Monday, December 28, 2009

Hope and Joy

As we put the Christmas season behind us and the days begin to lengthen my thoughts turn to gardening. I figure a good project was to go through the seed box and see what I have, and what I need to order.

The seed box is a plastic shoebox. Last year I shared packets of seed I couldn't use on Freecycle. Going through my seeds I find about a dozen packets or partial packets I will move on through Freecycle again this year.

I always have a hard time keeping track of what I have, what I need to buy, what needs to be started when and where I need to plant specific plants. I have very little space to garden in, and limited areas of sun, so I have to use every square inch to best advantage.

So, taking a cue from Granny Annie at Annie's Kitchen Garden, I sorted through the seed box and made an Excel spreadsheet to plot out what goes where and when. Unlike Annie I haven't yet attained an organized and alphabetized seed box. Everything went back in chock-a-block. (tsk tsk)

I will do three successive inside plantings, in order to have tomato, pepper, leek, onion, squash and other bedding out plants at the proper time. I haven't yet figured out the proper time, i.e. the last frost date, here. Last year spring was very late here, but I think the last frost is usually in the second to third week of May.

First tier transplants need to be seeded inside eight to ten weeks before that. I'm thinking mid-February. Six weeks.... pant pant.... I am also going to try some winter sowing pretty shortly. I'm not sure what seeds I'll try, but I will figure it out.

Anyway, here's my spreadsheet, all organized. Seems a lot for the limited area I have, but I manage to get some of everything in. The rows in light blue are seeds I need to purchase. I have the others on hand, in that messy seedbox. Abbreviations are: bt (behind trailer), cg (community garden), gh (greenhouse).

I will do four successive plantings outside; the first as soon as the soil can be worked; the second when the time for the last frost is past; the third a couple of weeks later for very cold-sensitive transplants like okra and peppers, and the fourth for fall crops. Lettuces will be sown alternating two week periods, so we can keep a crop going. I'm also going to try micro-greens in trays, on the deck.

I'm hoping to add a second 4 x 4 this year, in a sunny spot in the community garden. Several more people have expressed interest in having a 4 x 4 out in the community garden, so there may not be room.

I had a small (40" across) plastic wading pool "planter" in the community garden last summer, plus a couple of 14" pots. Unfortunately I placed the pool in a spot that turned out to be shaded for much of the day, and it's too heavy to move unless it's emptied out. (I may do that if I'm up to the work.) The shade was unsuitable for the squash plants I planted there, as shade favors the development of powdery mildew. I lost all my squash to that nasty stuff last summer. This year I'll put greens in the pool garden, and move the squash to a sunnier spot with more air circulation.

Many plans.... oh many lovely plans.... and a highly satisfying way of spending a grey, windy, cold day.

You're Not Done Yet

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Gummie Christmas

While buying a basket at the dollar store on Monday I saw stockings filled with the cutest "gummie" candies. For $1.50 I thought I'd splurge and bought one for each of us.

So here's junk food for Christmas morning; From one stocking - two hot dogs and two burgers with all the trimmings, a five slice pizza, "seafood" (a slightly squashed-looking crab), a couple of packages of gummie bears, and a big "sour" gecko. What a haul!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Island Dead Ahead Sir!

Incredible Viking ship made of gingerbread by one of Zak's Scandinavian friends. You must go see photos of the entire amazing process!

The Little Christmas

There was a time when we celebrated Christmas in a big way. The entire (large) house was hung with garlands and ornaments, my collections of Santas, dolls and antique toys filled the house. The tree hit the ceiling and was so heavily decorated you could hardly see the branches.

As the years have gone by, and we've downsized bit by bit, our Christmas celebrations have become quieter and much more simple. This year there was very little shopping, but more giving. The tree is tiny, the decorations are limited, but the Christmas in our hearts is just as warm.

May the peace and joy that is Christmas be in your heart.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Big Bust...

That ought to bring the punters in, but we are referring in disgust to the dismal failure of COP15 to achieve any meaningful action. All I can say is I hope science discovers the secret to prolonging life indefinitely, and can administer it to the politicians who refused to take responsibility at COP15. Let the buggers live 100 more years and see the results of what they have done - and have not done. I don't want to be here myself.

And so, as I walked the cat beneath the bare willow trees this morning I turned my attention to what I can do. It's something we should all do. This is not just my problem, Tuvala's problem, or your problem, it's everyone's problem. Thankfully many cities, states and provinces in the US and Canada are committed to reducing CO2 emissions and supporting sustainability. Many of these have exceeded the feeble Kyoto targets, and put the national governments (and politicians) to shame.

What to do?

We need a grass-roots movement to green our communities, one by one. That begins with education, and a call to action that individuals can participate in.

Vandana Shiva philosopher and environmentalist, has said; "A shift from industrial agriculture to ecological, local food systems would be the biggest single step to move towards 350 and a safe climate, while simultaneously solving the food crisis."

So one very effective way a community of any size could reduce environmental impact is to encourage gardening and urban or SPIN farming. Urban farms could go a long way toward establishing food security as well.

There's a local food movement in the "fine dining" restaurants here. Some restaurants are seeking to serve nothing but locally grown food year round. But there's very little locally-grown food available here in the winter. We need to change that and I think we could.

This is a picture of the kale growing in my garden as of noon today. We've had -12 C (10 F) lows for several nights, and two weeks of well below-freezing daytime temps. The kale was covered in snow for several days, and for about 10 days it was a limp, dead-looking mess. I thought it was done for. So I was astonished this morning when I went out and found it not only looking vigorous, but larger, crisp and even growing new leaves! We have above freezing temperatures forecast for the next few days, so this means we'll have fresh kale from our own garden on the Christmas table. The carrots are also growing, and I might get a few of those to toss in the dressing mix.

