Waste not, want more

No variations on a theme.

Minimalism and Making Room for Rice

I have been itching to tackle consumption and minimalism in a post for some time and putting off actually doing the tackling. A recent blog post by Karim Osman that generated many comments got me back in gear. It discussed the merits of minimalism and emphasized getting rid of things, purging, clearing out and otherwise freeing your material and digital self. There are after all environmental, financial, and personal reasons to keep it simple. He wrote:

Back then I spend most of my money on clothes and footwear. Yet I never knew what to wear and always wanted something new. Over the years I lost my obsession and went from 50 to 6 pair of shoes. Do you still remember which shoes you had 5 years ago? Not really right? That’s how “important” they were to you. Remember the trip you did with your family or friends 5 years ago? You probably do! It was definitely worth spending money on that because it’s something you’d never forget.

I generally agree, though I think there is something to be said for keeping some generally useful but unused things when they aren’t getting in your way. A costume box/ridiculous items of clothing, a couple of dresses that I can rarely wear places, blankets, and buckets come to mind. The used Tupperware veggie-serving tray I bought two years ago that has not yet been used could probably go. But it doesn’t have to if I think I will be out buying a new one within a year to serve the same purpose. Of course, if that serving tray starts dictating that a larger home is in order, it’s time to reevaluate.

Purging is great, but the biggest problem on my list of modern temptations I deem sinful, is that we’re as good or better at accumulating things again than we are getting rid of them.

But what I’d like to take to task is the questioning look, spark of anger, or downright disdain for those who work hard to get life down to the necessities plus a few items of great pleasure, and stay there; those who want to avoid buying new stuff; or those who limit the luxuries available to their kids (while they can). People seem pretty quick to judge those that make an effort not to consume. There are minimalist-types who are preachy about their life choices and that can be annoying and inspire retaliation – that’s not really what I mean. I’m more concerned about the general belief system that underlies the uninvited judgment on those who try to keep it simple.

A Globe and Mail article by Rachel Jonat prompted my original draft. It chronicles the story of her Vancouver family  and illustrates this potential for judgment:

Family and friends have been supportive, skeptical or adamant that we are making a huge mistake. We have been gentle with our words on the subject, and often tell people that it’s not for everyone.

I documented our journey on a blog (theminimalistmom.com)  and found it to be the best way to connect with other minimalist families. There aren’t a lot of us. The home is mostly a female domain and women tend to be shoppers, gatherers and collectors. Deciding to live with less and not spend money as a hobby or an emotional pick-me-up has alienated me from a few friends. While I don’t preach about it in person, several friends have read my thoughts on the subject on my blog and have quietly stopped inviting me to social events. I’m okay with this. My closest friends, regardless of their affinity for minimalism, have been supportive even if they are holding onto over-stuffed closets themselves.

It strikes me as pretty powerful that she’s actually experienced warnings of a “huge mistake” and alienation from friends as a result of this shift but it doesn’t surprise me. Though my life is not nearly as pared down as hers sounds, some of the most awkward times for me have occurred for similar reasons. For example, when I’m talking to a person who loves gadgets, has all the newest technology and thinks that I should too, it can be difficult to explain that I don’t feel the need, would prefer not to spend the money, or like to keep it simple without provoking a defensive reaction or a mild insult. I recognize that this person has no more than many others and I try to be respectful about it, making fun of myself, but that doesn’t cure the discomfort, or sometimes, the judgment.

I’ve certainly taken flak from certain members of my family for discouraging presents, random unnecessary items, and – most prominently – for refusing to buy a rice cooker, of all things. The rice cooker has now become my minimalist logo. I have no moral vendetta when it comes to the little space machines, but to my mind the principle is simple: I need and have pots. Pots cook rice well. Right now I don’t mind getting up to turn down the heat or check whether it’s done. I am not a rice fanatic that could justify to herself the purchase of a rice cooker. I’m sure there are others who reasonably could, like I justify my camera. Likewise, I don’t have a kettle. Pots are good at boiling water, too. However, I continue to receive comments about things like the cooker that would change my life. I’m stubborn, I’m cheap (I am cheap, but that wouldn’t stop me), or I’m a contrarian. Actually, I just really get off on not having stuff I don’t need, and clutter is my mortal enemy.

