Monday, August 31, 2009

Putting Away the Abundance

This is a busy time, a time of great wealth, as neighbour shares with neighbour from garden, orchard and vineyard. I am surrounded by abundance of the fruit and veggie variety. At present there are boxes of peaches, plums, tomatoes, grapes, and three very large squash on the deck.

I realize I have been remiss and not shared a picture of my own tomatoes. These are Brandywines and Purple Princes, both heirloom varieties which I will grow again, as the flavour in both was intense and delicious. My neighbour said they were the best tomatoes he has ever tasted. Also in this picture are cherry-type tomatoes, some of the yellow "Lemon Boy" variety, and some of my green peppers. The Lemon Boy tomatoes are beautiful but not as flavorful as the dark red varieties.

I've had questions about how one dries fruits and veggies, and it couldn't be simpler.

I wash tomatoes well, cut them into quarters and then slice the quarters into slices between a quarter and a half inch thick. As I accumulate a bowlful I sprinkle them with Fruitfresh (or vitamin C powder).

Once I get a bowlful I take the slices out with a slotted spoon and place them in a single layer on the drier tray. In about 12 hours the slices are completely dry. For fruit and most vegetables I set the drier at 57 C (135 degrees F).

Plums are washed and quartered, sprinkled with Fruitfresh and dry in about 16 hours. Peaches and nectarines are halved, quartered, then each quarter is sliced into three or four thinner slices. I go through a fair amount of Fruitfresh, but you can crush a vitamin C pill (or several pills) until you get 1000 mg of vitamin C, mix it with a tablespoon of sugar and use it as you would Fruitfresh.

The squash will be cooked, mashed and dried. With squash, dry beans and corn flour on hand no one need ever be hungry, as these three in combination can nourish you well indefinitely. One of the most delicious winter meals possible is a crockpot of pinto or romano beans, soaked overnight, rinsed, and then cooked all day with a large chopped onion, three or four cloves of garlic, a large can of tomatoes or handful of dried tomatoes and bell peppers, with a side of cornbread and squash. These are all simple and inexpensive ingredients, easily preserved at home when supplies are abundant.

Cornbread Recipe


* 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
* 1 cup all-purpose flour (I use rice flour for a gluten-free cornbread)
* 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (sweet milk can be "clabbered" by adding 1 tsp vinegar)
* 1/3 cup olive oil
* 1 large egg

Grease a 9-inch square baking pan. Heat oven to 350°.

Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl or large cup, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, and egg. Combine the two mixtures just until blended and spread in the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned.

The grapes I've been given are not quite ripe, but there are a lot more to come in the next two weeks. I will put them through the juicer and make grape cordial to go into the freezer in small plastic jam containers. I've never done this so I'm not sure how much yield I can expect. I may need to buy more jam containers. A neighbour gave me an empty wine bottle with a screw-on top, which will be an excellent vessel for serving reconstituted cordial from.

Ian is here so yesterday was a day of getting supplies for work which needs to be done. New batteries for the DC system, gutters to add to the deck to end the puddle which now forms on the steps and deck whenever we have a rain. This will turn into an ice rink in winter. No thank you.

I also bought another storage cupboard and finally broke down and bought a toaster oven, so I can make cornbread, casseroles, quiches, and small cakes and pies. I have missed baking. The propane oven in this unit has one temperature - cremate. Everything is charcoal on the bottom and raw on top. Plus it gobbles propane at an alarming rate. I borrowed my friend's toaster oven to make sure it would work with our power limitations, and was appropriate for our needs. Having proven that it would work I went ahead and bought one.

Slowly we are adapting our little home to make independence easier.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Environmentally Friendly Cat Litter

In the spirit of "spend less, more responsibly" we have gone from spending $26.00 a month to $4.00 a month on cat litter, and we can compost most of it because we run a "hot" bin.

Salvador, the humongous Maine Coon who considers us the hired help, is an asthmatic. Clay litter makes him wheeze and we figured it's probably not good for any cat. He is a vigorous scratcher in his box so he created a lot of clay dust which was getting into his lungs. It was tough even changing it. Clouds of dust!

