Tuesday, March 08, 2011

We are all together

It would seem that for many people it is really easy to feel turned off by the eco-movement. Or worse, to kind of ignore it hoping it will just go away and let us live our lives in blissful overconsumption. It all started at last Saturday's swimming class with E (classe: Canard). In the changing room, she was the only baby with cloth diapers on. The only one. Nevermind that the pool is in the Pointe  and cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables  (I know, I know, I shouldn't make class-based sweeping generalizations). I kept rubbernecking to check out all the babies to make sure I wasn't just imagining it, and sure enough, there wasn't an AppleCheeks or a Bummis cover in sight. I guess because I myself thought so much about this part of having a baby, it was just normal to me to have cloth diapers and I thought that it was something that most people did these days. In fact, when we first started using them, I felt, and continue to feel, really good, like I was doing something significant, making a difference, you know? Not to mention that they are as cute as heck. When I had to use disposables (travelling, mainly), it felt like throwing garbage on the street. In public. And then hawking a loogie on it and blowing smoke in a pregnant lady's face for good measure. Still, most people, it would seem, are not moved.

So this got me thinking about the other major thing in a baby's life: food. We try as much as possible to buy organic food and feed organic food to E. The comment I hear most often is "Yeah, I wish I could do that but it is so expensive!"or "Really, you buy everything organic, even pasta and cereal?", as if grains are somehow exempt from the chemical soup that is conventional farming. I think that Food Inc. did a really good job of spelling out the problem: most people have a fantasy vision of where their food comes from. See the farmer wake up early to light the gas lamp in the barn and milk the cows, gently mooing. See his sweet-cheeked wife gather eggs into her checkered apron, throwing her head back to laugh at the chicks pecking at her toes. See the farmer boy forking steaming manure onto the vegetable garden and picking fresh tomatoes for an impromptu snack. They shade their eyes, and look to the city, where soon, they will take their milk and eggs and vegetables to sell in the market. Now, 'fess up, how many of you have this little fantasy? The truth of the matter is that here in Canada, small family farms are virtually extinct. The large farms rely on chemical fertilizers (no, no, they are super safe, really!), Monsanto seeds, heavy machinery, antibiotics and minimum area for livestock. I don't really want to go into what is done to animals on a conventional farm because it makes me so angry and depressed.

People know this. Of course they know this. The thing is, being eco-anything isn't sexy. It's wearing shapeless garments fashioned of hemp and scraping toddler snot off used toys. It's having no room for the 2000$ deck chair because your patio is covered with tomato plants drooping about. It's spending money on food, of all things, and then having less. And people, well, people want MORE.

I've been reading a book called Diary of an Eco-Builder by Will Anderson (those avant-garde Brits!). He built an eco-house in central London and blogged about it for the Independent. His columns are now in book form and it is brilliant. One thing he wrote really jumped off the page at me:
"If green living is all about sacrifice, forget it. We want more: more light, more comfort, more beauty, more health and more style. I am confident that a holistic approach to environmental specification will deliver a quality of life that is far superior to that offerred by a gas guzzling design."
Will Anderson, of the sexy stylish eco-house, I sing this for you. I, too, want MORE, not less. I want more clean water and more clean air. I want more untainted fish and more animals free to roam. I want more Alberta landscape to remain free from environmental holocaust. I want more ozone layer, not less. I want more vegetables crammed with wholesome flavour free from chemicals. I want more grains to produce seed for the next crop. I want more peace of mind. I want more health. For myself and for my family and, yes, for you reading this, I want more. 

