Nothing New in Review

At the beginning of the year I made a series of resolutions. One of the more challenging ones was to refrain from buying anything new for the first three months of the year. I was sick of being a mindless consumer, buying whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, from where ever in the world I wanted. Instead, I wanted to stop to consider the resources that passed through my hands. I wanted to see if I could do without, make stuff, purchase used items instead. I wanted to abandon the image of myself as “consumer” and replace it with “citizen”.

My exceptions were as follows:

  1. Food
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Items to make my own homemade cleaners, cosmetics and soaps
  4. Things for gardening/composting
  5. Fabric and notions to make some homemade clothes for my kids
  6. Used items

So now that today is officially the last day of the three months – how did I do? What did I end up buying? I am here to confess to some cheats and some insights in breaking free from shop-mode.

Here is a list of items I did buy over the last 90 days:

  1. 2 handmade bars of soap from the Farmer’s Market
  2. 1 small jar of handmade face cream from the Farmer’s Market
  3. 1 two-inch bottle of handmade hemp conditioner from… yes, the Farmer’s Market
  4. Dishwasher detergent – only after trying to make my own with great disastrous results
  5. Liquid dish soup – only after trying to make my own with somewhat disastrous results
  6. Flour sifter – to sift the bran from my stone-ground local flour so that I could make a lighter loaf of bread, and also – local bran muffins!
  7. Candy thermometer – to use when canning, as I am planning to preserve lots of food this summer/fall
  8. Birthday presents – for two birthday parties my 5 year-old son attended (although I gave my 1 year-old niece a previously loved toy my kids had when they were babies – I think she liked it!)
  9. Handmade necklace and bracelet from the Farmer’s Market for my mother-in-law for her birthday (I got her 3 used hardcover books as well).
  10. Rubber boots for my kids – after I had checked out 2 stores for used pairs, I bought ones that were phthalate-free and made in Canada, which is not easy to find! The snow melt is finally on, and there are massive puddles everywhere.
  11. Tylenol – we ran out and I had a horrible headache one day
  12. 4 recycled plastic large bins – for storing items in the garage that were previously stored in cardboard boxes in the storage room downstairs. That stuff cannot reside in their existing cardboard boxes as our garage can flood. I am clearing out the storage room to make way for a new shelving unit for… homemade canned goods!
  13. Emergency supply kit – this is a whole other blog post
  14. Digital SLR camera – I lost my camera and spent the whole next day calling around and retracing my steps trying to find it. Frustrated, I threw up my hands and decided to buy a camera I plan to have for a really long time. I did not however, purchase a camera case. I did however, purchase a used men’s jacket, from which I plan to sew, and craft into, a custom-made camera case. By the way, I know how weird this sounds. But the camera case for the camera was over $100! The men’s jacket was $7! Besides, it will be much more interesting. Until it is made, my camera is bound to the confines of my house.

That is it. I feel a bit guilty about the 4 (recycled) plastic bins. Who knew a year ago, that I would be sitting here writing this, feeling guilty about buying 4 plastic bins. Under normal circumstances I would feel happy and proud of myself, for taking the initiative to actually organize and clean out the storage room and garage in the same project. Look at me! Cleaning the garage! Now I feel like – look at me! I just bought 4 big ol’ plastic bins when I forgo buying regular bread since I don’t want to waste a little bread bag! It is nonsense, I know. However, there are situations, when a plastic bin does make sense. Like when things are going in the garage, where they could become wet and ruined if they were left in any other type of container – cardboard, wicker basket – these just will not work. Even a homemade wooden box from sustainable timber that I cut down myself using a previously used axe, would not work. Plastic has some uses. For example, I like my plastic laptop. For the most part though, I try to avoid plastic whenever I can. If you really look, plastic is everywhere. So if a non-plastic alternative exists I will normally take it. Despite these justifications, I still have lingering guilt.

The other big glaring item on the list is the camera. Nothing new, and I buy a camera… I justified it as something I was not willing to sacrifice, as it is important to document my children growing up, and also – I need to be able to take pictures for you, dear reader, for this here blog.

Note that I did not buy shampoo. Digging through my bathroom cupboard, I found a stockpile of a brand I don’t really like. Oh well, it is finally getting used up. Eventually I want to learn how to make my own soap, and then by extension, my own liquid soaps, such as dish soap, hand soap and shampoo. I am going to defer this project until next fall, as I feel like I am going to be pretty busy with the whole big new garden plan and all.

