Wednesday, December 31, 2008

With the Turning of the Year

With the turning of the year one always falls into reverie. Forty-four years ago today I went home from my job as a Customer Service Rep for Emery Airfreight at Chicago's O'Hare Field ready for an evening of celebration.

It had been a day like most others since I'd hired on with Emery at the end of November. The weather was cold and wet, and I was used to the dry heat of Phoenix. But youth and the excitement of being in my very own apartment blunted any worries about the weather.

It was raining, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. I worked the "afternoon" shift, in others to work at 6:30 am and home at 2:30 in the afternoon. It was a great shift, which left lots of time for shopping (though I had little money).

My roommate Mary worked evenings, 2:30 - 10:30, and by now I've forgotten what our plans were. But somehow I ended up being driven to a party given by a bunch of girls at work by a girl named Geri, who had already been at the booze in a big way and played chicken with 18 wheelers all the way down the freeway. The road was one sheet of ice. I have always driven like an old woman and I was absolutely terrified.

When we arrived at the party the music was loud, the booze was flowing freely and people were yelling what passed for conversation, dancing, making out, or trying to puke quietly in one of the two bathrooms. I'd been a rather reserved and sheltered teenager and didn't drink, make out or puke unless I had the flu. Someone handed me something brown in a glass - it smelled like my uncle who drank. I sipped it and tried not to gag. Who wants to look uncool at 19?

The party got louder and wilder as the night went on. Couples began disappearing into the six bedrooms, and I had to fend off several amorous young men who'd had a snootful and were obnoxious and distinctly sweaty.

Geri was even drunker than she'd been on the way to the party, and was talking about how she was going to "drive right up underneath" one of those big semi-trailers in her little car.

I could see that Judy, one of the girls I'd stayed with when I first arrived in Chicago, and her friend Jinny, were getting ready to leave. I knew Judy was not a drinker, so I threw myself on her mercy.

"Take me with you, even if you just drop me off at home," I pleaded. "I'm scared to death to ride home with Geri."

Judy hesitated. "We're going to another party," she said. "But it's at Puffer's house, so I don't expect he'll mind one more. But Jinny and I both have blind dates waiting, and you'll be dateless." (Puffer was our nickname for one of the older guys who worked on the dock. He was married and had kids, and was considerably more settled then the crowd around us.)

"I don't care," I assured her. "I don't need a date. I just want to get home alive!"

So that's how I got to Puffer's New Year's party, Dec 31 1964.

We walked in the door and Judy and Jinny saw their dates waiting. But Judy also saw that her friend Art, a pilot from work was there, and had no girl on his arm, so she said to me, "You take my date, I'm going to spend the evening with Art."

The two young men waiting couldn't have been more different. The one waiting fro Judy was tall and dark, with black hair and an olive complexion. Mmmmmmm, my favorite! The other one, Jinny's date, was short, plump, blond and wore thick glasses and a rumpled sweater.

Jinny took one look at the two guys and said, "I'm too tall for the short guy," and shoved me toward him. I was dismayed. "But I met him already at work, I whined to her, and he's rude!" but she had already grabbed Mr. Delicious and was off to the dance floor. I was left standing in front of Mr. Second Choice, who stuck out his hand and said, "I'm Tony from Canada."

He says he knew the minute we touched that we'd be together forever. It took me longer to realize that, and even then I can't say I was wildly in love, the way my teenage crushes had taken me. But over time I learned that this gentle, quiet man was the most honest, moral, kind and just plain good man I'd ever met. And in time I fell so deeply in love that I've never fallen out.

Forty-four years ago tonight I met the love of my life, and my only sorrow is that now we have less time together in the future than we've had in the past.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Cat Who Was a Creamsicle

I love Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. I love his work generally, but this is a particular favorite. And today, his description of the Christmas snow in Wales when he was a child fits us like a glove.

"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."

About 1:00 this morning a few flakes began to drift around, like stars looking for a constellation. By 8:00 am there was a full six inches lightly layered on the hood of the truck, like white icing on a licorice cake. By 10:00 am another two inches had been added. It is still snowing. We are experiencing a monsoon of snow.

Sal began at 5:00 am to pat my face and beg to go outside. He usually has two walks a day but he hasn't been out in a week or more, as he is a large orange cream puff. He doesn't mind the cold, and he's even learned to tolerate rain, but he cannot stand snow. But he wanted out so badly this morning! He would not be dissuaded by looking out the window, or even a peep through an open door. He held up a paw and promised that, if I'd only harness him up, he would go out in the cold white snow this time. Promise, Mama!

So I bundled up and put his harness and leash on him. He was so excited he could barely stand still. I tried to get to the door and stepped on his tail, as he was swirling around like a red tornado.

I opened the door and he looked at the inches of snow on the steps and hesitated. I swept the steps and urged him forward. He put on the brakes. I went outside and hauled on the harness. He came down to stand on the steps, turned and headed back inside. But he's been aggravating me for days and I was tired of it. It was time he got his feet a little wet, and learned that he doesn't really want to go out.

I hauled him out, and down the two steps, fighting like a hooked fish. Off the step into shoulder deep snow, since this eight inches is on top of two previous snowfalls. He reacted as if he'd jumped on a hot stove. In a whirling flurry of orange and white (does a creamsicle come to mind?) he turned around, dashed back through the open door and into the trailer.

I took the broom and swept the snow off the truck, fed the birds, had a chat with neighbours who were digging their pathways out, walked a bit, took a few pictures. It's -10 but that's almost warm compared to yesterday's -26. And it continues to snow. I'm not sure how we are going to get out of here if we need to before this melts. It won't be by cat sled!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Inner Peace and Frozen Pipes


If inner peace is found by facing life squarely then I should be very peaceful at this point. Life doesn't get much "squarer" than frozen pipes and toilet valves.

We have had a cold spell which would do Alberta proud. It was -24 C this morning. We are wearing so many layers it is hard to bend our knees, and we are not the only ones who have needed extra "clothing" the past ten days.

A few days ago we found that our water pipe had frozen during the night. This necessitated a trip to town for a third heat tape, and a very cold hour of wrapping the "vulnerable" spot with heat tape, wrapping it with insulation and taping and tying it all together so the wind couldn't make off with our work.

This morning we found that our black water tank valve was frozen shut, hence no dumping. I probably need not remind you that one does need the little "necessity room", or to be more precise, the toilet. When the tank be full and cannot be emptied this poses a problem.

Thankfully we have a second "trouble" light, which we dragged out of storage and rigged up directly under the frozen valve. Two hours later and some struggling with the valve and Hoo-ray! it thawed enough to open and the dumping of the tank could proceed. A hot water chaser down the tank ensured that the thawing was complete and the valve could be completely closed again. Add some tank antifreeze and we're good for three days.

Weather is one of those things which must be faced, wherever you live. I have lived in less challenging climates, and I didn't fully appreciate them at the time. The weather service is predicting -8 C for tomorrow's high. After a week of highs of -16 to -20 the -8 would seem like springtime in the Azores. I'm just hoping it happens. I would really appreciate a slightly rounder day. I have achieved all the inner peace this cold spell has to offer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Catmus Issa Coming!

As one can see from the accompanying photograph, (which has the added feature of an extra flash, giving it a bit of a surreal quality) Salvador, Feline Overlord of this particular household, is beginning to look at the calendar and wonder, "How many days 'til Catmus?", that one day of the year when the hairless monkey tribe celebrates the supreme position of our Feline Overlords.