So we switched to a product called "Yesterday's News" which is made of recycled newspapers which are pulped and extruded into little noodles of paper. He liked the change, there was minimal dust, but the stink of wet newspaper reminded me of the days when we owned a kennel and raised bloodhounds. Layers of papers for whelping boxes, and for house training pups. I had enough of the smell of pee-soaked newspaper to last me a lifetime! And while Yesterday's News was cheaper than regular litter to start with, it's price crept up gradually until it was $13.00 a sack, and he went through two sacks a month.

Time to look for another option. And there's a litter called "Feline Pine", which is basically sawdust which has been wet and then extruded, just like the paper stuff. Nice but after a few bags at $19.00 a bag it was a bit expensive. Sal is a diabetic and requires an extremely high quality food, so it already costs a whopping $100.00 a month to feed him. I know, disgraceful, in this day and age to spend that kind of money on a four-legger which produces nothing but kisses, but we signed on for the duration when we adopted him, come hell or high water, and we will care for him as best as we can until he flies off to Kitty Reincarnation Land to be recycled into kitten.

Anyway, we were at the builder's supply and by the checkout were pallets of 40 lb (18 kilo) bags of wooden stove pellets. Produced by a local pellet mill from waste wood. Nothing but sawdust and water added for extrusion purposes. No glues, binders, scents, colours, dust. Cost $4.00 a bag. $4.00 for 40 pounds.

We stocked up, as stove pellets are available only from October to March. We open a bag and pour its contents into a large plastic storage container with a tight lid. We then use a 500 ml cottage cheese container as a scoop when we change the box. Five scoops is the magic number.

A 40 lb bag lasts about six weeks, and when we empty the box (every third or fourth day depending on "conditions") we add the damp sawdust to the compost pile (poo nuggets are removed daily). The sawdust is a great foil for the huge amounts of grass clippings which come off the park lawns. The cat is on no meds at all, and is free of parasites and disease, other than diabetes controlled entirely by diet.

The combo of grass clippings, sawdust and kitchen scraps keeps the bin steaming hot. Too hot to put your hand into. Campers often add their kitchen scraps to the bin, and within a week all scraps become unrecognizable.

So this has become a win-win situation. The pellets are transported less than 10 miles to the store, they use a resource which would otherwise be wasted, the kitty is happy and wheeze-free, the box smells like a pine forest, the compost will feed the lawns and flowers next year and we save about $22.00 a month on litter.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nifty Thrifty

Well, true to my word I am trying to buy less and lower on the environmental totem pole, i.e. second hand when possible. So yesterday my friend Anita and I went to the local Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop. You know some days you go in and find nothing much, the next time you luck out. Yesterday was my luck out day.

Since my dear daughter-in-law is a guru of the knitting world - her new book even made the The New Yorker Book Blog - I figure it's time for me to learn to knit at least enough to make a dishcloth. I have some trouble with repetitive hand movements, as in after a little while I lose all coordination, so I expect this "learning to knit" to be a slow and somewhat laborious process. But I was able to buy three skeins of light-weight cotton yarn (50 cent each) in two colours of blue and white. Then I got knitting needles for 25 cents. So if I completely mess it up I haven't spent too much, the cat has a ball of yarn to play with, and the knitting needles will make good plant stakes in the garden.

I've been wanting to make myself a couple of new hippari tops, as they are so handy to wear as a second layer in three of the four seasons. In the fabric bins I found three different light cotton fabrics in colours I love. I could have combed the fabric stores for days and not done so well. Five metres of cotton fabric $3.50. So now I can make my hippari. The hippari is a short kimono-style top traditionally worn by Japanese farm workers. I bought this Folkwear pattern back in the 70s and have used, used and reused it, making every garment included numerous times. The pattern is printed on heavy paper, instead of flimsy tissue, so it's lasted 30+ years. Everyone in the family has worn at least one garment from this collection, as all of the garments are very comfy and extremely useful.

I will hand sew these as I gave my (new) sewing machine to a young woman with a family. I still have a hippari I made by hand in 1979 that I can't bear to part with, even though the hem seams are worn right through.