What is apparent is that a lot of the factors responsible for climate change are up to us. We need to approach the problem from all sides. Among some of the actions that promote sustainability in a community are:

◦ Minimizing waste - composting, recycling and freecycling
◦ Engage the community in actions which promote sustainability.
◦ Local distinctiveness - local over multi-national
◦ Make walking and cycling safe alternatives to driving
◦ Encourage shopping at locally owned stores
◦ Farmer's market that offers local food direct from the grower year-round.
◦ Local production of energy through home-based wind and solar energy
◦ Local production of goods
◦ Local processing of local produced food,
so bakeries, dairies, butchers, cold storage, canneries, freezing
◦ Improving building standards to decrease resource usage

The city of Malmo, Sweden is one of the greenest in the world. After the Rio conference on climate change in 1990, Malmo made the decision to go green. Not only has the city experienced regeneration as a result, it draws people from all over the world to study their success. Wouldn't it be wonderful to make every village, town and city green?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sign COP15 Petition!

More photos from Copenhagan Candlelight Vigil

"Climate change may be bigger than each of us but it is not bigger than all of us." - UN Sec-General Ban Ki-moon

Twelve million have signed, but the goal is 15 million signatures - if you haven't signed please do so NOW!

Is There Hope?

One thing is absolutely certain. Without financial backing from the US and other developed countries there will be no agreement. So Hillary Clinton's announcement Thursday that the US will cooperate with other countries to underpin a $100 B annual "mitigation" fund gives some hope.

With the promise of money comes the requirement for transparency in monitoring emissions, which is only right. The governments of many developing countries have shown in the past that aid money given to help their citizens ends up in politicians' pockets and bank accounts.

But this may be the push that gets China to commit - they have already discovered the insanity of dirtying your own nest and are taking steps to reduce emissions even as they step onto the world stage economically.

Harper arrives today, and Obama tomorrow. I fully expect Canada to come to the table with an empty bucket. At home the oil companies are already whining for corporate welfare lest their profits be diminished as they rape the earth and Harper is, after all, an Alberta politician who has long been nested in the pocket of the oil industry.

But we can still hope that Obama might have something substantial to offer which will move the accord forward. Expectations of him generally are high, despite the US Government's efforts to dampen them.

So we'll see. Will there be any movement toward reduction of CO2 levels. Will world leaders get serious about climate change? It's anyone's guess right now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Do You Tweet?

Tweet @Barack Obama and @pmharper and ask for a REAL DEAL at COP15. Ask them to commit to 350 ppm.

The USA is the deal-breaker. Industrialized nations like Canada are playing the "Not until the USA..." game.

The fate of our childrens' future is in the hands of Shell Oil and British Petroleum through Obama and Canada's PM Harper.

Insist our countries listen to their citizens and not just the lobbiests.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Begging for Survival...

Island Nations Begging for Survival

Ian Fry, Tuvalu's ambassador, pleaded with the UN assembly to save his country this weekend. He said it was "an irony of the modern world that the fate of the world is being determined by some senators in the U.S. Congress," noting that climate change is the "greatest threat to humanity, ... the greatest threat to security." He got no response when the US ambassador spoke soon after.

[COP15] ...should be known for what it is: just another place where the poor have to come begging for their lives while the wealthy make a big show of having been generous enough of their time to be present for this grimly polite supplication.

As Fijian youth leader and TckTckTck activist, Leah Wickham, told the president of the COP15 conference, Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard:

"We [are] here in Copenhagen to fight for our identity, for our culture, and for our very right to exist," she said tearfully. "All the hopes and dreams of my generation rest on Copenhagen."

...we're never going to get anywhere if industrialized and wealthy nations keep playing a destructive game of trying to get the other person to give more, first. Each nation must commit to do what's right, and they should stick to that because it would shame them to look back on this time and say that they did nothing to prevent all the suffering that's only at its beginning. They must look to find their national honor in the greatness of their souls and the depths of their humanity instead of the heights of their office towers.

If they won't do what's right, their citizens had better break through our creativity blocks to figure out a way to convince them that they can't ignore. Time is fleeting. Physics is unforgiving.

Natasha Chart From COP15

Sunday, December 13, 2009

95,000 Not Arrested in Copenhagan

Merry Christmas III or "Sugar Plum Day"

And Visions of Sugar Plums Danced...

Though we can't eat many sweets today was the day I make "Sugar Plums". I make Sugar Plums most years, to give as gifts. It takes a lot of time, but very little money. (You probably have all the ingredients in your pantry.) I've never made it that people didn't fall over themselves asking how it is done. I give this recipe out a lot but never had the chance to do a tutorial on it (with pictures) before.

First the recipe:


A fine artist's brush which has been washed in hot soapy water, rinsed and dried
Paper candy cups


One cooked potato
Confectioner's (powdered) sugar, if lumpy, sift first.
One or more of almond, peppermint, rum, vanilla extracts
Food coloring
Berry or table sugar
Trims - I used dried rosemary bits, poppy seeds, sesame seeds


Boil a baking potato in the jacket until it is thoroughly cooked. Allow to cool. Cut the potato in half and scoop out one tablespoon of potato. Place the potato on a large plate and mash until there are no lumps.

Add 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar and work the potato and sugar together. The mixture will become quite runny. At this point add 1/4 tsp almond, peppermint, rum or almond extract. Keep adding confectioner's sugar, 1/2 cupful at a time until the mixture is starting to become firm.

Decide what basic color of dough you want. I find it's easiest to make a batch of one color and after I have finished making the candy from that batch, I'll make a new batch and add a different color. Also, in bottle caps or any small container, make "paint" by mixing a drop of food color with 1/4 tsp of water. I usually make a red, orange (mix yellow and red), dark green and blue green (mix blue and green). Add two drops of food color to the batch and mix it in thoroughly. If needed add one more drop of color but the color should be subtle, not garish.