The other thing I did not purchase – any clothes or shoes for me, even used. I bought used clothes for my kids and found some really cute stuff.  Kids grow and they need bigger clothes, you just cannot get around that. However, I am also getting some hand me downs from friends and my sister, and that helps too.

So what did I learn? I learned that I don’t have to shop for something to do. Have you ever been in a long line up at the till, waiting and waiting to pay, squinting under the fluorescent lights, feeling the energy and life slowly drain out of you, bored, restless and annoyed? Why am I standing here? I did not miss those moments. How about when you get home with all your bags, and the kids are restless and jumpy and loud, and it is well past the time you were supposed to get supper on, so the bags get left by the door in a heap, and at the end of the day after everyone is in bed, you trip over them again, and realize that you have the additional job of taking everything out of the bag, clipping off all the tags, peeling off all the stickers, taking stuff out of the packages, and then putting it all away, into your already full house? I never liked the putting away part. The best part of shopping is the finding, the discovery. After that, it just seems to go downhill.

So what will I do now? I have thought a lot about it, and have decided that I am going to sign up for another three months of Nothing New! I will report any exceptions here at the end of June.

It actually was not that bad, it was liberating really, and I learned quite a few things along the way. I think I also saved about $1,000!

Before I begin though, I think I might buy myself some of those made in Canada rubber boots, to play around in the puddles with my kids, and later, to play around in my future garden. Other than that, my original exceptions will apply, with the addition of shampoo, dishwasher soap and liquid dish soap.

So who is with me?  What would your rules be?

Seedlings

Now that I have a garden plan and seed plan, last weekend we actually planted seeds! I thought it would be fun to designate plants for each child, so they each planted three cherry tomatoes each. They love cherry tomatoes, so I figured it was best to start with that. I am hoping that they will feel a sense of pride and ownership over their plants, as they plant them, watch them germinate and grow, and finally – produce some stuff to eat! My son planted the Balcony Charm variety and my daughter  Sweet Hybrids. I also seeded Black Cherry tomatoes, as well as Roma and Early Girl tomatoes. We put three seeds in each pellet, for a total of 18 plants and hoped for the best. I put them on top of the fridge, covered with a plastic dome, to create a warm, humid environment.

Now look:

Seedlings! I have since moved them to my sunniest window. Apparently seeds like warmth to germinate, but prefer cool conditions once they are up. I am hoping they will be cool enough right up against the window.

I also planted red and green peppers, but they have yet to poke their heads out. I can see that the seed has sprouted, but they are still tiny pinpricks in the soil. These guys are still on top of the fridge.

Tomorrow I will plant parsley, mint and oregano. I am about a week behind on these. I have a feeling we might be late planting our seedlings outside this year anyway, as we still have a 3 foot pile of snow in the backyard! Spring just does not want to come this year. This week has been cold and gray, and I am yearning for the sun. Physically yearning! I want to feel the sun upon my face, I want to see greenery, I want to see things growing.

When spring finally does come, and morphs into glorious summer, I am sure I will be spending many hours outside, tending to my new garden. It will be a good excuse to get out there and soak up each and every day of summer!

Seed Plan

I have been immersed in the world of vegetables.

As I am planning my very first vegetable garden this year, I have spent the last two weekends studying, like a student, how to grow vegetables. It brought me back to my university days. For several nights I have sat at the kitchen table after the kids have gone to bed, with my library books and my notebook, busily learning.

The culmination of this effort is a page of notes for each vegetable I want to grow: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, mint and spinach. I have learned a lot. For example, cucumbers like hot weather, but they like their fruit to stay cool and shaded under their large leaves. Their roots are vulnerable at the seedling stage so it is best to plant them in a pot that can go directly into the ground outside.

Now peas hate the heat, and so are the very first to be planted in the spring – a full 4 weeks before last frost date! Hot weather converts the sugary goodness within their pods into starchy blandness, so one hot afternoon on the vine in the middle of summer can make all the difference.

As for beans, there are two types – little guys that grow in little bushes (bush beans), and then big trailing types that grow up poles (pole beans). I am going to try both. The pole beans can be grown up a 6′ tripod of bamboo or wood stakes; I think this will look so pretty that I am going to put them in my front yard.

Carrots take the longest to germinate, so much so that gardeners forget where they have planted them. So some people plant them mixed in with radishes, just to mark the rows (radishes sprout and grow quick, but since you have to pull them all out after the carrots finally do come up, I think that this is too much work and a waste of radishes).

