Monday, October 31, 2011

Something truly scary... and this year's Halloween costume

On Saturday morning, I woke up to radio reports about the flooding in Bangkok, and decided it was time to moodle about climate change again. I hate moodling about climate change, because it scares the heebie jeebies out of me. It's too easy to imagine that my own addiction to fossil fuels has no impact on anyone else... until Bill McKibben writes this op/ed piece about it, and Stephen W. Thomson makes it visual (see below). I am frightened, because who's to say the same sorts of things can't happen here? And I worry about my brothers and sisters in Thailand. How will they manage?

Here are more reasons to be a hummingbird, to live simply,
and to try to get by using as few fossil fuels as possible.


On a lighter note, after her successes as laundry basket, traffic light, and radio over the last few years, here's my youngest hobgoblin at school in the Hallowe'en costume she made this year!

Here's my girls' pumpkin art.
Happy All Hallow's Eve!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Be a hummingbird

Huh? What?

If you watch this, you'll understand.

And if you want a little more inspiration, read about the life of our wonderful storyteller, Wangari Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. On September 25th, she passed away due to complications from ovarian cancer. She was definitely a hummingbird.

We who know about her are her legacy. We all need to be hummingbirds, and do the best we can.

Friday, October 28, 2011

#94... Give the gift of time

Are there enough hours in your day that you can give someone the gift of your time?
Time to ask "how are you?" and really hear the answer?
Time to give a hug, if needed?
Time to listen without interruption?
Time to offer feedback on an idea?
Time to share an empathetic story?
Time to play "I spy" with a child?
Time to stroke the cat, or take the dog for a walk?
Time to lend a helping hand?

Today's Simple Suggestion? Make a little time for someone else, of course. My girls just got home from school Halloween parties, so that's what I'm heading off to do.

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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Becoming someone

I used to be one of those people who loved personality quizzes, was into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram (I have three books on it) and was pretty much magnetized to the psychology/self help section in any bookstore. I was determined to self-improve, to become MORE than I was, to show the world... that I was something special.

But somewhere along the way, I acquired a friend who made fun of my reading, calling it "psychobabble" and "navel-gazing." Then Oprah came along, and the sort of self-helpy things she offered on TV, her professional "experts" who often seemed to turn out to be frauds, and her wacky guests with all the weird problems turned me off even further. Self-help was taking a strange road, and I decided to avoid it.

I guess you could say I developed an aversion to the self-help business, because that's all it suddenly seemed to be. A business, selling stuff. Did all those people, flogging all those books, really care about anything other than the fame and fortune their theories would bring them? The more I read or watched, the less I believed in their visions of who I could become if I followed their suggestions. Soon I began to laugh at the titles of the books on the shelves in the psychology section. Puh-lease!

But recently, I picked up an Enneagram book and looked at it again. It really wasn't so bad; in fact, it reminded me of a few good things that I need to do for myself -- and the people who have to put up with me. I came across my Myers-Briggs test in an old journal, along with the suggestions that came from it -- and they still hold true. So I keep working on my tendencies to procrastinate and not finish what I sta--. And I saw Oprah in The Color Purple, (a wonderful film) and remembered that I liked her acting (and some of her book club recommendations).

Then yesterday, I came upon this video, and laughed delightedly as I recognized the melody, played by "the fabulous Stephane Wrembel." "All of me, why not take alllllll of me?" It showed me how those mostly abandoned self-help books have had their place in the making of me, in my journey of self-discovery. As have many events, courses, places, and people (a few of them, FOOLS). The thing that I've recognized is that, even before I read those books or had those experiences, I was already ENOUGH, and that I am even moreso now through the things I have learned about myself -- and others -- from books, events, courses, places and people who have played their parts in the shaping of all of me. I may not be a rich or famous someone, but honestly, I wouldn't trade my life with any of the rich and famous lives out there! And I know that navel gazing isn't nearly as important as being involved in life.

Who and what has shaped you into the SOMEONE you are? Today, breathe a little thankyou to them and celebrate your journey. And if you like, enjoy this little video as part of that celebration. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Simple Suggestion #93... Decorate with growing things

The carbon footprint of a bouquet of flowers from the back yard is much smaller than that of a knick knack purchased at any store you care to name. A houseplant recycles carbon dioxide in daylight hours, but a decorative candle releases carbon when it's burning -- or collects dust. Decorating with growing things rather than humanmade ones generally uses fewer of the earth's resources, and can be just as pleasing to the eye... and sometimes, the nose!