I am keenly aware, however, that this approach will get more problematic as time marches. I remain unprepared for the battles I might endure if I were to have kids. I’ve got a mental rulebook regarding number of gifts, newness of gifts (used!), questionable nutritional quality of gifts, and pinkness of gifts (unrelated issue) that could really generate some tensions with grandparents and others. I’m positive it will generate closeted criticism, but I guess that’s parenting. Friends of mine have told me about their experiences, including grandparents mourning the loss of their right to spoil and people questioning the quality of life of a 14 month old without a relatively fulsome set of toys.

In case it’s not obvious, that worries me. Are we so concerned with justifying our own stuff that we insist that babies have it all, too? Do we really think that toddlers are missing out on childhood because they have far more toys than they can remember? Is my life less worthy without the rice cooker? Was I put on this earth to annoy people? Do people have some point that I’m just ignoring?


Apparently my writing could use some minimalism – my apologies!

October 17, 2011 Posted by | Consumption, Irritated, News, Waste | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Community and the Cat Lady

I have not, miraculously, spent a great deal of time or energy blogging about my cat Shy, formally The Countess of Shy. She’s a needy little kitty, approximately 10 years old that I adopted over a year ago. She had been in the shelter almost a  year. She’s a tortoiseshell.

I realize you, dear reader, do not give a flying fizzard for my cat and that is fine by me. Abstract living beings are hard to get behind most of the time. Lucky for you it doesn’t matter, because Shy is just a proxy for the real point of this post. Patience, grosshopper.

Shy is a bit of a fraidy-cat, if you will. We couldn’t get her to come out the first four days she lived with us. She squirreled away under the couch that rests only 3 inches above the ground. We’d lift the couch and pull her out much to her  chagrin, then do it all over agian soon after. She’s better now. In fact since our nephew visited, she doesn’t even hide when people come over anymore. She acts non-plussed and occasionally pretends we starve her. All part of her plot to charm the visitor with the potential  live mouse in their pocket – it hasn’t worked yet. But she still doesn’t deal well with us taking off for too long; it’s stressful never knowing where your next meal (or tummyrub) will come from. This stress mostly manifests in vomit but has twice been capped off with expensive vet visits.

The first time we were going away, we took her with us despite the 10 hour drive. We’d only had her for a month and it seemed like a good idea. She did well for a couple of days before she started sniffing her food like it was catspam and slunking around disgruntled teen style. This did not improve when we got home. Felines face cat-astrophe if they don’t eat for a couple days so we took her to the vet, ran 10,000 tests that came back negative (phew) and got her a hydration shot. She came home and ate like it was going out of style. She’d made her point. Or, if I were to be less anthropomorphiz-y, she felt better and was back on the cat train to good eatin’.

The second time,we left her home thinking that would be better. No such luck. We returned to vomit piles, a refusal to eat, and an otherwise pleasant disposition. We tried tuna, salmon, steak, crab (we were eating really well that week, not just bent on lavish cat food) but to no avail. Back to the vet for another hydration shot and we returned with a happy, eating cat. Lesson learned. Again.

All this to explain how I found myself where I am now. Where is that? Paying a professional cat-lover to comfort Shy in her time of need (i.e. people vacation). That’s right; I have cat respite. The Cat Lady is fantabsome. In her former life she was a vet tech, she’s very knowledgable, loving, detail-oriented and offers additional services like checking your mail and taking out your garbage. It’s all very lovely.

Having to hire someone to love your pet is probably emblamatic of my isolated urban life. Yes, I have friends. Yes, if I asked one of them, they could probably check in on her every couple of days. But somehow I’m not comfortable asking someone to give Shy loving, send status reports, and scoop the poop. Why? Nobody I know lives close enough. I don’t know many of my neighbours and we’re definitely not on a “here, creep around my house for the next week” sort of footing. I have no friends living really close by and a number of friends are out of town when I am. The worst part is that I wouldn’t want to go too far out of my way to return the favour. I’m all about only engaging in activities that are en route to other activities, even kitty petting. Selfish and jerky? Check. I’m aware that this lack of community, as I call it, is a defeceit in my urban experience. I know what I could and should do about it, but I won’t. My time spent on things other than me is maxed out at present. There will be no further community volunteering, chatting up people in the park or joining of kitty groups. I’ve become a miserly individual. Well, not quite. I have a wonderful relationship with the Cat Lady.