Tomatoes are the divas. They are well loved, but high maintenance. I learned that there are two main types, those that stay in a bush (determinant) and those that climb on a vine (indeterminant). I will try some of each. For those that vine, you have to give them a trellis or stake support, and tie them as they grow, at every 12″ or so. You also have to prune off the little suckers, so that the plant only maintains 2 to 3 main stems to focus its energy. You need to side dress them with compost when the flowers come out, and keep them well watered but not too much or else their skins will split. They are very frost sensitive so they should go out one week after last frost and then be covered up with blankets if there is any risk of frost thereafter. This is where container gardening has some advantages, as you can just whip in all your containers inside if there is a chance of frost!

Then there is the lettuce, it grows fast and aplenty and if you plant a few seeds every week or so you will have lettuce all season long. Great!

Some plants are started from seed outdoors, and some have a longer growing season so have to be started early indoors from seed, and then planted outside as a seedling later on. Every plant has a different plant date according to the kind of weather they like (peas like cool, cucumbers like hot) and they all grow at different rates and have different harvest times as well. It can get bit confusing to keep straight, so I decided to pull out my nerdy spreadsheet skills and map this thing out:

So it looks like next weekend, we will be planting our first seeds indoors, parsley, lettuce, oregano and mint to be exact. The weekend after that – peppers. The weekend after that – our diva tomatoes. Interestingly enough, the weekend after that we will be starting our basil indoors from seed at the same time we are supposed to be planting our peas outside from seed (April 9th). This seems ridiculous since this is only a few weeks away and there is still currently 3 feet of snow outside. Melt baby melt! That part of the schedule might have to be adjusted. It looks like I will be busy harvesting in July, and for some crops, will be able to put in a second planting before fall. Lettuce I will plant all summer long. Tomatoes will be saved for last, ready at the very end of the growing season (like all divas, they make you wait).

This will be my first crack at raising seedlings indoors, so if it doesn’t work, I will just buy seedlings at the nursery. I figure it is worth a try and will be fun for the kids to be involved too. I am sure they will love to help plant the seeds, and see how they germinate and grow. I am hoping to have two little helpers in the garden all season long. It will give us something to do together outside, and who knows, maybe they will eat all these new vegetables that they had a hand in growing…

So my planting dates are coming up quickly, and I needed to get my hands on some seeds. Since I did not have time to order them from a seed catalogue this year, I browsed varieties using online seed catalogues, looked up which varieties were recommended for my area, and then took all this information to my local nursery to buy packets of seeds off the rack. It was fun!

So much potential, those little packets. What goodness will they bring?

The Age of Stupid

I just finished watching the documentary, The Age of Stupid. Again, the credits are still rolling and I am inspired to write.

My overall feeling after watching this film is WHY. Why are we doing this to ourselves? It is such a simple and honest question. What is the answer? Most people must not fully know the issue at hand. Either that or we just don’t care enough about ourselves, our humanity. We selfishly fail to focus on this issue. I feel so frustrated. This movie has lit a fire under my butt to try and do more… MORE!

We are not leaving this world a better place than what we found it, obviously. We buy so many consumer goods, we eat food from half a world away, and we burn cheap energy. We use our precious resources as if they had no end. The scary thing is that they will end. We are using them all up, saving none for future generations. Even those who don’t believe in climate change (against 97% of climate scientists) must still concede that oil will eventually run out. What then? The world will be faced with the same problem that we have now, without the added bonus of any hope of reversing catastrophic climate change and an Earth worth saving.

The movie takes place in 2055. The world has succumbed to catastrophic climate change, and most of humanity has been destroyed. Near the North Pole there is a huge tower rising out of the now-melted Arctic Ocean. It is a storage facility, housing all the important artworks of humanity, and in massive banks of computer servers, containing all the history and music and literature and scientific discoveries of all of humankind. It is a time capsule of sorts, on a massive scale. The narrator is the storage facility’s keeper. For all we know, he is all that is left of humanity. He has at his access, news and documentary footage. From this footage he creates a cautionary tale for some future non-human generation to find. All footage he uses is from current day real life, and is not fabricated or fictional.