Next I found a lovely little square wooden box for Tony to store electrical gadgets in, and a 1960s Italian made food grinder, still with the instruction book and three blades. I want to dry shredded potatoes for hash browns and soups, as I use lots of them in cooking and grating them by hand is extremely tiresome!

The crowning glory of this mad shopping spree was a cheery old-fashioned apron covered with daisies. Anita and I agreed that we never saw our mothers in the kitchen or garden without an apron. This very practical garment has disappeared from our wardrobes, but the one I bought is so wonderful I may cut a pattern from it and make a second one.

An apron at my waist makes no sense for me, I get everything I am cutting up or cooking on my tops. So this one goes over your top, has a single button in the back, two large pockets, comes down to hip level and has ties that hold it together at the back. Fifty cents. Honestly. What is not to love about a thrift store?

After all that I came home and filled the dehydrator with tomatoes, celery and green peppers. For recipes which call for stewed tomatoes! All in all a highly satisfying day!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Decisions Decisions

Once again we have decided to go back to a vegetarian diet. New studies link the increased consumption of the nitrates in meat and in foods grown in soil "enriched" with chemical fertilizers to the enormous increase of Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and Parkinson's disease.

One of the authors of the study says, "We... have moved to a diet that is rich in amines and nitrates, which lead to increased nitrosamine production. We receive increased exposure through the abundant use of nitrate-containing fertilizers for agriculture." She continues, "Not only do we consume them in processed foods, but they get into our food supply by leeching from the soil and contaminating water supplies used for crop irrigation, food processing and drinking."

Nitrosamines are formed by a chemical reaction between nitrites or other proteins. Sodium nitrite is added to meat and fish to prevent spoilage; it is also used to preserve, color and flavor meats. Ground beef, cured meats and bacon in particular contain abundant amounts of amines due to their high protein content. Nitrosamines are also generated at high temperatures associated with frying or flame broiling. Reducing sodium nitrite content reduces nitrosamine formation in foods.

Nitrosamines become highly reactive at the cellular level, altering gene expression and causing DNA damage. The researchers note that the role of nitrosamine as a carcinogen has been fully documented. They propose that the cellular alterations that occur as a result of nitrosamine exposure are the same as those that occur with aging, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Type 2 diabetes.

Okay, we've had a couple of cases of Alzheimer's in the family and I want no part of that! We were vegetarians for 12 years, until we moved to an island off the north coast for several years. It rained constantly and the "soil" was either bare rock or muskeg. Fresh vegetables and fruit were hard to come by.

While we have tried going back to a vegetarian diet (and failed) several times in the past five years, this time I'm trying to make sure we have food on hand to munch on any time we get hungry. Both of us have medical disorders which make it imperative that we keep our blood sugar from dropping, and that we obtain enough protein to maintain muscle mass.

At the same time we are trying to eat both organically and locally food as much as possible, without being entirely and totally paranoid about it. Yesterday at the grocer's I was delighted to find one dozen locally sourced eggs, in a recycled carton, marked "from free run chickens". I usually buy free run eggs, but they come from an egg producer in the Fraser Delta (BC) whose chickens are free inside a barn, not running out in the sunshine and grass. While running freely inside a barn is a lot better than being kept in a cage too small to stand or turn around in, it's not what a chicken really likes. (Please Lord, let me find a way to keep a few chickens. Amen)

I also stopped at the produce stand and bought a box of locally-grown field tomatoes, which I will begin drying tonight. I looked at my dehydrator's manual. It has a 500 watt heater which is much smaller than a doughnut, and it's controlled by a thermostat, so the heater kicks on and off. A tiny fan circulates air through the trays. While this may sound as if it gobbles energy I've not yet been able to tell the difference in the power bill in the months when I use the drier heavily and those I don't use it at all. And after the food is dried there's no further energy expenditure, no running a fridge or freezer, and the food can be kept in an unheated storage area.