September 13, 2011 Posted by | Consumption, Doing it the hard way, Mr. Lonely, Travel and intrigue | , | 6 Comments

Salsa strikes again!

The great salsa battle of 2010 still haunts me. 3 batches, three significant errors. In fact the errors got worse each time. First there was the small let’s-take-this-slow batch. It tasted good. And once my hands stopped feeling like invisible flames were dancing on them (about a day and a half, after trying water, milk, and oil), I was pretty happy with the result. Too bad I eat salsa like it’s the fountain of youth. It was not long until I was buying tomatoes by the flat again.

The pictures below are from batch two. They reflect what happens when you double all ingredients EXCEPT frigging TOMATOES. It turns out onion salsa is not bad, but also not for the weary.

The last attempt brought me to my knees. They were meant to be the Christmas gift batch. Ahem. I saved my error for the last step, where I did not tighten the jars adequately for fear of buckling the lids, which I’d done the first two times. Well, I will kiss buckled lids next time, because the other end of the spectrum is unpleasant. As soon as I put the jars into the water bath they sucked in 2 centimeters of water like a dog in a toilet bowl.

But don’t I put the jars in one at a time, you ask? Oh yes. I believe I may have even done a visual inspection. But somehow it didn’t occur to me I should stop putting jars in the water and tighten them. I have no idea what I was thinking.  I just kept plunking them in. Then processed them with the water inside. Thinking they probably wouldn’t keep well, since the vinegar was a tad watered down, I froze them and stewed for two months. Eventually I defrosted them one by one, drained them, added vinegar and sugar and ate them quickly, a jar within a few days. It was ego-defeating, less yummy, and workable exclusively for home use.

Magical canning book

They look innocent enough


Apparently I was cold AND had a sore neck but still optimistic

Finished Product - onions are good, right?

Fast-forward to 2011. I was hoping I’d really maxed out on possible errors for a while. A trip to the Okanagan, the magical fruit bowl of BC, had me stumbling upon good deals for peaches and roma tomatoes. In the case of the romas, cheap = free, grown by my aunt and my mom. Needless to say, I knew I had to take advantage of the flavour of these home-grown beauties.

Peaches being peaches, I did that first. Somehow, I managed to avoid any mishaps! This savoury-sweet salsa has made the “feed to others” list. It’s a miracle! Or is it? Can miracles be down-graded because of subsequent disappointment? A double batch of salsa requiring multiple pots, additional labourers and a huge chunk out of my paper-writing time (not unlike this post) was foiled again. The culprit this time? Adding two tablespoons of sugar instead of two tablespoons of salt! I’m all for salt control, really I am, I don’t use much. But completely saltless salsa is pretty dang … saltless. Seriously. Careless recipe reading strikes again. Thankfully, the salsa is quite edible…once you shake some, you guessed it, salt into it. But putting salting instructions on your salsa certainly takes the fun out of giving it away…

3 hospital food tomato salsas and a tiny peach salsa

Do I give up on this recipe or implement better quality control?

September 11, 2011 Posted by | Consumption, Doing it the hard way, Irritated | , | 1 Comment

Bytes and Pieces

I’m aware that this isn’t a hip topic however I almost had a wordpress fit today and if I don’t mention it it will feel very dishonest. Why does nobody else have these problems? Fit mentioned. It’s never a good sign when I have to apologize at the beginning of a post.

I’m awfully discombobulated. I went out on Thursday, which happens beyond never. There were three of us. There was kitty visiting, dinner out, a few gin and tonics, then back to someone’s house for a snack, more drinks, and sitting out on the porch with blankets on (it’s Victoria after all) for another few hours. We took taxis everywhere. I got home at 2:30. I couldn’t figure out if I was 18 again or 51. I had a really great time.

I’m almost done my third and final co-op term. It’s been a crazy experience filled with really great people, lots of learning, and even more self doubt. All of this means I’m tired.

Me and anonymous people head to the states for two weeks of excessive national park and butt in the car time. Probably some sweating too. This induces some guilt because we should probably go home and spend that time, or some of it, with family. Some of us don’t understand about guilt. I am not some of us.

