Friday, December 20, 2013

SPUG - another great, telling moment in history

This year, my favorite call to counter capitalism came via Treehugger online... It's about a 1912 effort to curb useless giving at Christmas, but you can read all about that at Treehugger... 

Each year, something surfaces in the media about over-consumption at this time of year. Our family has, for the most part, shed gifts, since we're spending the second half of our lives trying to get rid of useless, shiny stuff that nobody wants or ever wanted, but that someone felt compelled to give. I prefer the gift of beauty that arrives unexpected, and that accompanies us every day in our families and friends.

What's eye-opening about this story from Treehugger is that it demonstrates the ability of a few to get a message to a community, then to the nation, and the demonstration of the right of a person to stand up and speak his/her mind and truth, a right we seem to have nearly forgotten. Today with cyber-Monday following black Friday and days of shopping nom-sense meant to attract consumers to retailers, I feel a kind of desperation from the retailers - they know that without them, without their customers filling shelves and stockings and cars and offices with low grade electro-chaff, gag gifts, and the latest blenders and other kitchen conveniences, that the economy will tank. 

Bush II wasn't wrong when he suggested we could shop ourselves out of the recession, but he shouldn't have said it. It's a depressing thought, spending one's savings to help the country regain the bubble. Many of us treated him like a capitalist pig for saying it, and I guess a president, (even if by nefarious means) suggesting it to a country is a bit like telling the nation to go down to the crossroads, make a deal with the devil, and you'll come back singing like Placido. I suppose if you believe capitalism will free your soul or make you happy or fill the stomachs of the poor, if given the chance, you'd be considered naive. But, sadly, our economy doesn't run on good will, and we don't have gross national happiness indexes. What we're left with are importers, wholesalers, middle-persons, marketers, lawyers, retailers, and consumers who mostly make their money by getting a cut of your money at the cost of a great and massive distraction from what is important, living.

Think of this. The USB thingy that charges your phone cost about $.04 to make, and you pay $5 or more for it. 125 times the manufacturing cost, and retailers say they have low margins, so where is that $4.96 going? YEP - it is that crazy. Even building materials come from all over the world and are processed products like squeeze margarine, and the more complicated products get, the less well we feel about our stuff. We lose comprehension of what is around us, where and how it came to be. We CAN'T make things to last, because the economy would collapse. 

So keep this in mind: When you get excited to see your brand of coffee on sale with buy-one-get-one free, don't be fooled. You are paying for the free one each time you buy the regular priced product before and after the sale. Sales, freebies, free gifts, coupons - they're all built into the price of what you buy. And what you might consider is this: My coffee would be cheaper all the time if not for the buy-one-get-one-free deal... and coupons and such tactics. You are just playing the game that the manufacturers and marketers want you to play. We're sheep, easily herded, easily led, and we're distracted by the notion that we're as clever as the retailers. But they're not offering the deals to be clever, they're offering them because we buy more when they do.  

Critical thinking: We do some, but not much, which is why we buy more gifts each year than the year before, which is why the GNP rises annually or we feel like we're falling apart, which is why we still can't see the wall that is the limit of what our planet can handle.
Depressing?  I believe that knowledge is power, so it's encouraging to be 'in the know'.

This holiday season, take to heart the meaning of whatever you believe to be true to your soul/heart/happiness. Is it a 'better deal'? Is it fulfilling the perceived need of a relative to have the latest device? Might it'd be better to simply be happy to be alive, to have relatives and friends, to see snow coming down, to smell and breath clean air, to not worry about where to put the latest appliance, to not give a shit about keeping up with the Jones'? I bought some gifts, and all the time I'm buying gifts, I make sure I'm filling an actual need, solving a problem, otherwise I'm more likely to share a glass of wine over no thing and be happy. 