Canning isn't really an option for us, as we don't have the room to store canned goods, and cooking with propane at 89 cents a litre is *very* expensive. Electricity is cheap here, and generated by existing hydro-electric power, so it isn't as "bad" for the environment as coal-fired electric generators. This situation may very well be different for people in other places.

Out in the garden the rats seem to think the trellises right outside our bedroom window are a playground. The little devils scamper over the trellises all night and are as noisy as a herd of elephants! Add to that a 21 pound cat who was sitting on my head trembling with the excitement of seeing so much rodentia up close and I didn't get a lot of sleep the last couple of nights. This evening I will spray all the plants out there with pepper spray. That seems to discourage them. Let them find another playground!

I went out this morning and pulled the squash vines, which have not produced a single squash all summer, and are now covered with downy mildew. I put the plants in the garbage, not in the compost. I also finished pulling the beans, which are finished. Then I replanted the pots in kale and bok choi, while being careful to avoid the web of an enormous orb spider.

Garden plans percolate in my little brain. I need to build up the layers of soil in the two sunny ends of the garden. I may have to build a raised bed at each end to do this, but this will probably mean digging out and replanting all the plants I've put in there these last two years. But the plants are not thriving, they are poor sad things trying to eke out a living between greedy tree roots.

Off to the daily races. I have a new recipe to try, and want to do that before it gets to hot to cook.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back in the Garden

The Brandywines and Purple Princes are putting on a whole new crop, after a short vacation when it was so very hot. They set fruit only at a certain temperature range, and apparently 41 C (105 F) is outside that range. Countless little yellow blossoms just dried up. But now there are many pea-sized newly set tomatoes again, and the ones in this picture should start to ripen in a few days.

This morning I tackled the tomato vines in my 4 x 4. They are all "cherry" type tomatoes, and while the plants were purple and stunted when I put them in the ground, they have now just about taken over everything. They have escaped their stakes and crawled all over the raised bed, over the edges, into adjoining pots. I half expect them to start running across the street next.

But I wanted to plant some kale in the 4 x 4, so Tony and I took a stout piece of vinyl lattice and carefully eased the tomato vines back into a little more than half of the space. We gently lifted sprawling branches over the edge of the lattice, where they will have more sun and air circulation than they had lying on the ground. The vines are loaded with 100s of little tomatoes, each one a morsel of intense flavour.

Then I dug compost out of the bin, mixed it with the not-so-great sandy soil in the newly exposed half of the 4 x 4 and planted one long and two short rows of kale.

I also pulled the now finished burgundy bean bushes from two containers and planted broccoli raab and bok choi. These are quick-growing crops which should be ready to eat before we have a frost. The kale is better after a frost, so hopefully we can eat kale into November.

We'll see what effect the compost has on that soil. Hopefully it will keep it from compacting into sandstone, as it has done this summer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Simple in my Own Way

Photo of the jars of red and yellow bell peppers and tomatoes dried recently. These small jars represent 10 pounds of tomatoes and 15 large peppers.

I enjoy reading others' blogs about their efforts to lead sustainable, "simple" lives. Some of these people live in city apartments, some live on acreages, some live on a city lot.

Most are not hesitant in saying that this lifestyle definitely puts them out of step with neighbours and even family. I remember how upset my parents and Tony's Mum were when we became vegetarians. They were not only convinced we'd shrivel up and blow away, they felt threatened, as if our decision was somehow a criticism of how they had fed us.

Of course it was nothing of the sort, we had concerns about the taking of other lives to support our own, but it was as much an issue of health as anything. Neither of us had ever had robust health, and we wanted to improve on it.

We've had this reaction from other people, much more recently, about our interest in preserving our environment. Some people take it as a personal criticism. I can understand that. I look back on the way we lived in the past with some regret, but the important thing is that, however we lived in the past, we take steps now to do what we can to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Very few people can adopt a completely sustainable lifestyle. Someone commented the other day that it's not possible to do so. Well, it is possible to do so, but it involves a large lifestyle change, and to do so as a culture it would involve a great reduction in human population, and probably much less material comfort than we have in the affluent west become accustomed to. Steps our cultures are not going to take without painful motivation, or maybe even force.