Back to heading south: Who needs air conditioning? Which reminds me, we had actually forgotten how fun it is to have music in the car. We’d been running on radio only for about two years. 10 hour trips to the interior were the worst. Otherwise, things didn’t seem that bad. There’s radio a lot of the way, etc. Though I have low tolerance for non-CBC radio. Big problems like that. But, a la 1994, we went and bought a stereo for our car. It wasn’t expensive, but it’s still probably worth almost as much as our car. Next battle? Actually organizing our music to listen to it in our car. Old computer (5 years) with old operating system (same) with old version of itunes (since the last time it let us download the update) will not talk to new ipod. In steps computer number 2 which is newer (2.5 years), has a completely functioning version of itunes, and very little of our music. This is not hard, or a real person’s problem, but it’s tripping up stereo enjoyment something fierce.

What’s my point?

I find this whole situation reaffirming my buy little and deal with it approach. Buying one thing leads me to feel like I need something else that I didn’t feel like I needed five minutes ago. Like that shirt I buy ’cause I love it and then realize everything I own looks hideous with it, in part, because I don’t have many clothes (though my closet’s still full- how does that happen?). They’re tricky those capitalists. I waver between wanting to live in the comfortable equivalent to a burlap sack and going chic.

Oh and is there any merit in skipping the compost middle man and putting vegetable cuttings, for example, straight into your dirt when you plant something? I’m not sure who’s supposed to answer that.

Farmer’s market food is giving me great pleasure. Fava beans, summer squash and cherry tomatoes. Dinner is calling my name.

July 30, 2011 Posted by | Consumption, Doing it the hard way, Portuguese-ness? | 2 Comments

Stack of Something

I can’t say that I’ve accomplished a lot in the three months since my last post. Life’s been rather crazy but without any discernable reason for its craziness. I find myself thinking that I must simplify and then I scrounge around the recesses of my mind looking for what actually  needs to be simplified. Recycling? Eating? Communicating with other life forms? All 3 of them?

All that said, I do have one physical sign of an accomplishment for this year (maybe some people have kids because they too need physical signs of their accomplishments):

Defying physics

Somehow, the stack hasn’t wavered even when I add much bigger books to that flimsy pocketbook base, but that’s not what I’m all in a knot about. I meant to start a list of books I had read at the beginning of this year but failed miserably. On the upside, I’m so disorganized, all the books I’ve read are stacked and waiting to be put away in the too full bookshelf. At least now I know what I’ve read. And I know that sleep trouble pays off in one form or another. Usually I rely on the library more, so I’ve never had a reading time capsule before.  It’s dorky fun, I have to admit. ButI just realized the Grapes of Wrath snuck in there, last year’s read. Oops – how embarassing.

My ill-informed, from memory, quick and dirty thoughts on these are as follows:

1. The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare. Reading a play in bed is not really the intended strategy and I’ve never really enjoyed it much but I was interested in two things about this one: a) The famous ‘is it anti-semetic?’ debate (I know nothing, but my most generous reading would be that Shakespeare is critiquing rigid cultural stereotypes of Jews, of people) and b) the theme? trope? metaphor? use? of a pound of flesh. It came to life (ew) for me.

2. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You – Alice Munro. I’m not much for short stories but I’m learning to love Alice Munro’s ability to create characters that are neither too perfect or too pathetic, that have palpable strengths and weaknesses. She also helps me recover from a sad story by following up with a funny one. But her penchant for infidelity always takes a bit of the fun out of it for me.

3. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. I really loved this book. There’s crime, wretchedness, salvation, last minute confessions, war, survival, confrontations with closeted skeletons, and a sewer scene. The survival parts are my favourite, though I always stress when people struggling to survive spend money on pretty dresses. I’m not big on musicals but reading this made me want to see the musical adaptation. Biggest lesson: some people can change and some people don’t.

4. This is an anthology from a days of yore comparative literature course. I did not read it all but I did read about half of it including Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Reading books about selfish people who never have to face their own idiocy never goes well with me. I’m preachy by nature. Also, more infidelity. Sigh.

5. Islands in the Stream – Ernest Hemmingway. Hemmingway does not exactly get my pants in a knot, though I did love For Whom the Bell Tolls. There’s three separate sections of this book: relatively happy, less happy and much less happy. I enjoyed it: the lively descriptions, the house on the beach mirroring the inhabitant’s isolation, and the protaganist’s familiar way of speaking with anyone that crosses his path. I especially loved the scenes including the three young boys, it felt like family. On the downside, I get bored with drunkeness and regret.

