Friday, January 30, 2009

Independence Days Update

Life's gotten away from me again with research and papers and teaching (oh my!), and so my posting's gone a bit awry. I don't know if I can get it back again for a bit, but at the very least I wanted to keep track of what I'm doing over here, especially as I start Sharon and Aaron's garden design course.

And so, here's where I am after the last few weeks:

1. Plant something: Grew some mung bean sprouts.

2. Harvest something: Ate some mung bean sprouts.

3. Preserve something: Dried some green onion.

4. Store something: Not really.

5. Manage Reserves: Went through onions and potatoes to take out those starting to go.

6. Cook something new: New lentil recipe; cooked cod and tilapia for the first time (yum); made roasted sweet potatoes (also yum).

7. Prepped something: Stocked up on a bit more food; picked up a book on building log cabins and homes from the thrift store; continued with decluttering and tidying my apartment; filled some more bottles with water to store; picked up two basic first aid/keeping warm goodies - a hot water bottle and an ice pack bag.

8. Learned a new skill: Not really so much here either, however I have started taking a teaching certificate course in the hopes that it will improve my teaching in general (and, honestly, in the hopes that it will also make me more marketable when I start hunting for a job).

9. Worked on community food security: Not really so much here either.

10. Reduced waste: Worked on getting over my tendency to throw out food that's just starting to go bad - instead I'm working to cut off just the bad bits and use the rest; turned off a few appliances that I suspect of draining power.

11. Regenerated: Started another new goodwill pile of the things that I don't need and am getting rid of to make room for the important stuff.

In good but not quite related news, I've just found out that I've won a $1500 award from the university to support my research. I have to claim against the money - they don't just give it to me - but it means I can get some materials that I need, and possibly even some useful post-peak books to add to my bookshelf without paying out of pocket for them, which is really rather lovely. I can then use that money for a few of the things that I still have my eye on, but have yet to buy, like a grain mill and a solar oven.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Independence Days update

1. Plant something: Nope.

2. Harvest something: Nope.

3. Preserve something: Also nope.

4. Store something: Nope.

5. Manage Reserves: Reorganized pantry (but might need to do this again soon); still working on decluttering and deciding what's important and what's not.

6. Cook something new: New bread recipe; sushi bowls.

7. Prepped something: Stocked up on food while I have the use of a car - 20 lbs of all purpose flour, four kilos of rice, five lbs sugar, canned tomatoes, rolled oats, kosher salt, pasta, bisquick (for quiche - one of the few semi-prepared things I buy still), frozen fish.

8. Learned a new skill: Guitar skills slowly improving; learning how to hand wash clothes on a wash board; bread making.

9. Worked on community food security: Talked a bit more about food issues with sweetie and another friend - mixed reception all-round; signed up for some teaching classes that I hope will come in handy on this front.

10. Reduced waste: Picked up bus pass, but generally not a good week for this either - will post more later.

11. Regenerated: Took a car load of clothes and other bits and pieces to the local goodwill.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Purging the plastic

Confession: in high school, I worked for part of a summer in a plastic bag factory. In my defense, I was desperate for a job, the hours were okay, and the pay was great. I don't know that I could do this again, though, knowing what I now know about plastics, as well as being even more aware of issues with plastics in the world. I still feel a bit like I sold my soul.

In general, I (and every environmentally concerned person I know) avoid plastics, and especially the one-use kind that get thrown away so quickly. But, so many things in our lives are made of the stuff (largely because it's cheap, reasonably durable, and fairly easy to work with), that it's difficult to avoid. I haven't yet completely gotten around to getting plastics out of my home - my stored water is all in reused plastic bottles, because they were free, and because I'll likely have to move I haven't spent a lot of money on a system that I can't take with me. But I'm even looking for alternatives to this method that eliminate plastic from the equation and, overall, I'm taking some time to try to cut down on plastic in my home as much as possible, both by bringing in less and finding better ways to replace it as needed.

If you're interested in purging the plastic from your life, you certainly don't need to buy anything fancy, and probably don't need to buy anything new. This can get expensive, especially if you have a lot of plastic to replace, and you'd probably be better off saving that money for other things that are less easy to find. Also, buying something new is still a use of resources, even if it is less harmful, or longer lasting. So, its likely worth looking around to see what's already around that can fill the void or, if there is nothing, what kind of alternatives are available.