Technology can (and probably will) be brought to bear on the problem of sustainability eventually but right now the challenge is to go forward as individuals. This brings us to look for new, insignificant perhaps, ways to lighten our footsteps.

This year the "going forward" part (for us) has been to raise some of our own food, encourage others in the neighbourhood to do the same, buy as much of our food locally as we can, preserve locally grown fruit and vegetables for winter consumption, eat far less meat, use no disposables, bring home as little plastic as possible, thrift when we can, recycle diligently, use Freecycle and drive very little. I'm happy to say that the last fill-up of our Ford pickup lasted six months. We drove less than 600 miles last year.

Even though it might seem so this way of life doesn't feel like penance or deprivation. I find it rewarding and personally satisfying. It's interesting and fun. It keeps me on my toes. I'm looking for ways to do more. How have you reduced your footprint? Any ideas to share?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Putting up 'Maters

Yesterday our neighbour Barry came around with large bags of beautiful field-grown local tomatoes. While there have been many absolutely scrumptious tomatoes come off my plants in the last couple of weeks, I'm in a bit of a lull right now. There are plenty of green tomatoes but that first flurry of ripe ones has passed. It's been quite cool and very wet the last few days so the tomatoes are slow to ripen.

So that long introduction was just by way of saying I bought tomatoes yesterday. And I am going to get busy and get as many as possible in the drier very shortly.

I am of two minds. Sliced tomatoes are beautiful when dried. They look like stained glass windows. But they take a lot of room on a drier tray. When I had my big drier with a dozen two foot square trays I could afford to leave things in big pieces. As is, I think I will quarter these big red beauties. They will be wonderful in soups, stews, curries and chili in the cold months.

Imported canned tomatoes are expensive here. A can may easily cost from $1.49 to $1.89 and will have been trucked in from California or even Mexico or China! So drying them for winter use when they are inexpensive and local not only saves me grocery money, it helps the environment.

And this is one way I use tomatoes. Yum yum. This Curry is colourful, and has an amazing combination of textures and a complex mix of flavours. I made it yesterday, enough for several meals worth. We don't mind eating the same thing several times in a row, so I often make several meal's worth.

Squash, Garbanzo & Lentil Curry


1 med onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped
2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1 small can diced tomatoes

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1 can red lentils, drained and rinsed

1 can 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 small acorn squash cooked pulp

1 TBS creamed coconut paste

1 cup water or broth

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 package prepared Indian Curry Paste

2 cups vegetable broth


1. Stir-fry onion and celery in water or broth in a large soup pot until tender.

2. Add remaining ingredients.

3. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaves before serving. 

Serve with Basamati rice.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I have a long list of to-do's ahead of me. So, why then am I sitting at the computer? Surrounded by an unswept floor, a load of laundry crying out for attention, unwashed dishes and the general chaos of an "untidied" house, I relax into my chair and watch my breath. And as I watch my breath I am brought back to now to now to now.

If I am not careful my mind becomes like a monkey, leaping here and there, 10, 20, 50 years into the past; playing the "what about tomorrow?" game, worrying. It takes concentration to slow down and experience the moment at hand. Otherwise it slips through my hands like water scooped from a stream.

On to the tasks of the day. On to use what I have been given to "wake up". Practice mindfulness, practice staying in the moment, practice not getting "hooked" into playing monkey mind.

[Edit two hours later]

We have a new neighbour, a woman who bought the unit next door and a week later apparently decided RV living was not for her. So back on the market it went. It has not sold so she's been back the last few days cleaning, as things do collect if you are not here to keep the deck swept, the leaves raked, cobwebs down etc.

This morning she decided to clean the roof, with a power washer. I'll say this for her, she's enthusiastic and thorough. But she's none too careful or considerate.

Our deck floor ended up not only flooded but full of the debris she washed off the roof of her trailer. The power washer wet down my vacuum cleaner, the dehydrator, the cat's bed and litter box, the grill, and soaked the cupboards which contain power tools and electrical appliances. And when I poked my head out the door she yelled, "I'm getting your stuff wet!"