He can only look out the window at the snow and cold. It was a brisk -23 C this afternoon with the wind chill, a temperature which made him twitch his ears in anger and frustration when he was allowed his open-door weather-check. Today he did not even want to stand on the step and survey his kingdom. Today he sat on the kitchen table and wrinkled his nose.

His tree, decorated with antique toys and ornaments made by childish hands many years past, does little more than irritate him on such days. He wants one thing for Catmus, no two things, 1) one of the birds on the feeder and 2) Summer, not necessarily in that order.

Summer will come by and by but the birds will remain out of his reach. He will have to ask Sandy Claws again next year for the bird.

Good thing he isn't interested in looking out the window above the sink, as it is covered in a thick film of ice. It is unprotected (no storm-film) and was covered all night with Reflectix, which kept the cold on the outside (even the water was temporarily frozen this morning).

Brrrr.... like the FO I am wishing for some Summer.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stacking Zen

One of my favorite books of all time is Margaret Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name.

Early in the story the young Vicar arrives at his remote posting in a North Coast Indian village to find that the vicarage has no running water, no indoor plumbing, a wood stove for heat, and significant holes in the floors, walls and roof. He goes to open a door and the knob comes off in his hand. He surveys the situation and thinks to himself, Just keeping myself fed and clean is going to consume most of my day!

And while we have running water, both hot and cold, indoor plumbing and no holes in the walls, floor and roof that weren't put there deliberately, it still seems to take an inordinate amount of time to just stay clean and fed.

We are comfortable, but no one could ever pretend that living in an RV provides a life of ease. Cleaning is a series of shuffling objects from one surface to another so you can clean under them.

Taking a shower is a half hour process as the tub is used to dry wet coats and store items which will not fit anywhere else. Would you want to shower with a broom and a wet mop? No, I didn't think so. The window coverings are rolled up in the morning and... put in the bathtub. No place else for them. So, a five minute shower ends up taking 30 minutes, once you have unloaded the tub, stowed the stuff elsewhere temporarily, undressed, showered, dried, dressed and then reloaded the tub. Nonetheless it beats a sponge bath or a long walk in the cold to the bath-house.

I was just reading a blog entry about how to achieve a tranquil "minimalist" look in your house. Floors, counters and other surfaces are supposed to be free of objects, objects de arte included. Apparently my "stacking" system, with larger flatter items at the bottom of the stack (some would call it a "pile") and smaller, irregular items on top, in ascending order, doesn't qualify as either "minimalist" or "Zen". Okay, I admit it, winter decor in an RV is less like Zen and more like baboons with furniture.

RV life is easier in summer. For one thing summer clothes here consist of shorts, a T and a pair of Crocs. No socks, boots, no long underwear, gloves, toques, scarves or down coats, all of which get wet and have to hung in the tub to drip dry. No covering the windows at night. No putting up with an insane cat who is convinced that if he can get you to open the door just one more time it will be summer outside. He was so dead set on going out this morning (in a temperature of -15 C and six inches of snow on the ground) that I finally let him sit on the steps for a few minutes. He sat and sniffed the air, gave the yard a look-see from the steps and then came in and went for a nap. Thoroughly disgusted.

Looking back at entries for our previous two Fall/winter seasons in the Okanagan, I see that cold weather and snow held off longer this year than it did the previous two years. For that I am profoundly grateful.

I look out the window at the 30 or so small birds industriously digging at the peanut butter and millet combo I smeared into the tree trunks and onto seed bells. Ever so often a gust of wind sends them all reeling away like little pinwheels. No matter, a few seconds later they are back, chirruping and pecking like mad. They certainly look like they are having fun.

And in the moments when I feel somewhat grumbly about moving this to get at that I stop and think, I'm here by choice, both in my wee tin can of a home, and here, on this whirling ball of volcanoes and iceburgs, on the edge of an ever-expanding universe. And while the surfaces may be messy, inside it's pretty Zen.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Anti-Grinch

The Season is upon us.

After several years of "Grinchdom", when I said, "The heck with Christmas!" I suddenly find myself looking forward to the holidays again. There's Christmas music on the stereo, the tree is up and decorated, lights are strung outside, shopping is almost done and I am not the least bit stressed about the whole thing.

Maybe it's just because I am feeling so much better than I have in ages, and have energy to celebrate with, but whatever it is I am enjoying myself. The little doll in the picture was made by my late friend Judi, using a chicken "wishbone" as an armature. She is a treasure I place on our tiny tree each year, along with several dozen handmade or antique toys.

Christmas has come to mean expensive gifts and frantic partying for many people. For many the expectation that they must provide (or experience) the "perfect" Christmas sucks the joy right out of the season. I have heard any number of people say they are stumped because they don't know what to do for Christmas that doesn't involve money and lots of it! What do you do when you have a small budget but still want to enjoy your Christmas? Here are some suggestions.

10 Ideas for a Simpler, More Meaningful Christmas

1. Avoid going into debt. Refuse to be pressured by society's expectations to overspend. Gifts don't need to be expensive. It's more important that they reflect the recipient's interests.

My in-laws were very well off, but one Christmas my father-in-law's present to my mother-in-law was five or six tiny porcelain animal figurines. Her friends were disdainful, since these cost only a few dollars. They told her a mink stole or new diamond would have been more appropriate to their economic and social status. But Mom was delighted with the little figurines and displayed them prominently the rest of her life. She loved animals but she said she loved more that George took the time to seek out something which he knew she would love.

2. Plan ahead. Instead of going crazy and trying to cram in activities and parties every night get the family together and talk about how you actually want to celebrate. Taking time to make cookies together, or tour the neighborhood light displays, gives time for meaningful conversation and family bonding.

3. Start celebrating early and include friends. A weekly "event", an evening of board games with another family, eating Christmas-themed snacks, attending a Christmas concert at a local church together, an evening with a rented Christmas movie and popcorn. Two or more families might get together to make tree ornaments to represent this year's memories. Each family makes an ornament not only for their own tree, but for their friend's as well. Then you might get together to help decorate each other's trees.

4. Talk about, and think about, the meaning of gifting at this time of the year. In the Christian tradition it echoes the gifts given by the Magi to the Christ Child, each of which had a deep spiritual significance. In Many European countries the "gifting" has much less importance, and is done on St. Nicholas' Day, early in December, leaving Christmas as a time for religious reflection.

December 25th is the day when the the cold, dark days of winter begin to lengthen in the northern hemisphere. Man has marked the winter solstice for thousands of years with festivals, gatherings, ritual and other celebrations. Not all these involve the exchange of gifts, but all encourage closer familial and community ties.

5. Draw names rather than everyone buying gifts for everyone in the family or group. Select a price range so that gifts are affordable for everyone.

6. Give children one spectacular gift they really want, rather than a dozen so-so ones. If need be parents, grandparents and/or aunts and uncles can go together to buy one expensive gift none of them might be able to buy alone. This is especially a good idea for teens, whose "wish list" may include expensive technology.

7. Give 25% of what you spend on gifts and activities for each other to local or global organizations which help those who have overwhelming need. An extended family might pool enough money at Christmas for an annual sponsorship of a needy child with Christian Children's Fund or The Plan. Shop at stores like 10,000 Villages where artists and craftspeople are paid a fair price for their work.

8. Give of yourself, not just “store-bought stuff” - Include the person with no family to share your holiday activities, babysit for a harried mother, invite a shut-in out for lunch, offer transportation to a disabled person or frail senior, gather food for the local food bank, or volunteer to help wrap gifts for the local toy drive.