He follows a young woman in Nigeria, age 23, who lives in a rural town where Shell Oil has moved in. The agreement was that 13% of the oil revenues were to go to community development. Here in this community, she sees nothing. No clean water, no medical facilities, no secondary schools, nothing. It is probably a case of corruption at the government level, as well as Shell not living up to its original promises and not being held accountable. There is now oil in the river, killing the fish, a key food staple for these people. Natural gas that is found alongside the oil is burned instead of stored or transported, as it is the cheapest option in this region. This country has the riches of oil and gas, but the people do not benefit, and are instead suffering with a damaged water supply and air pollution due to gas flares (emitting 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year). This young girl wants to build a better community, a better life, so she is working hard to raise funds to get admitted to college to become a doctor. In the end the only way she can raise the funds she needs is to sell diesel fuel on the black market.

Next he follows a British family, trying to reduce their carbon footprint and live off the land. Their goal is to reduce their footprint to one carbon tonne per person per year, as compared to the 10 tonnes per year on average for the UK. The father is involved in wind turbines and wants to install a wind farm on a local farm. The farmer is all for it, but the neighbours are not. The neighbours essentially, do not want their view to be ruined. One lady, who was instrumental in the protest against the wind turbines, says later that she is concerned about climate change and that everyone should do their part. Then she laughs awkwardly, knowing that her actions do not match her words. However, her actions are mostly typical, as we are all mostly, worried. But few of us are willing to give anything up of value to change. She was not willing to give up her view.

The narrator also follows a businessman in India, who is about to launch a new Indian airline. This man indicates that his overall goal and purpose in life is to work toward eliminating poverty in India, a noble goal, to be sure. However, to accomplish this, he is putting more airplanes into the sky, thereby contributing in a large way, to carbon emissions in India (airplane travel is very carbon intensive – one long haul flight would equal driving my car for 8 months).

He also follows an American man who worked for an oil company, who lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. With his small boat, he ended up saving over 100 people stranded in their homes, including a 92 year-old man and a 2 week-old baby.  Are catastrophic weather events like this going to increase in number and severity? Some would argue it is already happening.

There are two children from Iraq, now living in another country as refugees. Their father was killed in the war.  The reason for the Iraq war? The film implies that it was for oil and these two little kids are paying the price.

Then there is the mountaineering guide in France, who at age 82, has seen the landscape and climate change in the mountains significantly in his lifetime. He has watched the glaciers shrink. He has watched the summers grow hotter. He has seen car and truck traffic through his small, quiet mountain town grow exponentially. He has a love of nature and he sees the path that we are on and is physically pained by it. He has a beautiful quote near the end of the film:

I think everyone in the future will perhaps blame us for not thinking how to protect the environment. We knew how to profit but not how to protect.

These stories from around the world remind us that we are all interconnected in this thing. What goes on in India and Iraq and Nigeria and the UK impacts me here too. It impacts my children. It impacts you.  We are all here on this little planet Earth, living together on this miracle of creation. This is our only home, no other place yet discovered in all the Universe could sustain us. It is like a tiny spaceship, careening through the immense dead of space. How will we treat our precious aircraft, so that it can continue to support us? Will our personal self interests override the needs of our vessel, so key to our very survival?

If we do not change, it is not the Earth that will suffer. It is us. The Earth will continue to careen through space, whether we have a place on it or not.

The scariest thing about this movie came from Mark Lynas, who wrote Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. He told us that we will have to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050, which is something I have also read elsewhere. However what I had not seen before, was his assertion that in order to achieve that, we have to peak on emissions by 2015. That is only 4 years away. I am so frustrated because I see this train wreck coming at us so quickly, and we are so busy squabbling about having to change our way of life that we don’t realize that before we are even done squabbling, it will be too late.

How can I accept that? In short, I can’t.

That is why I write in this space, that is why I am actively greening my life from top to bottom. But I need to do more. I need to reach out to people and get involved in the flesh, in person. I want to do more, and need to carve out time for it. There is absolutely no excuse for not doing so.

My children deserve it. You deserve it. We all do.

Checking in

Well, it has been about 10 weeks since I started this journey of greening my life, step-by-step. I thought it would be worthwhile to check-in and review what I have done, and provide some reflections so far. So to recap…

Reduce Energy Use
Some of the first things I did:

  1. Turn down the thermostat
  2. Turn down the hot water heater
  3. Consolidate chargers on a power bar for easy shutdown
  4. Unplug small kitchen appliances when not in use
  5. Replace every single light bulb with a compact fluorescent
  6. Implement the 4-light rule when the sun goes down (no lights when sun is up).
  7. Air dry all our clothes.