I like to make marzipan peaches, so I color a batch with a three drops of yellow and one drop of red to get a peachy color. For my yellow batch I use three drops of yellow food coloring, which produces a nice soft yellow. To control the amount of color when you want to add only one drop I put one drop of color on a plate and dip the end of a toothpick in it, then put the toothpick in the dough. Mix well, adding color as necessary until you are satisfied with the shade.

Now add enough confectioner's sugar to the dough to make it firm enough to model with. This is the point where the dough is no longer sticky at all, even when pulled apart. If the dough sticks to your fingers it's not firm enough, add sugar. If it dries to the point where it cracks and won't hold together add a drop or two of water and knead it in. It should be stiff enough to make a tower which doesn't slump.

Now the fun starts! First we take our pink dough and make a simple shape, a rosy peach. Take a small marble-sized ball off the dough.

With a toothpick, crease the peach, and at the top add a dimple and insert a rosemary sprig for a stem. (I use dried rosemary.)

Using your artist's brush pick up a small amount of pink "paint", (1 or 2 drops of red color mixed with 1/4 tsp water) With as dry a brush as possible brush a bit of "blush" onto the peach. You can also take a tiny piece of dough and form an oval, with one pointed end, to serve as a leaf. Form the leaf, crease the middle with the toothpick, then paint it green with a tiny bit of paint. One or two leaves can be placed at the stem end of the fruit. To attach, swish your brush in water, dry it on a piece of toweling and dampen it slightly. Touch the attachment point on the fruit, and the attachment point on the back of the leaf shape, then lay the leaf on the surface of the fruit. You can see how this looks by looking at the lemons on the plate.

Pour a few spoonfuls of table or berry sugar on a separate plate and when you finish molding and painting a piece, roll it in the sugar, and set it in a paper candy cup.

Making Slices

Using yellow dough roll out a ball the size of a large walnut. Flatten it between your palms until you have a "cookie". Place it on a plate and make sure it is of uniform thickness and has a smooth surface.

With a sharp knife cut the cookie into two half-moons. With a toothpick draw a line 1/8th of an inch from the outer (round) edge. This keeps your paint colors from running into each other and making a mess.

Paint the area outside the line green, and the area inside red. Using the end of a toothpick put about 10-12 poppy seeds in the red area. Dust with sugar and allow to set for about 10 minutes, then carefully lift the slice from the plate and into a paper cup.

You can use this same technique to make orange slices, drawing the rind area, and then radiating lines for segments. Paint the outside line orange, then with a very dry brush begin at the cut edge and paint in the segments, leaving white areas for the center and rind. One or two sesame seeds in each segment make nice "orange" seeds.

Good shapes are peaches, pears, apples, lemons, limes, bananas, strawberries, melon slices, cats, baby chicks, any rounded compact shape. For the sushi enthusiast, you might make a box of sushi-shaped and colored sugar plums. In a pretty tin, sugar plums are a very handsome and much appreciated gift.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Second Merry Christmas

Ahhh, back from the shopping trip. It was a zoo, but I like the Christmas zoo, as long as I am not under pressure to find the exact right thing, and I wasn't, as I wasn't there to buy gifts at all.

But, because live (or rather dead) Christmas boughs and garlands are a no-no in a trailer, I bought a fake pine garland. I twisted it around the molding over the sofa cubby.

I pulled out some handmade ornaments and decorations and miniature toys to trim it and I put my favorite dolls and stuffed animals (which are usually packed) on the back of the sofa. I tell ya, not much room for fol-de-rol here. From left to right on the back of the sofa, Nutcracker made by Zak at the age of 12 for me as a Christmas gift; "Bimbo", the sock monkey made by my sister-in-law June the year I was seven; Golden Girl, made by our d-i-l Mandy for me as a Christmas gift about 10 years ago; Rag Baby, made by my late friend Judi Thomsen; Gruff, a jointed mohair teddy made by Linda Siegal; and a made-in-China doll (carrying her baby sister in a sling on her back) from the 50's, brought from China by a traveler.

I took pictures of the sofa and the tiny tree, which at 24" is still too tall for the only spot available for it. I could have put it on the table but that's behind us, relative to how we sit in the evenings, and we couldn't see the tree there so I opted to put it on the secretary desk, to the side of the TV. Here you see a Santa figure I sculpted in the 80's, a tiny doll whose armature is a chicken's "wish-bone", made by my late friend Judi in the 90's; a pair of tiny carved wooden shoes dated 1901 which belonged to my late m-i-l, the edge of a jointed teddy made by Zak as a Christmas gift; and a teeny flute-playing mouse, symbolic of all the cats we've. :)

We All Have One Address

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Our First Merry Christmas of the Season

Like a couple of old curmedgeons, we looked at our beautiful, well-fed and gainfully employed children and said, "You're not getting gifts from us for Christmas this year."

As agreed, we are instead sharing the money which would be spent on unnecessary stuff with those who really need help. For the past several months we have made a micro-loan of $25-50 each month to a Third-World entrepreneur though KIVA. We will continue to support KIVA's work through the coming year.

These loans, plus donations to our local food bank, the World Food Program, the Children's Hospital in Vancouver and to Avaaz, are our gifts this year. To each other and to our family. We will have a lovely meal, shared with a couple of single neighbours. And we will be merry.

To see the story of how a $25.00 donation travels from lender to borrower and back again, watch this cute video produced by a KIVA Fellow. It follows the path of a $25 loan from London, England to Preak Tamao village, Cambodia. is a website that allows internet users like you or I to lend money to people that need it in developing countries, with the aim of empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.

A Fistful Of Dollars: The Story of a Loan from Kieran Ball on Vimeo.

To find out more, go to

And Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Making Sustainable Purchases

Melinda Epler is one of my favorite bloggers, author of One Green Generation. I especially appreciate Melinda's posts because we share many of the same concerns, except she's young and positive and energetic and hopeful. I'm hopeful, but I have a hard time staying positive when I think about the world I grew up in and the one today's babies will inherit. (I think this lack of sun is starting to get to me. Melinda talks about that here.)