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#92... Join your Community League

Ever been to a community league barbecue? Ours this year had tasty burgers, facepainting and free nerf-like footballs for the kids, music for all ages, a Bouncy Thing, tethered hot air balloon rides, and lots of other activities that I didn't get to take in. It was also THE place to pick up a community league membership at $25 for a family, $15 for singles and $5 for seniors. What a deal!

Here in Edmonton, the benefits of belonging to a community league are many:
  • It's a great place to meet and get to know neighbours. Most leagues offer social activities and events that involve many people from the broader community as well. My hubby and I had a lot of fun learning some Scottish country dances at our community's Robbie Burns party this year.
  • Community leagues plan and offer programs and recreational activities year round. In May, we had the Urban Farmer come and give a session on permiculture for all interested gardeners. The hall was full!
  • League membership gives access to free community swim times at the city's leisure centres and free skates at community rinks, as well as discounts at some tourist attractions. My girls love those community swims! And with the rink only two blocks away, we skate more than we used to before we were members.
  • Many community leagues participate in Neighbourhood Watch and other safety programs that offer tips for homeowners.
  • Through community leagues, many public use facilities have been constructed and maintained, and community members have been able to offer important input toward the planning of parks, green spaces, and local developments. Our community is currently redoing its green space. Last year a new playground was installed, and next year we hope to have a spray park, which is a perfect thing on a hot summer day!
  • Some communities offer hall rental privileges, which can come in handy if you want to hold a party for 100, as one of my neighbours did for a recent 50th anniversary.
  • A number of Edmonton community leagues offer Reuse Fairs, Rummage Sales, Community Gardens and other ways that we can be more self-reliant and less wasteful.
Before our community league hosted a yearly barbecue to sell memberships, I used to go door-to-door to offer them to neighbours. Inevitably, I would run into a new neighbour and give them the spiel about all the benefits of being a community league member. Some would buy in immediately, and others I would encourage by saying, "If you buy this membership, you don't HAVE to do anything I just mentioned, but you are supporting your community's ability to offer all these great opportunities."

That's the beauty of community. If we're too busy to be really involved, there are others to take up the slack. Being part of a larger group makes it easier to live more simply without having to individually buy all our solutions. Even a silent presence at some community events can be seen as a form of support.

If there's no such thing as a community league where you are, I'd encourage you to connect with your community through different events or activities, or just by getting to know a few neighbours. We never know when those community connections will benefit us, or others.

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Simple Suggestion #91... Vote

As I write this, I am listening to a radio report about the first free vote in Tunisia in some peoples' lifetimes. The young woman they just interviewed was so excited to be able to vote, she couldn't sleep the night before. With her in spirit, my almost-eighteen-year-old daughter is chomping at the bit to vote. Would that all Canadians were like these two!

What non-voters don't seem to understand is that we have no right to complain about government or civic leaders if we do nothing when it comes to their election. We are blessed to live in a country where we have the right to vote, but if we're too apathetic to engage in the democratic process or talk to our politicians about what's really important, corporate greed may yet win over human need.

At the moment, the jury's still out as to which will come out on top. We can still remind our leaders that we all need clean air, fresh water and good soil to support the web of life on our planet. We can tell them that we ALL deserve a roof over our heads, clothes to keep us warm, food to sustain us, and community to support us. We can let them know that extravagance and greed are non-essentials, and encourage the positive works our politicians undertake. But if we're silent, they can't read our minds.

We ALL need to vote, engage, and join the discussion, for our sake and the sake of future generations. It's that simple.

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Art from the Unknown

It's been a while since I've moodled about my friends at L'Arche. For the past week or so, they've been getting geared up for a wonderful event called "Art from the Unknown 2011," the evidence of which was on Harry*'s hands when he came to my desk on Monday.

"Hi, my boy," he said, his usual greeting.
"Harry! What happened to your hands?" I asked.
He looked at me, uncomprehending, like it's the most normal thing in the world for the palm of a person's hand to be fluorescent purple. I took his hand, turned it over and showed it to him.
"Oh," he mumbled, waving me off and muttering about painting pictures. I wish there was a way to convey his charming but garbled way of speaking, but it's beyond my ability. He started telling me a story about his roommate, paint already forgotten.

