a vacation is too much in my present frame of mind because vacations require a lot of planning and more hassle than I need at the moment...

But a stay-cation would be perfect. I'd set a lawn chair in the sun in my backyard, get a good book, a tall glass of something nice, and relax for a while. I could go for a walk, or listen to music. I might phone a friend. If I got ambitious, I might head to the Art Gallery of Alberta to check out the latest exhibits, or take my bike through the River Valley. There are so many possibilities!

North Americans have a tendency to think that if we have a good block of time off, we have to go somewhere else. While it is good to break routine and do something new and different to give our hearts and souls a break from the usual, it isn't good when our vacations constantly involve airplanes and travel agents. Our drive for the exotic is a huge cost to our environment. After the space shuttle, airplane travel is the most extremely inefficient use of fossil fuels. Cruise ships aren't far behind. And is it fair if the richest 12% of the planet use up important resources for visiting those faraway places with strange sounding names when the other 78% are unable to travel more than 100km from their place of birth?

Somewhere in the last 50 years, we've picked up this idea that we are all entitled to see the world, but if that's truly the case, what kind of world would we have left if all seven billion of us got into airplanes and onto cruise ships? It's impossible to imagine.

For me, though, a stay-cation would be about right. Instead of spending my money on hotels and travel, I would love to see more of the attractions around here. Attend some of our renowned summer festivals. Go dip my toes in a lake nearby, perhaps. See some live theatre. Avoid a lot of driving, stay closer to home if not at home and relax more. But I suspect that's just me.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Simple Suggestion #16 of 100... Get enough sleep

There's not much simpler than this suggestion. It's a matter of avoiding those things that prevent me from climbing into bed at a decent hour. When I don't sleep enough, I yawn so much that I'm sure I'm impolite, I get snappish and impatient (with my family in particular), and I am easily overwhelmed if things don't go as planned. When I get enough sleep, I'm happier, healthier, my brain and body function better and life's little trials are just that.

Different things work for different people when it comes to getting enough rest. I have a few early-bird friends who like to be in bed by nine-thirty at the latest so that they're up and running by six or earlier. Others are night owls who watch late night TV and take a bit of a slower start to their day. I tend to fit in the second category (without TV), but lately, I've been trying to be ready for bed by 9:30 so I can read for a while before sleeping. It's a quality of life thing when the days are busy, as they are this week. My workplace is moving into a new facility today. Here are two pictures from yesterday's packing up.

Partly packed...

All done!

When thinking about the importance of sleep and rest, I'm reminded of the story of the great explorer who planned a long trek in the jungles of Africa. He hired some locals to help him carry his supplies for the journey. After four days of travelling at a break-neck pace, his porters sat down and refused to budge an inch. When he asked his lead man what was going on, the fellow told him, "We have been moving so fast that we need to wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies."

In our present, time-constrained world, we often wish a day had more than 24 hours, and fill it with so many things that it's a wonder our souls can keep up at all. Unfortunately, the corners we cut often amount to shorting ourselves on rest and relaxation, and that's pretty much guaranteed to make our lives less fulfilling. Simple living isn't about running ourselves ragged so much as it's about living a life of mindfulness and balance. Being mindful of our energy levels and making time for our souls to catch up with our bodies is just one simple thing we can do to keep ourselves in physical, mental and emotional condition so that we keep focused on those things that make us happy. So before I head off to today's work of unpacking, here's another wee suggestion: go ahead -- think of cat naps as essential to health and happiness!

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