Melinda also posts to another blog I follow daily; Simple, Green, Frugal. Her post there today is wonderful, from my perspective. She says all I want to say, but when she says it it comes out bright and bouncy and all-fellows-together, as opposed to my gloooomy tomes.

I'm going to quote a bit of her post on sustainable purchases and direct you to Simple, Green, Frugal to read the rest of the post.

Making Sustainable Purchases

by Melinda Epler, One Green Generation

I strive to be sustainable, because I don't think it's worth it to my self, my family, my culture, nor my world to be anything less. Sometimes the moment strikes and overpowers my senses and I want to forget my values, but at those moments I think of the past, the present, and the future.

As beings on this planet we have a role, and that role is not to destroy everything. As beings in a family we have a role, and that role is not to leave one another in more debt that we can overcome. As an individual living my own life I have a role, and that role is not to work myself into poor health or to live a life unsatisfied.

 For me, sustainability is an all-encompassing term that includes:

1. Economic Sustainability
2. Socio-Cultural Sustainability
3. Personal Sustainability
4. Environmental Sustainability

It's about lifestyle, it's about life choices, and it's about the past, present, and future. It's not something you can throw out of your life when it's inconvenient, it's something that sticks with you through every decision you make throughout the day.

Purchasing decisions are just one part of the sustainability lifestyle, but they're an important part. When we purchase things, those things come from somewhere and someone - probably a whole lot of someones - got all the materials together, made it (or grew it), transported it, stored it, transported it again, displayed it, and then sold it to you. And when we purchase that item, we are purchasing all that product's history and sustainability (or lack thereof). That makes us responsible.

So how do we make sustainable purchases? Here are the rules in our continue reading this post click here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Still Rioting - Crisis into Opportunity

In March we embarked on the "Riot for Austerity" challenge. At that point I used the Riot for Austerity calculator to determine how we stood, relative to other Canadians.

We were using:

3% of the average amount of fuel for transport.
19% of average electricity usage
10% of average heating and cooking fuel
15% of average Water
44% of average Garbage - (ouch!)
26% of average Consumer goods
Food - We used about the target amount for dry bulk foods, but far too many imported fruits and veggies in the winter. Our big luxury was canned milk for our coffee.

Recalculating Today:

4% of average fuel for Transport (I had several specialist's appts which made extra trips necessary, which put up our total.)

8% of average electricity. Based on how many kWhs we actually used.

11% Heating and cooking - up, but I'm cooking at home more.

11% garbage - This is down significantly due to composting yard and kitchen wastes and the cat's sawdust litter, as well as recycling religiously.

10% Water - new dishwasher uses less water (and soap) than hand washing.

25% Consumer Goods: about the same, but we built the new deck, which allowed us to put up a windbreak for the winter. Fuel-saving measure.

30% Food: locally grown, 30% dry and bulk 30%, 40% wet/canned

Ah... this is an improvement. I grew a garden, bought locally grown produce by the box and dried it for winter use, buy as much food as possible in bulk, ate vegetarian meals until Nov, when we added modest amounts of meat back into our diet. (In summer we will switch back again.) Buying local eggs from cage-free birds and local milk from pastured goats. What we can't avoid is low-carb canned cat food, for the diabetic diet of our fluffball.

Crisis or Opportunity?

About 100 years ago the so-called "Developed Nations" made a fundamental shift from using energy generated locally to using energy located at a distance and somehow piped or conveyed to us. "Energy" defined here as products derived from oil, coal, hydro, or nuclear sources and food, which is the form of energy human bodies use as a power source.

In a very short span of time we shifted from the grass-fed horse and buggy to the automobile. We went from the tallow candle to the electric light. From heating and cooking with wood to heating with electricity, natural gas, coal or fuel oil, and from growing and eating local food to eating food trucked an average of 1,500 miles from its source to our plates.

And what happened? The buggy makers started making cars, the lamp-makers moved to making electric toasters and out of bicycle shops came the first aeronautical engineers.

What would the world have looked like if 100 years ago (or even 30 years ago!) if we had decided to use resources wisely, rather than swilling through them like thirsty sailors through a keg?

Homes would have been built to conserve heat in winter and stay cool in summer. They'd be compact, organized and include amenities like greenhouses, grey water recycling, composting toilets. Lighting and appliances would have been designed from the beginning with the goal of using the least amount of energy possible.

Neighbourhoods would have been built to be inclusive, shops, schools, workplaces, all within easy walking distance. Green grocers, butchers and milkmen would make scheduled deliveries as they still do in Britain. We'd have local small farmers supplying the bulk of our food, and small local manufacturers making clothing and durable goods like furniture.

These are the steps we should have taken in the mid 1970s when the first oil crisis occurred, and these are the kind of changes we need to make now to keep our environment from going into the crapper.

So how do we retroactively implement these changes?

1) The government needs to subsidize the insulation and weather-proofing of all housing, not just give tax credits for money spent. Like many programs supposedly aimed at low-income people, those people who need the help to insulate and weatherproof worst are those who are most likely to be below the tax ceiling, and thus unable to qualify for tax rebates. Those people on fixed incomes, the working poor, the single parent, the elderly, the disabled, the medically challenged.

2) Building codes must change. Every new building must be designed and built to require 75% less energy than the average home of its size does today. Rather than enforce minimum sq footage requirements, which discourage the efficient use of energy, resource and land, enact maximum square foot limitations. No homes large than 2500 sq feet, for example. One couple I know built a 12,000 sq ft house, for the two of them, about an acre of glass in a climate where the temperature is reliably -40 for weeks at a time. An entire village could live in that house, if they could afford the heating bill.

3) Every community needs to rezone to allow infill and back-garden housing. All available housing lots inside a town or city site need to be used before annexation happens. Increasing density reduces the need for long commutes.

4) Urban gardens and even small-scale urban farming needs to be encouraged by every community. It's time we had chickens, and even small goats, in our backyards.