If you're able, I'd encourage you to check out "Art from the Unknown," which opens tonight in the Old Strathcona Centre for the Performing Arts at 8426 Gateway Boulevard. It's a free gallery, hosted by MLA Rachel Notley, for more than sixty emerging and unknown artists, who get 100% of any sale monies as the gallery waives commission. This evening is the grand opening, and there will be entertainment and refreshments throughout the weekend. The show's hours run 6-9 pm tonight, 9-6 p.m. Saturday, and 12-4 p.m. on Sunday.

I hope to get to the show, as I've always wanted a painting by one of our core members. I love their abstracts! And if we're all there at the same time, perhaps I can introduce you to Harry, too.

*I use pseudonyms online for all my L'Arche friends.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

#90/100 Simple Suggestions... Plan one vegetarian day a week

I'm not a vegetarian (yet), but wish I was. Even better, I'd like to be a vegan, but that means I'd have to take the time to learn a lot more about healthy veganism and how to meet nutritional needs without animal proteins. Take a cooking class or two. Learn how to use more herbs and spices and find sources for local vegan foods. It would require more time than I have at the moment, but it's something I aspire to someday.

Why? Because if I'm truly trying to live lightly, the fact is that the consumption of animal products uses too many of the earth's resources (if you tried one of those ecological footprint quizzes yesterday, you may have figured that out), a lot of them in the raising of food for the livestock, and feeding them until they reach an edible size. Plants, not so much, especially if we grow them ourselves or get them locally, which I try to do as much as possible. And veggies, done right, can be tastier than a chunk of beef anyday.

So today's suggestion is one that I would encourage even carnivores and omnivores to try. See if you can't have at least one day a week during which you eat more simply (read, without meat). We had that day yesterday. This is what I ate: for breakfast, toast with organic peanut butter, and crabapple jelly made by the boys next door (they're really nice, and so's their jelly). For lunch, a toasted cheese sandwich with homegrown tomatoes. And for supper,

 steaming hot and hearty beet borscht (our own beets, carrots and onions),
served with a dollop of sour cream,

yummy quinoa salad (with black beans and homegrown zukes and tomatoes),

and my daughter's whole wheat baking powder biscuits.

Simple, satisfying, delicious, and kinder to the earth and most animals
(with apologies to the cows who contributed the cheese and sour cream).

As my daughter often says in these days of plentiful garden harvest, it's no hardship to be a vegetarian. In fact, I prefer it. Actually, yesterday was my second vegetarian day this week!

P.S. If you want the recipes, I don't mind sharing these... 

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#89... Reduce the size of your ecological footprint

It takes you and me a certain amount of space to live our lives. I'm not just talking about the rooms in my home when I say that, however. I'm talking about everything that's required for life -- food, clothing, furniture, transportation, medical needs, etc. Our earth provides it all for us, but unfortunately, it's not often that we think about how many trees it took to make the lumber that supports our walls or our morning newspaper, or how much land is used for growing our food, or how much petroleum goes into our vehicles and the many polymer items that we find in our homes these days. There are thousands of things that come together to help us to live, and all of them contribute to what's called our ecological footprint, or the demand we put on our earth's ecosystems.

The term ecological footprint was coined in 1992 by William Rees, a professor at the University of British Columbia. If I wanted to determine the size of my ecological footprint, I could try to add up how much biologically productive land and sea it takes to produce the resources I consume and absorb the waste I create. Not an easy thing to figure, as I'm not always aware of the details of how my daily life impacts the planet. But there are smart people who have taken Rees' concept and worked it into questionnaires that have helped me to figure out how much my life is costing the earth. It's not exact because I can't punch in every variable that I would like to, but it gives a pretty good idea of where my life creates too much waste, and shows me a few things I can change to make my life easier on the planet.

So today's suggestion is to take the questionnaire at or and learn about your own ecological footprint. Then take it a second time, making small adjustments to the values you put in the first time (like, perhaps, eating vegetarian a few more times each week, buying green power, or composting) and see about ways to reduce your ecological footprint. It's a challenge worth taking, because the ecological footprint of most North Americans is huge in comparison to those of our brothers and sisters on other continents. Since we all share the planet, it's about time we in North America share more fairly by becoming aware of and reducing the impact our lives have on our earth's limited resources.