This is what Pema Chodron calls a "hook". She says, "...not only has something evoked a response in me but it's... difficult for me to let go. Anger is like that for sure. Prejudice is like that. Critical mindedness is like that. You don't want to let go. There's something delicious about finding fault with something. ...that's what I mean by hooked.

The word in Tibetan is Shenpa... it isn't the words themselves that you're saying to yourself. It isn't the emotions. It's this charge behind them that's the Shenpa. It's this hooked quality that is so difficult to let go."

She goes on to say that in training yourself to put up with small annoyances; with neighbours who do inconsiderate things, with not getting what you want, with being too hot and too cold; by training yourself to let go of the "deliciousness" of that emotional charge, you train yourself to deal with greater adversity.

I got "hooked" this morning, but remembering Pema's wise words allowed me to step back, spit the hook out, and get on with my day without turmoil. Water dries. If something is damaged it can be repaired or replaced. A peaceful heart is more important than any amount of stuff.

Little by little this day unfolds, and I am given what I need to become fully awake.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

On Looking in a Different Direction

There was a fly in the window this morning. It was frantically beating its head against the window trying to escape. What must it have thought of this invisible obstacle as it buzzed and bounced against the glass?

I tried to direct it out of the window frame. Less than a foot to its left stood an open door. We don't close the screen since Salvador stands and complains whichever side of it he's on. Less than a foot from freedom and whatever a fly does in its fondest dreams, yet it continued to struggle against the window glass and evaded my every effort to shoo it sideways.

I left it to its own devices. Flies escape eventually. I had to go to town for cat food and coffee and a dozen other of the necessities of life.

When I returned a couple of hours later the fly was still in the window, but this time it was upside down, lying on the sill, dead. This is a creature who has the most amazing ability to fly, can even defy gravity. There's was nothing to stop it from slipping away to freedom, but it built a prison - out of nothing. It only needed to look in any other direction but the one it was facing, and the solution to its problem would have been obvious. But it would not look.

We're often like that fly. How many times are we trapped in prisons of our own making? We beat our brains out against "realities" which bear little to no resemblance to the actual facts. We can become so caught up in our problems, our worries and frustrations, that we fail to see that freedom can be gained simply by looking in a different direction.

Our challenge is to use what we have been given in this life, whatever that is; and use it to wake up and escape all the prisons of our own making. No situation resolves until we have learned from it whatever it has to teach us.

That poor fly beat itself to death without realizing all it needed to do was move in a different direction.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Make a Loan - Change a Life

Last night I ran across an incredible website called Kiva. Kiva works with microcredit organizations around the world to provide small loans to poor people who want to start or improve their businesses. Kiva's mission is to connect people who are willing to loan $25.00 to a person who needs a small loan, for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.

You can go to Kiva's website and lend to someone across the globe who needs a loan for their business - like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or making bricks. Each loan has a picture of the entrepreneur, a description of their business and how they plan to use the loan so you know exactly how your money is being spent - and you get updates letting you know how the entrepreneur is doing.

The best part is, when the entrepreneur pays off their loan you get your money back - and Kiva's loans are managed by local microfinance institutions who have a lot of experience doing this, so you can trust that your money is being handled responsibly.

I went through and found a group of women in Uganda Africa who had applied for a group loan of $825.00. Each woman in the Tumwebaze B Group will receive a loan of $103 for a 12 month term. Each month they pool funds to make a loan payment, and each of them is responsible for helping the others repay their part of the loan. I love this picture. Each woman holds her application and tries very hard to look appropriately serious and trustworthy. I hope they dance with joy when their loan money is distributed.

Jane Mbasagi is the leader of the group. She operates a grocery store selling sweet bananas, tomatoes, cabbages, and other produce. She is 45 years old and has eight children, four of whom are going to school. She is also taking care of one sibling. She has been in business for over two years. She will use her loan to purchase grocery items to add stock to her business. She is a hardworking business woman whose dream is to educate her children.