8. Have a Christmas potluck and ask each person to come prepared with a "performance" piece. This might be a poem to recite, singing a song, a magic trick, playing an instrument, telling or reading a short story.

9. Wait to put gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve. Take turns opening gifts one at a time, so each can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone, and the giver can be thanked.

10. After Christmas is over, recognize that many feel let-down and sad. Have a potluck, or a dessert night, and ask attendants to relate their favorite memory from this year and a past Christmas.

Friday, December 05, 2008

What's Eating Your Money?

One of the park managers and I got to talking about energy usage and the small steps which each of us might take to reduce our energy consumption. I told her I'd been thinking about putting together a "newsletter" about how to save energy, money and the environment when you live in an RV. I was planning to take the newsletters around and leave them with each of the park's 20-25 permanent residents. She thought it was a great idea, and offered to give one to each tenant on our next rent day. So I've been working on my first "Energy Newsletter".

Taking into account appliances, heating/cooling and travel, the average British Columbian is responsible for 11.5 tonnes of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions each year. That's a lot. The BC Government is encouraging everyone in the province to reduce energy usage and GHG. But before you can reduce you have to have some idea of how much you are responsible for. You can calculate your estimated GHG production here.

I used the BC GHG calculator and our calculated average household GHG emissions is 1.139 Tonnes of GHG Per Year. That's just 10% of the average! So from an energy miser here are some of the tips from my newsletter. You don't have to live in an RV to use these!

Did you know that a single 100 watt incandescent bulb costs $96.00 a year to light? Turning off the light(s) when you leave a room puts money in your pocket! Replacing regular light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs can save substantial amounts of money. CFLs use 70% less energy than regular light bulbs, last about 10 times as long and produce light similar to regular bulbs. If you can, replace some lights with LED “light bulbs” (LEDs grouped together into a fixture) which typically draw from one to two watts. They are still a bit expensive but they burn up to 50,000 hours without replacing, so pay for themselves many times over.

Cost for 12 hrs use day
----------------Month------ Year--- Savings Month-- Savings Year

Six 75 watt
Incandescent bulbs --$13.00----$156.00---- ~ -------- ~

Six Compact fluorescent bulbs
= 75 watts each ------$4.00---- $38.00 ---- $9.00 ----- $118.00

Six LED lights
= 75 watts each ------$0.50 ---- $6.00 --- $12.50 ------$150.00

Power Down!

TVs, DVD players, stereos, computers, modems, cable boxes and chargers draw power, even when they are not turned on! A cable modem uses seven watts, a router 4.5 watts, and computers from 10-100 watts, even when idle. You can save money by pthese power hungry doo-dads into a power bar. Before going to bed, or going out for the day, turn the power bar off. Turn your computer off at the end of the day, or put it in “sleep” mode. Rather than leave the coffee pot on all day, just to keep the coffee hot, use a carafe and save power!

The myth that "turning it off and on uses more energy than keeping it on all the time" exists for just about every device, and it's wrong in every single case. You will never, ever, ever, save power by keeping something on all the time vs. turning it off. Period. You always save electricity by turning your device off when you're not using it.

Of course, light isn't everything. It's cold comfort if your light bulbs are costing you next to nothing while you freeze! To increase comfort and/or decrease fuel bills, try these tactics;

If you don't have storm windows use transparent plastic “shrink” film to cover windows. It's available at the hardware store or builder's supply in boxes or by the roll. Is there a draft around your windows and doors? Caulk around all window and door frames. A surprising amount of cold air leaks through electrical switch plates which are located on exterior walls. You can buy foam cell insulating "kits" at the hardware store. You slip the insulation behind the switch plate to stop the draft.

Turn down your thermostat to 21° during the day and 18° at night. could cut your heating bills by up to 12%. If you feel cold, pop on an extra layer of clothing, like a T shirt, under a shirt or sweater. Keep a throw handy to pull over your knees while reading or watching TV.

Want more tips? Visit these websites:
Saving Electricity
52 Ways to Reduce Your Emissions

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Getting Off the Bottle

In the USA and Canada billions of plastic bottles are "consumed" annually. That is they are used once and discarded. The manufacture of these bottles consumes about 50 Million barrels of oil annually, and only 1/4 of the bottles are recycled. That means most of them end up in the landfill, where they will slowly degrade and release toxic chemicals into our water supply and soil.

[Edit] Brett made a comment which included a link to this YouTube video called "Twenty-first Century Waterfall" which visually illustrates our "use and discard" plastic bottle philosophy.

Ironically, many of these discarded bottles originally held water. Our local stores carry bottled water from New York (appx 3000 miles/4600 km) away, Toronto (2800 miles/4400 km) away and to my astonishment, the island of Fiji 6000 m/9800 km away!

Like an increasing number of cities, towns and villages the world over, the water in our little town is considered "unfit to drink" for about six months of the year due to the suspension of particles in the water. This is a problem up and down the valley, so huge stacks of plastic bottled water grace the entrances of stores from April to October.

Early in the season, when the grocer's water dispenser was broken down and we were caught without water, I bought a case of litre bottles off the grocer's shelf. Later I consoled myself that it was the only bottled water left to buy that day, but it was cold comfort. I had assumed the "Fiji" on the label was a brand name until I read the label between swigs. The thought that I was drinking water shipped almost 10,000 km literally made me choke.

I think it was at that point that we decided to buy a water filtration unit. Filtering your own water is better for the environment for several reasons.

1) The water is used at its origin. No trucks, trains, ships or trips to the store involved.

2) No power consumed in processing and bottling the water,

3) No bottles required, so no oil or energy used in the production of the bottles themselves,

4) No shipping of empty bottles to the bottling plant, so no fuel used there,

5) Fewer bottles to end up in landfills,

6) And as a bonus for your back, no need to haul heavy cases of water home from the store.

Our filter unit screws onto the faucet, and cost about $13.00 initially, (with a filter included). Replacement filters cost about $5.00. Each filter is good for an estimated 300 litres of water. The filter can be turned on and off as needed, so we filter only the water we drink, make coffee and tea, and cook with. We found that a filter lasts from three weeks (when our tap water is at its muddiest) to three months, when the water is clear.

Here the 500 mL (16 ounce) bottle is the prevalent size. If you look at it from a bottle standpoint, a filter cycle which produces just 200 litres of clean water negates the need for 400 500 mL plastic bottles.

The price for a 24 case of 500 ml bottles of water was $7.99 at the local grocers today. But let us put aside the cost of the water and look only at the bottles. The environmental fee for a plastic water bottle is five cents, so the savings on environmental fees alone on 400 bottles is $20.00. A filter pays for itself in its first cycle, and after that puts money in your pocket every time you drink a glass of filtered versus bottled water. Refills costing $5.00 pay for themselves within 50 litres of water.

We also bought a stainless steel thermos water bottle for taking with us when we make trips to town etc. This replaces the plastic bottles we used before, but which we learned were a source of Bisphenol A, a chemical compound found in many reusable plastic water bottles.

Over the course of the summer we used three filters, which cut our bottle usage by about 1200 bottles. If everyone who drinks bottled water did the same, think how much oil, energy, hydrocarbons and waste we could save. If you use bottled water do the environment a favor and shop for a filter next time you go to town!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Back on the Energy Horse


I've read a number of "climate" doom and gloom books recently, and seen numerous TV shows along the same line. I have to admit the entire climate change-pollution-global warming-mass extinction thing has me more than a bit discouraged.