I took the myfootprint quiz again today. If everyone on the planet lived like I do, we would need 2.57 earths to sustain our present population. So there's lots of room for improvement in my life. How about yours?

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Simple Suggestion #88... Buy warm socks for the homeless

This one's pretty easy for most of us. All we have to do is search through our own clothes or find our way to a store and pick out some nice thick cotton or wool socks for the homeless. Black, preferably, as one fellow told me, because they don't show the dirt so much. Then deliver them to any agency or shelter frequented by our inner city brothers and sisters. It's so easy to make a small difference in someone's life, even someone we don't know personally.

Quite often the people who come into the Clothing Room (where I work on Thursdays) don't ask for much other than those socks, gloves, underwear (long and short) or clean clothes. So if you have anything extra in those categories that isn't being used, why not pass them along to folks who can use them? They appreciate new things now and then, and will especially in the coming cold season. They're people just like you and me.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

#87 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Invite an elderly neighbour to dinner

Do you have any seniors living near you? We're blessed to live in a neighbourhood where a few of the residents are actually the original owners of the 50-something-year-old homes here. We've discovered, by having a few of those original neighbours come for dinner, a wealth of wisdom, and the history of our area. There was once a market garden just a short ways down our block. The park across the street was Bob's family's cow pasture. The park across 98th Avenue with the hills was once the local swimming hole. And there have been several interesting characters who lived on our street and complained when children played in the area park because they were afraid they might end up with a baseball through their picture windows (which never happened).

The more senior members of our communities have a lot of stories and wisdom to share. When my family first came to Edmonton many years ago, one of our older neighbours, Mr. Brown, offered me the use of his library of ancient literary classics. He insisted I read Homer's The Iliad and the Odyssey, which I did in the end, out of politeness, and which I was glad for when I reached university. Since then, I've gone out of my way to chat with older neighbours, and have been rewarded with some great recipes and a lot of good-to-know information. My children have built a few pretty special friendships with the older folks, kind of like having a few extra grandparents around.

So today's suggestion is simply to build relationships with the seniors who may live in your neighbourhood. Have a chat on a sidewalk, invite them for dinner, or even just for tea on a Sunday afternoon. They'll appreciate your hospitality, and you might just discover some hidden treasures in them and the stories they tell!

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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another lovely song for a Sunday

I wonder if this song isn't one of the most overused church hymns in the world. For a while there, every funeral I attended ended with this song. True, its lyrics are pretty near the best, especially the last verse:
When Christ shall come
with shouts of acclamation
and take me home,
what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow
in humble adoration
and there proclaim,
"My God, how great thou art!"
It's been a week of worry and sadness, as a friend lost her best friend, and there are others whose family members are quite ill. This video was sent to me by my husband's cousin, whose son is in ICU for pneumonia at the moment. It's part of my prayer for young Ben, for Carmel's friend Bridget, for Claire's friend Frank, for Richard's mom, for Honey's dad, for my godfather, who is having his birthday in a nursing home for the first time today, and for my dad, whose headache won't quit.

Even with all of them on my mind, I know that God is great, and is with us all, all the time. And Vance Perry is pretty amazing, too, singing barbershop by himself. I've got to admit he has pretty amazing range to do all four parts!

A sacred Sunday to all.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Simple Suggestion #86 of 100... Bake two pies; give one away

I can just hear my sisters as they read this. "So is she going to give us a pie?" Hmm, I'll have to think about it. Hee hee!

Our dear neighbour, Back Alley Mary, was a great one for living out this particular suggestion. We were recipients of apple and cherry pies now and again, especially in apple and cherry seasons. She also brought zucchini loaf and pizelli, and other treats -- and we were delighted to be recipients of her generosity. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.

But I'm afraid that, with three daughters and a husband to eat my now less-frequent baking, I don't give it away as much as I did when I had more time on my hands as a stay-home mom. But I should. It doesn't have to be pies. It could be cookies, or loaves of Amish Friendship Bread or jars of pickles, or anything home made.

Maybe I'm turning into an old fashioned girl, but when neighbours share food, community is created, and heaven knows we could all use more of it.

So this afternoon, I think I'll bake 3 loaves of something yummy, give one to my neighbours, and yes, my sisters, I'll save one for the two of you.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

#85... Help someone who is learning English

We don't need to be English teachers to follow this Simple Suggestion. People learn by doing, so all that needs to happen is dialogue. And most of us are pretty good at that.