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Money & Americana

I've been reading this book called Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robinson and Joe Dominguez. Far from a get-rich-quick kind of book that you see everywhere (or seem to hear about, anyway), its kind of a get-rich-slow-and-steady thing.
I have not yet gone through all the steps that are suggested, but I have read it cover to cover first, as recommended. In a nutshell, the book is a programme designed to make you more aware and conscious of how much money you have earned in your life and where your money has gone and continues to go. Spreadsheets are involved. Keeping tabs on your spending is involved. Accounting for every penny that goes out and realizing exactly without a doubt where your money goes. The end goal is to decide on a sum that you need for living, and working towards becoming financially independent so that you no longer have to do anything you don't love doing for money, and money comes in. Not loads of it, but enough for you. On a smaller scale, the action of keeping strict accounts for a while of where your money goes sparks a creative and frugal instinct. Basically, although some things are inevitable expenditures, we can be quite creative in getting our needs met when we are very clear as to what they are. Well, friends, let me tell you that I have been extremely inspired and excited by all this frugality! I love it! It has given me a sense of clarity the likes of which I have not seen in a few years for sure! And so when my good friends J and A lent me their yard sale copies of the entire series of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books (which I have of course read in the past many times), I've been devouring them with the idea of frugality front and center. In my opinion, if you ever get tired of listening to Tea Party this and GOP that and even the liberals talking smack about Obama (fools), pick up Little House on the Praire or On the Banks of Plum Creek or any of the books really. They will restore your faith in Americans as being adventurous, self-sufficient, hard-working and creative - and frugal! So frugal! Truly understanding the relationship between work and money in a way that we in this post-industrial era don't really. We think we do, but we don't. Here's an excerpt from Farmer Boy, where Almanzo, who is nine, wants a nickel for some lemonade at the county fair. Almanzo's father uses this as a teachable moment to teach Almanzo about the value of money:
"You know how to raise potatoes, Almanzo?"
"Yes" Almanzo said.
"Say you have a seed potato in the spring, what do you do with it?"
"You cut it up," Almanzo said.
"Go on, son."
"Then you harrow - first you manure the field, and plow it. Then you harrow, and mark the ground. And plant the potatoes, and plow them, and hoe them. You plow and hoe them twice."
"That's right, son. And then?"
"Then you dig them and put them all down cellar."
"Yes. Then you pick them over all winter; you throw out all the little ones and the rotten ones. Come spring, you load them up and haul them here to Malone, and you sell them. And if you get a good price, son, how much do you get to show for all that work? How much do you get for half a bushel of potatoes?"
"Half a dollar," Almanzo said.
"Yes," said Father. "That's what's in this half dollar, Almanzo. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it."
Almanzo's dad (how come more people aren't named Almanzo these days? Watch it become the It name soon) goes on to give his son a half-dollar and tells him that he can spend it on whatever he wants - lemonade bla bla bla OR he can buy a suckling pig and raise it and sell the piglets next year etc. I'll keep you in suspense as to what nine-year-old Almanzo decides to do ;-) - but I will give you a clue: the book is called Farmer Boy and not Spendthrift Boy. (The book also inspired me to make a huge spelt pancake fur lunch yesterday - yum)

Now, you are asking yourselves, what does this have to do with anything today? We do not sow, neither do we harrow. But many of us do wake up daily and put gas in our cars and wear expensive clothing and carry expensive bags with expensive computers (ahem) and go on vacations to 'get away', and this is in essence the same thing. So if we are trading our lives for money, we'd better know where that money is going and we'd better spend some time thinking about some better ways to spend it or make it. The Little House Books have the potential to bring us back to a simpler time when men built their homes and women sewed the family's clothes. There's a huge crafting resurgence going on these days, with knitting circles and weaving cloth. People are growing their own herbs and some vegetables and bread baking is big too. Barter is back as well. I'm sure people are writing about this new time and what it means. I'm hoping it means that there is a rethinking about what is important in life and to what we assign value.

What are some frugal things that you do? I'm looking for all ideas.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Reflective Researcher

The story of this blog (and of my life) is that I start things and lay them aside with alarming regularity. One of these is this blog that I have kept on and mainly off since 2005. Many things happened to derail me: My dad died in 2006 and the last post before he died was about him being sick and me being scared. I couldn't write anything anymore after that... The blog morphed into a no-fuss travelogue for our trip to India in 2008. That was good and removed from real life and therefore untainted.
I picked up the blog again after I gave birth to share what I learned with a pregnant friend of mine... who subsequently lost her baby very near to full term... I couldn't write anything after that, either, nothing that mattered, anyway.
But now that time has worn the jagged, splinty corners off the grief somewhat (somewhat), maybe it's time to write again. My friends have scattered all over the world, or are not so far, but might as well be a world away. I read their blogs or Facebook posts avidly. And I'd like to contribute a way for them of keeping in touch with me and for me to keep learning from my experiences (good or bad). Donald Schön wrote that reflecting is the way to learn from experience, that we reflect on our actions and by becoming good at this, end up reflecting IN action. "We become reflective researchers in situations of uncertainly, instability, uniqueness and conflict" (Schön, 1983) - and what is life if not uncertainty, instability, uniqueness and conflict?