I finally laid aside one book (billed as "full of hope") which said that even if householders recycled everything possible it would only reduce the waste generated by our industrial lifestyles by one to two percent. Well, that inspires you to sort, wash and carry all those cans and bottles doesn't it?

Once again I think about what we have done, and have not done, to conserve energy and reduce our environmental footprint recently. You might say we fall off the energy horse frequently. I have to admit that we recycle sporadically at best. When we feel well we recycle everything religiously. When we're not feeling so well the cans, glass, paper and plastics go right into the garbage bin. I know it's rotten, and I feel bad about it, but there really are days when we do well to put one foot in front of the other. Our intentions are honorable, but we don't always have the ability to carry them out.

That's why I was so pleased, even relieved, last night when I saw a documentary on PBS called Kilowatt Ours. This film outlines not only how our demand for energy is creating environmental mayhem, but more importantly, what we can do to conserve energy and reduce the need for coal-fired and nuclear powered power stations.

The film points out that recycling one aluminum can, rather than making a new one from scratch, results in the conservation of one kilowatt hour of power. We use very few aluminum cans, but there's probably a similar gain when you recycle a tin can or plastic bottle. At least that makes me feel better about the impact of recycling even on an individual basis.

The film also shows how the city of Austin Texas built what they call an “energy conservation power plant.”  Rather than build a new coal-fired power plant, the community decided to institute aggressive energy conservation efforts instead.  Austin now saves more than 600 megawatts of electricity every day — an entire power plant's worth of electricity - strictly through conservation.   

Austin's success can be achieved on any scale, in any home or community that makes saving energy a priority.  An individual homeowner or apartment dweller can create a tiny conservation power plant by reducing their usage by several kilowatt hours per month.  

Our electricity bill in the Beach House has varied from a low of $16.00 (in June) to a high of $49.99 (last month). Thankfully our power comes from a hydroelectric plant, so we aren't burning a pound of coal per kilowatt hour, but our active conservation of power means less need for coal-generated power in other part of the province, and less pressure to build more dams and hydro plants.

I looked at the How to Build an Energy Conservation Power Plant and Save $1000 a Year chart at Kilowatt Ours. The chart shows how the average home owner or renter can reduce their power consumption enough to save $1000 a year. There's no way we can save $1000 over the course of a year. We don't spend $1000 a year on power.

But an idea we hadn't thought of, and will put to use, is putting electronics on power bars which we can turn off at night, to reduce the amount of power it takes to keep these devices charged or ready to be turned on at the flick of a remote. I'm not sure how much that will reduce our power consumption but at the moment I can point to six electronic gizmos which are sitting idle while little led lights happily signal that they are powered up and ready to go.

But the most important thing for me was that watching this film made me feel as if I can do something to conserve power and slow climate change. My little bit is important after all. I can't change the world, but I can change my little corner of it. Thanks, I needed that.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Clock Says November

There's a pattering on the roof that is not rain.

The garden is several inches deep in leaves of various shades of orange, gold and brown. The flowers are buried in an avalanche of the same leaves that shaded them all summer, and still the leaves come down. We are having a blizzard of leaves.

While the red and yellow mums will thrive and return next spring, I am thinking of my rosemary plant, which is a tender perennial.

How do I save it from the coming cold? Is it possible to keep it alive for next year? I can't dig it up, pot it and put it in a sheltered room or greenhouse. The best I can do is surround it with a wire tomato cage, pull the branches inside, fill the cage with leaves and wrap it well against the wind. There is no shortage of leaves. We are rich with the gold of leaves. The air smells of willow leaves, but my hands smell of rosemary.

The hands of this particular "sundial" appear to still be pointing to August, but the leaves tell time differently. Maybe it's because the dark months of winter seem so much longer than summer. But here, in the Okanagan, "winter" is only a fleeting shadow of what it is in other parts of Canada. I've seen hard frosts in July and August in Calgary. Here we haven't yet had a frost.

I took the Red Chief for a long walk at midnight last night. The air was misty and cool and the street lamps had halos of soft orange light. We walked and walked until I heard the distant yipping of coyotes, then we hurried home to that rush of delicious warmth which surrounds you as you come in on a chilly night.

This morning I couldn't stay inside when it was so warm and fragrant outside. Sal and I had a long walk, and once he was ready to come inside I grabbed my camera and went out again. I spent an hour walking around the park and capturing the day with my camera.

The morning was overcast, yet the sun broke through to illuminate the falling leaves, the cliffs and trees, the green heads of the mallards swimming at the beach. The orange snow fence will keep winter-blown debris off the beach and hopefully discourage the beavers from chewing down any more of the beach's poplar trees.

It's the second of November and the park is more full of flowers than people. Roses, pansies, petunias, geraniums, begonias, mums, lilies, mints and camomile. The dead nettles are poking their noses through the drifts of leaves to bloom as vigorously as they did at any point in the summer.

As usual Robert Frost comes to mind as the leaves spin and flutter past me. Right now it's the willow leaves which are falling. As Maddie, our neighbour down the way, said as I paused to chat, "Golden snow."

In Hardwood Groves

The same leaves over and over again!
They fall from giving shade above
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove

Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up,
They must go down into the dark decayed.

They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world
I know that this is the way in ours.
~ Robert Frost

The scents of rosemary, thyme, mint and sage mingle as I run my hands over my still vibrant friends. They seem to like their leaf blanket, the growth beneath the leaves is deeper in colour and happier looking.

Tucked in among the mint a cluster of mushrooms shoulders aside the blanket of leaves and spreads out in the sun. They are ephemeral, tomorrow they will be black and shriveled, but today they stand for their share of air and light, their moment of life.

Just When You Thought Nobody Cared

Our little town of Summerland lies alongside the very large Okanagan Lake. Several small towns in a row lie along the lakeshore, separated by a few miles of a twisting, and at times steep, two lane road called "Highway 97". There's a lot of traffic, especially in the summer. So the province has been widening the congested section between Summerland and Peachland, the next small town to the north along 97.

It's been a bit of a pain. The highway lies at the base of steep cliffs and hillsides, and there's no place to put a detour. So traffic is stopped at each end of the construction zone for 30 minutes to an hour several times a day. During these interludes the construction workers blast away hillside, push the debris into piles on the road and then load it into trucks and cart it away.

Mountain goats and deer frequent these slopes. In fact this area is the preferred spot for mountain goats to kid in the spring, as it is inaccessible to most predators. The work was stopped during the kidding season, and stayed stopped until the mother goats moved their kids to better pasture a couple of months later.

About 10 days ago the construction crew noticed that a large crack had developed along the hillside (see line indicated by the yellow arrow), and an entire section of the mountain was threatening to crumble onto the road below. We're talking massive amounts of rock here, an estimated 30,000 truckloads! They stopped traffic immediately, and now travelers have to take a very long detour.

A few days ago the crew noticed that a young goat had fallen into the crevice, and was unable to get out. They dubbed him Houdini and mounted a rescue attempt, which eventually included tranquilizing the goat and one of the crew giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation! LOL

For a first hand account of the rescue go here And take heart, there are apparently still a lot of really good people in the world.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Now I Can Die

Andy Warhol said, "In the future everyone will have 15 minutes of fame."

I think this may be more like 15 seconds, but who's counting? Knowing of my avid interest in the subject, Ian sent me a link about a CNN story on tiny homes. Included in the interview was our old friend Jay Shafer, head of Tumbleweed Homes and a couple who had been forced by economics to give up their big, expensive and anxiety-ridden mortgage to move into a tiny house on wheels.