A hundred years ago, my university minor was TESL, or Teaching English as a Second Language. Since those far off university days, North Americans seem to have realized that many of the people who migrate to this continent are learning English as a third, fourth, fifth, or nth language. The presumption of calling it ESL has turned into an argument about just what to call it. English as a Foreign Language? Additional Language? Alternate? Not that it matters. What matters is conversation.

I had an amazing instructor in my ESL education module, a lady named Olenka Bilash. I understand she is now Dr. Bilash, but I'm betting that everybody still calls her Olenka. Olenka had our class come up with practical ideas of how to engage new language learners in conversations that would be so enjoyable, they would forget that they didn't know English. She brought in an ESL class, and I'll never forget presenting a lesson where I played a recording that I'd made of water running, doors closing, the flicking of a light switch, someone clapping hands, a toilet flushing, etc., and the fun everyone had in trying to explain the noise and what made it. One of my classmates brought pictures of animals, and we laughed a lot as we compared the names, descriptions, and sounds of those animals with the same group of students.

Can you name any of these in another language?
How about the noises they make?

There were cooking lessons and sports discussions and skits about families and more ideas than I can remember -- the point being that as much as our ESL students learned from us, we had more to learn from them. It was a wonderful, simple, multicultural experience of sharing in language learning.

If you've ever been a stranger in a strange land, you probably know what it's like to try to understand and make yourself understood, and how there are always people willing to help. In my early twenties, I lived in Belgium for a month with a girl from Quebec and a guy from Wisconsin, and we had the most hilarious times having French/English/Flemish conversations with the wonderful people we stayed with. That experience helped me to appreciate what new Canadians go through, and gave me a deeper appreciation of my own language.

Today's suggestion is simply to take the time to talk with someone whose first language may not be English, to smile and make them feel welcome, to share a laugh or a joke if you can, just because language is best learned when it's shared. And if you learn a few foreign words yourself, I'd love to hear them. Kwaheri!

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Simple Suggestion #84... Engage in justice issues

Our world has no shortage of injustice, so it's not hard to find a cause in which to engage, or an organization that needs support in its efforts to right wrongs in our communities, countries, or world. Plug the word injustice into a search engine, and you may end up with 40 million hits, but don't let that fool you. People are willing to claim almost anything as injustice, from the unfair wages of a football pro to the cost of a manicure.

But let's get real. True injustice exists where living beings are denied their rights to food, water, appropriate living space and the ability to meet their basic needs -- and this where involvement and intervention are essential from those who have the ability to make a difference. If we are to ensure the basics of life for all, unfairness, discrimination, prejudice, bias and wrongdoing can't be a part of what we do. A world of fairness, equality, equity and goodness isn't an unattainable Utopia if we do more than talk about those ideals -- if we do our best to bring them into existence everywhere we go. We are all called to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God and creation.

The problem is that so many of our world's injustices seem too big and black to handle -- that we'll never be able to do more than light our one tiny candle. But one candle is still a candle, and it can light many others if we're willing to share the flame in our hearts, our desire that things be right.

So here's a little list of candles anyone can light. If you have any to add, I'd be happy to lengthen the list. And if we all hold our little lights high, eventually, the world won't be quite so dark.
  • Help Amnesty International to rescue a human rights activist from incarceration or torture
  • Join the World Wildlife Fund, Ducks Unlimited, or other animal welfare agencies to see where help is needed
  • Write a letter to a newspaper editor about a local justice issue that needs to be addressed, or organize a meeting of interested stakeholders
  • Get involved in reforestation projects
  • Mentor a local child who needs some adult attention, or sponsor one in the developing world through an organization like Plan Canada
And there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other possibilities. I found a really neat website that has many suggestions for activities that take 15 minutes, a few hours, or a few days' effort. I'm not sure how up-to-date it is or where it originates, but it gave me lots of food for thought by reminding me of local opportunities to be an activist in my own small ways.

And I'd like to suggest that getting our children involved in justice issues at an early age sets them on the path toward being compassionate and well-rounded adults. It will also mean that our world will be a brighter place, and that's definitely worth our engagement.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mouse adventure #2

Yesterday I was planting new tulips in my yard and remembering last year's mouse adventure, when I heard Julia shouting from around the corner. "Mom, help! Help! Chloë's got a mouse, I think. Help!"