- use whatever you have that's plastic (other than food containers) as much as possible until it can't be used anymore - plastic bags (both shopping bags and produce)are especially important here

- consider reusing jars that your food comes in - although you can't preserve food again in almost all of them, lidded jars make excellent alternatives to buying more plastic containers for pantry items, things that go in the freezer, or even temporary leftovers in the fridge

- buy or make reusable bags - this includes shopping bags, but should also be expanded to include produce bags - these can be easily sewn or knit

- when plastic things eventually break, look for simple non-plastic alternatives - replace a plastic shower curtain with a fabric one, or a plastic jug with a glass one

If you are looking to pick some things, consider checking out second-hand sources first. There are a lot of great reusable products that are easily found there - they're incredibly useful, and you're using something that might otherwise be thrown away. Many of the mason jars in my pantry came from the thrift store, as did my tiffins - stacking containers with a handle for multi-part lunches. I have a large collection of lidded pyrex from yard sales which work great for leftovers, and my two sigg bottles came from an end-of-year lost and found sale at the university. The university tends to wind up with a lot of bottles that students have left behind after classes, and they sell for cheap.

Happily, many of these things are better made and longer lasting than their plastic counterparts. Pyrex won't warp if left on the heat, mesh bags rip less easily than plastic, and cast iron won't warp is used for many years. Admittedly, plastic doesn't break in the same way that glass and pyrex do, but this is likely a small price to pay.

Now, plastics are an environmental issue, but they're also a health issue as well. There are a number of studies that suggest a range of health concerns around plastics, especially with regards to reproduction, but I'm also of the opinion that they just haven't been around for us to truly know what's going on there.

There are also apparent issues with other things like non-stick coating, especially when it scratches, and related coated kitchen products. If you can, it's worth avoiding these as well. A few big copper, stainless steel, or iron pots and pans and pyrex cookware are also pretty easy to find second hand, and frequently very cheap. In contrast with man-made components that leach possible toxins into food, iron pots actually leach...well...iron, which is good for you. By eliminating plastics and other questionable compounds from your home, you're doing the environment a favour, but you're likely doing yourself one as well.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Independence Days update

After two weeks of my back giving out, I'm only just starting to get back into the swing of things now. But, since I've borrowed a car for a week, I'm hoping to get some more stockpiling done soon, and maybe work on a few other things that need doing.

1. Plant something: Nope.

2. Harvest something: Nope.

3. Preserve something: Also nope, unless you count the sanity-preserving qualities of a week off at home.

4. Store something: More wool sock yarn and knitting needles.

5. Manage Reserves: Sorted through the pantry, which seems to get out of order remarkably quickly; sorted through the yarn stash and planned some projects (okay...mostly socks, hats, and gloves for warmth); ongoing decluttering and tidying of the apartment (doubtful this will ever stop, given my tendency towards nonlinear dynamics).

6. Cook something new: pasta with a rose sauce (to use up leftover cream); rice and bean burritos with salsa.

7. Prepped something: Bought a guitar capo and book, to work on my skills for entertaining myself and others; started a database of important information on the new computer (which will also be burned and, in some cases, printed to have handy in a binder); bought a book on home repairs and another of knitting patterns from the thrift store.

8. Learned a new skill: Working on more guitar and singing skills.

9. Worked on community food security: Not really.

10. Reduced waste: Took leftovers from mom that were going to be thrown out.

11. Regenerated: Added to my ever-growing goodwill donation pile.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year Resolutions

I have to admit, I'm not really one for resolutions, at least not in the traditional sense. Using the new year as an excuse to start exercising, write every day, keep my apartment, and just generally turn over a new leaf doesn't really work for me. It's nice as inspiration and all that, but I just do that whenever I need to. Why wait for January first when there's a whole string of Mondays throughout the year that are just as good symbolic starting points?

But, with that said, I'm thinking that this year I might try to set up some goals to work towards that are more specific than I'd normally go for. They'll probably change over time, but right now, this is what I'm thinking of.

1. Come close to finishing my dissertaton - I feel like this needs to be done so I can really become sustainable - it take a lot of time and effort, but even more than that it leaves me feeling like I'm too much in limbo to do set up the life that I want here and now.

2. Set up a garden on the patio - I have many of the materials that I think I need, I just have to actually do this. Happily, I can start on this now, since it's time to buy seeds, and I finally have some catalogues to work from.

3. Join the local food co-op - it's not too far, and it will serve as a good way to start to get involved in local food issues.

4. Reduce costs - find ways to cut down on spending even more, so I have money for my own projects, as well as more to donate to charities that really need it right now.

5. Further reduce waste I've done almost everything that can be done fairly easily, so I suspect it's time to dig deeper, and start getting into deeper ways of reducing energy (and possibly living expenses too.)