The CNN story included a request for experiences from those who "live small". Does that fit us or what? So I wrote a short piece about our experience living the small and simple lifestyle and posted it. Surprisingly a very nice young woman named Lila called from CNN today, and the "Beach House" is slated to be included in a story on tiny homes in November. Here's the article I wrote. Nothing my faithful readers haven't seen before, but not on CNN. LOL

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Going Native

I have every intention of expanding my garden next spring. We are surrounded by some spectacular native plants, and I've been waiting until fall when I could gather seed from my favorites. Zak is visiting so today we took a long walk and gathered seeds, as well as cut some willow whips to plant at the back of our site.

My plans are somewhat ambitious and will probably be tempered by my physical limitations, but at the moment I am considering adding a small shallow pond to attract birds, more vegetables in large pots at the sunny back end of the trailer, the addition of several native plants to the garden, a seating area, and some "vertical" gardening.

I started out thinking I'd concoct a shelf-like apparatus at the front end of the trailer and another on the side, so I could put potted plants in those mostly sunny areas. Over a period of several days I have looked at a whole range of vertical gardening ideas and have worked out a plan I think will work. My idea is to plant them with fast-growing food crops, like mesclun, spinach, Chinese greens, plus a variety of herbs and flowers.

My basic plan is to begin with one of two structures; I am not certain which would work best. It may come down to which is easiest to build. Plan number one would be to use sturdy bamboo or plastic reed fencing (standing upright) as the base, secured into the ground with rebar. I would cover the fencing with heavy plastic sheeting. Over the sheeting I'd staple a layer of thick, porous material like inch-thick polyester quilt batting or the furnace filter material you can buy by the roll. What I want is an open cell structure, through which small roots can grow. A second layer of batting would be stapled over the first. I'd cut openings in this layer just large enough to slip a seedling into. The second plan would be to build a frame, secure plastic signboard to it and proceed as above with the porous fabric.

This is basically a hydroponic system. Nutrients will be supplied with each watering cycle. I thought about water reservoirs or drip systems but decided that the simplest thing is just to buy a hose-end sprayer attachment and water that way. If it becomes too difficult to keep up I might install reservoirs or soaker hoses.

The advantage of these vertical walls is that they would take up very little space. I could basically have a living fence. Of course it might not work, but the idea that something might not work hasn't stopped me from trying other hair-brained ideas I've dreamed up over the years. This idea will have to wait until spring. In the meantime I have planted the seeds we gathered yesterday, without a clue as to whether they need stratification or any other special treatment. I plopped them in small compost-filled pots, watered them and set them up against the skirt of the trailer to face winter.

On our walk Zak and I gathered seeds or berries from a variety of shade-loving plants which should grow well in my garden:

Solanum dulcamara which is commonly called climbing nightshade. This is a slender shade-loving vine which has purple flowers in spring and brilliant red berries in the fall. Gorgeous, though some say it is invasive. Perhaps in a milder climate, but it doesn't appear so in our wooly wilds.


Mahonia [Berberis] aquifolium commonly called Oregon Grape. Beautiful evergreen foliage which turns bronze in the fall, loads of yellow flowers in the spring and edible (though sour) blue berries in the late summer and early fall.


Symphoricarpos albus, the Common Snowberry, which is grown for its blue foliage and attractive (though inedible) white berries.


Rosa acicularis, the Prickly Wild Rose. This is a shrub found all over Alberta and BC. It ranges in size from a couple of feet high to big 10-12 foot hillocks of thorny branches. Lovely flowers and attractive bright red seed pods ("hips") which can hang on through the entire winter, if the birds don't eat them all.


Verbascum thapsus, the Great or Common Mullein is an introduced species which is native to Europe. Early European colonists brought it with them, probably due to its value as a medicinal plant, as well as its beauty in the garden. It is a hairy biennial which forms a dense rosette the first year and can easily grow to six feet in its second year. It has small yellow flowers which are densely grouped on the tall stem.


Arctium lappa, the Great Burdock. Seasoned readers will remember that this past spring I puzzled over an attractive rhubarb-like plant found growing along the path near the lake. It had huge ruffled leaves. I recently discovered this was a member of the much dreaded "cockleburr" family of my childhood. The seed pods are covered with barbed spines which are the very devil to get out of your dog's coat, or your clothing. But it's a biennial plant, which only produces flowers (and burrs) the second year. I will grow it in a pot and turn the root out after the first summer. That way I should get the nice big tropical-appearing leaves without spreading burdock around the neighbourhood. Or, if I feel adventurous I might allow it to develop flower stalks, which are eaten as a vegetable. They taste like another member of the thistle family, artichoke.


Sedum integrifolium commonly called Rose Root. This little succulent sedum propagates with runners. We found some growing in loose sand which were easy to pick out. We took half a dozen teeny plants, and I re-sited them in my garden this morning.


Salix lucida, the Pacific willow. These are found along the lakeshore in thickets. With their slender bare trunks and long delicate leaves they resemble bamboo. I thought a few of them might make a nice screen at the back of the site. I stuck them in a big pot for the winter, and if they root I'll transplant them to the garden in spring.


The great thing about gardening is that there's always some new project or plant to keep you buzzing. And the farther away spring is the more grandiose the projects. LOL

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Soft Weather...

Today we had what is called "soft weather" on the coast, grey, still and misty. Autumn arrives in the Okanagan. We've had a brilliant fall so far, clear, sunny days with just enough briskness in the air to pinken your cheeks and make you want to breathe as deeply as your lungs will allow. Walking under the trees I feel as if I walk in a cone of peace. The mist absorbs and muffles any sound and it is extraordinarily quiet.

The only sounds which break through are a pair of Canada Geese flying over the adjacent field. They converse in honks and bleats. A crow adds a note of coarse laughter. These only act as punctuation - they don't disturb the silence.

With the shelter of high cliffs to the north and west and the moderating influence of the lake in front of us, we have not yet had a frost. The flowers in the garden continue to bloom, though lacking some of the brilliance and vigor they displayed at summer's height. The mums are mounds of blossom, the toad lily is adorned with fragile blooms. The flowering kale is at its best though its purple and pink leaves clash wildly with the orange leaves surrounding it. Inside this colour combination would be nauseating at best, but here the raw colours feed off each other with a confidence designers could never get right.

Orange and yellow leaves drop steadily from the mock cherry trees, and are at the moment almost as colorful as the blooms they are slowly burying. I don't know whether to rake the leaves up or allow them to cover (and shelter) the plants as they die back for winter. They'd make great compost material, if my laundry basket composter weren't already full to the brim. Maybe I'll pull the finished compost from the basket, scatter it in the garden and start a new batch with my harvest of leaves.

The cycle of life is all around us. In the leaves, the flowers and even in our own bodies. Each season has its own unique beauty. Spring moves to summer and on to autumn. Winter overtakes and for a time it looks as if death has triumphed. But spring has never failed to follow winter, and it is from this eternal spring that we draw our hope.

Friday, October 10, 2008

When I Leave This World Behind

I recently bought a CD which included Irving Berlin's 1915 song, When I Leave the World Behind. Because I wanted to share this lovely old song and its sentiment with my faithful readers I looked it up on Youtube and found a version by a men's choral group. Bonus! I love choral music, so it couldn't get much better than that.