I still have a long way to go in this department. For example I want to look at installing additional weather stripping around doors. I also want to investigate solar panels. I also would love to get an energy audit done on our house. It is older (1956) so I think there maybe opportunities that could save us money and carbon in the long run. 

Reduce Garbage
After getting some easy quick wins above, I really started thinking about garbage. I had just finished reading “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan at the time. He analyzed a week’s worth of his trash to see where it was all coming from, so that is what I did too. I was astonished to see how much of it was related to food packaging. I especially hated the single-use items like coffee cups, paper napkins and Styrofoam. So I dug in my heels, and now do the following:

  1. Use reusable or homemade gift bags for presents. I got through Christmas without using a scrap of wrap.
  2. Swore off Styrofoam completely. This meant changing where I go out for lunch at work.
  3. Purchased a pretty coffee travel mug. If I don’t have the mug, I don’t get the coffee.
  4. Swore off all grocery bags that are not reusable. I decided that not one more time, would I forget my bags. I keep an extra stash in the car, and have about 20 of them kicking around. This has been really easy, now that I am totally committed to it.
  5. Swore off all other plastic shopping bags. I purchased these awesome little nylon bags that fold up into a pouch in my purse and have not brought home a plastic bag since.
  6. Use mesh produce bags instead of plastic. They are thin and stretchy, and I like how apples and tomatoes bounce in them! I also reuse woven mesh bags you get with some produce. If it comes in a plastic bag, I either don’t buy it, or I wash and reuse the bag.  All in all, I have greatly slashed the number of these that I send to the landfill:
    Thin plastic shopping bags

    Image via Wikipedia

  7. Swore off boxed food. This actually has been one of the biggest changes. I had a large drawer dedicated to boxed items, now it is box-free and filled with my bulk bin overflow. This brings me to my next point:
  8. Purchase all staples in bulk, using as much as possible, plastic bags that have been reused. This has had the biggest change on the contents of my cupboards. Instead of opening up the door and seeing boxes with pictures of the food on it, I open up the door and see my actual food through glass jars. I have way more space. I appreciate what I have, the bounty of selection and variety. I feed my kids different snacks now, such as peanuts, raisins, and trail mix, or other little goodies from the bulk bins.
  9. Reduce food waste. This means keeping better tabs on the fridge.
  10. Bake my own bread. This saves a bread bag every time! Plus, I love doing it, kneading the dough, providing for my family. It is fluffy and yummy and I can’t go back.
  11. I also bake my own granola bars, cookies, tortilla bread and crackers. It started off as a way to reduce packaging and feed my kids foods that is preservative-free. Now I also use local flour and this is a big benefit for me as well. This leads me to the next big set of changes…

Eating Local Food
I was really inspired by the 100-Mile Diet book by Alisa Smith and James MacKibbon. I now realize that a big part of my carbon footprint relates to the goods I buy, and much of what I buy is food. So this is what I now do:

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

  1. Go to the Farmer’s Market every week. I now buy these items exclusively at the Farmer’s Market: eggs, bison, bacon, sausage, carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, cabbage, leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, pears, apples, pear-apples, honey and mint tea. This list will expand in the summer.
  2. Look for other local foods not available at the Farmer’s Market. Some of this is available at the grocery store, some at specialty bakeries, and some at Planet Organic. Here is a list of local foods I have purchased around town: wine, canola oil, flour, hot cereal, yogurt, sour cream and goat cheese.
  3. Purchase non-local produce sparingly. I purchase bananas once every second week. I have not purchased oranges in a month. The only non-local vegetable I regularly purchase is broccoli.
  4. Set up an indoor herb garden in my kitchen.  This gives me fresh local herbs at my fingertips, and helps to satisfy my longing for spring and greenery.

I am still on the look-out for local foods and have emailed several local companies about where they source their ingredients. Eating local is not that easy, I will admit. But when I prepare a meal, and bask in the realization that it is made from mostly local ingredients, it feels really good.

I have some really big eating local plans this coming year. Eating local here in Canada means you have to store and preserve your produce for winter. So starting this summer, that is exactly what I intend to do. I want to preserve tomato sauce, salsa, peaches, pears and berries. I want to make pickles, apple sauce and jams. I also want to freeze local peas and local corn.