I walked over to see what was going on, and both Julia and Chloë, the neighbourhood cat, were staring intently at the leaves on the lawn between our house and the neighbour's. "It's under that leaf. Do you see it?" I looked where Julia was pointing, and Chloë began to slink forward in pounce mode. Images of dead mouse presents left on my front sidewalk impelled me to pounce first, and I grabbed the little critter, but it jumped out of my garden gloves, unseen by the cat. So I pounced again. This time, it squeezed between my thumbs, ran up my sweater's forearm and took a flying leap back into the leaves as Chloë did her best to figure out what was going on. But I had seen where the mouse had hidden, and the third time, I was lucky. I caught the tiny little thing in my gloves and held it until Julia found a five gallon pail in the back yard, and we put our little furry friend into it, away from the cat. Chloë, for her part, was still playing the waiting game called cat and mouse, sniffing around and pouncing on leaves, trying to determine where the mouse had gone.

I'm not a huge mouse fan. I'll just say I'd rather see one scamper away than find one murdered on my front steps. I'm more squeamish that way. Given the choice between cleaning up dead mice and catching lives ones (with garden gloves) I'll take door number two any day.

So that's what happened. We left Chloë thinking she was involved in an intense game of cat and mouse, and we carried the pail into the area park across the street, to set the mouse free under a spruce tree.

Goodbye, mouse. Please go live somewhere else -- and stay away
from the one who leaves you as a dead present for my kids!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving weekend, we're celebrating my dad-in-law's and mom-in-law's birthdays, we're enjoying lovely weather, and we've gone for a walk along the river valley. We are so blessed to live where we do, with freedom and security and goodness so much a part of our lives. The people of Sirte and Cairo are much on my mind and in my prayers today. We have so much for which to be thankful!

I know I've moodled this one before, but it's still one of my favourite "hymns of praise," sung by the Paya Lebar Methodist Girl's Primary School Choir.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 7, 2011

An excellent place to shop

It's almost time to go into very rainy Banff (I may have to find an umbrella or just sit in a coffee shoppe), but first I want to tell you about Wednesday. I was fortunate enough to have it off, but as usual, many errands suddenly appeared, one of which was taking my daughter's forgotten lunch to school. That provided me with an opportunity to stop on my way home at a marvelous little store that sells a lot of excellent necessities. What's not to love about a place that helps consumers to reduce their ecological and social impact on the planet and its inhabitants? My mission, besides taking a few pictures for my moodlings, was to pick up some fair trade chocolate bars and chocolate chips.

Earth's General Store (EGS) has been in operation for twenty years, which is an excellent run for an environmental establishment in a province with a far-less-than-stellar environmental track record. The proprietor is so environmentally aware, he doesn't even spend energy to light up his signs -- they're simply painted. When I first discovered EGS several years ago, it was situated above a music store on Whyte Avenue, but it made a newsworthy, environmentally-conscious move in 2010, when many people-powered vehicles were employed to carry store merchandise 13 blocks to the new, disabled-accessible location. Some folks carried stuff via transit, too, if I recall correctly. The new location is bright, spacious and colourful.

The store's owner, Michael Kalmanovitch, has long been an advocate for sensible consumerism. He keeps a blog for EGS that provides information about the products he sells, and he's responsible for the Activist Agenda, a weekly newsletter that encourages activism for many different causes. His customers are encouraged to ride their bikes to get to the store, and to bring their own recycled bags and containers for purchasing product. Those who do are given special tokens that they can donate towards assisting charities like the Candora Society of Edmonton and others further afield. Michael's desire that we all consume less, consume wisely, consume locally, consume fairly, and love lots more is taken seriously by many of his patrons. I wonder -- does he keep a running tally of charity monies that EGS has donated through its token program? I'd bet it's a rather impressive sum already.

Just to give you an idea of some of the things you'll find in EGS:
Lovely, certified organic produce, some of it local this time of year...

(peaches from BC, not Chile).

"100 Mile" foods... (don't you love the fast food sticker?)...

an impressive bulk food section with many vegetarian and vegan options
(don't forget to bring your own recycled plastic bags)...

organic baked goods from local small business owners...

all sorts of organic personal care products
that even the David Suzuki Foundation would be proud of... 

environmentally-friendly cookware, underwear, 
diapers, menstrual products, towels...

everything you need to be a successful composter
(including red wiggler worms, if you so desire),
and plenty of knowledge -- books about
everything we can do to aid the enviroment, on loan.