Happy holidays to all, may they be clutter free, mindful, soulful, and devoid of material distractions. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nectarine juice

You must let the juice drip down your chin at least once. It is quite therapeutic, I think. I find myself neatening up, frustrated when I drop a berry on the floor... 'argh, gotta wipe that up!', and when I am busy, that dust that builds up in so short a time and must be sucked up and away to keep a keen house is just another source of angst.

Today, I was in the middle of a project, but hungry, and saw the nectarines on the counter watching me work. I reached over and grabbed the softer of them, and took a bite. I was doused with sweet juice, my beard now sticky and the window where it squirted eyeing me, waiting for my reaction.

It was a learning experience, a life lesson, and I smiled to myself and to the walls and thought, 'hey baby, let the juice flow.' If you've read my 'other stuff', you are probably wondering what I am on about, but soon you'll nod and know.

Last week I was out returning home from a midweek appointment and decided to take the shortcut past the local orchard and farm store. I needed eggs and milk, so I decided to see if they had both. They did. Both top quality and local. Since I am making a big effort to eliminate plastic from my life - that is, any future plastic, I bought my milk that day in the glass quart bottle, like it used to arrive on our doorstep when I was a child, except this one had a plastic top (grrrrr). I bought eggs in a paper carton, local too, free range, natural ingredient fed (not organic) eggs. And I bought a little paper container of nectarines, yes, one of which doused me only a short while ago.

I went to the counter to pay, and the teenage cashier looked at me and said, "you realize there is a $2.00 deposit on the bottle?" I said I did, and proceeded to get my wallet out. I looked at her and asked, "do people freak out about that?" to which she responded, "Oh yeah, you have no idea!" She was right, I did have no idea. I couldn't imagine people having a problem with paying $2.00 to be sure they brought a bottle back to be reused. And they would either get the $2.00 back or take another bottle away without paying again. But that was the naive me talking - any outlay of money upsets some people, which brings me to sadness 2. Why does the good food have to cost more than the bad food? We all know why - economies of scale and subsidies, but the irony is that huge profits go to corporate leaders who produce that subsidized substitute for good food, while local farms struggle to stay in business producing actual healthy food.

Lately I've been reaping the rewards of my own garden, and of local farmers. I went to The farmer's market, you know, the one Michelle Obama spurred to growth near the Whitehouse, a couple blocks from my office. The peaches I got there a week earlier were perfect, and some had true character.
This guy was yelling from the vendors booth for me to come and get him. I know it's a he... I can just tell. And so he and four others came home with me and I enjoyed them all, then the chipmonk outside enjoyed the pip of one of them as well, the pip I had just planted to see if I could get a whole tree of these beauties some day! Ah well, I'll put a cage around it next time.

So you see, I've been 'working' to buy more local foods, and spent more time preparing my own garden this year too so that I'd have my own food. I have a dozen or more cukes in the fridge ready to pickle one night this week, and I've not bought greens in a month now for all I have in the garden. I made blackberry wine a couple weeks ago, blackberry infused vinegar too, and some simple juice of blackberries that I canned to use at a later date as well. Wild blackberries.

I'm happy because I feel good about being able to support farmers and to grow some of my own food. I want to grow more, want to grow it all, want to be on the land, responsible for it, because it supports me. I'm usually so far removed from all the stuff I eat, that it is dispassionate consumption, a hollow sustenance. This last week, the juice, the fresh produce, the smart and good milk and the determination I've gained have all brought new light to my living, and I encourage you all to give it a try. Hit the brakes (rationally) next time you see a local farm stand. Wash whatever you buy, because even if local, it is usually also sprayed, but it is fresh, and there is nothing better than local and fresh produce.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Easy peasy, saving the world

One bite at a time, I'm saving the planet. In a past blog, I noted some of the rather mundane things I do to save/conserve energy, most of which are just plain old energy saving common sense. Like hanging clothes out. When I can't, I dry them with air - it's the heating element that really soaks up the energy, so put it on low/off and dry with cool air. It works!

This is me gearing up to hang clothes.