Finally, I want to grow my own food. This is super local. I really want to pass these skills on to my children. Part of me fears that they are going to need these skills in an uncertain future with an uncertain food supply (yes, even here in Canada). But for now, I really want them to have a connection with nature, with the land. I want them to have an appreciation for food. For example, a few days ago I was talking to my 5-year old son about how vegetables grow. It turned out that he did not even realize that all food was grown in the ground! Then just yesterday, he made up a song called the “Farmer of Life”. It was so beautiful. The song started off about a little boy who did not have enough food to eat. Then the little boy met a farmer, and the farmer grew food for him, and became the “Farmer of Life”. Just having this little conversation with him inspired this burst of creativity and my heart beamed with pride. I want to take this further, and let my kids get dirty in the garden.

Reduce Consumption
This was a big one. I made a commitment to not make any purchases that are not related to food or toilet paper for the first 3 months of 2011. Well, one month later, and it has not been a problem. I don’t even miss it. In fact, I am enjoying it (as is my bank account).

Reflections
I have made many changes since I started 10 weeks ago, and have really mixed up my daily habits and how I spend my time. Some of the changes have been totally easy, like the shopping bags and the travel mugs. Some changes have saved time, like the no-shopping rule. However some changes now take up more of my time, like air drying clothes and baking bread. Some take a lot of research, such as eating locally. Overall though, I am enjoying it. I do feel busier on the weekends, between the extra laundry time, the Farmer’s Market and the bread… But I am doing things that mean a lot to me, and that I actually do enjoy doing. My life feels enriched. I feel like my actions have purpose. I feel like I am making a difference.

I feel good.

Alberta Oil Sands

I am feeling down today. Last night I watched the documentary “Tipping Point” by David Suzuki on the oil sands mega project in Alberta, and the impact it is having on downstream aboriginal communities (watch it here). It confirmed my worst fears. The oil sands are polluting the waters, creating high rates of rare cancer among the aboriginal people, contaminating the animals, and now deformed fish swim in the river. On top of all that, the oil sands emissions are equal to that of Switzerland. How is that even possible? Massive amounts of water are used; huge lakes of toxic waste are created. The video footage of the area was devastating. It is a complete dead zone. Forests are peeled back, the earth mined for oil sand, and nothing lives except for the human workers that operate the cranes and trucks. You can see the extent of the devastation from space:

I am so sad. This is my home. Canada is such a beautiful country, with vast areas of wild forests. Yet hidden up north, this exists. It exists in my own backyard, only 450 kilometers (280 miles) from where I live. My city directly benefits from the economic spinoffs of this mega project. But it feels so wrong. Every fiber of my being tells me that this is wrong.

Canada doesn’t want to commit to reducing emissions because of the oil sands. It is the economic heart of Alberta, the country even. Cut emissions, and you may have to shut the oil sands down. So we stall, we coast. We receive some international pressure, win the fossil of the year award, but do nothing.

It makes me so sad and mad and fearful at the same time. Why are we doing this? I know the world needs oil, but at what cost? Why are we the dealer peddling this drug? Why can’t we be peddling something better, something beautiful, something green? Why can’t we be promoting the best of ourselves, the best we can offer, of innovation and perseverance and hard work? Why does it have to be dirty oil?

There are rumours of a provincial election these days, rumours of a leadership race. What scares me is the thought of getting a new government even more bent on promoting the oil sands, even more gung-ho to get all that oil out of the ground, to sell it to the highest bidder, to burn it all up and put it into the sky…

Is there any hope? What can I do to stop it? What can I do to help those people dying of cancer? How can we get off oil?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what to do. I feel restless, anxious, on the verge of tears. I love my country, my province. But I feel like they are letting us down.

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
                                                                                     – ancient Aboriginal proverb

Let’s not let our children down.



Food Friday: Food Waste

I have a confession to make. I am a horrible food waster.

Typically I am not a waster of food on my plate. Most times I take only what I eat, and don’t toss a bunch in the garbage. My kids however, are a different story. One day they eat a lot, the next day, next to nothing. How do I know what day it will be today when I serve them? Sometimes a lot of what is on their plate is thrown away. Veggies, bread crusts, too much rice… Sometimes as I am clearing their plates I take a few bites of their wasted food, to reduce some of the guilt of trashing it. My husband will do the same, depending on how mangled it is.

Next – I have not been very good at managing the fridge. I normally whip into the grocery store without a plan, making it up as I go along. I see fruit and veggies that I think we will probably eat, so I buy them. I get stuff for a few meals and wing it for the rest. Then the week happens and some of the vegetables I bought don’t get used, some things expire. Every day I am planning on the fly. It is stressful and I often don’t have what I need.