6. Seriously declutter my home - this will serve to make it more functional as it is right now as well as a way to make it more of what I need it to be for TEOTWAWKI and a way to make it easier to move if I have to get myself elsewhere for any reason. I suspect this is going to be the toughest one for me though, as I try to stockpile things I need while trying to not pick up too much.

7. In general, devote time regularly to projects to finish them. Too often I have great ideas that flounder halfway through, and I'd like to be better about getting done things ranging from my dissertation to setting up a garden.

That seems like a good list for now and, in the spirit of motivation and getting started, I'm off to turn on some music and get myself tidying around here.

New Year Themes

Rather than setting up resolutions for the new year, one thing I've tried to do in the past is set up a theme for the year. While I have set up some specific goals for this year, I also wanted to continue with the theme as well.

This last year has felt somewhat crazy for me. In addition to my dissertation work, I started teaching, and also had a few other important things come into my life (this project is perhaps the biggest one.) These things are all hugely important to me, and I love them, but it's a lot to manage, and I find myself oscillating a lot - between extreme rest and extreme productivity, from one idea to another, and from incredible calm to great turmoil. And so, while things are getting done over here, they're getting done in ways that perhaps aren't as efficient or as healthy for me as they could be.

With all of this is mind, this year's theme is going to be sustainability, which I think is applicable in a few different ways. I'm still musing through this, though, and will likely have more to say (and more to say in a way that's more coherent) as I go.

In terms of work, I'm hoping focusing on sustainability will help me to balance teaching and research so that I don't get burnt out, and become more effective at both. I want to ensure that I schedule time for both so that I'm working regularly but not crazily. This balance will also mean that I can work more efficiently and more regularly on other projects, rather than the fits and starts that I'm prone to now. To this end, I'm going to try to schedule my life just a bit more, and follow a regular enough routine to make it possible to maintain my work in a way that doesn't so drastically affect my life.

I want to balance sustainability at work with sustainability in my personal life. In part, this means taking more regular time for me, rather than lapsing into two days of TV watching as I occasionally do when I'm burned out. Included in this time for me is the desire to make my health and emotional well-being more sustainable. By setting up a stronger work schedule so I have less excessively busy periods, and less times when I have no energy, I'm hoping I will have more time to exercise regularly and to take more time for me in things that ground me, like yoga and meditation. I'd also like to make sure that I work harder on the relationships in my life, which feel more important than ever.

Finally, I'm hoping that these more individual expressions of sustainability allow me more time and energy to work on sustainability within the world at large. I have many projects that I want to work on, and I'd feel better if I felt capable of putting more regular efforts into them. A garden, solar energy, and possibly setting up a tiny house can all require a lot of those who choose to use them, and I'm hoping that by making my own life more sustainable, I can do things that are more sustainable for the planet as well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Independence Days update

Little late on this - I've hurt my back and been somewhat out of commission in addition to dealing with everything else that's going on now. In general, Christmas wasn't so hot in terms of my independence days project. It wasn't a wash, I don't think, but between being with my folks and away from home and this year's gift probably could have been better.

The one thing that I was hoping for that I didn't get was Sharon's book, although I did get a gift card that will be used to purchase said book, so that works well too. But another warm wool blanket has found its way into my life, as have some lovely kitchen things that I'm looking forward to using (I still have a few posts planned on aesthetics and, as much as possible, making your home into a place that you want to be). And, from my sweetie I got a copy of the More with Less Cookbook, which I think is a must-have for easy, cheap, and tasty meals from the pantry. But, more specifically, here's the current breakdown.

1. Plant something: Nope.

2. Harvest something: Nope.

3. Preserve something: Also nope.

4. Store something: Nope.

5. Manage Reserves: Not so much.

6. Cook something new: Picked up a few new recipes from mom, as well as two new cookbooks to try out.

7. Prepped something: Got another wool blanket to add to the reserves, as well as a hand-turned egg beater (I've been looking for one for ages, but all the new ones I found were small and stiff and badly made - this one is lovely, though.)

8. Learned a new skill: Nope, although my brother has promised to teach me the basics of bike repairs and, possibly, home brewing.

9. Worked on community food security: Talked a bit about food issues with my parents and boyfriend by taking advantage of a relocation show on HGTV talking about a family moving to Ireland and buying a small farm to become sustainable.

10. Reduced waste: Had the joy of being in a city with a large green box (high-level composting) program - I have to admit that I pined for the same in my city, but no signs of that coming to fruition, so I guess it's back to the worm box plan.

11. Regenerated: Donated to the church, which has some excellent outreach efforts through their foodbank, both in terms of feeding people and working on generating community.
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