I have a 50 gallon drum under one gutter downspout, and the other night, in a single night of combined storms and light rain, it filled that bucket to the brim and overflowed. Today, I dipped a bucket in and watered all my gardens with that water.

Which brings me to my favorite environmental trick. Gardening - not necessarily for show, but for food. With pretty minimal purchases (some organic garden soil) I managed to raise enough lettuce and arugula to have fresh salad whenever I want, while also able to give some away. Cukes started coming two days ago, I've had five picked so far with many to come. Beans didn't do well this year - I ended up with a single string bean plant growing. And today I harvested it's 6 beans, but they were fantastic. There are hundreds of tomatoes ripening, from small through giant, and I hope to be eating those in a week as the first have just begun to blush.
Then there are the wild blackberries on the west side of my yard and the cultivated raspberries and the herbs, dill, basil, oregano, a couple kinds of mints.

This year I have lots of mulch (not the bagged kind) and weeper hoses buried in the mulch to keep the ground wet without above ground evaporation. I plan to install a water tank at some point to store water in the future too, and eventually hope to waste very little water. It is an evolving exercise in practicality, and a bit of fun and hard work too.

So you see, it's easy to save the world!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The next blush

It's upon us, the next series of blushes, nature ripening another round of fruits, flower, vegetable...

The tomatoes are showing the first color, the wild blackberries are ripening one at a time, but there are thousands. Look closely, there are large diagonal raindrops in this picture.
The peach lily is blooming as if aroused to a new height this year, perfect weather, rain, sun, balance.

This is one of my favorite flowers of all time, and now, I wait each year for them to bloom. This year they are welcoming July again, right on time.

The cucumbers are coming alive too, dozens of flowers, a few cukes ready for the weekend.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stepping into the sea

Today I dipped my toes in the Atlantic, at a favorite beach on the National Seashore, Assateague, where the (formerly) wild ponies roam. They're pretty tame, lollygagging around all day, with token jobs. It s a great beach, because you can go there, park, walk to the water's edge, then turn right and walk another 10 miles. About two miles on, there are few people, though they do drive on the sand there, and party and fish too.

I was nearby, picking up a scooter I bought - a 1966 Honda CM91 - it's a fortunate find, as I've been watching Vespas, old Hondas and other brands for a while. Most are either basket-cases, titleless, or too expensive. This one came in with everything I need, except the motorcycle license, and it should get about 60mpg -we'll see. I'm considering converting it to electric... we'll see about that too.

So, I drove the extra 15 minutes to see the ocean that I haven't seen in a while, and it was still there, still beautiful, still drawing me to it. I dipped my toes in.

And as I often do, I discovered something new. Because of where I live, I don't see the little prickly cacti too often. Today, I happened on one in flower, and it's a beautiful flower, and I was happy to have been there to see it.

It was a good day, a long day, a lot of driving today, but I soaked up some of that power of the sea, and brought it home with me, to savor... as long as possible. I'm not likely to vacuum the car for a while, just to have that sand on board a little longer.

And, if you need proof that I was there...and that my beard needs a trim...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Social action

I've been a vegetarian for about 20 years now, and the reasons are the unnatural conditions that meats are raised in, and because I was tired of scrubbing chicken grease off of pans.

Food, Inc. was on my 'never watched, but should' list, and so I watched it last evening.

Yes, I should have watched it by now - produced in 2007, it's old now. But the facts within, are way older. They extend back way before I became a vegetarian, and it seems the cheapening of our food sources has been progressing for decades with little challenge, but a lot of progress. I recently learned that many of the brands I handled as a food coop coordinator are now owned by the likes of Coca Cola and Kraft. I've heard theories that this is a good thing, that the behemoths want into the organic movement, but I disagree that it is good. This type of acquisition still lands control of our food in few hands and even fewer pockets. So far, many of the products don't appear to have been cheapened by their ownership, but I am skeptical that this will last. I am certain that part of the motive of the large companies is to still control the entire industry.