If you've yet to discover Earth's General Store, I'd highly recommend a visit. To my mind, it's difficult to find businesses these days that aren't just pretending to be green. EGS is green in the truest sense! While some of its items might seem pricey, keep in mind that they cost what the larger chains would be charging if they were treating their suppliers and their employees fairly, or if they factored in the true costs associated with the production of the item (organic cotton and fair trade chocolate are not cheap if the labourers are being treated with dignity). We all need to support businesses like EGS for the sake of life on our planet. If you know of other environmentally-aware business people, I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Writer's retreat

Guess where I am today! Here's a hint...

 a golden larch. And another hint...

the view from the terrace. And one more...

give up?

I'm at the Banff Springs Hotel, and it's raining.
But please don't think that I'm complaining!

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd get to this place, other than to drive past it. But my husband is attending the Banff Venture Capital Conference, and since our girls are pretty much self-sufficient, I asked if I could come along for the ride. (Last November, I went with him to a different event at Chateau Lake Louise). It only costs me ten dollars a night to occupy the other half of his very expensive room here, I've brought along snacks and sandwich fixings from home, and I'm enjoying a lovely little writer's retreat. Lee will be busy at his conference until 9 p.m. at least, so my aim today is to stay put and explore a few options for publishing a book I've written, to catch up on emails that have been sitting in my inbox for a while, to take a swim at the lovely pool in the fitness centre, and maybe later tonight I'll watch To Kill A Mockingbird, which I borrowed from the library. So it's me and Eva Cassidy's Songbird Album in a little hotel room where I'm enjoying some writing and research time. Tomorrow it's not supposed to be so rainy, so I'll catch a bus into Banff after we check out of our room at eleven, and snoop around until Lee finishes at 6ish.

Before I get seriously into my day's work, I want to show you Banff Springs from my perspective. It feels a little funny walking around this Lifestyles-of-the-Rich-and-Famous place. I'm reminded of western wealth in comparison to the poverty of the developing world. We shouldn't be living like this when Somalia is so hungry, right? Or when the guys who probably showed up at SSVP this morning have no place to call home. But I'll do my best to support those situations, and be aware of my reactions as I move through this building. I made my housekeeping guy happy by making my own bed, at least.

Is there anyone rich or famous staying here right now? I probably wouldn't know them if they bit me on the nose! I ran into a lady on the elevator who is a "Gold Club" person, and asked her if it was fun to have a gold card that takes her to the exclusive fifth floor accomodations. She giggled and said that her friend found a deal online; otherwise she'd never stay at a place like Banff Springs. I giggled with her and told her that you know you don't really belong to a place when just its carpets amaze you!

This is just the hallway.

The ones by the elevators are really something.

Here's the reception area/lobby.

I got lost a few times taking these pictures.
There are two mezzannines, and their hallways have a definite castle feel.

The old stonework is amazing to me. How many masons built this place?

Above is the view from one of my little windows.
Of course, there are dozens of fancy little shoppes for wealthy people to enjoy,

but I've decided that the pool will be a better place to hang out,
once my eyes get tired of this laptop screen.

I got pretty wet taking the outdoor shots of this place, and can't imagine how the guests going for a trailride on the horses I saw will manage to enjoy themselves unless they brought head-to-toe slickers. I'll give that a definite pass, and enjoy my little writer's retreat.

I wonder if Sir William Cornelius Van Horne could have imagined someone like me staying in this posh place. He was instrumental in the development of Banff, and his statue sits in the roundabout outside the hotel. Its base quotes him: "Since we can't export the scenery, we shall have to import the tourists."

Today, I'm really lucky to be an import, even though the scenery is lost in the rainclouds.

8 p.m., the same day

So I discovered, when I went for a swim, that the reason I had the indoor pool all to myself was because the outdoor pool is warm. Not hotspring water, but warm and lovely for floating. After a few laps and a little dip, I ironed my shirt and did like my dad told me -- I pretended I belonged at Banff Springs (though I couldn't help myself -- had to take a few more carpet pictures). I went to the Bow Valley Grill and had a wonderful dinner -- a glass of "Sacred Hill" shiraz-cabernet, goat feta and tomato salad, and Saltspring mussels with Chorizo sausage in a marvelous tomato sauce. I just love gourmet food. But the best part of the day came when I put on my coat and ran outside to see those mountains, and found beauty I didn't know existed so close to this big hotel. God's decorations are the best of all!