6. The Log from the Sea of Cortez – John Steinbeck. I do enjoy Steinbeck though I think he needs to check in with some women – he seems to have thought they make good props. This book is among the weirdest I have ever read. The first part is a description of Steinbeck’s deceased friend, Ed Rickets, who is also a character in Cannery Row. The second part is an introduction and explanation of the third part, which is actually a log from a species collection trip in the Sea of Cortez. I’m not much of a biologist, but somehow the combination of debauchery and nerdiness really cracked me up. Steinbeck also draws some interesting analagies between humans and sea life.

7. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho. I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, in part because I thought Coelho was Portuguese and I should read a Portuguese author’s work at some point. However, he’s Brazilian. I had of course also heard how wonderful this book is. This should have been my first clue. Perhaps the problem is me, but like the Celestine Prophecy, I felt this book has had a ton of buzz without much to back it up. Yes, wonderful things happen to the protagonist when he opens himself up to them, but for me the story had no complexity and when it comes down to it it did not get me in the gut. I’m not sure how people found it earthshattering.

8. Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry. I love reading fiction written from another cultural context. I feel like I’m learning slowly, by association, without reading a textbook. Apparently I need a human story in order to absorb anything. It provides conflicts and shared moments between generations that struggle to understand and refrain from tongue-lashing one another and cope with happiness, obligation, duty and morality. Lesson: the impossibility of making others happy if you don’t make yourself happy.

9. How Bad are Bananas? – Mike Berners-Lee. I was worried about the carbon footprint of bananas, so someone special bought me this book. It’s simplistic. It’s meant to be. It skips analysis for some items that it gives in others and I felt it really missed a few opportunities, but it’s a great way to get a sense of comparison. Buying bananas is not so bad as buying asparagus, which travels poorly and has to be flown in unless you’re buying it locally. Flying is like burning up mad swaths of forests for fun. Shopping for carbon footprint is not the same as shopping for other environmental concerns though. Bananas may be more devastating for soil erosion, deforestation, or methane. Life’s complicated.

10. Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry. A rare double dose of author. Another story of family conflict that had me on the edge of my seat. Somehow readings books like this helps me understand my own relationship with my parents by showing the humanity of both parent and child trying to fumble through life without answers. It’s also just dark enough not to make me nauseous.

11. The Worlds Within Her – Neil Bissoondath. I have a severe love on for Neil Bissoondath, and it’s not just his name either. It’s to the point where I actually want to be friends with the guy, like I think I know him or something. This book is not my favourite but I still loved it. I wish I were better at t his because this novel really deserves it. What can I say? He takes a hundred potentially cheesy moments and makes them leap from the page with their simplicity and believability. His characters are cracked rather than shattered. They leak badly but find a way to keep it all in place.

12. All Families are Psychotic – Douglas Coupland. I find this guy hillarious and uncannily brilliant. How he can make a story so funny, so completely ridiculous and such a page-turner all at once is beyond me. This book contributed to my insomnia. I read it in 4 before bed sittings (lyings). An astronaut, AIDS, illegal surrogacy, inter-family gunshot wounds and Florida have never been so funny.

Obviously I haven’t done any of these books justice and you can’t possibly know anything about them from these terrible tidbits. But I feel better.

July 19, 2011 Posted by | Books, Consumption | | 4 Comments

Who doesn’t love a snow day – oh right, those people

So snow is not exactly every person’s first love. I get it. It increases accidents, slows things down, and in some cases buries your home so completely you can’t see out. But not here in Victoria, of course.

I on the other hand, love it when snow, or any other weather phenomenon says, “Hey, you. Yeah, you! You’re not such a big deal. I’m in charge now. And you’re going to know it, too!” It sounds aggressive, but really dramatic weather is a big softy. “I’m not doing this to be mean. It’s just my time to shine. And you were getting a bit big for your britches. You know, hubris and all. You just haven’t got the control you think you do and the sooner you recognize it, the easier life will be.” (Tell that to the “let’s just bury our carbon emissions and keep trucking” people)

I also love making snow angels. And strutting around in the yard with my shirt off taking pictures. Oh wait, that’s my neighbours…

Oh, yes.

Well, at least I didn’t take pictures. 🙂

Admittedly, I too used to love being buried in snow and burying my friends. I would probably still do it, too. But I might stop the crazy lady across the street from documenting.