5) We need to learn to do more with less. No one needs a new wardrobe every season, a new "look" for the living room every year, a new car every two years, or even every five years. It's time to spend quality time engaging and supporting community, rather than watching yet another season of "reality" television.

But first and foremost we need to reframe our references and see opportunity beckoning. How does a laid-off forestry worker here in BC find a way to remain at home and support themselves, in a new sustainable economy?

What ideas and methods are you using to reduce your environmental footprint and improve your quality of life? I know there must be dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to reframe this crisis as opportunity.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tck Tck Tck

Excuse me. I have to go throw up now.

The only sane response is to Riot for Austerity. We began to "riot" in early March of this year. An update is in order. I will do that later today.


The Most Urgent Threat to World Peace is … Canada

By George Monbiot, Posted December 2, 2009.

The harm this country could do in the next two weeks will outweigh all the good it has done in a century.

When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peace-keeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petrostate. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation which has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

In 2006 the new Canadian government announced that it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol. No other country that had ratified the treaty has done this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have already risen by 26%.

It’s now clear that Canada will refuse to be sanctioned for abandoning its legal obligations. The Kyoto Protocol can be enforced only through goodwill: countries must agree to accept punitive future obligations if they miss their current targets. But the future cut Canada has volunteered is smaller than that of any other rich nation.

Never mind special measures; it won’t accept even an equal share. The Canadian government is testing the international process to destruction and finding that it breaks all too easily. By demonstrating that climate sanctions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, it threatens to render any treaty struck at Copenhagen void.

After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations from striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007 it single-handedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country which had done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world’s 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th.

In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed that the government was scheming to divide the Europeans. During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying. Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada’s obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth.

In Copenhagen next week, this country will do everything in its power to wreck the talks. The rest of the world must do everything in its power to stop it. But such is the fragile nature of climate agreements that one rich nation – especially a member of the G8, the Commonwealth and the Kyoto group of industrialised countries – could scupper the treaty. Canada now threatens the well-being of the world.

Why? There’s a simple answer. Canada is developing the world’s second largest reserve of oil. Did I say oil? It’s actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England, of pristine forests and marshes, will be dug up, unless the Canadians can stop this madness. Already it looks like a scene from the end of the world: the strip-miners are creating a churned black hell on an unimaginable scale.

To extract oil from this mess, it needs to be heated and washed. Three barrels of water are used to process one barrel of oil. The contaminated water is held in vast tailing ponds, some of which are so toxic that the tar companies employ people to scoop dead birds off the surface. Most are unlined. They leak organic poisons, arsenic and mercury into the rivers. The First Nations people living downstream have developed a range of exotic cancers and auto-immune diseases.

Refining tar sands requires two to three times as much energy as refining crude oil. The companies exploiting them burn enough natural gas to heat six million homes. Alberta’s tar sands operation is the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions. By 2020, if the current growth continues, it will produce more greenhouse gases than Ireland or Denmark. Already, thanks in part to the tar mining, Canadians have almost the highest per capita emissions on earth, and the stripping of Alberta has scarcely begun.

Canada hasn’t acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell, a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment. The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it. The British bank RBS, 70% of which belongs to you and me (the government’s share will soon rise to 84%), has lent or underwritten £8bn for exploiting the tar sands.

The purpose of Canada’s assault on the international talks is to protect this industry. This is not a poor nation. It does not depend for its economic survival on exploiting this resource. But the tar barons of Alberta have been able to hold the whole country to ransom. They have captured Canada’s politics and are turning this lovely country into a cruel and thuggish place.

Canada is a cultured, peaceful nation, which every so often allows a band of rampaging Neanderthals to trample all over it. Timber companies were licensed to log the old-growth forest in Clayaquot Sound; fishing companies were permitted to destroy the Grand Banks: in both cases these get-rich-quick schemes impoverished Canada and its reputation. But this is much worse, as it affects the whole world. The government’s scheming at the climate talks is doing for its national image what whaling has done for Japan.

I will not pretend that this country is the only obstacle to an agreement at Copenhagen. But it is the major one. It feels odd to be writing this. The immediate threat to the global effort to sustain a peaceful and stable world comes not from Saudi Arabia or Iran or China. It comes from Canada. How could that be true?

Mindful in the Kitchen

One of the best ways to reduce the amount spent on food is to reduce the amount of food wasted. Follow these simple steps to save money, reduce your ecological footprint and eat well, all at the same time!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

KIVA Investment for December

This month our KIVA investment is going to a group of five women in Fana Koulikoro, Mali, Africa. Their group is called Djekafo group of Yenkadi Association, and their names are Korotoumous Keita, Aminata Sidibe, Tenin Coulibaly, Kamissa Diarra and Naba Keita. They are either related or close neighbours. Their business is food production and sales.

The group members are all are married women, with an average age of 42 years and 4 children each. They live in big traditional families with their husbands and children in the village of Marka Counko in the Fana prefecture of Koulikoro region of the Republic of Mali.

They are on their third group loan and have repaid all preceding loans on time and in full. They plan to use this loan of $1,150.00 USD to buy food ingredients in bulk and to buy milk. They buy their ingredients locally which supports the region's economy, and they sell their products in the village market to other villagers. They expect to make an average monthly profit of 15,000 FCFA (appx $33.00 USD) each. Some profits are reinvested in the business and some go toward daily family expenses.

In a group loan, each member of the group receives an individual loan but is bound by a group guarantee. Members of the group support one another and all are responsible for paying back the loans of their fellow group members if someone is delinquent or defaults.

This is our fifth KIVA loan. Every month we look forward to choosing the person or group to support. It feels good to be able to help someone who otherwise might have a tough time climbing out of poverty.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Photo Essay - The Lake Where We Live

For the 30+ years we lived in Calgary, and struggled through the long bitterly cold, snow-and-ice laden winters, we talked about moving "someday" to the Okanagan Valley. But there were always reasons we couldn't. Work, finances, an elderly M-I-L, health issues, the boys and their schools, friends, spouses.