Then when I reach into the food crisper, something slimy and wet crosses my hand. Ewww. I pull out a gross bag of rotting tomato, or cucumber, or lettuce. I look deeper – there is also expired sour cream and salad dressing. I check the mayo, only 3 more weeks until it expires too. Bah!

My husband hates it when I throw out food.

Now that I am really considering my food footprint, I realize that food waste plays a big part of it.  I mean, I am concerned about all the food packaging garbage and the distance my food has travelled to get to me. These things are not good for emissions! Given this, why do I keep tossing?

The reason is simple.  I didn’t care enough. I also was a bit lazy, yes. I did not have a very strong connection with our food, and what it takes to grow it, produce it and get it to our house.

Frugal Girl is really great at tracking her food waste. She has a series called “Food Waste Friday” where she owns up to anything that went bad at her house that week. Last week, it was cilantro, cucumber and chicken. The week before, it was rice and sour cream. She owns up to it all, and challenges others to do the same.

Okay, here it goes:

This is my waste this week – egg noodles, broccoli and carrot. The broccoli has definitely had it. Because it creeps me out that the other stuff might have touched the broccoli, the rest has had it too.

Despite this, I am making progress. I now care more about our food and where it comes from and how it gets to us. I sit down on Saturday morning and write out what we will be having for supper on each night of the week and post it on the fridge. From there I draft the grocery list. Then I go to the farmer’s market for as much as I can, and then get everything else at either the grocery store or my new found love, Bulk Barn. I bring all the food home and fill my canisters, cupboards, fridge and freezer with care. I take stock of my stock. I know what I have on hand and what we will be eating.

Secondly, I actively use up leftovers. I take them for lunch (much cheaper!). I feed them to the kids for lunch (much easier!). I work them into our suppers (less work!). I try to clear out leftovers every 2 days or so. I note dates on the dairy items that expire. I am more careful. I treat our stock of food with the respect and love it deserves.

My husband now comments how he likes our “just in time” food inventory. I like it too.

What about you? How do you manage the fridge?

Nothing New

Shopping – we love it. We do it for fun; we do it with friends. I remember in high school, doing it lots. I would call up a friend and we would want to go out, so we would go to the mall. We would hang out. We would buy clothes. We would buy shoes and earrings and boots and music.

As I got older, I shopped less with friends. I found it was more efficient to shop by myself! I wandered around stores, looking at pretty things. I would appreciate interesting paintings and cool home décor items. I would covet fancy dresses and expensive shoes, even if I did not always buy them. Sometimes I would purchase. Other times I would go overboard, and blow the bank. Mostly I stayed within my means and only bought stuff I either really really liked, or really really wanted.

Then I had kids. Suddenly I had two other little people accompanying me on these shopping trips. When my son was first born it was great, I could schlep him around anywhere while he either slept or cooed happily. No problem. We scoured the malls together. I spent more money than I should have, bought more stuff than we needed.

Once I had two kids I used shopping as an excuse to get out of the house. I would start to feel cooped up if I stayed indoors for too long. Sometimes we went out for groceries, sometimes for things for the house, and many times for shoes, boots, clothes and kids stuff.

So now my house is filled with stuff. I don’t have a big house, so I don’t have massive amounts of stuff, but each closet and cupboard and shelf and storage area is expertly arranged and organized so that the maximum amount of stuff can be packed in. For example, I have what I like to refer to as the “jigsaw container drawer”. The only way to get everything that belongs in that drawer to fit in that drawer is to precisely perform a plastic container jigsaw puzzle. If you do not know my puzzle secrets, you will never get it all in.

So what do I need all this stuff for anyway? Why is shopping a form of entertainment, and a way to spend my time?

Some people do things differently. There is a growing movement of minimalism out there. People are eliminating their possessions and getting back to basics. Some are paring back so drastically, that they possess only 100 items, like this guy (watch video). Imagine having only 100 items? I bet there are millions of people in the world who have less than 100 items, but imagine doing this on purpose? I bet I have 100 items in one cupboard alone. However these people live simply, and focus on that which is truly important – love, friends, family and happy moments.

There is another movement called the compact. It started in San Francisco, where a group of people made a pact to purchase nothing new for one year. What would that even look like? Well it would mean no more purchases of clothes, shoes and boots. New home décor items would especially not be allowed. It would mean no more fun trips to the mall, to spend money on things I think we need but mostly just want.