1st verse:]
I know a millionaire
Who's burdened down with care
A load is on his mind
He's thinking of the day
When he must pass away
And leave his wealth behind
I haven't any gold
To leave when I grow old
Somehow it passed me by
I'm very poor but still
I'll leave a precious will
When I must say good-bye

[chorus:]
I'll leave the sunshine to the flowers
I'll leave the springtime to the trees

And to the old folks, I'll leave the mem'ries
Of a baby upon their knees

I'll leave the night time to the dreamers
I'll leave the songbirds to the blind

I'll leave the moon above
To those in love
When I leave the world behind

The Long and the Short of a Miracle

I was scheduled for some surgery this afternoon. I wasn't supposed to drive afterwards so a friend took me to the hospital and picked me up. I had to be there at noon, though my turn in the OR wasn't booked until 2:00.

No food after midnight, so I was bit hungry by noon. I checked in and was told to strip and put on a wrap-around gown, a kimono-style robe and some weird paper booties that were twice as long as they needed to be. The gown and robe were ginormous and hung over the tops of my feet. I felt like Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The waiting room was full of people like me, gowned and robed and waiting. Directly across from me sat a man in his 60s. He had NO written in marker on his right knee. His gown barely covered the essentials. It was so short he kept tugging at it while looking furtively around, as if feeling guilty for exposing so much white thigh.

There was a guy with a huge grizzled beard and long hair who was peeping around the corner at me almost every time I looked up from my magazine. I don't know why but I seem to attract the attention of old hippies of the infrequently washed variety. Maybe it's my cat-clipper "do" and comfy shoes. They take one look and think, "Now there's a low-maintainence gal!" (They'd change their minds if they saw how much I eat.)

Anyway, here I am in the Day Surgery Waiting Room, with about 10 other apprehensive souls, shuffling through antique magazines. No one has a watch. Watches are contraband in surgical waiting rooms. What feels like an hour ticks by. One woman is called, and then the nurse calls my name. I start to gather my belongings and she waves me back into the chair.

"There's been an emergency. You've been pushed back to 3:00."

The room visibly exhales. I pick up my magazine and go back to looking at an article which assures me that I can stay young and beautiful well into my 30's. (That train left me at the station about 30 years ago.)

Why are there never any clocks in waiting rooms? Do they think the "waiters" would riot, seeing that time moves only at half-speed? I turn the pages of my magazine half-heartedly, one at a time, examining every page. The models all have long springy hair like burnished polyester rope, unnaturally white smiles, perkier than possible breasts and tight, taut, little bums. Their legs start just beneath the ribcage and go alllll the way to the ground. They are airbrushed and photoshopped, molded like so much hot plastic.

Now here are some really good articles which promise I can lose 10 pounds by the weekend, or look like a supermodel by flattening that tummy. Nothing said about the 50 extra pounds that has crept up on me with the stealth of a hungry cat, or what I should have done when I quit growing a full 14 inches short of "supermodel" height. It's enough to make a short, fat lady wear comfy shoes and cut her hair with the cat's clippers. And not give a flying flip if anyone likes it or not.

Hairy Man peeps around the corner and smiles. I duck my head and find myself reading about the juice of the miraculous purple Brazilian foo-foo ($135.50 for a 30 day supply.) If I had a pencil I could write down the address and order some. Hey! It promises a miracle, okay? If I could grow eight inches it would not only be a miracle but I'd only be 25 pounds overweight!

As I am trying to memorize the address to write for the Miraculous Brazilian Foo-Foo the nurse sticks her head in the door and calls my name again, "You're cancelled," she says. "Someone will call to rebook you."

Everyone looks at me with narrowed eyes. Are they envious, as they sit there waiting the slice of scalpel? I have been reprieved. Temporarily. Modern medicine is wonderful.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Thought Elvis Loved Me

Our neighbours A & E took off a couple of weeks ago for a trip to Newfoundland. I volunteered to care for their cats and the many flowers in A's garden while they were gone. Elvis is a big, burly guy. Very handsome in his long blackish-grey coat, white ruff and white paws. He and his cattly sister Priscilla are the official park mousers. He's the cat who brought Sal the gift of a dead mouse a few weeks back.

Pris is a one-woman cat. No one but A can touch her. The entire two weeks I barely saw her. As soon as I came up the walk she dove out of sight and no amount of coaxing could entice her out.

On the other hand Elvis flew to me as soon as he heard my feet hit the porch. He wanted his daily dose of belly rubs and after a couple of days he turned into a fuzzy kiss dispenser. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wanted cat food and plenty of it. I gave him a meal of canned food every morning and left enough dry food for the two of them for the day. He said his Mama fed him canned food in the afternoon too, but I knew he was stretching the truth as freely as politicians do when describing tax cuts they've given seniors.

Well, A & E returned home yesterday afternoon. Priscilla was so glad to see her very own Mama that she abandoned her usual aloofness. She hung onto A, cried and snuggled with her for several minutes. Elvis was less enthusiastic and today he apparently decided he was going to move in with us!

He stood outside and yelled. "Can I come in?" till he must have been hoarse. He laid in the garden and talked to Sal. He stood on the step and scratched on the door. He gave me vigorous loving any time I went outside. He was soooo charming. He even tried to get into Sal's enclosure by squeezing between the frame and the wall but both he and Sal are far too fat to compress themselves through a two-inch opening.

At any rate, while Sal and Elvis are friends, territorial sovereignty is always at the forefront of any cat's brain. Sal was not enthusiastic about the prospect of Elvis invading his outdoor room. A bit of name calling and some soft slapping ensued, but they didn't unsheath their claws.

I had taken Elvis home three times before I realized what he wanted. We walked down the street, Elvis leading the way, tail high, and a big bounce in his step. I asked Anita if she'd given him his canned food for the day. She said she'd just gotten home from shopping and hadn't thought of it.

Well! She took out a can of food and a saucer. He danced and waved his front paws while she dished the food out, and he fell to as if he hadn't eaten for a month. There were two full bowls of kibble only steps away but hey...

A and I talked, he ate. Then he wrapped himself around her legs and gave her a nuzzle. He didn't follow me home. Turns out his "admiration" was just a bad case of cupboard love.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rise and Fall



It is a perfect day, as far as weather is concerned. The sun is shining, it's warm, there's no breeze. I sat outside with my mugga joe this morning while Sal sunned himself. The magnolia warblers and Oregon Juncos are busy in the trees, picking off some of the jillions of ants who crawl up and down the trunk and branches. They occasionally come to birdish fisticuffs, as one bird encroaches on territory another obviously feels possessive of.

The toadlily I bought back in April, the one which froze and died back to the ground, is finally beginning to bloom. It took six weeks to reemerge after it died back, and I didn't think it would survive, but it's reached a respectable 18 inches in height, and has about 20 buds. Only one has opened so far though several others are just about ready.

The dainty little flowers are smaller than a dime, and hard to get a picture of with the combination of my old eyes and my camera's tiny viewing window. I took a half dozen pictures and got one which is almost in focus. The body of the petal is the palest pink, the spots are purple, the stamens, held above the petals, are reddish pinky purpley brown.

Colours seem almost electric at this time of the year. Gone is the soft light of spring and the brilliance of summer. Now the light holds a neon radiance and everything it touches shimmers.

The red mums are also beginning to open. The bushes have hundreds of buds, and by the time they all open there may be more flowers than leaves! Everything else in the garden seems to hold its breath.

It's the kind of day to store away in memory and bring out in January or February.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Nourishment and Food Too!

Yesterday was a good day. Tony was feeling quite well and we were delighted when SMM and Sweetie arrived earlier than expected. We had a great visit, which just served to emphasize how much I miss the company of this very good friend.