Then in early 2006 we decided that it was now or never. Tony was retirement age, and I was not far behind, and could work from anywhere at any rate. But anxious to try a more simple life and hesitating to commit ourselves fully to mortgages and property ties we might regret later we made the decision to jettison a lot of stuff, buy a small travel trailer and give the Okanagan a trial run.

We bought a small 35-year-old trailer, ripped out the inside and rebuilt it. (We should have just bought a larger new one, but hindsight is 20-20.) For the entire story on that go back to the beginning of this blog. We bought the trailer in March, and left Calgary at the end of August.

If we have ever regretted it I can't remember it. We liked living in the trailer so much we swapped out the 35-year-old tin can for a larger and newer model two years ago this month, and we are living the life of Riley. There is nothing happening in the garden now so I thought I might share a pictorial synopsis of where and how we live in the next few posts.

We live on the shore of Okanagan Lake. According to the Wikipedia entry Okanagan Lake is 135 km (84 miles) long, and 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) wide at its widest point. It has a surface area of 351 square kilometres (136 sq mi), an average depth of 76 m (228 ft) and a maximum depth 232 m (696 ft). The Okanagan is one of a series of large lakes which give this part of British Columbia its character.

Our little bit is situated in a cove formed to the west by clay cliffs which were laid down as sediment when this area became part of a huge lake formed by melting glaciers. When the waters receded, the clay was exposed and began to erode, forming the fanciful "hoodoos" seen today. This erosion continues. Dead fruit trees from a cliff-side orchard above us fill the high gullies, where they ended up after the soil under them washed away.

Though we are inside the municipal boundaries, this is a rural area. The park's neighbours are the 100-year-old Landry Cabin, and an apple orchard.

We're a two-minute walk from the beach, though it usually takes half an hour to complete it, because you stop to chat with every neighbour you pass. This is the way to the beach. You'll often find a group of neighbours visiting in the shade along here. This arcade of mock cherry and willow trees is a popular meeting place. Bring a lawn chair and a bevy and pass the time visiting on a sunny day.

In the summer the Okanagan's beaches are full of kids and grownups too. Cool water is irresistible on a hot summer's day. This was taken in May, before the summer season.

The beach itself is 800-1000 feet long, but only the centre section is used for swimming. Part of it is used for launching boats, some is left natural. The piers are what's left of a dock which a storm destroyed a few years ago. The kids love to jump off these in the summer.

A lovely trail leads east from the beach down toward Trout Creek. The trail winds through several different environmental zones. It begins in a dry area, just sand and a few plants which tolerate dry soil.

It moves on through a wet zone, into an area of dense forest, and eventually crosses a creek where cattails and wild flag (iris) grow eight and nine feet tall. The trees are heavy with wild wisteria vines, which put on a spectacular display in the spring.

And here are Mr. T and Salvador the cat, enjoying a ramble on a sunny day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Out of the Garden - For Now

I dashed out about noon during a lull in the gale-force winds to harvest the last of the bok-choi, which turned out to be enough for several meals. I also pulled and harvested two of the four stalks of Brussels sprouts. I quit at two stalks because it had started to pour a very cold rain. The sprouts range in size from from big peas to small marbles. I threw a few in the quick ramen soup I made for lunch and they are absolutely scrumptious.

At the moment I'm planning a chicken soup for dinner. I'll toss in a generous amount of sliced bok choi and do the Brussels sprouts as a side dish. I've got bread for Tony on the go, and hope to have time and motivation to make a loaf for myself after the bread maker cools off enough to bake a second loaf. His is more important, because buying a loaf of gluten-free bread for him costs $8.99, while I can get a loaf of organic whole grain flax bread for $1.98.

While I was lying in bed last night, waiting for the Sleep Fairy to thump me with her hammer, I had the very cheerful thought that tomorrow is the 1st of Dec, which means.... I can begin my spring garden in 60 days!

While this doesn't mean I can put seeds in the ground, I can start seeds, in my little greenhouse, or alternately, this spring I am going to try a technique called winter-sowing. In winter-sowing you plant your seeds in a container, like a recycled clear plastic salad "box". After removing any labels from the top or sides you partially fill the container with soil appropriate for starting seeds. You sow your seeds, water them, put a few holes in the lid, pop it on and place outside in the weather so the seeds can germinate on their own time table.

This works with any plant that self-seeds from year to year which is usually started early and transplanted. I'll be trying it with onions, leeks, beets, chard, squash, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, bok choi and rapini and spinach. Not one to put all my eggs in a single basket, I will also plant some of these in flats in the greenhouse, just in case it doesn't work as well as it should.

Of course, every year there are things you will do differently. I am going to buy a turning fork, and work a bunch of compost and manure into my raised beds and containers, just as soon as I can get into the garden in the spring.

All of my sun-hungry plants will still have to go in back, in the 4x4 and the containers on the garden tiers, as seen here early last spring. But since the mock cherry came down in front there's a lot more sun there. I think there's enough for herbs and leafy greens, which I will mix with a few flowers. I'll move my smaller 10" and 12" containers to the front and hopefully avoid the midnight "shopping" which occurred last spring, when someone helped themselves to newly transplanted pots of tomatoes and peppers. This year I think I'll connect all my larger pots together with a couple of 1 x 2s screwed across the rims of each row of pots.

Looking through my plastic shoebox full of seeds I see that I should have to buy only two or three seed packets. I have no chard, beets or leeks. I seem to have everything else, assuming they are still viable.

Next spring I am going to try and restrain myself from buying every plant in the nursery, hardware, grocery store and WalMart with a cunning plan. I will make a list and carry a shovel. Every time I am tempted to buy bedding out plants which are not on the list I will simply hit myself in the head with the shovel.