I know that walking lightly upon the Earth means consuming less. How can I walk lightly when I go to the mall and come home with plastic bags full of extra clothes, shoes and boots, and now also, toys for the kids? How much extra stuff do we need and why do I think we need it?

The fact is that I probably don’t need much of it at all. I need essentials, but we are not talking about essentials are we? My shopping bags are not full of essentials. I already have a closet full of clothes, shoes and boots, and so do my kids. We are talking extras here, luxuries.

If I want to get serious about reducing my carbon footprint, I have to reduce my consumption. All these items take materials from the Earth, they take carbon to produce, carbon to ship and then will probably end up in a landfill anyway, where they will release methane as they rot. So what to do?

Well I can do something about it. Are you ready? This is a big one. I will commit to not purchase anything brand new for the first three months of the year.

These are my exceptions:

  1. Food
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Items to make my own homemade cleaners, cosmetics and soaps
  4. Things for gardening/composting
  5. Fabric and notions to make some homemade clothes for my kids
  6. Used items

I want to try that on and see how it feels. I suspect my bank account will be smiling. Heck, I am smiling, because I am so excited for this challenge. I will just have to make due, and figure out a way. The time I save by not shopping, perhaps will now be spent on the floor playing with my kids. Or perhaps I will read another good book. Or perhaps I will just look outside and appreciate the birds singing in the trees.

Resolutions

Ah… a fresh new year, a new decade even. Around this time I always find myself reflecting on the year that passed. My 5-year old son and I actually took our 2010 family calendar down from the fridge this afternoon (the one that is scribbled and scratched upon beyond recognition), and paged through it month by month, remembering the events of the year. Some of it was not so great (such as a hospital stay for my daughter last January for pneumonia) and some of it was wonderful (such as our family vacation to Waterton). I think it helped him better understand the passage of time and the seasons.

With reflection comes resolution for the year ahead. This year – it just feels different. Instead of making my typical resolutions like “exercise more” I am making resolutions that I am really excited to do, not just what I should do. Somehow making resolutions that are less about myself, and more about the world I live in, is way more motivating. Here is what I have come up with:

Resolve to LEARN:
1. How to compost my food and garden waste
2. How to make natural cosmetics and soaps
3. How to make natural household cleaners
4. How to grow a vegetable garden

Resolve to DO:
5. Reduce kilometres traveled in my vehicle
6. Reduce spending on brand new items
7. Track and reduce all energy and water use
8. Become more political

Resolve to WRITE:
9. New weekly series called “Foodie Fridays” – each post will be about eco-food choices and recipes. I decided to do this because it seems like many of the green changes that I am making right now come back to food. Food definitely has its own footprint, both on the planet and on our health. So let’s try to minimize the former while maximizing the latter!

10.  New bi-weekly series called “Letters to Leaders” – each post will be in the form of a letter that I will write and send to either a politician, or a leader of a company. The purpose of this is to lend my voice in a rational and open way, to hopefully engage these people to consider alternatives. I want to start discussions, I want people to take me seriously and I want to share what I am doing with you.

This list beats “exercise more”. Totally beats it! I will inherently be exercising more due to resolution #5, which will undoubtedly involve more walking. This list is so exciting for me, because I will be learning new things and doing new things, and adding my voice to where it is desperately needed. Knowing that I may do some good, not for myself but for others and for our fragile climate, is so much more motivating. I feel more connected, engaged, alive.

Happy New Year.

Make a Change

The reason I started this blog was for my children. I was scared and fearful of their future, and did not know what to do. I felt helpless and powerless. How can one person make a difference? The situation seemed hopeless.

Then I realized that I had no right to feel that – my children and all future generations deserved better. I did not know the impact I could have on the climate change issue, but I did know that I could add my voice to it. I had to try.

So I started making some changes. Things I did for 15 years one way, I now do differently. It is actually fun, to shake it up a bit, add variety to the ol’ routine. It is interesting to see how easy it is once you take the plunge, making some big, and some little, changes. I am just a regular city mama, making green changes day-by-day. Next year I will step it up a notch and become more political too. To quote MJ:

“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change”.

I love that song; it has such a powerful message.

The change today – a brand new blog header! What do you think? I am so proud of it, as did it all myself using (if you can believe it) the drawing tools in excel. It is inspired by my children, and how I hope we will change in time to leave them a beautiful planet.