SMM and Sweetie are dedicated "Foodies" and treated us to dinner at a fantastic restaurant called The Vanilla Pod.. We enjoyed an amazing meal and excellent conversation. The food came in small courses, one at a time, and we lingered over dinner for over two hours. I have never liked mussels, but the mussels we were served, in a coconut sauce, were scrumptious. My favorite though was the sushi "pizza".

I realized today that though I had charged up the camera and had it at the ready, when they arrived I was so wound up I totally forgot to take any pictures. LOL

There's something nourishing about the company of good friends. Yesterday we had a great meal, in addition to the food we ate.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Only Four More Sleeps!

Until my good friend SMM and her Sweetie arrive for a visit!

Can we say excited boys and girls? We haven't seen SMM and Sweetie since we left Calgary over two years ago. They fled what they now refer to as the OC shortly before we did, leaving a dreadful hole in my social calendar. No more sushi lunches, trips to the Farmer's Market or raids on the Calgary Herald's annual booksale.

On other fronts, I am house and cat sitting for neighbours who are off to Newfoundland for a couple of weeks. Their cats are a large fluffy grey and white boy named Elvis and a sleek black female named Priscilla. They are the official park mousers, and are allowed to roam, while all other pets must be leashed or inside a fence.

Elvis and Sal have become good friends, Sal insists on visiting Elvis a couple of times a day, and Elvis drifts down to visit Sal several times a day. He's the one who recently left Sal a dead mouse as a gift.

Elvis and Pris are as attached to their Mama as Sal is to me, and they are a bit put out that she has gone off and left them. Elvis is so desperate for love he rolled over and presented belly for rubs today, but until last night Pris wouldn't let me anywhere near her. She finally gave p and let me scratch her ears. But she still had a bit of a whine about her mama's absence.

We are covered up in fruit, which is a good spot to be in. I have the dehydrator full of nectarines now, and yesterday I bought a gizmo which peels, cores and slices apples in one operation. I have a big box of apples waiting to be dried, courtesy of our friends Pat and Claude. Tomorrow I will try that new gadget out.

Then we have two kinds of plums, big purple ones and smaller pear-shaped reddish ones which look something like a ripe fig. Both are yummy but - well - you know why old folks drink prune juice. I made the error of eating about a dozen plums a couple of days ago. I no longer need a colonic, thanks.

I'm thinking of making a plum cobbler for the potluck which is coming up tomorrow. No way can we eat all those plums fast enough to keep them from going south. I could dry some, but plum cobbler sounds better. I just have to figure out how to make a pastry dough with no gluten, so Tony can have some too.

Oh, then there is a big box of purple concord grapes, about the only kind of grapes I like. These remind me of the wild grapes we picked when I was a girl, and when our boys were small. They are scrumptious, but another case of too much to eat in a hurry. They are seedless and freeze well, so I will probably pop a bunch into the freezer.

There's a big spaghetti squash, ripe field tomatoes, sugar snap peas, cabbage, summer squash, tiny red potatoes and portabello mushrooms, all waiting to be cooked. No wonder we are a bit on the plump side.

But we better enjoy it while we can. The weather has been wonderful the last couple of weeks, but tomorrow the temperature is forecast to fall like the stock market. Cool days ahead. Apparently summer is not endless.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Productive Visit


Ian has just spent a week inna Okinoggin, climbing, working long-distance via computer, hanging out with friends and (happy sigh) helping his parents get ready for the winter.

This "getting ready for winter" involved hauling supplies, insulating the water line and digging a trench for it, re-leveling the Beach House (which had decided tilt) and making a good start on putting on the trailer skirting.

Along the way we discovered the biggest orb spider we'd ever seen, whose body was as large as the end of my thumb. Then there was the huge black widow we found in the water connection box. We moved the orb spider to a better location, since she was in the way. The black widow we left to her own devices. She was guarding a brood sack and motherhood is (after all) sacred.

Winterizing will proceed at a slower pace. We have to finish putting on the skirting, we have to insulate the doors - trailer doors are conduits for cold - and we have to put storms on all the windows. Now that will be a job because we have many windows. But little by little it will get done and we should be cozy by freeze-up.

Of course the best part of the visit was just that - visiting. It's so satisfying to see your children grow into well-rounded, highly adept human beings. Our conversations are so comfortable.

Before Ian left this morning I took a picture of my three fellas, Ian, Tony and Salvador. I'll leave you to figure out which is the father, which is the son and which is the Feline Overlord.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Environmental Sustainability



David Suzuki says; "My greatest fear in this election is not that one candidate or one party will win over the other. My nightmare is that the issue of the environment will be ignored in this election and that concerns about our planet will be drowned out by the name-calling and political posturing that have come to mark Canadian campaigns. And if that happens, if we fail to put the focus on the environment, the message to the next government - regardless of which party prevails - will be a mandate for more inaction.

...We have to put all candidates' feet to the fire. We have to show them that we will not accept future inaction. We will demand that they address our environmental concerns - that they represent us."

As we head into elections on both sides of the Canada/US border it is up to citizens to make certain that politicians understand how seriously we take the issue of environmental sustainability. Furthermore it is even more important that we make them understand that this is not just an election issue; it is now a life-and-death issue for species all over the earth.

Summarized by the David Suzuki Foundation here are Five Principles for Environmental Sustainability:

Precaution –Scientific uncertainty cannot be an excuse for inaction where there is a risk of irreversible damage to the environment. This is especially true when alternatives are readily available or solutions, like increasing energy efficiency, can deliver economic benefits as well.

Polluter pays - Those who pollute need to be held responsible for their pollution. No one should be allowed to freely dump greenhouse gases, toxics or other waste products into our environment, leaving our climate, our ecosystems and our communities paying the real costs of these actions.

Leaving the world a better place for our children - Future generations deserve at least the same environmental opportunities as we had. Canadians have accepted this principle for dealing with government debts; now it is time to apply it to our growing environmental deficit by adopting preventative approaches to pollution and putting in place strong protections for irreplaceable ecosystem services.

Make governments accountable for the state of our environment – We must be able to measure progress against national environmental objectives using clear indicators, and we must make such progress reporting routine and ongoing. Access to factory or facility-level and community-based environmental information collected by government must be readily available to all Canadians. Such access could be ensured through the development of a federal Environmental Bill of Rights.

Good global citizenship – The wealth and talent of Canadians (and Americans) mean there are no excuses for our countries not to be world leaders in environmental sustainability. In fact, we should be actively helping developing countries become more environmentally sustainable by demonstrating and sharing best practices. Canada and the US need to be constructive contributors to international environmental protection efforts, not two huge roadblocks to progress.

How do we send those messages?

Canadians can join Vote Environment 2008.

Americans can join We Can Solve It

Original source: http://tomorrowtodaycanada.ca/en_full_principles.php

From the "Tomorrow Today" report. A joint project of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Greenpeace Canada, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute, Pollution Probe, Sierra Club Canada and World Wildlife Fund.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Woot Woot!

Elizabeth May will be allowed to participate in the debates after all!

May said she was happy the networks' original decision was reversed.

"The important thing is that we have the opportunity for a full and fair exchange of views," she told CBC News. "I'm so grateful to Canadians for protesting loudly enough that we've seen this change. I'm not the only winner today — everybody wins."

May, in an interview Wednesday, said tens of thousands of Canadians came to her defence, with some staging protests or telephoning the TV networks in charge of the debates. May said the events of the last few days prove that "democracy does not happen behind closed doors."

"When you get engaged, you can change the world, and I intend to do that in the debates," she said.

We now return you to our irregularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Banana Republic?

It was announced late yesterday that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will not be allowed to take part in the National Debates.