What I woke up to

Snow is large and in charge, when it happens. Though I might never again experience walking, sorry trudging, to school in two feet of snow and feeling like an Olympian when I finally get there, I enjoy it mightily all the same. Snow – I shall submit to your control just as long as you promise to show up every now and again. Keep it fluffy!

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Brackets, Consumption, Doing it the hard way, News | , | 1 Comment

The Trials of Usedvictoria

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the joys of Freecycle (like here and here). There are of course trials as well. Not shockingly, Usedvictoria isn’t much different, except that there’s money involved.

I decided to peddle my 35mm slr camera (given with much love by my mother, sold to her by a local rip-off artist) after buying a digital slr in Kuala Lumpur.

Petronas Towers, KL

Abandoned, the camera was sent home without me, along with some presents for family. It arrived about a month after my return, or 2 and a half months after being sent to Canada. Maybe customs found something of interest, like cheap presents, but I digress.

Not long after moving to Victoria, I posted the old camera on usedvictoria. It has been there for about 2.5 years. For a year and a half I got no bites on usedvictoria. Hint to Rose: your price is too high, stupid. But there are some hardcore types on usedvictoria. As soon as I lowered the price someone who had been creeping on it emailed me and asked me if I would take $20 less. I said no, I could only go $10 less and buyer #1 faded into the woodwork.

I heard from buyer #2 in May of this year. He emailed asking for camera details. I responded. He made an offer. The type of offer that some of my more free-spirited friends would jump on, full of whimsy and trips to far-away lands. Me, I was mildly creeped out. He offered to trade the camera for a stay in a cabin/bunkhouse on his property (bad horror movie, anyone?) or some of his art, which he displays weekly at Salt Spring Island’s world famous farmers market. The cabin appealed to my whimsy, but only momentarily. I expressed interest in the art. I had visions of wee little paintings that I could use in some capacity in the new home. Granted, the value of the camera was not going to = much art. We agreed that I would bring the camera to the island in August, when I was scheduled to visit.

Now, being me, though I was excited by the devil-may-care nature of this arrangement, which I worked hard to map out to the degree possible, I was also very  nervous. What if I did not like the work (guilt)? Must I talk to him and tell him the trade wasn’t a go (awkwardness, confrontation, more guilt)? Could I walk away without saying a word (dishonesty, cowardice, even more guilt)? I batted this around in my brain for months. I googled him in the hopes of an image or two of his work, but to no avail. Such is my life.

In August, I went to Salt Spring. For some reason, this excursion is never as relaxing as I think it will be – especially not on the Saturday when I try to go to the market, get hungry, lose my compatriots, and wander around in crowds short, blind and lonely, unable to find anything I need. A perfect state of bliss: fright. I had emailed the artist/buyer #2 in advance of the trip. He told me to look for the table with carved trees growing out of rocks. Sigh.

I found him and his table. My camera safely and innocuously tucked in my bag. “No camera trader here, nope.” The trees were in fact beautiful, though not necessarily the sort of item I would have spent cold hard cash on. I liked them and thought they would make a great “conversation piece” (I vacillate between attraction to and repulsion with this phrase) as well as being aesthetically pleasing (can you tell I talk about art a lot? Me so sophisticated).

I found other hypothetical people who live in my house (eventually) and asked them if they liked the work. I received a short and definite “no”. That question resolved, I moved on to “what do I do now”? I did the only mature thing I could think of: I ran to the car and asked that we never speak about this again. TALLY – Catholic Guilt: 1. Rose: -2.

Buyer #3. I received a cryptic email on Monday. It asked condition, age and availability before 3 that day in one big long run on sentence. As I reread it I realize, it wasn’t all that cryptic, but for some reason, strangers emailing me in unpunctuated lower-case questions freaks me out. It sounds curt, grumpy and somehow disturbing. Lest you should think I am scared of everything, I am in fact usually quite  nonchalant about this sort of thing. But for some reason this time I had a bad feeling. I was the only one home. I was painting. It was very sudden and the email address included the words “dance” and “partay”. I am a pillar of rationality.