The film moved me. It moved me to consider how I can make my own difference. I've not supported these industries for over 20 years, and I give my opinion openly when asked, and I support legislation that maintains quality standards for all. I'm also growing some of my own food, and have made concerted efforts recently to reduce plastics, so far practically impossible.

I want to note to anyone who reads this that there are two kinds of people on this planet. The first are those like myself, who are willing and able to change. We understand that openness is the only way that problems will be recognized and reversed. The second type of person is the one who believes in a system that includes one's right to capitalize by any legal means. These are the people who trust the government, who believe in status quo, who support the system that often harms them.

Today, it was announced that between 1 of 2 and 1 of 3 children (depending on poverty level) will end up with child-onset diabetes. There is only one reason for this, and it isn't the diabetes, it's the diet. And yet, we react to the diabetes, not the food causing it. We provide medication before changing diet. Coca cola (and other sodas) were once treats. Today they are beverages of choice for unsupervised kids and poor families. Soda is cheaper than the alternatives, including water if bottled. This is an example of a failed system. Our regulatory agencies, our medical profession, our government has failed to respond to a serious nutrition crisis, because it involves many of the largest corporations in the world and their ability to make profits.

In my mind, it is factual to say that our epidemics, our health crises, our debt are all related to poor choices. We have grown the healthcare response to such a proportion as to dwarf nutrition. We treat illness caused by poor nutrition rather than improving nutrition. Period. The treatment develops at a much higher rate than the nutrition, because huge companies sell the drugs and treatments. They don't want people to be healthier, because they need to continue making profits.

Critical thinking.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The other kind of 'green'

Most people, once they get to know me, know I'm a little nuts about some pretty practical daily tasks. I realized that I have only written incidentally about my 'ways', and thought that they might be both thought provoking and informative for those bent on saving energy and, of course, the planet. I am guessing, outside of 'off the grid' homesteaders and the like, that I am perhaps the greenest person you know. But that doesn't mean I own all the trappings, it just means I think about all my actions and minimize my impact in plain, and yes, old fashioned ways.

A few rules that I live by:
Rule number one - Some things exist, and rather than exorcise the house of all the plastic demons and incorrect products, I simply use them over and over and over until they are quite unsightly and unusable, and then I recycle them. I have yogurt quarts from the 90's that are still holding nails that I salvaged from a box someone was throwing out.

Rule number two - If I don't need it, I don't buy it. Even if I think I need it, I don't buy it, because I am fully aware that my thoughts are not always my own. (this is where the crazy part comes in). A long time ago, I submitted to the fact that advertising and merchandising works, and I know, that I sometimes believe I need something that I simply don't.

Rule number three - Shut it off. It's simple - if it isn't charging the phone, it's unplugged. If it has an LED light, it is unplugged. I leave a single LED night light running in my house in case I need to get out in a panic... which I never do. I know my house well, so I rarely turn lights on even to go to the kitchen - I mean, I KNOW my house well. This gets a bit philosophical, but it works the same way that hammering nails does for me. As long as I know I will hit the head of the nail, I can read the paper and hammer nails at the same time. As soon as I worry about hitting my thumb (or hitting a wall), I usually do.

Rule number four - If I don't need to use the electric 'fill in the blank', I don't. I take stairs rather than an elevator. Sadly, I can't get onto my floor at work using stairs, but I can get out on the stairs, and so I do. When I come into the building, I don't use the two power assist accessibility doors for two reasons - they use electricity, and they both open at the same time, meaning that they let a mass of air in or out depending on the season. Entering with the manual doors enables the airlock of the entry way to save some energy. When the workers leave the vacant suite next to ours (again, at work), they often leave the lights on - I mean, they're not paying for them, after all... I turn them off. There are two, sometimes three men on my floor, and so I turn the bathroom lights off when I leave. I figure I save an average of 6x32w for 7 hours of the day, five days per week for about 210 days of the year. That means I save 282,240 watt-hours. While my finger is still working, I'll flip the 20 year old switch.