Feedback I am reading suggests that this strategy will backfire on the major parties, as Canadians react to their protectionist tactics by voting Green.

I like Elizabeth May. She is not your usual politician. We need more of not your usual politician. Do you know her?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Shift to Green

Well, it's official - Canadians go to the polls Oct 14th. From now until then we will have to endure the backstabbing and mudslinging that is mistaken/substituted for intelligent discussion of the issues. I have stated my view that the ALL the issues in this election basically track back to the environmental and energy mess we find ourselves in.

So what do the various parties have to say about environment and energy?

The Liberals have proposed a plan called The Green Shift based on plans that are working other places in the world, including (gasp) Sweden! Perhaps Stephan Dion has some Svedish blood! At any rate he needs to offer a more cohesive explanation of exactly what the Liberals plan to do with the money raised via the carbon tax. But it's a start, and to his credit Dion maintains a dignified tone.

I hesitate to link to the Conservative's environmental issues page. They don't simply criticize their opponents, they ridicule them in a nasty personal way. While they crow about the very little they have done, and brag on their extremely modest environmental goals, they spend over half the page mudslinging, and misrepresenting what other parties have done on behalf of the environment. Stephan Harper is going to run a mean-spirited campaign, which speaks volumes about his character and his party.

The New Democratic Party talks about their record on environmental issues but may have forgotten that you are supposed to have an election platform. I can't find a statement on what their policies on pollution and global warming would be should Jack Layton be elected PM. I like Jack Layton. I think there's potential for the NDP to be a leader in a lot of fields Canadians care about. But they can't seem to get organized into a cohesive force.

Then there's the new political kid on the block, the Green Party of Canada. Green Leader Elizabeth May said in a recent speech:

"...we are emerging to a new reality. The Fossil Fuel Era has been our adolescence – years of partying like there was no tomorrow. The party's over. We are ready to make the next leap – as momentous as abolishing slavery or giving women the vote. We are ready to make the fundamental shifts that allow us to live in balance with our life support systems, respecting each other, achieving social and economic justice, peace and democracy."

Now there's a party a Buddhist can get behind! Green Parties around the world share common values as expressed in the Charter of the Global Greens. The policies of the Green Party of Canada are based on six fundamental principles: Ecological Wisdom, Social Justice, Participatory Democracy, Non-Violence, Sustainability and Respect for Diversity.

Of course the Greens have not been allowed to participate in the "democratic" candidate debates, and they have been portrayed as nutters and long-haired hippies by the media. The question might be asked, "What are they afraid of?" With a large percentage of people saying that the environment and energy issues are their most pressing concerns this election, the "old boys" may soon find out they have good reason to fear that new kid on the block.

Canadians, if you'd like to add your name to the petition for the inclusion of the Green Party in the National Candidates Debate click here.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Between Denial and Despair


My Faithful Reader wrote:

"I don't know if you have been watching the political coverage of the conventions...but I was wondering if you might take to your blog and give us your faithful readers your perspective?"

Oh dear oh dear. How can I remain zen-like with such a challenge? (Hint: It ain't gonna happen.) I admit I watched parts of the Democratic Convention, but there's was not enough Gravol in BC to induce me to watch the Republican Convention.

John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as Vice-Presidential Candidate was so cynical it is absolutely mind-boggling. Gender aside, this is a person with NO national political experience and not a clue about foreign policy. Her only "qualifications" are:

1) She is a adamantly opposed to abortion under any circumstance unless the woman's life is in immediate danger. The 12-year-old rape or incest victim is shi* out of luck.
2) She is a long-time member of the National Rifle Association, who has enormous political power in the US, and
3) She's eager to move drilling rigs into one of the world's most pristine and fragile ecosystems, Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

These three positions attract some powerful political allies. And probably the best part is, that like "W", she would have to rely entirely on "advisors". I see political marionette written in big red letters across this woman's forehead.

With nine percent of Americans currently in the process of losing their homes, jobless rates soaring, young Americans and Canadians dying on Middle Eastern battlefields in appalling numbers, 45% of Americans without health care insurance and energy prices at an all time high it seems to me that it's time for a new direction in Washington. In fact it's time for a new direction in almost every government in the world.

We need to return to local economies for food, building materials, and many kinds of manufactured goods. I see logging trucks go by, one hauls logs north, 30 seconds later one goes by headed south. Both trucks are probably hauling logs to the coast, where they will be shipped to China to be milled and then shipped back to BC at an astronomical cost, both to the consumer and to the environment.

We have the technology to have business meetings and medical conferences without ever leaving our offices, and if nothing else has convinced us to use it, the price of a ticket to Cleveland may.

Barack Obama is moving in the right direction when he says it's time to invest BILLIONS of dollars in renewable, green energy. He proposes to create five million new jobs by investing $150 billion over the next ten years to encourage private efforts to produce clean energy. His goals are commendable but too modest.

And since Stephen Harper is going to dissolve Parliament and call an election here at home within the next day or two, I was looking at the Conservative Party of Canada's "Green Plan" today, the goal of which is to "reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020 and cut air pollution in half by 2015." You know, with 34 million people in this country it's pathetic that Stephen Harper is the best leader we can come up with. I won't even mention the sad leaders of the other parties, fine people all of them but between them they couldn't get up enough spark to couldn't light dry tinder.

Sweden has only nine million people, but they must be of stellar quality, because they certainly appear to have better leadership than countries many times their size. Their goal is to be powered by 100% pollution and nuclear -free renewable energy by 2020. That's 12 years from now. The Western Harbor Development in the Swedish city of Malmo has already accomplished this goal.

Let's go back a bit. The economy has done a major nose-dive in the past year. If we back track carefully we come to an inescapable conclusion. We have hit the energy wall, and the real costs of our lifestyles are becoming painfully apparent not only in economic but in environmental terms. Meanwhile, we sit, as Al Gore said, "Between denial and despair." How the hell are we going to get out of this mess we've made? It's not going to be by casting a vote for a politician who has the lofty goal of reducing emissions 20% by 2020.

Our buildings gobble energy and produce 50% of carbon emissions. Yet we are still building houses as if we lived in the 19th century. Worse, building codes force us to build homes which waste energy and water and dump our pollutants into our water supplies.

From this day forward EVERY new building built should meet an environmental standard which includes building with locally available materials. Existing homes should be upgraded to a new environmental standard as much as is practical.

Homes should be heavily insulated and oriented to take the best advantage of sunlight. EVERY new building should utilize some form of composting toilet and include a grey-water recycling system. In Sweden it's been illegal to install a water-flush toilet for years. Not only do toilets waste water which has been treated at great expense, they carry chemicals and excreted medications into the eco-system. The fertility rate of young men has dropped by 50% since 1930, and it's believed that one major factor is estrogen and estrogen-like compounds in the water we drink.

EVERY new building should have a combination of solar and wind power to generate its own electricity. New vertical axis wind turbines which begin to produce power at wind speeds of five miles per hour will soon make wind power available to almost any homeowner, and certainly to developers.

EVERY new building should be heated and cooled with a geothermal system. Geothermal systems are the worlds most advanced and most cost-efficient heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems.

This applies to plants and factories as well. Clean up your industry or fire the CEO who can't make it happen and find someone who can.

Environmental stewardship extends into almost every decision we make, in every dollar we spend, in every bag of garbage we produce, and even at the ballot box. Politicians need to be told, repeatedly, that we expect real leadership of them, and if they are not prepared to offer it, we may advertise in a Stockholm newspaper for leaders who will.