Of course I want flowers and colour, but in small and disciplined doses thanks. One of everything doesn't even look nice. Much better to concentrate on a few solid and reliable bloomers in a limited palette of colours, than something that ultimately looks like an explosion in a paint store. Coordinating flower displays has never been one of my strengths.

So, as I harvest what is probably the last produce to come out of 2009's garden, 2010's garden is already jumping out of my imagination.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Right Brain - Left Brain

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: At the age of 37 she had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions -- motion, speech, self-awareness -- shut down one by one. In this astonishing presentation Jill Bolte Taylor describes how she studied her own stroke as it happened -- and has become a powerful voice for brain recovery, as well as for the process of self-transformation.

It is My Nature

There is a Buddhist chant which, translated into English, goes: "It is my nature to age, I have not gone beyond aging; It is my nature to sicken, I have not gone beyond sickness; It is my nature to die, I have not gone beyond dying.”

Though I had been faced with life-threatening illness at age 27, I don't believe that even then, I could conceive of my own death. I remember vividly the moment that wisdom - the actual knowledge that I was going to die - occurred. Oddly enough it was not at a time of illness, stress, or of unhappiness. I was not grieving or facing loss. I simply woke up one morning with the knowledge of my eventual and certain death. It came with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, a surge of fear. The fear subsided, but the knowledge stayed.

I have since had numerous friends and relatives die. Many refuse to face the fact of their own mortality, and deny to their last conscious moment that death is even possible. There's no discussion of the terror they face, because they won't admit that anything is wrong, even in the most extreme moments. To the end everyone tiptoes around the subject.

From a Buddhist view, illness and the knowledge of your own mortality provides a profound opportunity for spiritual transformation. The very basic tenant of Buddhism is that we are born to die, and the entire point of Buddhism is that we can use this apparently hopeless situation to fuel our spiritual practice.

When we quit running and turn to face our fear of pain and death we can experience life in its richness, without the mental and emotional convolutions of avoidance. When we embrace illness and pain without fear it can allow us to develop wisdom, a calm spirit, and deep compassion for other beings.

When you are in physical pain, observe your thoughts. What I have found is that I worry what the pain means, what it might presage. When I experience pain, I often project anxiety on it, worry about it, worry that it will never go away (and how will I cope?), and imagine it signals imminent collapse or death. These are random thoughts that flit in and out of my head, but they serve to magnify the pain. And they are counter-productive.

I had been experiencing pain in my abdomen for quite a long time, but when I told my doctor, and she asked me to describe it, I was at a loss. Despite all my worrying I had never really stopped to observe the pain, when it occurred, what triggered it, what made it go away. You'd think these would be the first things you noted, but talking to many other people I find this is the norm. We jump from twinge to worrying about impending doom in a millisecond.

Now I try to look at pain as if it were an object, without any attempt or effort to change its nature or intensity. What shape is it, what size, colour, exact location? Is it steady or fluctuating? When does it appear and what makes it go away? Not only has this allowed me to learn to manage an ongoing problem, but it has relieved me of the burden of anxiety I had wrapped around it.

I find when I observe the pain as I would a stone or a tree stump, it begins to dissipate. It's harder and harder to find "the" pain, and the closer my observation the farther away the pain moves.

This takes concentration, and is not always possible. Sometimes you just want to sleep, and a pain pill seems the easiest way out. But I am learning to rely more on this mindfulness technique, and less on medication. It has had a secondary side effect. When I didn't hesitate to pop a couple of pills to gain relief from say, a migraine, I didn't pay as much attention to my body's signals that I was in a vulnerable state. I would eat chocolate, for example, when I know that a migraine always follows even the smallest taste.

Now, I think how it will taste (wonderful) and how I will feel (terrible) for three or four days afterwards, and decide that a minute or two of that flavour is not worth days of nausea, pain and inactivity.

One type of "meditation" practiced by Buddhists is to simply sit quietly and pay close attention to the rise and fall of bodily sensation. An itch there, a twinge here, a muscle tightens and relaxes, cold hands, a flush of warmth, a pleasant tingling in the cheeks, a pain behind the ear. This is called the flow of bodily sensation and it is a ceaseless process. Some of it is pleasant, some momentarily painful.

You may find you've never really listened to your body. Perhaps pain has to scream to get our attention. At the moment I am learning that if I listen to my body I can often head off pain. I can eat, move, or think differently. If you've ever had a migraine or chest pain immediately following a blazing row you'll understand by what effect thinking differently can have.

Accepting that my body (and my spirit) have needs that have been largely unrecognized because I was too busy mentally and physically to listen encourages me to stay in the moment, to allow my body to speak to me, through pain if need be. When I pay attention, I can allow my pain to not only improve my spiritual outlook, but my physical one.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

H1N1 - To Vaccinate or Not?

We've just gotten back from town after getting both our seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccinations. We stood in line for about 30 minutes, had our pokes, and waited afterwards for the requisite 15 minutes to make sure we weren't going to be the one in three million who inflates like a puffer fish and needs adrenaline to breathe. Even so we were in and out in less than an hour.

Apparently the media has had a difficult time sorting out their feelings about H1N1 and the vaccine. On Monday they invest their voices with the right note of concern/hysteria and quaver, "Booga! Booga! BOOGA! We're all going to DIE!!!!!!"

They then interview an expert in a lab coat who says, "The flu vaccine will kill you if the flu doesn't. Either way, it's now clear we are all going to die! Well, some will die, or the vaccine will turn you into a monkey or give you a case of the munchies.... uh... no, it might give you a fever, hmmmmm, it could make your arm sore!" (Looks around desperately) "Are we on-air?"

Tuesday, the talking head on the news says, "Booga Booga seriously overblown."

They then interview an expert in a bow tie and perky manner who says, "Actually H1N1 isn't as bad as the regular flu, hardly more than a cold. Don't worry, be happy! The flu vaccine is probably not even necessary. Epidemic is now over, we're safe as houses or mother's milk" (Thinks of the recent real estate crash and reports of pesticide contamination in mother's milk and reconsiders his words) "It's certainly not lethal." (Looks around desperately) "Are we on-air?"