Rule number five - I buy as much in glass or non-fancy packaging as I can. I use those super thin bags when I need to buy bulk (most stores don't allow your own containers still), and I buy larger quantities when I can't get something in glass - pound for pound, less plastic than your average consumer... by far.

Rule number six - I never drink anything from aluminum or plastic containers. Period. My beer is in glass, I don't drink soda, and when I treat myself to mineral water, it's Gerolsteiner... in glass. Glass can go back to the earth without poisoning it, and though it takes energy to produce, I use those bottles over and over again before recycling them.

Rule number seven: I don't use 'products' that solve simple problems. Did you ever notice that many products are regular old things with lipstick and high heels? Yeah, that's right. New and improved is rarely 'better'. We've just simply gotten used to there being new products all the time, and it's got to stop. This encourages waste. We are being lied to regularly by our product manufacturers/packagers/advertisers. If anything has eroded the moral fiber of the nation, it is labeling and packaging which is a constant source of bent truths.

Rule number eight - I don't eat meat. I don't foist my ways on people, but I know for a fact that consuming meat is like throwing the windows open and turning the heat up - it takes a lot more energy to get me fed with meat than it does with all kinds of other delectable delights. By extension, I also buy locally, and organic when I can. Think of it this way. When a company offers you a particular brand of clean air, and you decide you want to make your own clean air, and they sue you for subverting the patent on their air, branded 'clean'. Well, this is happening with food on a daily basis. Did you know that there are very few farmers using their own farm seeds? Because they get sued if they do. We need food, air, water and shelter to survive. So far, shelter, water and food have all been commodified. If you don't know about this, look it up - there is lots of information, but strangely the general public doesn't seem aware.

I'm done with the rules, but among other things I do are to use revolving doors where available, to air the house out naturally with cross breezes at night, to wash clothes when they are dirty, not because I wore them for two hours, to hang my laundry out to dry as often as possible (I've used my dryer twice since March), I am growing lettuce, cukes, arugula, tomatoes, berries and hopefully some peas to offset some of the store bought food and to assure that I am getting the freshest stuff... I also have an herb garden, garlic, wild onions and other ingredients just out my door, and my favorite is the mint bush that I infuse with water for a wonderful summer drink. Other tricks? I keep bottles full of water in any empty spaces in both fridge and freezer which help to stabilize the temperature and save energy by not having to cool the whole space back down every time I open the door. I also bought a high efficiency hybrid water heater which uses heat that is naturally in the air to heat my water, supplemented by electric. I use cloth to clean up and have bought two rolls of paper towels in the last three years. I cover exterior windows that are not used (basement for example. I'm still wearing shirts that my dad wore in the 80's, and they're back in style too. I ride the bus/metro to work, turn computer monitors off and unused computers off when not in use, have no television and have mostly compact fluorescent lightbulbs throughout the house, including exterior floods - of course, I rarely turn them on, so I suspect they'll last for 20 years rather than 10. Lastly, there is the coffee grinder from somewhere around late 1930's. It has a crank, and does a wonderful job - I have old things that work, usually better and longer than newly bought and designed to break products. I have a 50 year old toaster that even looks great! The clock on my wall is a wind up with a pleasant chime - circa 1950's.

Lest you conclude that I am a Luddite, fear not. I have an IPod (that I rarely use), I have dual monitors (LED/low power) on my big computer and have both a lightweight and a heavyweight laptop for my work. I have a dishwasher (that I never use) and I have air conditioning, that I do use until I can get the extra insulation in my attic space. Work is progressing.

So you see, I hope there are a few ideas here not just to save energy, but to impress how much energy we have gotten used to using (electric doors and elevators for example).

I feel good being conscientious in this way, and hope that others do to. There is an ethic in simplicity that allows me to live with a clean conscience. I never thought I deserved excess, and I feel happier than the average bear about that.