My small loan, combined with loans from 20 or more other people have now raised the $825.00 for the group loan, which each of them will use to finance business activity. So now, Jane Mbasagi, Scovia Kavabunga, Jane Pande, Damali Namugabe, Aida Kafuko, Alice Chandia, Suzan Nanja and Sarah Nakwaga in the wee village of Kaliro, Uganda have the opportunity to use their skills and hard work to improve the lives of themselves and their families.

This is powerful. It's finally easy to actually do something about poverty. Using Kiva I know exactly who my money is loaned to and what they're using it for. And most of all, I know that I'm helping them each build a sustainable business that will provide income to feed, clothe, house and educate their family long after my loan is paid back.

There are thousands of others waiting for a chance. Please join me in changing the world - one loan at a time.

All the best!

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Art of Listening Award

As some of you know, I have a genetic muscle disorder called Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis which technically is an "ion channelopathy". Because of this disorder I have had the great privilege to get to know Professor Doctor Frank Lehmann-Horn, Head of the Department of Applied Physiology, Ulm University, Ulm Germany. Dr. Lehmann-Horn is without reservation the top expert in the world of ion channelopathies.

In a field where patients often deal with researchers and physicians who are so clinically "detached" as to be only one step above androids a man like Frank Lehmann-Horn is a treasure.

That's why when the Genetic Alliance announced that it was creating an "Art of Listening" Award I was so happy to write a letter of nomination for Frank Lehmann-Horn. While I was unable to go to Washington DC in July to see Frank receive his award, my friend and colleague, Linda Feld, also one of Frank's nominators, was there to tell the world how appreciated he is by the groups of patients we represent.

Dr. Lehmann-Horn said his wife could not believe anyone would give him an award for listening, and he thought it was a scam until he read the names of the three of us who nominated him. I am so happy that we were able to show him how much we value his kindness and humanity.

Thanks Frank, you are a true pioneer because you never mistake the map for the territory. Instead of rejecting any patient who doesn't conform to the old map, he constantly redraws the map in finer and finer detail.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I Discovered an Appliance...

I'd forgotten I Had!

It's a solar clothes drier! I love it! It leaves the clothes smelling so nice, and it didn't heat up the house the way the electric drier does. I didn't even have to string a line. I simply pinned the clothes to the mesh that surrounds the deck. It's great because they can be at all levels, using the space very well. I bought the clothespins at the thrift shop some time ago. I got them and several other items for 50 cents.

When I was a kid every home had a clothesline. And if it was raining the clothes were hung on a line pulled across the porch. I didn't know clothes driers existed.

Now when we are faced with climate change and we desperately need to curb our use of energy the clothes line makes good sense. It's estimated about six-seven percent of North America's electricity is used to dry clothes. One source says that about three kilograms of greenhouse gases are created by each drier load of clothes.

So why do we continue to use our driers? There are neighborhoods which actually have clothesline bans. (That's so they can watch their kid's futures go up in smoke.) The sight of clothes flapping in the wind offends many a tender North American sensibility. We are a delicate people.

Some just haven't given it a thought, but for many people it's a sense of entitlement. We are wealthy by the rest of the world's standards, and we somehow think this entitles us to foul the air and drain the earth of its resources. If we think we are entitled to use all the energy we want, then we will use all the energy we want. We actually look down on people who live sustainable lives because we think our economic status entitles us to waste as much energy as we want. We think our time is so important that we can waste energy in order to "save time".

We are programmed to be mindless consumers, ravaging the earth and polluting the atmosphere in our quest for the "good life". Breaking free of that will require challenging the beliefs and attitudes that keep us from moving towards sustainability.

We need to make thoughtful decisions. Some big decisions, others small, but the decisions we make will determine what happens to the world in the next 50 years. I won't be here in 50 years to see how it all turns out but the beautiful babies born to much loved friends this past year will be in the prime of their lives in 50 years. What kind of world will we leave for them to live in? It worries me.

Virtue is the habit of doing good. We develop virtue by doing good things. Do a good thing today -- choose to use the appliance you'd forgotten you had. If we all make the right decisions we will leave this world a better place for little Amelia and Leif.

Thanks to Bob Waldrop for his inspiration and his posts on sustainability, which I freely borrowed from for this post. He says it's okay! :)