See the golden poplars in the background? Yes, God outdoes fancy carpets!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

St. Francis, the patron saint of Simplicity

Put on your best Italian accent, and see if you can pronounce these beautiful words:
Laudato si, mi' Signore cum tucte le Tue creature,
spetialmente messor lo frate Sole,
lo qual è iorno, et allumini noi per lui.
Et ellu è bellu e radiante cum grande splendore:
de Te, Altissimo, porta significatione.
I know, it's a mouthful, but a really beautiful mouthful, sung to God in praise for Brother Sun. It's a small piece of Il Cantico del Sole, The Canticle of the Sun, which refers to all of creation as our sisters and brothers. It was written in the twelfth century by my favourite saint, a fellow named Francis of Assisi. I'll post the translation of the entire Cantico (song) at the bottom of this moodling. It's one that I stumbled across while in university, and kept on my bulletin board to remind me that I am a small sister in a grand creation.

St. Francis was one of my favourite people in those days, and still is. Son of a wealthy fabric merchant and due to inherit the family business, he opted instead for a life of simplicity with a capital S, caring for the poor and living in harmony with creation. His lifestyle was so unlike that of his friends (who thought at first that he'd lost his mind) that they became curious... and when they discovered the joy with which he was living, they joined him, and became the first band of merry Franciscans.

And there are still merry Franciscans with us today. I know a few personally, and enjoy them immensely, as they're anything but stuffy clergy. I walked with one during the Downtown Way of the Cross one Easter, and when something I said struck Dave funny, he laughed so loudly that other participants gave us a look. My Franciscan friends take so much joy in life. If only I could say the same of all religious!

St. Francis had a special rapport with animals, so my neighbour, friend, and local Anglican priest, Dan, holds a liturgy to bless pets on the Sunday before the feast of St. Francis. I love to hear about that kind of thing, because I think that religion as a whole has missed the boat if it says that animals don't have souls. How can anyone be sure? All I know is that creation is good, and if we lived as if every living creature was as important as human beings are, our world would probably be in much better shape than it is.

Francis has been called the Saint of Ecology, and I posted a pretty cute story in that vein about God and St. Francis last year. Unfortunately, all that many people know about him is that his lyrics were sung at Princess Diana's funeral. Several of his poems and prayers have been turned into beautiful music, and way back when, Franco Zeffirelli made a movie about him called Brother Sun, Sister Moon. If you've never seen it, I'd recommend it -- with the suggestion that Francis probably wasn't quite as ethereal as the lead actor portrays him.

I'll leave you with one of the songs that's been made from his words (lovely photos; kudos to the person who put the video together!), and the rest of the words of the Canticle of the Sun. Happy St. Francis' Day! And happy feast day to my Franciscan friends!

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
 no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
 fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
 He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
 who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.

We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
who for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.  

We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Simple Suggestion #82... Buy local where possible

My local shopping mall has a nice little farmer's market every Saturday. One day I was there buying some onions, and a tiny little senior citizen shuffled up to me and asked, "Nice onions?"
"Yes," I replied.
She came in closer to see for herself, then said, "Hmmph. They're cheaper at Safeway." And off she went to the big grocery store further down the mall.

Don't you just hate it when you think of what to say long after the opportunity has passed? What I should have said was that Safeway's onions probably come from California, and they're not so cheap when you add in the poorly-paid labour of the migrant workers who harvested them, the cost of the gasoline to transport them thousands of kilometres, and the carbon emissions of the trucks that brought them so far north. I could have suggested that we really ought to be supporting our local farmers, encouraging them by buying their produce so that they can grow more food for local markets, because there may come a day when the price of transporting onions from California will be prohibitive, or crops down there will fail, or there will be other reasons that we will need our farmers here to be doing well. If I would have pointed out to her that I don't mind paying a little more for my onions because they taste fresher than Safeway's and I like to kibbitz with the man who grew them and brought them to the mall in his truck, I wonder if she might have understood the happiness that comes from knowing where my produce originates and who is benefitting from its sale.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Next time, I'll be more prepared to defend the simplicity of buying from my local producer.

What's your favourite local product?

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