Anyway, we emailed back and forth a couple of times and arranged for Partay to come at 3:30. I found the camera and put it by the door. I forwarded someone the email thread in case I disappeared or died. I then continued with my painting. At 3:20, I started to get ready, depainting myself and waiting for the buzzer phone to ring. At 3:30 I realized that I had unplugged the buzzer for Paint-o-Mania December 2010. I ran downstairs with the camera and headed outside (to defend myself against any raid-the-building-use-of-force, which makes perfect sense, I must say). I waited for about 10 minutes and headed upstairs thinking that I had missed Partay. Minutes later, someone knocked at the door. I looked out the peephole fearful. Young man, alone. Hmm. I opened the door and he said, “there’s a mother and son downstairs talking about a camera. The buzzer’s not working, or something.” I thanked him (he seemed annoyed) and headed down with the camera.

I saw the mother and son and all my anxiety disappeared. They looked relieved to see me coming down holding camera-like things after being unable to get a hold of me. Partay was about 14, accompanied by his mother. They were kind, soft-spoken, and unassuming (i.e. I LOVED them and wanted to invite them in for cake, which I didn’t have. I restrained myself) The boy looked over the camera. He said he needed it for photography (heart melt). He was happy to see it was in good shape (you bet, I took care of that bad boy except for abandoning it to the Pacific Ocean for 3 months). He handed me the money and I skipped happily though somewhat shamefacedly (for assuming the worst) home. My bad feelings are often misguided. This was the “right buyer”.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | Brackets, Consumption, Doing it the hard way, Irritated, Photography | , | 2 Comments

Just Overshoot Me

What follows includes an offensive amount of cheese and brackets. Today, I will not apologize. Check back tomorrow.

I am a hesitant reader of non-fiction. Like opera, I can appreciate its value but reap little enjoyment. Despite my desire to be truly post-modern, I really enjoy a “clear” but fictionalized narrative. I want a story, with a beginning, end and a bunch of intriguing thoughts sprinkled throughout like candy at a parade. I don’t mind intriguing thoughts being thrown at my head. Such books feel like pure Creation with a capital rainbow. (I am currently resisting the urge to link to Kermit the Frog singing the Rainbow Connection. Thank me later).

Despite this fiction obsession, I was telling some aged environmental gentlefolk of my interest in hearing from or reading something of a different sort. I had spent months reading environmental and political news without seeing anybody discussing the fact that there is a finite amount of everything on this earth (except maybe love and road rage) and that we are quickly working ourselves into some potentially dreadful results (this is me avoiding terms like “mass hysteria” and “earth-sized mound of chicken poo”). These two dudes recognized my ignorance and my failure to be around in the 70s and took the opportunity to recommend a couple of books for me to read: Limits to Growth and Our Ecological Footprint. And oh, did I read.

Our Ecological Footprint introduced the mainstream to the idea that everything we do leaves a crap-patch on the earth the size of which is within our control, to put it in articulate terms. Despite all the cartoons and “let me break it down for you” moments, I found it difficult to read. For me, reading about science is like sewing about sex. I do not compute. That said, I did get through it in a few weeks with some new tools and language to use when discussing that thing I’ve never been able to describe beyond saying, “stuff can’t just keep growing.”

Limits to Growth was a more formidable challenge – I want to say 3 or so months – that included a lot of swearing while holding the book. And that’s a book I wanted to read. Just imagine what I was like when my boss handed me The Tipping Point, a book that still sends my pulse soaring, probably mainly because of Malcolm Gladwell’s slam on Sesame Street (or maybe for other less personal reasons). I got a lot of really good sleep during the Limits to Growth period, though that eventually ended when I finished the book. That said, certain ideas really clicked for me. I earned the language to further discuss my irritation with the meta-b.s. (google it) of never-ending progress that normally gets me incoherently, um, RAGE-rific. There were a couple of pieces that really stuck with me. In one particular spot I found the explanation of “overshoot,” a fundamental concept when talking about the world eventually wretching all over me (as I picture it), particularly useful. Maybe I liked the not-quite-irony of it too. I have sat on this quote long enough that it has lost some of its lustre. Though the a-ha moment has dimmed, I still find it really comforting, but not.

“The final contributor to overshoot is the pursuit of growth. If you were driving a car with fogged windows or faulty brakes, the first thing you would do to avoid overshoot would be to slow down. You would certainly not insist on accelerating. Delay in feedback can be handled as long as the system is not moving too fast to receive signals and respond before it hits the limit. Constant acceleration will take any system, no matter how clever and farsighted and well-designed, to the point where it can’t react in time. Even a car and driver functioning perfectly are unsafe at high speeds. The faster the speed, the higher the overshoot, and the farther the fall.”