Wednesday, is "BOOGA Day". (with panicked expert)

Thursday is "Have No Fears" day. (with reassuring expert)

Friday Booga. (with panicked expert)

Saturday... "Do we have to talk about this H1N1 still? Does this story still have legs? No? Okay.... There will be dance recital Monday put on by the Sam Butler School fourth grade class.

Sunday... "Ten students from the fourth grade class at Sam Butler Elementary have H1N1, We're alllll going to die!!!! Vaccinate vaccinate!! (interviews with panicked expert, principal, parents)

We've listened to this nightly revolving door with a panic attack in two of the four sections for months. No wonder some people can't make up their minds whether they want the vaccine or not. Can we have some sanity here, or do all TV journalists now graduate from the Hen House School of Journalism where there's nothing to worry about until an acorn falls from a nearby tree? Then it's mayhem in the hen house.

The polio vaccine became available in 1955. While parents were terrified that their child would contract polio, horror stories circulated about the new vaccine. It was said that the vaccine would cause polio, or that your child would be "contaminated" by it. The same arguments were used then and now. My parents were afraid to have me vaccinated. So while all my classmates trooped off to have their vaccinations I sat in the classroom and waited by myself.

A year later after a field trip I woke up with a severe headache and nausea. Mother told me to get out of bed and stop whining. Dad checked and said, "She's burning up!"

Within 72 hours I could not move a muscle, and could barely breathe. I had paralytic polio, the only case in our school that year, because everyone else had been vaccinated.

I missed the rest of that school year and part of the next. I stopped growing. I am the same height now as I was shortly before my 11th birthday. I had to learn to hold my head up, sit up, use my hands, stand, walk, even chew and swallow solid food. I got carried to the year's end picnic. In junior high someone else carried my books, and I was dismissed early from each class so I could crawl the steps alone. I wore braces and I still walk funny.

My parents loved me and thought they were doing the right thing. I barely missed dying and I have had to contend with near constant pain, a crooked spine, and less than half the muscle mass I should have had in neck, traps, arms and legs, for the last 52 years. And on top of HypoKPP having polio has not been an experience which made my life easier.

Tony and I stood in line today for both H1N1 and seasonal flu shots because we are old enough to remember when there was no choice. And we figure there's no point in taking the risk of getting the flu, whether the panic over the situation is overblown or not.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Didn't I Take Metal Shop?

I didn't take "Home Ec" in high school. Even without "Home Ec" I have managed to feed my husband and brood of chilluns for 40+ years without a single case of food poisoning. However, on nights like this I regret my decision to take biology instead of metal shop. That moment of poor planning left me with a distinct lack of skill with a cutting torch and no practical knowledge whatsoever in the gentle art of metallurgy.

As I sit here, rocked and buffeted by 90 kph winds all I can think of is the hundreds of un-captured kilowatt hours flying past us. I have only the vaguest idea of how wind (or solar) power is converted into a usable form, but still I long to tack a turbine onto the front of the Beach House and let the wind have at 'er.

I long to be off the grid while maintaining some level of comfort, or at least to reduce the power bill. Last month, when we had the roof leak and had to run the dehumidifier at maximum capacity night and day for three weeks, and turn on the heat, our power bill was the highest it's ever been - $63.00. Power has gone up by a couple of cents a Kwh, and it makes a difference in the bill.

Thankfully Ian was here last week and plastic wrapped us. It was a big job we couldn't begin to do alone. But at a time we carry reusable shopping and produce bags and are trying to use less plastic, it took 32 running feet of 8 foot 5 inch wide heavy weight plastic to close in the deck. Even though we should be able to reuse the same plastic for about three or four years it's enough to make you weep.

Yet, the plastic not only makes it a degree or two warmer on the deck than outside in the howling wind, even on cloudy days, it makes it much more comfortable inside. Without the wind sucking the heat through the walls we can keep the thermostat at 21 C (70 F), rather than the 23C (74F) we needed last winter to be comfortable. So we save both electricity and propane. That has to be worth something environmentally.

All these compromises between your ideals and your reality make it clear that few of us are in a position to point the finger at those who abuse the environment simply to stay alive. Dang it's fun to be on a high horse, but the only way we will ever solve our environmental problems is to sit down together and figure out how to provide a decent living for everyone on the planet. Doesn't sound as if the politicians have any interest in it, so it's up to you and me now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hunger Hurts

We may complain of tough economic times in the US and Canada, but in Third World countries over a billion people are facing imminent starvation. Over one billion people in the world are chronically hungry. In fact today, more people die from hunger related causes than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. In response the United Nations has launched an online appeal for individual donations to fight hunger.

The one billion number is about 100 million more than last year. To meet the needs, the World Food Programme has to raise U.S. $6.7 billion. Donations to date stand at U.S. $2.9 billion. Will you help provide a basic food package containing foods like these to a mother with a family of hungry children?

The World Food Programme's "Billion for a Billion" campaign aims to feed one billion hungry individuals. "Feeding a billion people might seem like a challenge, but small donations can make a big difference. If a billion Internet users donate a dollar or a euro a week, we can literally transform the lives of a billion hungry people across the world," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of WFP. And you can help here.

"Governments have supported WFP in its mission to feed the world's hungriest people, but they cannot be expected to do it alone," Sheeran said. "It's time for members of the public to act. Citizen action has abolished slavery, given women the right to vote, and helped to ban the use of land mines across much of our planet," Sheeran said. " ... Why shouldn't we draw on that inspiration and try to harness the power of individual action to feed the world's hungriest people?"

Donating is easy, as you can use a credit card or your Pay Pal account. It takes only a minute or two to donate a small sum which will feed people who might otherwise starve in these difficult economic times.