Limits to Growth the 30 Year Update, p. 175

November 6, 2010 Posted by | Books, Brackets, Childhood Complaints, Consumption, Doing it the hard way, Irritated, Uncategorized, Waste | , , | 5 Comments

Growing up or Growing ridiculous?

Almost immediately following my first time getting wood cut adventure, I’ve stumbled on another “adventure”. I washed, prepped and painted a room of the house entirely on my own. Well, physically on my own, I had some other help from Katie (thanks!) and the friendly (not so friendly) neighbourhood paint store dude.

I grew up in a white-walled house. Though some people don’t mind it so much. It has driven me crazy for quite some time. 11 years of rentals without the ability to paint has not improved my love for the white wall. I should also note that others would not call this white but rather eggshell or ivory orjersey cream or some nonsense that is close enough to white to be completely uninteresting to me when it has no contrast. This place is no different and it’s been giving me whitemares. Exhibits A and B:

Sorry, white lovers. Between that and the fact that I wasn’t allowed to do crazy things with my room the way some people were, this room altering business was really quite exciting for me. With gusto, and only a little trepidation, I did one of those t.v. commercial “x”s with my brush on the wall. It.     was.     liberating. I haven’t had that feeling since the first year of university, when I threw “taboo” items all over my room and didn’t worry about who found them. It honestly felt like teenage rebellion without those pesky unsafe consequences though I’ll still have to listen to what my mom has to say when she comes to visit. Clearly, I need to get out more or grow up.

Anyway, most would probably die of embarrassment if they painted a guest room orange, real orange I mean, but I am okay with that. Sorry, “resale value”? what?

September 4, 2010 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Consumption | , | 5 Comments


Oh, how I have been craving this time. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, too!

After an unexpected busy semester at school and feeling like summer happened without my usual supervision, I have settled nicely into my two and a half weeks off. The hike to a deep, dark place accomplished, I’ve moved on to trying to get this new apartment in some sort of order. I mourned being unable to sort through my boxes of junk and purge as needed before the move. Besides hating moving more boxes than necessary, I love and usually spend a month on the opportunity that moving provides for cleansing the closet, and my cluttered heart. I swear, I can feel clutter in my heart.

2 days of this process has left me elated. I’ve emptied/recycled about 15 boxes/tubs, from elementary school assignments to candles and a shower curtain, much of which is being freecycled. I learned that most of my bulk exists in the form of education-related materials. Other people have trophies and toys, I have paper and a few books. Rather I had them, with the exception of a few samples for the potential curiosity of any future progeny (I always wished my parents had stuff like that I could look at) and all of my papers, which I just can’t part with as I’m kind of possess-y over intellectual property. With reckless abandon I’ve finally figured out how to deal with that random stuff from childhood that I just can’t get rid of. I get 1 box that might as well be labelled “nostalgia” (to me nostalgia is purple) composed mostly of childhood drawings and writings, it also includes a pair of my aunt’s platform shoes which technically fit but will never be worn. Now, I’m almost ready to paint the bedrooms at least. I may even accomplish that this week, though probably not.

But first, I must explain my excitement over my pièce de moving and organizing résistance, my tv cabinet turned bookshelf. I’ve been dying for an awesome bookshelf, but guilting over being broke and having other furniture that was underutilized, like the cabinet (the TV, VCR, and DVD player were all disposed of in the move). My experiment of using the cabinet as a clothes dresser failed miserably but I was determined to keep this thing that I love. I knew I could make it work if I could just find a free-standing shelf that fit into it. After a number of attempts to find one, I realized I was going to have to make it myself.

I can now say that I know how to go to a hardware store, explain what I want and have them explain it back to me like a tool (because that’s how dumb I am, not because they were being belittling), get the wood cut, and drive off with it in my car. $14, 5 pieces of wood, 8 nails and 300 hammer swings later, I had exactly what I needed + a lovely pine smell.

After a couple of rearrangings, I managed to get all of our books in and am very pleased with the results. I feel particularly Masterpiece Theatre when I swing it around to look at something in the back.

Innocuous furniture supporting uber-dated stereo. (Aside: As I was taking this picture the radio broadcaster I was listening to discussed the green book, Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay).

Front - Books!

Back - Slightly messier books

The swing-away effect

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Books, Childhood Complaints, Consumption, Excessive organization | , | Leave a comment